Music & Theater

Feeling the burn at the Bowl

August 21, 2013

Robert Almodovar loves the Hollywood Bowl both for its music and for the workout he gets on the stairs.

By night, the steps of the Hollywood Bowl fill with music lovers, filing into their seats with picnics, popcorn and wine. Come sunup, however, a whole other crowd hits the house—locals like Robert Almodovar, for whom the Bowl is not just a world-renowned concert shell but also Los Angeles’ most iconic Stairmaster.

“It’s a beautiful place and I live just up the street,” panted the 61-year-old actor, smiling as he jogged uphill between the Garden Level boxes and the cheap seats on Tuesday morning. “I know all the guys who work here. I’ve been coming for years.”

Almodovar is among thousands of Angelenos who use the Bowl for recreation and fitness—a side attraction that stems from the fact that, when the Bowl isn’t serving as one of L.A.’s best-loved cultural destinations, it’s a Los Angeles County regional park.

“We get close to a million visitors coming by the park in the off-season and when we’re not having concerts,” said Gail Samuels, chief operating officer for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which operates the Bowl under a lease with the county. Some of them picnic, she said. Some meditate. Some wander in during the summer for kids’ programs, or to quietly eavesdrop on open rehearsals. But for neighbors, the Bowl’s cardio benefits are an undeniable attraction.

“People walk the stairs, people walk the hillside,” said Samuels. “It’s a pretty steep grade, and definitely a good workout.”

“Every day, you see runners here,” agreed Bowl operations director Christine Whitman, strolling the foggy amphitheater as Almodovar worked out in the distance. Onstage, crews behind her toted chairs and music stands for Itzhak Perlman’s rehearsal later in the morning with the L.A. Phil.

“People come first thing in the morning when the gates open, and after work in the evening. When school is in session, the kids come up from Hollywood High School.”

Personal trainers meet clients at the Bowl. Local bloggers discover and rediscover the stairs there. This weekend, a fitness event there for Los Angeles County employees is expected to draw several hundred office workers for a power walk and choreographed dance workout.

As the nation’s largest natural amphitheater, Whitman said, it’s a natural athletic challenge: “From the Pool Circle to the back of the house, it’s 450 linear feet with a hundred-foot rise, so you can imagine how that would make your heart race.”

The Bowl and its grounds are free and open to the public from sunrise to sunset daily, except during closed rehearsals and after about 3 p.m. on concert nights. Parking is also free during the Bowl’s off-hours. Because the musicians prefer not to be distracted, the stairs are closed to runners during summer rehearsals, which typically run from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

“But otherwise, people can be there all day,” Whitman said.

It’s a fact that not all Angelenos are aware of. While exercisers jam public stairways in Santa Monica, Silver Lake, Rustic Canyon and other hilly parts of the city, only the bolder—and better informed—fitness buffs tend to brave the climb at the Bowl.

“We weren’t sure if it was OK to be here, but we thought we’d just keep walking until we got yelled at,” John Justice Parker, a 26-year-old songwriter, actor and newcomer to Los Angeles, confessed Monday evening as he and three friends made the long trek from the bottom to the top of Aisle 3, their calves burning.

“But we’re a pretty single-minded group and we wanted to conquer the mountain.”

“Also we wanted to get a picture from the top,” added Brandon Blouin, his out-of-town friend.

Almodovar applauds their effort. He has honed his own workout to maximize the Bowl’s assets.

“I do a stretching routine to work on all the aches and pains,” he said. “Then I do sit-ups. Then I start a very sloooow, old-man jog through the Bowl, all the way to the picnic area at the top. Then I come down and do the stairs.”

All in all, he says, it takes him about an hour and 20 minutes. But his work demands that he stay in shape. Along with TV and film roles, he does theater and is a familiar face in commercials for tires, credit cards and restaurants.

“I’ve been here every day for the last two weeks, except for one day when I had an audition,” said Almodovar, giving himself a personal high-five as he finished his run and the morning fog gave way to sunshine.

“Wooh! This is what we love about exercise, isn’t it? I’m awake!”

And all before the first note of the day sounded on the legendary Bowl stage.

 

Almodovar, victorious, after conquering the Bowl stairs.

Posted 8/21/13

Double the star power at the Ford

August 6, 2013

Complexions Contemporary Ballet, above, performs for the first time with Lula Washington Dance Theatre.

Two of the nation’s premier dance troupes team up Saturday at the John Anson Ford Theatre in a groundbreaking collaboration with an East Coast-West Coast spin.

The New York-based Complexions Contemporary Ballet, led by Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden, joins forces with Los Angeles’ own Lula Washington Dance Theatre on the stage of the historic, county-owned amphitheatre.

It marks the first time the companies have performed together. They’ve spent the week collaborating in other ways as well, leading a free audience participation “J.A.M. session” on Tuesday evening and presenting a master class on Thursday for advanced local dance students.

“Both organizations have a desire to innovate and to present dance that removes boundaries,” Adam Davis, the Ford’s managing director, said in a statement.

The Saturday night performance, the second in the newly-inaugurated Zev Yaroslavsky Signature Series, benefits the Ford Theatre Foundation. Benefit tickets range in price from $45 to $85;  for availability, please contact the Ford box office at (323) 461-3673.

The program includes Washington’s 2007 “Ode to the ‘60s,” with music ranging from Chuck Berry to the Beatles, and “Rise,” choreographed by Rhoden in 2008 with music by U2. The companies will perform together in the new work “I Wonder Why,” choreographed by Rhoden to vocals by Stevie Wonder. Also featured is the premiere performance of “Turn the Page,” choreographed by Washington. It was inspired in part by Yaroslavsky’s childhood experience turning musical score pages for his great uncle, a string bass player for the Sol Hurok orchestras, in the orchestra pit during ballet performances.

Three for the Ford: from left, Desmond Richardson, Lula Washington, Dwight Rhoden.

Posted 8/6/13

It’s no secret: this guy can sing

May 29, 2013

Mandy Patinkin sings Broadway classics and popular songs at the Ford on June 9.

Oh sure, millions know Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson, the charismatic and intense CIA chief on Showtime’s critically acclaimed  “Homeland,” with its legions of obsessive fans. Multitudes have howled at Bill Hader’s brilliant impersonation of Patinkin’s character on Saturday Night Live, and some have even liked the Facebook page “One Million Fans of Mandy Pantinkin’s Beard.” Zach Braff was no doubt speaking for many when he praised two of Patinkin’s most famous roles when he recently added him to the cast of his new Kickstarter-financed movie:

“When I was a child, my favorite movie was ‘The Princess Bride.’ Now that I am an adult, my favorite TV show is ‘Homeland.’ They have one thing in common: one of my favorite actors of all time is joining us to play my father: Mandy Patinkin.”

But this is not just some pop culture flavor of the month—this is Mandy Patinkin we’re talking about. And in between the childhood delights of “Princess Bride” (with the enduring catch phrase “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”) and the grownup pleasures of “Homeland” lies Patinkin’s vast and distinguished career as a star of the Broadway musical stage.

It will be this Mandy Patinkin—winner of a Tony for his role as Che Guevara in “Evita,” nominated for his star turn in “Sunday In The Park With George”—who takes the stage of the county’s Ford Amphitheatre on Sunday, June 9, at 8 p.m. to perform an array of Broadway classics and popular songs with the Pasadena Pops.

Patinkin’s performance inaugurates the Zev Yaroslavsky Signature Series, in which nationally renowned artists play the Ford as a complement to the amphitheatre’s traditional programming showcasing homegrown L.A. talent. A second Signature Series performance on August 10 will feature the New York-based Complexions Contemporary Ballet troupe, appearing with Los Angeles’ own Lula Washington Dance Theatre. Proceeds from both concerts will benefit the Ford Theatre Foundation.

Even though Patinkin’s repertoire stretches from Shakespeare to Sondheim to Showtime, this performance marks his first appearance at the Ford. Tickets for this slice of showbiz history start at $50; click here to order. After all, Season 3 of Homeland doesn’t start until September 29.

Patinkin plays opposite Claire Danes in "Homeland." Showtime photo/Ronen Akerman

Posted 5/29/13

Prepare to be Bowled over

May 29, 2013

New LED screens premiered at the Hollywood Bowl during last month's Korean Music Festival.

It’s showtime. State of the art LED screens, custom-designed furniture for picnicking with pizzazz and a striking new wine bar will greet Hollywood Bowl patrons this summer—part of an amenities infusion that also includes a new sound system.

Clearly, the county-owned Bowl, recently recognized by Pollstar magazine as the nation’s best major outdoors concert venue for the ninth straight year, isn’t resting on its laurels.

“I think we’re really lucky because we start with a great experience, and a great venue people love,” said Gail Samuel, chief operating officer of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which operates the bowl under a long-term lease with the county. But “staying competitive in the concert business” is essential, she said.

“The way people want to experience things has evolved, so we want to provide as many options as possible and…stay up with the most advanced technology,” she said.

The new sound system and LED screens made their Bowl debut during the Korean Music Festival, a lease event last month, and also will be up and running for other pre-season lease events including Fleetwood Mac on May 25 and Andrea Boccelli on June 8. The new furniture and wine bar will be making their bow in time for the Bowl’s official opening night, June 22. (Tickets for the summer season are on sale now online or at the Bowl box office.)

When the season starts, patrons coming up the Peppertree Lane hill toward the amphitheater will be greeted by an almost continuous row of new dark wood benches specially designed to allow for level seating on a slope. Other new pieces include deep platforms that will provide seating for large picnic groups of six to eight people. Additional picnic-friendly elements include benches with small built-in tables of powder-coated stainless steel in a signature “caper berry” green.

Specially-designed furniture will make it easier for Bowl patrons to get their picnic on. Image/Rios Clementi Hale

Julie Smith-Clementi of Rios Clementi Hale Studios, which oversaw the furniture project, including benches it designed for the site with manufacturer Forms and Surfaces, spent time at the Bowl last season observing how people staked out pre-concert space on the grounds. She said it was disconcerting to see patrons desperate for a place to park their picnic baskets.

“So many people were just throwing blankets onto the asphalt,” she said. “One woman was running from one area to the next, trying to find a table.”

The infusion of new furniture will expand seating at the site significantly—from about 2,001 to 2,855, a 43% increase.

Meanwhile, those who prefer a pre-concert glass of champagne to a picnic on a bench will likely be making a beeline for the new wine bar designed by Callas Architects, already being billed as “a new ‘meet-up’ landmark location.” The wine bar, next to the Bowl’s marketplace, perches above the popcorn stand, which also has been stylishly redesigned.

Barbara Callas, the architect, said she aspired to “a modernist classicism for a world-class singular amphitheater.”

“The concession space of spherical canopies mirrors the Bowl’s geometry and creates a dramatic new entry,” Callas said in a statement.

Inside the amphitheater itself, the four new LED screens stand ready to brightly beam the onstage action—in wide screen, high definition format—to patrons throughout the venue, from the boxes to the back benches. They’re designed to provide high-resolution images even in the daytime.

“The thing about the old screens is you can’t see them when it’s not completely dark,” said Samuel, the Philharmonic’s COO. “With these screens in broad daylight, we can run them and it’s a beautiful clear picture. So when our shows start at 8 or 7:30 and it’s still kind of dusk, you’ll see them from the very beginning.”

Also new this summer: an L-Acoustics K1 loudspeaker system to replace the venue’s old sound system, which had been in place since 2004. The K1 is expected to provide higher quality sound and more advanced speaker technology.

The 2013 improvements follow last year’s introduction of colorful, redesigned restrooms and a new moving walkway at the Bowl’s main entrance.

Funding for the LED screens and park furniture was provided by the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Proposition A funds. The wine bar and loudspeaker system were underwritten by the Philharmonic.

Rendering copyright Barbara Callas A.I.A. architect and principal-in-charge of the Hollywood Bowl wine bar project

Posted 5/8/13

The Ford says take a seat. Or two.

April 3, 2013

Looking for a garden accent with a Los Angeles County arts pedigree? The Ford has a deal for you.

Maybe you’ve settled into one on a clear autumn evening and basked in the cool stylings of the Angel City Jazz Festival. Perhaps you took a load off to catch Jane’s Addiction in 1989—or their sold-out return in 2011.  Possibly you leaned back as Elvis Costello performed songs from a new album in 1996, or sat up straight in amazement at the tap-dancing virtuosity of Fayard Nicholas in 2000.

L.A. audiences have been parking their posteriors in the sturdy brown seats of the Ford Amphitheatre for more than three decades—ever since its original wooden pew-style seating was ripped out in 1980.

Whether you’re an aficionado of Mexican folk ballet, Outfest movies, exuberant Brazilian Nites or the family-friendly antics of Big!World!Fun!, chances are you’ve made yourself at home in one of the historic amphitheatre’s 1,200 seats.

Now one of those seats can make itself at home with you.

The chance to own a piece of Ford history comes as the old seats were removed this winter to make way for waterproofing the amphitheatre’s floor, and new seats, in shades of soft gray and green, are being installed this spring. The work is part of a larger overhaul, to be completed by the summer of 2014, in which the stage will be redesigned, lighting and sound systems replaced and the scenic hillside behind the stage re-landscaped. Architect Brenda Levin, whose firm masterminded recent improvements at Dodger Stadium and in 2006 completed the historic renovation of Griffith Observatory, is heading up the project, with Mia Lehrer overseeing the landscaping.

 This off-season’s work is all about making the outdoor facility much more water-tight.

“We were leaking like a sieve,” said Laura Zucker, executive director of the county Arts Commission, which manages the Ford. She said leaks through the amphitheatre floor have seeped into everything underneath, including the facility’s restrooms, bar area, storage room and small indoor theatre.

The old seats are still in good shape but were major culprits in the leaking because each required 8 bolts to secure.

The Ford Theatre Foundation, the non-profit organization that supports the amphitheatre and its programming, is selling the retired seats for $50 each ($90 for a pair, and greater discounts for larger purchases up to four.) The form to order the seats is here; information on when and where to pick up the seats will be noted at the bottom of your emailed receipt. Please note: the seats are not freestanding, and must be secured with bolts.

Any seats not sold during the fundraising drive will be donated to local parks or other outdoor venues that could use them, Zucker said.

The Ford, originally called “The Pilgrimage Theatre” in a nod to the religious play that in the early days was regularly performed there, opened in 1920 and was rebuilt after it was destroyed in a 1929 brushfire. It has been owned by Los Angeles County since 1941 and was renamed to honor former Supervisor John Anson Ford in 1976. Its “Partnership Program,” focusing on showcasing and developing local performing arts groups, started 20 years ago and is still going strong.

“The Ford is the only performing arts venue in Los Angeles that exists to support and present Los Angeles-based artists,” Zucker said, quipping that the “locally-sourced” programming comes with a guarantee that “all performers are grown within 100 miles of the venue.”

Tickets for this summer’s season go on sale April 10. [Updated: The Ford's summer schedule is here.]

The amphitheatre's original pew-style seats are long gone.

Posted 4/3/13

What’s up at the Bowl?

January 30, 2013

The rabbit's animated but the orchestra's real in "Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II" at the Hollywood Bowl.

Ladies and gentlemen: start your picnic planning. From Bugs Bunny to Tchaikovsky, the upcoming summer season at the Hollywood Bowl promises a multi-course feast for every musical appetite.

Featured artists include the L.A. Philharmonic’s maestro Gustavo Dudamel, who’ll be conducting the orchestra and soloists in Verdi’s Aida and Requiem.

Other superstars on the roster include Tony Bennett, Natalie Cole, Willie Nelson and Itzhak Perlman. Yo-Yo Ma plays against type as part of Goat Rodeo.

Josh Groban is headlining a series of July 4th Fireworks Spectaculars, while She & Him, Pink Martini, Blue Man Group and Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers will be making appearances this summer as well. Also on tap: Kristen Chenoweth, Queen Latifah and ABBA Fest, featuring the tribute band Waterloo.

This year’s musical is Chicago. And everyone, regardless of vocal ability, can get in on the act at the Grease and Sound of Music sing-alongs (costumes optional.)

New and renewed subscriptions are available now. Tickets for five events or more go on sale March 19, with single ticket sales beginning in early May. Check out the 2013 schedule here and start planning your summer Bowl excursions. After all, in the words of the great Bugs Bunny himself, “the acoustics are poifect.”

Posted 1/30/13

Bringing down the (White) House

January 9, 2013

A rousing performance in the East Room is the latest honor for the Mariachi Master Apprentice Program.

Every performer loves a standing ovation. And for a troupe of young mariachis from the northeast San Fernando Valley, the only thing better than bringing a White House audience to its feet was having Michelle Obama in the front row as Applauder-in-Chief.

Put your hands together for the city of San Fernando’s Mariachi Master Apprentice Program, fresh from an engagement at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where the group received a prestigious National Arts and Humanities Youth Program award worth $10,000, and enough incredible moments to last a lifetime—from first trip in an airplane to first visit to the Lincoln Memorial to first photo-op with the First Lady.

“It was surreal,” said 16-year-old Anthony Fino, who plays trumpet in the organization’s Mariachi Tesoro performance ensemble, which wowed ‘em in Washington, D.C. over the Thanksgiving break.

“As an educator, you can’t simply prepare for that kind of emotional hurricane, the feeling of standing in the White House,” said Sergio Alonso, one of the group’s musical instructors. “Gosh, how can you even envision playing in an atmosphere like that?” (A recent gig at Disneyland was also pretty cool. Next stop: the Board of Supervisors, where they’re being honored on January 15.)

The national award recognizes after-school “arts and humanities programs that celebrate the creativity of America’s young people, particularly those from underserved communities.”

The San Fernando group, started on a shoestring twelve years ago, certainly fits the bill. It brings together local kids with professional musicians, including those who’ve played with the legendary Nati Cano, a co-founder of the organization with Virginia Diediker, the city of San Fernando’s cultural arts supervisor.

The rigorous program doesn’t just introduce students to the cultural and musical richness of the mariachi tradition; it also gives them a leg up on future academic and professional success.

“We are helping these young musicians learn life skills, through the discipline that music provides,” Diediker said.

Its participants have a stellar graduation record, in an area where only 58% of students finish high school. Some, like 17-year-old Ernesto Lazaro, hope to use their mariachi talents as a springboard to studying music at a famed conservatory like Juilliard. Others head in another kind of professional direction, like Stefanie Espinoza, a UCLA freshman who aims to become a surgeon.

Espinoza, 19, who plays violin and sings with the ensemble, is still feeling a motivational buzz from the group’s White House debut.

When she stepped forward to solo on “¡Viva Mexico, Viva America!” as part of the medley the group performed in the East Room on November 19, Espinoza smiled and looked directly at the First Lady.

“She looked at me and I looked at her. She looked so great,” said Espinoza, who’s majoring in physiological science. Equally thrilling: being praised by the First Lady for choosing to study science.

In honoring this year’s 12 award-winning groups for pushing students toward excellence, often against long odds, Obama also threw down a challenge to the young artists:

“Your job now is to pass it on—to find someone in your life that you’re going to mentor, that you’re going to pull up. And whether it’s in the arts or whether it’s academically, your job is to find the next you.”

That resonated with Fabian Narez, 17, who pays it forward by coaching younger students, members of the organization’s “Tesoritos” program, on the violin.

For Narez and many of the other musicians, mariachi is a way to connect with their heritage—and their parents’ and grandparents’ music, even if many of their peers are more into rap or hip-hop.

“The school’s 98% Hispanic. It’s part of our roots,” Narez said. And even if he ends up with a business degree and achieves his dream of becoming a CEO, he said, he intends to keep the mariachi tradition alive.

“I would love to keep performing till the day I die,” he said. “It’s one of my many dreams.”

There’s also a certain “big musician on campus” status that erupts when you return to your high school with a White House gig under your belt.

“Some of them were pretty jealous, to tell you the truth,” said San Fernando High School student Alejandro Ascencio, 15, who performs in the group along with his two brothers. “Everybody knows about it and would like to be in it.”

The young performers had the audience, including First Lady Michelle Obama, on their feet.

Watch their performance in this White House video.

Posted 1/9/13

Happy finale for opera loan

December 5, 2012

Things are looking up for LA Opera, which just repaid a county-backed $14 million loan. Photo/Robert Millard

Talk about ending on a high note. LA Opera announced this week that it has fully repaid a $14 million loan that the county had guaranteed in 2009 in order to help the company through a financial crisis.

The loan’s final payment was announced by LA Opera’s general director Plácido Domingo. Nearly a year ago, Domingo appeared before the Board of Supervisors to thank them for guaranteeing the loan, from Banc of America, and to announce that the company had repaid the first half of the loan early.

On Wednesday, he announced that the payback was complete. “This is a direct testament to the generosity of our donors and the dedication of our ticket buyers,” Domingo said in a statement. “Thanks to their support and commitment to LA Opera, we will continue to grow and thrive. I am profoundly grateful to the Board of Supervisors for their longstanding trust and confidence in LA Opera, and for recognizing the important and prestigious role that a world-class opera company plays in the greater Los Angeles community.”

Christopher Koelsch, the opera’s president and chief executive officer, echoed that thanks, calling the supervisors’ action “an amazing leap of faith when one of their assets was in trouble.”

The opera was about to unveil an ambitious and long-planned staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle just as the great recession hit—creating a “perfect storm” of fiscal strains that made the bridge loan necessary, Koelsch said.

While there are still challenges ahead, the outlook now is brighter, Koelsch said, noting that ticket sales revenues are $1 million ahead of where they were last year at this time, with a 21% increase in single-ticket sales and subscriptions up 8% to 10%.

The final performances of the current production, Madame Butterfly, are playing to sold out crowds (the opera ends with a matinee on Sunday, December 9.) But enthusiasts and passersby alike can enjoy two free holiday-themed Songs of the Season recital performances in Grand Park on Tuesday, December 11. The Opera’s also bringing its program to local hospitals and to two Salvation Army residences. (Details of the free performances are here.)

Meanwhile, Koelsch said the company, which will announce the lineup for its next season on January 8, is planning to ramp up its programming gradually as the economy improves.

Paying off the loan, he said, “is a wonderful opportunity for us…it allows us to build toward the future.”

Posted 12/5/12

Way to go, Hollywood Bowl

May 7, 2012

Glossy green floors, dramatic mirrors, Dyson hand dryers and LED lighting are all part of the re-do.

With legendary headliners ranging from Glen Campbell to Smokey Robinson to Plácido Domingo on the 2012 bill, it’s not easy for a newcomer to break through at the Hollywood Bowl.

But it’s a safe bet that the new restrooms designed by Rios Clementi Hale Studios will have audiences cheering when they make their Bowl debut this summer.

Patrons will move toward the light in the men's room.

With sustainable features like Dyson hand dryers, LED lighting, water-saving fixtures, graphics inspired by the Bowl’s Art Deco architecture, and glossy green floors intended to bring the outdoors in, the restrooms represent a stark departure from the old, dark spaces that used to make intermission such a drab interlude.

[Updated 9/20/12: The Bowl’s bathroom re-do is a finalist in the America's Best Restroom contest sponsored by Cintas. Cast your vote here.]

The Bowl is a Los Angeles County park—albeit one with a worldwide reputation for glamour, fireworks and star-studded concerts—and the $3 million makeover was funded by Proposition A park improvement funds.

The bathrooms also feature reengineered layouts, dramatic mirrors, new privacy partitions between urinals and lighting accents to make sure patrons keep moving toward unoccupied facilities in the back, rather than creating unnecessary bottlenecks at the front of the line.

The new facilities were unveiled Monday evening at a Bowl reception along with some less noticeable but equally important off-season improvements like $600,000 in concrete repairs, including the replacement of a stairway built in 1954. Also underway, and expected to be finished in coming weeks, is the $2 million replacement of the moving sidewalk (also known as a speed ramp) that helps 75% of Bowl patrons get up the hill to their seats.

If you’d like to test drive the new and improved Bowl—and listen to some world-class music while you’re at it—tickets are on sale now. The season gets off to a big start June 22, with opening night festivities hosted by Julie Andrews and featuring Reba McIntyre, Chaka Khan and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins.

 

Julie Smith-Clementi of Rios Clementi Hale, outside one of the Bowl bathrooms redesigned by her firm.

Posted 5/7/12

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