Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

A la recherche du temps perdu

July 27, 2008

Dress number five

The summer of proletarian treats continued at the Hollywood Bowl with perhaps one of the more lowbrow entertainments of the season in the appearance of Diana Ross with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I use the term “with” loosely in that the L.A. Phil played for the first set about 30 minutes worth of orchestral music including "Slaughter on 10th Street" from the Richard Rogers musical On Your Toes and Duke Ellington’s Harlem and then called it an evening. Around 9:30 PM, Ms. Ross appeared in a long, red sequined gown further encased in a gargantuan wrap of similarly-hued taffeta (the first of five different frocks on display in the next 90 minutes). With her head wrapped in a similarly gargantuan black wig, Ms. Ross worked an image she has cultivated and locked onto with razor-like intensity for nearly 20 years not unlike Barbara Streisand or Dolly Parton. It works for her though it does seem a bit stale at the same time. She looks damn good for 60 plus though.

After the obligatory snippet of “I’m Coming Out” announcing her arrival, she launched into a medley of hits from her years with Motown and the Supremes clearly announcing that this would be a walk down memory lane featuring all the hits from different stages in Ms. Ross’ career. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this type of a program, the show did have a surprisingly non-populist air to it. Ms. Ross has never been one to ask the audience to see her as one of them whether or not she actually is. This diva from above strategy is again similar to Streisand’s approach, though Ms. Ross frankly lacks the other legends chops. It’s about enjoying how much you love her, not actually enjoying the performance itself so much.

But that can be entertaining and it was fun even when she resorted to time-worn stunts like turning the house lights up to observe the huge audience for herself in some of the big closing numbers. Her back up band sounded sloppy taking everything as mid-tempo as possible with little edge or bounce. The patchy crackle-and-pop amplification helped little. But this was nostalgia pure and simple. I admit I had come to recapture memories of my own youthful preoccupation with Ms. Ross and the Supremes. I'd even read that dishy J Randy Taraborrelli biography, Call Her Miss Ross back at the time. So I too was looking for something I remembered from long ago. And sometimes with nostalgia, it's fine if the record plays at all even if it isn't as good as the first time.


Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

July 22, 2008

JD Cullum, Michael T Weiss, and Michole Briana White
Photo : Craig Schwartz/CTG 2008

A particularly solid 07/08 season is drawing to a close over at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City where Los Angeles’ Center Theater Group is staging the world premiere of Tanya Barfiled’s Of Equal Measure. Unfortunately, it’s a rather sour note in that this train wreck of a play fails to meet virtually any of its lofty ambitions. It’s a play concerning the struggles of one Jade Kingston, a young African-American woman who has just been promoted within the White House of Woodrow Wilson’s administration in the early 20th century. She is in an increasingly racially polarized environment and fears for her own and other's futures while her boss decides to make the moves on her. She is conflicted in outright rejecting his advances not only because she wishes to maintain her tenuous position but because she also wants to enlist her boss' help in protecting her increasingly imperiled brother. It's not necessarily a bad set up, but hardly an original one.

Not only is this a historical play, it is a philosophical and political one. The work is rich with ideas – the fallacy of linear progress in 20th-century civil rights, the competing and intersecting nature of political crises, the power of media to inspire and distract, the personal struggles and sacrifices of families, and the intersection of race and gender politics in the real lives of African-American women. It’s a shame that Barfield’s work seems overwhelmed and unable to address any of these with little more than a gulp and a nervous blank stare. The action shifts stiffly from scene to scene with broken Mamet-like dialog that rarely expresses much. The political conversations often sound as if lifted from the worst episodes of The West Wing.

It's not entirely a loss. A cast of exceedingly talented actors is on hand including Michole Briana White as Jade Kingston, Joseph C Phillips as reporter David Leonard, and JD Cullum as Joseph Tumulty, one of Wilson’s advisers. Lawrence Pressman plays president Wilson with a rather keen insight. Meanwhile a quite bearish Micheal T. Weiss has the thankless job of playing the cartoonish villain’s role of Edward Christianson, Jade's boss and erstwhile seducer. But, despite all this talent, the dialog putters along, hopelessly strained - a disappointment to be sure.


Me and Ms. Jones

July 21, 2008


You know who freaking rocks? Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. At least they did at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday night, a venue that might seem daunting for their brand of reclaimed 60s soul and funk. Audience participation is their stock and trade and in the giant bowl at a great distance, it initially seemed this would be a difficult evening. But in no time, the incandescent Jones and the tight-as-anything Dap-Kings had the crowd on their feet and in the palm of their hands. The energy level, brash personal and political commentary, and sheer musicianship were overwhelming. In addition to their expected hits, they delivered a remarkable version of “This Land is Your Land” and closed with Jones’ take on James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World,” twisting that classic into something unique. Fantastic.

Oddly, Jones and the Dap-Kings were sandwiched in the middle of this KCRW-sponsored show with two other acts whose introspective approaches were leveled by the enormous venue. Vancouver’s Pacifika ran through a nervous and brief opening set, but more worrisome was headliner Feist. Her set was plagued with some technical problems, but seemed clearly attuned to a smaller and more intimate setting. Her beautiful but often fragile compositions felt more like a passing breeze. Even the bouncier fare that has led her band into the limelight such as the Apple-commercial-hyped “1,2,3,4” seemed uncertain and hesitant.

So, while the programming folks may have misjudged the proper order of the acts in the show, it was still a night to remember due the presence of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Check them out when they're next in your neck of the woods.


Rustic Pageantry

July 19, 2008

Gillian Anderson in The House of Mirth
Photo : Sony Pictures Classics
So a friend of mine recently invited me to catch the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach as part of the Laguna Festival of Arts. This is an annual event now celebrating its 75th anniversary and is dedicated to keeping alive the tradition of tableaux vivants in which live performers are made up and posed in theatrically lit arrangements which, here, serve as life-size reproductions of famous works of art be they sculpture or paintings. I must admit that this is one Southern California experience I had not yet availed myself of, and heaven knows I am far from predisposed to avoiding entertainments of a Victorian nature, so off to the beach I went. (Those of you who know how much I detest the beach can affirm the magnitude of this sacrifice.) And while it is true that the Pageant was nowhere near as entertaining as bear baiting (I imagine), it was intriguing to see it in the flesh.

I was rather surprised by the whole affair on many levels. In my mind I envisioned some well-appointed chateau with visitors wandering from room to room gawking at young socialites made up to look like they stepped out of an Ingres or a Millet – kind of like Gillian Anderson in The House of Mirth. Needless to say I was somewhat disappointed by the reality of the very staged and eager-to-please production involving hundreds of volunteers in the large outdoor amphitheater. Over 30 tableaux were presented in a two and a half hour presentation with intermission. Each tableaux is revealed for many seconds while accompanied by live, if uninspired, orchestral accompaniment with copious amounts of banal narration in between. It’s not unlike a Disneyland ride without the thrills.

The tableaux themselves cover an enormous array of figurative art from numerous cultural traditions and eras. Everything is centered around a single theme, which this year was “All the World’s a Stage,” providing an excuse to recreate works concerning Shakespeare, his writing, or general theatrical or dramatic events and skills. While there are certainly many familiar works including da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” which always closes the show, the Pageant allows plenty of room for less common works as well. Of course they're never going to do a Rothko or a Pollock, but the tableaux are remarkable in the quality of their reproductions and I wished I could sit closer to further enjoy the detail. However, the presentation does create a real sense of disconnect, in that the major tension—that live, moving performers are compelled to stay silent and immobile throughout—is never really resolved. The audience is not regularly given the satisfaction of seeing these elaborate constructions form or dissolve outside of a brief "builder" segment where the audience is given a very brief behind-the-scenes look at the set up of one tableau. The result is a rather sterile and removed experience that in a typical Hollywood fashion often makes the reproductions seem more "real" than the actual real object they are meant to represent.

Still, the level of craftsmanship is remarkable and I don't think I've ever seen a clearer and more convincing argument for the importance and power of effective stage lighting. The show continues through August 30 in Laguna Beach if you are so interested.

Pretty Girls Make Graves

July 14, 2008

Stuart Skelton and Denyce Graves at the Hollywood Bowl
Photo : Jay L. Clendenin/LAT 2008

In case it escaped your notice, the Hollywood Bowl season has kicked off already. That annual ritual that is best viewed as penance for the typically adventurous and modern programming the L.A. Philharmonic presents throughout the rest of the year. In the summer, however, there are a lot of $1 bench seats to fill so Vegas-style career boosters—and Gershwin—are the rule, not the exception. Sunday was the Phil’s token opera program, this year featuring a concert performance of Bizet’s Carmen sans spoken dialogue. It wasn’t a completely thrown-together affair, and, frankly, it was quite good. In fact it was better than the last time L.A. Opera staged Carmen and I’ll bet good money it will be better than the revival the company will subject us all to in December.

This is mostly due to a strong cast under the direction of conductor Bramwell Tovey. Tovey certainly isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you think of Carmen, and his obligatory presentation of the synopsis before each act in this otherwise supertitle-free evening left much to be desired. But the L.A. Philharmonic sounded great under his baton—light and surprisingly well-amplified overall. Of course the big-ticket star in the cast was Denyce Graves. Say what you will about the state of her voice, which was froggy in a few key stretches, she owns this role. Her command of the material and overall performance filled the humongous amphitheater with warmth and light. Granted it could be a bit over the top, but trust me, it looked more than fine from the cheap(er) seats. In fact, while she may not have been the strongest musically, she dominated the stage over the evening's three hours that involved four different gown changes.

The rest of the cast was excellent. Stuart Skelton, who sang Don José, is not well known in these parts despite numerous appearances abroad, but he held his own against Graves' shenanigans. His acting may have been a little stiff, but his voice was often heartbreakingly good. This was a Don José who was decidedly more broken than brutal, but it works for him. Jessica Rivera was Micaëla, and Mariusz Kwiecien sang Escamillo in what seems like luxury casting for this one-off concert performance. Both sounded great in the huge space and they, like everyone else, took well to the amplification. I could definitely do with some more of both of them in properly-staged settings. I think it’s highway robbery that Rivera isn’t appearing in Adams’ Doctor Atomic at the Metropolitan Opera this fall. It’s their loss.

So it was one of those unusual evenings. All the normal irritations of the Bowl, like people talking and unwrapping their prepackaged picnic dinners during the show, seemed to melt away in the light of a very strong and surprisingly highly enjoyable performance. Even if all those dollar seats weren’t filled.


Been a long time, been a long time now

July 13, 2008

Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke
Photo : Andreu Dalmau 2008

I’m not a big believer in the whole idea of “unfinished business,” particularly that of the psychological variety. But there is admittedly an air of this hanging around Yaz, the pop duo comprised of Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke who burned fast and bright for less than two years in the early 1980s only to leave a huge mark on electronic dance music. I should hope they still see significant residual checks from this activity considering how much these handful of songs continue to show up on the radio and elsewhere years later. Unlike more typical reunion or flashback tours, the current Yaz shows in the U.S., of which the third show wrapped up here in L.A. on Friday, are somewhat unique in that the band never allowed themselves the opportunity to tour here outside of New York before. So, now 25 or so years later, they are back, older and wiser no doubt, in support of a new box set of their recordings avec DVD.

At least on Friday, time seemed to have treated them well. The original block-rocking beats are still there but in more substantial forms than their sometimes thinner edged precursors. Of course, both of these artists are performing after significant post-Yaz careers, which also must be taken into account. Clarke’s years of papier-maché gay disco with Erasure thankfully recede into the mist with Moyet’s far more substantial vocals. There was a huge and rather impressive light and video element to the production that was a plus and suggested that the pair had decided that, if they were going to do this, they were going to put some real effort into it.

But most of all, it looked like they were having a blast. Moyet glowed throughout as if amazed that this were really happening. I think the audience shared some of that amazement as well. I can’t recall the last time I heard a crowd scream so long and loudly. I would think that it’s just my getting older, but looking around I seemed to fit the average age for the room. Apparently the very long wait for this show to happen here in this city was as exciting off as it was on stage. It was a great show. Sure, there were no surprises, and you can predict the set list in your head with no effort, but it was more than just nostalgia. Far from seeming like another tour milking old history for dollars on the road, these Yaz concerts, which will continue throughout America over the next two weeks, are something else. It was a great show. Whether or not it’s unfinished business I guess is up to you.


And the horse he came in on

July 10, 2008

Stephen Rea

Ever wonder what it would be like if Sam Shepard had written Samuel Beckett’s plays? If so, you can now find out first hand at the Public Theater where Shepard’s latest, Kicking a Dead Horse, is having its U.S. premiere and will officially open on Monday night. I took in one of the final preview week's performances on Sunday. It originated at the Abbey Theater in Dublin last Fall and still maintains its one and only speaking cast member, Stephen Rea. (There is a brief non-speaking cameo by Elissa Piszel as well whose main activity is reflected in the above photo.)

Yes, it’s a monologue. Yes it’s a philosophical play with a big dollop of absurdist humor. And yes, it's probably more engaging as an intellectual exercise than a complete piece of theater. This 70-minute piece concerns Hobart Struther, a recently retired New York art dealer who has come by himself to the desert Southwest in search of…well, something more. Unfortunately, as the curtain rises, we find that Hobart’s horse had collapsed and died on him, leaving him stranded in the desert with no idea what direction he came from. Hobart feels guilty about simply leaving the horse to rot and digs a grave with the intention of burying the animal, a task the horse seems unwilling to cooperate with even in death. This, of course, becomes the jumping off point for philosophical pondering about the nature of Hobart’s existence, the myth of the West, the construction of the Self and all the other Big Topics that Western Art likes to concern itself with. Hobart is often struggling against himself, trying to come to terms with his own history after a life of co-opting the Western American culture and landscape he loves for fun and profit back in the big city. The horse meanwhile lies there and symbolizes all kinds of things and, yes, Stephen Rea does in fact occasionally kick it. I won’t spoil the end but I bet you can already guess where this is going.

Rea is very good and quite convincing as Hobart. Ruth E. Sternberg directs him in a performance that is down-to-earth despite its intellectual agenda. Rea keeps the text more practical sounding and avoids an overly introspective approach to the work. But it’s not quite enough to keep the whole thing afloat. Shepard has some great, if not entirely original, points to make about our current post-millennium tension over the degradation of the American dream and spirit (After invading other sovereign nations what else is there left for us Americans to do?). He also fills the piece with plenty of dry, mordant humor and avoids much magical thinking. But the overall situation is far from satisfaction guaranteed. Still, if you like Shepard, or Beckett for that matter, I bet this is right up your alley. The Public Theater has already extended the run prior to the show's opening next week so it appears to be drawing some attention.

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Flight Attendants, Prepare for Take-Off

July 09, 2008

Bradley Whitford and Mark Rylance
Photo : Joan Marcus 2008

Given the rather heavy tone of some of the other shows I took in last weekend in New York, I thought I would balance things out with the current revival of Marc Camoletti’s Boeing-Boeing at the newly-renovated Longacre Theater on 48th St. Of course, by this point, it had already won the Tony for best revival of a play this year, as did its male lead Mark Rylance, beating out some very stiff competition from the likes of Patrick Stewart and Raul Esparza. Even with that, I was a bit skeptical going in. In fact, I had passed over an opportunity to see this production in its current West End run in London in 2007 specifically because I couldn't imagine how it could be funny. But I admit I was won over in New York by this admittedly slight 60s sex comedy, though perhaps that label isn’t fair. Although the original production ran for years in both Paris and London in the early 60s, the play has relatively little in common with the kind of Austin Powers-inspired image of the swinging '60s Hollywood trades on these days. In fact, the play is just as quick to milk stereotypes of Americans and Europeans for laughs as it is poke at "loose" sexual mores. The content is, in fact, rather timid than what one might expect, and the paean to monogamy that wraps up the whole affair is certainly anything but wild.

But it is quite funny throughout, which is almost entirely due to a masterful cast including Rylance, Bradley Whitford, and Christine Baranski. I saw a Sunday matinée on the July 4 holiday weekend, and given that it was after the Tonys, I was sure that I would not be seeing this production’s original cast. But, as the usher informed the woman in the row behind me, we were in luck, and everyone showed up for that afternoon. Rylance has appeared here in L.A. twice in recent years with the Royal Shakespeare Company he led for many years, and I’ve known him to be a remarkable actor. Seeing him in a performance that lifts rather marginal material into something so spectacular was riveting.

However, I want to draw special attention to the three women who play the “air hostesses” in the piece: Gina Gershon, Kathryn Hahn, and Mary McCormack. As good as everyone else is, these three women deliver comic performances that are so physical and expertly timed that they are jaw-dropping to watch. All three command the stage and can generate laughs often with little more than posture and a few gestures. Remarkable. Like everything on Broadway, the show in its current format will probably only exist so much longer, so, while it may have legs for months to come, if you get a chance to see this particular cast, I’d act on it.

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Get Your Rocks Off

July 07, 2008

Alan Cummings and cast of The Bacchae
Photo : Richard Campbell/Natl. Theater of Scotland

Did I mention that I got to see Alan Cumming's naked ass this weekend? I know that generally speaking, this may not be an unusual sight for New Yorkers, but it was new to me. Inspiring as it may have been, it pales in comparison to the many other charms of the theatrical event in which it occurred – the Lincoln Center Festival’s current run of Euripides’ The Bacchae. The production, imported intact from the National Theater of Scotland, stars Cumming at his puckish best as Dionysus, here envisioned as a sort of rock and roll star. While he may not have performed “Kashmir,” he got more than a few chances to perform songs from a variety of American popular music idioms with his own back up chorus, The Bacchae. His is a ferocious performance, all sly and leering in his golden kilt and vest with long black curls framing his face. Here he plays a petulant and easily insulted deity in search of revenge against those humans he feels have ignored him and continue to do so. Along the way he brazenly helps Pentheus, played here by Cal MacAninch, get in touch with his feminine side in a manner that highlights all of the camp elements implicit in the story to a modern eye.

The energy throughout this production is full throttle and never backs down until the final scene when Pentheus is dead, a god has his vengeance, and it’s all over but the shouting. At this point Agave, played by Paola Dionisotti and Cadmus, played by Ewan Hooper, give rather moving performances as they begin to realize it's all fun and games until someone puts an eye out. As with the National Theater of Scotland’s last touring production to be seen here in the United States, the much overrated Black Watch, John Tiffany's direction of a new adaptation from David Greig of the Euripides classic is strongest in its visual elements and style. The colors are kept simple, and visual special effects pack a lot of punch with seemingly small gestures. Flowers dart from above planting themselves at Semele’s grave, Pentheus’ castle burns down with the walls of the set itself bursting into flames, and the red gowned chorus glides through choreography that is both fervently energetic and often beautiful. Dionysus delivers his final tirade against his doubters in front of a bank of megawatt lights pointed directly at the audience. He’s one angry dude that proves all play and no work is also a state not to be tampered with.

If I have any criticism, it’s that this is not the most psychologically minded Bacchae you’ll see. Certainly there is plenty to ponder about insults to the ego of a god, and how childhood tragedy gets carried around for years to come. But, the humans here are hollow and simple. Just last year, Frédérique Michel offered a much more compelling portrait of Pentheus and his family in Charles L Mee’s take on Euripides' play staged in Santa Monica for City Garage. Mee's Pentheus’ is at the center of the play where his own discomfort with a desiring self leads to the downfall of everyone around him, while the gods act in the background, a blank slate for the humans to project themselves upon. The National Theater of Scotland group has a rocking good time in a very attractive package, but the engagement is elsewhere.

This production of The Bacchae takes place at the Rose Theater, one of the stages that make up the Jazz at Lincoln Center space in Columbus Circle. Although Saturday’s matinée was not at capacity, the audience reaction was quite enthusiastic. It’s a solid and very attractive production well worth seeing. There are performances through the end of this week.

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Gone to Soldiers

July 06, 2008

Claudia Barainsky
Photo : Clärchen und Matthias Baus/Ruhr Triennial

High fuel prices have increased interest in mass transit across the nation. But leave it to New York to have pushed this trend to its limit already. At a cost of millions, they’ve imported a device to transport about 1000 people back and forth twice over 40 yards in approximately three hours at an average rider cost of around 100 dollars a trip. Yet, while it may be transporting, the question in the big city is always the same – But is it art?

In this case the answer is yes. In fact, it’s spectacularly, yes. The occasion is the Lincoln Center Festival’s presentation of Bernd Alois Zimermann’s Die Soldaten. The much-hyped production is imported from the Ruhr Triennale and directed by David Pountney. It combines massive forces from a cast of over 40 as well as a plus size orchestra of well over 100 members of the Bochumer Symphoniker under the direction of Steven Sloane. The action takes place on a catwalk that runs the length of the Drill Hall of the Park Avenue Armory that passes through the center of a large riser, which holds the audience, at the end of the hall. Of course this riser rolls forward and back bringing action on the catwalk in and out of view while the orchestra is housed on two separate platforms on either side.

Why all the trouble you may ask? Isn’t this just an elaborate theatrical gimmick? Well, I don’t think so. Zimmermann intended his operatic adaptation of Lenz’ play to contain non-contemporaneous scenes that would play out simultaneously. While his own vision was somewhat hampered by the staging realities of the time, David Pountney attempts to reproduce some of this effect by spreading out players and sets over the catwalk often in advance of their actual performance. Characters walk past each other in highly choreographed scenes oblivious to each other's presence heightening the sense of alienation. The audience is then moved to parts of the action as it happens. It's sort of a linear motion version of Disneyworld's "Carousel of Progress". But while the idea may not be new, it is often stunningly effective, particularly in the opera’s final act which is both violent and sad. I was seated somewhat to the side of the entrance and the image of Marie, backgrounded by the orchestra, staggering away from her father who has failed to recognize her at the same pace as the audience pulling away from her is unforgettable.

It was also an evening that makes me wonder why 12-tone music didn’t gain wider public acceptance. Steve Sloane led a performance that was as lyrical, beautiful, and moving as just about anything I can think of. Yes, the music is often jarring, but the bleak and tragic world of Zimermann's opera is the ideal setting for it. The detail was wonderful and the amplification and acoustics in the hall seemed near miraculous for a space making its first forays as a music venue. As for the cast, there were remarkable singers and actors keeping the audience riveted throughout. Claudia Baraqinsky’s Marie was clear-toned and heartbreakingly believable. She is vulnerable without seeming overly naive and she whirled with ease through a large and technically difficult part. She was a perfect counterpoint to Claudio Otelli’s tragic and ultimately murderous Stolzius whose anger is palpable throughout the last two acts even before he explodes in a vengeful rage.

It's true that Zimmermann has chosen to eliminate much of the comedic elements of Lenz' original play, and make no mistake that this is difficulty and very adult material. (Particularly when Marie is brutally raped by Desportes' servant dressed in a Santa costume.) However, it is definitely an amazing and unique experience and will undoubtedly be one of the most satisfying operatic experiences of the year. There are four more performances that are mostly sold out. The moral of the story - more, at least sometimes, is in fact, more.

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The Homecoming

July 05, 2008

Joey Arias
Photo : Sara Krulwich/NYT 2008

I’m in New York this weekend mostly for the Lincoln Center Festival’s presentation of Die Soldaten which promises to be a high-tech marvel complete with a mobile audience on its own set of train tracks. It seems fitting somehow that this maximalist cue has been picked up by the downtown crowd as well with the triumphant return of Joey Arias to New York in Arias with a Twist. This new 80-minute performance is a true-blue drag show in all of its vaudevillian glory, complete with songs, rambling narrative, and a grab bag of gags and otherwise. However, it is no ordinary drag show in that involves a huge array of elaborate and clever visual elements designed by master puppeteer Basil Twist.

Scene after scene is filled with inventive creations including a clique of anal-probing aliens, a living jungle wall, dancing chorus girls, the New York skyline, a back up jazz band, octopus arms, and several mini versions of Joey Arias himself. And there’s more. Arias is never alone on stage. There are six puppeteer assistance operating the many puppets but they are rarely seen. While this may not be high-tech, it is definitely wildly ambitious for a drag show.

Which I guess just goes to show that you can take the boy out of Cirque du Soleil but you can’t take the Cirque out of the boy. Make no mistake, despite all of the grabbing visual elements, this is Joey Arias’ show, and he is as witty and wonderful to hear as ever. Covering everything from Led Zepplin’s “Kashmir” to Eric Carmen‘s “All By Myself” and more than a few things in between, Arias works his way through a kind-of story about his being abducted, then abandoned by aliens then later making a triumph return to the downtown arts scene after his stint in Vegas. He does with ease the kind of "autobiographic" comedy that Carrie Fischer and Joan Rivers have been trying to pull of in recent years with 10 times the ease and results. It’s a super fun show and it continues through the end of August at the Here Arts Center downtown.

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The best musical. (N)ever.

July 02, 2008

Glitter and be gay
Photo : Paul Kolnik/CTG 2008

So, my friend Marni scored me a free ticket to see the touring production of A Chorus Line, of all things, here in L.A. over the weekend at the Ahmanson theater. Besides getting to see Marni, I had to go considering that 1) this is not normally the kind of thing I would pay to go see, and 2) my only other exposure to the musical was memorable for some of the wrong reasons. I last saw A Chorus Line at the lovely Muny, the nation's oldest and largest outdoor theater, in the heart of Forest Park in beautiful St. Louis, MO. A detailed explanation of my presence in St. Louis is beyond the scope of this blog, but suffice it to say that each summer the Muny puts on a mini-season of some warhorse musicals over a period of a few weeks and I went with a group of friends figuring it was worth seeing simply because it was new to me. Of course, anything outdoor in St. Louis in the summer is automatically a bad idea. So in 100 degree heat, I watched the dancing-singing juggernaut that revolutionized theater in the 1970s. I could barely stand it in that I couldn’t imagine how awful the performers must have felt in the heat. I thought I was going to be sick for them. But the show must go on and it did.

So, of course, the first thing I notice about this current touring revival is how cool it was inside the theater. Outside of that, absolutely nothing substantial has changed for A Chorus Line, not just in the decade or so since I lived in St. Louis, but in the 30 or so years this baby’s been around. Oh, sure the buns may be a little harder and higher, and the poignancy of a cross-dressing Puerto Rican man may have diminished somewhat, but this is one tight, fast-moving dance extravaganza. I have to admit I did enjoy myself. And while I can’t say I was moved by hearing “What I Did for Love," it will take a week to get those creaky Marvin Hamlisch melodies out of my head. There are performances through this weekend if you’re up for it, but be warned it is a crowd-pleaser in every sense of the word.


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