Tuesday, December 26, 2017

            The Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC), located on the campus of California State University Northridge (CSUN), was completed in 2011, and has brought live entertainment to the San Fernando Valley since it opened.  This year (2017), Younes Nazerian and his wife donated $17 million to the Center to rename it the Younes  and Soraya Center for the Performing Arts Center (The Soraya).
            Since its beginning, the Center has brought top quality performers and entertainment to its stage.  They could not have brought back a more wonderful performer to help celebrate the year-end season than the delightful talented Michael Feinstein who performed in A Michael Feinstein Holiday Celebration. 
            What a joyous celebration it was.  Michael sang many songs from his album, A Michael Feinstein Christmas, but also captivated his audience with many standards accompanied by three outstanding musicians, Sam Kriger (Music Director, and pianist), Albie Berk, (drums), and Kirk Smith (bass).  He also accompanied himself on the piano for some of his numbers. Michael is a perfect entertainer with personality plus.  Whether he is telling a joke, just talking to his audience, singing, or singing while performing at the piano, that personality simply shines through.
            Michael Feinstein was raised in a conservative synagogue in Columbus Ohio, but he is attracted to traditional Christmas songs, which as he says “Many were written by Jewish songwriters,” the “popular” Christmas songs, not about Jesus, but about sleigh bells, a white Christmas, and things like toys and Santa.  As he says, “Everyone sings them.”  As the performance came to an end followed by his encore, it was obvious how very much the audience loved the show.
            The Valley Performing Arts Center (The Soraya) is located at 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge.  The remainder of their 2017-2018 season promises more exciting and superb programs.  Check their schedule out by calling (818) 877-3000, or by going online www.valleyperformingartscenter


Saturday, December 23, 2017

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET by Carol Kaufman Segal      
            In honor of its 70th anniversary and to celebrate the season, the Pasadena Playhouse presented the original 1947 radio play, Miracle on 34th Street.   The “live radio play” was written by Valentine Davies, and directed by Cameron Davies.
            In 1947 the head of 20th Century Fox made the decision to make the film, Miracle on 34th Street in May.  It was written and directed by George Seaton, based on a story by Valentine Davies and was extremely popular, winning several awards.  Seven months later, December 22, 1947, Lux Radio Theatre broadcast this adaptation of the film.  The Pasadena Playhouse production staff says, “Seventy years later, the eyes of our audience get to watch what went into producing the performance live, which its original listeners never got to see.”   

            I have to add how much fun it was to watch this wonderful production at this propitious time of year with a quality cast that seemed to enjoy every minute of putting on this live radio play.  The cast included Peri Gilpin (Doris Walker), Beth Grant (Charlene and Others), Alfred Molina (Kris Kringle), Yvette Cason (Singer and Others), Michael Chieffo (Host and Others), Jeff Gardner (Foley Artist and Others), Ryan Johnson (Piano Player and Others), Larry Poindexter (Fred Gailey), Jim Rash (Mr. Sawyer and Others), and Ceilia Witt (Susan Walker).  They all needed to be mentioned because they all made us feel as if we were really at a radio station watching Miracle on 34th Street being performed over the air by the Lux Radio Theatre.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

ASHES TO ASHES by Carol Kaufman Segal
             Ashes to Ashes is a visiting production at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles.  Written by Debbie Boulton and directed by Katherine James, it is described as a “screwball” comedy.
            Ashes to Ashes revolves around Sarah (Lena Bouton) and Jefferson (Kevin Young) who once had a close relationship.  But due to their very different philosophies, he very conservative and she very liberal, their relationship ended.  Their very close and wealthy friends, Kate and Wilson, both died leaving Sara and Jefferson the heirs to their riches in their rather strange will.  The will provided specific conditions that the two of them would have to abide by in order to receive the money.
            Sarah and Jefferson were required to spend the next 16 days, 21 hours, and 32 minutes together traveling from Ireland, Spain, France, Scotland, Wales, and Venice executing various difficult tasks as they scatter their friends’ ashes in each of these locations.  It was obvious that this maneuver was planned to get the couple back together again.
            As Sara and Jefferson pursued their objectives, I found neither of these two characters particularly likeable nor did I care if they resumed their relationship or not.  The running back and forth all around the stage, supposedly going to each of their destinations and fulfilling their quests, were hectic and uninteresting. 
            The only character that I looked forward to seeing in any of the scenes in this production was Michael Uribes who showed up in every “country” along the way portraying various characters that correspond to the locations. His performances were comical without being slapstick.  This was comic relief for an otherwise insipid play.

            The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles.  For further information call (310) 564-9410, or go online at www.AshesToAshesThePlay.com                                  

Saturday, December 9, 2017

ANAT COHEN TENTET by Carol Kaufman Segal
            I recently attended a concert at the Valley Performing Arts Center (which by the way is changing its name to Soraya after the Soraya family that contributed 17 million dollars to the theater).  I was not quite certain what kind of concert I was going to see; it was to be Anat Cohn and her Tentet’s West Coast debut and was billed as:
Jazz Sensation Anat Cohen and Her Tentet 
Celebrate the Release of Her Latest Album, 
“Happy Song” at VPAC (The Soraya) 
            Further information piqued my curiosity.  I guess I was expecting an all jazz performance.  As I was a major in music, I love almost any genre, from classical to blues, to jazz, to ballads, you name it.  So this intrigued me, as I discovered it did many patrons.  The theater was very crowded, and I wondered how many people knew what they were going to hear.. 
             With her outstanding performance on the clarinet, Anat Cohen leads her band of fantastic musicians that include James Shipp (vibes/percussion), Rubi Kodheli (cello), Nadie Noordhuis (trumpet/flugelhorn), Nick Finzer (Trombone), Owen Broder (baritone sax/bass clarinet), Victor GonCalves (piano/accordion, Sheryl Bailey (guitar), Tal Mashiach (bass), and Anthony Pinciotti (drums).  Oded Lev-Ari is their Musical Director.
            Anat Cohen was born in Israel and is based in Brooklyn.  She is an exceptionally outstanding clarinetist whose work captures the sound of modern and traditional jazz, swing, lullabies, Brazilian music to African sounds, as well as Israeli Klezmer music. The program featured her along with the band performing a series of styles throughout the evening, while each member is given their own moment to shine.  Their style of music was like none I have ever heard and I was thrilled to have the opportunity of hearing this marvelous ensemble in person,        
            Following the program, I was surprised to hear many people say they were not certain what they were expecting to hear and see, but it was obvious how much they enjoyed Anat Cohen and Her Tentet by their applause that called for an encore and their continued applause when they left the stage for the last time.
            Watch for more exciting entertainment at the Valley Performing Arts Center (Soraya) located at 18111 Nordhoff  St., Northridge (on the campus of California State University Northridge (CSUN). 


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

            What can be more enticing than a mystery that is well written and beautifully presented?   You will find all of that, and much more at Theatre 40’s production of Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily, written by Katie Forgette, performed by a first class group of actors, and solved by the one and only Sherlock Holmes.       
            England’s famous and beloved actress, Lillie Langtry (Mellissa Collins) is being blackmailed for her past relationship with Edward, Prince of Wales, which could prove fatal to her reputation as well as that of the Prince.  Through her friendship with playwright Oscar Wilde (Scott Facher), she seeks the aid of the inimitable Sherlock Holmes (Martin Thompson).   
            During the scenes that take place, Holmes discovers that the perpetrator of this extortion is Professor Moriarty (Ryan Moriarty) who is one of the most evil persons to walk the streets of London.  It is Holmes’ job, along with his companion, Dr. Watson (John Wallace Combs), to stop Moriarty from his menacing threats which, of course, he manages to do in his inimitable way.
             Theatre 40’s production is wonderful.  The cast is especially outstanding. Martin Thompson’s characterization of Holmes is calm, cool, collected, and oh so suave.  There is some comedy in the character of Oscar Wilde, which Scott Facher keeps down to perfection.  Mellissa Collins is an elegant and charming Lilly Lantry.  Kudos to Ryan Moriarty as Professor Moriarty who, we are told before the play begins, came on board without any rehearsing to take the place of the original actor who, due to an accident, could not continue in the role.  (The namesake was just incidental!)  The following actors, Alison Blanchard, Shawn Savage, and Anibal Silveyra, complete the roster of exceptional performers.  The renowned Jules Aaron directs with panache.
            Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily is produced by David Hunt Stafford.  The beautiful and functional set is by Jeff G. Rack and the beautiful costumes are by Michele Young.              Performances are presented Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, Sundays at 2 PM, through December 17, at Theatre 40, in the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills, (on the campus of Beverly Hills High School).  Reservations are available by calling (310) 364-0535, or online at www.theatre40.org.



Saturday, December 2, 2017

CHASING MEM’RIES:  A Different Kind of Musical by Carol Kaufman Segal
            Chasing Mem’ries:  A Different Kind of Musical is making its world premiere at the Geffen Playhouse.  Though it features new and original songs by award-winning lyricists, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, it is not a musical, not even a different kind of musical, but a play with music.
            The play, written and directed by Josh Ravetch, focuses on Victoria (Tony and Emmy Award winner Tyne Daly) a woman struggling with her life following the loss of her husband.  We find her in the attic of her home, going through her memoirs, wondering how she will continue on and survive without her husband.  Meanwhile, friends and family have gathered on the lawn of her Connecticut home to honor and memorialize her husband.  But Victoria is unable to join them.
            As Victoria reminisces, she plays some of the music on a record player that sits in a corner of the attic, bringing back memories of the past.  Her son, Mason (Scott Kradolfer), meets her in the attic and tries to convince her to join her friends and family and to try to accept what life has wrought.  Left alone in the attic, again, Victoria imagines a conversation with Franklin (Robert Forster).   
            Unfortunately, the play is overburdened with sentimentality.  Fortunately, Tyne Daly is the gem who gives audiences the moments to enjoy through her talent that she brings to the role of Victoria.  Even though her singing is not what some might expect, it is perfect for the role (and mood) that she is playing.  Though Chasing Mem’ries did not turn out to be what I had hoped for, there were moments in the play that were very emotional, not only for me, but I noticed others in the audience experiencing the same reactions that I had.

            Chasing Mem’ries:  A Different Kind of Musical plays Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 M, Saturdays at 3 PM and 8 PM, and Sundays at 2 PM and 7 PM, through December 17, at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte, Ave., Los Angeles.  Tickets are available at the Playhouse Box Office, by phone at (310) 208-5454, or online at www.geffenplayhouse.org.  (Fees may apply)       

             A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, was written by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.  The musical opened on Broadway May 8, 1962, and closed on August 29, 1964, after 964 performances.  It won a Tony Award for Best Musical and Best Author (of a musical) and was made into a film in 1966.  It is still entertaining and hilarious today, and the production, playing at the Garry Marshall Theatre, proves it.
            We go back many years during the time of the Roman Empire where the slave, Pseudolus (an amazing Paul C. Vogt), owned by Senex (Kevin Symons) and his wife Domina (Candi Milo), longs to be free.  When Pseudolus is left in charge of their son Hero (Michael Thomas Grant), he discovers (“through the grapevine”) that Hero is in love with the beautiful courtesan Philia (Nicole Kaplan), and offers to help him win her hand for his freedom.
            When Pseudolus tries to buy Philia from the owner of the brothel, Marcus Lycus, he is told that she has already been sold to Marcus Gloriosus (Clayton Snyder), and that is when the hilarity and bedlam begins.  Pseudolus will try anything to win the girl for Hero and freedom for himself!
            The opening number, Comedy Tonight, is a precursor to the entire show, because it is a comedy from beginning to end, held up by a splendid cast that also includes Shamicka Benn, Liz Bustle, Ethan Cohn, and E.K. Dagenfield, under the direction of Joseph Leo Bwarie. (Joey McIntyre performs the role of Pseudolus Nov.22 through Dec. 10.)       
            A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum plays Thursdays and Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 2 PM and 8 PM, and Sundays at 3 PM and 7:30 PM, through Dec. 31, at the Garry Marshall Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank.  Tickets are available by calling (818) 955-8108, or online at GarryMarshalTheatre.org.



Friday, December 1, 2017

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM by Carol Kaufman Segal
            William Shakespeare’s comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is playing at the Lonny Chapman Theatre in North Hollywood through the holiday season.  The play brings many colorful characters to life, even if in doing so, it can be quite complicated.  It is a romantic fantasy that takes place in a royal court as well as in an enchanted forest.  Let me see if I can explain this so that you can understand the chaos that ensues during this rowdy affair.
            Egeus (Chris Winfield) has arranged for his daughter Hermia (Hartley Powers) to marry Demetrius (Doren Sorrel).  But Hermia refuses because she is in love with Lysander (Mikel Parraga-Wills).  Hermia’s friend Helena (Anna Gion) loves Demetrius, but he wants no part of her.  Theseus (Doug Haverty), the Duke, is to marry Hippolyta, former Queen of the Amazons (Silke Sorenson).
            Egeus shows up at the Duke’s court and, according to an ancient Greek law, states that Hermia must marry Demetrius or face death.  Or - Theseus gives her another alternative; she can spend the rest of her life as a nun.  After hearing these two options, the two lovers run away followed by Demetrius and Helena, and they end up in the enchanted forest.
            The forest is inhabited by fairies that control and manipulate anyone in their woods, including a group of six actors.  The fairy king, Oberon (Marc Singer), and queen, Titania (Suzy London), have a quarrel, which induces Oberon to sprinkle fairy dust every which place he can.  Naturally, the dust is magical, and those who get sprinkled fall asleep.  Upon awakening, they fall in love with the first person they see.  Wouldn’t you know it?  Both Lysander and Demetrius are now in love with Helena and poor Hermia is left out in the cold.
            Well, I think everything is getting too complicated for me to further explain it enough for you to understand just what you can figure out for yourself by seeing this very chaotic, charming, and wonderful production performed by a spectacular cast under the direction of Marc Singer.  They all bring this magical fairy tale to life.
            A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, Sundays at 2 PM, through December 31, at the Lonny Chapman Theatre located at 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood.  Tickets are available online at www.thegrouprep.com, or info@thegrouprep.com, or reservations can be made by calling (818) 763-5990.