Musical Theatre

Pearly Gates, the Musical

poster-300x251The March 18 world premiere of Pearly Gates, the Musical at the famous El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood was a surprise. There was no advance notice, beyond a casting call last December. There was no advertising, nothing on Goldstar. A friend of mine knew a guy who knew someone in the cast – so I went.

The place was packed, completely sold out. We took our seats to jazz standards, played by the show’s music director/pianist/composer, Joshua Rich, and his bassist and drummer. By the time their set was over, the audience was in a pretty good mood. Not a bad way to open a show nobody ever heard of.

The story is by Scott Ehrlich – who has never written anything. The book is by Scott Ehrlich and Penny Orloff. The lyrics are by Joshua Rich… and Scott Ehrlich. The show is produced by Scott Ehrlich. And to cap it all off, starring in Pearly Gates is… you guessed it – Scott Ehrlich. In the program notes, Ehrlich clearly states he has never sung before, and never done a play, but those activities were on his “bucket list.”

So, how does Ehrlich do? I have to say that, except for a few missed pitches, his singing is okay. Sometimes, better than okay. Except for a few awkward actions, he does fine any time he is on the stage – which is about 90 percent of the show. There is something admirable about his commitment to the performance, that goes beyond talent. In a unique way, he succeeds as Jason Burns, a man who finds out he has only a short time left to live.

Of course, he has help. Lots of help. A large cast backs Ehrlich up. Fiona Bates gives a powerhouse performance as Jason Burns’ wife. Ehrlich’s daughter, Taylor Ehrlich, plays his onstage daughter. Zachary Rice plays her little brother. They both have a natural ease onstage that sets them apart from the usual, artificially cute Hollywood kid actors. Both children have sweet, clear soprano voices that make the final scene heartbreaking.

A stand-out as Jason Burns’ father  is 80-something Tony Molina, who apparently shared the marquee with Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sammy Davis, Jr., back in the Roseland era. His beautiful voice is still strong, and his phrasing is wonderful. Playing opposite him as Jason’s mother is a pretty and slender senior citizen, Miriam Rosen. Rosen’s timing and delivery get big laughs, and she was the only actor whose speech was completely clear. Her voice is incredibly powerful, going from alto to high soprano, and she can make it do absolutely anything. Her song in the funeral scene was just beautiful. Rosen even dances, easily keeping up with much younger cast members.

The director was Trace Oakley, who kept the proceedings moving along. There were a few really great touches, like when a chorus of senior citizens mimes despair behind white masks. The small amount of choreography by Neisha Folks isn’t that good – kind of awkward jazz steps that don’t really suit the dancers.

The songs are pretty standard musical numbers, but a lot of the lyrics are really clever. Joshua Rich begins with a fun full-company number and ends with a big anthem. In between, his songs go from funny to angry to wistful to tragic, and the tunes stay with you after the curtain comes down. The show moves to Lancaster and Thousand Oaks, and there is talk of an off-Broadway run in the Fall.

- By Ellen Kahan

For information or tickets, go to www.pearlygatesmusical.com.

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A Celebration Indeed: Review of Los Angeles Ballet’s Latest

coverI attended LA Ballet’s second weekend of their new ballet Celebration in Redondo Beach last Saturday. This is my sixth LAB performance, though half of them have been The Nutcracker, so it’s extra exciting to see something brand new. I read it would be a combination of George Balanchine and Sonya Tayeh choreography, but that is the extent of my knowledge of what the evening would bring. The program was divided into three pieces, Balanchine bookending Tayeh’s world premiere of My Greatest Fear.

The first piece was entitled Raymonda Variations. Raymonda is a ballet originally staged in Russia at the turn of the century. Balanchine revived the full length ballet in the 1940′s, and extracts of the ballet in the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s. LAB’s extracts consisted of nine of Balanchine’s staged variations. First, an opening piece with corps de ballet (but some are singled out for solos later) in medium flowing tutus, and introduction to the lead ballerina (Monica Pelfrey) in a blue pancake tutu. LAB has very talented dancers. But what I always notice, if my seats are good enough, is how young they are. It’s wonderful to see such fresh faces on the stage, but it comes at a price. The main weakness that I notice at every show is when there are two or three dancers doing a combination across the stage, it is rarely ever completely synchronized. One dancer is a beat behind, one has her arm too high, or one is noticeably better (which reminds me of recitals with standouts, not professional ballet). That being said, the piece was beautifully staged and many of the dances were wonderfully danced.

Pelfrey performed a pas de deux with Christopher Revels that was beautiful. Balanchine’s choreography is so interesting because you could easily mistake the piece for a classical one staged one hundred years earlier. But the lifts and the holds are unique and modern. Instead of Revels’s hands on Pelfrey’s hips to dip her in an arabesque, he does it one-armed, with his right arm across her waist to reach her right side—and the result is stunning. When dancing a pas de deux, most of the thankless work falls on the male dancer. He is there to make his ballerina look good. So he must be solid in all his holds and catches when she balances, or does turns, so she looks clean and controlled. This couple did look a bit shaky, and when Pelfrey performed solos, she was solid and spot on. So again, I think that Revels is a very young dancer, still learning his footing.

Variation V, danced by Julia Cinquemani, was the standout for me. She was perfect. Also wonderful were Grace McLoughlnin and Isabel Vondermuhll—the first with a hop arabesque finale across the stage that I have never seen before, and the second with an extremely difficult turn combination she pulled off brilliantly. If nothing else, Balanchine challenged his dancers and staged many of these variations to stay on pointe during the turns and combinations, which is harder than it looks. LAB took on the challenge quite well, and while the other two pieces looked very impressive, I would wager that this classical piece was the hardest to dance.

The second piece was a world premiere by So You Think You Can Dance choreographer favorite, Sonya Tayeh. Entitled My Greatest Fear, the piece is plainly about death, which was reveled to us before the curtain was drawn. The men wore only tight black pants, and the women wore black leotards so revealing that only a dancer could pull one off. Maybe it’s my own particular taste, but I really do love modern dance in pointe shoes. Modern dance on its own has a tendency to teeter too closely to performance art at times. But when the choreography is modern dance and the dancers are ballet trained and on pointe, it can be so beautiful and emotional. Such was Tayeh’s piece. It begins with the entire cast frozen on stage before going into frantic movements. Throughout, one can feel the heaviness that seems to be carried around on all of their shoulders, which contrasted with the pairings’ lifts, which looked as light as a feather.

Even with the knowledge that the dances were about fearing death, it was hard not to see them as already dead, in a personal state of purgatory. I was blown away with how beautiful the extensions and lines were, especially with the juxtaposition on how pain and ugliness were emanating beneath the surface. The men especially stood out in this number. Tyler Burkett’s solo was exquisite and the partnering was so solid, it really spotlit just how powerful these dancers can be. Tayeh’s piece closed to Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, which was beautifully fitting to the visual of all the dancers joining to slowly wave to the audience, perhaps letting their limb speak for their body as a surrender flag.

To close the evening was Western Symphony, another Balanchine choreographed ballet. Although I knew it was ballet, I definitely felt like I was watching an extremely well danced version of Oklahoma! and the dancers might break into song with The Farmer and the Cowboy Should be Friends at any moment. A cheesy backdrop of an Old West town was the perfect setting for the saloon girls and cowboys to dance in front of, as they sported all the colors of the rainbow. All but one dancer had black tights and dyed black pointe shoes, giving their costumes the absolute musical theater look. Extremely upbeat numbers were fun to watch and you could not help but to smile at the theatricality of it all. It could be because we live in Los Angeles, where everyone is “also an actor,” but I was delightfully impressed with how much character and sass each dancer put into the numbers. Without it, the dances would have fell flat, even if danced perfectly. Which, for the most part, they were. The company seemed confident, as if they were having just as much fun as we were. That is, after you give in to the extreme goofiness of it all, while still realizing you are at the ballet and not watching the barn raising from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I found it to be the parts of a musical I enjoy the most, the dancing. It was a happy way to end the evening, but did not stay with me the next day, like Tayeh’s piece.

- By Deidre Moore

For more information on the Los Angeles Ballet, please visit www.losangelesballet.org. Next in their Season 5 lineup will be Giselle in May.

 

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The Aging of Aquarius

Hair TourAs 2012 is supposedly the true dawn of Aquarius, and as we are currently involved in at least one overseas military conflict with no foreseeable resolution, and as baby boomers’ babies are now reaching the age of maturity, and as the state of musical theatre in America seems to be careening in the direction of over-hyped, big-budget cartoon adaptations, Hair would seem to be the ideal show not just to revive, but to re-invent for a new generation.

After seeing the Tony Award-winning production, directed by Diane Paulus, on its opening night at the Pantages on Thursday (it runs until the 23rd), however, I realized the producers made no such effort toward re-invention. Instead, the non-stop round of musical number after musical number—sung as if the characters were participating in a cocaine-fueled campfire Kumbaya session—comes off as kitschy and embarrassing for anyone (like my one-time-hippy mother and father) who may have actually lived through the Summer of Love. In that sense, the show not only fails to adapt to post-millennium politics, but also to resuscitate the actual feelings that created the 60’s counter-culture in the first place.

If there was ever any plot to speak of in Hair, I didn’t catch much of it in this production. Essentially, there’s a commune of hippies living in New York City who spend their time singing and dancing about sex and their parents and sometimes the Vietnam War. The protagonist, Claude, a soulful lover and wanderer played efficiently by Paris Remillard, struggles to negotiate between his ‘duty’ to join the military and his new-found identity amidst the  tribe of peace-loving protesters. There are mild hints of potentially interesting love triangles within the commune—Jeanie (the beautiful Kacie Sheik) is in love with Claude, who, in turn, loves Sheila (Caren Lyn Tacket), who really loves Berger (Steel Burkhardt), etc.—but they are glossed over, much like every other breath of complexity.

And I realize many great musicals thrive upon their emotional simplicity (why else would anyone spontaneously break into song if not propelled by some deep, irreducible desire?) The problem, though, with painting hippies, in particular, with a one-color palette is that their critics (i.e. their parents, their teachers, even their government) start to make sense in comparison. When Claude is the only person out of his entire “tribe” not to burn his draft card, for example, I respected him. He showed to be capable of individual thought. Yet still, when he is asked by why he acts and dresses the way he does, all he can do is sing a non-sensical song about…well, hair.

The cast, however, is in no way to blame for my issues with the show. In fact, I appreciated seeing actual human body-types on stage—even in the infamous nude scene—showing off realistic stomachs, flabby biceps, and of course, curls of hair. Their genuine excitement was fun (if not completely contagious), and their voices were tremendous. They collectively proved you don’t need to look beautiful to be beautiful. I especially enjoyed Matt DeAngelis, who played the slinky, acid-burned Woof, and Josh Lamon, a legitimate show-stopper in his turn as Margaret Mead.

The one cast member, though, who gave the most exhilarating performance, by far, was the audience. Like a true method actor, they were “on” before the curtain even parted. It was strange. I’ve been to a bunch of huge Broadway shows and tours, on opening nights and closing nights, in London and New York and LA, and rarely have I seen this much palpable enthusiasm for a show. They absolutely carried the other, weaker actors on their backs the entire time, and in the end, proved the whole 2-plus hours to be a worthwhile endeavor—in my eyes—when they were duly invited on stage to sing a massive, rousing rendition of “Let the Sun Shine In.” Watching with glee as middle-aged women joined young, effeminate men and dolled-up, heel-clad girls in a shamanistic rage of song-and-dance, I thought, for maybe the first time in the production, this is something my mother and father would like.

- By Joshua Morrison

Hair runs until January 23rd at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. For more information, please visit www.broadwayla.org, or call 800-982-ARTS (2787).

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Extra! Extra! Expand Your Cultural Nerves with Tickets to Randy Newman!

randy-newman-harps-and-angels-poster_gazette_thumbI’ll be honest: I don’t know much about Randy Newman. I’ve seen Toy Story and loved The Full Monty, but maybe it’s because I’m not originally from Los Angeles (and thus never heard “I Love L.A.” over the loudspeakers at Dodgers games), but I was never really exposed to him as a personality, let alone a singer/songwriter. And I feel left out. I feel as though my body is missing an integral cultural nerve-ending (I scoffed at my friend who, until recently, hadn’t heard Prince’sKiss”).

Now I have my chance though, and so do you (whether or not you’re a Newman newbie). And in fact, it may be our last chance. At the Mark Taper Forum in Downtown, the world-premiere musical Randy Neman’s Harps and Angels has enjoyed a successful one-month long run, which ends this Wednesday, December 22nd, and Fine Arts LA has two tickets to give away to this final performance. Directed by Tony winner Jerry Zaks of Guys and Dolls fame, and starring such names as Ryder Bach, Storm Lange, Adriane Lenox, Michael McKean, Katey Sagal, and Matthew Saldivar, the show features all the Newman hits (“Political Science,” “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today,” “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” and “I Love L.A.”), and maybe even some you don’t know.

Simply enter your first name, last name, and e-mail address into the form below, and you will be entered into the running to receive two free tickets to Randy Neman’s Harps and Angels on December 22nd at 8 PM. And as always, though especially in the spirit of the holiday season, you will automatically be eligible to win any or all of our next three ticket giveaways. So happy holidays, and enjoy your cultural nerves—whatever those may be.

-By Joshua Morrison

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Phantom Disappears Into the Night

Phantom-and-ChristineThe idea of life without Phantom of the Opera is almost as unbelievable as a deformed miscreant in a 19th Century English opera house teaching classical vocal technique to one of the ballet’s mediocre but beautiful dancers.  Yet, that is what makes it a thrilling fantasy. The Phantom of the Opera can’t go anywhere. It can’t say goodbye—that’s impossible.  It is one of the most beloved and celebrated musicals of all time.  Its eerily haunting music, dramatic 19th Century set design, and iconic romance story can’t possible bid us farewell.  Phantom is to the theater what hot dogs are to baseball.  It’s a classic. It’s a staple. It’s so much a part of musical theater that it has become a part of our mainstream sonic culture.  It is blasted out of elevator speakers and played at so many people’s weddings that most of us tend to roll our eyes and classify it as cheeseball.  But that’s not Phantom’s fault! We are to blame for taking something captivating and special and playing it ad nauseum. I have always defended Phantom and will continue to go to bat for Andrew Lloyd Weber’s most successful musical until the day I die.   When I saw the “Farewell” posters flanking Wilshire Blvd, I got excited rather than sad, and I toted my boyfriend (a Phantom virgin) with me to Hollywood’s Pantages Theater.Ever since its 1986 debut in London’s West End, the story about a brilliant, disfigured, and mysterious musical genius’ obsession with a young, gorgeous and recently sexually awakened soprano has mesmerized and shocked audiences.  The combination of the story (drawn from Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra), Charles Hart’s sexy and sensitive lyrics, and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s gorgeous compositions, have made Phantom Broadway’s longest running musical ever. If you have never seen this show (like my opening night companion), do yourself a favor and experience it for the first time. Seeing it again through my boyfriend’s eyes brought me back to the first time that I fell head over heels for this mother of all musicals.

The show begins with an auction of opera house antiques—residual evidence of something traumatic from the past.  The action begins when the auctioneer calls out Lot #666, the house’s signature chandelier.  Something supernatural sparks the lamp into light, and the elegantly oppressive chandelier rises into the air, above the audience, in its original, breathtaking glory.  The constraints of time are removed, and as a collective whole, the audience is transported back to when innocence was lost, hearts were broken, and the unbelievable happened.

As soon as the chandelier lights up the stage, the show moves at breakneck speed, and the action doesn’t stop until curtain call.  This may be one of the quickest-moving shows I’ve ever seen.  Even if you’re one of those people that think of the theater as a good napping place, you can be assured that the non-stop entertainment will keep you awake.

Christine Daae (Trista Moldovan), the heroine of the musical, makes her singing debut in the signature song “Think of Me” after the opera’s lead soprano, Carolotta (Kim Stengel), becomes emotionally distressed when the stage backdrop mysteriously collapses.  Christine, we learn, has a vocal coach she’s never met that she calls “the Angel of Music”—but who she knows is indeed the storied Phantom.  She sings, and everyone is so impressed with her talent that nobody misses Carlotta—except for me, the real person, in the real audience, in the real world. Christine’s voice should be crystal clear and pitch perfect in the world of Phantom, but Trista Moldovan was often airy, flat, or sharp when she needed to be perfection. The Angel of Music is her coach for pete’s sake.

The best voice in this production belongs to Christine’s amour, Raoul (Sean MacLaughlin). Every note he sang was pure beauty, and there were many times that I wished that he had been cast as the Phantom (unfortunately played by word-slurring Tim Martin Gleason).  A voice like MacLaughlin’s should be heard more.  Raoul was my angel of music, and the ladies I talked to in the bathroom line during intermission unanimously agreed.  No wonder Christine fell in love with him. I almost did too.

As the story progresses, we start to realize that the Phantom is completely insane. We learn that Phantom is a musical prodigy and brilliant magician who was born with a disgustingly deformed face and escaped from a traveling freak show where he was abused and ridiculed most of his life.  Phantom’s attempts to woo Christine by kidnapping her and holding her captive in his sewer-lair prove fruitless.  Phantom’s life-size doll of Christine in a wedding gown is a major no-no in getting a girl to like you.  Perhaps in Victorian England people were a bit more forward, but good grief that was creepy.  As Christine’s youthful curiosity takes hold of her, she rips off the Phantom’s mask, and the audience learns that to call the Phantom emotionally unstable would be a gross understatement.  As he lies on the floor, reaching out to Christine for compassion and acceptance, you realize that Phantom just yearns to look normal and be loved, and Lloyd Weber’s beautiful music demands that your heartstrings be panged.

Christine longs for a life with a man that can give her a future, a man who lives among other men, a path that is more accepted: she wants the pretty boy, not the Phantom.  Trista Moldovan’s duet with Sean MacLaughlin in “All I Ask of You”  is a highlight of the show—not because of the song, which of course is stunning, but because of MacLaughlin’s flawless performance.  The omnipresent Phantom learns that his flame is hot for another.  Of course, being a total psychopath and outcast, he is unable to deal with feelings in any rational or productive way, so he goes batshit crazy and wills the chandelier to plunge dangerously over the audience.  It’s on.

The second act moves so quickly that your head whirls. Traps are laid, deceptions are had, and the conflict builds to a subterranean showdown between Christine, Raoul, Phantom, and the Victorian equivalent of a SWAT team. In the end, surrounded by police and with capture apparently inevitable, Phantom fools us again, disappearing into the night and leaving only his ivory mask.

I went to the Pantages Theater with every intention but to say farewell to this passionate, spirited, and deeply layered show.  Go fall in love all over again, but don’t ever say goodbye. Phantom should not—and will not—go anywhere.  As long as musicals are playing and people are attending the theater, there will be a place for Phantom. It is indeed the angel of musical theater.

-By Brittany Krasner

The Phantom of the Opera is playing at the Pantages Theater on Hollywood Blvd. through Halloween (October 31st).  For tickets and more information, please visit www.pantages-theater.com.

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Extra! Extra! Ticket Giveaway to see All-Star George Gershwin Tribute!

george_gershwinBy far one of the greatest opening sequences of any film ever made is Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Yes, it’s the photography, the voice-over narration, the shots of New York City at its finest, but more than anything, it’s George Gershwin’sRhapsody in Blue.” The undertow of buzzing clarinet and twinkling piano, combined with the slow, celebratory build of the entire orchestra induces a simultaneous feeling of hopeful anticipation and relaxed confidence. In Gershwin’s own words: “I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our blues, our metropolitan madness.”

No, no. Too expected. Too pretentious. Calls too much attention to the movie. Try it again.

By far one of the best pieces of music to completely and flawlessly capture the essence of an entire season is “Summertime,” by George Gershwin. Originally conceived for the ‘folk-opera,’ Porgy and Bess, the aria—which has been covered more times than “Blackbird”—manages to somehow smell like summer. You need an iced tea when you hear it. And what better time, what better place than the Hollywood Bowl

No. Just get to the point, Josh. You’re supposed to be giving away tickets. That’s all people care about. Just do your job.

This Wednesday, August 25th at 8:00 PM at the Hollywood Bowl, the LA Philharmonic presents Gershwin Across America, an all-star, all-genre tribute to the legendary composer and upcoming CD of the same name. Artists include Jason Mraz, Monica Mancini (daughter of film composer Henry Mancini), gospel singer Bebe Winans, Grammy Award-winning Nancy Wilson), St. Vincent (for the hipster fetishists among us), and an accompanying big band and strings section feautring the Shelly Berg Trio, Gordon Goodwin, Tom Scott, Arturo Sandoval and more.

To win two tickets to this summertime rhapsody of sorts, all you have to do is enter your first name, last name, and e-mail address into the form below,and you will automatically be entered into the running for this concert, as well as our next three ticket giveaways.

I guess that’s good enough. Why make a blog longer than it needs to be? Why even write these things? God, it’s hot out… I wish I could play the piano…

- By Joshua Morrison

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Extra! Extra! Win Tickets to Not Pay For Rent!

rent_415x150I have mixed feelings about Rent.

On one hand, the wildly popular, Tony Award-winning musical turned major motion picture seems to have climaxed to the level of bubbly pop non-sense—Joey Fatone playing no small role in this symbolic transformation. (Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police decidedly contains the best satirical take on Rent to date: a group of overjoyed actors on a Broadway stage, clapping their hands to the lyrics, “We’ve all got AIDS!”—the bourgeois audience happily joining in).

On the other hand, Rent is a great show. It reinvented the musical genre and operatic concept for a younger audience, told a worthwhile and relevent story, had some excellent numbers that I still find myself singing in the shower, and originated from the genuine heart and soul of a true artist: Jonathan Larson.

In a weird way, the on-going legacy of Rent has begun to reflect its central theme, which, to me, is the struggle between the intentions of romantic integrity and the compromises of life’s daily realities. Where Larson once insisted on casting actors with little or no experience, the role of Mimi in the film adaptation was handed over to Rosario Dawson. Where the production was once a simple staged reading at the New York Theatre Workshop, the latest tours have ventured as far as Slovakia and Guam. And where the first two rows of every Broadway show were once reserved for the homeless (or at least whoever stood in line the whole day), tickets now sell upwards of $200 a pop.

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Panoramic Views: A Moving Story

union_theatre_facade1I’m about to move neighborhoods in Los Angeles. I realize this information is of interest to very few people, and even then, of very little interest. But for the past two years, I’ve lived in the USC area, about two blocks away from the historic Union Theatre—also known at the Velaslavasay Panorama—and I’ve never once stepped inside. I’ve tried. When I first moved in and took my inaugral expedition around the hood, I couldn’t help but gravitate toward the building. It’s vastly out-of-place, an artifact from another era dropped in-between a bodega and some low-rent housing (and in fact, it is from another era: it was built sometime in the 1910’s and operated for many years as a venue of multiple uses, including a playhouse, a silent-film theatre, and a meeting hall for the Tile Layers Union Local #18). When I tried to enter beneath the grand, old-fashioned marquee, however, it was closed. Ever since, it’s just been that mysterious buidling (sometimes aglow) that I drive by nearly every day, and have yet to go in—either because it’s closed or I have no reason. And now I’m about to move.

Fortunately, I have one last chance. This weekend, starting on Friday, but running on Saturdays as well, for five weeks only, the Velaslavasay Panorama opens its doors at 8:00 PM to present the unique and aptly located live performance of The Grand Moving Mirror of California. What is it? Good question. It’s a series of moving painted scenes, which encircle the theatre like a long scroll being rolled out around the audience, and depict the journeys of early American settlers attempting to reach California during the Gold Rush of 1849. Using live narration taken from an actual 19th century script, along with musical accompaniment and radio-play sound-effects, the show celebrates and revives a 130-year-old mode of entertainment that simply shouldn’t be missed.

Not bad for my last weekend in the neighborhood.

- By Joshua Morrison

For more information about the Union Theatre, the Panorama, or panoramas in general, please visit www.panoramaonview.org, or call 213-746-2166.

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Chills of Recognition

6a00d8341c630a53ef01156f223ac4970c-500wiThe best thing about A Chorus Line—and there’s a lot of good things—is that there’s a moment every ten minutes or so when chills run up your spine. You know these chills, too. They are the chills of recognition, chills of connection. They are the cells inside your body racing alongside your bones, like an excited dog, at the mere thought of meeting something or someone like them.

A Chorus Line—which opened at the Pantages Theatre this past Tuesday, and runs for two weeks only until June 13th—comes loaded with history. Michael Bennett’s visionary piece, since 1975, has been a staple of Broadway, off-Broadway, and high-school productions alike. It has won numerous prizes, including the Tony and Pulitzer Prize for Best Musical. It spawned an awful film adaptation, and a wonderful documentary. In 2006, the show was revived on Broadway by the original co-choreographer, Bob Avian. It broke all sorts of box office records. And the cousin of Avian’s revival still tours today, occasionally to Los Angeles for brief, two-week runs.

But for all the bombast, A Chorus Line is best when it sticks to its roots—the loose grouping of Broadway dancers that Michael Bennett brought together in 1974 at the Nickolaus Exercise Center to tell their stories on tape. The show often veers from this core focus, unable to restrain from bits of bravado, much like the character Cassie (Rebecca Riker) does when told by her ex-boyfriend/director Zach (Derek Hanson) to stick to the choreography. These hardly un-enjoyable departures, however, only allow for the true moments—when Paul (Nicky Venditti) has his monologue, when Sheila (Ashley Yeater) starts to sing “At the Ballet,” and of course when Diana (Selina Verastegui) leads the cast in “What I Did For Love”—to shine all the brighter.

As far as this particular production goes, it’s pretty much what you would expect, which, when talking about A Chorus Line, is a good thing. Because you expect to be thrilled, and to be sad, and be privy to that oh-so rare sight in musical theatre: honesty on stage. Without a doubt, actor Andy Mills, who plays the show-stealing character of Mike, steals the show. Mills is so good-looking he stands out from the mezzanine, and his dancing is so flawless you find yourself using him as the bar for other dancers. I also enjoyed Derek Hanson, who’s interpretation of Zach—the fictional director that remains in the shadows for most of the show—was complex enough to support the facets of the for-sure Michael Bennett stand-in character. Other notables include Rebecca Riker, Ashley Yeater, Donald C. Shorter, and Nathan Lucrezio.

A Chorus Line is a musical that kind of begs to be updated or adapted. I’d love to hear one of the dancers talk about bulimia, for instance. Or have a character make a comment on gay marriage, or the economy. But seeing the show live, and with such an excellent cast makes me realize this is not the way to go. Every line and every step of Bennett’s masterwork holds up, and though it wouldn’t exactly be sacrilege to change a few things to make it more topical, there’s really no need to change what still gives me those chills up my spine. 

A Chorus Line runs until June 13th at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. For more information, please call 323-468-1770, or visit www.broadwayla.org.

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Burlesque Part II: Cherry Boom Boom!

KeyClub_14-1When my friends first dragged me to a Cherry Boom Boom show late one night at the Key Club on Sunset, I was more than reluctant.  I’m the type of girl who fights for women to keep their clothes ON in the entertainment industry.  More depictions of powerful women prosecutors, professors and presidents please; not more docile eye candy for the power-bloated male.

But what I discovered at the Key Club that night broke through my ridged outlook of propriety and introduced me to a new era of women’s comedy, creativity, and right to strut their stuff.

Although the leggy ladies of Cherry Boom Boom do embrace some of the imagery of the 1950’s pin-up girl, they are a bevy of powerful 21st century women whose passion and power will overwhelm you and leave you grasping at your seat.  The group combines nouveau cabaret dance vignettes with the gimmicks and humor of old time burlesque and a healthy dose of ‘don’t mess with me!  I’m proud of my body and who I am’. The Boom Booms’ intelligence, flair for storytelling, skill with a whip, and perceptive comic timing, enliven and enlighten the genre I had labeled as ‘stripping’ and judged so harshly from outside the Key Club doors.

Artistic Director and choreographer Lindsley Allen created the group two years ago and began touring small LA venues with the show.  They got such a buzz that Allen was invited to choreograph and co-direct a piece for Dancing With The Stars, starring Cherry Boom Boom and featuring Carmen Elektra. Allen, one of the original Pussycat Dolls, received her BFA in ballet and has had a successful career as a dancer and choreographer.

Cherry Boom Boom’s new show, “The Rendezvous”, opening at the King King Hollywood in May, also utilizes Allen’s background in Commedia Dell’Arte, the 16th century Italian clowning style. Allen studies commedia with Tim Robbins’s world-renowned theater company, The Actors’ Gang, and she chose to bring elements of that style to “The Rendezvous” to utilize the unique characters each of her dancers developed over the past year.  Rather than being a typical dance review, “The Rendezvous” brings to life the timeless commedia story of the thwarted LOVERS.“You get to go on a classic journey,” Allen explained, “All the dance numbers support the story.  I’m so excited to bring dance and commedia together. This show is a love affair between my two favorite worlds”.

The King King’s performance space is ideal for the piece. The multi-leveled stage, VIP lounge seating, and bar accentuate Cherry Boom Boom’s fusion between nightclub cabaret and Broadway show. You will definitely see me in line at the King King, this time dragging some new skeptics along with me.

- By Stephanie Carrie

“The Rendezvous” will perform at the King King on the last Thursday of every month, May-October.  Opening night is Thursday, May 27th.  Doors open at 8pm for a 9pm show. Be sure to stay for the dance party afterwards! For tickets www.kingkinghollywood.com or call (323) 960-9234.

Advance tickets highly recommended.

http://www.cherryboomboom.me/

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