Music & Theater
February 9, 2011
If you were lucky enough to grow up here, you’ve probably got some cherished memories of the Hollywood Bowl. If not, chances are you probably imagined what it would be like to experience just one concert—Sinatra! The Beatles! Hendrix! Heifetz!—under the stars at the storied amphitheater.
That kind of spellbinding magic, reaching across the years and the miles, has just been recognized again in the latest Pollstar awards. For the 7th straight year, concert industry professionals named the Bowl the nation’s “Best Major Outdoor Concert Venue.” The county-owned venue beat finalists that included the Gorge Amphitheatre in Quincy, Washington, and the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia. (Another L.A. institution, the Greek Theater, also was honored this year with the “Red Rocks Award for Small Outdoor Venue.”)
We’ve marked the occasion by taking a spin through some of the Bowl’s historic photos. Whether you’re a homegrown Angeleno or a transplant, we think you’ll find something here to surprise, amuse or just take you back in time. Also, check out the huge collection of archival photos and video snippets on the Bowl’s website that feature Frank Sinatra, The Beatles and an array of other classical and pop music performance greats. And to create some Bowl memories of your own, here’s this season’s concert lineup.
January 20, 2011
The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to continue the $2.2 million Park-and-Ride and Shuttle Program that began in 1973. The costs are shared by Los Angeles County, Metro and the riders. The County portion comes from voter-approved funding aimed at developing and improving local public transportation.
In the Third District, Park-and-Ride shuttles depart from Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Sherman Oaks, and Chatsworth, along with 10 other locations countywide. For details and directions visit the guide at the Hollywood Bowl’s website.
The service will save you time and money. Parking in these lots is free, and the round-trip fare is only $5 with proof of a Bowl ticket. Otherwise, the price is $8. Bowl shuttles from several closer locations cost only $4. (Parking at the Bowl itself is limited and costs between $16 and $35.)
Come see the acclaimed Gustavo Dudamel conduct the LA Philharmonic, along with the many other celebrated and diverse acts that play the Bowl each summer. The schedule will be released January 26. The Park-and-Ride program will be operating throughout the season, from June through October.
October 21, 2010
Cultural bargain hunters, take heart: the cheap seats are still incredibly cheap at the Hollywood Bowl. But everything else is likely to go up a bit next season under proposed ticket price increases scheduled to go before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
At the high end, the increases include a proposed $3 hike for Pool Circle and Garden Box tickets for special event performances (those would go from $282 to $285 a seat.) At the other end of the spectrum, Friday and Saturday Pop performance tickets in Sections V and X would increase from $10 to $11.
The $1 tickets for Sections V and X–the top 380 benches of the Bowl–would still cost only a buck on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. (The $8 seats in Section W also would remain unchanged on those days.)
“Where else in this city can you get anything for a dollar?” said Ed Tom, superintendent of operations at the Bowl. “We’re talking about live entertainment in the city of Los Angeles for $8-$10. What does it cost to see a movie these days?”
Tom said the fees are adjusted annually. This year’s increases are needed to keep up with “increased production, labor, marketing and artists’ costs,” according to the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation, which oversees the facility in conjunction with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
August 18, 2010
Since coming to town as the new principal of the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, George Simpson hears one question constantly.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Is your school like ‘Fame’?” says Simpson, who joined LACHSA in 2008. “It’s exactly like ‘Fame,’ only 10 times more intense…We have kids spontaneously bursting into song in the hallways.”
Now picture that intensity spread across a quarter-century.
As Los Angeles County’s “arts high” turns 25 this year, you get the feeling that this is one silver anniversary that’s going platinum.
Since September, 1985, when it opened on the Cal State L.A. campus, LACHSA has been launching the careers of young artists in music, theater, dance and the visual arts while garnering support from some of the biggest names around.
Placido Domingo’s grandson was a LACHSA student. Other alums include singer Josh Groban, Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas, actress Jenna Elfman, Corbin Bleu of “High School Musical” fame and Anthony Anderson (“Law & Order.”) One of Frank Gehry’s sons went there and another currently is on the faculty. (Just to keep it all in the family, graduations are sometimes held at the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall.) The headliner for the first graduation in 1987? Barry Manilow.
And when you start talking about past galas to benefit the school, you’re getting into the celebrity stratosphere—with honorees including Henry Mancini and French fashion great Hubert de Givenchy, and performers ranging from Julie Andrews to Luciano Pavarotti.
The 25th anniversary celebration being put on by the Arts High Foundation on April 17 is no exception, with appearances slated by artists including Natalie Cole, opera legend Marilyn Horne, Bob Newhart and Manilow, along with video tributes from luminaries such as Domingo, Quincy Jones, Janet Jackson and Cher. Tickets for the fundraiser—whose honorees include Manilow and Ginny Mancini—range from $2,500 for VIP seating to $50 for LACHSA students and staff.
But the mission is, as the saying goes, priceless. The high school’s foundation says it needs to “stand strong in the gulf of a broken arts education system—a rupture that has allowed arts education in other communities to be virtually eliminated, and one that has even threatened LACHSA by key areas of its programs being reduced by up to 20%.”
Despite perennial funding challenges, the school now has on the drawing board a new building—to provide academic classrooms, a new “black box” theater and an outside amphitheater—that would be the first space on the Cal State campus dedicated exclusively to LACHSA.
At the same time, the 600-student school, which also offers programs in film and television, is experiencing a surge in applications. This year, a record 760 applicants auditioned for 175 slots. In all, 3,300 hundred students have come through during the past 25 years.
Early champions include the late Caroline Ahmanson and Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who helped LACHSA navigate initial difficulties over where to locate the campus. LACHSA’s foundation has long played a key role in providing a tuition-free, conservatory-style arts education to some of the most talented public school students around.
Click through the gallery below and see if you can discover the next Matthew Rushing (Class of ‘91, now an Alvin Ailey dancer/choreographer) or Kehinde Wiley (Class of ‘95, whose paintings have been displayed at the National Portrait Gallery.)
And then post your own LACHSA pictures on our website.
May 5, 2010
And like the under-appreciated secretary who finally whips off her glasses in Act III, the Ford has been keeping its charms under wraps for a good long time.
“We don’t want to be the Hollywood Bowl,” says Adam Davis, the Ford’s managing director, speaking with pride of the showcase that his more intimate venue provides for a diverse range of Los Angeles County performing artists.
But “people need to see it. People need to know it’s here.”
Boosting the Ford’s visibility—and fixing its long-running travails with “stacked” parking—are at the top of the agenda as the county owned-and-operated institution gets to work this week on its first ever master plan.
Also on the Ford’s wish list for the master plan: building new rehearsal and office space, along with a year-round restaurant; expanding or upgrading the 1,200-seat amphitheatre and its companion 87-seat theater, [Inside] the Ford; creating a sound barrier so that both venues can host performances simultaneously, and incorporating new environmentally-friendly technology throughout the site.
Levin & Associates Architects, which has worked on renovating and redefining a number of Los Angeles’ highest profile landmarks—including the Griffith Observatory and the Bradbury Building—has been selected to develop the master plan. The first big meeting on the project is scheduled for Thursday, with a goal of completing the plan by the end of the year. The planning is being funded by a $350,000 grant from the office of Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. The overall budget for rehabbing and rethinking the Ford will depend on what the master plan comes up with.
“It’s a pretty magical place when you walk into it,” Davis says. But he yearns for a “point of entrance, a point of arrival” for the Cahuenga Boulevard amphitheatre site, located just a short hop across the 101 Freeway from the internationally famous Bowl.
Davis is exaggerating—but only a little—when he says: “If I had a nickel for every person who told me ‘I never knew this place existed, and I’ve lived here all my life,’ I could have funded the master plan.”
An LED sign for the Ford was installed on Cahuenga last year.
But “it’s still a hidden gem,” says Arts Commission Executive Director Laura Zucker who, with then-Supervisor Ed Edelman, helped build the modern-day Ford into a local arts institution in the early 1990s. “If you know, you know. If you don’t know, you can’t see it from the road.”
As it stands now, even people who can find the venue turn in and find themselves immediately facing “a parking lot and a blue motel,” Davis says. (The ‘60s-era one-time motel now provides office space for Davis and other members of the Ford staff, as well as for employees of the L.A. Philharmonic.)
The master plan aims to build on a series of improvements the county has undertaken at the Ford since 1999. Those improvements, totaling more than $6 million, include a $1.2 million electrical renovation; new signage and sound consoles; remodeling the box office, concession area and restrooms; and adding new picnic plazas, an ADA-compliant pathway and an elevator to make the steep terrain accessible to more people.
The master plan effort takes a longer, broader view of the facility. “It’s gotten to the point where we can’t piecemeal it anymore,” Davis says. “I’m so grateful that the county wants to invest in the place. It’s now important to plan not just for the next summer but for the next 30 years, 40 years.”
It was 90 years ago that the first theater on the Cahuenga Pass site was built by heiress and landowner Christine Wetherill Stevenson. Stevenson, who also led a group that acquired the property the Hollywood Bowl now sits on, created the venue as a setting for her “Pilgrimage Play”—a pageant she wrote about the life of Jesus. Stevenson’s production was “a highly attended event throughout the 1920s,” according to an art commission history of the locale, which notes that after the original theater burned down in a 1929 brush fire, the community rallied to rebuild it in its current form in 1931.
The land was deeded to the county in 1941, and the “Pilgrimage Play” was performed there until 1964, when factors that included a legal challenge to staging a religious show on county property shut down the production, according to another arts commission history of the site.
The setting is now a county regional park and the amphitheatre bears the name of the late County Supervisor John Anson Ford, an early proponent of fixing up the dilapidated facility. The launch of “Summer Nights at the Ford” in 1993 inaugurated the facility’s modern era as a venue for an eclectic mix of locally-based entertainment ranging from dance and music to theater and film. (This year’s summer schedule is here.)
“The theater’s been around since the 1920s, but we’ve only been programming it for 17 years,” Davis says. In that sense, he says, “we are a teenager.” And the master plan’s goal, in part, is to help the Ford answer the question, “What do we want to be when we grow up?”
May 3, 2010
Lexi Pearl ran off and joined the circus. But she never really left home.
Growing up in Topanga Canyon, young Lexi did her share of the usual kid stuff—soccer, gymnastics, tree-climbing.
A lot of tree-climbing.
“It’s as if she was born to fly,” her mom recalls.
Make that born to fly, dance, choreograph, act and stilt-walk. Not to mention a few other gifts listed in the “special skills” section of her professional resume: Animal Handler, Archer, Circus Performer, Fencer, Gymnast, High Falls 10′ to 50′, Horseback Rider, Physical Fitness Expert, Sword Fighter, Yoga.
Now some of those skills, along with some others she’s honed over the years as a professional dancer and performer, are about to come into play as part of her own uniquely Topangan tradition—the Mother’s Day show at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum.
Pearl’s production, called “Momentum Place: An Uncommon Afternoon of Dance and Delights,” has evolved since its first staging 12 years ago, when Pearl was a senior at UC Santa Barbara and looking for a place for her student dance company to perform in L.A.
Last year, the annual performance landed on Mother’s Day and voila—a new local ritual was born. (And really, on a day largely devoted to flowers, candy and brunch, what mom could resist a chance to check out the Eye of Newt Circus instead?)
Like Pearl herself, the show is kind of unclassifiable.
“There’s nobody like her,” says Ellen Geer, the Theatricum’s artistic director and daughter of its founder, the actor Will Geer (perhaps best known to most of America as “Grandpa Walton.”) “When people come forth with such talent as she has, it must be seen.”
“You get acrobats spinning from the trees on pieces of silk, doing things you only thought you’d see in comic books,” says Matt Van Winkle, the Theatricum’s office manager and educational programs assistant, who ran sound for last year’s show and expects to be playing the guitar this time around.
“It’s cool. I guess a good word for it is panoply—a panoply of artists working in all of their different fields: dancing, acrobatics…”
Pearl says she expects to assemble about 25 “dancers, aerialists, singers, spoken word artists, actors, musicians, stilt-walkers [and] jugglers” to take part.
“It always kind of comes together the day of the show,” says Pearl, who’s currently in the midst of a 10-day stint as a stilt walker at the Huisten Bosch theme park in Japan.
Pearl, 35, now lives in Carthay Square with her boyfriend and fellow performer J. Kilgore (“He’s an actor; I dragged him into the circus world.”) But she says that coming of age in Topanga provided a strong creative grounding for her frequently airborne career.
“Growing up in Topanga was a huge aspect of developing my creative character,” she says, lamenting the fact that she’s had to miss even an occasional Topanga Days over the years. “It’s heartbreaking,” she says.
She also cherishes a long-running connection with the open-air Theatricum, where over the years she has taught in the summer camp, choreographed a production of “Dracula,” acted in “The Three Sisters” and played Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“I’ve been part of the company there since I was a youngster,” Pearl says.
Performing runs in the family. Her late father, Robert Pearl, and her grandfather, Frank Everhart, were magicians, and her mother, Karin Woodward, is a former actress.
As she watched Lexi clamber up all those trees, “I knew she’d find her own path,” Woodward says.
But perhaps not one she expected.
“Never in a million years would I have thought ‘I want my daughter to be dangling 100 feet in the air on red silk,’ “ Woodward says. “But I love it. It’s thrilling.”
For Pearl, the hometown show offers an annual touchstone—a creative reflection of “where I’ve been and who I’ve met” over the course of the preceding year.
It’s also a chance to live out her professional credo. “My favorite saying is: As an artist, I get to create a tangible experience out of the invisible,” she adds.
And as for the show’s Mother’s Day tie-in, that, too, seems an appropriate reflection of Pearl’s life and times. “All of my girlfriends from 1st grade are having babies!” she says.
Then there’s the influence of her own mom.
“She has completely encouraged and facilitated my creative spirit,” Pearl says. “She’s been in the audience of every show I’ve ever done.”
Guess where she’ll be on May 9th?
The show takes place at 2 p.m. General admission tickets are $20; more information is here.
April 23, 2010
If it’s summer, it’s the Hollywood Bowl.
This year’s amazing lineup kicks off June 18 with an Opening Night Gala to benefit Music Matters, the LA Philharmonic’s fund for musical education. That evening, the 2010 Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame inductees will be disco queen Donna Summer, The Carpenters and classical pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Hosting the evening will be legendary musician/composer/producer Herb Alpert.
Like every summer, the Bowl will bring you some of the biggest names in music, including Sting, Herbie Hancock, Smokey Robinson, John Mayer, The Dave Matthews Band, Harry Connick Jr., Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin—and, of course, the Philharmonic’s own superstar, Gustavo Dudamel, who, among other things, will conduct the opera Carmen.
Other highlights of the summer season include the traditional July 4th Fireworks Spectacular with Vince Gill, the return of Wednesday night “Jazz at the Bowl” and Sunday Sunset Concerts, which will feature a special Beatles Celebration marking the 45th anniversary of the Fabs’ visit to the Hollywood Bowl.
Here’s the Hollywood Bowl ticket page. See you there!
March 24, 2010
Eli Villanueva is driving with his girlfriend in Burbank when they come upon two people on a bridge over the 5 Freeway.
The young man looks ready to jump. The young woman beside him is trying to restrain him.
“She was desperate. She was hysterical and really trying to hang on,” Villanueva remembers. “I had stopped the car and went over to see if I could offer some assistance…As I get there, the young man sees me.” Villanueva reaches out, clasps the young man’s hand and helps pull him back from the brink.
That split-second, adrenalin-pumping moment of human contact took place two years ago. Earlier this month, Villanueva felt those emotions rush back, confronted again with the traumas of youth in a different and unexpected context.
As resident stage director for LA Opera’s education and community programs, he was at work on an unusual project to turn poetry by teens in Central Juvenile Hall into songs to be performed by opera singers. He’d come across a poem called “Safe.”
Something that seemed like an ordinary day
Started off as promising but ended wrong in every way
Driving pretty fast in my Mercedes goin 80
As I come along the bridge and see a
young girl on a stump going crazy,
steppin to the edge while rocks are tumblin
off the road, and as I read the sign ahead
we’re 200 ft in the air is what I’m told.
Using my first mind I got out of the car
and started preachin. Next thing I know
I’m walking towards a person and I’m reachin.
My hands extended, my tears on edge,
all I can do is pretend that this person
is not my baby sister, about to reach her end…
“Safe,” with music by Villanueva and lyrics by a girl known to him only by her age and housing unit, gets its world premiere Friday. It’s one of four original songs to be performed at a Central Juvenile Hall “writers retreat” featuring the unlikely pairing of LA Opera and InsideOUT Writers, a nonprofit program that teaches creative writing to kids in L.A. County’s juvenile hall system.
It’s an improbable partnership but maybe not such a stretch.
“Here are the central themes of these kids’ lives: violence, death, guns, gangs, dead homies, beloved mothers, absent fathers…Tragedy. Which is perfect for opera,” says Sheri Lin, writing program director at InsideOUT.
From the beginning, “Safe” stood out.
“That one affected most of us when we read it,” Villanueva says. “When I read it, I was actually a little bit afraid of it”—particularly about the challenge of capturing the 18-year-old girl’s perspective that is essential to the piece.
“It takes you on an arc,” he says. “It’s light at first. It’s lilting. And then from there, it doesn’t get violent, it doesn’t get tragic–it actually becomes sympathetic and touching and quite still.”
Then there was “If I Played My Song Backwards,” written by a 17-year-old boy.
“When I first read it, I said this is already a song,” Villanueva says.
If I played my song backwards I’d get—
& new best friends
The song never ends
the loves of my life
I’d feel all my strife
how I miss these days
my life’s gone a blaze
The days left unheard
That’s what you’d get when you play my song backwards.
Those words conveyed longing and regret—and like the other poems, seemed to offer a transcendent message for Villanueva to set to music.
“I’m really trying to relate to the moments which they are describing,” Villanueva says. “Some of these things that they are feeling can be quite universal…Sometimes what I read will bring up pictures in my own life.”
It would have been easy to verge into rap or beatbox stylings. But Villanueva took another musical route, channeling “a French-flavored waltz” in “If I Played My Song Backwards,” for example.
“If you played the melody with an accordion,” he says, “you’d be in Paris.”
“What my hope was to take the words that they came up with to see if I could translate them in an artistic way–but not too far away from what I thought would connect with them,” he says. “Not too artsy-fartsy.”
Villanueva didn’t just write the music; he’ll perform at Juvenile Hall on Friday, along with soprano Karen Vuong and pianist Daniel Faltus.
Also on the program are some classics from the operatic and musical theater, such as the “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” and “La chi darem la mano,” a duet from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”
And that will almost certainly be a first for most in the audience, Lin says.
“I’m sure a lot of the kids are not going to know what opera it is,” she says. But “they’re going to take a kid’s writing and set it to music. That’s going to ensure a connection.”
“My hope is that it will be this phenomenal experience for everybody involved,” she adds. The Juvenile Hall kids “are the tragedies of our society today. Their stories need to be heard. This is a medium for their stories to be heard.”
The marriage of opera and InsideOUT originated with philanthropist Eva Stern, who’s underwriting the Juvenile Hall program.
As the wife of LA Opera chairman and CEO Marc I. Stern (“He’s the opera lover; I’m the opera liker”), Eva Stern is no stranger to black tie galas and hobnobbing with the likes of Plácido Domingo, the opera’s general director.
But she’s also the chair of InsideOUT’s board, and serves on the board of organizations including the Center Theater Group’s education committee and Alliance Charter Schools. So she’s seen first-hand the power of exposing children to fine art, whether it’s a field trip to “Frost/Nixon” at the Ahmanson or a visit by opera singers to the Stern Math and Charter School on the campus of Cal State LA.
“These are kids who won’t even have heard of ‘Westside Story,’ ” Stern says. “It’s not about making them opera lovers; it’s giving them exposure to something. Any vehicle is the right vehicle if it is done keeping the audience in mind.”
And if this particular mash-up shatters some preconceptions, so much the better.
“Considering that the world thinks of opera as very high brow,” Stern says, “it’s important to know that opera is out there in the community and educating.”
February 25, 2010
L.A. is widely known as a Mecca for aspiring performers from all over the world, but the region can also field an impressive roster of up-and-coming homegrown talent. Since 1983, as part of the Music Center’s arts outreach and education program, the annual Music Center Bravo Awards, to be held Wednesday, March 3 at the Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, honor distinguished teachers and schools for excellence in the arts. Out of 38 eligible nominees this year, the Music Center will present three BRAVO Awards — one to a general classroom teacher, one to an arts specialist and one to a school – with winners receiving a cash award and a specially commissioned BRAVO sculptured trophy.