“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.

A Haunting “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”

As mentioned last week, I timed my return from Mexico so I could attend the West Coast premier on “Long Day ‘s Journey Into Night.” at the Wallis Annenberg Center in Beverly Hills.

To be sure, I did so with some apprehension, as comment on public radio KBU 99.1 and websites everywhere.

I had last seen – perhaps witnessed is a better word — Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece some 50 years ago on Broadway, and had not forgotten the experience It was so raw and riveting, and moving.

I wondered whether it still would have the same dramatic effect on me, being so much older now, and in this day and age where I believe we sadly have become so unfortunately hardened to shock, to mention among other things the school shootings, the pervasive homelessness and the cruelty to children, of the current Republican misadministration.

From a critic’s and personal perspective, the answer is yes. “Long Day’s Journey,” is indeed a drama that will absorb you for 3 plus hours and haunt you after.

There are no stage gimmicks, special effects at the Wallis, no Greek chorus breaking into song and dance, just actors on a striking open set performing with such skill and speaking poignant lines with such convincing feeling you feel transformed, ease dropping a century ago on a dysfunctional Irish Catholic family, the Tyrones, exposing themselves on one long day and night.

The cast of the English Bristol Old Vic production is, in a word, magnificent, particularly the alcoholic patriarch Tyrone, played by Oscar, Tony and Emmy award winner Jeremy Irons, and the Morphine addicted matriarch, Lesley Manville, a recent Oscar nominee. The twisted relationship between the two crackles.

Her venomous delivery of the line, “I love you dear, in spite of everything,” is echoed by her husband in every aside and gesture, witnessed with an ebb and flow of emotion by their sons drifting in and out of the living room.

The performances of the sons played by Matthew Beard and Rory Keenan are equally emotional and convincing, in their love and hate for each other, and their tortured parents. You ache for them.

Eugene O’Neill once described the play as having been written in tears and blood”, a play of old sorrow, and was so baldly autobiographical that he left instructions that it not be performed for 25 years after his death, which came in 1953. His widow disobeyed. I saw it in 1956, and last week.

If you love theatre, you should, too, before the limited engagement ends July 1.

 

 

 

STAGE REVIVALS STIR TICKET SALES

As I predicted a few weeks ago the revue, musical, or songfest, call it what you will, “Blues In the Night,” became a hot ticket,

But as I report on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, happily its run at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, has been extended another week. And as I have recommended, it shouldn’t be missed

The production may be a little dated, as I am, but it still dazzles, and makes for a delightful, nostalgic, evening. Nostalgic indeed,

the revival is directed by Sheldon Epps, who worked on the show when it was conceived off-off Broadway some 40 years ago. After several productions over the years, I think he’s finally nailed it.

The set in a smoky seedy hotel in Chicago is evocative of the late down and out 30s, and so are the 26 torch songs of Bessie Smith, and Duke Ellington, among notable others.

They are woven together into the sorrowful stories of three women, and the men who have done them wrong, and delivered appropriately draped and pitch perfect by a right-on, outstanding cast of four, Yvette Cason, Bryce Charles , Chester Gregory and Paulette Ivory.

Yes, there could be more dancing, but the production like the man it portrays, is a worrisome thing, in the memorable words of composers Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer.

In addition to Blues in the Night, there are several other productions scheduled locally that I expect also will be hot tickets, revivals actually that were hits in their time.

At the Japanese Garden on the West L.A. VA campus, from June 5th to July 1st, there will be a rare production of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV,” staged by Tony Award winning director Daniel Sullivan. Of particular note featured will be screen actor Tom Hanks in stage debut as Shakespeare’s greatest comedic character Sir John Falstaff. For tickets you are going to have to link via email to the Shakespeare center.

 At the Wallis, June 8th through July 1, will be Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. This production will star the distinguished actors Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville.

June 20th to July 1st, the Freud Playhouse, on the UCLA campus, will host a Reprise production of the Broadway hit play, Sweet Charity. Directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall.

Tickets for all should be a scramble. Go for it.

 

 

WEST L.A. CULTURAL SCENE ALIVE AND DIVERSE

I might have been on hiatus for several weeks, but the very varied cultural scene in west Los Angeles certainly was not, and is not, as I observe on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere

At the Broad Stage, tomorrow is percussion personified, as the renowned TAO troupe performs its latest production, entitled Drum Heart. Expect the auditorium in Santa Monica to reverberate, with the unique Japanese sound and style.

Then on Sunday the Broad Stage will be the scene of a very different sound and presence, a classic music concert. Wrapping up its multiyear Beethoven String Quartet cycle, the acclaimed Calder Quartet will be playing a program including two of the master’s compositions.

And for a little variation, the program also will feature a string quintet, by Mozart, with a guest musician on the additional instrument of a viola. That no doubt is a reminder by the quartet that is should not to be remembered for just Beethoven.

Nor I should add should the Broad Stage should only be known for music, having last week hosted the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Revolutionary when founded 50 years ago as a home for Afro American ballet dancers then being shunned, the group continues to be, simply and boldly, outstanding.

It brought the Broad Stage to life, and the audience to its feet applauding, in a limited appearance that featured an inspired program of neo-classical and contemporary ballet. Particularly moving was the ballet “Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven”: subtitled Odes to Love and Loss. It was as the creator Ulysees Dove had hoped, “an experience in movement, a story without words” Beautiful.

Not to be, should I say, upstaged, The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills continues with its rich tradition of diverse dance, music and theater offerings. On my must see list is “Blues In The Night,”

Conceived and directed by Sheldon Epps, the musical bears witness to sorrowful stories of three women, and the men who have done them wrong. Featuring 26, yes, that is two dozen plus two, for a very full evening of the sexy songs made famous by Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, and a host of famed others.

It runs until May 20th. but it promises to be an evening that you just might want to see and hear several times.

 

And for something very different, at the Skirball Cultural Center, atop Brentwood, this Sunday, is a puppet festival. Featured in addition to live music and kid workshops, will be a performance by the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre’s famed Animal Cracker Conspiracy Puppet Company. We’re talking real art and entertainment here.

 

 

LACMA EXHIBIT CELEBRATES ART AND URBAN HISTORY

As I comment this week on public radio 99.1 KBU and select web sites, the exhibit “City and Cosmos” that just opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, uniquely embraces both art and urban history.

And let me state from the beginning of this review, modest as the exhibit may be in three galleries in the Resnick wing of sprawling LACMA, it is not to be missed.

Engagingly revealed are the finding of the lastest exhaustive excavations in the ancient city of TEOTIHUACAN of three pyramids. the sun, moon and feathered serpent, and the adjacent residential compounds.

The excavations have been ongoing by international teams of archeologists, for the city in central Mexico was for centuries, at the turn of the first millennium, from about 100 b.c. to 600 a.d , the largest urban center in the Americas, with an estimated population of 100,000.

For a context, they lived in single family, one story houses, off a well planned street system, focused on a major avenue anchored by the three impressive pyramids.

The city is considered the centerpiece of Mexico’s rich narrative, and its ruins draw about 4 million visitors a year.

The 200 or so objects displayed are fascinating, for me riveting, Included are both large and small scale impressive stone sculptures, beautfully crafted jewelery, and household items, principally pottery, decoratfed with scenes of everyday life. mothers and children, and animalsThe carved masks and polished faces mesmerize.

The craftsmanship is exquisite, the work obviously of a large and talented artisan class, though one questions whether they were slaves or critizens. And where did some of the materials come from, such as the varied shells?

Indeed, if anything, the exhibit raises more questions than it answers, and a well written and illustrated timeline would have been appreciated. The labeling was inadequate, atleast for the plebian public.

Whatever, the objects indicate a rich and vibrant cosmopolitan life, that hint at the city in its hey day attracting people from various tribes and cultures from across meso America. In this respect, I feel this speaks in a way to Los Angeles today, and its large immigrant and migrating population.

But I would have liked to learn more why this city was destroyed; was the devestating fire in the six hundreds deliberate or accidental, and were the city’s apparent egalitarian institutions that had welcome the city’s diversity eventually subverted by despotic rulers only hinted at in the exhibition catalogue? Questions.