Category: Theater


A few years ago I did an extensive, year-long search for an orchestra conductor.  One candidate’s remark  still resonates long after the search was successfully completed.  This young conductor told me that, contrary to the traditional thinking of serious and staid classical performance, if orchestras weren’t playing with all the joy and abandon they could muster, there had better be something pretty spectacular going on on the stage, from start to finish, because otherwise, audiences would be leaving the music hall in droves.  Why?  Because audiences today are used to, and expect “wows” with every note.   We are way too over-stimulated to sit still and watch the paint dry.

philadelphia-orchestra-yannickLast night we had the pleasure of hearing and seeing the Philadelphia Orchestra, presented in high definition (HD) at the Palme d’Or Cinema at the Westfield Mall.  Seeing an orchestra concert filmed live in HD with surround sound can actually be pretty exciting, due to the opportunity for up close observation.  The 2nd oboist had a nervous tic.  The french horns were all women.  The bassoonist had to wear some sort of shoulder harness.  Seeing how the conductor actually communicates with the musicians can add a curious and satisfying dimension to what we hear in a performance.  Every conductor is unique and capable of creating a discernible difference in orchestra performance.  When John Williams was conductor of the Boston Pops, it was common knowledge that the orchestra did not like him.  It was front and center when they played for him. 

Under the dazzling baton of Montreal native Yannick Nézet-Séguin, this Philadelphia Orchestra concert was up close and personal, delivering one WOW after the other.  It was obvious that this orchestra really likes their leader.  The programme represented Nezet-Seguin’s fresh approach to programming which was explained during the post concert conversation – yet another innovative approach that orchestras now use to engage us.  Yannick’s philosophy is to pair seemingly unrelated selections but which do indeed have common threads as he explained in the post concert interview.  The idea works and we, the audience, benefit by learning more about what we are hearing.      

I’m telling you about this beautiful concert in the hopes that it will be presented more than once, as many of Palme d’Ors offerings are. Do check the listings. 

In this particular concert,  Nézet-Séguin paired the Mahler Symphony #1 with the Korngold Violin Concerto.   Who, you ask?  If you don’t recognize Erich Korngold’s name you will likely recognize his music – he is considered the father of film music, having written such memorable film scores as Captain Blood, The Green Pastures, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Between Two Worlds, and Of Human Bondage, to name a few.  Those who do recognize his film scores probably don’t know that he was also a prolific and serious romantic composer. 

On the flip side, I wasn’t aware that Gustav Mahler was considered the inspiration for most early film music.  Who knew?  What an exciting pairing. Besides which, if you are like many who immediately think Mahler: heavy, modern, dissonant, ugg – wrong.  There is nothing more delightful, harmonic, and sensible than the Mahler First.  It’s gorgeous and satisfying from beginning to end.

Guest artist Hiliary Hahn, an extraordinary violinist, gloriously executed the extremely difficult Korngold Concerto on her 1865 Vuillaume Violin. What a big fat tone she gets out of her instrument.  Of course, she should have been, and would have been, the highlight of the concert, had the charming and effervescent Yannick not stolen the evening with his riveting interpretation of the Mahler.  I have NEVER, EVER heard a symphony concert audience erupt in cheers the way this one did at the end of the performance.  One would have thought the Phillies had just scored a triple.  WOW, WOW, and triple WOW.   (Thank you Palme d’Or for giving us such a thrill.)

This new crop of fabulous young conductors on the American Symphonic Scene is putting excitement  into orchestra performance like never before.  Whether it’s Gustavo Dudamel with the LA Phil, Alan Gilbert from the NY Philharmonic or young Yannick Nézet-Séguin from the Philadelphia Orchestra, we need not fear that classical music is a thing of the past.  These young Turks are kicking ass and taking no prisoners. So if you can’t see an orchestra live, you can still enjoy dozens of fabulous offerings at The River Cinemas in Rancho Mirage, the Camelot Theater in Palm Springs, or the Palme d’Or at Westfield Mall in Palm Desert. 

In addition, the Palme provides three plus months of scheduling on their website, so you can actually plan accordingly.  How nice!  In particular The Palme  goes above and beyond to provide a wide variety of programming that more and more has included classical choices in ballet, opera,  theater and concerts as well as their usual array of the best in cinema – not just the latest explosive, car-crash, box office bang-ups.  Also, I should not have been surprised to see listed in general release right now, two films that we previewed at the International Film Festival in January – Fill The Void and The Kon Tiki (actually quite scary.) 

A few recommendations I might make in the coming schedule are:

The Palme:  The National Theater Live presents Helen Mirren in “The Audience,” reprising her role as Queen Elizabeth II as she, from young mother to grandmother, meets with each of her prime ministers in an imagined set of conversations.  June 13 live @ 11 am; repeats June 20 4 pm  & June 25, 6:30. I can’t wait for this one.  Also watch for Otello Sept 26 and Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth October 17  & 24.Helen-Mirren

The Palme:  If you prefer ballet or opera you can choose the Paris Opera Ballet Series throughout June and July, including La Sylphide, Fallstaff, The Magic Flute or Carmen.

Fine Art anyone? 

How about great art on the big screen?   That’s different.  The Palme  – July 6th, 12:00 pm will offer a first: a behind-the-scenes look at putting together and seeing an art exhibition – in this case the work of Edvard Munch (The Scream) as celebrated in Norway on Munch’s 150 anniversary. 

The River will offer – October 10, 7:30 pm from The National Gallery, London a major exhibition on one of the most startling and fascinating artists of all-time, Johannes Vermeer, most popularly known as the painter of the Girl with a Pearl Earring. Vermeer painted little more than 30 works that still exist, and the National Gallery has chosen to focus on his art in relation to music. Music was one of the most popular themes of Dutch painting and revealed an enormous amount about the sitter and the society.  Not to be missed. 

Summer at The River Cinemas also will be offering a full schedule of Live At The Met Opera Encores, including Carmen (stand-out MET performance) June 19; Ill Trovatore, June 26; Armida, July 10th; and La Traviata, July 17th.  The River is also showing  Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece Swan Lake live from  the Mariinsky Theatre, Thursday, June 6th at 6:30 pm.  If you’ve never seen a ballet, this is the one to see. 

The Palme will also show the Philadelphia Orchestra with Simon Rattle conducting Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, June 26th @ 6:30 pm. 

So as we head into the summer season there is no reason to lament the inevitable heat.  And don’t tell me there’s nothing to do!  I’ve barely scratched the surface and given you plenty of links to source even more options.  Theaters struggle to fill seats during the summer, but unfortunately they don’t market these cultural gems very well.  I believe more folks would attend these stellar performances if there was better exposure to their target market.  So there.  I’m doing my bit. 

Don’t forget Palm Springs Restaurant Week is May 31 June 16th.  Palm Desert Restaurant Week is May 31 – June 9th.  May I suggest you eat, drink and be merry.  With all the lovely culture Coachella Valley has to offer why wouldn’t you?

 

Acrobats in Love

Adaptations from one medium to another seldom work.  Think back over the past fifty years of books to Broadway to the cinema and most of us can rattle off the ones that did work:  The Sound of Music, South Pacific, West Side Story, Grease, Dreamgirls, Mama Mia.  This week we experienced two that are worth noting. 

The Beatles Love is a Cirque du Soleil offering, permanently housed at The Mirage in Las Vegas.  Having seen seven of the Cirque shows, we are Cirque aficionados; completely in awe of their consistent high standards of incredible athleticism, their musical originality, and their otherworldly costuming.   I couldn’t imagine how a catalogue of totally unrelated songs could be successfully incorporated into a workable story line, but Mama Mia was so clever and joyful, I was at least hopeful.   Sadly, the totality of this show did not measure up, although the costuming was imaginative and the theater itself is a marvel of technology – talk about surround sound – the speakers are in the seats!   

Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx

Overall, the incredible imaginings of Cirque founder Guy Laiberte and his legions of technical and artistic geniuses are lost or wasted in this attempt to string together the Beatles catalogue in some magical way.  It just doesn’t work, Magical Mystery Tour be damned.  My only curiosity at the end was…1) who gets the royalties and 2) have Ringo and Paul seen the show?

Our second experience this week was a rip-roaring smash-up of electric eighties hits wound tightly together in Rock of Ages, The Movie.   OMG, this show takes toe-tapping rock and roll to the pinnacle of perfection.  It’s filled with amazing musical talent from every single cast member.  They deliver tight harmonies that invite you to explore your own inner backup singer;  accompanied by The Best R&R band you’ve heard in ages.  As we used to say: “they were all cook’in with gas!”   

Delicious duo, Brand & Baldwin

Typical story line:  small-town stary-eyed kids; jaded rocker with hangers-on; silly city officials suppressing their envy; and a happy ending. 

Tom Cruise, at forty-nine,  shows us he really really really does have acting chops (it’s hard to be sleazy and adorable at the same time) and – surprise – The Boy Can Sing!  He delivers exactly the right twinge of over-the-top debauchery in his sly portrayal of booze-addled rock star, Stacee Jaxx.   I’d give him the Oscar now.

Russell Brand is actually a likeable version of himself, sans the indigestion and Alex Baldwin is typical Alex Baldwin, deliciously smarmy as the club owner.  They deliver a cute plot twist that I won’t spoil for you.  Paul Giamatti is spot on as the dastardly agent.  I had to look twice to recognize Catherine Zeta Jones in Channel and pearls, playing the overzealous mayor’s wife, but of course, she’s always worth the second glance.  Bryan Cranston is pitch perfect as the clueless mayor.  Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, the talented innocents, deliver the best laugh lines:  She, confessing with remorse:  “I’m working in a strip club.”  He, with wincing embarrassment:  “I’m in a boy band.”  She with relief:   “You win.”

Everything about Rock of Ages is just over the top enough to dull the sharp edges that would otherwise make the seedy reality of  eighties excesses way too gross.  Can we  say that there were many tongues in use?  The film tales the typically saccharin and harmless plot of a  high school play and lovingly smothers it in magenta glitter and gold sequins which we willinglyallow to camouflage the more uncomfortable aspects of that time period.   It’s not meant to be a teachable moment.  It’s a feel good escape from today’s weary troubles – the 2012 answer to Busby Berkeley, albeit on steroids. 

We all left the theater  smiling, laughing, humming all the tunes (which were more our kids era than ours) and vowing to download the sound track for our i-pods and  planning a return to the big screen to see it all again.  I”m voting for Imax next time.  Do yourself a favor:  Go See It!  Then let us know what you think.

Urinetown The Musical

Being relatively new to the Coachella Valley cultural vibe, I’ve been anxious to experience what community theater has to offer.   Being in such close proximity to Los Angeles, I expected to find talent itching to flap those theatrical wings and right I was.  I’m not talking about the big tour shows that hit the McCallum Theater during the season (like Mama Mia which was here last weekend)  or the other performing arts venues like LaQuinta Grooves in the Grove, or the Coachella Music Festival. 

I’m talking about Mickey and Judy whipping up the kids in the  barn by declaring “Let’s have a show!” 

Set of Urinetown at Palm Canyon Theater

Urinetown currently playing at the Palm Canyon Theater in Palm Springs was the tony award-winning hit of 2001-02 on Broadway.  Back then the production was described as:

“Neo-Brechtian absurdist melodrama about a city in the midst of a drought so devastating that a malevolent corporation has been able to take control of all the toilet facilities.  Greed, corruption, and betrayal run rampant and the public desperately seeks relief.” 

That about sums it up.  This delicious romp through  Broadway history with its satirically rousing numbers like  “It’s A Privilege To Pee,”  lampoons musical theater in general, with absurd over the top characters like the “Our Town narrator,” Officer Lockstock and his trusty sidekick, officer Barrell.  Did I mention the “Les Misérables”  first act ending, complete with waiving red flag and  two-step choreography.

The singing was respectable and in some places pretty darn good, with rousing harmonies struck at the end of each song; the choreography was better than one might expect from a local production; costumes and set decoration were convincing and overall, the show was good old fashioned light entertainment.  We all enjoyed the escape from reality, while supporting our friends Bonnie & Roger Grace, who had parts in the show.   In the end, that’s what it’s all about anyway.

Community theater is a labor of love.  We do it because IT’S FUN, and we love to support our friends.  It’s a grand opportunity for discovery, whether you’re creative and handy enough to build a set, learn to sing harmony or maybe tap dance (I’m waiting for someone to do 42nd Street so I can learn to do that,)  sew costumes, or even tackle a leading role.  Hey, it could happen!  Alfie Boe , the recent  lead  in the London production of  Les Misérables was a natural talent who was pretty much destined to remain a mechanic until he was nearly plucked from obscurity to sing with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company and the rest, they say, is history.

I did a google search of local community theater, and the results were pretty scattered.  As far as I can tell, there are three local theater groups which you absolutely should explore:   the above mentioned Palm Canyon Theater,  the Coachella Valley REP, and  The Indio Performing Arts Center, with Artistic Director Bob Reinhagen, who is my old friend and actually the first director I worked with, back in our Falmouth Theater Guild days on Cape Cod.  A life time ago, but what fun we had –  building sets, playing in the orchestra, singing in the chorus, making costumes, occasionally taking a speaking role.  Micky and Judy had nothin’ on us! 

But I am betting there is more local theater, which I hope you will tell me about.  So please do, by clicking reply.  I”m all ears!

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