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While riding along Route 66 and stopping for lunch in Seligman, AZ, an odd thought popped into my mind. It was amplified, a bit, by listening to a 99% Invisible Podcast on a Plaque for Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis. That podcast pointed out that monuments don’t just appear in the wake of someone’s death — they are erected for reasons specific to a time and place.

I noted in a past post how many towns along Route 66 are dying or waning, but have a growing business in Route 66 tourism. There are loads and loads of Tourist / Money Separators being produced with variants of the Route 66 logo. But there’s no love for Route 6 or 60 or 70 or 80 or 99. There’s just a little love for the Lincoln Highway (US 30 / US 40). Why so much love for Route 66?

But then I began to think about the nostalgia, and who you see in the material. I thought about the Green Book, the guide for Negro motorists that told them where it was safe to travel. I thought about the implicit Jim Crow rules in many states, and wondered how many Negros and minorities traveled US 66. Remember, the heyday that is being remembered is from the Steinbeck days to the Eisenhower era and the starting of the Interstates. That was the period of loads of discrimination, even in non-Southern states (think about Las Vegas and the Casinos, for example).

I then begin to think about Trump, “Make America Great Again”, and the nostalgia for the “Good ‘Ol Days”. Often, that is code speak for the days when men had the privilege, when more specifically, white men had the privilege. The 1930s through 1950s, those “Happy Days” that were lily white, except for that jungle rock music.

And so I wondered: Could the Route 66 nostalgia be similar to Confederate Statues? Could it be a veiled longing for when America was last perceived to be great, the days when minorities were in their place, when the White Male breadwinner could get behind the wheel of his gleaming Buick or Chevrolet and motor down the road, secure in the knowledge that they could find a clean motor court that would accept them, and gas stations with servile attendants to address their every need. Even during the dustbowl migration, when the great road was a path for survival, it was survival for the White Farmers escaping Kansas, looking for work in the fields of California, which didn’t have the need to import those braceros.

I thought about it, and the romance of the Mother Road wasn’t quite so romantic anymore. Bringing down the statues is raising awareness of many other ways of memorializing.

 

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Subaru UserpicAs we drove the “Mother Road” and along other former US highways and byways (US 6, US 151, US 30, etc), I couldn’t help but notice the evolution of the roadside motel and its branding. In the early days of the US highway system, things were mom and pop motels, local to the area. In the heydays of the Interstate and as the US system was bypassed, these became chains like Best Western, Travelodge, Motel 6, and Holiday Inn.

Today? We’ve seen very few Travelodges, Best Western has gone upscale and the motels have lost their “individually owned” character. We’ve seen nary a highway Holiday Inn. The old motels have moved their affiliations to American’s Best Value Inn, Knights Inn, and Budget Host, to name a few (the first two are now the budget brands of Wyndham). These brands seem to take the old hotels and keep them viable with a network, but leave the improvements up to the owner. Former budget chains — Ramada, Holiday Inn, etc., have gone upscale and disgorged their older properties. Perhaps the franchisee requirements and new standards were impossible for the older hotels to meet.

When looking at highway motels, it is clear which are loved, which are not, which are attempts to make money, and which are dying. It is easy to see the growing conformity of the franchise — travelers know what they get, and often pay extra for that conformity. Yet in our travels we’ve seen the hotelier who loves the business, and who care about their customers, and those are still nice to see. So is it still worthwhile to see out the individual hotel, the unique, the special? I think so, but I note that you can find that even in some chain hotels (as we did).

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We just got back from a long roadtrip: Los Angeles to Madison WI to St. Louis MO and back. We went out through the mountains (I-15 to I-70 to I-76 to I-80 to US 151), down through the heartland (I-39/90 to I-39 to I-55 to I-270), and back along former US Route 66 (I-44 to I-40 to I-15, with numerous digressions to the historical route). Here are a few observations on the trip:

  • Nevada/Arizona (I-15). Although the stretch to Las Vegas is well known, the drive further N through the canyons before St. George UT is beautiful. The Arizona stretch of I-15 is interesting when you understand that there is no accessibility to it from elsewhere in Arizona — ADOT must get to it through either NV or UT. In any case, the chiseling out of those canyons was remarkable, and it is just a great drive. I’ll also note that Nevada DOT does some beautiful bridges and interchanges.
  • Utah (I-15/I-70). The stretch of UT up to I-70 was an interesting drive, but even more interesting was I-70 through Utah. It was some of the most remarkable scenery I have ever seen — bluffs and plateaus and wonderful rock formations. Kudos to those who constructed the highway in this area for their hard work, and just imagine how hard it was for pre-Interstate travelers. The views are just spectacular, and the vista points are worth the stop. UDOT also does some beautiful bridges and interchanges.
  • Colorado (I-70). The stretch in Colorado between Grand Junction and Denver is spectacular as you drive along the origins of the mighty Colorado river, and through beautiful mountains and passes. Just… wow.  Also, we could tell we were moving east as the houses changed from stucco and brick to siding and brick. This is one stretch of I-70 with little to no cellular reception, at least W of Denver through Vail.
  • Colorado/Nebraska (I-76, I-80). This stretch is dull country. Flat fields of corn. You would tend to think of the plains as vast openness. Well, it is, plus corn and cows. The small towns are, well, small. Driving these roads, however, you can begin to get a sense of where Trump’s support comes from. These are very heterogeneous communities: mostly the same race, the same background, the same church. They have been hit hard by economic woes, by the money moving to the urban coastal towns, by the jobs that the legal immigrants are willing to take and do (and they don’t see in the faces the distinction between legal and illegal, so they are lumped together). The other — the person from outside their community, from outside their frame of reference — is to be feared, and Trump just played to that. I don’t think we saw a single synagogue in the small towns; the Jewish population must be negligible. This, I think, emphasizes the point that the best solution to racism is eliminating the bars of segregation. Intermingling changes people from “the other” to “my neighbor” — and it is true for race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or any other point of division you can think of.
  • Iowa (I-80). Rolling hills of farmland. It was weird driving it at night, seeing all the red lights on the wind farm towers without the ability to see them for what they were. Landing lights? Power lines? Nope, wind farm. I hadn’t realized how hilly Iowa was. Driving through Cedar Rapids on our way up US 151 to Dubuque was a land of farms, leading us into picturesque Wisconsin. We stayed at a small motel in Stuart, just outside of Des Moines. This was an example of a well-cared for old motel, unlike the motel in Julesberg CO.
  • Wisconsin (US 151). This is what farmland should look like. Postcard perfect. Beautiful country. Great cheese. Most importantly, it is where are daughter is, so “Go Badgers!”. Driving around the UW-Madison campus showed how pretty it was, and the town was easy to navigate.
  • Illinois (I-90, I-39, I-55, US 66). Our first impression of Illinois was having their hand out for a toll road: I-90 for the segment before I-39 splits off. After that, it was farmland, and highway signs that were much too wordy. We followed US 66 in some stretches paralleling I-55 for a bit, and it was well marked, although many of the 66 towns were dying or clearly dependent on 66 tourism. This was on the day of the eclipse, which we really didn’t see as we were in Rochelle IL where it was very cloudy. We did, however, see the incredible traffic on I-55 between St. Louis and Bloomington — all the people returning from viewing the eclipse. Bumper to bumper.
  • Missouri (I-270, I-44). First, I must note that St. Louis and its suburbs is still one of my favorite cities, and home to some of my favorite people. Driving through the Ozarks was interesting: I hadn’t realized that it was so forested and there were so many trees and streams. Beautiful country.
  • Kansas (US 66). We took US 66 out of Joplin because Oklahoma doesn’t make their turnpike prices and policies easy to find for tourists. This meant we actually traversed the portion of US 66 that cuts a corner of Kansas. These are towns that are clearly facing away thanks to the rerouting of 66.
  • Oklahoma (US 66, I-44, I-40). As noted above, Oklahoma does not make turnpike policies easy to find, and so we tried to follow 66. That didn’t always work, especially in Miami OK where 66 isn’t signed well when it meets US 59/69. This lead us in the wrong direction, and then nav took us even further afield. We eventually make it to Tulsa, however, and then to Oklahoma City where we were finally turnpike free. I-40 and following US 66 was much easier W of OK City, where it is signed as OK 66. Long flat prairie. Lots of dying towns.
  • Texas (I-40, US 66). US 66 was pretty easy to follow in Texas. Again, long flat prairie, with towns dependent on US 66. Amarillo had a load of construction along I-40 that made it hard to follow the frontage road. I really hate the frontage road onramps to I-40 that are neither well-marked, nor provide safe access. Only in Texas would the hotels have waffle makers shaped like Texas. I did have fun playing a lot of “I’m leaving Texas” songs as we left the state.  I did try to find the Cadillac Ranch, although I couldn’t find the cars.
  • New Mexico (I-40, US 66). Long, flat, and straight. That’s I-40 in New Mexico E of Albuquerque, with the occasional ride through US 66 towns such as Tucumcari. Albuquerque is neat: they are preserving the Route 66 neon along Central Ave, even if they aren’t preserving the buildings. There is also an incredible amount of public art in the city. Central Ave is really gentrifying. We also knew we were back in the West again, as stucco reemerged. The NM-DOT interchanges in Albuquerque are also quite nice; however, they make it a real pain to get on the freeway with the long frontage roads — especially near the I-25 / I-40 interchange. I’ve also decided that Santa Fe exists to separate wealthy people from their money. West of Albuquerque is flatland, with increasing bluffs and some lovely Route 66 diversions in both Grant and Gallop. Former trading posts along Route 66 were being replaced by Native American Casinos (I’m guessing slot machines are an easier way to separate tourists from their money than selling pottery and blankets). There are still Native American stores near the highway, and a few of the “old school” shops exist in the larger Route 66 cities. However, the merchandise seems mostly to be the same everywhere (including the jewelry), making me wonder how much is Native American made, vs. Native American ordered. New Mexico does a pretty good job of signing historic Route 66, but it is clear that many of the towns are highly dependent on Route 66 tourism and nostalgia — and there are so many dead / dying motels and gas stations. One other oddity: Unleaded gas is 86 octane in both Texas and New Mexico, not the 87 we’ve come to expect — which is a pain when your manual insists on 87 or higher.
  • Arizona (I-40, US 66). In many areas, the old 66 trading posts still exist, and seem nicer than the touristy ones. We particularly liked the ones just across the AZ/NM border in Lupton AZ. As we noted in NM, a lot of the old trading posts have been upsized into full casinos to separate the tourist from their money. We did take a number of US 66 diversions, especially those that were also Business I-40 loops. This included the classic towns like Holbrook and Winslow. Loads of loads of dead motels along the way (and dead gas stations). Were I still in the photography mode, there could be some beautiful photo-essays there. I still remember the dead outposts at Meteor City (the exit before the actual crater), Fort Courage, and a number along the path in Holbrook and Winslow. However, classic trading posts such as those in Lupton and the Jackrabbit are still around. As the “Route 66” song says, we didn’t forget Winona, although it was very forgettable — perhaps two gas stations. It was also well off the road and not on a Business 40 routing — you took County 515 up past Winona to US 89, and then US 89 into Flagstaff. Given there is a different routing now for former 66, I think the routing past Winona was an older one from perhaps the 40s, and was replaced by a more southerly routing that leaves 40 near exit 204 (then again, it could have been that Winona was near the highway, and was so dead with missed it and thought it was further up the mountain). and well off the road). ADOT doesn’t do pretty interchanges, and tends not to maintain old 66 except in the major Business 40 towns.
  • California. It is so nice to see postmiles and Botts Dots again (even though the latter is going away). California is doing a better job of signing Historic Route 66 along I-40, although it tends to spell it out vs. using the historic sign. However, they refuse to use the Business I-40 shield: they would rather spell it out. Seeing the SBD CR 66 sign reminded me of my role in getting that route created: they came to me for the sign specifications (and it should have been either N-66, P-66, R-66, or S-66 to be proper, given the county group). There are many dead hotels and gas stations in Needles, and an increasing number in Barstow. Next stop: Home!

We also noticed, along the road, the dearth of decent coffee shops. You only found good local coffee and tea — or even marginal Starbucks — in the larger cities. At the truck stops and gas stations along the major interstates — no decent coffee. In many of the small and dying towns — no decent coffee. It appears that Starbuck-style coffee shops, as opposed to diner-style coffee shops, only exist in areas with sufficient disposal income.

As for our thoughts on where we stayed, which will eventually go into reviews:

  • La Quinta, St. George UT. Very nice hotel. Some portions were under-construction, but no big deal. Very pet friendly, nice breakfast. In fact, it was so pet friendly that they had a “pet row” on the first floor; it turned out that next to us was the wife an Aerospace employee with her pet. It reminded how much we liked the La Quinta chain; when we last did Route 66 we stayed at a number of their properties.
  • Motel 6, Grand Junction CO. Cheap and clean, although you paid extra for the WiFi. Spartan furnishings, but worked well for the pet. And I do mean Spartan: thin smaller towels (but clean), lighter blankets, not updated for a lot of plugs, paying extra for the wi-fi, smaller rooms. But they were clean and everything worked. Motel 6 is what it advertises itself to be: clean and cheap. But that is also why we normally don’t stay there, except when I’m having to pay for two rooms and to have a pet-friendly motel.
  • Budget Host Platte Valley Inn, Julesburg CO. An old highway motel, pet friendly but that’s about it. Restaurant closed, about to reopen. Our daughter’s room smelled of animal urine (as the pet room), but then had a roof leak from an air conditioner so they moved her. Bathroom skimpy. The place needs some TLC. No working ice machine. Note that there are no restaurants nearby, and the ones somewhat close are closed by 8pm. Your best bet is to go to Big Bs Bar and Grill in Ovid — we had some great ribs there. (It turns out they used to run the restaurant at the hotel, but that’s a long story)
  • Stuart Motor Lodge, Stuart IA. Yet another old highway motel, but this one was loved. Nice room, nice amenities. Clean and cared for. Yelp reports it as closed, but it is open and we liked it quite a bit. I did get a chuckle from the sign at checkin that indicated that locals could not stay in the hotel. Hmmm. As for the hotel: Nothing particularly fancy, but we didn’t require fancy. It worked very well for my daughter’s dog.
  • Best Western East Towne Suites, Madison WI. The first hotel that didn’t need to be pet friendly. Nice, clean, comfortable, with a good breakfast. Good location: near I-90, and easy to get to our daughter’s room with lots of shopping nearby. When we go back to Madison, we’ll certainly consider this place.
  • Comfort Inn and Suites, St. Louis (Westport) MO. Not as nice as the reviews made it out to be. The Ice machine on the first floor wasn’t working, and the parking left a lot to be desired. We had some sort of water leak near the A/C that we realized the 2nd day, which left our room a bit musty. Still, for what we were doing, the location was nice.
  • Country Inn, Tulsa OK. Nice hotel with nice personnel. Decent breakfast. We’ve always liked this chain. They were easy to get to.
  • Sleep Inn and Suites, Amarillo TX. What is it with the Choice Hotel chain and water? First the door key wouldn’t work, so they moved us to a different (and much nicer room). Kudos to the very receptive front desk staff on duty that evening. This would have been great… except that there was a water leak by the A/C that left 1/3 of the room with a sopping floor, and although there was a TV for the in-room whirlpool, there were no controls for the TV. The Waffles were in the shape of Texas — only in Texas. Alas, the front desk staff didn’t stay good: we never got a receipt because the front desk clerk couldn’t be bothered to do it, insisting instead that our third-party booking company (AAA) would send us one. They never did.
  • Econolodge Old Town, Albuequerque NM. One of the nicer motels we’ve been at — good breakfast, good people. This was clearly an older hotel that had been updated by an owner that cared about the property. They even had posole out in the evening for guests, and made their typical breakfast very nice. One oddity: Their wireless network keeps changing its identification from “Econolodge N” to “Econolodge N+1”. We’re now up to 4. This isn’t a new network, mind you — you stay connected, you don’t have to re-login. It seems to be just a new name. The water problem here? The vanity sink drained slow — that was about it. So Econolodge was the best of the Choice chain.
  • Green Tree Inn, Flagstaff AZ. Nice room, no identifiable problems (except for the couple in the room next to us who were loud). The hotel has gone green, meaning pump bottles of amenities instead of little bottles. They also had an interesting stall shower instead of the usual tub/shower combination. They also had the largest bath towels of any of the hotels on this trip — a win in my book.  They were the only hotel to provide two luggage racks — another plus. They were in this area with loads of hotels off former 66, right next to I-40 where I-17 ends, over by NAU.
  • River Valley Inn, Needles CA. This is an older Route 66 hotel, but again well maintained. No breakfast. The room did have a ceiling fan, which was useful. But clean room (modulo the occasional small desert flying bug that goes with the territory), well insulated, that didn’t cost much.

On the whole, we put almost 4900 miles on the car in just under 3 weeks. The Subaru was a champ on the road, although it did have a bit of effort at the higher altitudes. But then again, so did I. The best full tank “milage to empty” was 690; typically it was between 500-560. A few more Mother Road observations in some follow-on posts.

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Continuing to clear out some articles, here’s some travel and transit related articles:

 

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userpic=fringeYesterday, we saw our second batch of Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) shows: Ink Theater (FB)’s The Heart Change, 86’d , and Insuppressible: The Unauthorized Leah Remini Story. Unlike our first Fringing day, there was nary a clunker in the bunch. We found parking for the first two easy, and were able to pick up our Fringe pins at Fringe Central without difficulty. The only sour spots for the day were our continuing headaches, and the parking ticket I got in West Hollywood for not being precisely within the parking space markings. Cost of doing business, I guess — I haven’t had one in over 20 years. On to our first show….

***

The Heart Change - INK Theater (Hollywood Fringe)We selected Ink Theater (FB)’s The Heart Change because the description sounded so interesting: here was a show not only with kids as actors, but the kids wrote it, designed it, choreographed it, designed it — it was basically a creative project for a bunch of kids ages 7-12. The subject was also interesting: “When a group of kids have to face a crabby Hollywood director and realize just how powerful they are. ” Shows done by kids are usually fun at Fringe – witness last year’s Titus Andronicus Jr. – so this had good potential.

I’m pleased to say that I sat through this entire show smiling. No, by adult standards, it was far from perfect. Some jokes were sophomoric, the story was a bit simplistic and stereotyped, and there was a bit of caricature/overacting in the performance. But these kids aged 7-12. For their ages and what they did it was remarkable.

Last week I saw adults in a show that was painful because of the potential squandered. This week, I saw kids in a show that was imperfect, and all I could see is the potential-to-be.

The basic story the kids developed is this — insert the appropriate suspension of belief. Hollywood director is forced by his studio to make a movie with kids. He hates kids, and needs the money. The kids audition and get the movie, but problems arise immediately between the kid’s personality/sense of entitlement and the director’s desire to control. It doesn’t end well, and the kids quit the production. But the cameraman relates the story of one of the kids, and as the director and the kids learn more about what is driving them and what their behavior was making, they have a change of heart and learn to work together.

This is a story written by kids under 12. Pretty remarkable isn’t it. It also contained three songs, performed by the kids on-stage, and a dance.

There were also some great performances. You’ll have to excuse my imprecision here: there were no photos in the program, and these kids don’t have an internet presence yet (being under 13), so I can’t necessarily put names with the performances I liked. There was a little black kid who kept spouting scientific stuff about nutrition and eating tomatoes who was just hilarious. I also liked the two girls who sung — such a great effort (I think they were Bela Salazar and Caytlin McKinney). One girl kept reminding me of my niece with her vocal style and behavior (this is in a good way), and the two kids who played the baboons were just hilarious. This was just a delight to watch.

The cast consisted of: Olivia Brumit – Alexandria; Stephen Ramsey – Bob; Sienna Sullivan – Charlotte, Waiter; Emma Patti – Eliza Jane; Malachi Turnbull – Jacob; Gael Bary – John Pierre; Ruby Miller – Luna; Bela Salazar – Mercedes; Nadia Gray – Ms. George; Zoe Gray – Nelly; Terydan Green – Roberto; Caytlin McKinney – Sunshine; and Tegan Linehan – Toby.

Credited adult supervision was Rachel Kiser (FB) – Director; Sarah Cook (FB) – Producer / Choreography Coach; and Erin Hall (FB) – Acting Coach / Stage Manager.

There is one more performance of The Heart Change, today at 7:00pm. If you enjoy watching kids with potential — hell, if you enjoy just watching incredibly cute kids on stage — go see this.

***

86'd (Hollywood Fringe)The second show that we saw was, 86’d, a one-woman show about life in the service industry — something every actors supposedly knows because being a waitron is supposedly one of the best subsistence jobs. I went into this show expecting it to be a one-woman monologue of vignettes. Instead, Co-writer and performer Courtney Arnett (FB) presented a series of scenes from what was ostensibly her life as a server at a restaurant called “Sweats”.

These vignettes begin when she has been working a double shift, and gets assigned a clueless newbie to train. They continue through the life of the restaurant, its decline, its rebirth as a new venue with the same chef and staff, until that venue’s eventual decline and closing. It ends, fittingly, with her being the newbie at a new restaurant.

During the saga, we get to see how a life such as this doesn’t permit her life to go on. She may meet bartenders and busboys and chefs, but her reason for moving to Los Angeles is never achieved, and she never achieves her goals of family either.

However, that is the character in the story. My hopes for this actress, however, are much more. In this production, she demonstrated a remarkable singing voice, great comic timing, wonderful expressions, and an easy-going way of relating to the audience. We found the show very enjoyable, providing a different view of those servers we see every day.

The title, “86’d”, refers to a term used in the restaurant industry for running out of a food or service items (e.g., “We’re 86’d on the haddock today.”). Early in the show, the running joke is that everything on the menu is 86’d except for the hamburger, fries, and Miller Lite.

86’d was cowritten by Julia Meltzer (FB), who also directed the piece. Courtney Arnett (FB) created the piece. It was produced by Terri Arnett, Rachel Germaine (FB★; FB) [who was checking us in at the door], and Matt Robinson. Music was by Kait Hickey and Ariana Lenarsky (FB). Tech by Colin Johnson (FB).

86’d has 3 more performances: Wednesday June 14th @ 700pm; Monday, June 19th @ 830pm, and Friday, June 23rd @ 1130pm. It plays at Studio C as the Asylum, which is right next to “The Complex” group of theatres near Fringe Central.

***

Insuppressible - The Absolutely Unauthorized Leah Remini Story (Hollywood Fringe)The last show we saw yesterday was Insuppressible: The Unauthorized Leah Remini Story at The Actors Company facility in West Hollywood. Yes, this is where I received the love note from the West Hollywood Traffic Force for not being exactly between the lines. Not worth contesting, but something others should note when visiting this venue. Perhaps they were agents of David Miscavige, mad about my seeing this show.

Going in, my only knowledge of Scientology was what I picked up by listening to A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant. I had heard roughly about the disappearance of David Miscavige’s wife, Shelly, but hadn’t followed the Leah Remini (FB) series. My wife, however, had.

[ETA: I completely forgot, until the tweet with this writeup was re-tweeted, that we saw Squeeze My Cans at last year’s HFF. That show was one woman’s story of how she got drawn into the tar-baby that is Scientology, how she worked her way into the upper tiers of the religions, and how she eventually escaped its grasp. Not only did this effort take more than a decade, it decimated her finances. Quite interesting to think about, when paired with this musical.]

Insuppressible started late due to the previous show running late (this is Fringe, folks); I’m sure the show after us was late due to the same shift, plus the confetti left by this show. I’m glad to say, however, the show was worth the wait.

I went into the show, for some reason, thinking that his would be  a one-woman musical. Far from it. This was a large cast (8) musical, executed well, with strong song and dance, and great effects. This was the exact opposite of Robot Monster: The Musical. This is a good thing.

Insuppressible tells, in five scenes, the story of Leah Remini’s path through Scientology. It opens with her making friends with Shelly, and Shelly to encourage her to persue her dream of acting. It then moves to her professional pinnacle in King of Queens, and her being a Scientology Celebrity up there with Tom Cruise. It then moves to the wedding of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, where all the resentment that Remini has with Scientology starts to bubble up, leading to her split with the group. It ends with her getting the courage to leave Scientology and go onto a life of success or something close thereto.

This was a fringe show. Jeffrey McCrann (FB)’s book and Robert Hill (FB)’s music were relatively entertaining, although it is unclear if they could extend the piece into a fully-sustained two-act musical with a deeper book and connection of the songs to the inner turmoils of the characters as opposed to being more scene oriented. Still, it might be worth a try. I certainly didn’t sense the show dragging, although I would have liked to find out more what happened afterwards, and to see some more fleshing out of the beliefs of the group and how strange they are. But then I’m always for exposing strange rituals.

The performances were excellent. In the lead position was Leslie Rubino (FB) as Leah. We saw her a few weeks ago in Freeway Dreams, and again we were blown away by her talent, voice and sense of comic timing.  It is worth seeing this show alone just for her performance.

The remaining seven cast members all are strong. Jaimie Day/FB‘s Katie Holmes was mostly a caricature, but she was spectacular in her solo number “Katie and Tom”. A great LA theatre debut. There was just something about Tiffani Ann Mills (FB)’s Shelly Miscavige that was a delight to watch. Perhaps it was her believable friendship with Leah; perhaps it was her look; perhaps it was her singing in the opening number — in any case, I just couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. Libby Baker (FB)’s Mother was strong in the opening number, but then the writing moved her to more of a background role, although she was strong in “The Gaslighting Song”. Nicole Clemetson/FB‘s J-Lo was a hoot — I have no idea whether J-Lo acts like that in real life, but that’s how I want her to act.  Clemetson was also a strong singer. Lastly, of the female cast, Sohm Kapila (FB) was Nicole Kidman. She only had one scene as Nicole in the end and was good in that. Note that all of the actresses other than the lead were also in the ensemble in various scenes.

There were two male members of the cast: David Wilkins/FB as Tom Cruise and Milo Shearer/FB as David.  Both were strong performers and strong singers — they were particularly strong in “Matter, Energy, Space, and Time”.

Music was a mix of prerecorded music and on-stage music from Robert Hill (FB).

No credits were provided for choreography, set design, costumes, sound, lighting etc. With respect to those creative areas, a few observations. First, someone went crazy with the glitter glue. Second, I’m sure the production following this wanted to shoot this production for the on-stage confetti gun that left confetti everywhere. Third, there was some sort of sound problem that sounded like constant rain, which was annoying. Other than that, however, the costumes and props were clever, and the show fit in and out of the Fring requirements great.

The production was directed by Jeffrey McCrann (FB).

Insuppressible: The Unauthorized Leah Remini Story continues at the Let Live Space at the Actors Company with four more performances: Sunday June 11 2017, 5:30 PM; Thursday June 15 2017, 8:30 PM; Friday June 23 2017, 11:30 PM; and Saturday June 24 2017, 4:00 PM. We found this to be a very enjoyable production, and predict you will as well. If not, well, there are always soup cans.

***

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.

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: June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). This is the current planned schedule for HFF. To see the full Fringe guide, click here.

With respect to the Hollywood Fringe Festival: I’d like to recommend Hello Again, The Songs of Allan Sherman. Linden, the artist, did the show for our synagogue Mens Club back in October, and it was a delight. So good, in fact, that we’re going to see the show again during Fringe. If you want a fun show full of parody music, see this one.

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, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB). 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 made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). 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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Casa Valentina (Pasadena Playhouse)userpic=pasadena-playhouseIn the last two years, we’ve seen remarkable strides in the acceptance arena. We’ve seen homosexuals get the right to be married; we’ve been able to observe the transformation of Wheaties Box Heroes from one gender to the other. We’ve seen acceptance of a wide range of sexual preference in society, from no preference at all (asexual) to traditional preference to non-traditional preferences. We’ve seen similar understanding (perhaps not full acceptance yet) of the full range of gender identities. But this hasn’t been comfortable for many; arguably, many wish for those simpler days when the roles and nature of the sexes were much more separate, and those roles and orientations that went against “what nature intended” were best hidden from sight.

The play Casa Valentina by Harvey Fierstein (FB), officially opening tonight for a run through April 10, 2016 at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) (which we saw last night) explores those days. It is based upon the true story of Casa Susana, a resort that existed in the Catskill Mountains of New York in the 1950s and early 1960s. The resort catered to men who wanted to release the girl within; in other words, it provided heterosexual men a place where they could endulge their desire to dress as women.  This is an era when homosexuality was firmly in the closet, and any inkling of transvestism except as humor tended to be an offense that could land you in jail. The genders, for the most part, were clearly distinct (and God meant them to be that way).

In the play, George (Valentina) and his wife Rita are the proprietors of Chevalier d’Eon, a resort in the Catskills catering to men who like to dress as women. We meet them when a first-timer, Jonathan, arrives for the weekend. He is greeted by Rita and Bessie (Albert), a large friendly girl. Both welcome him, and Bessie helps him get over his fear of transformation into his alter ego, Miranda. We shortly learn that this is a weekend when most of the regulars are present, because there is another special first time guest: Charlotte (Isadore). George arrives home, and during his transformation into Valentina provides more information. Charlotte is from California and is the publisher of a transvestite magazine for which Valentina regularly writes articles. Charlotte has an announcement that could be the savior of George, Rita, and the resort.  George also discusses with Rita the reason he arrived late: he was being questioned by the postal inspectors about an envelope of pictures of naked cross-dressing men that had been addressed to him. This worries Rita, and she asks him to discuss it with another of that weekend’s guests, Amy (The Judge).

Soon the other guests have arrived — Gloria (Michael) and Theodore (Terry) — and it is time for the announcement. Their informal sorority was going legit. Charlotte had incorporated it as a non-profit in California, and he just needed their legal (birth names) on a form to sign as officers. Discussion of the risks of this uncover that they are signing a second statement: that they are not homosexuals. It turns out that Charlotte is a strong advocate for transvestites and wants them to be accepted in society. To do this, he believes, they must disassociate themselves from the homosexual cross-dressers. He says something to the effect of: in 50 years, society will broadly accept the cross-dresser, while homosexuals will still be on the outside. Quite a telling line.  This requirement — to disavow homosexuals — essentially splits the group. I won’t go into the dynamics from there as it would spoil the story.

This notion — of hetrosexual transvestites — provides some of the most interesting discussions and characters of the story. Much of this centers around Rita, the wife of Valentina and the only GG (genuine girl) on stage for much of the show. What is her relationship to George? What is the relationships of the other characters with their wives? Through exploration of those questions, we begin to see the nature of transvestite relationship: the distinction between the relationship between the man and “the girl within” and their spouses.

All of this is told — as would be expected from Firestein — through loads of extremely humorous lines. This is a very funny play, as humor often comes from great pain. I should note the humor is not from the cross-dressing (as those who recall Milton Bearle or Flip Wilson might recall), but from commentary on life itself.

As I left the play, I had quite a few observations and “compare and contrasts” going through my head. The first was with the musical Dogfight, which we had seen earlier this year.  In the first half of Dogfight, the notion of Marines competing to find the ugliest woman, and possibly bed her against her will, just grated against today’s mores against non-consensual sex and how we treat women. Similarly, the notions expressed in Casa Valentina against cross-dressing and homosexuality grate against where society is today: where gays are accepted, and transgender has come out of the closet into something closer to a cultural norm.

The second comparison, which was related to the first, was seeing Casa Valentina in a triangle with two other shows: Feirstein’s Kinky Boots and the reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race. Unlike what was hypothesized in the play, homosexuality has not remained on the outside. In much of the country, homosexuals are completely accepted. It is out in the open and dramatized on commercial TV. As for transvestites: although some still hold the view that many are gay, the efforts of the transgender movement has brought out into the open that some see themselves as female: women trapped in a male body. But this play doesn’t concern either of those: it deals with men with a clear male gender identity and clear heterosexuality just wanting to dress as women. In society today, there’s only one way such men are accepted: as drag queens. Does society accept men who just cross-dress and pass? Have we reached the To Wan Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar level? I’m not sure were there yet. Places like Casa Valentina no longer need to exist… or do they?

A final observation has to do with the ending, which is somewhat sudden and on an odd note. The play ends with a discussion between Rita and George about the nature of their relationship, and how it might differ from the relationship between George and Valentina. Rita knows she is George’s wife, but what is she to Valentina. The answer disturbs her, and we end the show with Rita slumped at the table, head in her hands.  It raises the question about how all this looks from the wives of such men: there is acceptance, but what is the relationship. Could be an interesting character study.

Overall, what is the impact of the story of Casa Valentina? On the surface, this is a very funny show. It is possible that the surface level is all that was meant. But I think the show has a deeper takeaway: it makes a statement about how society has grown and changes, and how what we predict might be the direction of grown might be very different from what actually happens. It demonstrates the power that fear of discovery can have, and makes us realize that we still have a ways to go for full acceptance. Lastly, it raises wonderful questions about the nature of our relationships: our relationship to the facets of our personality, as well as our relationships to our spouses and our friends.

Director David Lee leads the actors to a very natural performance.  He lets the actors draw the humor from the words, and doesn’t draw humor from the costumes. This leads to a very easygoing and humorous show. He has also worked to design the show around a gigantic house as opposed to a flat stage. I believe this amplifies the closeness of the quarters and the closeness of the men. It is a different way of staging the show from the pictures I have seen of other productions.

The actors themselves are excellent. I think the most interesting was Valerie Mahaffey (FB)’s Rita. There was some hidden depth to her character that came off through her performance that was fascinating. Just seeing her in relationship with the men and their girl alter-egos was fascinating. She was part wife, part sister, part confidant, part girl friend. A multilevel complex character, well portrayed.

I also enjoyed the performance of Raymond McAnally (FB; FB Actor Page) as Albert/Bessie.  When compared to the other actors, I think he inhabited his girl most completely. There was no sense that there was a man under the frock: this was a loving, open girl who was having fun and just being herself. This was a very open portrayal that made the character very accessible to the audience.

Christian Clemenson‘s Charlotte/Isadore perhaps did the best “crossing”: her portrayal of Charlotte was seamlessly female, and was a fascinating character to watch in her portrayal and her passion.

As for the other “girls” in the cast — James Snyder (FB)’s Jonathan/Miranda, Robert Mammana (FB)’s George/Valentina, Mark Jude Sullivan (FB)’s Michael/Gloria, Lawrence Pressman (FB)’s Theodore/Terry, and John Vickery (FB)’s The Judge/Amy — I’m trying to think if there are any portrayals that stick out in my mind… and there aren’t. They generally came across as men dressing as women and playing their characters. They were good, but none had that special something that transcended the line between the man and the girl.

Rounding out the cast was Nike Doukas as Eleanor, the Judge’s daughter, who only appeared in one scene. The understudies are Matthew Magnusson (FB) (Michael/Gloria, Jonathan/Miranda), Mark Capri (FB) (The Judge/Amy, Theodore/Terry, Albert/Bessie), and Sean Smith (FB) (George/Valentina, Charlotte/Isadore).

Turning to the production and creative team: The small amount of choreography in the show was provided by Mark Esposito; what was there worked well. The scenic design by Tom Buderwitz was mentioned previously: a gigantic house on a turntable that rotated to bring to the fore various rooms and locations. It worked well, but it was interesting following the actors through the rooms. The costumes (by Kate Bergh (FB)) and wigs (by Rick Geyer) were a key to this show: they worked well on their characters and did an excellent job of creating the illusion of femininity (or at least men dressing as women). The lighting was by Jared A. Sayeg (FB) and was up to his usual excellent standards. The sound design was by Philip G. Allen and consisted primarily of sound effects and recorded music, which worked well. Remaining technical and production credits: Mike Mahaffey (FB) — Fight Choreographer; Jeff Greenberg Casting — Casting; Jill Gold — Production Stage Manager; Julie Ann Renfro — Assistant Stage Manager; Joe Witt — General Manager; Christopher Cook — Production Manager; Brad Enlow — Technical Director. Sheldon Epps is the Artistic Director of the Pasadena Playhouse.

Casa Valentina continues at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) through April 10. Tickets are available through the Pasadena Playhouse website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. I think this show is worth seeing.

The Pasadena Playhouse has announced their 2016-2017 season, and I’ve gone over it here. It may be worth subscribing, but I need to see their pricing. In the past, Playhouse season pricing has been expensive, and Goldstar has been the better option.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  The Colony Theatre (FB), Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), and I just added the  Hollywood Pantages (FB). In 2015, my intimate theatre subscription was at REP East (FB), although they are reorganizing and (per the birdies) will not start 2016 shows until August. Additionally, the Colony just announced that the remainder of their season has been cancelled, so the status of that subscription is up in the air. 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 third weekend of March takes us back to the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on March 19 to see Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina, followed by Bach at Leipzig at The Group Rep (FB) on March 20.  The last weekend of March brings “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Saturday, followed by A Shred of Evidence at Theatre 40 (FB) on Sunday.  April will start with Lea Salonga at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 1 and an Elaine Boosler concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom on April 2 (this concert is open to the community; get your tickets here). We’re also considering the Voices/Rising concert from Muse/ique on April 3 in Alhambra. We have a mid-week concert of the Turtle Quintet at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 7, followed by “Children of Eden” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on April 10. The next weekend’s theatre is on Thursday, because the weekend brings our annual visit to the Renaissance Faire (Southern). The Thursday show is Stella’s Last J-Date at the Whitefire Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend in April is is Pesach, but the Indie Chi Productions dark comedy Dinner at Home Between Deaths at the Odyssey Theatre (FB) sounded so interesting I’ve booked Sunday tickets. The last weekend of April has a hold date for The Boy from Oz at the Celebration Theatre (FB). May starts with a hold date for Endgame at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB). We then run off to the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation from Berkeley. While there, we may squeeze in a show: the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB) is doing The Boy from Oz (if we miss it at the Celebration), but otherwise the pickings and concerts are bare. May 21 has a hold for Los Angeles: Then and Now, a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has holds for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB). As for June? It’s the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve started to hold dates for the following shows: All Aboard the Marriage HearseAll The Best Killers are LibrariansQaddafi’s Cook — Living in Hell, Cooking for the DevilSqueeze My CansTell Me On A Sunday   Toxic Avenger: The Musical  ✨. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

 

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Observation StewIt’s the first weekend of the new year, and as is traditional, it’s time to clear out the accumulated news chum from the week — the chum that couldn’t be used to create a coherent themed chum post of 3 or more articles. So let’s see what is in this week’s stew:

  • Saved! The first news chum item was to be about where I live now, but that became its own article. So let’s talk about where I used to live: North Hills.  At the corner of Devonshire and Sepulveda is a shopping center we used to frequent (especially when Hughes was still there). Today, the Hughes Ralphs has closed, and so has Mission Hills Bowl, and rumors are circulating about redevelopment of the center. This week, some good news came out of this: the bulk of the center appears to be saved, and the Mission Hills Bowl building will remain.  The Googie designed Bowling Alley by LA architect Martin Stern Jr. will be saved as part of a new commercial development that will include a mix of retail, restaurants, medical office, gym, warehouse, and bank uses spread over one and two story buildings.
  • Booking It. When Borders and Barnes and Noble took off, the prediction was that they would kill the small bookstore. They almost did, but the bookstores hung on. Now Borders is gone, and B&N is on the ropes, being killed by Amazon. What is still surviving? The small independent used bookstore. In fact, used bookstores are making a comeback. The reason isn’t surprising, when you think about it. It costs more to ship used books than to just sell them locally. Here’s the quote that BoingBoing used from the original article: “Used bookstores, with their quintessential quirkiness, eclectic inventory and cheap prices, find themselves in the catbird seat as the pendulum eases back toward print. In many cities, that’s a de facto position: They’re the only book outlets left… And it’s a business with good economics. Used bookstores can beat Amazon and other online booksellers on price, offering shoppers both a browsing experience and a money-saving one. Also, profit margins on used books are better than new ones — so good that many indies are adding used sections.”
  • Travelling? Good News and Bad News. Traveling in the new year? You need to watch out if you live in Alaska, California, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Carolina, Washington, Puerto Rico, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, Minnesota or American Samoa. Your state is bumping into (or has gone past) the RealID deadline, and your state IDs may not be acceptable to TSA or the DOD. About the only good news here is that California got granted an exemption. I have no idea what this means: in particular, it could mean that everyone in the state needs to be issued a new ID. Ouch!
  • New Album from Paul Stookey. As you have likely figured out, I love folk music… and my first love was Peter, Paul, and Mary. Thank’s to Noel Paul’s Facebook account, I just learned that Noel Paul Stookey issued a new album in September 2015. I’ve already grabbed my copy, it is it like one of his recent concerts (i.e., very good).
  • Going Boom. Here’s a fun article: The history of the Toy Chemistry Set. What started out as a kit for the academic world became something to encourage men to become scientists (why would women care about chemistry), and then got neutered as society became worried about safety and homemade bombs.
  • More Problems from Inflammation. The inflamatory response is turning out to be the culprit is more and more problems. We’ve seen articles in the past linking it to arthritis and migraines. Here’s an article showing the link between depression and inflammation. Quite an interesting read, and it shows why we might not need to monkey with brain chemicals to address depression.
  • Deaths of Note. We’ve had a number of notable deaths at the end of the year, such as Wayne Rodgers and Natalie Cole. Here’s one you may have missed: Ruby Cavanaugh, namesake of Ruby’s Diners.
  • Sign of the Times? Mattel, owners of the American Girl line of dolls, has introduced a diabetic kit for their dolls, allowing girls with diabetes to have a doll that is just like them. While I applaud the production of the kit, what does it say about the prevalence of diabetes in our society that this needs to be a thing?

 

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userpic=psa-smileOne last themed news chum as appetizer before we serve the stew. I’ll let you decide if this is suitable to spread on crackers.

  • Another Nail in the Coffin of Third-Party Travel Agents. As I wrote in my aphorism post, travel websites make their money by steering you to hotels. Just as with travel agents of yore, they earn commissions and referral fees. The hotels, naturally, hate this — not because they want to save you money, but they want that commission profit for themselves. Just as we have seen elsewhere in other industries, they will be doing whatever they can do to up their profits. Here’s another example of that trend, this time in Las Vegas: As part of MGM’s profit growth plan, the company intends to realize further income by asking customers to help them put a boot on the neck of 3rd party travel retailers. The target? The 15% cut MGM pays to Expedia Inc. (Expedia, Hotels.com, Hotwire, Trivago, Travelocity, Orbitz etc), Priceline Group (Priceline.com, Kayak, Booking.com, Agoda, OpenTable) and even family-owned shops like Jadd Fong Travel in north east Albquerque, New Mexico. How are they going to do this? MGM Resorts International is going to begin penalizing guests who book via third parties, not by direct confrontation but by withholding services and adding fees. Forewarned is…
  • Flying the 727. Those of us who are old enough will remember the Boeing 727. Here’s an interesting report on the refurbishment of an early 727, and what it was like to fly it.
  • Speeding Up Boarding. Here’s an interesting report on a patent by Airbus: The plane, instead of being a single, contiguous hull, would have a huge hole in the middle where the passengers and luggage would normally be. Instead of boarding the plane directly, passengers and luggage would be loaded into a separate “cabin module.” Then, when the module is ready to go, it’s simply dropped into the airplane. You would take your seat in the module, from the comfort of the departure lounge… and then descend into the airplane when it’s ready to go. Interesting idea? Will it ever happen?

 

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userpic=travelToday’s news chum post continues the trend of using a song lyric in the title. Does anyone recognize the song? If you figure it out (or cheat), I’ll note that even thought the line fits the post, the overall song doesn’t really. In any case, today’s post — focused on going nowhere — is about transportation in the news. Transportation, in fact, that may get us nowhere fast. Here are a few transportation articles I’ve corrected, while I eat my lunch…

 

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

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

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

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

Hawaii 2015After two weeks here, a few observations:

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

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

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userpic=zombieAnd the process of cleaning out the links continues…. this collection brings together a number of stories about things that are going away… but then again:

  • Maui Potato Chips. As I’m on the island of Maui right now, let’s start with something that I’m craving, that used to be easy to find, but now is very difficult to find: The Original Maui Kettle Cook’d Potato Chips. When I was out here 30 years ago, they were everywhere (and you used to ship them back to the mainland). Today? You’re lucky to find a small bag for $7.99 in a few stores. They’ve been replaced by a knockoff chip from the state of Washington. Washington?!?!? But if you know where to look, they are still available. (but of course, I can’t eat them — I’m watching my weight and blood pressure :-( )
  • Renaissance Costumes. I’ve written before about how  the theatrical landscape in Southern California is changing due to the machinations of AEA. Many theatres have retrenched in various ways, and this is now starting to have ripple effects. AJS Costumes, a large theatrical and renaissance costumer, has started a GoFundMe to help them survive the ripple. As they write: “As you may or may not be aware, the live theater scene in Los Angeles has been going through an upheaval for the past several months.  Changes in the local 99-seat theater community are causing many theater companies to be very conservative in selecting their projects.  To avoid collapse, many theater companies are doing smaller productions, with less costume design needed, and fewer period plays. The rental business and costume design services of AJS Costumes has slowed to a trickle. This downturn has been sudden.  It has been unforeseen.  It has been devastating.   Despite this crisis, we are continuing to serve our clientele and assure you that all outstanding orders are being fulfilled.   But in order to survive, we must explore and secure new income options for our shop.”
  • Verizon Contract Plans. You may have heard that Verizon was getting rid of subsidized phone plans. That’s actually not true — it is only true for new customers. Old customers — as long as you keep renewing or have phones on the old plan — you can keep it.
  • iPod Classics. Well, they aren’t going away. You can even do as I’m thinking of doing and put in a SSD. But, alas, Apple is declaring them obsolete as of Labor Day. I’m sure you can still get them repaired, although some parts may be harder to get.

 

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Evita (Maui Arts and Cultural Center)userpic=theatre_ticketsJust because we are on vacation doesn’t mean the theatre stops. When I’m on vacation, I typically try to see at least one local show. When I confirmed we were going to Maui, I started looking for what live shows would be here while we were here. The only one in our window was Evita (FB), a Maui Academy of the Performing Arts (MAPA) (FB) production at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC) (FB), which we saw last night. The BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) assessment is that it was a very good production for community theatre, and quite enjoyable with only a few quibbles. As an aside, I’ll note that there appears to be a fair amount of theatre on Maui, including a regular fringe festival. Who knew?

We last saw Evita in a high-school performance at Van Nuys HS back in 2011. That was my wife’s first exposure to the show; I had seen the original when it was at the Shubert Theatre in Century City back when both existed back in 1980. For those not familiar with Evita, it is the second rock opera written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. It concentrates on the life of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, the second wife of Argentinian president Juan Perón. The story follows Evita’s early life, rise to power, charity work, and eventual death. It is a sung-through opera, with very little non-musical spoken dialogue. You can find a detailed synopsis of the story on the wikipedia page or on the Rice/Webber page for the show.

This production of Evita was put on by the Maui Academy of the Performing Arts (MAPA) (FB) , the third annual Broadway-style production from the 35 year old arts organization (they did Miss Saigon in 2014 and Les Miserables in 2013). As you can tell from the choice of shows, they like shows with large casts (presumably, to get large community involvement). This show was no exception, with 49 people in the ensemble, 10 additional tango dancers, 13 children in the children’s chorus.

The show was directed by David C. Johnston (FB), MAPA’s artistic director, with Choreography by André Morissette (FB) and staging by David C. Johnston (FB) and André Morissette (FB).  They made some interesting choices in the casting, movement, and staging departments — not necessarily bad choices, but ones that drew my attention. The first was in the casting. If you think about Evita and the typical casting, what comes to mind? A pencil-thin Eva Perón, a relatively thin army-officer type for Juan Perón, and a tall and thin Tango dancer for Agustin Magaldi. Their choices — talented all — were a bit more on the mid-size scale. This didn’t hurt the performances one bit (and I’m sure most of the audience didn’t notice), but it did give a different look to the show. You can see what I mean in the photos accompanying the cast credits below.  I actually enjoyed the casting, and it may have been more reflective of the Argentinian society of the time (size norms have changed over time, and what might be the image in my mind might reflect more the norms of the 1980s when this show came out, vs. the Latin American norms of 1930-1940 Argentina).

The second and third issues were more movement based. The director tended to have his actors use their arms quite a bit during songs (you likely know what a mean — the tendancy to sweep one’s arms in front of oneself as one sings to punctuate everything). This got to the point where it was a little visually distracting — again, it didn’t detract from the overall performance but was a directorial choice that was bothersome. The third issue was the overall movement of the ensemble, which was a bit more simplistic than I’m used to seeing on shows such as this in Los Angeles. My guess is that this was a combination of the extremely large ensemble and the fact that the ensemble was not built from professional dancers and gypsies, but from community members. Given that, the choreography was very good; it was just not all it could have been given what I’m used to seeing. It was great for the community theatre level, and — again — I’m sure most of the audience did not notice. I’m just used to community theatre at the level that challenges the professionals (look at the work of Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)).

In the overall scheme of things, however, those are minor quibbles. The basic performance and staging went well, with a set that consisted primarily of moving stairways and balconies, a few drop columns, and some basic props. With this simplicity, there was a strong need for the acting to establish not only story but place and time — and it did that well. The show was overall enjoyable with some very good performances. Let’s now look at those performances.

Evita (Publicity Photos by Jack Grace)In the lead position as Eva Perón was Hawai’i’s top selling vocalist of all times (and a product of the early days of MAPA), Amy Hānaili’i Gilliom (FB). She had the perfect vocals for the role and captured the emotional performance quite well. The staging had a few odd costume changes on stage for Ms. Gilliom that were much more noticeable from the balcony (where we were sitting), but she looked beautiful in the costumes and gave a great performance. I’ll note that MAPA chose the staging that incorporated the song “You Must Love Me” from the movie, and Gilliom handled that song beautifully.

Eva’s antagonist, Che, is never mentioned by name during the show, but serves as a sardonic off-side commentator on the proceedings to provide the necessary cynical look on the situation. If you’re familiar with the concept album, you always see him as pushing his insecticide (a plot element that disappeared in the stage transition, leaving a number of musical moments where the words have been removed from the remaining music. Che was performed by Kepa Cabanilla-Aricayos/FB. He brought a much higher voice to the character (as if Patinkin wasn’t high), but worked well. The only oddity was that in a number of scenes he was part of the crowd seemingly supporting Perón; I would have expected him to be more off on the side observing instead. I’m guessing this was a directorial choice, and not a major problem. In general, I expected a strong sardonic and angry nature from the performance — this was particularly noticeable in “Goodnight and Thank You”.

Juan Perón was portrayed by Francis Tau’a/FB. Tau’a had a lovely voice for Perón and brought an appropriate stage presence, including a very touching performance in the second act.

The remaining two named characters were Danielle Dalaunay (FB) as Perón’s mistress, and Joey Schumacher/FB as Agustin Magaldi. Dalaunay (hint: don’t do a Google search on the name; unfortunately an adult industry actress also chose that name) really only has one scene and one song, but she nailed it and gave a lovely and touching rendition of “Where Am I Going To?”. Schumacher’s gave a wonderful vocal performance as Magaldi, but didn’t have the look of a tango singer that would have the teenage girls swooning.

Rounding out the performances were the large ensemble components. The ensemble consisted of (takes deep breath): Jay Agasid/FB, Ashlyn-Jade Aniban (FB), Heather Bartlemus/FB, Craig Bode/FB, Shane Borge/FB, Alfred Cantorna/FB, Emily Cantorna/FB, Dr. Virgie Cantorna/FB, Alice Carter/FB, Maile Castro/FB, Jordyn Clarke/FB, Haylie Daunhauer/FB, Haley DeForest/FB, Gina Duncan/FB, Christie Ellison/FB, Molli Fleming/FB, Marion Haller/FB, Halia Haynes/FB, Casey Hearl/FB, Tasiana Igondjo/FB, Aeris Joseph/FB, Brock Kahoohanohano-Abrose/FB, Julie Kawamura/FB, Kevin Lawrence/FB, Carlyn Leal/FB, Nomi Macadangdang/FB, Betty Miller/FB, Orion Milligan/FB, Danann Mitchell/FB, Kaimana Neil/FB, Tully O’Reilly/FB, Jim Oxborrow/FB, Sara Patton/FB, David Pisoni/FB, Isaac Rauch/FB, David Rooks/FB, Karli Rose/FB, Kela Rothstein/FB, Molly Schad, Cole Shafer/FB, Emma Smith/FB, Scott Smith/FB, Theresa Supera/FB, Joylene Nina Tabon/FB, Marc Toliver/FB, Preston Watanabe/FB, Eliza Wright/FB, and Nolan Yee. The Tango Dancers were Vicky Ayers/FB, Rose Baiot/FB, Marcia Barnett-Lopez, Peter Black/FB, Sugandha Ferro Black/FB, Hawkeye Lannis, Doug Miller/FB, Nadama/FB, Rita Okeane/FB, and Tom Weierhauser/FB. The Children’s Chorus was Avery Ardoin, Madeline Austin, Ashton Chargualaf, Nealon Guzman, Kaylee Herman, Sofia Kafami/FB, Randi Lonzaga, Haley Mahoe, Luna Graham Milligan, Jena Mukai, Elly Smith/FB, Erin Smith/FB, Dutch Tanaka Akana, and Jillian Vince-Cruz.

Music was under the direction of Gary Shin-Leavitt (FB), who conducted the 19 piece on-stage band (something you don’t often see). The band consisted of: Kim Vitterli (FB) (Keyb0ard), Beth Fobbe-Wills/FB (Keyboard), Reid Ishikawa/FB (Keyboard), Judy Waters (1st Violin), Sue Westcott/FB (1st Violin), Ana Kalina (2nd Violin), Darius Soo Hoo (FB) (2nd Violin), Teresa Skinner (FB) (Viola), Patrice Weed-Shearer (FB) (Viola), Cheryl Lindley/FB (Cello), Michelle Ancheta (Cello), Lauralei Singsank (FB) (Flute), Beth Sederstrom (Clarinet/Sax), Cody Sarmiento (FB) (Trumpet), Henry Arroyo (Trombone), Stephen Rodrigues (Electric Bass), Wenlu Duffy (FB) (Guitar), Perry Gragas/FB (Percussion), and Richard Vetterli/FB (Drums).

Turning to the technical side. The set design by Dan Hays/FB was relative simple: two movable staircases, a movable balcony, and a static balcony. Simple, but effective, as they were constantly being reconfigured. These were supported by the props by Jeff Robidoux and Barbara Sedano (FB), which worked reasonably well. My only quibble was with the Argentinian flag, which was often portrayed without the sunburst. Now, it turns out that the sunburst-less version of the flag is the ornamental flag and thus a valid version. Still, I’m not sure if that was the right flag to use. The sound design by Joseph “Joe” Arias  was reasonable, but could stand for a little adjusting (some mics were problematic, and some needed their volume increased). The lighting design by Mark Astrella served to create the mood appropriately. The costumes by Vanessa Cerrito (FB) (Kenneth Peter Lee for Eva Peron) seemed appropriately period, as did the hair, wig, and make-up design by Marc Tolliver/FB and Karli Rose/FBAndré Morissette (FB)  was the costume consultant. Lina Krueger/FB was the stage manager, assisted by Tina Kailiponi/FB. Evita was produced by the Maui Academy of the Performing Arts (MAPA) (FB).

The last performance of Evita at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC) (FB) is a few hours away, at 2:00 PM HST. Tickets are available through the MACC website, but at this point I’d call the box office. We forewarned: Hurricane Ignacio, as the time I’m writing this, is a Category 4 Hurricane about 400 mi E of the island of Hawaii, with a storm track that has it running to the north and west of the islands. We’re getting wind and some rain here on the north western side of Maui; MACC is in Kahului, on the eastern side of the island (which will have more storms and winds). The show is worth seeing, but stay safe.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (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: September starts with Tom Paxton’s last concert at McCabes (FB) on September 12, followed by “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). They haven’t put up the Fringe shows yet, so I may start booking weekends. October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: CSUN’s Urinetown (end of October – 10/30 or 11/1);  “The Best of Enemies” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). November will bring the Nottingham Festival (FB) on November 7; “A Day Out with Thomas” at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) on November 11; and Deathtrap at REP East (FB) on November 14. The rest of the month is currently open. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

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Jesus Christ Superstar (Rep East)userpic=repeastWhen I went to Jewish Summer Camp in the early 1970s, there were two “Jesus”-based musicals going around. One, Godspell, gave us a song we actually sang at camp: “Day by Day”. Out of context, it worked just fine. The other was this brown album with a stylized angel on it, and it gave us a song we sang as “Jesus Christ / Superstar / Who In The Hell Do You Think You Are”. The words aren’t too surprising for a Jewish summer camp. I mention this because that was really my knowledge of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar up to last night. I had seen Godspell a number of times and tended to like it because it wasn’t so “in your face” for a non-Christian. From what little I had heard or seen, JCS was much more in your face, heavy rock, and screamy. In recent years I had finally heard the music — and there were a few songs I liked — but still hadn’t seen the show either on stage or on screen. So when REP East Playhouse (FB) in Newhall, where we subscribe, announced the show for this season, I was looking forward to finally seeing it. Last night I finally saw it. I came away disappointed, unsure of what all the fuss was about. REP gave it a good effort, but it just didn’t strike that chord for me. As always, your mileage may vary.

Jesus Christ Superstar (JCS for short) was the first musical from the team of Andrew Lloyd Webber (FB) and Tim Rice (FB) to hit America (Joseph was written earlier, but was imported to the US after JCS became a success). It was released first as a rock concept album — that aforementioned brown album — and became a hit. This led to the album being staged on Broadway by the same director that had done Hair. On Broadway — just as with Wicked — the critics almost universally panned the show, but the audiences loved it. JCS can be said to have started the era of sung-through musical — we can blame JCS for not only Evita, Sunset Boulevard, Starlight Express, Phantom of the Opera, and Cats, but for spawning shows like Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Tale of Two Cities, and the recent fringe show, The Count of Monte Cristo.

JCS essentially relates the well-known story of the last eight days of the man Jesus of Nazareth. Spoiler: He dies in the end (it does not show the resurrection). I’m not sure I need to relate the particulars of the story; if you need to see the plot synopsis, it is on the Wikipedia page.  The story really focuses on the relationship between Jesus, Judas, and Mary. Judas, who plays the central driving figure in the story, is disappointed that Jesus seems to have veered away from the focus of his ministry. Under what he sees as the influence of Mary, Judas believes that Jesus is spending funds on oils and ointments instead of using it to help the poor and needy. He becomes increasingly disillusioned with Jesus, moving to the point (as we all know) of betraying him to the authorities, which leads to his crucifixion. As Jesus gets pilloried by the authorities, we also see how many of his disciples appear to turn away from him as well, just as today popular media can turn people away from heroes of old. Only Mary stays steadfastly by Jesus’ side. At the end, they return remembering how he affected their lives.

The love triangle presented in story, as JCS presents it, is likely what drew youth into the story. The triangle: close friend disillusioned when the new woman in his bro’s life turns him away is classic — and it is an interesting take on Jesus’ life. I don’t know the extent to which this subtext, however, is actually in the gospels.

Unlike Godspell, which teaches Jesus’ lessons and focuses less on the actual life story, JCS really doesn’t teach what Jesus said about living. Through Judas, it seems to show how he turned away from what he was teaching. It shows Jesus as bargaining with God, trying to figure out his role in all of this. Ultimately, he is convinced he has to die in order to make his message. To me, a non-Christian, the portrayal of Jesus by Rice and Webber is a negative one. Here is a nice guy, trying to minister to the poor, but his followers inflate his ministry for their own purposes and for their own immortality (listen to the words in “The Last Supper”: “Always hoped that I’d be an apostle / Knew that I would make it if I tried / Then when we retire we can write the gospels / So they’ll all talk about us when we’ve died”). Rice and Webber portray Jesus as ultimately betraying his cause and his work to make that larger message, of being a reluctant messiah — in essence, of being a fraud. Look at the main lyric of the title song: “Jesus Christ, Superstar / Do you think you’re what they say you are”. Rice and Webber portray Judas as seeing through this, and trying to return Jesus to the right path. That’s certainly not the story of Jesus that I (a non-Christian) have gleaned over the years.  I think it is ultimately a negative portrayal of Jesus, with lyrics that are screaming and not always melodic.

Even worse, I think that JCS perpetuates the antisemitic nature of the Gospels. Look at “King Herod’s Song”, and particularly the “Trial Before Pilate”. What comes across is that the Jews are viewed in a negative sense, and that the Romans are really reluctant to kill Jesus — but (as the song says) it is the Jews that demand that the Romans find a reason to do so.

Suffice it to say that I’m not enthused about the presentation of the story, and I now understand why I preferred Godspell. There are some versions of Godspell that can get a bit preachy, but they do not get anti-anything. JCS does. It has a few songs that I like, particularly “I Don’t Know How To Love Him”, but the show just turns me off. My guess is that this would be the case irrespective of the venue producing the show (although I am now curious about the highly-touted DOMA version).

Let’s now turn to the REP interpretation of the show, understanding how that may have been colored based on the book itself. Alas, this too was disappointing due to a number of factors, but I’ll ultimately chock it up to directoral vision combined with technical issues. As directed by Rick Pratt (FB), the show had a minimalist set staging (there were no real set pieces at all), with loads of odd lighting and paint choices that served to distract from rather than support the story. The pre-recorded music tended to overpower the voices, which were not helped by microphones that kept cutting in and out and having a fair amount of hiss. This was not the usual REP set, sound, or lighting quality — every theater has an aberration occasionally. Due to all this, the focus ultimately was on the cast and their relationships and emotions; given the sung through nature of the show, that had to come across in the quality and clarity of the songs and how they were sung. The cast tried hard to overcome these problems, but it never quite meshed with the demands the overwrought Webber/Rice story required.

As a quick aside, I also believe this is a story that works much better with live music. Live, as opposed to pre-recorded music, gives that extra energy that a rock opera such as this requires. The director, Rick Pratt, had experience with live on-stage music before at the REP and that worked very very well, and I wish he had been able to figure out a way to make the music live.

[Edited to Add: Based on some discussions with the REP, it looks like this will be transitioning to live music by 7/24. This should improve the production and energy greatly.]

In JCS, the central character driving the story is Judas. It is he that frames the initial opening direction of the story in “Heaven on Their Minds”; it is he that is there criticizing Jesus’s relationship with Mary; it is he that interacts with the High Priests; and it is he that ultimately faces Jesus in the end. His role is quite similar to the one that Rice/Webber would use again for Che in Evita. You need a powerhouse rock singer here — one that can not only act, but sing loud and clear to get the message across. You also need an actor who can just have that unspeakable presence. Adam Duarte tries very hard, and occasionally got the tone right, but didn’t have the consistency needed. Further, his attempt to be rock-ish made it difficult to hear the words clearly — and hearing the words is vital when the songs are the only thing moving the story forward.

The second part of the main triangle in the story is Jesus, who was played by Benjamin Patrick Thomas (FB). Benjamin sang well when we saw him in Return to the Forbidden Planet (also directed by Pratt). For the most part, he did well here but had a lot of trouble with the upper end of the range on some of Jesus’ songs. He also had seemingly the wrong look, but I can’t put my finger on why — as a mid-thirties white bearded hippie, he certainly didn’t fit the conventional picture of Jesus; then again, we don’t know what Jesus looked like.

The third part of the triangle — and one of the standouts in the show — was Natasha J. Gaston (FB) as Mary Magdalene. Gaston’s Mary conveyed wonderful emotions, and had a wonderful singing voice that she put to great use in “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” and “Everything’s Alright”. The quality of this voice came through even as her microphone kept cutting in and out and over a large amount of amplification hiss. I hope that we see more of this lovely actress.

As the opposition leadership, Chris Loprete (FB) [Pontius Pilate], Paul Nieman (FB) [Caiphas], and Ally Loprete (FB) [Annas] did well. All three sang well and were able to convey their emotions through song. The costuming seemed a bit strange, especially the overly clingy and sexy number for Annas, who was supposedly a high priest, and the devilish dark red suit for Caiphas. [ETA: When I read this paragraph after seeing the show a second time, I realized that I was confusing Pilate with Sean Goodman/FB [Ensemble], who placed the third part of the Sanhedrin. Loprete’s Pilate was goot, but wasn’t part of the main opposition leadership.]

In the ensemble and playing a number of smaller roles were: Alex Bowman (FB) [Peter / Ensemble], Tara Cox/FB [Simon Zealotes / Ensemble], Michael Davies [King Herod / Ensemble], Eriel Brown (FB) [Ensemble / Dance Captain], Laura Norkin/FB [Ensemble], Marie-Clarie Erdynast/FB [Ensemble], Danielle Honeyman (FB) [Ensemble], Sean Goodman/FB [Ensemble], Bruce Robinson/FB [Ensemble], and Micahel Gilbertson/FB [Ensemble]. In the ensemble positions, all blended well, sang reasonably well, and had obvious fun portraying their characters. There are a few worthy of special comment. Tara Cox/FB was another of those actors with a voice above the rest; it came across quite strongly in the few solo numbers and portions of numbers that she had. We’ve seen Michael Davies before in Forbidden Planet. He was good in King Herod’s number (one of my favorites on the album), but didn’t quite have the right sense of the cat playing with the mouse that was required, and that feeds the righteous indignation that feeds the end of the number. The focus was the cutesy, not the message. Eriel Brown (FB) moved and danced well, and seemed (if I was picking her out right) to have a very nice singing voice. Lastly, Danielle Honeyman (FB) was fun to watch in the ensemble. Again, if I was hearing correctly, I heard a slightly operatic voice and tone.

As noted before, JCS was directed by Rick Pratt (FB) and Kimbyrly M. Valis (FB). Carla Bellefeuille (FB) was the vocal director, assisted by Justin G. Horwitz/FB. Erin Cholakian (FB) was the choreographer.  I’ve commented before about the directoral vision. JCS is a hard show to get correct in a small venue, so I do applaud the directoral team for trying.  Their choices didn’t work for me; it might work for others. I feel their attempt was hurt by the inability to have live music. It was also hurt by the current battle between intimate theatres and AEA that has led REP to go non-union; JCS in particular is a show that would have been helped greatly to have the additional seasoning, talent, and stage presence in the lead positions. I think the team did the best with what they had to work with. The choreography, on the other hand, worked well given the limited REP space; it is always nice to see dance on the REP stage.

[ETA: There was also an odd projection sequence during the overture music going through all sorts of historical scenes. The purpose was unclear — was it meant to say that this was done in Jesus’ name? What was the point? Further, given the uneven surface at the back of the theatre, the projections were hard to see and read.]

I’ve also noted before the various technical problems. The set design was minimal: some ramps, some raised stages, a cross that could be lowered, and some inexplicable painted lines on the floor and on the wall. This is not the style of set design that REP normally does, and it didn’t work for me (but then again, I’ve never seen JCS before — perhaps this is the concept). There were also significant problems with the sound — I don’t know if it was the design of Steven “Nanook” Burkholder/FB or problems with the wireless mics on the performers and difficulties at the sound board. In any case, it served to distract more than amplify. Although TC was listed as the resident lighting designer, lighting credit for this show was given to Jeffrey Hampton. The lighting was odd — there were odd flashes during songs that I’m guessing were meant to be rock opera-ish. There were also points where characters were singing or moving in the dark, which shouldn’t be the case. I don’t know what to say about the costume design by Chelsea Jones/FB: they attempted to update this to some unspecified era so that the costumes were some odd eclectic mix of robes, sexy shorts, spandex, hippie threads, jeans and T-shirts, and suits. My wife noted that there were numerous fitting problems. Calliope Weisman/FB was the stage manager.  REP is under the artistic direction of  Mikee Schwinn/FB.

Jesus Christ Superstar continues at REP East (FB) in Newhall (Santa Clarita) through August 15, 2015. Tickets are available through the REP online box office. Discount tickets are available through Goldstar. I’m not a fan of JCS, but you might be.

After JCS concludes its run, REP will be presenting a special two-weekend “81 series” production of A Company of Wayward Saints by George Herman, a commedia del arte type show. Tickets are available through the REP website.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (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: July is a month of double-headers. Next weekend is another double header: “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB) on Saturday (Goldstar), and “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) on Sunday.  The last weekend of July brings our last double: “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB) on July 25th, with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August start calming down, with “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) the first weekend of August, our summer Mus-ique show the second weekend of August, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB) the third weekend of August. After that we’ll need a vacation … but then again we might squeeze in Evita at the Maui Cultural Center (FB) the last weekend of August. September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: Kelrik Production (FB)’s Urinetown at the Monroe Forum Theatre (Hold for Sat 10/3);  “Mrs. A. Lincoln” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

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userpic=observationsIt’s Saturday, and that means it’s time to clean out the accumulated links.  As I’ve got about an hour before I jump into the Fringe, let’s get going:

 

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userpic=travelNear the end of November, I wrote a post detailing my experiences with Airbnb. Today’s Pearls Before Swine captures the Airbnb experience well, especially if you are staying in someone’s guest room. That’s not to say the Airbnb experience is bad, but it has a difference series of considerations from staying in a hotel.

(click to go to the image page)

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userpic=travelI am no longer a virgin.

Perhaps I should clarify that. I’m no longer a sharing economy virgin. I just completed my first stay with AirBNB. I thought I would share some observations that aren’t specific to my particular host and location, but things I perceive to be peculiar to the AirBNB experience. For the TL;DR and TLA contingent: BLUF: I would use AirBNB again, but this emphasizes the importance of choosing your hosts and locations correctly.

For those who don’t know what AirBNB is: It is people putting up underused spaces for rent on the Internet. People looking for places to stay can rent them short term. This can range from a tent or a tea house in the backyard, to a room in a house, to an entire house. But it is not a hotel experience. There is no maid. Your bed is probably not made up for you. You likely have the same towel every night. There is no on-site restaurant or business center.

What I did — and what I guess is the typical experience — is rent a room in someone’s house. In essence, you are their houseguest (although you are paying for the experience). I was very conscious of this, and tried my best to be a good guest. This meant following house rules (which, in Berkeley, with limited water, included “If it’s yellow, let it mellow…”, which was a bit uncomfortable for me, but I understood why it was done and respected the rule). This also meant I was very conscious about the noise I made, both while listening to my music at night and walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night (the floor squeaked).  I had kitchen privileges, and so when I dirtied a dish, I always washed it and put it away. Lastly, I always made up my bed in the morning.

These are things you don’t think about in a hotel. But when you are a guest in someone’s house, you think about them. If this is something you cannot live with, then stick with the hotel. There, you pay for the privilege not to think about this stuff.

Here are some other things you don’t think about. There’s no ice machine (or microwave, or coffee pot in your room). You need to remember to ask about those things (for example, I knew I could use the microwave, and kept using the same mug. I would have felt weird going into the refrigerator for ice, tho. You might be sharing a bathroom with your host, with all that entails — including not adjusting the showerhead or the water temperature, out of courtesy.  That level of personal contact is something you don’t have in a hotel. You typically don’t have hotel-provided amenities, so remember to bring your own soap and shampoo, and potentially your own alarm clock (although your cell phone can serve as one).

What this boils down to is this: The AirBNB experience can be great. But don’t go into it just to save money. Pick your hosts carefully and ensure they are compatible, especially if you will be sharing space in their house. Read your location description carefully. Someone warned me about this, and I truly enjoyed staying with my host, Stephani (in fact, she seemed like someone with whom I could get along with outside of the AirBNB experience).

Will I use AirBNB again? I certainly think so. It is great for going someplace with few hotels (such as Berkeley) and when you’re traveling alone. I’m not sure I’d do it if I was traveling with my wife, but if I did, I’d pick the host and location to be compatible.

So, have you used AirBNB? Do you’re experiences jibe with mine?

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userpic=psa-smileBefore I head off to a Golf Committee meeting, I thought I would share some tidbits from the news related to traveling…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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userpic=travelAs I noted in my last post, we’re down in Escondido on vacation. Today was a day of historic highways, exploration, and exotic foods, all driven by a need to drive into San Diego proper to visit our niece. We had a delightful visit (albeit short — she’s a very busy young lady), and enjoyed talking to her and catching up on what is going on. But on to the stuff you probably care about.

Historic Roads. As we’re in Escondido, and we were visiting San Diego (in particular, the Hillcrest area), this gave us the opportunity to drive on a number of incarnations of US 395 and US 80 — in particular, sections in Escondido (City Center, Escondido Blvd, Grand) and in San Diego (CA 15, CA 163, El Cajon Blvd, Washington). We also got to visit a number of hipster districts, explore some thrift shops and some used record shops. In my opinion, the used record shops up on Adams — one with a large collection of folk, blues, and bluegrass music, the other with an astounding collection of original cast albums — had great selections but were overpriced for many of their LPs, starting on the order of $7-$9. If the record is rare the price might be OK, but when I can find the music on CD for the same (if not better) price, I’m not going the LP route (especially when it is over 90°F outside). I did pick up some records — four for $1 each at an Assistance League Thrift Shop. The thrift stores were much better (Erin, if you read this, we have a lovely Calphalon pan we got for $4.5 and a nice knife for you).

Exotic Cuisine. While driving along El Cajon Blvd, we saw an interesting restaurant: “Flavors of East Africa“.  Located at El Cajon and Texas, they have wonderful Kenyan cuisine. We had keema beef, tilapia, collards and cabbage, a wonderful stew of hominy, kidney beans, potatoes and carrots cooked in olive oil with garlic, tomatoes and onions, mashed plaintains, and rice. Driving home, the spices from the keema beef  hit back a little, and so we found another wonderful place: “Tropicana Delite“. This is a Mexican paleteria y neveria, family owned, with hand-made ice cream and popsicles. They had flavors there I have never seen before in ice creme: queso rompope, mango/chile, elote, guayaba, nuez… on top of traditional flavors. Plus, they were making something I’ve never seen before: “Tostilocos”, which is a Tijuana street food. Here’s a description:

You begin by opening a bag of Tostitos, usually the salsa verde-flavored kind, and you layer on ingredients. If you can imagine an assembler of this dish in Tijuana, Mexico, ripping open the bag of Tostitos and then taking the ingredients from three shelves in a bodega and dumping all of those in. Those ingredients include: shaved jicama; pickled pigskins; stumpy, little, sweet, sour tamarind candy; sweet coated peanuts; and chopped cucumbers. Then they pull out two liquids: fresh-squeezed key limes and chamoy — that magenta-colored, vinegary, puckery, pickled fruit in brine. It’s sauce that you see often when someone is buying chips in a store — even when they are not buying Tostilocos. You’re handed a bottle of chamoy with which you garnish chips.

All that goes in the bag. The bag kind of bulges under that payload. Often the bag, when filled with all those ingredients, the sides slip and you just start dripping this Rorschach pattern on the pavement as you eat and walk.

So, as I said, a day of historic roads and exotic foods.

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Observation StewAh, the weekend. Time to rest, relax, and recharge… while gorging yourself on this collection of interesting links that didn’t quite fit into a theme:

 

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