BEYOND PCH, A MUSICAL BECKONS

If you consider getting theatre tickets as a holiday gift for family and friends, think early, perhaps think now, for opening tonight at the Music Center’s Ahmanson , and running for a month through November 25th, is the smash hit musical “Dear Evans Hansen.”

Or as I suggest on my arts and entertainment commentary for public radio, 99.1 KBUU, and select websites, maybe you just want to treat yourself and a companion.

For there is no question that this Tony, Grammy, and just-about-every other stage-award winner, promises to be a mega hit, a simple heartbreaking, deeply personal story about a lonely teenager sent soaring.

If you go, be sure to bring some tissues, for this from all reports and reviews, is a tear jerker, very much in the present now, a contemporary tale to tug at the heart.

And yes, there is humor, too, making seeing “Dear Evans Hansen” a very welcomed experience these depressing days in which our democracy is under insidious attack. It is sucrose for the soul to on occasion be uplifted and feel good.

The production certainly wowed the critics. The New York Times called “Dear Evan Hansen” “a gut-punching, breathtaking knockout of a musical.” “An inspiring anthem resonating on Broadway.” said NBC News, and for an over-the-top rave, the Washington Post’s Peter Marks declared it “One of the most remarkable shows in musical theater history.”

What makes it so involving and riveting is that the Evans Hansen character has been described as a believable somebody, to whom you at least in part can identify; a high school kid enduring the trials, tribulations of everyday life, and then an unforeseen triumph, and its challenges.

But enough said; one does not want to give away the plot,

Complementing the sensitive book by Steven Levenson is a haunting score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, home grown talents who not incidentally collaborated on the acclaimed movie “La La Land.” In keeping with the ambience of the story, most of the songs are reflective ballads, not the usual show-stopping numbers.

As such, it is a rare musical, one that is to be savored. You just might want to see it a second time.

But for the moment I suggest you might want to get a ticket before it sells out, or enter the rolling lottery to score a discounted ticket. Check out the details on the internet by logging into “dearevanhunter.” Whatever, don’t miss this.

 

THE QUEST FOR CUTTING EDGE CULTURE

Yes, I do tend to search out and favor idiosyncratic stage productions, rather than the more familiar cultural offerings, as I have commented on my arts and entertainment report for public radio 99.1 KBUU, and select websites everywhere.

It is not that I don’t appreciate the attractions at the Hollywood Bowl, Disney Concert Hall , and the Pantages theatre, among the more popular venues. And I do enjoy attending them on occasion.

But as I have observed an evolving Los Angeles has become increasingly open to the staging of individualistic and experimental productions. While they may be more challenging, if not at times off putting, they should be encouraged, and for me and other culture vultures, this makes L.A. the place to be, for feeling alive.

So it was last week it was to the Music Center’s Ahmanson Theatre, where the Wayne McGregor Company performed a dance concert based on the choreographer’s genome sequence. It made each selection random and unique, and as exquisitely interpreted by the supple, accomplished dancers, mesmerizing and fascinating.

And this week it is back to the Ahmanson for an equally promising experience of the Diavolo company’s Architecture in Motion, which weaves contemporary dance with dare devil gymnastics and fearless acrobatics; in the words of the choreographer, using “dance to explore the relationship between the human body and its architectural environment.”

Expect is the unexpected. What fun, and thank you Gloyra Kaufman Dance, for its continuing support of the contemporary productions.

Then next week enthusiastically recommended is the Los Angeles Master Chorale as you never heard it before, in two performance of the a cappella Renaissance masterpiece by Orlando di Lasso, “Lagrime di San Pietro,” in English, the Tears of St. Peter.

As directed by the always inventive Peter Sellars, Twenty-one singers will perform the magnum opus consisting of a madrigal cycle depicting the seven stages of grief that St. Peter experienced after disavowing his knowledge of Jesus Christ on the day of his arrest and prior to his crucifixion. It is described as a contemporary allegory for our fractious times; think the recent Senate deliberations.

Making this production particularly attractive to Malibu and Westside residents, is that it is being presented at the inviting Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, in an accessible Beverly Hills.

And for the culturally adventurous, the venue known in brief as the Wallis deserves a shout out and support, for its cutting edge offerings, which the upcoming Master Chorale production next Saturday and Sunday most definitely promises to be, and no doubt a sell out too.

 

 

 

DANCE TAKES CENTER STAGE THIS FALL

Coming very much to center stage this Fall in Southern California ever-expanding cultural scene is dance, as I herald on public radio 99.1 KBUU and websites everywhere.

Yes, the L.A Phil’s 100th anniversary is being celebrated and a challenging array of theatrical production demand attention.

Also being promoted more than ever is the spoken word, one-on-one celebrity interviews , though frankly they are hard to compete with the cacophony echoing in the nation’s capitol as mid tern elections near.

But dance as a happening stage performance can be an escape.

Certainly it is uniquely challenging, combining as it does music and movement, a feast for the ears, and eyes, and being an aging mesomorph, I am always amazed seeing what the body can do. That the engaging offerings are most definitely are increasing, is a joy.

Of particular attention tonight and this weekend, October 5 thru 7th weekend, at the Music Center’s Ahmanson Theatre, is the Company Wayne McGregor performing what promises to be a unique dance experience, most definitely for the namesake choreographer, and the audience.

 

Talk about being contemporary. McGregor has had his genetic code transformed into a computer algorithm, which will select the order of his dance performances. This will make each performance unique, as, of course, also will be the accompanying electronic music. But the fun does not stop for the Glorya Kaufman Dance season at the Music Center.

In effect doubling down on new wave performances at the Ahmanson, featured next weekend, October 12 thru the 14th, will be the West Coast premier of Diavolo Company’s Voyage, which was inspired by space travel. Also being performed will be the company’s more grounded signature piece, Trajectorie.”

Expect the unexpected, given Diavolo’s style of using dance and acrobatics “to explore the relationship between the human body and its architectural environment.”

Also expect dance to be transported to new visions this weekend at the always cutting edge Redcat Theatre, tucked under Disney Hall downtown.

There having its world premiere is choreographer David Rousseve’s Halfway to Dawn. Against a background of video imagery, nine dances are to express the spirit of the late composer Billy, Sweet Pea, Strayhorn. It promises to be provocative.

 

 

L.A. CELEBRATES ITSELF WITH A BLOCK PARTY

The curtain has lifted on Southern California’s Fall cultural scene, with an engagin array of theater, dance, music, and museum offerings, and an ubiquitous film festival, too.

If you are a culture vulture, or just curious, you have to love the seasonal calendar, as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBUU and select websites everywhere.

But all fade this Sunday, the 30th, for what is being billed as L.A.’s biggest block party ever, with a host of sponsors headed by the L.A. Philharmonic, to mark its 100th birthday, and organized by the CICla VIA as a premier pedestrian event.

Headlined Celebrate LA, it is an eight mile street festival featuring an estimated 1.800 local-based artists, musicians and performers, doing their thing, at six site specific hubs from downtown, through Koreatown, to Hollywood and the bowl.

And it is all free and open, to an audience encouraged to walk, bicycle, ride the Metro while being constantly surprised by strolling and pop up performances everywhere. Good shoes, comfortable clothes, and sun block are recommended, and also scoring a map and program of events.

Try culturela. org or ciclavia on the web or your luck at any of the hubs. Or just winging it, and let the sights, sounds and smells be your guide. They work for me.

Festivities begin at about 9 AM at all the venues, but some of the performers move around during the day, so if you miss them one place, there is another.

If there is a mother hub, it is Grand Avenue and two outdoor stages in front of Disney Hall, where the Philharmonic ‘s brass section and the Youth Orchestra are featured. And as the day progresses, there will be dance, and jazz and pop, and funk and punk performances.

The next nearby hub of note will be at MacArthur Park, where at the Levitt Pavilion performing, among others, will be an assemblage of 130 Oaxacan dancers and musicians, and later in the day, one of my favorite bands, Ozomatli.

And so it goes, at several more hubs, classical and contemporary sounds, and sights, and also along the streets connecting them,: small ensembles of Armenian and Thai dancers, Klezmer music, gameleans from Indonesia, and, of course, the USC Trojan marching band.

For me, it all adds up to a tasty L.A. gazpacho.

FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT DOWNTOWN L.A.

Looking for something really different this weekend, check out the offering now until Sunday night at the always provocative Redcat theatre downtown L.A.

Tucked modestly as if an architectural after thought beneath the provocatively designed Disney Hall, the Redcat arguably is the premiere venue for cutting edge stage arts in L.A., and I would add presumptuously, also internationally, as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and websites everywhere.

Indeed, this weekend stage production entitled “Kamp” by the Dutch theatrical group Hotel Modern just might be for some too provocative, perhaps numbing, but for me compelling. The Paris newspaper Le Monde, declared it “an extraordinary and overwhelming spectacle.”

As described in an advance from the Redcat, “Hotel Modern makes the unimaginable imaginable;” a handcrafted scale model of a city built for mass murder, Auschwitz, and a setting for a wordless object theatre acted out under a video projection of live footage.

And where else would one expect to see and experience such theater but at the Redcat. Founded by Cal Arts , the Santa Clarita based school describes Redcat as its downtown center for innovative visual, performing and media arts, a home for diverse artists and audiences.

Redcat’s Mark Murphy adds with pride that the center is a place where “artists can open the mind and soul to help us comprehend beauty as well as atrocity.” Quoted is the German philosopher, Goethe, “ art is a mediator of the unspeakable.”

As a member of the ever-curious audience, and In the interest of public disclosure as a public radio commentator, the production of Kamp it is on my must list for personal and political reasons.

Meanwhile, as promised some observations about the current offering of Euripides’ BACCHAE , I attended last week at the Getty Villa in Malibu.

First, I love attending the productions at the Roman styled amphitheater, and over the years have looked forward to seeing the Greek tragedies appropriately performed there, especially in a contemporary vaudevillian style that is more easily digested, and fun.

And sure enough, Euripides’ drama of 2,500 years ago is for the most part engaging, as directed by Anne Bogart. But when a principal character delivers her interminable critical speech in her native Japanese, no matter with how emotionally, it lost me, and apparently the audience, and the production crashed.

Giving actors the freedom to express themselves in their native language might be worthy, but ultimately theater is about primarily connecting with the audience. Bogart’s Bacchae did not.

 

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.