Fri., Dec. 12
“Laemmle Through the Decades: 1938-2008, 70 Years in 7 Days.” It must have been an extraordinarily difficult task to select only seven films to represent the rich and diverse history of the Laemmle Theatres chain. But someone did it. For the next week, Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles will screen the seven most iconic foreign-language films to have graced the company’s silver screens, each one representing a different decade of its existence. The lineup includes “Children of Paradise” (1945, France), “La Strada” (1954, Italy), “Jules & Jim” (1962, France), “The Conformist” (1970, Italy, France and West Germany), “Fanny & Alexander” (1982, Sweden), “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988, Spain) and “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (2001, Mexico). Films will screen several times a day. Through Dec. 18. $7-$10. Royal Theatre, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 477-5581. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ecogift.com.
Sat., Dec. 13
“Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” With a long list of Top 40 favorites, such as “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Yakety Yak,” “Stand by Me” and “On Broadway,” this musical mishmash of Leiber and Stoller hits is ideally jubilant for the holiday season. Since its 1995 premiere on Broadway, the 39-song revue has been nominated for seven Tony Awards, won a Grammy Award for the legendary duo’s songs and featured special appearances by megastars such as Gladys Knight, Gloria Gaynor and Rick Springfield. Starring in this NoHo production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” are DeLee Lively, Robert Torti and a host of other talented stage veterans. Special performances include tonight’s opening night gala and two New Year’s Eve shows, one with a champagne reception, the other followed by an all-out party with the cast. 8 p.m. Wed.-Sat. Through Jan. 4. $25-$150. El Portal Theatre, Mainstage, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 508-4200. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.benjamintrigano.com.
Sat., Dec. 13
“Moonlight Rollerway Holiday Jubilee.” Charles Phoenix is addicted to thrift store shopping. Luckily for us, Phoenix has put together a collection of the goodies he has found. Now, Moonlight Rollerway, which calls itself Southern California’s last classic roller rink, is presenting Phoenix and his quirky, retro holiday slide show. The viewing event will be followed by a roller-skating revue spectacular, featuring 75 championship skaters and celebrating the entire year’s holidays, including Cinco de Mayo and Valentine’s Day. Snacks and an after-show skating party are included. 8 p.m. Also, Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. $35. Moonlight Rollerway, 5110 San Fernando Road, Glendale. (818) 241-3630. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.mbfala.com.
Sun., Dec. 14
Los Angeles Children’s Chorus Annual Winter Concert. There is an Academy Award-nominated documentary about this choir. It has toured Brazil, China, Italy and Poland, among other nations. And since its inception in 1986, the chorus has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Approximately 250 talented and dedicated children between the ages of 8 and 12 make up the LACC. The angelic voices of these preteen choristers will bring to life works by composers such as Aaron Copland, Pablo Casals, Randall Thompson and J.S. Bach in a winter concert inspired by literary luminaries Robert Frost, William Shakespeare and others. The program follows the 2008-2009 season theme, “The Poet Sings,” and features a varied selection of classical, folk and contemporary pieces. 7 p.m. $24-$42. Pasadena Presbyterian Church, 585 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 793-4231. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lamoth.org.
Mon., Dec. 15
Reel Talk: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Stephen Farber, film critic for Hollywood Life magazine and The Hollywood Reporter, has been treating audiences to sneak previews of the industry’s hottest films for more than 25 years. The veteran film buff concludes this year’s preview series with a fascinating film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story about a man who is born in his 80s and ages backward. Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton, the odd tale is already making waves and is set to hit theaters during prime-time movie-watching season, Christmas. The screening will be followed by a discussion with members of the filmmaking team, including Oscar-nominated costume designer Jacqueline West. 7 p.m. $20. Wadsworth Theatre, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lacma.org.
Tue., Dec. 16
Carrie Fisher presents and signs “Wishful Drinking.” It’s not easy being an action figure before you can legally drink a beer, but that didn’t stop Princess Leia from having one, or two, or many more. Fisher’s first memoir, adapted from her one-woman stage show, is a revealing look at her childhood as a product of “Hollywood in-breeding” and her adulthood in the shadow of “Star Wars.” After electroshock therapy, marrying, divorcing then dating Paul Simon, a drug addition and a bipolar disorder, Fisher still manages to take an ironic and humorous survey of her bizarre life. Meet Fisher and get a copy of her book signed at this WeHo book haven. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ticketmaster.com.
Fri., Dec. 19
“Peter Pan.” Tinkerbell, Captain Hook, pirates, Indians — we know the cast of characters well. But how many of us have actually seen a full production of J.M. Barrie’s classic fantasy play, “Peter Pan” — especially one that features the complete musical score by Leonard Bernstein? Composer Alexander Frey — who helped reconstruct portions of Bernstein’s score that had been previously lost for a special CD — is flying in from Berlin to conduct the live orchestra. 7 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Through Dec. 28. $30-$70; $10 (seniors and students). Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara. (805) 963-0761. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ticketmaster.com.
Wed., Dec. 24
“49th Annual Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration.” Los Angeles’ biggest holiday show, featuring 45 groups and 1,200 performers, is a proud tradition — and it’s absolutely free! Running approximately six hours, the holiday extravaganza features the county’s cultural diversity. This year’s highlights include hip-hop group Antics Performances, South Bay Ballet and Grammy-nominated Lisa Haley and the Zydekats. Audiences will have the opportunity to listen to sounds and see sights from the world over, including Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East. For those of you who can’t make it to see the event in person, KCET-TV will also be airing the event live. Sponsored by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and produced by the County Arts Commission. 3-9 p.m. Free. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 972-3099. http:www.holidaycelebration.org.
On-screen morality plays illuminate Holocaust choices
Arts in L.A. Quarterly Calendar: Cultural events through November 2008
Fri., Sept. 12
“A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People.” Angelenos can explore the legacy of one of the Catholic Church’s most beloved popes in a new Skirball Cultural Center exhibition. Through artifacts, photographs and audiovisual recordings that first appeared at Cincinnati’s Xavier University only weeks after the pope’s death in 2005, visitors can explore the life of Pope John Paul II and the historical and personal circumstances that led him to aggressively reach out to Jews worldwide. Pope John Paul II was the first pontiff to enter a synagogue, recognize the State of Israel and formally apologize for the Catholic Church’s past treatment of the Jewish people. The Skirball will also offer several public programs related to the exhibition: an adult-education course on “Jesus and Judaism” and film adaptations of biblical epics, among others. Through Jan. 4. $10 (general admission), free to all on Thursdays. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.thenewlatc.com.
Sat., Sept. 13
“Speech & Debate.” The town is Salem, Ore., and, as in countless other American cities, teenagers are on the prowl for like-minded adolescents via the Internet. However, the three teenagers who find one another in “Speech & Debate” don’t just bond over music, books and movies, but are linked through a sex scandal that has rocked their community. The three adolescent misfits do what anyone else would to get to the bottom of the scandal: form their school’s first speech and debate team. Check out the West Coast premiere of the play, which critics are calling “flat-out funny.” 8 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Through Oct. 26. $22-$28. The Blank Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 661-9827. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.plays411.com/ragtime.
Sat., Sept. 13
Camarillo Art & Jazz Festival. Camarillo is offering visitors a one-day extravaganza filled with music, artists and gourmet food, all culminating in an evening concert under the stars. The 2008 Camarillo Art & Jazz Festival will include gospel and bluegrass music, a farmers’ market and more than 50 artists showcasing their work. By evening, retro-band Royal Crown Revue will warm the stage for a secret, Grammy-nominated headliner. 8 a.m. (farmers’ market), 10 a.m. (music and art walk). $20-$60. 2400 Ventura Blvd., Old Town Camarillo. (805) 484-4383. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.apla.org.
Fri., Sept. 19
“Back Back Back” at The Old Globe. There’s nothing poignant about professional athletes using steroids. Or is there? Old Globe playwright-in-residence Itamar Moses delves into the controversial topic and takes the audience beyond the newspaper headlines and congressional hearings to the sanctuary of sports — the locker room. With humor and insight, Moses unfolds the stories of three major league baseball players who struggle to compete in the unforgiving world of professional sports, as well as balance their personal lives and professional images. The up-and-coming playwright has “clearly demonstrated tremendous talent along with a willingness to tackle complex ideas in his plays,” said The Globe’s Executive Producer Lou Spisto. Moses’ other works include “The Four of Us,” which won the San Diego Critics’ Circle Best New Play Award last year and “Bach at Leipzig.” 8 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Through Oct. 26. $42-$59. Old Globe Arena Theatre, James S. Copley Auditorium, San Diego Museum of Art, Balboa Park, San Diego. (619) 234-5623. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.nhm.org.
Sun., Sept. 21
KCRW’S World Festival. A remarkable, eclectic lineup marks the last week of KCRW’s World Music Festival. Ozomatli toured the world, engaging audiences with its blend of Latin-, rock- and hip-hop-infused music, as well as its anti-war and human rights advocacy. The multiethnic group headlines this special night at the Hollywood Bowl, along with Michael Franti, a former member of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and his latest band Spearhead. Mexican singer Lila Downs as well as Tijuana’s premiere electronic band, Nortec Collective and its members Bostich and Fussible, will make it impossible for anyone not to get something out of the mix. If you haven’t had the chance to catch this spectacular summer concert series, don’t miss this last opportunity. 7 p.m. $10-$96. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lfla.org/aloud.
Wed., Sept. 24
Brad Meltzer signs “Book of Lies.” The New York Times best-selling mystery writer is back with a riveting new thriller that links the Cain and Abel story with the creation of Superman. Young Jerry Siegel dreamed up a bulletproof super man in 1932 when his father was shot to death. It may sound like a strange plotline, but trust Meltzer, who has written six other acclaimed page-turners as well as comic books and television shows, to produce a great read. The novel is already receiving major buzz and you can get in on the action in a variety of ways: By watching the trailer on Brad Meltzer’s Web site (yes, the book has a movie trailer), listening to the book’s soundtrack (yes, the book has a soundtrack) and by coming to a reading and book signing by the author. 7:30-9 p.m. Free. Barnes & Noble, 16461 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 380-1636. ” target=”_blank”>http://arts.pepperdine.edu.
Sat., Sept. 27
“Skinny Bitch: A Bun in the Oven.” If there is one thing that doesn’t ever get old, it’s mocking our own culture. Authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin do just that in their newly released “Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven,” a sequel of sorts to their best-selling cookbook “Skinny Bitch.” The book is a guaranteed laugh riot and today’s in-store reading and signing could offer a sassy twist as the two authors show up in the flesh to dish about expecting mothers. And don’t be fooled, just because the subjects of this book are in a more fragile state of mind, Freedman and Barnouin refuse to make any exceptions to their insightful and illuminating critiques. 2 p.m. $14.95 (book price). Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jamescolemanfineart.com.
Sat., Sept. 27
“Jack’s Third Show.” Long hair, dramatic eye shadow and electric guitars return for an ’80s afternoon. Billed as a benefit for autism education, radio station JACK-FM stages an edgy blend of retro and new wave rockers. Billy Idol joins Blondie, The Psychedelic Furs and Devo for a musical bash that will have you dancing all day long. 2 p.m. $29-$89. Verizon Amphitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine. (213) 480-3232. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.931jackfm.com.
Sat., Sept. 27
Museum Day. Art and cultural institutions are hoping to attract folks from all walks of life by making them an offer that’s hard to refuse: free admission to museums across Southern California. Sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, this event gives art lovers and art novices alike the opportunity to visit venues from the Getty Center to the Craft and Folk Art Museum, free of charge. Natural history and science museums, like the California Science Center are also participating in the event. Regular parking fees do apply and advance reservations are recommended for some exhibitions. For a complete list of participating museums, visit ” target=”_blank”>http://www.museumsla.org/news/asp.
Sat., Sept. 27
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s 40th Season Opening Gala. L.A. Chamber Orchestra’s first musical director, Sir Neville Marriner, will conduct its current director, Jeffrey Kahane, in a piano solo to celebrate its 40th year. A symbolic bridge between the orchestra’s past and its future, expect to hear classical masters Beethoven, Schumann and Stravinsky, followed by dinner, dancing and a live auction for patrons. 6 p.m. $35-$125 (concert only), $750 (full package). The Ambassador Auditorium, 131 S. Saint John Ave., Pasadena. (213) 622-7001, ext. 215.
Going home again is truly a family affair for filmmaker Azazel Jacobs
When the cast of “A Chorus Line” sings “What I Did for Love,” an emotional piece about dancers’ dedication to their craft, 16 actors stand on an empty stage singing from the heart. No helicopters or flying witches, no cats, puppets or falling chandeliers cascading through the Ahmanson Theatre in this revival of the longest-running American Broadway musical, which continues in Los Angeles through July 6.
With music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban and concept by Michael Bennet, the story seems as relevant today as it was at its 1975 New York premiere. “I think that there’s an empathy of the show,” Hamlisch, 64, said in a phone interview from his home in New York. “People see themselves in the show.”
The son of Viennese Jewish parents, Lily and Max — the latter an accordionist and bandleader in New York — music was always central to Hamlisch’s life.
“A piano was in the house, and I was magnetically drawn to it,” he said. “Having the genes of my father, I had a predilection to music.”
In 1951, a few months before he turned 7, he became the youngest person ever accepted to Juilliard. “I can’t really say I loved music right away, but I could do it well. And I started writing songs,” he said.
He is known for his versatility, both musically and thematically: His works range from his adaptation of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” for the Paul Newman-Robert Redford film, “The Sting,” to a little song written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman made famous by Barbra Streisand titled, “The Way We Were.”
Hamlisch said “The Sting” was the project he most enjoyed doing; much more difficult was writing for the Holocaust drama, “Sophie’s Choice”: “It was a fine line between doing tragedy and going too syrupy,” Hamlisch said. But writing for the different genres shifts the focus of a composer.
“In concerts you put yourself out there. On stage you have music that you have the lyrics to in the forefront. Music in the background of movies heightens emotion,” said Hamlisch, who helped turn Neil Simon’s 1977 film “The Goodbye Girl” into a musical in 1993 and won an Oscar when “A Chorus Line” came to the screen in 1985. But, he said, the composer must try not to “call too much attention to what you are doing.”
Hamlisch received a Pulitzer Prize for “A Chorus Line,” which, when added to his Tony (“A Chorus Line”); Grammys (two each for “The Way We Were” and “The Sting,”); Emmys (including one for “Barbra Streisand — Timeless”); and Oscars (“The Way We Were” and “The Sting” in the same night), makes him only one of two men to have won all five trademark awards — the other being Richard Rodgers, who Hamlisch says was one of his influences. (Fittingly, Hamlisch also received the Richard Rodgers Award from the ASCAP Foundation in 2006, which recognizes a lifetime of achievement for a veteran composer or lyricist of musical theater.)
“A Chorus Line” played more than 6,000 performances during its initial Broadway run, but it hasn’t been seen at a major Los Angeles venue since the late 1970s when it came to the Pantages. At the time, the idea of a stage production that brought up the themes of sex and homosexuality was almost unheard of. Nevertheless, the opening lyrics of the show’s finale — “One singular sensation …” — have become iconic.
They resonate for any actor or dancer who’s ever gone for an audition, Hamlisch said, “particularly today, the whole idea of being on the line and needing a job.”
The “line” he refers to is, literally, a long piece of tape that stretches from one end of the stage to the other. It, along with a wall of mirrors along the back of the stage, are the only set adornments throughout the show.
The cast members return to the line between every musical number, as each is interviewed by the director, Zack, about their family backgrounds and what got them involved in dancing. The characters find the questioning unusual for a dance audition.
The characters reveal their stories through a mixture of singing and dancing — with some pantomime thrown in. Hamlisch said that from the beginning the creators felt that certain stories were best told through song, others through dance.
For example, the song “Nothing,” about one dancer’s experience of being told by a high school teacher than she’d never succeed as an actress, “seemed to be the type of thing that you wanted to put to music,” he said.
“Other stories,” such as a monologue by gay dancer Paul, “you felt didn’t sing as well as they would speak,” Hamlisch said.
“‘At the Ballet’ is always special. It is the heart and soul,” he said, of the song sung by three of the female dancers who each found refuge at the ballet — where “everything was beautiful” — to escape unhappy childhoods.
Hamlisch said that for anyone to make it in the arts, it is important to have passion, but stay true to who you are, as the “Chorus Line” dancers learn during the course of their “audition.”
“I wouldn’t follow in anyone’s footsteps, you have to go on your own path,” Hamlisch said. “I would say, ‘Follow the passion.’ If you don’t have that, don’t do it.”
“A Chorus Line” runs through July 6 at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave. (in the Music Center downtown). For tickets, call (213) 628-2772.
Comic book strip draws on old New York
Theater: ‘Immigrant’ sings the story of the ‘Only Jew in Town’
In 1909, an impoverished Jewish immigrant arrived in Hamilton, Texas, hawking 1-cent bananas from his pushcart.
Haskell Harelik had fled Russia to escape pogroms, docking not in Ellis Island but in Galveston, Texas, via a plan to route Eastern European Jews to the West. He spoke no English and was the first Jew the Hamilton residents had ever seen. But he found some friendly faces, and he stayed in that Baptist town, founding a dry goods store and raising three sons there.
The unexpected success story is the subject of “The Immigrant,” actor/writer Mark Harelik’s musical adaptation of the play he wrote to honor his grandfather (at the Colony Theatre in Burbank through May 4), and the show has traveled a journey as arduous and as rewarding as its protagonist’s.
It began after another Harelik project fell through at the Denver Center Theatre in 1985. When the artistic director asked if he had anything else that could go into rehearsal in a month, the author’s thoughts turned to his grandfather.
“He had been my hero since I was a boy,” Harelik said. “He was not a captain of industry or a soldier who had saved his platoon, but a different kind of hero — a very kind, generous person who, as the only Jew in town, brought ecumenism to an isolated rural community.
“For a Jew to be so accepted in that all-Baptist environment was inspirational,” he added. “I thought of him as one of the lamed vavniks — the Talmudic concept of 36 righteous people upon whom the fate of the world stands.”
“The Immigrant,” which initially starred Harelik as his own grandfather, was such a hit that it went on to become the most produced play in the country in 1991 and remains one of the most frequently programmed works in regional theater.
The musical, which features klezmer-meets-Copeland style songs by Sarah Knapp and Steven M. Alper, debuted in 2000 and played off-Broadway in 2004. While neither the play nor the musical has been a critical success (reviews of the Colony Theatre show have been mixed), the comedy-drama about the struggle to maintain one’s cultural identity in the melting pot has struck a chord with diverse viewers.
“Jews and non-Jews all over the country have said, ‘This is my grandfather’s story,'” Harelik recalled.
During rehearsal breaks at the Colony Theatre, cast and crew shared anecdotes about their own immigrant forebears. Musical director Dean Mora described his Mexican great-great uncle, who was the Archbishop of Los Angeles in 1890; actor Chris Guilmet, who plays Haskell, traced his roots from France to Quebec to Maine; and director Hope Alexander (nï¿½(c)e Ossipoff) recounted how her Ukrainian father fled Cossack pogroms, never to see his extended family again. Alexander said she loves the play, “because I feel it is a quintessential American story. It is about all our families; strangers in a strange land, who carved (and continue to carve!) the American dream out of hard work, hope and tears.”
Mark Harelik’s Jewish identity was shaped by the old and new world stories exchanged around the family dinner table when he was a boy in Hamilton. During his early childhood, he remembers attending synagogue in Waco, Texas, with his grandparents and “feeling warmed by their contact with their religion and their beliefs.” But by the time Mark was preparing for his bar mitzvah, his grandfather had moved out of town, Mark’s mother was dying of Hodgkin’s Disease and the remaining relatives found themselves “in painful isolation, with no religious or cultural raft to carry us through dark waters.” “The Legacy,” Harelik’s 1995 sequel to “The Immigrant,” draws on the crisis of faith he experienced as he prepared for his bar mitzvah.
“I stopped being a practicing Jew the minute I left for the University of Texas at Austin,” Harelik said. “The late 1960s zeitgeist was to reevaluate everything and start over, and I was very easily persuaded. Thereafter, my relationship with Judaism became embodied only by my relationship with my grandparents.”
The day he sat down to write “The Immigrant,” Harelik had learned that his grandfather, then suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, did not recognize his own name. The nonagenarian was too ill to ever see the production; he died in 1987.
“The play was all that remained of this good man’s life,” his grandson said. “But he was so humble he would have been surprised audiences were so interested in his story.”
In fact, hundreds of productions have been staged across the United States; Harelik created the musical version because he felt the genre would serve the folksy characters and make his grandfather’s saga even more universal.
He said he hopes to write a third play to create a “Hamilton” trilogy: “It will describe the passing of the last Jews from town,” he said. “And once again there will be this all-Baptist community, where for two generations a Jewish family thrived. It’s a trend that is happening all across the landscape. Whereas a century ago there were Jews throughout the West, there are now vast Jewish cemeteries in towns with no Jews.”
For now, Harelik’s parents still live in Hamilton, and the actor-writer likes to visit with his 2-year-old son, named (what else?) Haskell Harelik.
“A century after my grandfather first set foot in town, people tell me how much they enjoy knowing two Haskell Hareliks, one on each end of life,” he said.
Obama tackles the ‘pastor’ question in meeting with Philadelphia Jews
“Showing Our Age” is a play about stories, and the fact that everyone has one. It’s a project that I started more than 10 years ago, though not specifically as an idea for a play. I was a participant in a community outreach program in which we interviewed senior citizens, used their remarkable life stories to write monologues and then performed them for the seniors and their families. The simplicity of just the details of a life — without sets or costumes — created some of the most powerful theater I had ever been involved with. And I have been involved in theater for a very long time, as an actress, writer, director and teacher. I wanted more! I wanted to take this idea and expand it.
That was when About Productions, a Los Angeles-based theater company I had worked with before, became involved. They supported the idea ” target=”_blank”>http://www.aboutpd.org/
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has stymied generations of statesmen and commentators, so why not try a witty song-and-dance musical?
Such was the thought of playwright Oren Safdie and composer-lyricist Ronnie Cohen, and the result of their collaboration is “West Bank, UK,” which opens March 21 at the Malibu Stage Company.
The protagonists are Israeli Assaf Ben-Moshe Benvenisti and Palestinian Aziz Hamoud, and their battleground is a rent-controlled flat on London’s West Bank.
Assaf (Jeremy Cohen) returns to the flat after being dumped by his German girlfriend, only to find that in the meantime Aziz (Mike Mosallam) has moved in.
Their landlord, named NYC, is an American and, like his country’s State Department, urges the two men to work out their differences and learn to live together in harmony.
Assaf and Aziz find it difficult to submerge their differences, then discover a common bond in their fondness for Middle Eastern food and dislike of — what else — America.
But their temporary friendship proves fragile and is tested by various visitors, including a male and female suicide bomber, and a hard-line religious woman, personifying West Bank settlers.
The musical had its premiere at New York’s La MaMa Experimental Theater and was received by reviews ranging from warm applause to downright raves.
Safdie and Cohen “do an excellent job of avoiding the most obvious pitfalls — partisanship, preachiness and political naivete — even if they get bogged down in allegory,” The New York Times wrote.
The Wall Street Journal judged “West Bank, UK” as “a caustically witty four-person musical with a Middle Eastern-flavored score that succeeds in wringing hard-nosed fun out of clearly serious matters … [a] smart little show that works.”
Safdie and Cohen met as graduate students at Columbia University in the early 1990s and seemed fated, by background and inclination, to collaborate from the beginning.
Both their paternal grandparents arrived in Palestine in the early part of the last century, Safdie’s from Syria and Cohen’s from Yemen. Both their fathers “intermarried” with Ashkenazi women and achieved fame in different fields.
Safdie’s father is the renowned architect Moshe Safdie, the designer, locally, of the Skirball Cultural Center. Cohen’s father is composer Avshalom Cohen, whose songs are familiar to every Israeli child.
While still at Columbia, Safdie became a producer at New York’s small West End Gate Theatre and put on Cohen’s first effort, “Sliced Tomatoes.”
The two men subsequently joined talents for the well-received “Jews & Jesus,” a musical about interfaith dating.
Safdie’s best-known play is “Private Jokes, Public Places,” a comedy about architecture, and he wrote the screenplay for the movie “You Can Thank Me Later” with Ellen Burstyn.
Now in their early middle age, the two collaborators have even come to look alike.
Talking about his current play, Safdie said that his two protagonists “reflect the personalities of their countries … at times they try to live together, they even get along for a while, then they split apart, and the outside world intrudes. The trick is to present the two men as individuals, not stereotypes.”
Safdie finds some encouragement in the warm friendship that has developed between the two lead actors, though Jeremy Cohen is a staunch Zionist and Mike Mosallam is a devout Muslim.
“However, they never discuss politics off-stage,” Safdie observed.
Performances of “West Bank, UK” are March 21-April 13, Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons, at the Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Highway. $20-$25. For reservations, call (310) 589-1998.
Senior and middle-aged Angelenos who grew up on the wonderfully satirical “Li’l Abner” comic strip can get their nostalgia fix as the denizens of Dogpatch USA cavort on the stage of UCLA’s Freud Playhouse through Feb. 17.
For youngsters, “L’il Abner,” one of the most widely produced musicals in the world, will introduce the muscular hillbilly hero of the title, his amorous but perpetually frustrated Daisy Mae, Mammy and Pappy Yokum, evil capitalist Bullmoose, Appassionata Von Climax, and the statue of the town’s war hero, General Jubilation T. Cornpone.
The UCLA production, part of the annual Reprise series of Broadway classics, features lyrics by Johnny Mercer, music by Gene de Paul, book by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, and some of Michael Kidd’s original choreography.
The man who populated Dogpatch with its characters was Al Capp, one of the Jewish comic strip creators of the 1930s and subsequent decades, who compensated for the nebbishness of their youth by fantasizing a world of strapping heroes.
Among their number were Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster (“Superman”), Bob Kane (“Batman”), Will Eisner (“The Spirit”) and Jack Kirby (“Captain America”).
Capp, born Alfred Gerald Caplin in New Haven, was arguably the most brilliant cartoonist of the lot, according to TV writer and comic strip historian Mark Evanier, whose book, “Kirby: King of Comics,” is due out next month.
Young Capp was early struck by personal misfortune when he lost a leg in a trolley car accident at age 9. He reached great fame and success — at its height “Li’l Abner” had 70 million readers out of a population of 180 million — but later fell into disrepute through a series of sex scandals and a growing obsession with right-wing demagogery.
“Al was a non practicing Jew who spoke a little Yiddish, but he expressed his background by giving a structure of Jewish family values to his cartoon creations,” Evanier said.
When Capp created the strip in the mid-1930s, it carried strong liberal undertones of compassion for the poor. But by the 1960s, with fame and wealth, Capp turned into an ultra-conservative speaker on television and college campuses who belittled the underdog.The musical performances are Tuesday-Sunday evenings, plus weekend matinees. Tickets are $70-$75, with student/senior rush tickets offered 15 minutes before showtime at $20.
Have a thirst for higher education, but don’t want to deal with the hassle of test taking, registration and studying? Now you can go “Back to College For a Day” and learn from renowned USC and UCLA professors, among others. Lecture topics include the impact of stress on behavior and the brain, the coexistence of Christians, Muslims and Jews in Medieval Spain, and law in a multicultural world. 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. $179 (parking and lunch). Mount St. Mary’s College, Chalon Campus, 12001 Chalon Road, Los Angeles. (818) 704-4207. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.plays411.com/thrillme or ” target=”_blank”>http://maccabilosangeles.com/.
The Jewish Single Parents and Singles Association has a lovely Sunday all planned out for you: start out with a hearty omelet or toasted bagel with cream cheese at local favorite Katella Deli, then spend the rest of the day with the group, wandering the glorious art-filled halls of the Getty Center Museum. Exhibitions to check out include the photographs of AndrÃï¿½(c) KertÃï¿½(c)sz, the history of the nude in photography and Nicole Cohen’s critically acclaimed video installation, “Please Be Seated.” 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Katella Deli, 4470 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos. (714) 964-7031.
Harry Boychick is inviting you to his bar mitzvah. Don’t know him? Doesn’t matter. None of the guests know Harry, but they will be joining him and his family at a rollicking reception. Amy Lord, the creator of “Grandma Sylvia’s Funeral,” brings us her new interactive show, “The Boychick Affair: The Bar Mitzvah of Harry Boychick,” where the audience joins in the insanity, mingling with actors, dancing, laughing and even partaking in the celebratory meal. This promises to be unlike any show (or bar mitzvah) you’ve ever been to. Sundays at 2 p.m. (open-ended run). $36 (twice chai for the bar mitzvah boy!). Price includes meal. Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (800) 838-3006. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.westsidejcc.org.
“The Kid From Brooklyn,” a musical based on the life of Danny Kaye, now playing at the El Portal Theater in North Hollywood, takes us back to the heyday of Kaye (born David Daniel Kaminsky), a versatile performer whose tongue-twisting verbal artistry and physical high jinks have influenced such modern-day performers as Robin Williams and Jim Carrey.
“I grew up with Abbott & Costello and the Three Stooges,” said Peter Loewy, director, co-producer and co-writer of the show, adding that Kaye was even more talented because he was not just a comedian — he was also a song-and-dance man. As a boy, Loewy was transfixed by Kaye’s “The Danny Kaye Show” on TV. “He seemed to be talking to me in my living room,” Loewy said.
After that, Loewy watched as many of Kaye’s movies as he could in reruns.
In Loewy’s long career in the theater — a career that has included working on such Broadway musicals as “Barnum” and “42nd Street” and founding his own theater company in New Jersey — Loewy says that “The Kid From Brooklyn” is his most personal project. He had thought for years about doing a show on Danny Kaye, who died in 1987 at the age of 74, but it wasn’t until Loewy met Brian Childers that he knew he had finally discovered the actor who could play the title role.
Although legend has it that Kaye never took an acting, singing or dancing lesson in his life, Childers, who won a Helen Hayes Award for his previous portrayal of Kaye in “Danny & Sylvia,” has trained for years, acting in school plays since second grade all the way through getting his master’s at the University of South Carolina. He appears effortless at capturing the improvisational riffs of Kaye, yet he admits that when he was first approached to be in “Danny & Sylvia” he did not know much about Kaye, except that he was in the 1954 movie “White Christmas.” Childers said he became a “fanatic,” studying all of Kaye’s work, from his movies to his specialty numbers and his work at the Palladium in London.
Unlike zany comedies, such as the play’s namesake, the 1946 comedy “The Kid From Brooklyn” — a film within a film that features songs that seem to have no bearing on the story line — Loewy’s stage production of “The Kid From Brooklyn” integrates all of its numbers, including such famous ones as “Tchaikovsky” and “Pavlova,” into the narrative. The efficient script, co-written by Loewy and Mark Childers, manages to take in Kaye’s beginnings as a Catskills performer, moves through his nightclub acts, Broadway performances and Hollywood career, all while bringing out a pathos of his bittersweet family life.
That is not to say that “The Kid From Brooklyn” doesn’t have a family-friendly atmosphere. Loewy introduces the show by making a few quips onstage. After the performance, Childers, co-star Karen Leone — who plays Kaye’s wife, Sylvia Fine — and supporting players Christina Purcell and Joshua Finkel walk through the theater to the lobby and greet the audience like old friends who haven’t seen each other in years. Perhaps that menschiness is what Danny Kaye will always represent to those who once knew him, and even to those who are now discovering him — a dear companion who spoke to us in the living rooms of our childhood.
“The Kid From Brooklyn” plays through Jan. 27 at the El Portal Theater, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 508-4200.
It’s not unusual for an actress to assume a professional name, but it was quite a stretch for the daughter of Haya Kapelovitch and granddaughter of Sofia Katz to become Stephanie St. James and star in the African American cast of “The Color Purple.”
St. James has the role of Squeak, an aspiring singer of mixed race, in the musical about racism and womanly fortitude in the South, now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre through March 9, 2008.
Taking a break from her eight-show-a-week schedule, St. James spoke with deep affection about her grandmother, Sofia Katz, a Holocaust survivor from Poland.
Katz was a small child when the Nazis swept into her village of Budslav and killed her parents and siblings, along with most of the 175 resident Jewish families.
St. James isn’t sure how her grandmother survived.
“She never liked to talk about it,” the actress said.
At age 12, Katz resettled in Israel, worked at the Kfar Harif moshav, married and had a daughter named Haya, who grew up and enrolled at the Hebrew University.
“One day, while standing in the cafeteria line, she met a South American student from Guyana. His name was James Smith, they married, and had a son, my brother Nicholas, who was born in Jerusalem,” St. James said.
In 1972, the Smiths moved to Miami, where St. James was born in 1974. Being raised in a mixed-race family in the South had its problems, but three years later the family moved to the more liberal environment of the San Francisco Bay Area.
“My parents spoke Hebrew at home, and until I was 6 or 7, I spoke it quite fluently, but then I lost it,” St. James recalled. “I can still understand quite a bit, but I don’t speak it.”
Her father was raised as a Seventh Day Adventist, but there is no doubt about her own identity.
“I am Jewish,” she said, and hopes one day to fulfill her grandmother’s dream that she marry a nice Jewish boy.
Her closest family relationship was with her grandmother, who died two months ago.
“My grandmother was a truly strong woman, who spoke six languages and went to junior college to learn English,” St. James said. “She wasn’t happy when her daughter married a non-Jew, but she loved us grandchildren and she lived for us. We talked to each other every day.”
In 1996, St. James visited Israel, where she has many cousins and friends.
Her mother recognized Stephanie’s talents early on and enrolled her in dancing, singing and acting classes. St. James applies her talents as a recording artist, spanning the genres of soul, rock and pop, and has performed in New York and with the European tour companies of “Grease,” “Fame” and “Footloose,” as well as in films.
When not touring, St. James lives in North Hollywood.
“The Color Purple” is presented by Oprah Winfrey and is headlined by the musical’s Broadway stars Jeannette Bayardelle, Felicia P. Fields, and Michelle Williams, former member of Destiny’s Child.
Jeff Marx, co-creator of the hit puppet musical, “Avenue Q,” was fired from his internship at “Sesame Street” in 1998. Back then he was an attorney, but he had taken the position in order to segue way into songwriting for kids. “Instead, I was cleaning tables, taking out the garbage, Xeroxing and answering telephones,” Marx says. “When I faxed an executive a song I had written, he told me that I was being too aggressive, that my job was to observe and to distribute scripts, and who they hell did I think I was? He got me the f— out of there, and I felt totally pathetic.”
Marx channeled his pathos into “Avenue Q,” which he penned with Robert Lopez, another unemployed, frustrated 20-something. The subversive musical, which opens at the Ahmanson Theatre on Sept. 7, wasn’t meant as revenge against “Sesame Street,” Marx says, but as a primer for youths who find the real world scarier than it appears on children’s TV.
The fictional Avenue Q is a dilapidated street in an outer borough of New York, where broke college graduates can afford the rent. The residents include puppets such as Princeton, a preppie searching for his “purpose” in life; Kate Monster, an assistant teacher who longs to found her own “Monstersori” school; Lucy T. Slut, a skanky chanteuse; and Trekkie Monster, the local pervert. Rod, a closeted homosexual, is in love with his slacker roommate, Nicky — a riff on all those homoerotic musings about “Sesame Street’s” Ernie and Bert.
Among the human residents is a character named Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman, of the 1980s sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes”) who “is like the patron saint of being great when you’re a kid, but sucking when you get older,” Marx says.
The musical is “how ‘Friends’ might be if it had Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy arguing about their one-night stand but with more angst, expletives and full-on puppet sex,” The Times of London said.
Marx seems light years from the fictional Avenue Q when he arrives at a La Brea cafe in his shiny black convertible. He recently moved from Manhattan to Los Angeles, and he orders his lunch like a native, asking the waiter to substitute salad for fries. When the fries come anyway, he affably shrugs and eats them all. He says he has been taking Hollywood meetings and even had breakfast with Stephen Schwartz, the composer-lyricist of “Wicked,” which “Avenue Q” beat out for best musical at the 2004 Tony Awards. He says he now has a “Bel-Air shrink” — and that he has “plenty to be neurotic about” because he is Jewish.
Marx’s love of musicals comes from his Jewish mother, a dental hygienist who routinely schlepped her four children to shows such as “The Sound of Music” and “The King and I.” “My bar mitzvah theme was ‘Hooray for Jeffrey and Hooray for Hollywood musicals,” Marx says.
By that time, he was already a professional singer, crooning ballads to blushing girls with a local music teacher’s Number One Bar Mitzvah Band. After each gig, the girls would chase Marx and ask for his autograph.
“They treated me like Elvis,” he says.
He had a very different experience in the musical theater department at the University of Michigan, where he received “only one bit part in one show, which had one line,” he says. “I had professors tell me that I had no talent and that I would never make it in theater.”
So Marx attended Yeshiva University’s law school and passed the bar, but discovered he didn’t particularly like the profession. At age 28, he found himself adrift, living in an apartment owned by his parents and interning for various shows and producers in the hopes of switching careers. He also considered becoming an entertainment lawyer, and enrolled in a musical theater workshop just to meet potential clients. It was there he discovered he had talent for songwriting and teamed up with Lopez, a Yale graduate who was still living with his parents, to write a show.
“We decided we wanted to write a musical for people our age, that even straight guys would want to see,” says Marx, who is gay. “We decided to use puppets because they don’t look cheesy when they burst into song.”
Marx and Lopez came up with a musical titled “Kermit, Prince of Denmark,” which they submitted to the Jim Henson Company. When the company passed, Marx recalls, “Bobby and I beat our heads against the wall and said, ‘Why did we spend an entire year writing for someone else’s characters? F— the f—- — Muppets, let’s create our own Muppets…. And screw trying to come up with some crazy imaginary world; let’s make it about our world.’ Everyone we knew was interning and assisting and floundering and struggling. And we thought, this is awful, but it’s also kind of funny.”
“Avenue Q’s” first two songs sum up those sentiments: “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English” and “It Sucks to Be Me.”
Marx and Lopez penned their ditties in restaurants, Starbucks, on the subway — anywhere people and surroundings could inspire them. “We wrote ‘There’s Life Outside Your Apartment,’ literally, while walking down the street,” Marx says. “Of course, we didn’t write ‘The Internet Is for Porn,’ while watching porn,” he adds. “That was in a diner over fries.”
“Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” was inspired, in part, by a relative of Marx’s who refers to African Americans as “shvartzes.” At the end of the scene, the characters argue over whether Jesus was black or white.
“But everyone laughs when they finally realize Jesus was Jewish,” Marx says.“Avenue Q” opens Sept. 7 at the Ahmanson Theatre. For tickets and information, visit http:/www.centertheatregroup.org
‘Avenue Q’ on British TV’s Newsnight Review
MUSIC VIDEO: Michelle Citron — ‘I Gotta’ Love You Rosh Hashanah’
Irving Berlin was right on the money when he wrote about life on Broadway: “
Even with a turkey that you know will fold, you may be stranded out in the cold. Still you wouldn’t trade it for a sack of gold.”
When the curtain rises on a new production, the audience sees only a fraction of what it takes to put a show together. They don’t witness the fights, the number crunching or the lives of actors who count on their role to pay the rent. They see what the backers, directors, producers, crew and actors want them to see: the onstage magic.
The documentary, “ShowBusiness,” captures the behind-the-curtain drama of the 2003-2004 Broadway season, illustrating the ups and downs the public isn’t privy to – from blockbusters that shine to “turkeys” that crash and burn.
Tony-winning producer Dori Berinstein (“Thoroughly Modern Millie”) had no idea how the season would play out when she directed the film, which opens in Los Angeles on June 1.
“I fell in love with theater early,” said Berinstein, who was born and grew up in Brentwood. “I had a tremendous desire to bring that world to life in a film. I wish I could say I knew it was going to be a genius year; it just happened.”
Berinstein’s inspiration also came in the form of William Goldman’s book, “The Season,” which tracked Broadway shows from 1967 to 1968. Berinstein film, created from 250 hours of footage, is the closest anyone has come in 40 years to following a Broadway season the way Goldman did.
The end result is a remarkable tale of four musicals: “Taboo,” a controversial cult favorite that closed after a few months; “Caroline, or Change,” a critical favorite that L.A. audiences loved but New York didn’t; “Wicked,” the lavish record-breaker critics thought would tank, and “Avenue Q,” the sleeper hit that no one expected would win the Tony.
The musical-focused format wasn’t necessarily what Berinstein had in mind (plays like “Golda’s Balcony” and “I Am My Own Wife” also opened that season), but the narrative took shape with the contributions of editors Richard Hankin (“Capturing the Friedmans”) and Adam Zuker (“Broadway: The American Musical”).
“I wanted it to be a celebration about theater and the incredible talent onstage and behind the curtain,” said Berinstein, who is on Broadway this season with the Tony-nominated “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” “I wanted it to be really, really honest. It was a particularly brutal season.”
The film highlights the ongoing clash between the “show” and “business” aspects: The musical that has to close because it isn’t making money, the pure elation from two young creators the morning the Tony nominations come out and the heartbreak when the “sure thing” doesn’t win.
As a documentary, “ShowBusiness” doesn’t pull its punches. A montage focuses on shows with a short shelf life — some closed after only one night — while “Fiddler on the Roof’s” “Sunrise, Sunset” plays in the background.
Meanwhile, one of the more ironic moments involves five critics Berinstein assembled at various points during the season. While the quintet dishes at a New York restaurant, they pan the “Wizard of Oz” prequel, “Wicked.” Berinstein juxtaposes their comments with footage of the show’s growing fanbase backed by the “Wicked” tune, “Popular.”
After all her hard work, Berinstein has created something that draws in its audience until the final curtain call. But would she do it again?: “In a flash. I would love to.”
“ShowBusiness” runs June 1-8 at The Landmark, 10800 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.
The unlikely worlds of “General Hospital” and “24” converge tonight, with the opening of 68 Cent Crew Theatre Company’s production of the Martin Sherman play “Bent.” Actors Tyler Christopher (of the aforementioned soap) and Jamison Jones (of the aforementioned terrorism TV drama) play Max and Horst in this Holocaust piece about two homosexuals held prisoner in a concentration camp, who fall in love despite never being able to touch one another.
Jan. 19-March 4. $25. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Suite D, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 960-7827. ‘ target=’_blank’>www.tix.com.
Monday the 22nd
If you haven’t yet seen the new genocide documentary, “Screamers,” or even if you have, tonight’s an opportunity to view the film, as well as hear from those involved in its making. Focusing on modern day genocides from Armenia to Darfur, it screens tonight at Valley Beth Shalom. Rabbi Ed Feinstein leads a post-film discussion with Armenian community leaders and rock band System of a Down, who produced and lent their music to the film.
Artist Sharon Ben-Tal lays it on thick in her new exhibition at Bandini Art. Layering color wash upon color wash — infused with graphite, mica and a range of pure pigments, and sanded — Ben-Tal plays with depth, light and luster in her backgrounds, juxtaposed by relief line drawings in the foreground. The results challenge the viewer to make peace of the contradiction. Her paintings are on view through Feb. 24.
Not long ago, Scott and Shannon Guggenheim’s 4-year-old daughter, Lily, looked up at them and asked when Santa would be bringing her Christmas presents.
“To say that we, as creators of a Chanukah musical, were shocked is an understatement,” recalls Shannon Guggenheim. “[Lily] is already feeling the pull so many Jewish kids feel. She probably went drifting off to sleep dreaming of sugar plum fairies.”
That Chanukah musical, “The MeshugaNutcracker!” is the Guggenheims’ tuneful contribution for children like Lily, who need an antidote to the ubiquitous Christmas blitz that occurs every year.
The Bay Area-based couple co-wrote, produced, choreographed and directed the holiday staple. Drawing on music from Tchaikovsky’s famous “Nutcracker” ballet, “The MeshugaNutcracker!” has been a hit with Jewish families since its 2003 debut in the Bay Area.
Now, says Shannon, the show is expanding its reach, playing cities like Seattle and Scottsdale, Ariz., for the first time this Chanukah. That’s in addition to runs in San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento and Los Angeles.
This year, six of eight cast members are new, the music has been re-orchestrated to give it a more Broadway feel, and a newly constructed proscenium arch will be in place for opening night.
“It’s an homage to Chagall,” Shannon says of the goat-and-fiddler decorated arch. “We still have the dreidel as the centerpiece. And now we have a dream cast of amazing musicians. In the past we had actors who sing. This year we have singer-actor-dancers.”
“The MeshugaNutcracker!” tells the tale of eight citizens of Chelm, the mythical shtetl of fools, who gather every year to perform at their Chanukah festival. Through the course of the two-act musical, each tells a story of Chanukah heroes from the time of the Maccabees through today.
Shannon wrote the lyrics and Scott directs, while both wrote the musical’s book based on stories adapted by Eric A. Kimmel (author of “The Jar of Fools”) and Peninnah Schram and Steven M. Rosman, (authors of “Eight Stories for Eight Nights”). Stephen Guggenheim, Scott’s brother, provides musical direction.
The musical is just one mainstay of the theatrical couple. Their company, Guggenheim Entertainment, provides entertainment, marketing and support services for corporate and private clients (think “holiday show for the mall”), and their National Jewish Theater Festival develops Jewish-themed stage productions for every audience.
But “MeshugaNutcracker!” holds a special place in their hearts, largely because their own daughter fits the target-audience profile.
“It’s no joke,” adds Shannon. “We say it in the show: ‘Santa has the last laugh/His holiday lasts a month and half.’ I’m not saying what we’re doing is brain surgery, but it occurred to us that it’s a Jewish parent’s cultural responsibility to take their kids to this show. It’s not Tiny Tim or the Mouse King.”
Shannon, a Jew-by-choice, stresses that she and her husband are not engaging in Christmas bashing.
“Santa is a good guy,” she says. “But Jews have something else right here in their backyard. They can say ‘I own that and I am proud of that.'”
Though with each passing year the Guggenheims have taken their show on a longer and longer road, they are reluctant to license the musical to other theater companies. Call it creative control, call it a labor of love, but the two plan on keeping “MeshugaNutcracker!” to themselves for those eight crazy nights and beyond.
However, eternal as the lights of Chanukah may be, the holiday comes around but once on the calendar, which can be a drawback to a theater company.
“Sometimes,” Shannon says with a laugh, “we kick ourselves for having a show that’s only six weeks a year.”
Performances of “The MeshugaNutcracker!” take place at the University of Judaism on Saturday, Dec. 16 at 7:30 p.m.; and on Sunday, Dec. 17 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. $35-$50. 15600 Mulholland Drive, just off the 405 Freeway. For more information, call (818) 986-7332 or visit www.kcdancers.org.
Theater: All in the ‘Herbicide’ family
Grown-up Ringwald gets ‘Sweet’ again — thanks to Fosse
It was kind of a surprise for people to see me in a teddy,” Molly Ringwald says. “It’s, um, not exactly the kind of thing I’m most associated with.”
If theater-goers were surprised by her turn as a debauched showgirl in “Cabaret” a few years ago, they may be equally startled when she plays a dance hall hostess — in more cleavage-spilling attire — in the 1966 Bob Fosse musical, “Sweet Charity,” at the Pantages Theatre in October.”It’s, um, not exactly the kind of thing I’m most associated with.”
Ringwald is most associated with the 1980s John Hughes teenage melodramas that crowned her the princess of wholesome adolescent angst and made her “cultural shorthand for a certain kind of innocence,” The Los Angeles Times said in 1999.Paying homage were thousands of female groupies, a.k.a. “Ringlets,” who dyed their hair Ringwald-orange and copied the actress’s famous pout and thrift-shop threads. When Time magazine made her its cover girl in 1986, the caption read, “America’s Sweetheart: Ain’t She Sweet?””It’s, um, not exactly the kind of thing I’m most associated with.”
The so-called “Molly Trilogy” (“Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Pretty in Pink”) remains so iconic that VH1 recently named Ringwald the No. 1 teen star of all time. People magazine feted her in an Aug. 28 story celebrating “Pink’s” 20th anniversary; Paramount just released a well-received DVD of that film; and American Cinematheque will highlight “Breakfast Club” in its “Teens on Screen” series at the Aero Theatre Sept. 20-24.”It’s, um, not exactly the kind of thing I’m most associated with.”
No wonder the San Jose Mercury News began its announcement of her “Charity” national tour with a tongue-in-cheek “Like, omigod! Totally awesome ’80s teen queen… will star.””It’s, um, not exactly the kind of thing I’m most associated with.”
Ringwald will play Charity Hope Valentine, a nice but tarnished rent-a-girl who remains optimistic despite a series of humiliating misadventures.”It’s, um, not exactly the kind of thing I’m most associated with.”
As the show opens, the “boyfriend” she has financially supported steals her purse and throws her into a lake. She meets a movie star, only to have his friends dub her “cheap”; she attempts to better herself with cul-chah at the 92nd Street Y, but gets stuck in an elevator with a claustrophobe.”It’s, um, not exactly the kind of thing I’m most associated with.”
All the while, she yearns to escape her sleazy job at the Fandango Ballroom — drinking and dancing with “jokers” who engage in “groping, grabbing, clutching, clinching, strangling, handling, fumbling,” according to one of the burlesque-meets-Bacharach songs. Charity’s problem, a gal pal opines, is that she “runs her heart like a hotel — you got guys checking in and out all the time.””It’s, um, not exactly the kind of thing I’m most associated with.”
The character is a far cry from “Candles'” virginal Samantha, who is mortified when her grandmother proudly (and publicly) remarks upon her growing chest.Yet observers say the vulnerable aura Ringwald still radiates has enriched the often-flawed characters she has portrayed since reinventing herself as a theater actress around 1999.”It’s, um, not exactly the kind of thing I’m most associated with.”
“Molly has a history of playing these sensitive characters, so … she has a great understanding of someone who longs for somebody or longs to be loved,” “Charity” director Scott Faris told The Journal.”It’s, um, not exactly the kind of thing I’m most associated with.”
Scott Eckern of the California Musical Theatre agrees.”It’s, um, not exactly the kind of thing I’m most associated with.”
“What makes [‘Charity’] so successful is the vulnerability and [innate] innocence of the leading character,” he told the Sacramento Bee. “Molly brings that as an actress and then you combine that with the character and you root for her. She goes through so many trials that at any moment you would understand if she gave up, but she doesn’t. She picks herself up and moves forward.””It’s, um, not exactly the kind of thing I’m most associated with.”
Ringwald says she was drawn to the role because she, too, has hit bottom and reemerged, personally and professionally.”It’s, um, not exactly the kind of thing I’m most associated with.”
“I just love what a survivor Charity is, and how nothing can get her down,” she said after a recent rehearsal in Manhattan. “Everything can happen to her; the whole world can speak in opposition but she just keeps saying, ‘I’m here.’ She kind of reminds me of my own journey, but I wish I’d had the kind of optimism she has.”
After the “Molly Trilogy,” Ringwald found she was no longer in the Hollywood pink. Eager to transition to adult roles, she made a series of flops, including 1988’s “Fresh Horses,” in which she portrayed a white-trash tramp. Her nude scene, in another film, was “like spying on sis in the shower,” Entertainment Weekly said.
Ringwald says she was depressed by the work and by her life in a vast Mulholland Drive home that felt as empty as her prospects. She felt rejected by the film industry — and by a boyfriend with whom she was involved in an unfulfilling relationship. “I felt disconnected from everyone and everything,” she says.Her solution, at age 23, was to sell her home, to place her belongings in storage and to accept an offer to star in a modest film in Paris. She intended to return home to become an average co-ed at USC.”It’s, um, not exactly the kind of thing I’m most associated with.”
“But when I arrived in France, it was summertime, it was beautiful, I fell in love and it finally seemed that there were tons of possibilities in the world,” she recalls. “I felt like I could do whatever I wanted — I could even stop acting — which is exactly how you should feel at that age.”
She married her now ex-husband, a French writer, and eventually resumed acting, mostly in dreadful films such as 1995’s straight-to-video “Malicious” (she played a knife-wielding psycho).
From Agony to Acceptance — Documentary Delves Into Intermarriage
Two winters ago, in one of its traditional Victorian teas, A Noise Within (ANW), the classical repertory theater company in Glendale, staged a series of holiday readings from actors as varied as Ed Asner and Fred Savage. One of ANW’s own troupe members, Len Lesser, in his inimitable New York accent, read a Chanukah story about a boy in the Bronx who, if memory permits, floats in the Big Apple firmament, going on a magical Chagallesque voyage through the city night.
Even if all of the other stories were about Christmas, this one Jewish tale stood out, if only because it was so unique, so rare, in a Thanksgiving-to-New Year’s climate in which Jews and other non-Christians are bombarded with Christian iconography, animated TV specials, carols and merchandise.
If it’s OK for storekeepers to say “Merry Christmas,” as Kinky Friedman contends, then it is also OK for theatergoers to get a taste of Jewish entertainment in the midst of all the “Christmas Carol” and “Nutcracker” productions.
Guggenheim Entertainment and the National Jewish Theatre Festival have adapted Tchaikovsky’s ballet into a Chanukah-themed musical, “The Meshuga Nutcracker!” Shannon Guggenheim, one of the creators of the show, disputes the misconception by some that “if it’s a Chanukah show, it must hate Christmas”; this show’s edgiest moment comes in a good-natured opening song with a couplet about “Santa having the last laugh, this holiday lasts a month and a half.”
Although Tchaikovsky composed the music, many of the big, splashy numbers owe more to Andrew Lloyd Webber than the 19th century romantic giant. It’s not the music alone that’s changed; the story has, too. Now, instead of the songs being about sugar plum fairies, rat kings and nutcrackers, they are about menorahs, dreidels and Judah Maccabee. More broadly, Guggenheim says, “it’s about finding the soul in our lives.”
“The Meshuga Nutcracker!” features eight principal characters, symbolizing the eight days of Chanukah, who must wait for the “director” to show up, so that they can light the menorah. While the “director” sounds like Elijah or Godot, Guggenheim says that the character and plot device derive from the movie “Waiting for Guffman,” not the Torah or Samuel Beckett.
Dancing and singing in front of a giant dreidel, the performers, inhabitants of a mythical shtetl, wear garb almost as colorful as that of the Technicolor Joseph, and the stage floor in its multihued mosaic resembles a Wolfgang Puck eatery.
This is kid-friendly theater, which is not surprising since Guggenheim, along with her husband, Scott, and brother-in-law, Stephen, conceptualized the show around the time her 3-year-old daughter was born.
“Where are we going to take a child?” she used to ask herself, given the historic lack of Jewish holiday theater.
Coming to Los Angeles for the first time after two years of exclusive dates in the Bay Area, the show has yet to penetrate “the public-school sector,” although that is the next step, says Guggenheim, who views her role as being that of an educator. If she succeeds, “The Meshuga Scrooge” may be next.
“The Meshuga Nutcracker!” opens Thursday, Dec. 22, at the Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. Plays Through Jan. 1. 7:30 p.m. (Tues.-Thurs., Sat.); 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. (Sun.). $18-$36. The Jewish Journal sponsors the Sunday, Dec. 25, 1 p.m. show. For tickets, call (877) 456-4849.
Tchaikovsky has always transcended religion and ethnicity, so it’s not surprising that Zinovy Goro, a Ukrainian Jew, studied clarinet and composition at the State Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Kiev. Goro, along with Miamon Miller, who plays violin and mandolin, form a klezmer orchestra in Theater 40’s premiere of “Simcha,” another Jewish-themed play being staged during the holidays. From an elevated platform, they perform their admixture of plaintive yet heartening Jewish folk tunes before the actors arrive onstage, during intermission, and at pivotal narrative points.
Subtitled “An Evening of Jewish folklore,” “Simcha,” like “Meshuga Nutcracker,” is set in the shtetl, that fabled, liminal land in the Pale that captured the imagination of artists like Sholom Aleichem and Chagall. Indeed, “Simcha,” an original production written by Ross Pavis and Howard Teichman, bears the influence of both of these Russian-Jewish luminaries.
With a setup so classic that it has been used by everyone from Chaucer to Eugene O’Neill to William Inge, the play begins when a drifter named Simcha, part troubadour, part hobo, pleads his way into an inn. Though he has no groshen to pay for bread, he convinces the denizens of the inn that he can recompense them with a story. Make that three stories.
Despite his tatterdemalion rags and scruffy stubble, Simcha carries the promise of dream to these miserable inn dwellers, and is soon distributing copies of a script to each of them — the young boy and girl, in the bloom of love; the old man and woman, ignored by all; the termagant who runs the inn, and the meek owner who submits to her will.
They may seem like stock characters, but, as portrayed by Theater 40’s fine cast, they have the timelessness of archetypes. Maybe, it’s because all of these actors have great faces, in the way that John Garfield and Edward G. Robinson had great faces, etched with character and depth. None of the actors would be considered conventionally attractive; even the ravishing young girl, played by Karla Menjivar, possesses more of the exoticism of an Old World Jewess than the glamour of a runway model. But their faces tell of their suffering and longing for a new life.
Twirling about the stage like a dreidel, while the klezmer musicians play, Simcha looks upward as if picturing the magical skyscape of Chagall. And he weaves tales not unlike those of Aleichem, rife with matchmakers and Kabbalistic potions.
Teichman, a heavyset, bearded man who resembles Jon Lovitz, shines in the title part, narrating and directing the characters in the play within the play, a role that must come easily for him, given that he is also credited as director of the play itself. When each tale ends and he is asked questions about the story’s characters, he issues the caveat that he is “just a storyteller, not a philosopher.”
If there is any criticism of the play, it is its length. Holiday entertainment needs to be light, and this production would have been more effective as a one-act.
“Simcha” plays 8 p.m. (Thurs.-Sat.); 2 p.m. (Sun.), thru Dec. 18, at the Reuben Cordova Theater, Beverly Hills High School, 241 Moreno Drive, (310) 364-0535.
For strictly observant women, being Orthodox can often mean putting a kibosh on artistic aspirations. Halachic prohibitions against singing and dancing in front of men means that many women who enjoy those art forms find they have little opportunity to perform.
Enter Margy Horowitz, a Los Angeles-based piano teacher from Chicago who’d heard about all-women’s productions in her hometown from a friend. Intrigued, she started envisioning an all-women’s production for Los Angeles with women not only just in the cast, but also in the audience.
“There are a lot of opportunities for religious high school girls to perform [in school-sponsored, women’s-only musicals], but for older women who have graduated from high school and want to perform, they have no outlets,” Horowitz said. “And plenty of them have so much talent.”
With support from Rabbi Steven Weil at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills, Horowitz teamed up with Linda Freedman, a Beth Jacob congregant who sings in the choir at nearby Congregation Magen David. The two decided to put on a production of the Gilbert and Sullivan musical “The Mikado,” with proceeds going to charity.
“The Mikado” is a raucous tale of the prodigal son of a Japanese emperor who runs away from his father’s court to escape marriage, pretends he is a poor musician and falls in love with a young geisha.
“We chose the play because it is in the public domain,” Horowitz said. “It has also got great music and comedy.”
She said she wanted a musical that was not as obscure as many of the productions done in girls’ high schools: “I didn’t think it needed to have a Jewish theme, even though it was for the Jewish community.”
After posting audition flyers throughout Los Angeles and the Valley, the two found their cast of 21. All the women in the play are observant to some degree, and they represent most of the Jewish neighborhoods in greater Los Angeles, including Fairfax, Pico, North Hollywood, Marina del Rey and even Yorba Linda.
“We were so happy to give these women the opportunity to perform,” Horowitz said. “Even if we are not successful, I would still feel that we did something great.”
The all-women’s production of “The Mikado” will be performed at Beverly Hills High School’s Salter Theater, 241 Moreno Drive, on Dec. 10 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 11 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. For tickets, call (310) 726-9333.
Jewish Book Month in November kicked off with the 2005 Harold U. Ribalow Prize to Jenna Blum, author of “Those Who Save Us” (Harcourt, 2004). Administered by the award-winning Hadassah Magazine, the Ribalow Prize is given annually to an author who has created an outstanding work of fiction on a Jewish theme.
Blum’s debut novel is a mother-daughter drama that chronicles protagonist Trudy Brandt’s investigation into her mother’s wartime experience in Germany. Inspiration for her book included work filming interviews for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. Blum, of German and Jewish descent herself, has traveled to Germany four times with her mother to explore her own heritage, as well as deepen her knowledge of the country and its past.
In accepting the award, Blum said that her novel “examines a crucial time period from a slightly different perspective, from the point of view of how the Nazi regime affected an average German woman,” she said. “My novel explores the gray area between heroism and culpability. When history is lost, imagination steps in.”
Putting Out Fires
Sen. Hilary Clinton (D-N.Y.) called Israeli firefighters “pioneers” when presented with a firefighter’s helmet by Israel’s Fire & Rescue Commissioner Shimon Romach on behalf of the Israel Firefighters. The ceremony was held in Givat Mordechai’s Fire and Rescue Station in Jerusalem. Friends of Israeli Fire and Rescue Services raise money for the crucial need for fire engines in Israel.
For more information, call (310) 777-3177.
A Little Laughter
The evening was upbeat at the Jewish Television Network’s (JTN) Vision Award Dinner at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, honoring Sony Pictures Television President Steve Mosko. “Jeopardy’s” Alex Trebek hosted the evening, while Peter Frampton and comedian Garry Shandling performed.
The array of stars was dazzling at the Regent that night as Kevin James, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara were all on hand to support the cause and honor Mosko.
JTN Productions annually honors an industry leader who promotes positive values and diversity through television.
For more information about JTN or future programming, call (818) 789-5891.
Music Sweet Music
Some of the most beautiful voices and unparalleled musical talent joined forces last month to honor Cantor Ilan Davidson of Temple Beth El in San Pedro. In the magnificent Warner Grand Theater, an art deco, historic movie house known as “Pantages South,” Temple Beth El and more than 300 guests celebrated Davidson’s 10th anniversary and his dedication to his community with Seasons of Song, an evening of opera, musical comedy, traditional Jewish liturgy and Israeli songs. Joining Davidson were many friends and colleagues including Cantor Sam Radwine, Congregation Ner Tamid of Rancho Palos Verdes; Cantor Jonathan Grant, Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach; Cantor Patti Linsky, Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge; and Dr. Noreen Green, who serves as musical director for both Valley Beth Shalom in Encino and the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony.
Green brought with her the 40-piece Koheleth Orchestra and the 35 member choir from Valley Beth Shalom. Special guests who delivered tributes to Davidson included L.A. City Councilwoman Janice Hahn and Dr. Bruce Zuckerman of USC’s Casden Institute.
“Cantor Davidson never fails to delight his congregation, and this time he exceeded every expectation,” said Ronnie Kauffman, event co-chair. “He was at his absolute best, and there is no doubt that our congregation loves him.”
The Mighty Pen
Fifty-three writers were hosted in private homes throughout greater Los Angeles for the Literary Odyssey Dinners coordinated by The Council of the Library Foundation.
All proceeds from the dinners will benefit the Fund for New Information Technologies of the Los Angeles Public Library, which includes the Central Library and 71 branches.
The council is a group of female community leaders who serve as library ambassadors, increasing public awareness of the valuable resources of the Los Angeles Public Library.
Santa Monica Playhouse Youth Performers perform some tikkun olam and a musical show all at once. This weekend, the 10- to-14-year-olds present “Drempels, aka: The Short but Happy Life of the Drempel Hieronymus Aloisius Plonk.” The musical comedy imagines a make-believe mischievous species called Drempels that live underground. Proceeds from today’s and tomorrow’s shows will benefit The Jenesse Center Hurricane Relief Fund in South Los Angeles, which is currently housing more than 300 Katrina evacuees.
7:30 p.m. (Sat.), 5 p.m. (Sun.). $20 (donation). The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 394-9779, ext. 2.
Sunday, November 6
In the Israeli film, “Joy,” the title character and her family are anything but. However, with the help of her favorite reality TV show, Joy Levine hopes she might be able to change her family’s lot by reconciling her parents with the estranged friends who pulled away from them after a mysterious event some 22 years earlier. The film screens on Nov. 5 and 6, as part of AFI Fest.
Veteran newsman Mike Wallace talks with ABC News’ Judy Muller this evening at Temple Emanuel. Having worked on “60 Minutes” since its 1968 premiere, Wallace’s list of interviewees includes American presidents, world leaders and classic entertainers. He reveals some of the stories behind the interviews in his new memoir, “Between You and Me,” and with any luck, tonight at Emanuel.
Simms Taback offers up the differences between a schlemiel and shlimazel, and other vital Yiddish lessons in his book, “Kibitzers and Fools: Tales My Zayda Told Me.” He’s at Children’s Book World this afternoon for storytelling and a booksigning.
Ages 6 and up. 1:30-3 p.m. 10580 1/2 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 559-2665.
Wednesday, November 9
Bi now, gay later? That’s the question in Dan Rothenberg’s new one-man show, “Regretrosexual.” The neurotic Jewish guy is ready to propose to his girlfriend, if only he can get up the guts to be honest with her about his gay-curious sexual past.
8 p.m. (Tues.-Thurs.), through Nov. 17. $18. The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 969-4790. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Thursday, November 10
Every holiday finds us overeating or fasting, but professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett takes the analysis a few steps further today. The USC Casden Institute presents her lecture on “Recipes for Community: A History of the Jewish Kitchen,” which explores the Jewish relationship with food from the 19th century until today.
Being a celeb super couple can be tough. Consider how it feels to be Bennifer in Adam Goldberg’s new film, “I Love Your Work.” At turns somber and self-mocking, the film addresses the culture of celebrity through the story of a movie star who goes crazy trying to cope with his fame after marrying an equally famous starlet.
Regent Showcase Theater, 614 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 934-2944.
During the period he lived in New York and worked odd jobs, Charlie Kaufman once had a conversation with a colleague about Jews and height.
“I said Jews are small, she said Jews are tall. But I really couldn’t conceive of that,” he said. “I’m short, plus I had these uncles who had really shrunk and I knew that was my future if I lived that long. I guess I identified a lot with the Woody Allen version of being Jewish.”
Kaufman’s ingrained notions of Jewishness may have something to do with his highly idiosyncratic yet award-winning screenplays. He can’t say for sure, particularly since he’s no fan of definitive statements about his work or life.
“I don’t like to dictate how others should think,” he said. “Let people view things like a Rorschach test, and let them make up their own minds.”
Famous for penning those darkly comic and surreal films such as “Being John Malkovitch,” “Adaptation” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” the 46-year-old Kaufman has recently branched out into theater, where he continues to apply his open-ended ambiguity.
His latest project, called “Hope Leaves the Theater,” kicks-off UCLA Live’s season on Sept. 14 and stars Meryl Streep, Hope Davis and Peter Dinklage, who perform without sets, costumes or even eye-contact.
“It’s a sound play,” Kaufman said. “And I had to be very conscious of writing a script that wouldn’t work as a movie or a conventional play.”
Collectively titled “Theater of the New Ear,” the UCLA performances feature both Kaufman’s play and a new work by Frances Fregoli. Both plays rely on a technician responsible for simulating numerous sound effects. There’s also live musical accompaniment composed by Carter Burwell, who conceived the “New Ear” concept, which combines music, sound and text with minimal visual effects.
In Kaufman’s play, the three actors play three actors getting ready to perform a play. Later, Davis becomes an audience member, who voices every thought running through her head and eventually leaves the theater. Streep and Dinklage then portray characters that Davis meets on the street.
“With this medium, you’re limited by what you can present visually, but there’s also a certain freedom,” Kaufman said. “The actors can go anywhere, even thought they never leave the stage.”
Kaufman grew up in Massapequa, N.Y, and later in West Hartford, Conn. While his family belonged to an Orthodox shul, Kaufman didn’t have an especially religious upbringing. Jewishness took the form of reading Kafka or laughing at the humor of the Marx Brothers, Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce.
After graduating from New York University, where he studied filmmaking and acted in student productions, Kaufman spent the ensuing decade in a series of odd jobs that included working in the circulation department of a newspaper and in an art museum. After “turning 30 with no prospects,” Kaufman moved to Los Angeles and try his luck in TV. He broke into show business because of “luck and persistence.”
“An agent who repped a friend of mine had agreed to read a script I wrote,” he recalled. “I called him every week for a year to see if he had read it. Finally, his assistant read it.”
Several years and various TV gigs later, Kaufman hit it big with “Being John Malkovitch,” a film he did not expect to get produced but which earned him his first Oscar nomination. Some six years later, he maintains that his life “hasn’t changed all that much” and that his writing process remains the same.
“I don’t like to show my scripts to people when I’m working on them,” he said. “I get deflated very easily. I still spend a lot of time ruminating and getting stuck. I’m not the type of writer who has a routine.”
Kaufman added: “Rewrites are getting easier and yes, it helps to have taken someone’s money when you’re trying to finish something. It’s very hard to take yourself seriously as a writer when you have no way to prove it in some external way to people. So I guess it does make a difference that I know there’s an audience for my work.”
Kaufman, who’s married and has a young daughter, remains vigilant about keeping his private life exactly that. “You want to find out about my personal life?” he asks with a chuckle. “Just watch my movies.”
If you’re not willing to wait to see the Wicked Witch of the West melt at the Pantages, you can always skip down the Yellow Brick Road, click your heels three times and say: “There’s no place like Chicago.”
“Wicked,” the Tony-award winning Oz-based musical is currently playing at the Oriental Theatre in downtown Chicago’s opulent Ford Center for the Performing Arts. The company featuring Carol Kane will leave Chicago for Los Angeles on June 12. But immediately after the touring cast leaves, a permanent cast will take over with “Saturday Night Live” alum Ana Gasteyer headlining in the role of Elphaba, the green-skinned wicked witch. The permanent troupe is expected to play through until the end of September, possibly longer. So if you are unable to secure tickets for the Los Angeles production, which ends its run on July 31, consider a trip to Chi-town.
Thanks to more than 200 theatres, the City of Big Shoulders, as Carl Sandburg called it in his 1916 poem “Chicago,” is fast becoming the City of Big Ticket Sales. Chicago features big-budget musicals like “The Lion King,” “Cats” and “Little Shop of Horrors”; notable playhouses such as The Steppenwolf Theatre (created by John Malkovich and Gary Sinese); and long-running faves, like Second City, Blue Man Group, “Menopause: the Musical” and “Late Nite Catechism.”
A song in “Wicked” describes an incredible day in the fictional Emerald City, but the same could be said of the Windy City: “One short day full of so much to do. Ev’ry way that you look in the city, there’s something exquisite you’ll want to visit before the day’s through.”
More than 2.77 million Chicagoans work, live and play in nearly 100 distinctive neighborhoods, divided by ethnicity, class and geography. Navigating the city can be a daunting, perplexing task. Luckily, Chicago Greeters (” target=”_blank”>www.chgocitytours.com) offer two-dozen excursions throughout the year that allow visitors to explore these “cities within the city.”
The heart of Jewish Chicago can be found in the neighborhood of West Rogers Park, and Devon Avenue is its main artery. Over the years the area has become ethnically and religiously diverse, featuring a plethora of Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants and shops. A large Orthodox community inhabits the area, which frequents the cleverly named kosher Chinese restaurant Mi Tsu Yun and more than 20 synagogues, most of which are Orthodox or Traditional.
The Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies on Michigan Avenue features something for children with the traveling exhibit, “Every Picture Tells a Story: Teaching Tolerance through Children’s Picture Books” (” target=”_blank”>www.millenniumpark.org), where outdoor concerts, gardens and an ice skating rink bring a sense of tranquility to the urban jungle.
While the views of the lakefront from the ground are incredible, nothing beats the view from the top. Visit the 150-foot Ferris Wheel overlooking Lake Michigan on Navy Pier (” target=”_blank”>www.hancock-observatory.com). Of course, there’s always the tallest building in North America (second-tallest in the world), the 110-story Sears Tower and its 103rd-floor skydeck (” target=”_blank”>www.artic.edu/aic), which houses more than 300,000 works, including Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.” For interactive Americana, the Museum of Science and Industry (” target=”_blank”>www.architecture.org), which spotlights more than 50 of Chicago’s most spectacular waterfront sites. Grab a snack on board the ship, or get something really unique to the city once you disembark.
The first rule of thumb when eating in Chi-town: If it ain’t a Chicago dog, it ain’t a dog. The steam-cooked all-beef dogs, which come in a kosher variety, are only authentic when eaten with yellow mustard, pickle relish, onions, tomatoes and celery salt on a poppy-seed bun — never order ketchup.
The second rule of thumb when eating in Chi-town: Pizza isn’t pizza if it can’t be eaten with a knife and fork. For Chicago deep-dish, there’s really no wrong way to go: Pizzeria Uno and its sister restaurant Pizzeria Due’s (” target=”_blank”>www.loumalnatis.com, which will ship anywhere in the country); and, if your lucky, you’ll stumble into a little-known treasure like Joey Buona’s (” target=”_blank”>www.thedrakehotel.com), across from Oak Street Beach.
Turn the corner from the Drake and it’s shopping heaven up and down the Mag Mile with stores like Neiman-Marcus, Niketown and the American Girl Place. Your nose will beckon you to make a stop at Garrett’s Popcorn Shop at 670 N. Michigan (it’s worth the occasional 45 minute wait).
Down the street is a piece of Chicago history — the stone-built Old Chicago Water Tower, the only structure in the city to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. For another landmark, head over to State Street (“that great street”) and spend some time (and money) at the flagship Marshall Field’s department store, a city treasure for 150 years that spans an entire block and comes with its own audio tour.
At night, the city comes alive with its own vibe. Chicago is famous for its own style of the blues and some of the city’s best can be heard at B.L.U.E.S. (” target=”_blank”>www.bluechicago.com). Then toast your vacation with a breathtaking backdrop at the Hyatt Regency’s BIG Bar (chicagoregency.hyatt.com), where patrons can indulge in an 48-ounce Cosmopolitan or a “Big” “Bigger” or “Biggest” beer on tap at the longest free-standing bar in North America.
With so much to do, don’t expect a relaxing vacation in Chicago. But with its culture, cuisine and construction marvels, Chi-town just might make you feel like you’re ended up somewhere over the rainbow.
For tickets to “Wicked,” visit ” target=”_blank”>www.choosechicago.com. For more information on Chicago’s kosher options, visit
TAG Gallery: (11 a.m.-5 p.m.)Last chance to see the “Infinite Growth,” the paintings of Shizuko Greenblatt. 2903 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 829-9556.
Forum Gallery: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. “Helen’s Exile” is Peter Krausz’s exhibit of landscape paintings . 8069 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 655-1565.
Laemmle Sunset 5 and Landmark Westside Pavilion Theatres: various times. “Winter Solstice,” writer-director Josh Sternfeld’s debut film. Laemmle Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., W. Hollywood. (213)848-3500.
Westside Pavilion, 10800 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 475-0202.
Media City Ballet: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. “The Making of a Dancer,”a behind-the-scenes look at the training and life of a professional dancer, featuring principal dancer Arsen Serobian. $20-$25. The Performing Arts Center, CSUN, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. (213) 480-3232.
The Tarzana Community and Cultural Center: 8 p.m. “From I Do to I Don’t,” a drama concerning marital problems between an Italian Catholic lawyer and his Jewish wife. Also, Sun. at 2 p.m. $10-$12. 19130 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. R.S.V.P., (818) 762-6950.
UCLA: 8 p.m. Dylan Moran in “Monster.”$10-$25. McGowan Little Theater, Charles E. Young Drive, UCLA. (310) 825-2101.
April 24 /SUNDAY
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Ruskin Group Theatre: 5 p.m. “Capture Now,” a coming-of-age tale about Long Island Jewish teen Elijah. $15-$20. 3000 Airport Drive, Santa Monica. (310) 397-3244.
Skirball Cultural Center: 8 p.m. Musician Brian Eno and scientist Danny Hills discuss their careers and the nature of creativity. $20-$30. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (866) 468-3399.
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Theatre 40: 8 p.m. “Driving Miss Daisy” by Alfred Uhry. $9-$20. Reuben Cordova Theatre, Beverly Hills High School, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 364-0535.
April 26 /TUESDAY
North Valley JCC: 1 p.m. Mel Janis on the migration of U.S. Jews from East to West Coast. Refreshments to follow. $2-$4. 16601 Rinaldi St., Granada Hills. (818) 360-2211.
Museum of Tolerance: 11:30 a.m.-
6:30 p.m. “Liberation: Revealing the Unspeakable,”profiles both victims of camps and their liberators. 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 553-9036.
KVCR: 10 p.m. “Exodus and Freedom” a new Passover special by Jewish Television Network Productions. (818) 789-5891. www.jewishnetwork.com.
Jewish Community Foundation: 7:30-
9 a.m. “Advising in a Changing Environment: Critical Issues for Professional Advisers” breakfast seminar for continuing education credit, on California Domestic Partnerships. Sherman Oaks. R.S.V.P., (323) 761-8708.
APRIL 28 /THURSDAY
UCLA: 4-5:30 p.m. “Dilemmas in Counterterrorism Decision-Making” with Boaz Ganor, director of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism. Free. Faculty Center, Sequoia 1, UCLA. (310) 206-8578.
Women’s Guild of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center: 7 p.m. Opening night gala preview for the Los Angeles Antiques Show. $300. Barker Hangar, Santa Monica Air Center, 3021 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 423-3667.
APRIL 29 /FRIDAY
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
University of Judaism: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Closing day of “Hued and Hewn.” Platt and Borstein Gallery, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 476-9777, ext. 201.
Santa Monica Playhouse Jewish Heritage Program and Yiddishkayt L.A.: 8 p.m. Preview of “Yiddish She-Devils.” $15. The Other Space, Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. (310) 394-9779, ext. 1.
Thur., May 26
Adat Shalom: Senior Group fundraising day trip to Pechanga. For more information call (310) 302-8995.
APRIL 23 /SATURDAY
Super-Singles (35+): 8 p.m.-midnight. Singles Dance at the Elks Lodge for all singles and couples. $12. 20925 Osborne St., Canoga Park. (800) 672-6122.
APRIL 24 /SUNDAY
Jewish Single Volleyball: Noon. Volleyball and post-game no-host dinner. Free. Playa del Rey Beach court No. 11 at the end of Culver Boulevard, Playa del Rey. (310) 278-9812.
Israeli Folk Dancing: 8 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Classes by Israel Yakove meet Mondays and Thursdays. All ages. $7. 2244 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 839-2550.
APRIL 26 /TUESDAY
Westwood Jewish Singles (45+):
7:30 p.m. Therapist Maxine Gellar leads a discussion on “Who or what was the most inspiration in your life?” $10. West Los Angeles area. R.S.V.P., (310) 444-8986.
West Valley JCC: 8-11 p.m. Israeli folk dancing with James Zimmer.
$5-$6. Also, salsa, swing, and tango lessons for an additional $3 begin at
7 p.m. The New JCC at Milken,
22622 Vanowen St., West Hills.
Nexus (20s-40s): 6 p.m. Volleyball followed by no-host dinner. End of Culver Boulevard, near court No. 15, Playa del Rey. www.jewishnexus.org.
Wilshire Boulevard Temple: 7 p.m. (beginners), 8 p.m. (regular class), 9:15 p.m. -midnight (open dancing). David Dassa leads Israeli dancing. $7. Irmas Campus, 2112 S. Barrington Ave., Los Angeles. email@example.com.
ATID (20s and 30s): 7:30 p.m. “Who wrote the Bible … and does it matter?” Free (Sinai Temple Members), $5 (nonmembers). Gold Hall, Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3244.
Conversations at Leon’s: 7 p.m. “The Art of Listening.” $15-$17. 639 226th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 393-4616.
L.A.’s Fabulous Best Connection: Dinner and conversation at The Cheesecake Factory, 189 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 782-0435.
Harbor Jewish Singles (55+): 8 p.m. Shabbat services and oneg at University Synagogue, 3400 Michelson, Irvine. (949) 553-3535.
Sun., May 1
SababaParties (24+): 8 p.m.-1 a.m. Jewish Singles Party at The Conga Room. $25-$30. 5364 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 657-6680.
Sun., May 8-Fri., May 13
Active Jewish Singles (45+): Trip to power spots and spiritual places in Arizona, including Sedona, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Gooseneck and Valley of the Gods, Lake Powell and lastly a visit to the Hopi Tribe. Led by an outdoor jeep tour guide versed in Native American and Jewish spirituality. $750 from Phoenix, includes all accommodation, transportation and most meals. Space limited to 15 people. (760) 720-2049.
For the most twisted example of Passover television programming, tune into VH1 Classic’s hour-long “Matzoh and Metal: A Very Classic Passover.” Twisted Sister lead singer Dee Snider hosts the special, in which he shares a Passover meal with Jewish rockers Scott Ian of Antrhax, Leslie West of Mountain and Snider’s bandmate JJ French. Sponsored by Manischewitz, the program will focus on the rockers’ musical and Passover memories. It airs on Sunday, April 24. VH1 Classic. www.vh1.com.
Annie Korzen knows better than you. Or at least that’s what she thinks. In her one-woman show, “Straight From the Mouth,” that’s how she gives it to you. Expect music, “constructive criticism” and lots of laughs from the gal also known as “Seinfeld’s” Doris Klompus.
8 p.m. $15-$20. Steinway Hall at Fields Pianos, 12121 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 471-3979.
Sunday, January 30
This afternoon, take in the “Music of Or Ami,” and give back at the same time. The Calabasas congregation plans to donate a portion of proceeds from ticket sales to help victims of the tsunami disaster. Flutist Toby Caplan-Stonefield plays a program of music by Jewish composers, light classics and jazz with the accompaniment of pianist Paul Switzler and guitarist Larry Giannicchini. Pianist Aaron Meyer is joined by an ensemble of musicians in playing a contemporary mix of jazz, Latin, classical and world music. A wine and cheese reception follows.
Rami Perlman has chosen to follow in his father’s footsteps – sort of. This son of Itzhak took to music from an early age, singing with the children’s chorus of the Metropolitan Opera and studying trumpet at the Manhattan School of Music. But now he’s all grown up and singing a different tune: rock ‘n’ roll. His band, Something for Rockets, plays a free show tonight at Spaceland, with a sound that’s closer to the Vines than Wagner.
21+. 1717 Silver Lake Blvd., Silver Lake. (323) 661-4380.
Tuesday, February 1
Get nostalgic today as the Skirball screens Charles Lamont’s 1942 film, “Almost Married,” as part of its Lifespan Series, “exploring and celebrating the new longevity.” The romantic musical is about a couple that settles on a marriage of convenience only to find that it’s become one of love.
1:30 p.m. Free. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4544.
Wednesday, February 2
The sons and daughters of prostitutes in Calcutta’s red light district are the subjects of Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski’s documentary, “Born Into Brothels,” in theaters this week. Briski, who originally came to Calcutta to photograph the lives of the women, quickly became enchanted by their children. She eventually taught them photography, and in the process, exposed them to life outside the one they knew. The documentary follows their journey and hers.
A lot of night music, from Chopin to Gershwin, is set to be played on the 1939 World’s Fair replica Steinway “Peace Piano” at the Museum of Tolerance this evening. Pianists Gloria Cheng, Todd Cochran and Norman Krieger donate their talents for the gala, which benefits the musuem’s youth education programs for low-income students. Local composer Nelson Varon’s vocal piece “Shalom, Shalom” will also be performed.
7:30 p.m. $100. Museum of Tolerance, Peltz Theater, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 772-2452.
Friday, February 4
From the “normal” lives of middle class Southern Californians, noted author Merrill Joan Gerber unveils the disquiet that lurks beneath in her latest release, “This Is a Voice From Your Past: New and Selected Stories.” The author of seven novels, including “Anna in the Afterlife,” she signs “This Is a Voice…” at the Huntington Library this afternoon.
Two minutes into the interview, Bruce Vilanch kvetches about pantyhose. The hefty actor dons them eight times a week to play Edna Turnblad, the plus-size Baltimore hausfrau in the hit musical "Hairspray," now at the Pantages Theatre.
As the, er, hair apparent to the role created by drag diva Divine in the 1988 John Waters film and Harvey Fierstein on Broadway, Vilanch dutifully squeezes into said hose, plus a 35-pound fat suit, and enough wigs to open his own sheitl shop.
"Did I mention that pantyhose were invented by a Nazi scientist?" the Jewish actor says. "I had to learn to get into them without a cherry-picker."
With an exaggerated sigh, he explains that he makes the sacrifice for Art, and for a musical whose popsicle-colored exuberance is matched only by its political correctness. The Tony-winning show proffers its sweetly PC message in the winking tradition of "Grease" and "Little Shop of Horrors": It revolves around chunky teenager Tracy Turnblad (Tony-winner Marissa Jaret Winokur) and her efforts to integrate a 1962 TV dance show, while coaxing her agoraphobic mother, Edna, out of her shell.
"It’s about the triumph of black people, fat people and, by extension, all outsiders," says Vilanch, 56. "It’s about accepting who you are, then accepting others for who they are, and not judging — just dancing!"
His Edna undergoes an extreme makeover as she traverses the road to self-acceptance: The laundress initially appears in a faded floral print housedress and frumpy pincurls; but by the finale, she bursts out of an oversized can of Ultra Clutch hairspray, wearing a beehive and a flaming red ballgown.
If Edna changes her image via "Hairspray," so does Vilanch. While he says he appeared in "every Stubby Kaye role" in college, he’s not known for musical theater or female impersonation. Instead, he developed his reputation as a pithy writer-to-the-stars, penning Oscar and Emmy broadcasts and droll speeches for celebrities such as Bette Midler. When he emerged in front of the camera, it was as a regular square on the "Hollywood Squares," where he served as head writer, and as the subject of a 1999 documentary, "Get Bruce!" Instead of drag threads, his trademark costume consisted of T-shirts from his collection and a scruffy beard, which he shaved off for "Hairspray" on "Live With Regis and Kelly." ("I didn’t realize I had all these jowls," he says of the experience. "I looked like something the Hitchcock family left in the basement.")
But Vilanch had worked on a one-man show with "Hairspray" composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, so he wasn’t completely shocked when the call came about auditioning for the show’s national tour in 2002.
"My agent said, ‘They’re looking for large men who are in touch with their feminine side,’ and I was delighted," he says.
"I loved the story because it was a perfect sendup of the kind of hypocrisy I grew up with," Vilanch adds. "The civil rights struggle was on, and there were people who pretended they weren’t racist but really were, and the show shoots them down beautifully, while at the same time, it describes the other outsiders, the overweight people; that was my story."
Vilanch says he portrays Edna as a real woman, not as a drag queen, although it’s crucial for a man to play the role.
"The show is all about acceptance, so when the audience accepts that a man is playing Edna, they’re in on the joke," he says. "It’s one of John Waters’ subversive little techniques."
Vilanch once asked Waters if the Turnblads were Jewish: "Jerry Stiller is Wilbur the father in the movie, and he certainly cuts a Jewish swath," he says. Waters said no, even though the musical’s Jewish creators threw Yiddishisms into a vaudeville number performed by the husband and wife.
"At one point, Wilbur says ‘Shabbat shalom’ to Edna for no apparent reason," Vilanch says. "That got a huge laugh in Manhattan, but nothing in Rochester." His solution was to ad-lib a line, now in the show, about the audience consisting of "only six Jews, including us."
The Jewish Winokur, for her part, says the Edna-Tracy "relationship is very Jewish. It’s the overprotective mother and the young, ambitious girl who wants to do her own thing."
Vilanch did his own thing by rewriting other lines that had worked for Fierstein, but not for himself.
"Some critics have compared me unfavorably with Harvey," he says. "But I’ll never understand why a reviewer in say, Cincinnati, bothers to share that with his readers, who will never have the opportunity to see Harvey. It’s just so provincial; it’s showing off that they’ve been to New York."
In Los Angeles, Variety praised Vilanch’s performance as "campier and funnier than Fierstein’s"; while the Los Angeles Times decreed it "overly hammy." Yet, Vilanch was clearly the audience’s favorite during a recent Sunday night show, when viewers applauded practically every time he opened his mouth.
Wearing pantyhose is a small price to pay for such a successful midlife career change: "Next I’m doing ‘The Sound of Music,’" he says. "The moment this is over, I’m playing Maria."
The show runs through Sept.. 4. For tickets, call (213) 365-3500.
Make a play date today or tomorrow. The Celebrity Staged Play Reading Series performance of “Talley’s Folley” presents husband-and-wife team Alan Blumenfeld and Katherine James reprising their roles in last month’s Pasadena Playhouse production. Once again, they take on the characters of Matt and Talley in Lanford Wilson’s story about a courtship between two not-so-young lovers.
7:30 p.m. (Saturday). Valley Cities JCC, 13164 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 786-6310. 2 p.m. (Sunday). Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 938-2531, ext. 2225. $10-$14.
Jewish music covers Los Angeles today. City folk should consider “Scenes of Worship: A Musical Celebration of Passover” at the Autry Museum. Passover and Women’s History Month share the thematic course of this concert of women cantors, and one token male. Or, for those living out West, Temple Adat Elohim welcomes the Moscow Male Jewish Choir, aka Hasidic Cappella, to the Canyon Club. Their repertoire includes classical Jewish liturgy and humorous American folk. Take your pick this evening.
“Scenes of Worship”: 6:30 p.m. $8-$18. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles. (323) 667-2000, ext. 354.
Hasidic Capella: 4 p.m. $18-$25. 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. (818) 879-5016.
The girls of Ohr Haemet Institute prove that you don’t need a male lead to put on a show. Today, they present their for-women-by-women tsnius-approved production, “Chaverim,” which focuses on the theme of unity. With the help of their theater director, Elianah Mendlowitz, the girls have learned dance moves and songs for the musical. Women are invited to come and support this play about Jewish girls from around the world.
The estrogen fest continues all week long. Today, and
every weekday morning this week, women need only turn on the tube for a dose of
wisdom about slowing down the aging process, from Dr. Judith Reichman. The
author of “Slow Down Your Clock: The Complete Guide to a Healthy, Younger You”
will appear in a segment about her book every day this week on NBC’s “Today
Show,” answering questions posted by women on msnbc.com. Post your own, or just
tune in. 7-10 a.m. NBC.
A funny thing happened to Barry Manilow on the way to Broadway: He wound up a pop star instead.
"I set out to write for the musical theater, but I got sidetracked," said Manilow, 57, who’ll be honored by the Society of Singers April 28 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
At 18, he wrote the score for off-Broadway’s "The Drunkard," then drifted into conducting, arranging and producing. Ten years later, he was working as Bette Midler’s pianist and record producer when he chanced to open for her act and drew attention to himself as a soloist. The result was his own solo tour and the syrupy 1974 hit, "Mandy," which propelled Manilow to superstardom and launched his reputation as king of the schmaltzy ’70s ballad. "But I had never listened to pop music," he said from his Palm Springs home. "I was snobby about it. I didn’t respect it. It didn’t turn me on."
Today, Manilow is finally returning to his musical theater roots with "Harmony," which he hopes will help shake his lingering pop image. The show is based on the true story of the Comedian Harmonists, the virtuostic German singing group that rose to meteoric fame in the 1920s but was disbanded by the Nazis. Three of the six members were Jewish, including the group’s founder, Harry Frommermann, and Josef Roman Cycowski, a Pole who later worked as a cantor in San Francisco. Created by Manilow and his longtime lyricist, Bruce Sussman, "Harmony" was well-received at the La Jolla Playhouse in 1997 and will reopen in Ft. Lauderdale in October.
Manilow describes his protagonists as "the Marx brothers meets the Manhattan Transfer. But the Germans virtually eradicated their memory," he said. "They destroyed every album except for the ones people hid under their beds."
While the group has reemerged in popular culture with works such as the 1997 feature film, "The Comedian Harmonists," they were obscure when Manilow received an urgent telephone call from Sussman one night in April 1991.
The lyricist told Manilow he’d been reading The New York Times that morning when a photograph caught his eye: "It was six young men with hair brilliantined, in white tie and tails," Sussman told the Journal. "I realized that while I know pop music history pretty well, I knew nothing about these guys. So I was inspired to go see this three-and-a-half hour German-language documentary about them."
Afterward, he rushed out of the Manhattan theater and braved the rain to call Manilow from a pay phone.
"Bruce said, ‘I think I’ve got our musical theater project,’" Manilow recalled. "He said, ‘This is a compelling story with a lot of emotion.’ I got a copy of the film and I agreed."
Like Sussman, Manilow said he was moved by "the irony of these people trying to find harmony in the most discordant of times. As a musician, I was horrified by the idea of not being able to make music and being destroyed because of other people’s judgements. As a man raised in the Jewish faith, I also found the subject matter profoundly moving."
Since the story touches on the Holocaust, Manilow felt the stakes were especially high. "It was a bit daunting," he said. "There were many moments when I had to shut down my computer, close the lid of the piano and just leave for a while."
Manilow’s relatives left Europe before the Holocaust, but he grew up surrounded by survivors who had resettled in his low-income neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
"They seemed grateful to be alive, but somehow paralyzed," he recalled. "It was all about getting and keeping things and the fear of somebody taking something or someone away from you."
Manilow, for his part, was raised by his Yiddish-speaking Russian grandparents and his mother, Edna, who had aspired to become a singer before becoming pregnant with Barry as a teenager. When Manilow was 7, she gave him an accordion, the only instrument the family could afford; while he loathed it, the lessons at least taught him how to work a keyboard. Around the time of his bar mitzvah, he enthusiastically switched to the upright piano his Irish stepfather, Willy Murphy, brought with him when he moved in.
Murphy also brought an impressive record collection into the household, which introduced young Barry to the musical theater. Years before he could afford to attend a Broadway show, he had memorized all the lyrics to productions such as "Fiddler on the Roof" and "The King and I."
After he unexpectedly became a pop icon, tall, tanned Manilow sold more than 58 million albums, won Tony and Grammy awards and posted 38 Top 40 hits, including the campily fun "Copacabana." He also endured his share of critical barbs. As "Harmony" director David Warren told the Los Angeles Times, in high school in the ’70s, "It was so uncool to like Barry … that I did the best I could not to like him."
Music reviewers routinely dissed Manilow: "It was infuriating, crazy-making" he said, his voice rising for the first time during an interview. "I was a terribly angry guy, and so were all the people around me, because they knew pop was only the tip of the iceberg for me. It eclipsed everything else I wanted to do."
Finally, in 1984, Manilow told recording industry legend Clive Davis he’d run out of pop ideas and went off to make a jazz record with Gerry Mulligan, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme. While his popularity waned, he continued cranking out records and filling concert halls, winning a public reassessment when Rolling Stone dubbed him "the showman of our generation" in 1990.
Several years later, he and Sussman collaborated on the animated films "Thumbelina" and "The Pebble and the Penguin," which paved the way for "Harmony."
"It reminded us of how much we loved writing songs that were character- and situation-driven," Manilow said.
While Sussman went off on a research trip to Berlin, Manilow immersed himself in klezmer and cantorial melodies as well as German music of the ’20s and ’30s. He went on to write some 19 songs, based on the kind of numbers the Comedian Harmonists might have sung, striving for realism but not mimicry.
"My biggest challenge was to convey, to a contemporary audience, just how innovative these guys were," Manilow said.
Also challenging was tracking down the last living Harmonist, Cycowski (1901-1998), who was no longer at his synagogue in San Francisco. On a lark, Sussman called directory assistance in Palm Springs and got a number for a "Rev. Josef R. Cycowski"; it turned out the ex-Harmonist lived practically walking distance from Manilow. The singer-songwriter promptly visited the ailing nonagenarian, who told him the group was once "bigger than the Beatles."
These days, Manilow is preparing for the summer release of "Midnight," the jazz album he co-produced for singer Diane Schuur, and "Two Nights Live," recorded during his sold-out LIVE2002! tour. But he is most excited about "Harmony’s anticipated 2004 Broadway debut.
"It’s the most challenging project I’ve ever done," he said. "It’s made me feel that my career has come full circle."
For tickets and information about the Society of Singers dinner, where Manilow will receive the 12th annual Ella Award, call (323) 653-7672.
Rabbi Jonathan Aaron of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills knows as much about show business as shul business.
The 39-year-old rabbi, a former actor and managing director of the Open Forum Theatre in Connecticut, is the author of a new musical, “Hyrcanus,” an intergenerational production of the temple’s Emanuel Arts Center.
The story, enacted by 65 actors, singers and dancers, aged 7 to 87, is based on the life of Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, a renowned scholar of the Talmud (circa 80-120 C.E.) who captured Aaron’s imagination in rabbinical school. In the musical, the young Hyrcanus, frustrated with his life as a farmer, leaves home to learn from the great Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, even though he does not know a word of Torah. Angry about his desertion, Eliezer’s father follows him to Jerusalem to tell him he is cut off from the family fortune — but learns more about his son than he ever imagined.
Why did Aaron pick Hyrcanus for his musical theater debut? “Nobody knows the rabbinical stories, and I think they’re the richest stories in Judaism,” says the rabbi, who is married to Michelle Azar, the managing director of an L.A. theater company, Neurotic Young Urbanites. “Most Jews think the Bible is it, but Judiasm has much more to offer.”
“Hyrcanus is the only rabbi who was ever excommunicated,” adds Aaron, noting that more than 300 of his halachot are quoted in the Talmud. “So I’ve always loved him. I like people who are a bit on the edge.” The excommunication was politically motivated and occurred after the time span depicted in the play. But the children in the cast identify with the determined young man, Aaron notes.
“They recognize the rebellion of the child against his parents,” concurs Nili Kosmal, the Israeli-born director of the play and the Emanuel Arts Center. “And the parents recognize how the character of the father needs to let his son spread his wings and fly.”
Kosmal, who came to the U.S. in 1966 to earn a theater degree at UCLA, drew her cast from every segment of the shul’s population, from the religious school to the day school to the sisterhood. The performers include a USC professor, a personal injury attorney, even Tom Cruise’s agent, Lawrence Kopeikin. To secure a young lead actor, Kosmal turned to Aaron, who recalled officiating at the bar mitzvah of a teenager who had a good singing voice and had quickly memorized his Torah portion. Nicolas Krasney, now 14, is playing Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, and his real-life father, Robert Krasney, is portraying his father in the play. “We have at least 20 families participating together, which is one of the Center’s goals, along with teaching Judaism through the arts,” Kosmal says.
Center President Marilyn Weiss has a theory about why the intergenerational productions work: “It allows people to learn about Jewish tradition in a unique way,” she says. “It’s a very different type of learning than goes on in the classroom.”
For some cast members, the upcoming play will be especially memorable. Two years ago, active shul member Charlotte Goode played a breast-cancer patient leaving an ethical will for her granddaughter in the Center’s “From Generation to Generation.” After the performance, Goode herself was diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment. “She battled the cancer, and she is still a bit frail, but she is determined to perform in the play this year,” Kosmal says.
“Hyrcanus” runs Feb. 24 and 25 at the Emanuel Arts Theater, 8844 Burton Way in Beverly Hills. For tickets, call (310) 274-6388 ext. 232.
It was the first time in U.S. history that the cast and producers of a play were hauled down to police headquarters and convicted on obscenity charges.
Sholem Asch’s radical 1907 melodrama, “God of Vengeance,” tells of a brothel owner who commissions a Torah to keep his daughter pure, only to lose her to a lesbian lover and a rival pimp. The Broadway production was forced to close down in 1923, but Asch’s shocker, with strikingly contemporary themes of gay love and religious hypocrisy, has enjoyed revivals of late.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Donald Margulies adapted a version for the Long Wharf Theater of New Haven, set in his grandparents’ Lower East Side neighborhood circa 1923. Manhattan’s Jewish Repertory Theater staged a version, and so did the downtown New York company Todo con Nada — set amid the mirrors and scarlet go-go platform of an Eighth Avenue peepshow.
Now a “Vengeance” musical, “The Bride and the Brothel,” is coming to Los Angeles, adapted by theater director Madelaine Leavitt and her screenwriter husband, Charles (“The Mighty”), with music and lyrics by Israeli composer Hanna Levy.
Santa Monica resident Leavitt was smitten by “Vengeance” when she chanced upon a translation of the Yiddish-language play in Pakn Treger magazine on her mother-in-law’s coffee table four years ago. “I was shocked that the lesbian scenes were so contemporary,” she recalled. “I immediately thought, ‘One day I am going to direct this play.'”In “Vengeance,” she saw a morality tale about how Jews treat their own who live outside the mainstream. She envisioned a musical adaptation to help contemporize Asch’s old-fashioned language. She imagined an upstairs-downstairs-style set with earthy tones in the pimp’s home and fleshy beige-and-crimson hues in the brothel below.As she began her research, she concurred with Long Wharf director Gordon Edelstein, who told Pakn Treger that Asch “was a bad boy … writing a play about lesbian prostitutes at the turn of the century. You know he was trying to piss people off.”
While “God of Vengeance” was produced in myriad countries and on the New York Yiddish stage in the early 20th century, it provoked scandal only after moving to Broadway, mostly because of Jewish viewers who complained it was anti-Semitic. The loudest critic was Rabbi Joseph Silverman of Manhattan’s Temple Emanu-El, who insisted Asch had libeled the Jewish religion. While the non-Jewish dramatist Eugene O’Neill defended “Vengeance,” Asch’s old mentor, the Yiddish author I.L. Peretz, declaimed, “Burn it, Asch, burn it.”
Many decades later, composer-lyricist Levy had similar concerns. “It took me a year to make up my mind about whether to do the play,” confided Levy, who directed the music at the Yitzhak Rabin memorial at New York’s Madison Square Garden. “I wasn’t sure it showed the Jewish people in the greatest light. And there was the issue of the two women and the way the Torah is treated as a magical icon.”
The composer, like many Israelis, also had residual feelings about Yiddish as the culture of the Diaspora. But eventually, she was won over by the play’s themes, which, she believes, echo the current secular-religious conflicts in Israel.
By 1999, she was scribbling klezmer-inspired songs on envelopes and telephone bills, researching biblical references to the “God of Vengeance” and singing bits of verse to Leavitt over the telephone from her Manhattan apartment or Israeli country house.
The goal, she said, was to create songs that seamlessly merged with Asch’s edited, original text. “I wanted to show the humanity of people whose actions we do not approve of morally,” she added.
“The Bride and The Brothel” runs Jan. 26-March 4 at the Gascon Center Theater, 8737 Washington Blvd., Culver City. For tickets: (310) 289-2999.
British director Tyrone Guthrie, a non-Jew, oncesaid: “If all the Jews were to leave the American theater, it wouldclose down about next Thursday.”
Maybe that explains why there’s so much Jewishtheater now in Los Angeles. Here’s a roundup of the offerings: Wecan’t guarantee they’re good, but we can
The ladies of “Backstreet,” at the SantaMonica Playhouse.
* “Backstreet,” at the Santa Monica Playhouse,through April 26. You can find patrons arguing in the lobby over theeyebrow-raising premise of this musical: It’s set in a Jewishbrothel, circa 1905. The authors based the play on a story by theYiddish author Sholom Asch, and, yes, they say, there were Jewish brothels in New Yorkat the turn of the century. “Backstreet” follows the lives and lovesof an émigré family of Backstreet Ladies, offering adifferent vision of the American dream. Admission is $16 to $20. Forinformation, call (310) 394-9779, ext. 1.
* “Sing! A Musical Journey,” at UCLA’s FreudPlayhouse, through March 15. In his one-man show, actor-pianistHershey Felder plays the piano and tells stories of survival.
* “When the Rabbi Lied,” at the Lee StrasbergTheatre Institute, through March 15. Hildy Brook’s comedy-drama abouta woman wrestling with spiritual dilemmas as she explores her Jewishroots.
* The West Coast Jewish Theatre’s “YiddishkeitIII,” at the University of Judaism, on March 25. This Borscht-Beltkind of an evening features Catskillian comics, a cabaret act,Yiddish songster Hale Porter and more. Tickets are $25. (310)476-9777, ext. 535.
* “A Different Springtime,” at the Actors’Playhouse in Long Beach, March 14 through April 19. In this play by87-year-old Joseph Stein, the protagonist wants his mother, a PolishHolocaust survivor, to get married, and, thus, he arranges for her tomeet a Landsmann. Problem is, she thinks Mr. Sakamoto, the youngapartment-building manager, is trying to seduce her. Everything getsmore confusing when Myriam the Matchmaker enters the picture. Ticketsare $15. (213) 660-8587.
* “Dinner at Grandpa’s,” at the Wooden-O Theatrein West Los Angeles, opens March 20. Bobby Wittenberg’s comedy is setat an annual family dinner that celebrates Grandpa Sidney’s heartattack, when grandson David asks about the family history. Grandpainsists that he lived the American dream — until David inadvertentlycalls up the ghost of his late grandmother. Tickets are $15. (213)612-5229.
* “Chaim’s Love Song,” at the Bitter TruthTheatre, North Hollywood, through April 26. An Irish-American facultywife from Iowa, in culture shock since moving to Brooklyn, finds anunusual friend in an elderly Jew. Tickets are $15. (818)755-7900.
* “Labor Pains,” at the Victory Theatre, Burbank,opens April 3. In Lisa Diana Shapiro’s comedy, Rose (aka Jake) ispregnant via artificial insemination by her guy best friend. She’sstraight and Jewish; he’s gay and Italian. So how will they raisetheir child? Tickets are $18 to $20. (818) 841-5421.
* “I Know You Are, But What Am I?” at the TiffanyTheatre, through April 21. Jason is Jewish, smart, twentysomething,attractive, when he meets Susan on a blind date. Thereafter, you’llfollow their dating hell as they do anything to avoid the word”relationship.” Tickets are $15. (310) 289-2999.
The King of Klezmer
By Skip Heller
Naftule Brandwine is the Louis Armstrong ofAmerican klezmer. He didn’t invent the style, but he crystallizedevery element of it, to the point of embodying it. Just as everybluegrass banjoist comes out of Earl Scruggs, so does every klezmerclarinetist come from Brandwine.
Of course, jazz sells more, so while Armstrong wasanthologized often and well in his lifetime, Brandwine’s recordedlegacy waited until the corpse had been 34 years cold for acomprehensive collection, “King of the Klezmer Clarinet NaftuleBrandwine” (Rounder Records).
Brandwine arrived on these shores in 1913,bringing with him a clarinet style modeled after the Jewishviolinists he had heard. “Heisser Bulgar” opens the disc, and is aperfect introduction to Brandwine’s trick bag — bent notes,chirping, a nearly vocal vibrato, and a command of the clarinet thatremains impressive even today.
The tunes are, predictably, mostly fast-paced OldWorld-styled bulgars and freilachs, seemingly uninfluenced by American music. Surprisingly,little here sounds noticeably dated, which is more than one can claimfor most prewar instrumental music. Largely, this is because klezmeritself resists change. But, also, it is because this music stilleffectively telecasts its conviction, and is still excitinglistening.
Brandwine’s antics are often given more attentionthan his music. His ego-and-alcohol-laden exploits make for greatanecdotes. Brandwine would often wear a red-white-and-blue Uncle Samcostume, and would hang around his neck a small neon sign that read”The Naftule Brandwine Orchestra.”
Legend has it that, one night, he sweat so muchthat he was nearly electrocuted by the sign. His drinking,unreliability, egomania, temper and inability to read music cost himin the long run. In fact, by the mid-1920s, his standing as “king ofthe Jewish clarinet” was becoming questionable.
Rival clarinetist Dave Tarras eclipsed Brandwine.He carried himself with more dignity, could read music and was a morereliable citizen. Tarras’ style of klezmer clarinet was more refined,his tone less rough, his ability to read music making him eligiblefor more kinds of employ-ment, and he recorded well into the 1950s.Also, Tarras was alive and able to play during the late-1970s klezmerrevival. This conspiracy of elements did much to assure recognition.But Brandwine is the more exhilarating of the two. (Tarras wasanthologized definitively in 1992, with the essential”Yiddish-American Klezmer Music 1925-56″ disc, available on YazooRecords).
Also, Brandwine recorded first, and he almostsingle-handedly made klezmer an American-Jewish expression. He wasthe first major, defining soloist.
Although his 1963 death went largely unnoticed,his vibrant, sparkling playing is still much of the template forklezmer music. These 25 cuts on the anthology are dinosaur tracks.The beast himself may be gone, but the footprints are just too big tobe filled by anything that now stalks our terrain.
“King of the Klezmer Clarinet” is not onlyindispensable to every Jewish music library, but also any party. Thatis what klezmer music intended to be for in the first place.
Skip Heller is a Los Angeles-based writer andmusician.