JOAN OF ART: An Outdoor Concert, An Indoor Concert, A Musical Parody of a Hit TV Comedy and A Great Musical From Broadway

One thing that I love about the summer is an outdoor concert and this Saturday evening the always fabulous RICKIE LEE JONES will be performing live at Burton Chace Park, 13650 Mindanao Way, Marina del Rey. Tickets are free and the concert starts at 7:00pm and runs till 8:30.

Now in its 19th year, the Marina del Rey Summer Concerts present exciting symphonic and pop concerts. Enjoy a serene sunset by the water while listening to great music. Bring some food along in case you get the munches.

For a full list of their concerts go to EventBrite.com/o/marina-del-rey-summer-concerts-19961789196. No tickets are required for these concerts.

Now if you’d rather be indoors, then head on out to the Forum in Inglewood to either Friday or Saturday night to see ADAM LAMBERT with QUEEN. I’ve seen this concert and it is fantastic. Adam has the same charisma that Freddie Mercury had and the dude can sing.

The Forum is located at 3900 West Manchester Blvd, Inglewood CA To purchase tickets and for more information. go to MSG.com.

If you’d like theatre of a different kind then I’m happy to report that one of my favorite musicals has returned to Los Angeles. The powerful, beautifully written musical MISS SAIGON starting this Thursday, July 18th will be playing at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles.

MISS SAIGON is based on Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly and similarly tells the tragic tale of a doomed romance involving an Asian woman abandoned by her American lover. The setting of the plot is relocated to 1970’s Saigon during the Vietnam War and Madam Butterfly’s story of marriage between an American lieutenant and a geisha i replaced by a romance between a United States Marine and a 17 year old South Vietnamese bargirl.

The music is absolutely haunting.

For tickets and information go to HollywoodPantages.com

Finally for some lighter fare then i recommend you head over to the Kirk Douglas Theatre to see FRIENDS! THE MUSICAL PARODY. This is the comedic musical that lovingly pokes fun at TV’S Friends, celebrating the adventures of your favorite group of 20 something friends as they navigate the pitfalls of work, life and love in 1990’s Manhattan.

The show has gotten rave review from all over the country.

To purchase tickets and for more information go to CenterTheatreGroup.org The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located in Culver City at 9820 Washington Blvd. This 317 Theatre is absolutely beautiful and a great place to experience theatre.

Whatever you choose to do this summer weekend, make it a great one.


The Winners at the 50th Annual 'LA Drama Critics Circle' Awards Ceremony Held at the Pasadena Playhouse

The 50th Annual LA Drama Critics Circle Awards at the Pasadena Playhouse, Monday, April 8, 2019. (Photo by Better Lemons)

The LA Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) held their 50th Annual Awards ceremony at the landmark Pasadena Playhouse where Better Lemons was in attendance to live tweet the evening's festivities and entertainment, Monday, April 8, 2019.

Wenzel Jones presided over the festivities, and Christopher Raymond served as music director with musical performances by Kristin Towers Rowles, Constance Jewell Lopez, and Zachary Ford.

There were four recipients of the 2018 Production award: Cambodian Rock Band (South Coast Repertory), Come From Away (Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre), Cry It Out (Echo Theater Company), and Sell/Buy/Date (Geffen Playhouse / Los Angeles LGBT Center).

Better Lemons' Chief Operating Officer Stephen Box (Left,) Publisher Enci Box, and Playwright & Screenwriter Steven Vlasak at the 50th Annual LA Drama Critics Circle Awards at the Pasadena Playhouse, Monday, April 8, 2019.

The Antaeus Theatre Company received the most awards, with three of its productions winning a combined seven trophies. Celebration Theatre's Cabaret took home six awards, the most awards for a single production, including one for Revival. Tom Hanks received a lead actor award for his performance as Falstaff in The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles production of Henry IV in a competitive category. 17 awards were presented in other categories with 17 productions taking home the honors.

In its inaugural this year, the Theater Angel award was presented to Yvonne Bell in recognition of her "long career devoted to fostering theater in Los Angeles ... [and] successful fundraising campaigns" to help open several cultural institutions, such as The Museum of Contemporary Art and the California Science Center.

Eight previously announced special awards were presented, including the Margaret Harford Award for sustained excellence in theater to Sacred Fools Theater Company and the Ted Schmitt Award for the world premiere of an outstanding new play to Lauren Yee for Cambodian Rock Band.

The LADCC was established in 1969  “to foster and reward merit in the American Theater and encourage theater in Los Angeles,” the LADCC site quotes from an announcement in the L.A. Times of that year.

Here is the list of award recipients as announced during Better Lemons' live coverage on Twitter:

Featured photo by Enci Box - Theatre patrons in the courtyard of the Pasadena Playhouse for the 50th Annual LA Drama Critics Circle Awards, Pasadena, California, Monday, April 8, 2019. Enci Box contributed to this story and photos.


BIG NIGHT and HEAD OF PASSES: the Hipster Scopes out Two New Shows at CTG

BIG NIGHT by Paul Rudnick, Directed by Walter Bobbie

Brian Hutchinson and Wendie Malick are son and mom in "The Big Night"

Paul Rudnick is a witty man.  In fact, no, he is a very witty man. I met him a few times at various New York theaters in the late 1980s, and each time he looked like he was on his way to a costume party, dressed as either the young Oscar Wilde or as Dorian Gray (is there a difference? not sure).  This might have seemed pretentious in someone else, but not with Paul Rudnick, to whom quips and bon mots come as naturally as sports metaphors do for the average male.  And, honestly, he probably is as close to our own homegrown Oscar Wilde as we are likely to get.

Which is both what is really good and what is really bad about his new play, BIG NIGHT, getting its world premiere now at the Kirk Douglas.  Rudnick has been all over town lately talking about how the mass murders at the Pulse nightclub "inspired" his play, because of the way it happened on the night before the 2016 Tony Awards.  "I remember thinking that that particular combination of showbiz celebration and human tragedy was very interesting to me as a writer and seemed like a high stakes and also comic situation," Rudnick told The Jewish Journal.

The witty Mr. Rudnick

The killing of 49 gay people - 0r 26 LGBT  youth in the play - is "comic"?  Really?  Pray tell, how is that so?

The conceit of Rudnick's play is that a gay actor of around 40 has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting actor, and the big night has finally arrived.  Early on we meet Cary (Max Jenkins) - probably the best-written character and best performance in the play - and his banter with Michael (Brian Hutchinson), Cary's client and the nominated actor, establishes the showbiz-bubble world that they live in.

All good so far.  While the barbs are fired at familiar targets - Hollywood folks are "superficial"! Hold the presses! - there is still lots of fun to be had, staring in the mirror at their (and our) narcissism. Soon they are joined in the not very convincingly 21st century hotel suite (I half-expected Sammy Davis Jr to spring out from behind the sofa) by Michael's transgender niece (Tom Phelan) and glamorously sexy mom (Wendie Malick), and the jollity continues. A few surprises ensue, and I wouldn't dream of divulging them, but they did make me wonder about casting Ms Malick as the mom.  Don't get me wrong - she's a star, and very funny in everything she does, from Dream On to Just Shoot Me! to Hot in Cleveland.  But the character here is a nurturer, and that doesn't really suit Malick's persona.  I can think of a half-dozen actresses (with Linda Lavin at the top of the list) who would make this a much deeper and richer character, which is something this play dearly needs.

Because when the tragic events unfold, as they do, it's not just Hollywood folk who end up seeming superficial.  The characters in this play, who have mostly been lots of fun to hang out with, become oddly reduced to one dimension, and fits of melodrama suddenly break out onstage like a disease that everyone becomes stricken with at once.

I'm sure this play will end up in New York, where it will doubtless have its admirers.  There is, yes, lots to admire in the brilliance of Paul Rudnick's humor in general.  But his attempt to turn his gift towards the serious clanks off the backboard like a Carmelo Anthony 3-point brick (said the hetero critic).

 

HEAD OF PASSES by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Directed by Tina Landau

Phylicia Rashad and others. Photo: Glenn Koenig/LA Times

Ten minutes into the performance I saw of HEAD OF PASSES at the Taper, I was seized by an odd and discomforting feeling of deja vu.  This play reminded me uncannily of something else I'd seen before.  Here was the house in a storm and all these characters running around saying things that I couldn't quite make any sense of.  There was the man running around with the potato salad gone bad, and there was Phylicia Rashad in the middle of it all, appealing to the Lord as the events around her went from bad to worse. But it wasn't until the spectacular stage design apocalypse at the end of the Act that I realized - I'd seen this play before, 18 months ago, at the Public Theatre in NYC!  That's why it seemed so familiar!  But why did it take me so long to figure it out?

It's not memory - that hasn't started a downhill slide yet.  I do see a lot of plays - something like 400 in the last two years alone - and that was definitely a factor.  But no, I think it has to do first with the title - "Head of Passes" - is that the most forgettable title ever?  And I have no idea what it means.  I've seen the play twice now, and it's no clearer.  But no, the real reason is that nothing that happens in Act I has any emotional staying power.  And as a friend of mine remarked, you can see Eugene O'Neill's style here and Tennessee Williams's style there, and August Wilson's style everywhere.  I'm not saying that Tarell McCraney plagiarized anything, simply that his playwright's voice is drowned out by those of his influences in Act I, which I think is why I didn't realize right away that I'd seen this play before.  The writing comes across as generic, and frankly, the direction by Tina Landau doesn't help matters by failing to find standout dramatic moments for the audience to hang onto.  It all becomes a jumble of bad news, a litany of misery, in which the outwardly affluent family is beset with problems that can no longer remain hidden.  And they don't.

Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney,, whose talent emerges in Act II

Which brings us to Act II, when the real play emerges.  Though not before more emotionally-messy dramaturgy, when the characters leave an old woman in a crumbling house by herself without putting up much of an argument.  But once she is left alone, Ms Rashad's Shelah wrestles with God in a compulsively watchable way, giving a performance that can genuinely be called a legend in the making.  And yes, it's thrilling, a brilliant and soul-stirring turn.  It's tempting to read more into Ms Rashad's performance, to see her self-lacerating monologue as relating to her private misgivings about her public support for her friend Bill Cosby.  But again, I'm conjuring that out of thin air and only wish it was true.

[NOTE: my manager found this reference to Cosby offensive and urged me to remove it. This being Yom Kippur, I'm certainly not out to offend anyone - but being myself a victim of sexual abuse, I can't help having the fantasy that Ms Rashad is secretly doing her own atoning.  Critics are allowed to have fantasies, aren't they?]

What is absolutely self-evident is that Phylicia Rashad is one of our greatest actors, and if you want to see her reach unforgettable heights in a heartfelt but mostly-forgettable play, then you need to see "Head of Passes" - or is it "Bed of Asses"?  ""Spread of Gasses"?  "Ted's New Glasses"?  - before it closes on October 22nd.

And, oh yeah, that set is pretty great too.  Kudos to set designer G.W. Mercier.  That' couldn't have been easy to make happen, but it serves as the perfect metaphor for this imploding family.