“SOMETHING ROTTEN” ROCKS

If you love musicals, but not too much so as not to be amused by their being abused, in good fun, of course.
 
And if you love Shakespeare, but also not too much so as not to be offended to have him paraded as a rockstar of the of the waning 16th century, then you’ll love “Something Rotten”.
 
As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and websites everywhere , a hit several years ago on Broadway , the musical is now in full blown production at the Ahmanson in the Music Center downtown through the end of the year,.
 
And indeed as in New York, it is a extravaganza, a BIG musical, delivered by a high kicking dance, and high note singing chorus, ever ready it seems to allow the ensemble’s leads to skip and shuffle off stage to catch their breaths.
 
And that also gives the audience a moment to intermittingly stand and cheer, as they did opening night. Obviously, there was a lot of fans and family present.
 
Their enthusiasm echoed the cast’s enthusiasm, staring Rob McClure as Nick Bottom, a struggling writer in the shadow of a supercilious Shakespeare, played to perfection by Adam Pascal. Blake Hammond as the soothsayer Nostradamus deserves a shout out, as does Josh Grisetti.
 
Actually, the whole cast of dozens is deserving, deftly directed and choreographed by Casey Nicolaw, the stage design and lighting , and the costumes ,just fine. All meld magnificently.
 
But if there is problem, at least from this critic’s perspective, it is the story line. Shakespeare envy is just too broad, not very subtle, and the dialogue , sophomoric,: cute but not clever.
 
However, the show numbers mostly were clever, jazzed up parodies of hits of the past. There were winks at “Wicked.” a nod to “Chicago,” a sharp elbow to “Pippin,” a mention of “Cats.” all jogging the memory and prompting smiles.
 
It was in sum a rollicking evening, especially for show musical lovers, so allow me to end with a purloined a line from Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure, “All’s well, that ends well.
 
And to be sure, “Something Rotten,” does end well and you’ll leave the Ahmanson smiling.

VIDEO BAND OK GO OFFERS DIVERSION

It’s Fall, and the arts and entertainment calendar is full, with all sorts of offerings to stretch your smarts and delight the senses.  But frankly for me it is a struggle, what with the state of the world.

These days are not fun days, with almost daily assault of our democracy and sense of decency by a dangerous president and his deceitful followers.

Then it seems there is an almost biblical plague of natural disasters and senseless slaughters. This put m in very real need last weekend of some diversion to raise my spirits.

Answering my wish was UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, with a concert, or was it a happening, featuring the band OK GO .

Whatever, with a bursts of confetti fluttering out over a packed-to-the-rafters Royce Hall, the group performed an immersive medley of their hits against a big screen backdrop that showed their imaginative videos.

Included among the favorites were “Here It Goes Again,” played out on a treadmill, the amazing “This Too Shall Pass,” featuring a fantastic Rube Goldberg machine going full blast, and the most recent, “Upside Down and Inside Out, “ in which the group performed weightless in a Russian jet maneuvering to create a gravity free interior.

If this all sounds wild and crazy, it is. With OK GO you expect the unexpected.

And if you ever wondered how they did what they do, lead singer Damian Kulash tried to explain it, despite an audience of many children who should have been in bed instead of jumping up and down screaming. But so what.

As an immodest Emmy award winner and former Disney Imagineer, I absolutely loved it.

For those who have not monitored what their kids have been watching in the last decade, OK-GO was a rock band out of Chicago 20 years ago that never made it as musicians. Their sound was, and frankly I feel still is, not very different than so many hard driving garage bands.

But in a flash of inspiration when they moved to L.A. a few years later, they started to experiment with video. What emerged is a series of music videos that are pure delights, and wonderfully diverting.

As the group itself describes themselves, they went from OK GO-The-Rock-Band, to OK GO, The -Guys-Who-Make –Those –Art-Project –Music-Videos, to OK GO –The Creative-Guys., employing a bagful of tricks. These include stop motion, optical illusions, mass choreography, and let us not forget exploding paint balloons.

Can’t wait to see what the innovative dance company AteNine will do this weekend at the ever-au courant UCLA for the Art of Performance.

 

 

CONCERT ANTIDOTE FOR WORLD SERIES

This week, something different for my arts and entertainment commentary on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere. It is needed if only to edge out of mind the homer happy, wacky World Series that ended with a dud.

It’s needed too, if you want to keep abreast of what’s happening in the world of music, and get out of your caves and experience it.

That is what is promised this Saturday, at 8 PM, at UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance at Royce Hall, where appearing will be the Grammy award winning pop rock band, “OK Go.”

The band is perhaps best know for its eye-catching, mind blowing videos. But instead of seeing the iconic videos on the small screen, expect to see them, in performance, in an immersive cinematic environment, being scored, live.

Don’t expect this to be the usual rock show, lots of amped up sound and flashing lights, but a blast from the bands past, and into the future. If this sounds a bit confusing, stay after the performance, when the band will take questions from the audience. And you can catch your breath.

I also look forward to it being antidote for me to the World Series, which frankly left me exhausted, and deserve some mention here.

After all, this commentary is entitled “arts and entertainment observed,” and indeed I have to confess that the unpredictability and drama of the series was for the most part entertaining.

Certainly for me as a critic it had elements of an ancient production, what with fallen heroes as in a Greek tragedy, and the screaming crowds mimicking Roman spectacles.

This despite the crass commercialism and the mind numbing television spots, though happily were long enough to allow breaks from the couch.

Of course I didn’t attend any of the games, what with the obscene ticket prices. If I wouldn’t pay $100 to see “Hamilton.” I certainly wouldn’t pay S1,000 for a questionable seat, and having to fight traffic to get there, and also pay for parking.

Long, long ago I came to realize that the Dodgers despite the smiling face of Magic Johnson had become just another greedy sports enterprise; I think it was about the time it was bought by Rupert Murdoch and then sold to a Boston parking lot owner.

Suffice it to say the Dodgers are not the team I loved with an uncommon passion, the team of Gil Hodges, Duke Snider and Jackie Robinson, when I was growing up in Brooklyn.

There I’d actually take the legendary trolley to the games at Ebbetts Field to see games, having been blessed with tickets scored for hawking copies of the newspaper Brooklyn Eagle .

But those were days past. The present is now, and the future is a concert at UCLA. Life does move on.

 

 

HEADS UP FOR ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT

Observing arts and entertainment might not be the most accurate description of these reports; commentaries or criticisms may be more on the mark.

Perhaps an even more precise, if not pretentious, description, would be “user advocate,” an adage heard in the design and development trade I plied in for years.

While lending some perspective and, wishfully, a dash of poetry to my opinions, my prime intention actually is to alert listeners on public radio 97.5 KBU and social media readers to reasonably accessible venues in our fractured Los Angeles.

With that in mind, I prefer giving alerts to current and upcoming events I think might be of interest to culture vultures, rather than doing a review of something I attended, but no longer is available, the exhibit having been taken down or the production ended.

That is why I gave a heads up recently to the Dorrance Dance Company’s appearance at the always engaging Wallis Cultural Center in Beverly Hills., that was just booked for three days, October 12th through the 14th.

A review at my scheduled times would not have allowed those who might be interested in this different dance ensemble time to make plans and get tickets. There are few phrases as sad in this fleeting world as, “I’m really sorry to have missed that.”

Well, sorry to report, if you did miss the Dorrance, you missed an exciting evening, even if you casually entertained by the magnetism of dance, melding music and movement as it does, in the seductiveness of sound and sight. I happen to love it.

So taking exception to my own guidelines –what are guidelines for but to take exception to– I must give it a review, if only to alert those who might have a chance to see the dance company when they hopefully return to the Wallis, or elsewhere.

The company directed and starring Michelle Dorrance, also deserves it, as does the Wallis for featuring it in its continuing dance offerings for which its theatre is near perfect.

As for the performance, it was great, original and breathtaking, giving the edgy rhythms of jazz expression in the patterned pulse of tap dancing, rising out the traditional club scenes of decades ago, and today’s raw street and subway scenes. Very American, and arresting.

GETTY CELEBRATES LATIN AMERICAN ART

The engrossing perspectives of Latin American and Latino Art continue to be unveiled in the ambitious cultural endeavor Pacific Standard Time, LA/LA., as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and websites everywhere
 
Underwritten in large part by the Getty Foundation, the exhibits in some 70 cultural institutions are singular curatorial events exploring the traditions of Latin American art and their contributions to art in all the Americas.
 
So much for walls between nations, repressive immigration policies, and the xenophobic views of our embarrassing President Trump, and his gutless and greedy supporters.
 
The sorry situation in the nation’s capitol, I feel, makes it all that important the we celebrate our diversity, particularly in the rich traditions of art. And that is what LA/LA does.
 
Most recently this happily meant touring yet another LA/LA extravaganza, this one to the Pacific Standard Time’s mother ship, the Getty’s Brentwood hilltop museum, Featured there at present are four distinct and strikingly different exhibits.
 
All are noteworthy, but most arresting to me was the exhibit entitled Golden Kingdoms; Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas.
 
With exquisite art works dating back 3,000 years, revealed are a succession of civilizations that obviously valued creativity and enjoyed flaunting it.
 
Of particular interest to me was that metals were used to craft objects of ritual and ornament, not as in most other civilizations, for weaponry, tools or coinage.
 
So we have for example ancient jewel encrusted hoop earrings that would be quite stylish today, and body ornaments that would distinguish a Venice Beach hipster.
 
Displayed in addition to objects in gold and silver are art works made from shell, textiles, and most notably jade. Indeed, jade appears to have been valued more than gold, though the early Europeans did not differentiate.
 
They just plundered everything they could get their greedy hands on while conquering the heathen Golden Kingdoms in the name of Christianity. Millions died, and with them the crafts that had distinguished their civilizations.
 
As for the other LA/LA exhibits at the Getty, they also were fascinating as they were different, but these broadcasts being brief I will have to review the in the weeks and months ahead.
 
However, with the exhibits running into next year, I just might have enough time to see and comment on them all. You should try.
 
 

CELEBRATING LATIN AMERICAN ART

There is much, much to observe at the moment across Southern California’s cultural scene with the launching of what has to be the most ambitious coordinated exhibition ever of Latin American and Latino art, and so I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.

It’s ambitious, challenging, actually an overwhelming introduction for the curious and the casual, and for those more versed. But most of all, it is an appreciation of the rich cultural traditions and contributions of Latin American.

Under the banner of Pacific Standard Time, the effort is branded LA slash LA, and is funded to the tune of $16 million dollars by the Getty, involving more than 70 cultural institutions across Southern California. Think of the Getty and friends as a gentle , rain and the exhibits as wildflowers.

Explored are the diverse topics of design and architecture, art and activism, photography and film, touching upon identity, gender, borders and migration, spanning pre Hispanic and colonial eras, modernism and abstraction, and the very much now.

The monumental curatorial scope of Pacific Standard Time and its respectful recognition of Latin American art actually was begun a half dozen years ago, and before the ugly, hysterical anti immigration rants and reactionary acts of our deranged president.

He talks of walls, while cultural efforts such as Pacific Standard Time celebrate how our hemispheres are linked by geography, climate and economics. Indeed, participating in the exhibits are some 1,100 artists from 45 countries in Latin America, as well as a smattering from elsewhere. It truly celebrates our nation’s rich diversity.

So where to begin? To avoid exhaustion, you, of course, can only take in so much at a time, and at specific places

I began at the County Museum, way back in June, with the exhibit “Home, So different, So Appealing, Art from the Americas Since 1957. “ And right as you enter, hitting you in the face, is an assemblage of personal effects. Talk about the fragments of cultures; they mesmerize.

Also at LACMA now is the exhibit Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915–1985. Explored are the reciprocal influences of both lands through four main themes: Spanish Colonial inspiration, pre-Hispanic revivals, folk art and craft traditions, and Modernism.

And there is more at the County, including a retrospective of the art of Carlos Almaraz, one of the more influential activist Chicano artist of the 1970s and 80s, who died too young at 48 .

If you have the time, across the street from LACMA, at the Craft and Folk Art Museum is the quite timely subject of the U.S. and Mexican border, its imagination and possibility. And to think that this exhibit was put together before the current controversy.

These are just starters, and I will be exploring many others in the weeks ahead. Meanwhile, venture out of Malibu and try to catch a few

 

FORD THEATRES REIMAGINED WITH EDGY PROGRAM

No, I didn’t score tickets to Hamilton last weekend, as several listeners and readers inquired. But I’m continuing to conscientiously enter the lottery for the $10 giveaways, and I did receive an email that a ticket on stubhub was available, for $495.

As I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU, and select websites everywhere, I didn’t bite. Instead for my theatre experience, I calculated that for just a few dollars more I could go to Dublin to take in an attraction or two at the Abby Theatre,

I do note that upcoming there is a production of Ulysses, which is being hailed as a “brilliantly adapted vibrant version of James Joyce’s classic.” Tickets start at 13 euro ($15).

As for last weekend, we did get to Hollywood for an engaging, stage event, in a new venue in the hills off the 101 freeway. (which we note was backing up when we exited at Highland.)

There after making a sharp is the welcoming, Ford Theatres., recently reimagined by architect, Brenda Levin, at a cost of $66 million to a generous county. Is it a coincidence a plaza there was named after the former supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky?

Despite its steep site cut into a verdant hillside, well lit, wide stairways and large elevators make the open air 1,200 seat theatre very accessible. Particularly appreciated are scattered plazas for picnicking., where with packed-in eatables you can also bring in wine or beer. Of course, also at the Ford for feasting before performances are inviting, if pricey, food concessions.

Also welcomed in the auditorium is the theatrical lighting and audio visual systems. No longer heard in the background is the obnoxious 101 freeway. Though a disappointment has to be the seating, which for some reason is not staggered, even just a few inches to the sides, improving sight lines, especially if the persons in front of you are six footers.

It did make viewing the evening’s program a challenge, as was the double bill itself. But if you also welcome the creative and experimental, the program had its rewards. Well deserved credit goes to the Ford, partnering as it has with the Music Center in support of the emerging performing arts. It is effort such as theirs that makes L.A. a cultural haven.

The program featured the Jacob Jonas dance company’s world premier of Pile On, and, yes, it opened with a pile on, not unlike occurs in a baseball game when a player hits a walk off homer, and his teammates bury him in bodies at home plate.

Only at the Ford it was more graceful, as were the individual break-dancing and gymnastics, as if a warmup to a Paul Taylor performance. Nonelessless, it was given a standing ovation. One senses this early experiment will in time morph into a more compelling piece.

This feeling also followed a visual and sound performance by Tim Hecker with Kara Lis Coverdale, and though dazzled by digital compositions, I found the program more noise than music. A lot of smoke, but no fire.

 

 

HAMILTON TICKET MANIA

I’m sorry to report this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites that as your intrepid cultural correspondent and avid theatre goer, I unfortunately missed the opening at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood of the much heralded Hamilton, the hit musical fresh from sell outs in New York .

There the contemporary, hip-hop-inflected spin on the story of the Federalist founding father, had been received as something akin to the second coming, and scoring a ticket equal to winning the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes.

We had considered getting tickets when in New York, but going through the box office was near impossible, and cashing in a 401 for a pair of questionable scalper’s seats not advisable to our financial consultant, and a mortal sin to our cultural faiths.

I also feel it is a bit ironic that the quest for tickets had taken on the mien of a stock market mania – something akin to the Dutch tulip craze in the 17th century– considering Alexander Hamilton was the liberal first secretary of the Treasury, remembered for attempting to bring some financial stability to post revolutionary United States.

Anyway, a New Yorker we know well and respect actually had gone to the opening night, and had judged the production just, “okay”. And the fact is she had only gone because it was a benefit for the praiseworthy non-profit Humanity in Action.

So we decided to wait until it came to Los Angeles, where if you keep tabs on such things, it seems to have been received as perhaps not as a second coming, but a third. The first, of course, being a tenet of pure faith that occurred 2,000 or so years ago and the second, a reception for President Clinton at the home of Barbra Streisand in the heyday of his now lamented administration.

So we of little faith missed the opening, have gotten no reasonable invites and not wanting to pay the box office prices of $300 and up. and the scalper prices that far exceed my TOTAL tuition and fees for four years at a Ivy League school. It was $600.

To the credit of the producers, there is a daily lottery for a few teasing $10 tickets. Entering it is relatively simple. Chances of winning very slim. We have tried and lost, but intend to keep trying.

Meanwhile, in reality it appears we will wait until the crowds might diminish before its run at the Pantages ends, or maybe a secret Santa deems to gift us, or just be content with a someday student production at Pepperdine, or Malibu High. Then there probably will be a movie, probably a bad one..

A REVITALIZED FORD THEATRE REOPENS

For those who love music and dance, are adventurous, and willing to fight the traffic on a weekend, you might want to check out a Music Center extravaganza; not at the music center downtown, but in the more accessible Hollywood Hills.

And so I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU, and select websites everywhere.

Admirably conscious of the need to go beyond its central campus on Bunker Hill Downtown, the Center is offering three evenings of distinctive productions in the welcoming renovated and reconstructed, John Anson Ford Theatre, in the Cahuenga Pass.

And, yes, you can come early, as you can to its next-door neighbor, the Hollywood Bowl, and picnic, making the evening a social event, and time it to best the traffic. To make things a little more comfortable, for those who do not like schlepping, there are new concessions, serving full dinners.

The 1,200-seat theatre was recently creatively reimagined by L.A.’s premier restoration architect, Brenda Levin. She has fashioned the iconic but ancient Ford Theatre – built nearly a century ago — into a state-of-the-art venue, for both the audiences and performers, with new seating, staging and most critically, theatrical lighting and audio visual systems

Having toured the Ford in the last throes of its $66 million reconstruction, I can’t wait to see it come alive with performances. And neither obviously could the Music Center, under the auspices of a most cooperative county arts commission, in joining forces with the Ford for three evenings, to sponsor what each promises to be a memorable experience.

On stage next Friday, the 18th, will be a dance performance by acclaimed choreographer Aszure Barton, entitled Awaa, which has been described as a powerful journey through music and sound, celebrating sexuality and humanity.

Featured are seven male dancers and one woman, in a performance the San Francisco Chronicle labeled “brilliant” and The New York Times, “audacious.”

Saturday, the 19th features a double bill that includes an original work by the ever-challenging Jacob Jonas. Expect something visual and visceral.

It will be followed by a concert exploring an electronic mix of past and present composition in a melding specifically for the outdoor location of the Ford. Hopefully it will be harmonic, as will be a concluding new age, new music piece.

I expect Sunday evening’s entertainment will be somewhat milder, with songwriter Rufus Wainwright performing a program that includes curated Canadian compositions.

 

 

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO GO DOWNTOWN

Given the frustrating traffic inundating Los Angeles, my arts and entertainment commentaries on public radio 97.5 KBU and websites everywhere have been on the more accessible cultural venues on the west side.

The sad fact is traffic is the tail that wags the cultural dog in L.A., which for many of us has morphed from our hometown to crazy town.

But sometimes in the pursuit of culture you just have to go Downtown, to the Music Center and the Disney Concert Hall, and just gird yourself for the usual two plus hours in stop-and-go freeway traffic to get there.

Such was an evening recently when we braved the traffic to go the Disney for a stellar program of early cutting edge 20th century music, composed by three brilliant symphonist of the period, Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, and Leos Janacek.

Up to the challenge was the increasing adept and praised Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and for the Stravinsky and Janacek compositions, the Los Angeles Master Choral and four solo singers.

Though without question if repeated curtain calls, standing ovations and thunderous applause is any measure, and my own cheering, the super star of the evening was the astonishing young pianist Yuja Wang.

The 30-year-old Wang is known not only for her musicality, but also for her stunning outfits. She did not disappoint.

Her jaunty entrance in a shimmering, tight, rose gold colored metallic gown, split up to the top of her thighs, stirred the audience. And then there was the four-inch high heels that made you wonder if she could work the pedals, as needed.

But this just added to the excitement of her playing the very challenging Bartok Piano Concerto Number One, which she did with verve and dexterity. It was, in a word, breathtaking.

With her energetic attack of the keyboard, she more than matched the percussion-dominated reverberations of the orchestra under the busy baton of an enthusiastic and obviously pleased Dudamel. It took your breath away.

Yes, the Bartok concerto was bookended by a sensitive short Stravinsky requiem, and a spirited, edgy Janacek mass, accented by a striking solo organ movement. Both compositions were engrossing.

But it was Wang that marked the evening as memorable. We flew home to Malibu on the freeway in a state of euphoria.