GREEK TRAGEDY AT GETTY VILLA

It’s September, the traditional launch time for the cultural calendar year , and in an ever challenging L.A. that means a diversity of offerings celebrating what’s new in dance, music, theatre and the visual arts.
 
And increasing it is, making it harder and harder to chose a weekly venue to attend, just as it is harder and harder to get to it on time, given the crush of traffic in the L.A. metropolitan area, especially if you live in Malibu, as I do.
 
So as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites. this weekend I chose something convenient, a theatrical performance, at the Getty Villa in Malibu premiering last night. But to say the least it was not something new by any measure of calendar. Indeed, it was ancient, and if you can trust Wikipedia was first performed in 405 B.C.
 
It was the Greek tragedy by the Athenian playwright Euripides, scripted in his final years while living in Macedonia. Entitled ‘The Bacchae,” it is considered a capstone to his career, winning first prize in a festival drama competition held in the City of Dionysia 2523 years ago.
 
Personally, when I think of it, that addendum of information just astounds me.
 
The play follows the revengeful ruses of the god of wine and madness, and not incidentally fertility, Dionysus, as he return to his birthplace in Greece. As described by the Getty, the play is “packed with striking scenes, frenzied emotion, and choral songs of great power and beauty.”
 
And where better to see it than at the Getty Villa sitting under a dark sky in an open Roman styled amphitheater. If you love theatre, history ad histrionics, you going to love the production, directed by Anne Bogart.
 
It runs Thursday, Friday or Saturday evening, for the next two weekends, closing on the 29th. As for my review, that will be next week.
 
If you live in Malibu and are culturally curious, as I am, but ever wary of PCH traffic and the want something even closer than the Getty Villa, opened this week is a Pop art exhibit at the Weisman Museum at Pepperdine. It runs until December 2.
 
With some 50 pieces including some by Claes Oldenburg and Keith Haring, curated by Billie Milam Weisman herself, the exhibit promises to be top-tier. The museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays, and it is free.
 
 

‘AIN’T TOO PROUD” CHRONICLES THE TEMPTATIONS

Made it to downtown L.A. in the teeth of the usual frustrating traffic to see the heralded production of “Ain’t Too Proud- The Life and Times of the Temptations”.

And maddening traffic or not, you should, too, before the run ends September 30th, at the Ahmanson Theatre and moves east to Broadway to probably become a hit and hot ticket.

There has become some debate among critics what to label the production: a jukebox musical, or a more respectful biography of a fabled singing group, with a patina of history and histrionics?

But as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, forget the labels, they are just a crutch for critics. I would wrap it all up, put a bow on it, and call it a celebration, especially if you loved the Temptations back in the 60s and 70s, as I did. The bursting-at-the seams production makes it a joyful evening.

Loved the songs, their singular sounds, the distinct harmonies, and their smooth, choreographed delivery. They are performed with a syncopated sparkle that ignites the stage under the smooth direction of Des McAnuff, who not incidentally was the guiding hand for the hit musical Jersey Boys.

He is ably aided here by choreographer Sergio Trujillo, musical conductor Kenny Seymour and scenic designer Robert Brill. A shout out also for the flash-bam lighting design of Howell Binkley, and the glittering costumes by Paul Tazwell.

Indeed, it is an all star production, with a talented cast headed by by Derrick Baskin as the persevering Temptation original Otis Williams, Jawan Jackson with the a bass that echoes the fabeled Melvin Franklin, as does Jeremy Pope hitting the high note falsettos of Eddie Kendricks. And capturing the sad saga of David Ruffin is a convincing Ephrain Sykes.

But as a tough love I would suggest before moving on to Broadway, some nip and tucking is needed. 31 songs are a lot: Let “My Girl” resound, while a few others can be forgotten.

And the unquestionably truthful dialogue by Dominique Morisseau frankly needs editing. For all the fame and fortune, the climb out a down-and-out Detroit and life on the road, obviously took its toll. There are drugs and drink, and to borrow a word, temptations. All true, but also cliché. Meanwhile, you want to hear the music, and as batted out in “Ain’t Too Proud” for sure ain’t bad.

It all makes for a great first offering for the Fall season at the Ahamson, where followed for sure will be sellouts of “Dear Evans Hansen” and “Come From Away.” It is not too early to get tickets.

 

 

 

BROAD FEST BECKONS ALL

Upcoming is Labor Day weekend, and given the frustrating rush and crush of the three-day holiday, it is not too early to make plans. That is a challenge these days.

I do have a specific recommendation, at least for that mid holiday Sunday afternoon, two to seven. It is the Broad Fest, a very varied multi cultural and multi generational programs, something free, and for all.

Kids in particular I think will love it, and you, too, if you are into different musical sounds, and dance, as I am. And it relatively easy to get to, at 11th and Arizona, in Santa Monica.

But as mention of public radio 99.1 KBU and websites everywhere, reservations are recommended, so contact the broadstage.org.

Yes, it is a three day weekend, and there of course is also the beach for which Los Angeles is rightly famed. But expect getting to any of its accessible stretches of sand, if hopefully by an air conditioned car, finding a parking space, and then trying to find a spot to put down the blanket and the crammed ice container, is going to be a shlep, unless you leave early enough.

And if you haven’t noticed as the Southland has become more and more populous, early enough increasingly has become earlier and earlier each year. The freeways may be free of tolls, at least for the moment, but not of a constant flow of traffic.

You have to wonder where are all these cars are going, and whether you also should be going there, wherever that is. On Labor day weekend for most that happens to be the beach.

But it also increasingly true of the museums I recommend, especially on the Westside. I love the Getty not only for its varied and always diverting exhibits, as I had noted last week, and also for its views and breezes high above Brentwood and the 405 Freeway. And at the end of the Summer, it also has become loved by the increasing hordes of tourists.

It used to be you can escape to an air conditioned movie theatre, but since they have become more plush and expensive I’ve become more choosey. Also with food now being served during the showings means people around you murmuring orders, fumbling for credit cards and eating loudly.

Yes, expect crowds and people eating loudly too, at the Broad Fest. But the music is going to be loud, and it all being free, you can try the different attractions. Consider it an adventure. I do, and that is what motivates me,

 

 

 

 

“AIN’T TOO PROUD” HAS HIT POTENTIAL

The Summer is hot, and so I expect will be some upcoming scintillating stage offerings, making this seasonal lull in the entertainment calendar a good time to score tickets.

At the top of my list and just two weeks from opening night , August 24th, at the Ahmanson Theatre downtown, is the pre Broadway run of “Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of The Temptations.” The production runs from August 21 through September 30th. (Check the Center Theatre Group for details, online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org, or calling 213 972 4400.)

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and websites everywhere, the musical promises to be most enjoyable, as was a similarly sourced nostalgic “Jersey Boys,” That was definitely a blast, on Broadway and here, and I’m looking forward to a revival, somewhere in the Southland soon. That and “Hamilton.”

And remember how you put off “Hamilton,” until it was too late, as it was for me. My Broadway musical instincts as a born and ill bred theatre loving New Yorker tell me that “Ain’t Too Proud.” is going to be a hit. So do frankly reading the reviews of its world premiere last year at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

“Memorable,” “Great singing, great dancing.” “Slick, fast moving.” “nostalgic, and more,” And the reaction: “the audience went wild,” “stood up and started clapping.” Indeed, the run at the Berkeley Rep that ended recently was the highest grossing production in that theatre’s nearly 50-year history.

In anticipation to the newly polished production Ahmanson, I almost can hear the group’s “my girl ” in my inner ear, and in my mind’s eye see them in their slick suits , swaying, gesturing and harmonizing on stage.

According to Billboard magazine, The Temptations is considered one the greatest singing group of all time, at the top of the R&B pinnacle but according to its history, it was not an easy climb, not for five black men in a white world then racked with rising civil unrest.

There was the all too usual conflicts of personalities and politics, of home life, and life on the road, and of life itself, as a parade performers vied for a presence, and aged. There is a lot there, plus 31 hit songs. It all makes for a memorable musical evening. I look forward to reviewing it.

 

A CHOIR DOWNTOWN FOR A SUBLIME SUMMER’S EVE

If you haven’t made plans for tonight, hope the traffic is Summer Friday light, and are willing to chance the PCH and the 10 Freeway, let me suggest a different venue downtown that promises to be memorable.

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everyewhere, at the architectural distinguished and welcoming Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is a one night only performance of the South London boys choir, known as Libera.

Compromised of boys seven to sixteen, the choir has a distinctive sound that has been described as a “ soaring brotherhood of angels,” drawing upon “transcendant harmonies,” with the effect: emotionally uplifting arrangements.

The choir is definitely a crowd pleaser, with an international following, having for several years been high on the popular and classical charts. This has been boosted by appearances on The Tonight Show and Today, and scoring hits on You Tube.

Libera’s tour in the Southland that includes a concert Tuesday evening in Garden Grove, at the Christ Cathedral, is interestingly sponsored by Viking Cruises.

As an arts and entertainment commentator, I particularly appreciate the promotion by the cruise line of select cultural venues beyond its ports, and that includes public television. Culture needs as much support it can get these days.

I might add that Viking’s cultural predisposition is also savvy, appealing as it does to discerning travelers with itineraries in ports of calls featuring select local stage performances, and special access to art and architectural attractions.

Viking has labeled this very culturally conscious endeavor, “the thinking person’s” cruises, as a viable alternative to mainstream cruises. And as I was lectured in the creative arts a long time ago, whatever the distinguishing difference may be, celebrate it.

And if you do make it to the cathedral downtown, pay special attention to the design and decoration. The exterior architecture itself by Rafael Moneo is understated, angeled post modern. But the interior is stunning. You enter through a set of sculpted bronze doors, exquisitely crafted by the artist Robert Graham with pre-Christan figures and a statue called the Virgin Mary.

The interior is flooded with natural light filtered through slanted shafts in the walls, decorated by a series of tapestries, depicting saints, church leaders and the anonymous, the work of California artist John Nava. It is a perfect setting for the captivating choir, and the promise of a memorable evening.

 

 

BEETHOVEN ON STAGE AT THE WALLIS

If you enjoy both classical music and classical theatre, and want to chance the PCH some evening, there is an interesting production at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, in Beverly Hills for the next few weeks. entitled “Beethoven.”

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, the production includes selections from some of his most well known compositions, woven into a dramatization of several troubled periods of his life.

Beethoven’s life indeed is known to have been, in a word, miserable. Unloved and unappreciated as a child, he struggled through a lifetime of hostile relationship, with his family and friends, but all the time composing. He was further beset in old age by infirmities and deafness.

You can almost hear the production being heralded by Beethoven’s opening four note motif of his Fifth Symphony. “Da,da,da, dahh.”

A little schmaltzy? Perhaps. But then the life of Beethoven indeed was a little schmaltzy, as hinted at in the production’s advance description:

“An extraordinary one man musical play that brings the composers to life as it dramatizes the true story of a Viennese doctor who spent his boyhood by the maestro’s side as the son of Beethoven best friend.”

It is truly a one man musical, with the Canadian born Hershey Felder doing it all, as the writer, actor, and pianist, under the direction of an experienced Joel Zwick. Felder is even given credit for the set designs.

In particular, Felder’s piano playing was described in the world premier of the musical in a Silicon Valley theatre last year, as “gifted.” Said the critic, “we see him taking a few simple notes and making them into unique pieces, even as a child.” adding “we feel like we are there at the dawn of Beethoven’s genius.” It was a rave review, though I’m not sure it was of Beethoven or Felder.

Actually, I’ve always been a little wary of bios, on film and on stage, with the actors mimicking the words and gestures of their subject, the effect being that of a caricature rather than a true character study.

Hoping this will be the exception. The production runs through August 19th.

 

NIGHT CLUBBING AT THE WALLIS

Summer is in full bloom at the always engaging Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, as I comment on my arts and entertainment public radio segment this week, on 99.1 KBU and select websites.

And in keeping with the laid back ways of the season, the center om Beverly Hills has turned its smaller of two theatres, the Lovelace Studio, into an intimate nightclub.

There under the marquee of The Sorting Room, is a cabaret offering of mostly music in a succession of short, limited runs that frankly made it a challenge to attend all, as I comment on my arts and entertainment observed, public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites.

We did make it into The Sorting Room a few weeks ago for the one night stand of the theater songwriting team of Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler, performing with a professional swagger and in studied voices an original program of very personal, sweet, and bitter sweet, songs.

Ah, men, the good, bad and indifferent, how have they come and gone, and where are they now, except in memory for the song writing team.

The ebullient Heisler and the winsome Goldrich were ably aided by a cast of musicians and guest performers out from the audience, seemingly populated by many friends and family.

Indeed, one got the feeling they had performed for many there in a distant past, industry intimate, Beverly Hills, in their parents’ crowded living rooms after dinner parties.

This weekend , tonight, Saturday, at 7 and 9 pm; and Sunday, at 5 and 7 ,the Sorting Room will be the scene of a rock n roll celebration by the troupe “For the Record” of the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino’s famed Pulp Fiction. Should be a kick.

Wednesday evening for a one night stand, multi-platinum producer Kosine will host a parade of emerging songwriters, performing their original songs.

Then the next night, Thursday, it will be another evening of new musical theatre, where previously unheard tunes will be performed by established and promising new composers .

The production scheduled for Friday evening has been described as a one-of-a-kind cabaret, with songs in both English and sign language. Performing show tunes, hip hop, poetry and comedy will be Broadway’s Josh Castille, and friends – from The Wallis and Deaf West’s Tony-nominated revival of Spring Awakening.

The final one nighter will be next Saturday, a production called “Celebrity Autobiography,” in which the memoirs of select celebrities will be acted out on stage by other celebrities. Laughs are promised. We certainly need some in these depressing neo-fascist days of Trump the terrible.

BTW, by mentioning Trump as I have intentionally keeps me off several websites that had picked me up in the past. I of course intend to keep reviling him into his hopefully sooner than later retirement.

FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT CHECKOUT THE REDCAT

For something definitely different on the ever engaging Southern California cultural scene, check out the Redcat, as I recommend this week on public radio 99.1 KBU and websites everywhere.

It is the NOW festival – that is N for new, O for original, and W for works, described by the sponsoring Cal Arts as a “vital laboratory for artists, redefining the boundaries of contemporary theatre, dance, music and multi media performance.”

The festival running through the Summer is being preceded this Sunday, the 8th, at 3 PM, with a survey of short films and performance documentations by Zackary Drucker, a widely respected, transgender multimedia artist.

She is also an LGBT activist, actress, and a producer of the award winning TV series, Transparent. On a personal note, Zach also is also a family friend, and charming. After the screening she will be in conversation with USC’s art and design professor Amelia Jones.

And where else is this happening? In the Redcat Theatre, of course, ever the wellspring of contemporary attractions tucked away beneath the Disney Concert Hall downtown.

The evening with Zachary Drucker is a centerpiece offering of the month-long film and performance festival, presenting art in thriving queer communities.

Taking the summer in stride, this truly experimental festival aims to generate a better and broader understanding of the complex relationships between sexuality, culture, gentrification, and forgotten or suppressed queer histories. For a schedule check the websites Redcat@calarts.edu or www.dirtylooksla.org.

One of the things I feel what makes Los Angeles so engaging is its diversity, the gazpacho of cultures and rainbow of lifestyles.

As a critic, this diversity I feel lends the arts and entertainment, fads and fashions, and food too, a distinct dynamism, distinguishing the local cultural scene. I love the classics; but I also want to know what is new and happening. For me, everyday it is the world reborn. It makes me feel alive.

And as a political aside I feel compelled to express in our current political nightmare, this cultural diversity makes me unabashedly proud to be an American, and rail against the xenophobia of our embarrassment of a president.

Actually, the festival at the Redcat. in its modest way, lends a hope that America as a tolerant, democratic society somewhere will persevere, and the nightmare of Trump the terrible will end.

 

WHITHER MALIBU’S WOEBEGONE VILLAGE

Upcoming is July 4th, Independence Day, and if you are looking for a flag to salute, and if you don’t mind it being pastiche, there are several variations on the iconic star and stripes design on display in the Red Ladder Gallery in Malibu’s woebegone Village.

You know where the so-called Village is. That fractured shopping center/ tourist trap, a PCH pit stop behind the obtrusive gas station in the uncivil civic center: Malibu ugly, and so I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites.

The gallery– you can locate it by looking for a red ladder on the façade — is a praiseworthy venture of local resident Eamon Harrington. An Emmy award winning documentarian by trade, Harrington recently has been tirelessly pursuing painting.

In the interest of personal disclosure, he and his attractive family are genial long time neighbors on the Point. Even if you try to avoid the Civic Center, especially in the crush of cars in Summer , do check out Harrington’s artwork.

As an added attraction, the Red Ladder at 3832 Cross Creek Rd. will be hosting a schedule of readings and talks. Check its website and Just bring your own seating.

But sadly I expect the Red Ladder life expectancy might be short, for it is what commercial realtors call a “pop up”, a temporary tenant, a space holder of sorts.

The stratagem is for pop ups to lend some needed life to a shopping center as its landlords scratch like barnyard chickens for deep pocket tenants who will commit to long term leases.

What they hope going for them is the promise and profit of Malibu’s cachet. Not incidentally, this is what whetted the greedy appetites of many of the city’s past powerbrokers and politicians, and prompted Malibu’s misguided and compromised planning practices, tree huggers be damned.

But reality bites. Negating much of the city’s nefarious history of backroom politics is that the picked-over civic center is fast becoming a commercial tar pit of sorts. The Red Ladder might be around a long time.

Malibu these days may indeed attract wandering-window shopping, celebrity-seeking looky-loos, but whether the numbers can justify the escalating commercial rents is questionable as the real estate industry struggles in the wake of the boom in preferred on-line shopping.

They can write off the local population, which increasingly goes over the hill for its shopping, dining and entertainment, certainly now that Malibu’s lone commercial movie theatre has closed Noted is that its replacement will be another pricey “shamata” shop. Just what Malibu doesn’t need.

What the civic center needs, of course, is affordable housing, specifically for our teachers, first responders and seniors. And in deference to the Red Ladder, maybe some live work lofts for our emerging artist community,

Besides creating a more viable, and livable, sea coast village, it is the right thing to do, as I have stated in the past, and no doubt will again, and again, until the city finally acts. It’s time.

HAMMER BECKONS

Finally made it to the “Made in L.A, 2018” exhibit at the always engaging, and free, Hammer Museum in accessible Westwood.

 You should, too, for the two words that leapt to mind after my tour: mesmerizing and challenging, and so I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU, happily back on air, and on websites everywhere.

 I must add that the welcomed displays of the no less than 33 artists represented is also daunting, given the range of materials and techniques used, the resulting collages, constructions, paintings and videos, and their effects.

 Because of the space and time constraints of my commentaries, I decided in this instance not to single out select artists and their creations, compelling as some are.

 This being the fourth iteration of the now biennial exhibit of new works by emerging artists, in the words of director Ann Philbin, with the intention of providing insight into a larger moment with our culture. To this I say “yes!”

 Philbin further explained that while the curators –and I quote, “did not setout to define a central theme, the 33 artists in this exhibition –like the rest of us –live in a period of social tumult and political uncertainly.”

 Added was her firm belief that in moments like these, artists help to illuminate our world, whether through nuanced examinations or bold declaration. She concluded, “This year’s Made in in L.A. may not be overtly political, but it nonetheless speaks to our time.”

 So, if you are at all interested in the visual arts, be it casually, as a curiosity, or as a critic, be it for its beauty or emotional impact, or political statement, I strongly urge you make an effort to see the exhibit, which runs through the Summer to September 2d.

 I purposely added “political statement” for this is in part echoes director Philbin’s message. It also is a reply to several comments received from listeners and readers concerning my asides in select recent commentaries lamenting the cruel, greedy, environmentally disastrous policies of the Trump (mis)administration.

 I personally cannot divorce my deep appreciation of art from its inherent politics, and the daily outrages of the neo fascist Republicans. Yes fascism, which me and my family know too well from history witnessed.

 Yet I have hope. Of all endeavors I believe art has the power to free us all, if only for a few hours in a museum, as it was for me at the Hammer, as may it be for you, too.

 Maybe even an epiphany for a Trumpite.