Category: Christopher Smith

Dispatch from Jerusalem: Chamber music in historic sites

June 3, 2011 | 11:51 am

Music played in sacred sites is nothing new to Southern California, with concerts routinely programmed in churches and synagogues from Pasadena to Santa Monica to Newport Beach.

Halfway around the world in Jerusalem, city of three faiths, similar houses of worship abound, many with historic value. But while Jerusalem hums a classical tune -- performance groups salted with the world-class players of many nationalities have resettled here -- the norm is to play in more traditional (read: less controversial) venues.

A case in point was the run-up to Friday's 10 concerts in 10 churches and historic sites, a day of chamber performances scheduled under the umbrella of a 10-day Israeli Opera Festival underway in Jerusalem and at Masada.

In March, a consortium of ultra-Orthodox citizenry and some religious deputy mayors elsewhere demanded that the city of Jerusalem withdraw its support for the chamber music event because of the potential violation of Halachic (ultra-Orthodox) rules, which discourage Jews from entering churches. Their contention: An individual has the right to choose to enter a church, but the Jerusalem municipality they pay taxes to should not be funding events in churches.

The rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Places subsequently met with the Jerusalem mayor. A six-week tug of war took place; when the dust settled in mid-May, the city agreed to withdraw its name as a festival sponsor. Since no civic money had been committed in the first place to support the festival, the practical result was that the city's seal was pulled off event advertising and the concerts would go on as planned.

A classic Israeli dispute -- one in which nothing much changed, but one in which each side declared victory. And on Friday, the shows went on.

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'Juan and John' opening crowd includes John Roseboro's widow

May 20, 2011 | 12:20 pm

Jj While the eternal Dodgers-Giants rivalry continued at Chavez Ravine Thursday night (alas, a 3-1 Dodgers loss), the implications of that decades-long clash played out 12 miles away on a stage in Culver City, where Roger Guenveur Smith’s "Juan and John" opened at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

The one-man play, which Smith wrote and stars in, explores his own Los Angeles upbringing and subsequent life as well as current events since the mid 1960s.

Smith roots the piece in an indelible incident in the life of the Dodgers-Giants conflict-- when Giants pitcher Juan Marichal took a bat and attacked Dodgers catcher John Roseboro during a 1965 game in San Francisco.

For some in the opening-night audience, Smith’s portrayal of the event and his personifications of Marichal and Roseboro, as well as the ultimate real-life reconciliation between the two, had special resonance.

Roseboro’s widow, Barbara Fouch-Roseboro, was seeing Smith’s performance for the first time. She came away struck by the playwright and actor’s ability to channel facets of her husband.

“Roger got John’s laissez-faire qualities, plus his laid-back nature so well,” she said in the lobby after the 90-minute, one-act play’s conclusion.

“John was more than an athlete, he also prospered after baseball in the business we had together. But he was also in poor health for those 14 last years and I was preoccupied with living with the ups and downs... so seeing some of these things onstage was, for me, like experiencing some of them with fresh eyes.”

 “Sweet” Lou Johnson was a Dodgers outfielder from 1965 to 1967 and he was in left field at Candlestick Park the day of the Marichal-Roseboro incident. Last year, in a program on the MLB Network about the event, Johnson admitted that he was so enraged when Marichal clubbed Roseboro that he charged in from left field with blood in his eye for any Giants player he could find: “I was swinging at anything in a white uniform!”

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Is THIS the real reason Glenn Beck is out at Fox?

April 7, 2011 |  5:52 pm

Opinions are raging around the net in the aftermath of Wednesday's abrupt announcement of political pundit Glenn Beck's departure from Fox News. Some believe it is because of the economy bouncing back, thus making his apocalyptic pronouncements outmoded. Others opine that his spate of recent remarks with an anti-Semitic tone are the cause.
But here at Culture Monster, we wonder if it might just be an even more wrong-headed pronouncement that doomed the conservative super hero to land with a splat on the pavement outside of the Fox News studios.
On Jan. 12, Beck pronounced that "Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark" was Broadway's greatest ticket, better than "Wicked."
"I’m telling you," exclaimed the nouveau theater critic, "you go buy your ticket — you buy your ticket now, if you’re thinking about coming to New York, because when this thing opens and it’s starting to run, you will not be able to get tickets to this for a year. This is the 'Phantom' of the 21st century.”
We all know what happened next. "Spider-Man" director Julie Taymor? Gone. The show itself? Hiatus until who-knows-when. Eligibility for this year's Tonys? Kaput!
And Glenn Beck? He suddenly seems a bit like one of Spider-Man's many actors, plummeting from the media heights and landing in a heap down below. Splat!


Spiderman_2Fox News gives Glenn Beck's show the boot

'Broadway's 'Spider-Man' sets new opening date for June 14

Theater review: 'Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark'

Critic's Notebook: 'Spider-Man' caught in a web of its own making

Julie Taymor stepping aside from Broadway's 'Spider-Man'

— Christopher Smith


Injured concertmaster will miss Pacific Symphony Philip Glass program

March 10, 2011 |  1:40 pm

Kobler Due to a finger injury, Pacific Symphony concertmaster and violinist Raymond Kobler will not be performing at this week's 's Pacific Symphony American Composer Festival program, "The Passion of Philip Glass."
Symphony spokeswoman Jayce Keane described the left-hand injury as a chronic issue, but "nothing serious." He will be replaced by the orchestra's associate concertmaster Paul Manaster for performances Thursday through Sunday.
The concerts at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall will showcase Glass' ties to Eastern musical traditions and feature the Pacific Chorale and soloists. Performances are being recorded by the Philips' label for future release, and include the Glass/Shankar composition "Meetings Along the Edge, from 'Passions' "; Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra and "Passion of Ramakrishna."
Kobler has held the position with the Pacific Symphony since 1999. He has appeared as a soloist with the Cleveland Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony among other U.S. orchestral institutions and, overseas, with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra.


Philip Glass Festival Primer

Back to the future: Akhnaten and Nefertiti meet the Obamas

-- Christopher Smith

Influences: Broadway maven Seth Rudetsky

February 16, 2011 |  7:00 am

Seth Of the Broadway musical's many  cheerleaders, Seth Rudetsky is waving the flashiest pompoms.

For most of this decade, Rudetsky has been casting his discerning eye on musicals and the performances that drive them. Online and on stage, his trademark “deconstructions” -- in which he plays a recording and, while expressively miming the singing, leads viewers through the nuances of what makes the vocalist specifically special -- are both instructive and entertaining as hell.

Mind you, Rudetsky isn’t just some Broadway fan or wannabe -- his incisive commentary derives from having played piano in the pit for about 15 Broadway shows through the years. A CD of the musical “Hair” that he organized in support of the Actors Fund was a 2005 Grammy nominee, and he was on the writing staff of “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” when it received three Emmy nominations. He’s currently heard from noon to 6 p.m. six days a week on Sirius XM Radio, hosting his “Broadway’s Best." "Seth's Sassy Blog" at has a compendium of dozens of Broadway performance deconstructions.

Rudetsky will be in Los Angeles Monday, providing piano accompaniment and some of his trademark theater deconstructions with Betty Buckley at her appearance at the Reprise Theatre Company’s “Broadway by Request” series. We caught up with Rudetsky by phone in New York and asked him to talk about his influences. As a bonus we've included his related deconstructions.

Ed and Sally (my parents): They blasted Broadway albums through the house while I was growing up. It completely formed my early Broadway taste and knowledge. What other 12-year-old uses the opening number from “The Most Happy Fella” as his/her audition song?

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Listen as Canadian radio talks about California's dinner theater scene

January 24, 2011 |  4:45 pm

A couple of million Canadians are expected to have dinner theater with breakfast this morning.
A Times article about dinner theater in Southern California a few weeks ago is to be the subject of a 20-minute segment Tuesday on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's show "Q." Hosted by Jian Ghomeshi, the CBC's 90-minute weekday show focuses on arts and cultural matters at home and abroad, and is the highest-rated morning radio program in Canada.
The broadcast will examine both the fate and the current state of the once-popular form of dinner theater. The show will focus on the Candlelight Pavillion in Claremont, which is one of only two full-production dinner theaters still standing in Southern California. The theater's general manager, Michael Bollinger, will discuss his operation on the segment.
To listen to the broadcast, there are various portals for access:

At listeners can stream the show at 10 a.m. in their local time. The show is also rebroadcast at 10 p.m. and available as a podcast on the same website.
"Q" airs on Sirius Satellite Radio Channel 137 at 7 a.m. Pacific Time.


Dinner theaters still offer an alternative menu

The rise and fall of dinner theater

— Christopher Smith

Photo: The 2010 Production of "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater. Credit: Amy Snyder

Dinner theater is alive and, yes, well (to an extent)

January 7, 2011 |  9:00 am

Buried among the trends underpinning the Southern California theater scene in 2010 (i.e. the quality versus the timidity of works staged in the smaller houses; a resurgence of economically viable one-man/one-woman shows), there proved to be some interesting news from the dinner theater circuit.

Dinner theater? As in, community-level acting meets mystery meat meal, threadbare renditions of 50-year-old musicals and who-under-the-age-of-75-knew-they-still-even-exist?

Stereotyped characterizations aside, yes, dinner theater. It turns out that this critically reviled, nostalgically imbued and often forgotten form is alive and, more important, thriving in two houses on the perimeters of Southern California, both of which are celebrating anniversary milestones in 2011.

Click here to read about Southern California's two surviving houses. And click here for a look at the history of dinner theaters.

-- Christopher Smith

Photo: In the 2010 production of "The Will Rogers Follies" at the Candlelight Pavilion in Claremont are, from left, Angel Castellanos, Brandon Heitkamp, Kevin Holmquist, Orlando Montes and Danny Michaels. Credit: Amy Snyder



Dispatch from New Zealand: Quite a 'Cabaret,' old chum

November 18, 2010 |  3:28 pm


Tents, it seems, aren't just for Cirque anymore.

In Costa Mesa, the live theater run of "Peter Pan" continues until early January in a specifically designed tent on the grounds of the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Meantime, about 6,800 miles to the west, the Auckland Theatre Company has imported a Spiegeltent (Dutch for "mirror tent") from Holland to house a racy yet compelling new production of "Cabaret."

Containing more than 1,400 pieces of stained glass and smoky mirroring, the largely bordello-red tent seats 320 and provides an effectively intimate environment for the transplanted decadence on display. The setting itself is equally unlikely: a cement wharf in an upscale marina where luxury yachts and motorcraft bob in Auckland's Waitemata Harbor, as little as 30 feet from the tent.

Inside, the company's staging banishes thoughts of the gleaming watery views outside. A six-piece band propels the familiar Kander and Ebb score, but director Michael Hurst (he also appears in the Joel Grey-role as the emcee) is the star here, having mounted a taut, affecting version of the musical. The traditionally weak story line actually supercedes the explicit choreography and musical numbers.

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Culture Monster chats with 'Amazing Race's' Connor and Jonathan about the game and 'Spiderman'

October 18, 2010 |  4:10 pm

Call it a Philimination.
That's what a capella singers Connor Diemand-Yauman and Jonathan Schwartz suffered Sunday night on "Amazing Race" when the musical duo -- both 22 -- were the last team to reach the show's pit stop and have host Phil Keoghan eliminate them from the race.

Now that the show is done taping and the two have graduated from Princeton, Schwartz is in rehearsals for the long-awaited, oft-delayed production of "Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark," being directed by Julie Taymor and scheduled to open on Broadway Nov. 14. His role isn't one he can discuss at this point, however.

Diemand-Yauman is working in South Korea on projects tied to children's education and programming. A psych major, he taught in South Korea and South Africa during his years at Princeton.

On Monday, the twosome was able to talk for the first time since the season began four weeks ago. Neither expressed any regrets about their experience, despite the shortness of their stay. The video above includes bonus footage of them from CBS.
"No complaints. We really enjoyed the opportunity to meet some nice people and see some interesting places," said Schwartz.
In all the episodes, the duo tapped into their singing skills honed at Princeton in the school's 69-year-old male singing ensemble called Nassoons.

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So long, farewell to the singing 'Amazing Race' duo, Connor and Jonathan

October 18, 2010 |  9:18 am

It was graduation day for Connor Diemand-Yauman and Jonathan Schwartz, the a capella singing duo, on CBS' "Amazing Race" episode Sunday night, but it wasn't a happy matriculation.
The team of Princeton students, who finished in first place a week ago on the Ghana leg of the race, were eliminated from future episodes after finishing last on Sunday's episode. All the worse: They were knocked out on the same day their graduation ceremonies were held at Princeton -- they had chosen to miss them to compete against 10 other teams. The duo was easily identifiable from the other teams by their a capella singing skills, developed at Princeton in the Nassoons male singing ensemble, and their breaking into harmony during the program's race around the world.
On Sunday night, they flunked out: a sluggish cab driver to the Ghana airport... a late arriving flight from Frankfurt to Sweden above the Arctic Circle... a difficult sledding challenge in the Lapland snow... it all translated into the last place finish. The two served up a brief rendering of "Pomp and Circumstance"  as they straggled in to confront host Phil Keoghan and to meet their fate.

After singing a ditty about their "Amazing Race" trek, the twosome were seen skippng off  into the Arctic tundra. But they sort of live on in "Amazing Race's" online permafrost. Watch the video above (starting around 3:15 in) for their singing at "Elimination Station,"  where teams who lost the race were sequestered on the Isla Mujeres near Cancún, Mexico, for the duration of the show's taping.
-- Christopher Smith


JonathanConnor 'Amazing Race’: A win for Connor and Jonathan, and a song for Phil (video) 

Singing students survive again on 'Amazing Race' [video]

Connor and Jonathan: One harmonic 'Amazing Race' team for Culture Monster to root for


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