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

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

But dance?

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

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

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

The production consisted of five movements, so to speak:

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

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

Some more somewhat general observations:

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

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

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

 🎩 🎩 🎩

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Today is Mother’s / Mothers’ / Mothers Day (How. To. Punctuate. ?.). I know this because of all the tributes to mothers being posted on Facebook. People talking about how great their mother was. Missing their mother for 30+ years. Missing her from 5 years ago. All these tributes.

I read them, devoid of feeling, for I tend not to think of my mother. I know I’m not the only one, as this post discusses.

This doesn’t mean there weren’t important women in my life. My grandmother (mother’s mother). My great-aunt (her sister). My aunts on my dad’s side. Godparents and family friends. (I’d add my stepmother to this list — my dad’s last wife — but by the time she came into his life I was already married and out of the house, so it was less of a motherly relationship and more just friendship).

But my mother? My mother was many things. Extremely smart. An astute businesswoman. A great accountant (one of the first women CPAs in California). A people person. She got along great at business parties.

But a nurturing mother who was always there caring? That’s not my memory. It may have been the case when I was young — I just don’t remember. It may have been the case early in the marriage, when she was raising my step-brother and I, when I was very young.

But the memory I have — perhaps from 8 or later — was the mother who was devoted to her accounting practice. The mother who left my care to housekeepers and her mom and other relatives. The mother who turned to drink and meds to deal with the pain after my brother died. The mother who yelled and faught. The mother who turned my bedroom into an office less than 6 months after I was out of the house. The mother who wanted the attention, and used emotional manipulation to get it — to the point where we had to cut contact early in our marriage. The mother who died on our wedding anniversary.

Mothers: Think about the lessons that your behavior teaches your children. You have the opportunity to set the example of what they will aspire to be, and how they will aspire to behave. Alternatively, you’ll be the negative example: the traits they consciously don’t want to have, the way they don’t want to behave. My mother taught me one major thing: I needed to do something different. My wife and I consciously tried to create a different relationship with our daughter, and I think we did.

Does this mean that I hate my mother? No. She did the best she could with her skillset and circumstances. By the time I was at a conscious age to remember the mothering, she was already consumed by the death of my brother, and her belief that it was her actions that caused it (it wasn’t, but step-mother relationships are difficult). So I don’t hate her, but I also doesn’t feel the depth of emotion that I see many express towards their mothers. My father, yes. My mother, no. I am, as I titled this piece, devoid of emotion. She wringed it all out of me.

So I think her for what she did raising me, and that we all survived. I think she would be proud of where I am now. I’m sorry our relationship wasn’t better, but I can’t go back and change the past and what happened. I’ll treasure the few good memories and move on.

Happy Mothers Day to those with great relationships and memories of their mothers. A tip of the hat and Happy Mothers Day to the other women in my life who provided the nurturing that I still remember positively.

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userpic=fringeThe Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) schedule is starting to gel. I’ve done some further planning over lunch, and here is how June stands. We are ticketing in two groups: this weekend (¹), and right after June 1st (²), to split the charges.

Saturday, June 3:

⇒ Unavailable to Fringe

Sunday, June 4:

⇒ Until 4p – Annual Gluten Free Expo | [K/R]
⇒ 6p – Hey Hollywood! My Hustle has ADHD | [D/K/R¹]
⇒ 8p – Robot Monster the Musical | [D/K/R¹]
⇒ 930p – Buffy Kills Edward: The Musical | [D/K/R¹]

Saturday, June 10:

⇒ 3p – The Heart Change – Ink Theatre | [D²/K²]
⇒ 5:30p – 86’d | [D/K]
⇒ 7p – Insuppressible: The Unauthorized Leah Remini Story | [D²/K²]

Sunday, June 11:

⇒ 3p – Five Guys Named Moe @ Ebony Rep | [D]

Saturday, June 17:

⇒ 1p – Pretty, Witty Nell | [D²/K²] (Poss. Canc.)
⇒ 3:30p – Zombie Clown Trump | [D/K]
⇒ 5:30p – Conversations ‘Bout The Girls | [D/K]
⇒ 7:30p – Inversion | [D/K]

Sunday, June 18

Fathers Day – Open

Saturday, June 24:

⇒ 11:30a – Hello Again, The Songs of Allan Sherman [D²/K²/R²]  (Maybe)
⇒ 3p – Slightly Off Broadway (Chromolume) | [D²/K²/R²]
⇒ 5:30p – Trump in Space | [D/K/R²]
⇒ 7p – The ABCs | [D/K/R²]
⇒ 9p – Reasons to be Pretty / Maxwelton | [D/K/R²]

Sunday, June 25:

⇒ 2p – Transition | [D/K]
⇒ 4p – Khant Hotel | [D²/K²]
⇒ 5:30p – Bachelorette by Leslye Headland | [D²/K²]

Note:

  • To see the full Fringe guide, click here.
  • There are those out there that I’ve bamboozled into thinking I’m a reviewer‡, and who want me to see their shows. In order to do so, (a) it would have to fit in the schedule above (including transit times between theatres), and (b) be agreeable to the boss (K), and if applicable, the pseudo-daughter (R). Ethics rules from work are ingrained in me: I do not take free tickets, but will gladly do half price or some other discount.

‡: I’m just a cybersecurity specialist who loves attending live performance, being an audience member, and telling my friends and others who read my blog about what I see, so they might see it as well.

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While planning for the various theatrical adventures over the summer, I’ve also been collecting news chum. This lunchtime collection is tied together by a common theme: obsolecence, revivals, and transitions. Every article is about one or more of those three things:

  • Cassettes. By now, most of us have gotten rid of our cassette walkmans, and would be hard-pressed to find a cassette player. Elbow has come up with a fascinating minimalist cassette player: While it grabs the cassette’s spools in its elbow arms, the hinge sits against the exposed magnetic tape. A knob on the device allows you to control playback. It comes with a small magnetic clip, allowing you to attach it to your clothes, or a bag, as well as a 3.5mm audio output, allowing you to connect your earphones, or a speaker to it. It also includes a MiniUSB port, not just for charging the Elbow, but also for allowing you to digitally extract audio from a cassette tape to your PC.
  • Bluetooth Audio. If you’re an old fart like me, you’re likely using an audio device that doesn’t support bluetooth in a world of bluetooth speakers. What to do? iClever is a small bluetooth transmitter/receiver that solves the problems. It allows one to convert any audio-producing device with a 3.5mm output into a bluetooth transmitter, and to convert any speaker/headphones with a 3.5mm connector into a bluetooth receiver. I’m going to need to remember this.
  • The MP3. NPR is reporting that the MP3 is dead — specifically, the license for the technology is no longer being issued. The article claims the replacement is the AAC (.m4a). I’m still generating MP3 (although I could switch to M4A), and Amazon only sells MP3s so I somewhat doubt this. Are any digital players no longer proving an MP3 translating CODEC. That will be the death of the MP3, not licensing rules.
  • Churches/Synagogues. In the musical 70, Girls, 70, the question is asked: What do zoos do with elephants when they die? Where do the elephants go? A similar question might be asked of a church or a synagogue: when they close, where does their stuff go? I ran into two articles address this question: the first looked at finding a new life for Jewish religious objects when a congregation closes; the second asked where does the pipe organ go when a church closes. Of course, technology isn’t all bad: I found an article on how technology can help carry on Jewish traditions.
  • School Libraries. An interesting article I found explores whether school libraries are on the path to extinction. After all, library staff is expensive, and today’s students don’t research in books. But libraries are an important tool in teaching children to read and think, and funding for libraries boils down to a wealth/class issue: Parents with the means can find the funds to support libraries, so their student have them an do better. Parents without depend on the district, and the district has other priorities. We’ve seen this many times in things like art education and field trips. The article explores how LA Unified is trying to change things.
  • Hollywood Archives. We all think technology is a boon, but is it really. It used to be easy to preserve films: get good cellulose and store it right. Now? The storage media changes ever few years, everything has to be retranslated, and not everything can be saved. This is creating a gigantic headache for the studios, and means that film isn’t the long-term media we thought it was. We have human art that survived 5000 years. When we look at our civilization in 5000 years, what of our art will still be available?

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I need your help in planning my Fringe schedule. The following was in my most recent theatre writeup about my plans for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). I’m working on the schedule now. The shows of interest are as follows — however, the total for tickets is over $700, which is way too high. I need help paring down this list. Not all of these are currently in our schedule (¤ unscheduled as of now). If you know of any discounts for these shows, or have recommendations / disrecommendations, please let us know. Note that I’m generally restricted to Fringing on the weekends (living in the valley and working full-time).

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The Bodyguard (Pantages)Oh, the prices we pay to get tickets to Hamilton. For some, it is overpriced tickets and waiting in long lines, physically or virtually. For Hollywood Pantages (FB) Season Subscribers, it was The Bodyguard, which we saw last night.

The Bodyguard is ostensibly a transfer to the legit musical stage of the movie The Bodyguard from 1992, a movie that received a rating of 6.2/10 on Yelp, and which starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston (or, as I view it in my worldview, the 1992 movie was a premake of the stage show, because the stage show always comes first). It also featured a number of Whitney Houston songs. You can just imagine the movie executives going, “Gee, we could make a great Whitney Houston tribute musical out of this.” However, the starting point was a movie with very mixed reception — 32% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and 64% from the audience — and that doesn’t make a good basis for a musical.  Especially one that doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up.

So what makes a good musical? If we go back to the formula established by Rodgers and Hammerstein, you have musical movements that propel and move the story forward. When one looks that movies that have moved from screen to stage, rarely does the original soundtrack music make the transfer. Look at Sister Act or High Fidelity or most you can think of. The popular music soundtrack is replaced by something similar that serves the story better, with perhaps the exception of one or two best-known songs (The Wedding Singer is a good example of that).

So, perhaps this is a jukebox musical — a musical designed to showcase the music of a particular artist. After all, we need a good Whitney Houston musical. Jukebox musicals take three forms: pure retrospective concerts (think Smokey Joe’s Cafe); new stories crafted around an existing catalog where the catalog songs move the story forward (think All Shook Up or Mamma Mia); or books crafted to tell the history of the artist, using the catalog songs as representative samples along the line of the bio story (think Jersey Boys or Ain’t Misbehavin’).

The major fundamental problem with The Bodyguard — the problem that doomed it to be a West-End Tour, and will kill it if it makes it to Broadway — is that it is neither fish nor fowl (although, the story smells a bit fishy and may be foul). By that I mean that this clearly isn’t a musical where the music propels the story forward at all. There are no real book related songs; there are numerous pure concert moments. But it isn’t a good jukebox musical either — it isn’t a pure concert, it isn’t a fake story crafted to use the songs of the catalog right, nor does it tell the story of the artist. It is an attempt to move a movie to the stage stuffing it full of the catalog of one pop star’s songs, with an ill-fitting book that barely provides the excuse to move from song to song. It could have been a very successful (OK, moderately successful) concert and dance show, but the producers didn’t let it go there.

So, besides that Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?

Setting aside the problems of this musical as a musical, the book remained weak. Admittedly, there were some very cute scenes in the book. The karaoke scene in Act I was a hoot, well performed and funny. A few other scenes had funny moments here and there. But you never really got to know the characters and their relationships. The bad guy? His character was “The Stalker”. The male love interest had not a single song telling you his feelings.  You had no idea about the motivations of the stalker other than what the police told you.  You didn’t feel invested in these characters; the book seemed to be there solely so they could tie it to the movie, and move from song to song.

Now, admittedly, that’s what we had with An American in Paris, with a very light storyline, used as an excuse for dance and song. So why did that work, and this doesn’t. Well, part of the problem is that it didn’t work with An American in Paris — it really was a dance show clothed in a weak book, and it didn’t have a long Broadway run even though it toured. But the movie it was based on was the same way, and there was an attempt to work the songs into the story. Further, the characters were less caricatures than they were here. So, essentially, both were flawed.

Um, so Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the performance?

Sheer performance, that’s where this cast excelled — at least the singers and dancers. In the lead position as Rachel Marron was Deborah Cox (FB). Not being a Whitney Houston expert, I can’t really assess whether she successfully channed Ms. Houston. I do know that she sang and danced well, and seemed reasonable in her scenes with the other players (in particular, the cabin scene). Playing off her as her bodyguard was Judson Mills (FB) as Frank Farmer. It is telling that his Playbill bio is his IMDB bio, with no real musical credits. His role involves neither singing (he didn’t really have one sole solo song) or dancing in a heavily singing and dancing musical (even in the final dance montage, he doesn’t sing or dance). Essentially, his performance, like the character he was playing, was relatively wooden — only showing sparks of life not when interacting with his love interest, but when interacting with the young kid in the cast.

Rounding out the Merron family was Jasmin Richardson (FB) as Nikki Marron and Douglas Baldeo (FB) as Fletcher (alternating with Kevelin B. Jones III (FB)). Both were powerhouse performers — great singers, great dancers, and as good a performance as this show allows. Baldeo was particularly remarkable in the closing montage.

The other main named characters — at least those who weren’t part of the ensemble as well — were eminently forgettable. There characters were lightly drawn and tended to disappear in the background. Notable here was “The Stalker” (Jorge Paniagua (FB)) , whose sole role was to look menacing in blackouts, and had perhaps 4 lines. Others in similar small roles were: Charles Gray (FB) [Bill Devaney], Alex Corrado (FB) [Tony Scibelli]; Jonathan Hadley (FB) [Sy Spector]; and Jarid Faubel [Ray Court].

What did shine? The ensemble: Brendon Chan (FB), Megan Elyse Fulmer (FB) [+College Girl], Alejandra Matos (FB), DeQuina Moore (FB) [+Backup Vocalist, +College Girl, u/s Nicki / Rachel Marron], Bradford Rahmlow (FB) [+Assassin, +Rory, u/s Tony Scibelli, u/s Ray Court], Benjamin Rivera (FB) [+Dance Captain, u/s Stalker],  Matthew Schmidt (FB) [+Klingman, +Douglas, +DJ, +Jimmy, +Stage Manager, +Oscar Host, u/s Bill Devaney, u/s The Stalker, U/s Sy Spector, u/s Ray Court], Jaquez André Sims (FB) [u/s Bill Devaney, u/s Tony Scibelli], Nicole Spencer (FB), and Naomi C. Walley (FB) [+College Girl, u/s Rachel / Nicki Marron]. [Swings were Willie Dee (FB), Sean Rozanski (FB) [+Fight Captain], Maria Cristina Slye (FB), and Lauren Tanner (FB)]. The ensemble shone in the background in the few book scenes, silently playing characters. They shone during the main dance numbers and especially during the dance reminx finale. They provided wonderful facial expressions and reaction shots. They were just great.

The production was directed, somewhat mechanically, by Thea Sharrock, using a book by Alexander Dinelaris (FB) that adapted the Warner Brothers (FB) film that had a screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan. Frank Thompson (FB) was the associate director.  You want music and lyrics credit — they were all songs made famous by Whitney Houston (FB), although she didn’t write them. To me, the two most notable songs were also notable covers: “I Will Always Love You“, originally written and performed by Dolly Parton (FB) in 1974; and “The Greatest Love Of All“, written by composers Michael Masser (music) and Linda Creed (lyrics) (no, not the Marron sisters as portrayed in the Musical), originally written and recorded by George Benson (FB) to be the main theme of the 1977 film The Greatest, a biopic of the boxer Muhammad Ali (which I actually have on LP).

Although the direction was weak and didn’t improve the weak book, the dance was strong. Credit here goes to choreographer Karen Bruce (FB) and Assistant Choreographer Amy Thornton (FB), assisted by Dance Captain Benjamin Rivera (FB). I had a cousin with me who is more into the vernacular of modern concerts and such, and she indicated the dance was extremely strong. Perhaps “lit” was the term she used.

By the way, for those attempting to look up credits (as I have), note that much of the creative team has a UK / West End pedigree, not Broadway. This musical is not a Broadway musical — yet. It started in London’s West End, toured the UK, and is now touring the US hoping for Broadway. Telling is the fact that tour has not been authorized by the estate of Whitney Houston. For good reason? Perhaps.

The orchestra for the show was strong, under the direction of Matthew Smedal (FB), who we’ve seen a number of times on stages ranging from Cabrillo to national tours. He led an orchestra consisting of: Wendell Vaughn/FB [Associate Music Director / Keys], Owen Broder (FB) [Woodwinds], David D. Torres (FB) [Trumpet], Michael Karcher (FB) [Guitar], Ralph Agresta (FB) [Guitar], John Toney (FB) [Bass], Joe McCarthy (FB) [Drums], plus local orchestra members John Yoakum (FB) [Clarinet, Flute, Tenor Sax, EWI], Wayne Bergeron (FB) [Trumpet / Flugelhorn], Paul Viapiano (FB) [Guitar 2 / Acoustic Guitar / Electric Guitar], and William Malpede (FB) [Keyboard Sub]. Other orchestra credits: Talitha Fehr (FB) / TL Music International [Music Coordinator]; Brian Miller [Orchestra Contractor], Mike Dixon [Production Music Supervisor, Vocal Arrangements], Chris Egan (FB) [Orchestrations, Additional Music], and Richard Beadle [Music Supervisor]. The Orchestra was also hidden not in the orchestra pit, but under the stage, to make space for the hydraulic lift used for one scene. This is notable solely for the fact that the screens showing the conductor to the actors was a bit bright, distracting the audience.

Finally, the remaining production and creative credits. The scenic design by Tim Hatley made use of these odd framing devices with integrated lighting that shrunk or expanded the visual stage. They worked, but were also quite distracting at times. The set design worked better during the concert numbers, where it combined with Mark Henderson‘s lighting design to create a real concert atmosphere. Note: for those with problems with strobes or lights shining in your face, this isn’t the concert for you. There is heavy use of movers and LEDs aimed at the audience. This also isn’t a good show for the faint of heart: the sound design of Richard Brooker has a number of startling moments with gunshots and the like. Other than that, the sound was generally crisp and clear — unusual for the Pantages. Tim Hatley also designed the costumes (Leon Dobkowski (FB) was the associate costume designer for the US tour), working with hair, wigs, and makeup of Campbell Young Associates. They seemed era-appropriate for me; I noticed no glaring problems and they were suitably sparkly. The video designs of Duncan McLean worked well, although at times they seemed more movie-like than a stage production. Rounding out the production credits: Paul Hardt (FB) [Casting Director]; Jim Lanahan / Troika Entertainment (FB) [General Manager]; Melissa Chacón [Production Stage Manager]; Richard A. Leigh [Stage Manager]; Stacy N. Taylor [Assistant Stage Manager].

The Bodyguard – The Musical continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) until May 21. Tickets are available through the Pantages website. Discount tickets are available through Goldstar.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

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

Upcoming Shows: Next weekend takes us to a dance performance that proudly admits it is a dance show (unlike our past two Pantages musicals): Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend of May brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB), and possibly Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB), or perhaps the Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Festival (FB), as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is playing.

As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). I’m working on the schedule for that now. The shows of interest are as follows — however, the total for tickets is over $700, which is way too high. Expect this list to be pared down. Not all of these are currently in our schedule (¤ unscheduled as of now). If you know of any discounts for these shows, or have recommendations / disrecommendations, please let us know.

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

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

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My last post dealt with some season announcements I was mailed. Here is some other theatrical news I’ve seen of late:

  • Allegiance. The George Takei musical Allegiance is coming to Los Angeles. I say George Takei, but he really didn’t write it: The show music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and a book by Kuo, Marc Acito and Lorenzo Thione. It was inspired, however by Takei.  It is coming to the East West Theatre: “Allegiance” is scheduled to run from Feb. 21 to April 1, 2018, at the Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo.
  • Spamilton. Perhaps you couldn’t get — or couldn’t afford — tickets to Hamilton. Don’t worry. You can go to Spamilton instead. Spamilton is starting its National Tour at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Nov. 5 through Dec. 31. Tickets will be $25 to $75, subject to change. Single tickets are not on sale yet.
  • A Noise Within. Pasadena’s A Noise Within has announced their 2017-2018 season. A lot of classics and good shows, but nothing that is strongly enticing to me. But it might interest you. The season is: A Tail of Two Cities; The Madwoman of Chaillot; Mrs. Warren’s Profession; A Christmas Carol; Henry V; A Raisin in the Sun; and Noises Off.
  • The Tour List. Two shows that got shut out of major — or any — Tony glory have announced tours: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Anastasia. These are both shows that would expect to show up in the Pantages 2018-2019 season.

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As I have received some more season announcements (this time, to theatres to which I subscribe), it’s time for another installment of season reviews.

First up, Actors Co-Op (FB), which has announced their 2017-2018 season, as well as this summer’s Co-op Too! series (which is included with subscriptions). Here is Actor’s Co-Op’s next season:

  • The 39 Steps (Sept 22 – Oct 29, 2017).  Adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan and film by Alfred Hitchcock. And it is with those words, playwright Patrick Barlow has crafted a crazy, over-the-top spy novel-type mystery that will have you laughing and giggling and aha-ing! in your seat. This six-time Tony Award nominee comes to life with flashes of Hitchcock movies, sprinkles of Monty Python humor, and a good dose of romance to boot. We saw this back when it was on tour after winning the Tony at the Ahmanson. It will be interesting to see a small stage production of it.
  •  The Man Who Came To Dinner. (Nov 3 – Dec 17, 2017). By Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman.  Get in the Christmas spirit with this comedy classic of the nightmare holiday guest who never leaves—or so it seems. Ex-convicts in the dining room, penguins in the library, and thousands of cockroaches in the kitchen, are just a few of the fallouts from the visitor who outstayed his welcome. I’ve heard about this show, and heard the musical that was developed from it, but haven’t actually seen this.
  • A Walk In The Woods.  (Feb 9 – Mar 18, 2018).  By Lee Blessing. From beloved playwright Lee Blessing, comes a story of relationship between two arms negotiators and what happens when they step out of the war room and into the woods. A Walk in the Woods, produced in 1988, played on Broadway, and Time magazine called it one of the best dramas to hit the stage that year. I have a recollection of seeing this at the Pasadena Playhouse, but can’t confirm it.
  • A Man for All Seasons. (Apr 13 – May 20, 2018). By Robert Bolt. A man of remarkable integrity, Sir Thomas More placed ethics before power. To stand up to his country’s sovereign authority cost him everything, but today it offers us one of the most inspiring stories ever staged. Although I’ve heard of this play, I haven’t seen it.
  • Violet. (May 11 – June 17, 2018). Music by Jeanine Tesori, Book & Lyrics by Brian Crawley. Beginning in 1964 North Carolina, Violet rides a bus through the segregated South, to a TV evangelist in Oklahoma. She is convinced he can heal her scar, which was the result of a traumatic childhood accident. From American roots to folk to gospel, VIOLET is a powerhouse of music and theatre that will have you tapping your toes, slapping your knees, and wiping your eyes. We saw this as a minimalist Kelrick Productions a couple of years ago at the El Portal; it will be interesting to see how Actor’s Co-Op does it.

A season like this demonstrates why someone subscribes to a theatre: to see shows you might not normally purchase tickets for. Given my druthers, as you probably noticed, I tend to pick musicals. Season subscriptions — back at Rep East, Pasadena Playhouse, or The Colony Theatre in the day, or at Actors Co-Op now, gives the depth to the season to balance my personal breadth. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the season prices are fantastic: $85 for 5 shows for “Early Bird” (in the first three weeks), or $110 for regular subscriptions. Here’s how to subscribe.

Oh, and it turns out the seasons include the Actors Co-op Too! Summer productions… meaning we get three more shows for our subscription dollar. Here are this summer’s shows:

  • The Voysey Inheritance. (June 23 – July 1, 2017). by Harley Granville-Barker, Adapted by David Mamet. Edward Voysey’s highly principled world upturns when he discovers the family business he is inheriting has been defrauding its clients for years. To compound matters, he quickly discovers his, scandal-fearing family knew of the crime but allowed it to continue rather than face the shame of public disclosure. Haven’t seen this; sounds interesting.
  • Ruthie And Me.  (July 14-16, 2017). Book and Lyrics by Karen Westcott, Music by Marylou Dunn. A musical comedy about a love story between a man and a woman, a mother-in-law and daughter-and-law, and a people and their God. Based on the story of Ruth and Naomi. Sounds interesting.
  • The Last Five Years. (July 28 – Aug 5, 2017). Written and Composed by Jason Robert Brown.Jason Robert Brown’s Drama Desk winning musical THE LAST FIVE YEARS ingeniously chronicles the five year-life of a marriage, from meeting to break-up and from break-up to meeting, showing the emotional struggle and deconstruction of a love affair. Seen this far too many times (Pasadena Playhouse, Rep East, ACT San Francisco), but it will be interesting to see yet another take on it.

In many ways, this is like REP’s 81 Series: Short run specialty pies. Should be Good.

***

This brings us to our next season: The Valley Performing Arts Center (FB). They, too, have announced their 2017-2018 season. We typically do a mini-season with them: 5-8 shows out of the entire season. Here is their season, and whether I am likely to ticket:

  • Sat 9/16 | 7PM. AMADEUS LIVE. Richard Kaufman, Conductor. Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Members of the LA Opera Chorus.
  • Thu 10/12 | 8PM. Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble. Korngold – Sextet for Strings in D Major. Shostakovich – Prelude and Scherzo for String Octet. Mendelssohn – Octet for Strings in Eb Major
  • Sat 10/14 | 8PM. Upright Citizens Brigade All-Stars.
  • Thu 10/19 | 8PM. To Ray with Love, Starring Maceo Parker Featuring The Ray Charles Orchestra & The Raelettes
  • Thu 11/2 | 8PM. Moscow State Symphony Orchestra. Pavel Kogan, Conductor. Dmitry Masleev, Piano. Rachmaninov – The Rock. Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No. 1. Scriabin – Symphony No. 2.
  • Sat 11/4 | 8PM. Flamenco Legends by Javier Limón: The Paco de Lucía Project
  • Sat 11/11 | 7PM. DIAVOLO: 25-Year Anniversary Marathon. Signature works from the company’s Past, Present, and Future.
  • Tue 11/14 | 8PM. The Sachal Ensemble. Song of Lahore.
  • Fri 11/17 | 8PM. Bernstein on Stage. John Mauceri, Conductor. New West Symphony .
  • Sat 11/18 | 8PM. iLe. Special Guest Gaby Moreno.
  • Sun 11/19 | 3PM. Imago Theatre. La Belle, Lost in the World of the Automaton
  • Thu 11/30 | 8PM. Anat Cohen Tentet. Musical Director, Oded Lev-Ari
  • Sun 12/3 | 3PM. Hansel & Gretel: A Wickedly Delicious Musical Treat. Musical by Justin Roberts & Ernie Nolan. Fairy Tale by The Grimm Brothers. Animation Director: Micah Chambers-Goldberg. Directed by Michael Matthews.
  • Wed 12/6 | 8PM. Eliot Fisk. J.S. Bach – Cello Suites
  • Fri 12/8 | 8PM. Michael Feinstein Holiday Celebration.
  • Sat 12/9 | 7PM. Fiesta Mexicana: Feliz Navidad.
  • Sun 12/10 3PM. Colburn Orchestra.
  • Sat 12/16 | 8PM. The Klezmatics. Happy Joyous Hanukkah.
  • Fri 1/19 | 8PM. Juan de Marcos and the Afro-Cuban All-Stars with Harold López-Nussa Trio
  • Sun 1/21 | 7:30PM. Leilah Broukhim. Dejando Huellas (Traces).
  • Thu 1/25 | 8PM. Cheech Marin Hosts an Evening of Comedy. 3rd Annual CSUN Alumni Performance.
  • Fri 1/26 | 8PM. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London. Charles Dutoit, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor. Debussy – Petite Suite. Haydn – Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major. Stravinsky – The Firebird.
  • Sat 2/3 | 8PM. KEIGWIN + COMPANY Celebrates Bernstein.
  • Fri 2/9 | 8PM. Step Afrika! Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence.
  • Sun 2/11 | 3PM. MUMMENSCHANZ: you & me.
  • Fri 2/16 | 8PM / Sat 2/17 | 8PM. Cruzar la Cara de la Luna. Featuring Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.
  • Wed 2/21 | 8PM. Danish String Quartet.
  • Sat 2/24 | 8PM. On the Waterfront, Film with Live Orchestra.
  • Sun 2/25 | 3PM. Dublin Irish Dance. Stepping Out
  • Thu 3/1 | 8PM. Miles Electric Band.
  • Sat 3/3 | 8PM. The Ten Tenors.
  • Sun 3/11 | 3PM. Yamato—The Drummers of Japan. Chousensha – The Challengers.
  • Thu 3/15 | 8PM. Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Joshua Bell, Director & Violin. A New Commission by Edgar Meyer.
  • Sun 3/18 | 3PM. Manual Cinema. The Magic City.
  • Fri 3/23 | 8PM. Billy Porter. The Soul of Richard Rodgers.
  • Thu 3/29 | 8PM. Kathleen Battle. Underground Railroad: A Spiritual Journey.
  • Thu 4/5 | 8PM. The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.
  • Sat 4/7 | 8PM. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.
  • Fri 4/13 | 8PM , Sat 4/14 | 3 & 8PM, Sun 4/15 | 3PM | Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific. McCoy Rigby Entertainment & La Mirada Theatre.
  • Wed 4/18 | 8PM, Thu 4/19 | 8PM. Cécile McLorin Salvant.
  • Sat 4/21 | 8PM. ¡La Nueva Cuba! The Next Generation. Roberto Fonseca. Daymé Arocena. Pedrito Martinez Group.
  • Thu 4/26 | 8PM. Amir ElSar’s Two Rivers Ensemble.
  • Sat 4/28 | 3PM. LA Opera presents Great Opera Choruses.
  • Tue 5/1 | 8PM , Wed 5/2 | 8PM. Terence Blanchard. Breathless featuring The E-Collective.
  • Sat 5/5 | 8PM. Quetzal with Mariachi Flor de Toloache.
  • Sat 5/12 | 8PM. An Evening with David Sedaris.

Note that some of the shows we may opt not to ticket, if the total gets too high, and we might decide to include some of the shows.

 

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userpic=trumpYou may have noticed I’m doing fewer political posts. A lot of it is because I get far too disgusted when I read the political news these day. I realized yesterday that the root of our problem comes from our failure to establish good definitions.

If you ever work with government rules and regulations, you know that a key part is getting the terms defined correctly and precisely. One wrong definition, one wrong comma, and you don’t get what you want. Millions of people voted for Donald Trump, and his stated goal of “Make America Great Again.” There’s only one problem. They failed to precisely define “Great”.

I know, for me, what a “great” America is. It is one that ensures that its citizens are treated right. It is one that make sure there is no discrimination on race, sex, orientation, gender, size. It is one that protects those that needs protection, and one that uses laws to restrain the evil inclinations inherent in our kind. It is one that ensures there is affordable housing, healthcare, and safe living conditions. It is one where jobs and job training is available. It is one where any person can succeed if they wish, but where success does not come with class warfare or class exploitation. It is a Nation where people can feel safe in their beds and on the streets, no matter their color or class. It is one that provides the necessary infrastructure to support fair commerce. It is one where people want to pay to provide those services, because they believe that benefits come with responsibilities — where those who have feel the obligation to help those who have not.

But I recognize that my definition of “great” is not universally shared. It certainly isn’t shared by our current leadership.

I recognize that those who voted for Trump have a different definition of “Great”. They see “Great” as something we once were, back in the days of the Greatest Generation. The days when the Government didn’t do so much, didn’t involve itself in so many lives. The days when the middle class — and it was mostly a white middle class back then — could be assured of well-paying jobs. They were looking for the “Leave It To Beaver” world, a “Father Knows Best” world, where protest didn’t happen, when America’s might was unquestioned, when those pesky people that looked different or talked different were invisible (unless you were a Cuban band leader). That was the “Great” they expected Trump to bring back.

Was that Donald Trump’s definition of “Great”? I think not.

Donald Trump is a simple man, and his definition of “Great” is simple: America is great when Donald Trump is winning.

Donald Trump wins when taxes on the wealthy go down (which repealing the ACA does). Donald Trump wins when environmental regulations and bureaucratic red tape is cut. Donald Trump wins when petty dictatorships talk to him and permit him to market and build in their countries. Donald Trump wins when his financial dealings aren’t disclosed.

A man like Donald Trump would fit right in with the Robber Barons of the late 1800s, when there were no anti-trust concerns, political power was absolute with the right bribes and connections, when being white was right, without question. A time when the poor were working in horrid conditions, with no government protections. A time when America was isolationist, not spending funds on foreign activities.

Donald Trump would love those time to come back. They would make him Great again, and if he is Great, America is Great.

Damn that pesky definition.

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MenasheIf you don’t know it by now, my daughter is a Yiddish scholar. Seriously. She’s about to head out to UW-Madison to get an MS and PhD in History, specializing in the Yiddish culture of Southern California. My wife, wanting to keep up with her, signed up for a Yiddish Class through American Jewish University (FB). As part of that class, we all (that is, my wife and daughter, myself, and my cousin and her daughter (who is now staying with us)) went to Beverly Hills to see the West Coast Premiere of Menashe, a movie shown in Yiddish with English subtitles, which was being shown as part of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival (FB).

Menashe is an extremely interesting movie. It tells the fictionalized-but-based-on-fact story of Menashe Lustig, a man in an extremely insular Chasidic community in New York whose wife died almost a year ago. The strictures of the community require that the children be raised in a two-parent household. As a result, Menashe’s only son has been sent to live with his uncle and his wife, something Menashe doesn’t like. The film is the story of Menashe trying to get his son to live with him, and the various trials and tribulations involved. These are not only religious issues, but financial ones as the community is extremely poor.

The film itself was an interesting view into a community that one would never normally see. The actors in the film were mostly people who had left the community, and supposedly their portrayal (other than the variety of Yiddish dialects) was pretty spot on. I found the language to be more a poetic background to the subtitles; it enhanced the authenticity of the story being told (as if you were the fly on the wall, or the worm in the lettuce).  At times the pace dragged a bit (but not as bad as the recent Jackie), but on the whole it was a very interesting film. It explored the issue from the viewpoint of someone who wanted to remain in the community, as opposed to someone who felt the only way to deal with the community issues was to escape it (something I recall seeing in another recent film about the Chasidic community, which I can’t recall the name of right now).

 

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The Theory of Relativity (Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse)Many years ago, there was this beautiful musical on Broadway that failed in an absurdly small number of shows: The Story of My Life. The failure, in my opinion, was not due to the book or the music, but because it wasn’t a Broadway show: it was a tender small musical that got lost in a gigantic house. I saw the show a few years ago at the Lillian Theatre (now Sacred Fools) in Hollywood, and it fit perfectly. I urge you to get the cast album for the show — you’ll find some of the best crafted and most touching story songs you have ever heard. In 2014 the authors of that musical — book writer Brian Hill (FB), composer and lyricist Neil Bartram — developed another musical focused on the experience of college-age students, designed to be performed by college students. In a recent music purchasing binge, Amazon recommended this musical to me — The Theory of Relativity. I ordered it… and fell in love with another show. The music was extremely well crafted, the stories told by the songs were great, and a number of songs were just instant favorites. I thought nothing of it until I was reading the program during our recent visit to The Sirens of Titan. There was an ad for The Theory of Relativity being done at a small playhouse in Woodland Hills that we knew nothing about: The Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB) on the grounds of Woodland Hills Community Church (at Canoga and Dumetz) in Harter Hall. I’m sure you can guess what I did when I got home.

We went out to see the show last Sunday (excuse the delay in the writeup — a crazy week), and it was just a delight. Very simply staged — no scenery, just chairs — with 12 performers, it was essentially a song cycle about relationships. Most of the show was song, there were a few dialogue only pieces that added some additional characters or serving to tie everything together. Underlying them all together was the notion — and the question — of relativity: What makes a relationship? Is it the relationship as seen by the participants in the relative frame of motion? Is it the observations from the outside? Are relationships mathematical and precise, or messy and going against all logic? In going against logic, are relationships sometimes predictable? This was all wrapped up in some delicate and well-performed music, especially considering that this was at the level of community theatre (i.e., this was not an Equity-member cast; rather, there were some that had worked in a number of shows, and others for whom performing is more a passion than a career). I found the show to be extremely enjoyable.

The Theory of Relativity (Cast)Let me talk about some of my favorite numbers (and the performers as well). They have a teaser video set up on YouTube, and the photo montage to the right was snarfed from the theatre’s Facebook page:

  • One of my favorite numbers in the show is “Me and Ricky”, a story about a woman whose first love was bad news. This was performed quite well by Caitlyn Rose Massey (FB). She could have used just a pinch more belt in the voice, but it was truly enjoyable.
  • Another favorite number is “Promise Me This”, about Mira, the miracle baby and the relationship between a parent and their child. This was performed by Laila Abdo (FB), who just knocked it out with a strong clear voice and wonderful facial expressions. An aside about that: it was remarkable just to watch the faces of these performers, both when they were “on”, and even more so when they were “off” (that is, in the background just listening to another performer).
  • “The End of the Line” is another fun number performed wonderfully by Paulina Logan (FB) and Tiffany Bailey (FB). Here, the cute lyrics dovetailed with simple but great performances by the actors to make something special.
  • One of the most touching numbers was “Footprint”, about what makes a place a home. This was sung very well by Larry Collica (FB), who also served as Musical Director for the show.
  • “Apples and Oranges” is a number that comes across very different on the album from on stage; the stage performance brings across a different meaning to the terms used. Chris Clonts (FB) and Daniel Koh (FB) handled the number extremely well, and I think their touching performance gave the number the something special that was needed. I’ll note that Koh had an extremely strong and beautiful voice.
  • The multiple parts of “Pi”, performed by Kyle Sundman (FB), were cute, but they didn’t get their additional meaning until the spoke “Manicure” number featuring Katie Lynn Mapel (FB). PS: I loved Sundman’s Lego tie.
  • Another set of paired scenes were the second number, “I’m Allergic to Cats” (performed by Justin Huff (FB)) and “Julie’s Song” (performed by Kristine Gilreath (FB)).  “Cats” was really cute for its wording, but Huff’s performance of it was touching to those of similar nature (like me); when paired with Gilreath’s song and her wonderful look, it was magical.
  • Mackayla Hill (FB) primarily only had a series of scenes about a cake (which were cute); but I actually noticed her voice more in the ensemble numbers, where there was quite a bit of power in that package.
  • Kaiya Cheyenne Wynn (FB) was featured in a number of numbers, notably in the opening and the closing. A very nice strong voice, again, which I noticed even more in the ensemble numbers.

One thing notable about this show was the variety of the cast. Often, your stage productions have casts with a similar look to them. This cast was extremely diverse in color, size, style … and it worked to make an important statement of its own about the diversity we see in relationships. Another cast point that I mentioned above was the facial expressions. Especially in a small musical like this where you can be up close with the performers: watch the facial expressions. Here, they were spectacular as the messages of the songs clearly resonated with the performed, and thus were amplified by the ensemble and carried out to the audience.

Turning to the creative side of the production: Stage Direction and Choreography by Marshelle Giggles-Mills (FB). I’ve noted the set was simply a bunch of chairs moved around and a small platform up front; there was no other real scenery. Dance was simply and more movement, but it worked. There was no credit for costumes or hair design — presumably, these were picked by the actors from their personal wardrobes, demonstrating yet again the diversity in this team. Musical Direction was by Larry Collica (FB) on the piano. The production design was by Jessica Worland (FB), who also served as stage manager. The Theory of Relativity was produced by Suzanne Ryan (FB).

The Theory of Relativity has one more performance weekend — May 6 and 7. Tickets are available through the CSHP’s Brown Paper Tickets website; use the code “einstein” for a discount. Discount tickets may also be available through Goldstar. I enjoyed the show very much, and recommend it.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

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

Upcoming Shows: May starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB), and hopefully Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB).  As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). I’m working on the schedule for that now. Look for the theatre plans for the third quarter of the year (July through September) in my next writeup.

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

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April has been a busy busy month for me, so (alas) you don’t get a clever introduction. Here are the headlines I collected for the month:

  • Funding OK’d for Highway 37 traffic, flooding study in Napa, Sonoma, Marin, Solano. A group of agencies exploring solutions to flooding and traffic on Highway 37 has taken its first significant step, funding a study that is anticipated to identify actual projects that can be built along the 21-mile roadway. But with construction funds lacking, officials are unsure when any of the future work might take place.
  • Questions remain on Caltrans Hemet state Route 74 median project plan. After responding to Hemet merchants’ criticism of the planned Florida Avenue Raised Curb Median project and $1.5 million in revisions, Caltrans engineers still found some questions regarding the project slated to begin in 2018. Caltrans invited local merchants and other interested citizens to an open house meeting at the Hemet Simpson Center March 20, to further explain the safety reasons for the project and some changes to the left-hand turn lane and U-turn additions made to the original plans. It was the second Caltrans meeting held for Hemet city engineers and local merchants outlining the goal of the project Caltrans believes will prevent cross-median collisions that have been rapidly increasing in recent years.
  • California faces $860-million repair bill for roads battered by record winter storms. There were many dramatic images from California’s extreme winter: interstates flooded, bridges buckled, highways covered in mud, snowbanks blocking key highways. In Topanga Canyon, the lasting memory for many locals was the massive boulder that blocked Topanga Canyon Boulevard in January after one fierce rainstorm. The huge rock became a popular spot for selfies and social media posts.

Read the rest of this entry »

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As I’ve gotten older, my eyesight has deteriorated to the point I need glasses. When you wear glasses, you become acutely aware how the lens you see something through affects how you look at that object. This lunchtime post brings together a few articles and topics, all about how the lens you view through changes your perception:

  • Our View of the World. Most of us have our idea of the spatial relationships of the world from the Mercator Projection map, which goes back to 1589. This map was designed for navagators, and it was important to get where the countries were in relation to each other.  Size and proportion, less so.  Realize that any map is a projection, taking a portion or the entirety of a spherical surface, and making it flat. The distortions may be minor when this is done for a city, increase as you move from a state to the country, and are magnified for the world. The Mercator is a particularly bad projection. As Wikipedia notes: “It became the standard map projection for nautical purposes because of its ability to represent lines of constant course, known as rhumb lines or loxodromes, as straight segments that conserve the angles with the meridians. Although the linear scale is equal in all directions around any point, thus preserving the angles and the shapes of small objects (which makes the projection conformal), the Mercator projection distorts the size of objects as the latitude increases from the Equator to the poles, where the scale becomes infinite. So, for example, landmasses such as Greenland and Antarctica appear much larger than they actually are relative to land masses near the equator, such as Central Africa.” This also means that the size of *white* areas — Europe, Russia, America — are enlarged and the size of non-white areas are smaller. This can influence one’s understanding of power dynamics, and so some alternate projections have come in the news to address this. In Boston, they are using the Peters Projection, which stretches out the world in order to give each continent a proportionally accurate amount of room. On the Peters, Canada—so huge on the Mercator—shrinks to its proper size, while Africa, which the Mercator shows shrunk and jammed beneath a too-large Europe, stretches out. In Japan, a design competition has brought us the AuthaGraph Map, where continents curve upward like a smile. Africa and the Americas look like they swapped places, longitude and latitude are no longer a tidy grid, and proportions of continents and bodies of water are retained. All of these cause discomfort for Euro-centra or America-centric — really, white centric — for they emphasize the reality of the smallness of Europe and America.
  • Transit Maps. No article here, but a similar distortion of view comes from transit maps. Transit maps are often drawn stylized, showing stations in relationship to each other, but with a grid that may not accurately reflect the distance between stations, or how stations relate to the geography of the city. This can often result in travelers believing a distance is walkable when it isn’t.
  • The Meaning of Art. We tend to believe that the meaning of an artwork is independent from where that artwork is located. But that’s not always true. Consider the “Fearless Girl” statue in NYC. This statue — which was part of an advertising campaign — was placed in proximity to the private artwork “Charging Bull”. This bothered the artist behind bull as it changed the meaning of his piece… and the location was specifically chosen by the “girl” artist because of the meaning the bull gives. But, as the article points out, replace the bull with a group of immigrant families, and the meaning completely changed. “Girl” is a piece that gains meaning from its surroundings.
  • Men’s Magazines. The LA Times recently had an article on the attempted rebirth/resurgence of Penthouse Magazine. But what caught my eye was one exchange: «“I don’t wish the bunny ill,” Holland said. “But I’ve seen it make bad decisions for so long.” She cited Playboy’s decision two years ago to stop running nude photos in its magazine, only to reverse that decision earlier this year. “We are defined by Playboy and Playboy is defined by us,” she said. “I respect iconic brands.”» Penthouse is defined by Playboy. Playboy was borderline acceptable; Penthouse when across the line to raunchy, and Huster went to the strip club around the corner. A fascinating definition, but quite common. Look at Conservative Judaism. Rarely is it defined for what it is, but that it is somewhere in the middle between Orthodox and Reform. Again, we are defined by what is around us.

Can you think of additional examples?

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Sister Act (Cabrillo Music Theatre)Cabrillo UserpicTen and a half years ago we were subscribers at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) when they presented the premier  of a troubled new musical, Sister Act. At the time, we could pinpoint a few suggestions, but overall, we enjoyed the musical, stating, “Wow! Call out the choir and sing it to the rafters, because this show has success written all over it.” (this was, of course, before I had realized that “Wow!” was trademarked by another professional audience member in Southern California). We had no problems with either the book by Cheri Steinkellner (FB) and Bill Steinkellner (FB), nor with the music by Glenn Slater (FB), nor with the lyrics of Alan Menken (FB). In fact, we looked forward to the cast recording. Since that November day, this little musical went off to Atlanta and then to London, where it had cast member changes, and saw extensive reworking of the book by Douglas Carter Beane. It got a cast recording, and then went off to Broadway — with some more book changes and song changes. It opened on Broadway, got some Tony nominations, but didn’t get a new cast recording. It went on tour, and came to the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) … where we didn’t see it, because we had seen it in Pasadena. A few years after that, it was released for regional productions, and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) picked it up for this season. This is a long way of saying that last night saw us in Thousand Oaks, revisiting the delightful musical Sister Act, and still wishing for a cast recording that had all the songs in the show in it.

Since we saw the show in Pasadena, some character names have been changed. A few songs have been added, and some have been dropped.  But the basics of the plot, which go back to the 1992 movie, have remained the same: black jive lounge singer witnesses a murder and turns police informant, and needs to go in hiding from her crime gang boyfriend. The police decide to hide her in a fading Catholic Church, amidst a superfluity (gee, and I thought the term was gaggle) of nuns. Mostly white nuns. Yeah, she won’t stand out at all. In any case, the Mother Superior objects and the two clash like oil and water. But this of course is the movies (and later, the theatre), so they must learn to love and appreciate each other. In this case, it happens by our nun-in-hiding taking over as choir director, and teaching the other nuns to repurpose 1950s and 1960s pop songs as Catholic anthems (and which, since that can’t be done in the theatre, to develop new songs that sound like 1950s and 1960s pop anthems but are not). These new songs bring new people into the church and save the church from being sold and the nuns dispursed. They also bring the spotlight to the church, leading the gangster boyfriend and his, umm, gang to figure out where the nun-in-hiding is hiding. A chase then ensues, which in the movie takes place in Las Vegas, but since the Las Vegas set was stolen by the gang from Honeymoon in Vegas, the theatre chase takes place in the nunnery itself. But in the end, everything comes together: the convent is saved, the Mother Superior and the nun-in-hiding grow to appreciate each other, the nun-in-hiding falls in love with the cop-who-hid-her (who had a crush on her in high school — fancy that!), and the gangsters, as in any show, turn into song-and-dance-men.

So what rewriting was necessary? Think of the plot as a skeleton. A certain series of adaptations were made to put the plot on the big screen. Not all of those work when one translates to the more limited stage, and so that movie plot was reworked for the first stage version. But there were rough spots still. Some songs didn’t work. Some points that may have been clear before — in particular, whether the conversion of the nun-in-hiding, Doris Collins → Deloris Van Cartier → Sister Mary Clarence, was a religious one or just an appreciation. Some character names were changed to — well, I don’t know why, perhaps to make them more stereotypical. The humor was punched up to a form that works better on the stage. The general consensus is that the changes worked — they made a better show. I do know they removed one song I liked from the London cast album, pretty much for logical consistency: the nuns sounded too good singing it, and it was before they were supposed to start singing well.

This is where the compare and contrast comes in. There probably aren’t many audience members that saw it in both 2006 and 2017. We did. We liked it then, and we liked it now. I think that, in general, they improved the story, tightened the songs, and created a production that worked. Further, Cabrillo executed that new production well, under the direction of Misti B. Wills. Wills created the cohesive whole of the cast, bringing them together to create a family that shows to the audience: these nuns really care about what they are doing and each other. That’s a key aspect to this story. She also helped them play for the humor. In fact, the show was so funny we had some folks behind us constantly saying, loudly, “Gee, that’s funny!” But I digress (they were also crushing their water bottles, whistling in my ear during the curtain call, and screaming that everyone should stand up, they were so good). Theatre newbie audiences. Sheesh.

Sister Act - Cabrillo - CastOne of the strengths of this production is the cast. Let’s start at the top, with our nun-in-hiding, Deloris Van Cartier → Sister Mary Clarence. I enjoyed the original, Dawnn Lewis, and I can imagine how strong Patina Miller (FB) must have been on Broadway (but, alas, she’s now been shuffled off to a desk job in the State Department), but Daebreon Poiema (FB) was spectacular. She had the comic chops, the dance moves, the personality, the look, and most importantly, the killer voice to take and own this role. I could name some numbers, but she is great in all of them.

Our group of thugs was led by Dedrick Bonner (FB) as Curtis, supported by David Kirk Grant (FB) (Joey), Kenneth Mosley (FB) (TJ), and John Paul Batista (FB) (Pablo). Their roles, alas, are written very shallow and stereotypical, but the script is what it is. They do their best with it, shining in numbers such as “When I Find My Baby” and “Lady in the Long Black Dress”.

The savior of Deloris — no, not that savior, the other savior (Officer Eddie Souther) — is portrayed by Wilkie Ferguson III (FB). Ferguson expressed a very pleasant, and affable personality that interplayed well with Deloris; he also did a very nice job with “I Can Be That Guy”.

The named members of our murder of nuns — wait, murders are for crows, who also dress in black — our superfluity of nuns were Cabrillo regular David Gilchrist (FB) as Monsignor O’Hara, Debbie Prutsman as Mother Superior, Francesca Barletta (FB) as Sister Mary Patrick, Karla J. Franko (FB) as Sister Mary Lazarus, Hallie Mayer (FB) as Sister Mary Martin of Tours, and Chelsea Morgan Stock (FB) as Sister (Novitiate) Mary Robert. Gilchrist, as usual, played the comedy well — we’ve seen him in quite a few roles now, and he is just a great character actor. Prutsman made a strong Mother Superior and played off Poiema quite well, especially in the opening scene of Act II and the reprise of “Sister Act”. Barletta, who again, we’ve seen many times, brought great humor and the requisite sillyness to Sister Mary Patrick (the original Kathy Najimy role). Franko’s Mary Lazarus has the requisite crustiness and handled the rap chops quite well. Lastly, Chelsea Stock, who astounded as Sister Mary Robert. Who knew such a big voice could be in such a small package? To quote Steve Stanley, “Wow!”.

The remaning roles in the production were handled by the expert ensemble that consisted of Terri K. Woodall (FB) [Michelle, Ensemble], Fay James/FB [Tina, Ensemble], Ron de la Peña MD (FB) [Ernie, Pope, Ensemble], Bernadette Bentley (FB) [Ensemble], Jacob Byrd/FB [Ensemble], Gwen Carole (FB) [Ensemble], Amanda Carr/FB [Ensemble, Dance Captain], Zy’heem “Z” Downey/FB [Ensemble, u/s Pablo], Jenna Elise (FB) [Ensemble], Catriona Fray (FB) [Ensemble], Erin Grandelli [Ensemble], Lakeisha Renee Houston (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Deloris], Alyssa Noto (FB) [Ensemble], Katie Porter (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Mary Patrick], Rile Reavis (FB) [Ensemble], Shanta’ Marie Robinson (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Michelle], Dana Shaw (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Mother Superior], Marie Spieldenner (FB) [Ensemble], Tyler Stouffer (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Joey], Natalia Vivino (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Mary Robert], Kendyl Yokoyama (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Tina], and John Gaston [Pit Singer]. Of all of these, just a few notes, as they were all great — but also hard to distinguish. We always enjoy seeing Vivino on stage ever since first seeing her in Addams Family. She will make a great Mary Robert if she gets the chance. A shout-out to Ms. Bentley, who is a friend of a friend of ours on FB and a wonderfully creative cosplayer. Also notable is Jenna Elise for her dancing and movement skills; she caught my eye in the one number where she was out of the habit.

Music was provided by the Cabrillo Music Theatre Orchestra, under the direction of Kyle C. Norris (FB). The orchestra consisted of: Gary Rautenberg (FB) [Alto Sax, Clarinet, Flute, Alto Flute]; Matt Germaine/FB [Tenor Sax, Flute, Clarinet]; Bill Barrett [Trumpet I, Flugelhorn]; Chris Maurer/FB [Trumpet II, Flugelhorn]; Mike McCully [Trombone]; Gary Solt [Electric and Acoustic Guitars]; Benjamin Ginsberg/FB [Keyboard Synthesizer I]; Ryan Whyman [Keyboard I]; Shane Harry/FB [Electric and Double String Bass]; Alan Peck [Set Drums]; and Tyler Smith/FB [Percussion]. Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the Orchestra Contractor. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.

Dancing and movement was choreographed by Michelle Elkin (FB), and was mostly 1950s and 1960s group dance movement, as opposed to the more intricate ballet we saw recently in An American in Paris.  What is more note-worthy is that Elkin was also the choreographer back in 2006 for the Pasadena Playhouse production.

Turning to the production aspects: Sets were provided by The Music and Theatre Company (FB), which was newly released for production this year. Costumes were provided by the Tuacahn Center for the Arts (FB) in Utah; additional costumes and designs were by Helen Butler. Daniel Robles designed the hair and wigs, and Trina White designed the makeup. Cabrillo regulars Christina L. Munich (FB) and Jonathan Burke (FB) did the lighting and sound design, respectively. Alex Choate (FB) designed additional props. Rounding out the credits were: Jack Allaway, Technical Director; Art Brickman (FB), Production Stage Manager; Richard Storrs (FB), Marketing Director; David Elzer/Demand PR, Press Representative; and Will North (FB), Managing Director.

Sister Act: The Musical plays for one more weekend at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Tickets are available at the box office and through Ticketmaster. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.  It is a very enjoyable show.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

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

Upcoming Shows: The last weekend of April brings the Renaissance Pleasure Faire on Saturday, and the new musical The Theory of Relativity at Harter Hall/Charles Stuart Howard Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB), and hopefully Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB).  As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

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

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Over the last week or so, a number of interesting history articles have been tossed across the transom. Here are some I thought you might find of interest:

You can thank me later.

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This has been a busy busy week, and I haven’t had a chance to work on clearing out the news chum until now. This first collection is all computer related:

  • Going Phishing. Hopefully, you’re all cyber-aware. You know not to trust links in email you receive. You’ve been trained to look at where a URL goes before you click on it. You know not to click on links in email; you’ll copy the link and paste it into your browser bar. You know not to trust sites that aren’t the well-known version. But https://аррӏе.com is safe, right? Right? RIGHT? Actually, no. It may look like it reads “apple”, but that’s actually a bunch of Cyrillic characters: A (а), Er (р), Er (р), Palochka (ӏ), Ie (е). The security certificate is real enough, but all it confirms is that you have a secure connection to аррӏе.com – which tells you nothing about whether you’re connected to a legitimate site or not. This is what is called a homograph attack. It is something that can fool the best people, even if you hover over and check the link before browsing — unless you’re using IE or Edge or Safari. Ars Technica has even more information, but the short and skinny is: If you use Chrome, make sure you’re at Chrome 58 or later; if you use Firefox, enter “about:config” in the address bar, agree to the displayed warning, and then enter “punycode” in the search box to bring up a line that reads network.IDN_show_punycode. Next, double-click the word “false” to change it to “true.” From then on, Firefox will display the “dumb ascii” characters and not the deceptive, encoded ones.  I’ve done that, and now I see xn--80ak6aa92e.com when I hover over the link.
  • Secure Coding. I grew up programming in Fortran, PL/I, Algol 68, RSTS/E Basic, and C. Except for perhaps Fortran and C, the rest are mostly dead. Today, kids program in C++ and Java — but they aren’t necessarily writing better programs. But following good standards can help. Here’s a link to a discussion on how to do secure coding in C++.
  • iPod without iTunes. If you are like me (and fewer are), you use your iPod for all your music (and you plan on adding more this Record Store Day). But do you backup your iPod? I do — via iTunes to my M: drive, and I back that up on my X: and W: drives and on a backup iPod. But most don’t — and most abhor iTunes. Here’s how to backup your iPod without using iTunes. I’ll not that I’ve used copytrans in the past (especially before I just kept everything in iTunes), and I’d recommend it.
  • Never Too Late. As I’m typing this, iTunes is playing “Never Too Late” (to tell the Truth) from Scottsboro Boys. If you’re like me, and like to tell the truth, you’ll be happy to know that Snopes is now embeddable.  Here’s an example of an embedded article:
  • Decluttering Apps. If you’re like us, you need to declutter. The NY Times recently had a review of a number of apps that will help you do just that.
  • Pushy Microsoft. Microsoft is continuing to push people to subscribe to Office 365. The latest is restricting the ability to use Skype for Business and One-Drive if you are using a Microsoft Office Standalone Office product. You’ll see more and more products insisting on the subscription model: Adobe, Quicken, Microsoft, ….

 

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I’m still working on clearing out the news chum, now that I’ve done some cleaning of the house. Looking over the news chum, I think I can theme this bunch by relating them all to parts of the body:

  • Your Head. Ever wonder if you’re depressed. Here are 7 common symptoms of depression. Remember that depression, if left untreated, can be devastating. If you exhibit symptoms, talk to someone — friends, your doctor, a trained psychologist. But don’t try to do it alone.
  • Your Mouth (Part I). Have you ever wondered why dentistry is a separate specialty. This article explains why. Basically, blame your barber. Dentists were a trade. Doctors were a profession. At one time, the dentists tried to be considered medical. They approached the physicians at the college of medicine at the University of Maryland in Baltimore with the idea of adding dental instruction to the medical course there, because they really believed that dentistry was more than a mechanical challenge, that it deserved status as a profession, and a course of study, and licensing, and peer-reviewed scientific consideration. But the physicians, the story goes, rejected their proposal and said the subject of dentistry was of little consequence. As a result, dental insurance is often even harder to get than health insurance (which is not known for being a cakewalk), max out of pockets and payments are lower, and dental problems left untreated worsen, and sometimes kill.
  • Your Mouth (Part II). Using your mouth — that is, asking person-to-person — is 34 times more effective than asking for something via email. For the new study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers Mahdi Roghanizad and Vanessa K. Bohns instructed 45 participants to each ask 10 strangers to fill out a survey. Half of the volunteers sent their requests over email while the other half found people to ask in person. Both groups used the exact same wording when reaching out to strangers. The experiment showed that the face-to-face requests were 34 times more likely to garner positive responses than cold emails alone. The results vastly differed from the participants’ expectations: Both groups guessed their methods would be equally effective, saying they’d find success about half the time.
  • Your Nails. Here’s a neat infographic on the chemistry of nail polish. Polymerisation, thixotropic agents, solvents and thermochromism are all terms you might expect to hear more frequently in a lab than in a nail salon, but they can all crop up in relation to nail polish. When you read this, ask yourself: is using all these chemicals good for me?
  • Your Heart. More precisely, Follow Your Heart, an ages-old natural food store in Canoga Park. They invented Vegenaise. Here’s their story. They started as a small store in 1973 (back when Lindberg Nutrition was the definition of health food). They would go on to become a global natural-foods brand, raking in $50 million in sales last year. Along the way, owners Bob Goldberg and Paul Lewin — hippies in the ’70s, like many founders of the movement — would help shape how Americans eat. Their effect is profound: Thanks to them and their compatriots, organic spinach is normal. Whole wheat bread isn’t a rare item.
  • Your Gut. Those with a genetic predisposition to celiac disease don’t always suffer from it. Why? Some scientists believe that a virus or stress point may trigger it. Scientists have been looking at a reovirus. Researchers studying the virus began to suspect otherwise during a series of recent experiments on mice. The scientists had infected mice with two different strains of the virus. The mice given the first strain were fine, as was expected. Their immune systems switched on, but nothing went wrong. The second strain was different. Mice who had been infected with this reovirus—one that commonly infects people, too—began getting sick when they consumed gluten. Their immune systems had switched on, then freaked out.
  • Your Feet. Scientists have discovered why shoe laces become untied. The answer, the study suggests, is that a double whammy of stomping and whipping forces acts like an invisible hand, loosening the knot and then tugging on the free ends of your laces until the whole thing unravels. A better understanding of knot mechanics is needed for sharper insight into how knotted structures fail under a variety of forces. Using a slow-motion camera and a series of experiments, the study shows that shoelace knot failure happens in a matter of seconds, triggered by a complex interaction of forces.

 

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Animaniacs Life (La Mirada)One of my fondest memories of my college days was an event the UCLA Computer Club organized (I have no idea how) when we brought Bill Scott and June Foray in to speak about Bullwinkle. So almost a year ago, when we saw that the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) was bringing in Animaniacs Live, we were sold (and a good thing, because the show did sell out). Last night was the show, and we had a blast.

For those unfamiliar with the series, Animaniacs was part of the resurgence of Warner Brothers animation on TV in the early 1990s, much of it the brainchild of Tom Ruegger (FB). This resurgence started with Tiny Toon Adventures, and continued with the spinoff Pinky and the Brain (a personal favorite) and Freakazoid!.

The new stage show, Animaniacs Live, consists primarily of Randy Rogel (FB) and Rob Paulson (FB) telling stories about the making of the show, and singing songs from the show, backed by a large orchestra (in the show we saw, the La Mirada Symphony Orchestra (FB)).  Rogel was one of the main composers (music, lyrics) of songs on the show; Paulson voice Yakko, Dr. ScratchandSniff, and numerous other characters. Depending on availability, they bring in other principals and voice talent from the show. In the La Mirada shows, this included Jess Harnell (FB) who voiced Wakko, and Tress MacNeille who voiced Dot¹. Also featured were Steve Bernstein (FB) and Julie Bernstein, who were involved in the original scoring of the show and some of the music numbers (Steve conducted the orchestra for a few songs, and Julie provided some background vocals), as well as someone whose name I don’t remember in the orchestra. Additionally, it turned out the both creator Tom Ruegger (FB) and director Andrea Romano were in the audience for our performance.

[¹: When Rogel introduced MacNeille, he said she was the most prolific female voice actor and was behind the most characters. I do beg to differ on that one: I think June Foray was, but I’ll give MacNeille second 🙂 ]

The show consisted of two acts, followed by a question and answer session. During the two acts, Rogel and Paulson sang songs from the show (occasionally along to animated clips), with Harnell and MacNeille occasionally joining them. These four exhibited very different personalities. Rogel and Paulson were as reasonable and normal as anyone associated with animation would be 🙂 — in other words, normal suits, normal personalities, great stories, wonderful rapport with both the audience and each other. This likely befits their nature as actors first. Harnell had an outsized adult personality like a rock musican, coming out in a different glitter suit each time. MacNeille seemed a lot more shy on stage — seeming to prefer her characters more than letting the real Tress out.

I did not keep a full set list, but here’s what I recall. This is certainly not in order:

  • Yakko’s World
  • Yakko’s Universe
  • Wakko’s America
  • I’m Mad
  • The Planets
  • I’m Cute
  • La Dot
  • L.A. Dot
  • History of War
  • A Quake! A Quake!
  • There’s Only One Of You
  • Hello Nurse!
  • Variety Speak
  • Noel
  • Pepper in the Pot (History of the Spice Trade)
  • All the Plays of Shakespeare
  • Animaniacs

One last thing that cracked me up: During the Q&A, Paulson was asked about his favorite thing from the show, and he related Pinky’s non-sequitur reponses. He then asked the questioner to ask him what his was pondering. His response: “If Susan B. Anthony and Ann B. Davis, then who Bea Arthur?”

Still cracks me up.

All in all, a wonderful show. If you get a chance to catch it in your city, do so.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

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

Upcoming Shows: Next weekend brings Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The last weekend of April brings the Renaissance Pleasure Faire on Saturday, and the new musical The Theory of Relativity at Harter Hall/Charles Stuart Howard Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB), and hopefully Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB).  As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

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

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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Sometimes, you read an article someone posts, and you just want to write something up. A friend of mine, who is very active in the social justice arena, with a particular sensitivity to marginalized voices and communities, and commitment to ensuring those voices are heard, posted a link to a very interesting article titled: “Les Miserables, Black Lives Matter, and the Complacency of White Liberal Theatre Communities“.

The article related the story of an actor in tech for Les Miserables in Baltimore at the time of the Baltimore riots. The story pointed out the complacency of the typical white liberal theatre audience, as the author noted:

It suddenly occurred to me that I was in a musical about a group of young students who – after years of enduring inequality, poverty, and police brutality – resort to violence. The heroes of this story stage a revolution, aiming their guns and animosity towards abusive police officers.

And this musical is revered by white people.

The article noted this was acceptable revolution: Poor whites rising up against rich whites. But if they were people of color? A different story. As the author wrote:

You watch Javert mistreat and brutalize innocent French citizens, and you despise him. You watch Jean Valjean – a criminal swept up in the effects of mass incarceration and an unjust prison system – amend his ways, and you forgive him. You watch the people of Paris struggling to survive, bearing the burden of uneven distribution of wealth, and you empathize with them. You watch students rise up – violently – against these forces of oppression, and you cheer them on. When they are killed by militarized police forces, you mourn for them. Not once do you utter, “Well, they should have formed a peaceful demonstration if they didn’t want to be killed,” or “Javert was just trying to do his job,” or, “These young men were dangerous criminals,” or even, “You can’t fight hate with hate!”

But if their bodies were black, if they were wearing hoodies, if the setting were not 19th century France, but rather 21st century America…you would find ways to justify Javert’s actions. You would call these young men thugs. You would start quoting Martin Luther King jr. in a vacuum, to invalidate their struggle. Or you’d refrain from saying anything at all.

This made me wonder — as a theatregoer — how the audience would react to a reinterpretation of Les Miserables — preserving the music, but translating the story to any urban inner city, and the revolutionaries, criminals, and prostitutes as people of color. We do these translations all the time to Shakespeare. What would the audience reaction be? Would a director have the temerity to try it?

Theatre is supposed to be one of the true venues that speaks to power. But the majority of live musicals fail to do so. This is often due to safety and cost: the people that are supposed to be able to hear can’t shell out the funds. Even when you have a musical that speaks the vernacular — a Hamilton — the audience that needs to see it can’t afford it. I’ve long bemoaned the fact that the only time I see people of color in an audience is when the corresponding color is one stage — and when the color is on the stage, the white folks in the audience often disappear. Don’t believe me? Attend a performance of The Color Purple. I saw this regularly at the Pasadena Playhouse when they put on African-American themed shows.

And actors of color? The lack of diversity in the audience is often a mirror of the lack of diversity on stage. Only recently have musicals about Asians cast Asians in the roles. This is largely due to efforts of folks like David Henry Hwang, and the recent casting of things like Flower Drum Song, The King and I, and Allegiance.  But jobs for actors of color are much harder these days.

There are places where these voices are heard and cast: in the small intimate theatre scene. I see and hear about innovative and questioning theatre all the time from the 99 seat community here in Los Angeles. But as you move up to the larger theatres, that largely disappears. Venues such as the Pasadena Playhouse have made attempts to broaden the audience, but it is unclear if they have been successful in the long term.

What are your thoughts? What should the theatre community due to ensure that the concerns of the marginalized are heard? That the stories tell what is happening? That there is diversity on stage and in the audience?

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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Doc Severinsen and his Big Band (VPAC)If you haven’t figured it out by now, I like music and live performance. As I’ve gotten older, I find a read less, but treasure music and performance more. As for what type of music, the answer is simple: all. I can find performers in almost every musical genre that I love (yes, even rap). I go to theatre seasons and plays and musicals to fulfill my need as an audience member to see stories on stage. I go to venues such as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB),  McCabes (FB),  and the Hollywood Bowl to satisfy my musical live performance needs.

Thursday night saw us at VPAC for the penultimate show of our mini subscription: A celebration of Doc Severinsen and his Big Band on the occasion of his upcoming 90th birthday. For the youngsters out there, Doc Severinson was the long time band leader on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, from 1962 until the show ended in 1992. No, not the version with Jimmy Fallon. Not the version before that with Conan O’Brian. Not the version before that with Jay Leno. The long running version that actually had a big band.

Doc actually opened VPAC in… well, whenever it opened. It was Doc that did the first show and helped them tune the hall.

Thursday nights show was pure big band and swing. Doc was joined on a few songs by his vocalist, Vanessa Thomas. He was also joined, at times, by a violinist who was not listed in the program. His band consisted of:

I’ll note that a number of these musicians are also involved with Gordin Goodwin’s Big Phat Band (Goodwin is also a graduate of CSUN’s jazz program).

The program was straightforward big band jazz:

  • The Johnny Carson Theme
  • I Want To Be Happy
  • September Song
  • Singing in the Rain
  • When You’re Smiling
  • Georgia on My Mind
  • Isn’t She Lovely?
  • Jumping at the Woodside

(Intermission)

  • [Song I didn’t recognize]
  • Things Aren’t The Way They Used To Be
  • Happy Birthday Papa Doc
  • Mood Indigo
  • Secret Love
  • Every Day I Have the Blues
  • 1 O’Clock Jump

I’ll note this is very similar to their 2016 program on the website. This means the song I didn’t recognize was likely Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia.”

This was truly an enjoyable program. It is also remarkable to see Severinsen still doing this — touring and blasting away with his trumpet — at age 90.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

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

Upcoming Shows: Tonight brings Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB). That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The last weekend of April brings the Renaissance Pleasure Faire on Saturday, and the new musical The Theory of Relativity at Harter Hall/Charles Stuart Howard Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB), and hopefully Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB).  As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

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

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

===> Click Here To Comment <==
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