7 Days In Arts
Think haunted houses are scary? Bill Maher, Andy Richter and Sarah Silverman put the real fear of God in you tonight. “Hell Houses” have been around since the Rev. Jerry Falwell reportedly created one in the late ’70s, offering a scary eight-room journey into hell as a Christian alternative to haunted houses. The Abundant Life Christian Center has since put together a Hell House Outreach kit to teach young people the consequences of sin. Tonight marks the opening of “Hollywood Hell House.” The aforementioned comedians play Satan, Jesus and Abortion Girl, respectively, in this walk-through theater vérité recreation of a genuine “Hell House,” based on the specifications of the Outreach kit. The stars of the inferno vary nightly, with an impressive roster of 80 performers that also includes Richard Belzer, Dave Thomas and Julia Sweeney. But tender-hearted ones beware, it is hell they’re showing you here. Expect some gross imagery.Sat. evenings through Oct. 30 and one performance on Sun., Oct. 31. Tours run from 8-10 p.m. $13. Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (323) 692-5868.
Forget comedy. Somebody really ought to investigate the strong tradition of crossdressing in Judaism. Witness Yentl, and Yiddle before her (and those are just the Y’s). Tonight, head to Cinespace for a screening of 1936’s “Yidl Mitn Fidl” for step one in your Jewish crossdressing education. The adorable Molly Picon plays the Yiddle (with a fiddle), a female klezmer musician whose father has her dress as a boy so as not to attract the wrong kind of attention. Sponsored by AVADA, a project of Kiddishkayt Los Angeles aimed at the under-35 crowd, the event is expected to appeal to a multigenerational audience, with live music by Josh Kun following.6:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. screenings. Live music at 8 p.m. $10. 6356 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 817-3456.
With the premiere of the third season of “Last Comic Standing,” count on returning Season 1 fianlist Cory Kahaney for new rants on men, motherhood and bringing home the bacon when your bacon-making job actually entails making bacon. The San Diego native goes up against Season 2 contestants — including Todd Glass and runner-up Gary Gulman — as she takes another shot at No. 1 starting this week.9:30-11 p.m. NBC.
Springtime in Warsaw sets the backdrop for the intertwining romances of NotEnough, a Polish short written, directed and produced by Daniel Strehlau, whoalso stars. The 30-minute piece screens tonight through Thursday at Laemmle’sMonica Theatre. 1332 Second St., Santa Monica. (310) 394-9741. www.laemmle.com
Barbara Mendes has got a lot going on — in her paintings, that is. The lifelong artist has fittingly described her busy large-canvas creations as “Epic Paintings.” Since 1992, her art has been devoted to Jewish themes, primarily from the Torah. Her “Paintings of Jewish Glory” exhibition is on display at USC Hillel through Oct. 8.9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Mon.-Fri.). 3300 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles. (213) 747-9135.
Ouds and kanoons and violins intermingle today, as the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity presents “Judeo-Arab, Andalusian Melodies.” Dr. Avi Elam Amzalag, director of Anda-El, Andalusia-Israel East West Orchestra, conducts musicians from this group, Chicago Classical Oriental Ensemble and Sultana Ensemble, with vocals by Cantor Lior El Malich of Israel and Munshid Abdelfattah Bennis of Morocco.7:30 p.m. $15-$25. Eretz-Siamak Cultural Center, 6170 Wilbur Ave., Tarzana. Tickets: (866) 468-3399, Info: (323) 658-5824.
More music today. This time, think straight up Westernjazz/blues, with a hint of the experimental. The Daniel Glass Trio performs afree concert al fresco at the One Colorado Courtyard. You’ll recognize Glass’name as the drummer for Royal Crown Revue. Helping him out are Eldad Tarmu onvibraphone and Timothy Emmons on bass. 9 p.m. Free. Pasadena, between ColoradoBoulevard, Fair Oaks Avenue, Union Steet and DeLacey Avenue. www.onecolorado.net
7 Days In Arts
A Resonant Voice
The first thing one notices about Theodore Bikel is the voice.
As he settles on a divan in his book-filled West Hollywood apartment, chatting about his upcoming 80th birthday gala, it’s not so much his strapping frame, white beard or sharp blue eyes that make an impression as his voice.
This is the resonant baritone that has sung countless folk music concerts, recorded 27 albums in 21 languages and performed in approximately 35 films. This is the actor who has appeared more than 2,000 times as the milkman Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” besides playing Captain Von Trapp in Broadway’s “The Sound of Music” and opposite Bogie in the film, “The African Queen.”
Bikel has also used that commanding voice to speak out for diverse causes, serving on the boards of Amnesty International and the American Jewish Congress and as a proponent of Yiddish, among other activities.
“I bridge worlds,” he says. It’s an appropriate endeavor for an artist who was born in Vienna, raised in Palestine, educated at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and has summer performances scheduled from Connecticut to Krakow.
On June 6, his destination will be the Wadsworth Theater in Brentwood, where celebrities will fete him in a tribute, “Theo!!! The First 80 Years,” to benefit Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Performers such as Leonard Nimoy, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary and comedian Larry Miller will laud Bikel’s distinctive Jewish voice and his status as perhaps the last of a unique breed of Jewish entertainer. &’9;
They point out that Bikel performs in Yiddish and Hebrew as well as English; that he is as comfortable in the Jewish theater as on the non-Jewish stage; and that he declined to change his name or downplay his heritage to land movie roles, although many others of his generation did so.
“Theo is iconic in that he broke through in Hollywood while remaining a visible Jew,” Miller says. “He’s done very mainstream things as the exact person he is: an active, committed Jew.”
Actor-director Nimoy, a Yiddishist whose parents were raised in the shtetl, has been a fan since discovering Bikel’s recordings in the 1950s.
“I listened to them over and over again, because his music just struck a chord,” he says. “His voice captured a flavor that meant something to me; it made me feel like I knew who he was, because he presents himself in a way that evokes such credibility and authenticity. He’s always been that kind of performer; he’s filled that niche for us, connecting us to tradition, to roots.”
Bikel says that he is connected to roots in a direct fashion. As a boy, he visited the Ukrainian town where his grandfather kept an inn, battled anti-Semitism and conducted Tevye-like tiffs with God.
“He read forbidden books,” the artist says, his voice now a whisper. “There was a whole period when he refused to go to synagogue because he felt that God did not treat his people right. More than a year later, his family was stunned to find him with his prayer shawl on, davening; without breaking stride he shrugged and said, ‘Maybe this will help.'”
It’s no wonder Bikel commands such authority when his Tevye proclaims: “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.”
Yet when asked if his 80th makes him think of words like “legacy,” he initially replies with a joke.
“This milestone makes you instantly wise,” he says. But then he reflects that he has, in fact, “spent a lifetime guarding a legacy, the Jewish legacy specifically. And because I am a universalist, I’ve also tried to encourage others to guard and cultivate their legacy. I call this my ‘anti-Phoenix’ crusade; many people these days seem to feel their birth was like the birth of the mythological Phoenix, that suddenly one day they sprang up without memory or parentage. But I feel you must explore your roots in the past in order to pinpoint your place in the present, and to ensure that you have a future.”
“Fiddler” has helped do just that for diverse viewers — among them the Asian Amerians who surrounded Bikel after a Hawaii performance.
“Many of them had tears in their eyes,” he says, quietly. “I asked what the play meant to them. And they said, ‘Tradition.'”
If preserving Jewish legacy has been one of his missions, Bikel was born for the role. He shares a May 2 birthday with his namesake, Theodor Herzl; throughout his childhood, a picture of the Zionist leader hung over his bed.
Bikel’s own father was a Hebraist and Yiddishist who taught him Jewish songs and “insisted that a Hebrew teacher come to the house, even before I was sent to grade school.”
When his family fled the Nazis to Palestine in 1938, the idealistic Bikel dutifully set off to study agriculture, although he says, “I was lousy. I would stand around on heaps of manure and sing songs about the beauty of the work I wasn’t doing.”
When kibbutz leaders sent him to a theater seminar, hoping he would return to stage pageants, he instead fell so in love with the stage that he left to join Israel’s Habimah Theater. After he finished polishing his craft in London, Sir Laurence Olivier hired him to star opposite Vivien Leigh in a 1949 production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Over the years, he says, he was not so much a leading man as a character actor: “I’m able to change walks, gaits, faces, accents,” he explains. “I find that stimulating, because it’s the same attitude I have toward music: You don’t just sing one song, you sing many songs, in many different languages.”
Certainly he has been typecast, although “That is Hollywood’s fault,” he says, his baritone rumbling. People would say, ‘To play the Russian, get Bikel…. the Jew — get Bikel.’ It’s been an uphill fight, but it was their problem, not mine. Of course my agents had a problem. They had to fight with producers who said, ‘No, he’s not right for this role.'”
Bikel was thrilled when director Stanley Kramer cast him in his 1958 film, “The Defiant Ones”: “I played an American Southerner, with no ethnicity attached, and for that I received an Academy Award nomination,” he says. “That puts the lie to anyone who says an actor can only do one thing.”
Despite the casting issues, Bikel never downplayed his Jewishness; for example, during the Soviet Jewry movement, he was among the most vocal of advocates, demonstrating at rallies and recording an album of underground refusenik songs.
Of course, he understands why actors might choose to remain in the Jewish “closet”: “But why should the Italian American let me know of his background, in the food that he eats and in the rhythms that he speaks, and I shouldn’t let people know who I am?” he asks. “Even if I assume that I am going to be discriminated against, I sleep better at night. I’m the man who sang Hebrew and Yiddish songs at Buckingham Palace,” he adds.
For his work onstage and off, Bikel has earned accolades. Artist-activist Yarrow, for one, considers Bikel a role model: “His commitment to tikkun olam, to repairing the world, is impressive, whether or not he’s doing it under the banner of being Jewish or as a citizen of the world,” Yarrow says.
Actor Edward Asner, who will also appear at the tribute, agrees: “Theo’s just had such an unbelievable history of good works and good causes.”
As for his advice to young performers who happen to be Jewish, Bikel emphasizes, “You don’t necessarily have to do the Jewish ‘thing’ in your work at all times, although you do it when it’s called for.”
He pauses, then raises his voice for the first time during the interview. “But you certainly have to do it in life — at least in my book. You have to be who you are.”
“Theo!!! The First 80 Years” will be held June 6, 5:30 p.m. at the Wadsworth Theater, 11310 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood. $50-$250. For tickets, call (310) 229-0915.
Theodore Bikel Career Highlights:
1943: Joins Israel’s famed Habimah Theater as an apprentice actor; a year later, co-founds the Israeli Chamber Theatre, the “Cameri.”
1948: Graduates with honors from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
1949: Stars as the second male lead, Mitch, opposite Vivien Leigh, in Sir Laurence Olivier’s landmark London production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
1951: Plays a German officer in his first film, “The African Queen,” with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.
1956: Makes his concert debut in a folk song program at Carnegie Hall; helps found the Newport Folk Festival several years later.
1959: Receives an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Southern sheriff Max Muller in Stanley Kramer’s “The Defiant Ones,” about two escaped convicts, one white (Tony Curtis) and one black (Sidney Poitier).
1959: Creates the role of Captain Von Trapp opposite Mary Martin’s Maria in the original Broadway production of “The Sound of Music.”
1967: Debuts as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
1988: Wins a Los Angeles Emmy Award for his titular role in PBS’ “Harris Newmark’s Los Angeles,” about the 19th-century pioneer Jew. (Other Bikel TV roles over the years have included Lt. Worf’s adoptive father on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Henry Kissinger in “The Final Days,” a Holocaust survivor battling memories on “L.A. Law” and a space rabbi on “Babylon 5.”)
1994: Publishes “Theo: The Autobiography of Theodore Bikel,” (rereleased in 2002 by Universtiy of Wisconsin Press) recounting his life as an actor, activist, singer, guitarist, writer, lecturer and raconteur.
2002: Completes his 2,000th turn as Tevye on yet another national tour, which earns kudos for his restrained but poignant portrayal of Sholom Aleichem’s besieged shtetl Jew.
2004: Records two major works for the Milken Archive of American Jewish music, including narration for Ernst Toch’s “Cantata of the Bitter Herbs,” a concert work based on the Passover Hagaddah, and David Diamond’s “AHAVA — Brotherhood,” which celebrates the first Jews to arrive in America 350 years ago.
7 Days In Arts
Shlock Rock ‘n’ Roll
If spoof dj Dr. Demento hosted a Purim show, he’d have to spotlight the Jewish band Shlock Rock. Shlock ‘n’ roll includes clever parodies of pop hits like "I Don’t Get No Humentashen (based on the Stones’ "Satisfaction") and "Achashverosh" (think Falco’s "Rock Me Amadeus").
For Purim 2004, the musicians will perform these spoofs, live, in a Southern California appearance March 6 for Chabad of Irvine. They’ll also shlock out to tunes from their new album, "Almost on Broadway," where "Annie’s" "Tomorrow" becomes, "To Maariv."
Band founder Lenny Solomon, a nice Orthodox ex-accountant from Queens, is "the Jewish Weird Al," according to Simon Rutberg of Hatikvah Music.
But his spoofs have a serious message: "It’s spreading Jewish identity and awareness," Solomon, 43, said.
The singer-keyboardist, who is descended from generations of cantors, said Shlock came about by accident in 1985. Then, his band, Kesher, was playing the youth group circuit, and Solomon decided to record the parodies he’d written to interest bored teenagers.
"Never in a million years did I think it would turn into a career," he said.
Yet requests poured in for parody concerts, and Solomon ultimately left Kesher to Shlock full time. Since then, his band has released 23 albums, including original and children’s music, although Solomon remains best known for parodies such as "Hit Me With Your Best Pshot," (Pat Benetar’s "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"), about a student arguing with his rebbe.
Solomon, too, has argued with rebbes, who claim prayer and pop don’t mix.
"But Jews have always taken music from their surroundings," he said. "If a song has a Jewish message, it’s Jewish."
That applies even to "Hamentashen," which has to do with scarcity of holiday pastries. "None left in the bakery," the song laments. "I can’t get no Hamentashen. I can’t get no nosh reaction."
Solomon, for his part, relates more to Mordecai than Mick Jagger. "I’m fighting for Jewish education through music," he said.
The band performs March 6, 7:30 p.m., at the Lake View Senior Center in Irvine. For more information, call (949) 786-5000.
The Haunting of the Weird
7 Days In Arts
Two widely divergent Jewish performers come to Southern California tonight. Make the drive to Claremont for the feel-good sounds of Israeli folk/rock star David Broza. The celebrated trilingual guitarist and singer-songwriter will perform his English, Spanish and Hebrew favorites in a concert sponsored by Hillel of the Claremont Colleges. Or, for something closer to home and below the belt, head to Royce Hall, as UCLA Live! Presents “An Evening With Sandra Bernhard.” The bawdy comedian and student of kabbalah offers up her latest rants and raves, with musical accompaniment by Mitch Kaplan and Pam Adams.
David Broza: 8 p.m. $5-$50. Garrison Theatre, Scripps College, Claremont. (909) 621-8824.Sandra Bernhard: 8 p.m. $20-$45. Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 825-2101.
Two seasoned comedians prove they’ve still got it, as Orange County Performing Arts Center presents “Together Again: Comedy Greats Tim Conway and Harvey Korman.” The “Carol Burnett Show” duo known as much for cracking each other up as they were for entertaining the audience joins impressionist Louise DuArt for two shows, today only.
2 p.m. and 7 p.m. $35-$60. Segerstrom Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (213) 365-3500.
Diane Arbus’ work gets center stage at MOCA’s latest show, “Street Credibility,” which examines the convergence of real and posed photography from the 1940s to the 1970s. Arbus’ choice to pose her subjects, who were real people, was a departure from a tradition that separated the worlds of journalistic style and artificial photography. Other artists featured in the exhibit include her peers, as well as later photographers whom she influenced — Larry Clark, Lee Friedlander, Sally Mann, Charles Gatewood, Garry Winogrand and others — as well as some of her predecessors, namely Lisette Model, August Sander and Weegee.
11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Monday and Friday), 11 a.m.-8 pm. (Thursday), 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (Saturday and Sunday). Free (members, children under 12 and all day Thursday), $5 (students and seniors), $12 (general). MOCA at the Geffen Contemporary, 152 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 626-6222.
Queens, N.Y., transplant and author Lisa Lieberman Doctor puts her roots into the pages of her first novel, “The Deflowering of Rhona Lipshitz.” It’s Queens 1971, and Rhona Lipshitz is in love, but not with the man whom she’s engaged to marry in just 11 days. Doctor’s previous writing credits include an Emmy win for her work on the soap opera, “General Hospital,” and 16 years in the film industry, most recently as vice president of Robin Williams’ Blue Wolf Productions. She discusses “Rhona Lipshitz” tonight at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles.
7 p.m. 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 761-8648.
New on DVD is a film that’s not the usual Holocaust-themed fare. “Liability Crisis” is the story of Paul, a Jew so obsessed with the Holocaust that he sees images of Hitler everywhere. His life is on the verge of unraveling when his long-distance girlfriend shows up and he must confront his situation.
Providing the second tile in the Skirball’s World Mosaic series is celebrated oud player and singer/songwriter Naser Musa, in a concert titled “Naser Musa and Friends.” Joined by violinist Georges Lammam, accordionist Elias Lammam, upright bassist Miles Jay and percussionists Souhail and Tony Kaspar, Musa will perform traditional Arabic, Arabic folk and traditional Andalusian music this evening. His lecture on Arabic music precedes the show.
7 p.m. (lecture), 8 p.m. (concert). $15-$25. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 655-8587.
Filmmaker Stephen Grynberg had an interesting response to Judy Chicago’s call to artists to submit works on the theme, “Envisioning the Future.” He looked to the past. As a child of a Holocaust survivor, he has said that his personal exploration always involved looking at his own family history. By looking back, he was able to envision his own future. Hence the title of his art installation, “PAST FORWARD,” which was chosen as one in Chicago’s series.
Runs through Feb. 29. 5-10 p.m. (Feb. 13 and 14 only), Noon-4 p.m. (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). Progress Gallery, 300 S. Thomas St., Pomona. (310) 480-1794.
7 Days In Arts
Symphony’s Sephardic Premier
Ten years ago, it was a first — and it’s still an only. When Noreen Green established the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony (LAJS) in 1993, Los Angeles became the only city in the world with a resident symphony orchestra devoted to Jewish music, and the city maintains that unique status today.
"It gave this multicultural city a musical organization that is like no other anywhere else," said Mark Kashper, a violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic who serves as the LAJS concertmaster. "It plays music others do not attempt at all."
In most other cities, a concert program of Jewish music is a one-shot event sponsored by a major synagogue or national Jewish organization. With musicians ranging from students and gifted amateurs to orchestra professionals, the LAJS has presented local audiences with an eclectic array of sounds, year-round, with three or four concerts a year.
"Even the Israel Philharmonic plays very little Jewish music," said Yuval Ron, a composer, arranger and performer of Middle Eastern music. One of his pieces will receive its world premiere at the LAJS program "Canciones Sephardi" this Sunday (see sidebar).
LAJS has earned plaudits for the attention it has given Sephardi and Mizrachi musical traditions over the years. Green has brought the Sephardi music to Los Angeles schoolchildren in programs that highlight the cultural connection between Jews of Spanish descent and the local Latino community.
Green, LAJS’s 44-year-old artistic director and principal conductor, was already immersed in Jewish music when she pulled together a board of directors and founded LAJS. She’d written her doctoral thesis on the work of composer/arranger David Nowakowsky and was leading a choir dedicated to performing his works. She was also working as music director at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, a position she still holds.
With support from her husband, physician Ian Drew, Green’s vision hit the community like a bolt of lightning.
"They started off with such a bang in the first season — one spectacular concert after another," said Neal Brostoff, head of the West Hills-based Jewish Music Foundation and a member of the LAJS board.
Green and Drew have also put their own money into LAJS.
"I run the symphony as a mitzvah," she said. "Sometimes it’s been a financial hardship."
Green said she’s been watching the bottom line carefully of late, which may account for what one artist called a "more populist" slant in LAJS programming.
"It’s a hard public to grab," said Cantor Evan Kent, who sang in the symphony’s performance of "The Eternal Road."
Kashper said he’d like to see the organization "tackle more challenging projects from time to time and help us avoid becoming the L.A. Jewish Pops Orchestra."
Mostly, Green is thrilled to have the ongoing opportunity to present music that makes what she calls a "soul connection."
Green said her philosophy has always been to mix highly accessible and more esoteric works in her programs.
"Audiences need to walk out of concerts feeling they’ve heard something familiar and learned something new," she said.
Clowning Around With Cancer
7 Days In Arts
Follow the bouncing ball down the yellow brick road tonight as the Hollywood Bowl presents “Sing-A-Long Wizard of Oz.” The title says it all. The Bowl shows “The Wizard of Oz” on its big screen with attendees encouraged to sing along to the famous songs by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. Actress Melissa Peterman (“Reba”) hosts the event which also includes a costume contest and appearance by Judy Garland’s daughter, Lorna Luft. Gift bags with props and subtitles help encourage maximum audience participation. So don the ruby slippers and bring the munchkins — it’s definitely a family-friendly affair.7 p.m. (preshow program and costume parade), 8:30 p.m. (movie). $1-$55. 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (213) 480-3232.
Those who’ve never quite gotten the whole “latrine as art” philosophy may perhaps most benefit from the MET Theatre’s current production of “The Dadaists.” Tristan Tzara (aka Sami Rosenstock) helped found the dadaist movement — a reaction to the horrors of World War I and a rejection of conventional notions about artistic expression. The new play focuses on Tzara and other dadaist painters, writers, musicians, singers and dancers. Various other art and performance events celebrating the spirit of dada are also being held in conjunction with the show.7 p.m. (Sundays), 8 p.m. (Thursday-Saturday). Runs through July 19. $15. 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood. (323) 957-1152.
Sondheim and Shakespeare fans converge on the Roosevelt Hotel this evening for Peisha McPhee and Mel Dangcil’s new cabaret show, “Much Ado About Sondheim.” The performance features McPhee’s vocals and Dangcil’s piano accompaniment and direction, exploring similarities in thought and expression between the Bard’s words and Sondheim’s lyrics. McPhee, whose past performances include roles as Hodel and Tzeitel in the national tours of “Fiddler on the Roof,” will sing favorites including “Send in the Clowns” and “Anyone Can Whistle.”8:30 p.m. (Mondays, July 7, 14 and 21). $20 (cover, plus $15 food or beverage minimum). Feinstein’s at the Cinegrill, Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 769-7269.
Meet author Robert A. Rosenstone at the Third Street Promenade Barnes and Noble this evening, where he’ll discuss his latest work, “King of Odessa: A Novel.” The historian’s previous bestseller, “Romantic Revolutionary: A Biography of John Reed,” became the basis for the Academy Award-winning film “Reds.” His first foray into fiction, however, is a departure that combines the genres of historical fiction and fantasy, imagining the story of Isaac Babel’s last known visit to his hometown of Odessa in 1936.7:30 p.m. 1201 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica. (310) 260-9110.
Tonight, Robert Israel lends original scoring and conducting to the latest in the Los Angeles Conservancy’s classic film series Last Remaining Seats. The 1924 silent swashbuckler, “The Sea Hawk,” screens tonight — accompanied by a 15-piece orchestra — in the historic art deco-designed Wiltern Theatre. While tickets are officially sold out, we’re assured last-minute cancellations are very common. Those feeling adventurous should take a shot and head on over.8 p.m. $16-$20. 3790 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.
In conjunction with the 2003 Absolut L.A. International Biennial Invitational, Tobey C. Moss Gallery presents its “Jerusalem Print Workshop.” The exhibition features etchings, drypoints, mezzotints and screenprints created at the Jerusalem Print Workshop by artists Larry Abramson, Alima, Asaf Ben Zvi, Moshe Gershuni, Israel Hadani, Dov Heller, Dina Kahana-Gueler, Alex Kremer and Pessach Slabosky. An opening reception will be held this evening.6 p.m.-8 p.m. Runs through Aug. 30. 7321 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 933-5523.
Veteran Santa Monica playwright Murray Mednick steps out from behind the scenes and onto the stage, making his latest work, “G-nome” just that much more personal. Following up on his previous play, “Joe and Betty,” Mednick continues to delve into his own psyche in this latest meditation on heredity.8 p.m. (Thursday-Saturday), 3 p.m. (Sundays). Runs through Aug. 3. $20. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica. (866) 633-6246.
7 Days In Arts
Singers and lovers of Jewish music will gather in Sepulveda Pass this week for a festival celebrating Jewish choral music of the past and present.
The first David Nowakowsky International Jewish Choral Festival, which begins Sunday at the University of Judaism (UJ), will present a series of concerts and presentations designed to celebrate Jewish liturgical music scored for choirs in every genre, from 19th century "classical" to pop.
Geared primarily toward choir directors, choral singers and cantors in its sessions on repertoire and the use of choral music in the synagogue, the festival will also feature nightly public concerts in UJ’s Gindi Auditorium.
Although one of the concerts and one of the workshops will feature the music of the festival’s namesake, David Nowakowsky (1848-1921), most of the festival’s focus is on recent and contemporary composers of Jewish music with ties to Los Angeles, including William Sharlin, Max Helfman, Aminadav Aloni, Craig Taubman and Michael Isaacson.
The region’s premier Jewish choral group, the Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale, will perform at the opening night concert and on Aug. 6, in a concert featuring Taubman. Other featured choirs include the Workmen’s Circle Mit Gezang Chorale, in a program of Yiddish music, and the Valley Beth Shalom choir, performing works by Aloni, on Aug. 5. Cantor Ira Bigeleisen of Adat Ari El and British pianist Harold Lester will appear in recital on Aug. 7.
The festival is sponsored by the Nowakowsky Foundation, founded in 1988 by the grandsons of Nowakowsky, a prolific composer of synagogue music in Odessa during the last decades of Tsarist Russia.
For more than 50 years, Nowakowsky served as music director of the Brody Synagogue in Odessa, part of a tradition of Jewish choral music most noted for the 19th century works of Salomon Sulzer and Louis Lewandowski. He was part of a sophisticated artistic circle that included writers Sholom Aleichem, Ahad Ha’am and Chaim Bialik.
Though little of Nowakowsky’s work was published during his lifetime, his manuscripts, representing more than 3,000 pieces, survived World War II and were brought to the United States in the 1950s. Several of his works, most notably his closing service for Yom Kippur, gained attention among U.S. synagogue musicians and singers after the war.
A foundation-sponsored concert of Nowakowsky’s music conducted by Roger Wagner in 1989 galvanized Noreen Green, now artistic director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony.
"It struck such a chord in me," Green told The Journal. "I was so surprised at the vastness of his music: the variety, the beauty of the arrangements." Green took on a leadership role in the foundation, and for several years led the Nowakowsky Chorale, an ensemble devoted to performance of his music.
She compares Nowakowsky to Johann Sebastian Bach, both in the breadth of his output, composing music every week for his synagogue, and in his sophisticated use of counterpoint. "It weaves such a beautiful harmonic pattern," she said of his work.
Musicologist Neil Levin, an archivist and a professor of music at Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, told The Journal that while Nowakowsky was not an influential composer, he successfully blended thorough understanding of Jewish musical motifs with "magnificent craft" in his music. The festival’s artistic director, Nick Strimple, who will conduct the Zimriyah Chorale singing Nowakowsky’s music on Sunday, said that while many of his pieces fall into the category of European art music, they can’t be mistaken for the work of any other composer. "There’s that Russian seasoning," Strimple said.
Festival director Gregory Cherninsky, a Russian émigré, relates to Nowakowsky as a fellow Odessan, whose instrumental music he compares to that of Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky. "I consider myself his third-generation student," said Cherninsky, who is preparing a program of Nowakowsky’s chamber music.
Much of Nowakowsky’s work was meant to be performed in concert, not as part of a worship service, and some of the pieces by more recent composers represented at the festival fall into that category as well. Ironically, the festival is occurring at a time when many synagogues are pulling away from formal, cantor- and choir-oriented music and moving toward simpler tunes that everyone in the congregation can sing.
However, Green noted that not every Jew experiences his or her Jewishness through prayer. "People want to feel connected to their Judaism, and music is a nonthreatening way to do that," she said.
Levin added that "just listening" is part of prayer, too, and that a concert of sacred music is itself a spiritual experience, not entertainment. "High art is by definition spiritual," he said. "If it isn’t, it’s not high art."
Mark of the Werewolf
7 Days In Arts
Here’s a real chochme for you. Head out to The Los Angeles Yiddish Culture Club’s end-of-the-season concert this evening. Jacob Lewin’s readings of stories by Sholem Aleichem will make you long for the old country, the Yiddish musical program will have you all farklempt and a little nosh will make you glad you spent some time with landsleit.7:30 p.m. Free (members), $4 (guests). 8339 W. Third St., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 275-8455.
You’ve gotta give it up for the man who gave us “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top.” Richard Rodgers wrote 40 Broadway musicals and more than 900 published songs in his lifetime. Come hear a “best of” sampling of his work at the University of Judaism’s “Richard Rodgers Centennial Concert and Celebration.” There’ll even be birthday cake following the show.The Writers Guild Theater. 3 p.m. $15. 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. For reservations, call (310) 335-0917.
James Ellroy and Bruce Wagner have made the seedy side of Los Angeles their business. Ellroy has authored many works about it including “The Cold Six Thousand” and “L.A. Confidential,” and Wagner’s novels include “I’m Losing You” and “I’ll Let You Go.” These two masters of L.A. noir have a sit-down on the subjects of corruption, politics and the dark side of our fine city courtesy of The Writers Bloc.
Reminding us that God speaks all languages, The Gerard Edery Ensemble recently released “Sing to the Eternal,” a compilation of spiritual Jewish songs and prayers from Morocco, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Spain and Portugal, sung in English, Hebrew, Ladino and Arabic. There are also original songs on the CD, composed by Edery and based on sacred texts.To order online or to hear samples, visit www.sefaradrecords.com.
“The Waverly Gallery” tells the story of a feisty Greenwich Village bohemian woman who develops Alzheimer’s disease, and the effect it has on her atheistic Jewish intellectual family. The play, written by Kenneth Lonergan, is in production at the Pasadena Playhouse under the direction of Bruno Kirby.Runs nightly except Mondays, through Aug. 11. Previews June 28-July 6. 8 p.m. (Tuesdays-Fridays), 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. (Saturdays), 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (Sundays). $29.50/$34.50 (previews and weeknights), $44.50 (general, weekends). 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. For reservations, call (626) 356-7529.
Johnny’s Bar Mitzvah should have signified his passage into adulthood, but apparently that didn’t happen. Now ostensibly a grown man, he’s still struggling with being a grown-up. Unfortunately for him, his long-suffering, recently pregnant girlfriend isn’t putting up with it much longer. Hence the title of Neil Landau’s comedy/drama, “Johnny on the Spot,” Having just lost his insurance job, Johnny is visited by the dead policy holders of his past, present and future. They, along with Johnny’s girlfriend and Jewish mother, are gonna do their darndest to straighten him out.Runs through July 21. 7:30 p.m. $8 (general), $6 (members), $7 (seniors and students). Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. For more information, visitwww.egyptiantheatre.com.
Artist David Aronson began his sculpture entitled “Prophet II” long before the events of Sept. 11 deepened its impact and significance. Its physical size is larger than his sculptures tend to be, only adding to the piece’s affecting presence. “Prophet II” and another sculpture called “Singer II,” are on display at galerie yoramgil through July 21, as are his newest encaustic paintings.10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. (Thursdays-Saturdays), 11 a.m.-4 p.m. (Sundays), 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (Tuesdays and Wednesdays), closed Mondays. 319 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 275-8130.
Travel through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind….Your next stop, the “Twilight Zone” — the play, that is. Written by Rod Serling, the live stage production of two “Twilight Zone” episodes, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” and “The Odyssey of Flight 33” plays at El Portal Center’s Circle Theatre at 11 p.m.(Fridays and Saturdays), 2 p.m. (Sundays). The Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. For reservations, call (323) 856-4200.
7 Days In The Arts
On Nov. 15, the Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale, along with other Los Angeles choral groups, left for a European trip that included performances in Prague and, most notably, Nuremberg, where the chorale participated, on Nov. 25 and 26, in performances of Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphony No. 3, Kaddish,” in a concert hall built on the site of the famous Nazi Nuremberg rallies of the 1930s.
During the Czech leg of the trip, many of the choristers visited Terezin (Theresienstadt), the “model camp” at which the Nazis attempted to fool observers into believing that the Jews and others interned under the Hitler regime were well cared-for but which was really, as chorale member Sherri Lipman notes in this memoir of the trip, an “anteroom to Auschwitz.”
Our visit to Terezin was difficult. It was my first exposure to the physical reality of a Nazi concentration camp. The contrast of the trip through the lovely Czech countryside to the ancient fortress town of Terezin was heavy upon me.
Once we arrived, we had the sense of a movie set or a Disney reproduction. Terezin was, in reality, an anteroom to Auschwitz. Most of Terezin’s population was eventually shipped to that infamous place, and only a few remaining prisoners were well-fed and clothed to provide the International Red Cross and other observers with the fiction of good treatment.
I shall always remember a sense that I was being accompanied by the souls of those who had once lived there. They were there as we were shown the barracks for boys with the inscription “Yizkor” above the doorway. They shared my view of the cemeteries.
As we filed through the prison cells, the spooky showers, the dorms; as we saw the pictures drawn by the children trapped there; as we came upon the archway spelling out “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Will Make You Free”), all of these images were shared in a metaphysical way with those who had gone before us.
As we sang two compositions composed at Terezin by Viktor Ullmann, who died there, I felt a sadness, yet a joy that was heightened by the sight of 2-year-old Gabriel Ellias, son of two of the chorale’s members. The music survived its composer, but we were there to keep it alive. So many people perished, yet Gabriel was there. He was our victory.
Many of us, when passing the Jewish cemetery, placed a stone on a headstone and said a private prayer for the soul it memorialized. Each of us, for our own reasons, needed to leave something there.
Our tour finally took us to the railroad siding, off the main track, where the trains disgorged their doomed passengers. The sky was very blue, the grass around the tracks deep green, and the sun had come out. Together, we chanted “El Male Rachamim” and recited “Kaddish” and then, as if the song sprang from one collective mind, we began to sing “Ani Ma-amin” (“I Believe”). Among our tears and comforting embraces, I think I found a spark of peace.
There are those who suggest that the concentration camps should be torn down and monuments placed on the sites as a memorial. I disagree. The physical reality of the camps is not a tourist magnet. The camps are testimony to what human beings are capable of doing when no one speaks out against evil. I shall carry the image of Terezin all the days of my life.
I started with rage, a blackness in my heart as we entered Nuremberg. No amount of beautiful countryside or picture-postcard houses could dilute it. No pleasant lunch with friends, crammed into a tiny restaurant room, trying to make our wishes known to a nice waitress, helped. I felt the same anger that had kept me from ever visiting Germany before or from buying a German car or studying German or appreciating the music of Wagner.
But the rage began to break up after I entered the hall with my husband and friends and began rehearsing. As we sang together, Jews and non-Jews, children and adults, a little chink appeared in my emotions. Music can do that.
In this place, which was built for Nazis, there were no Nazis.
What a joy to work with the brilliance of the Nuremberg musicians and their director, Jac van Steen. During the days before the first performance, we perfected and tuned countless sections of the difficult work, while stage business was honed and lighting effects finalized.
Finally, it was Saturday night. Meistersinger Hall, this magnificent place set on the site of Hitler’s monstrous rallies, in the city where the infamous Nuremberg Laws shackled thousands of Jews, was glittering. The auditorium was packed. We were elegant in our gowns and tuxedoes.
Never had we performed this work so well! We picked up our audience in our musical hands, the “speaker” of the piece grabbed them, and something magical occurred. There was a sense of communion, each of us linked in our own individual emotions, capturing the past and exposing it to the light. My rage eased ever so slightly and a new feeling began to take its place: hope!
When we finished, after the final “Amen” echoed through the hall, there was silence. The audience had stopped breathing and was afraid to do anything. Then, some tentative clapping, more hands, a collective roar, rhythmic applause, countless bows, flowers, our smiles.
In this place of immeasurable pain and madness, we arrived.
In this place, where once echoed the throbbing shrieks of hate, the forests of swastikas and the brutality of goose-stepping multitudes, we brought beauty.
In this place, we could never erase the past, but we could try to go forward.
In this place, I wanted to help change the future for my children and grandchildren. I wanted to show them that each of us must make a difference, by exposing blind hatred to the light of day.
My rage will never completely leave me, nor should it. I must use the power of that emotion for change. I am now a part of the future, and I refuse to let the past repeat itself. As long as I have the strength to do so, I shall try to be a voice that says we can be better.
I shall commit myself to the process of healing, so that unthinking hatreds cannot find currency in our world. It would be foolish to think that one person might make that much of a difference, but I know I’m not alone. Each of us was a part of it, and it all began … in this place.