Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Things Musical and Fringical

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
Things Musical

Free Concert at Embarcadero

San Diego Symphony and guests present “Sounds of the City,” a FREE event from 4-9pm. Sunday, July 31, at Embarcadero Marina Park South, 206 Marina Park South Way (home of the orchestra’s Bayside Summer Nights). The guests are the region’s top bands, Todo Mundo and King Taylor Project, and 21-year old pop/soul singer Raelee Nikole. The event includes family oriented games and activities topped off at 7:30pm with the music of Academy Award-winning composer John Williams, including “Harry Potter,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and more played by San Diego Symphony. More info at 619-235-0804. 

Don't forget, Bayside Summer Nights start this weekend!

Summer 2016 Organ Concerts on the Docket

The Spreckels Organ Society announces commencement of its 29th annual International Summer Organ Festival. FREE concerts in the Spreckels Organ Pavilion Balboa Park Monday nights at 6pm June 27 - August 29.

Beloved Maestro Dies

Italian Maestro Edoardo Müller, who conducted more than 40 operas for San Diego Opera over the course of 31 years, died June 24 in Milan. A man who truly understood the voice (he was a singer himself) and loved working with the voice, he was beloved of San Diego Opera staff, artists and young singers, whom he coached and mentored even beyond his official duties. He debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1984 and at San Diego Opera during the 1980 Verdi Festival with Giovanna d’Arco. He held the post of principal guest conductor at San Diego Opera from 2005 to 2011, the year in which he conducted his final opera here, Carmen. He is survived by his beloved wife, Giovanna, his children Michele and Laura, and four grandchildren.

Fringe continues

Fringing right along, Monday night at Diversionary I attended Compulsion Dance & Theatre’s Bedrooms and Boyfriends, a trio of short plays involving bedroom encounters (two involving a pay per service fee). They are written by Michael Mizerany (artistic director of Compulsion), Jonathan Hammond and Samantha Ginn. It’s a frisky, funny and profound evening.

Bedrooms and Boyfriends
Photo Courtesy San Diego Fringe Festival

 Mizerany’s play involves a poignant encounter between the aging and insecure Peter (Joey Landwehr) and his hired trick, Bart (adorable Scott Nickley). Hammond’s play, which appears to be an exceptionally mundane discussion between Jonah (Joshua Jones) and his lover Joel (J.D. Burke), who’s been away more than present in their shared home of late, suddenly takes a turn towards a much deeper meaning. Ginn’s play, the lightest and funniest of the trio, also has an undercurrent of dis-ease. It concerns the touch-averse Giovanni (Patrick Mayuyu) and his hug therapist for hire, Charlie (Katherine Harroff).

The playwriting is very good and so are the actors. I came away entertained and satisfied. Bedrooms & Boyfriends continues at Diversionary at 10:30pm Weds; 9pm Fri; and 6pm Sunday. Diversionary is located at 4545 Park. Blvd. in Hillcrest.

Hateful Hands

Hateful Hands
Photo Courtesy San Diego Fringe Festival
Tuesday night (June 28) I saw Hateful Hands, a one-hour adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth with puppets, apparently the inspiration of a group called Ellipsoid Players. The puppets provide more distraction than insight; however, there were swords.
My friend told me that most of those involved, if not all, are still in high school.*

Remind me, next year, when I’m planning my attendance, to avoid Shakespeare adaptations, especially when they promise to be funny.

Hateful Hands continues at the Geoffrey Off-Broadway at 7:30 Saturday.

*I’ve learned these young actors are from Canyon Crest Academy. Jacob Surovsky, their founder, graduated this year, and last summer he received the Jonathan Dunn Rankin Scholarship from San Diego Actor’s Alliance for his SD Fringe production, Mother’s in the Audience.

Suffering Fringe Fatigue, I'm taking a night off. Hopefully back on deck Thursday.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
More of the Fringe

Dr. Svetlana

Moving right along, I went to see Thom Vegh’s Dr. Svetlana at the Fringe Rosewood Space Saturday at 1pm. I wouldn’t stake my life on it, but I think the entrance, on Seventh Ave. takes you to the same basement in which Jack Gambrel of Sixth Avenue Bistro once attempted to open a dinner theatre eons ago. I remember only one the two shows they did. It was I Do, I Do, performed by Leigh Scarritt and Duane Daniels.

The Rosewood is a single space that seats around 40-50 patrons, though the acoustics are not as good as the 4th floor theatre at Tenth Avenue Arts Center, not being used this year. Prime of the small spaces so far is the Black Box at Diversionary.

Thom Vegh as Dr. Svetlana
Photo by Kaleb Scott

Though it is a challenge to write about Thom and his work (he is a close friend of more than 20 years duration), let me assure you that Thom’s Dr. Svetlana’s Public & Private Health Lecture Demonstration – created out of whole cloth – is a stunning example of theatrical detail, both in conception and execution. The character, informed by Thom’s middle European roots, continues to reveal herself to her creator. She is meticulously attired for the lecture she delivers, a kind of healing force somewhere between psychiatric truth and self-help mumbo jumbo. The piece and the performance – which incorporate a lot of audience interaction – are funny, entertaining and brave. Svetlana is measured and precise, graceful and elegantly coiffed (except for one stray lock), but she carries with her a secret that she has never divulged until now. This is evolved theatre from a master craftsman.

Belief No Repeat

Sunday afternoon I returned to the Rosewood Space to see a piece directed by James P. Darvas titled Belief No Repeat. Darvas has been artistic director of his own San Diego Play Co. for the past two years. They specialize in bringing unique community voices before the public.

In the case of Belief No Repeat, it is a rapid fire play written by Courtnee Lynn Stagner about three unrelated Muslim youths living independent lives in a big U.S. city. The male, an agnostic and a student, is Taseer (Aaron Lugo), who orbits between the two women, Salma (Ray-Anna Young) and Salma Kahn (Natalia Maggio), offering advice and counsel. and romance to each. Salma is an actor and Ph. D candidate, certain of what she wants, and Salma Kahn, a writer, is apparently the more devout, unhappy with her life and homesick for Pakistan. All have lost their families to war and conflict. According to the program description the play concerns one young woman living in parallel universes.

Belief No Repeat is well acted by these three young actors – apparently all one person – under Darvas’s direction. Because of the accents and the rapid exposition, I felt at a loss to understand fully, but I was affected by the unforced denouement. This is play worth seeing and these young people are worth watching. If I had time I’d see it again. Belief No Repeat repeats at 6pm Friday and 7:30pm Sunday at Rosewood Five Studios, 1150 Seventh Ave. Downtown

Fringe coverage continues in a few days.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Fringe So Far

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
The Fringe So Far

What I've Seen

Thursday, June 23, Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd.

And He Became Man, Carpa (Tijuana), Diversionary Black Box Theatre

The Hamlet Comedy Hour, Naked Shakespeare Company (San Diego), Diversionary Main Stage

Friday, June 24, Tenth Ave Arts Center, 930 10th Ave Downtown

T.S. Eliot: A New Musical, American International Theatre and Jamil Akim O’Quinn



And He Became Man
By Carpa

Let’s call him Manuel, this man who has cerebral palsy, and who communicates his story with the help of others. Because there was no program provided, I can’t tell you his full name, nor can I name his associates, who provide music, dance, masks and narrative. Let me assure you, though, that as the evening progresses we become accustomed to Manuel’s speech – and there is no vocabulary simplification – and it becomes more and more intelligible. Not only that, the character becomes more and more lovable, a vivid human being.

Subsequent to writing the above graph I found the And He Became Man postcard I was handed at the San Diego International Fringe Festival media preview. The playwright, who plays Manuel, is Samuel Valdez. His collaborators are, as near as I can determine by squinting, actors Rick Zazueta,  Tricia Hernandez, and singer Zyanya Rios.

Son of Mexican immigrants, playwright/actor Valdez was born in Riverside and received his B.A. in theatre with an emphasis on directing from San Diego State University in 1991. Since then, he’s been writing and directing and is now a resident of Tijuana.

And He Became a Man
Photo Courtesy of SD Fringe

Quite obviously autobiographical, And He Became Man takes us through “Manuel’s” life, from childhood (he had a devoted, loving mother), public school’s playground taunts and torture, through loss, alcoholism, longing, learning how to confront and communicate with his father, striving for independence, and on to his search for meaning, specifically what it means to be a man.

As the evening goes along one becomes more and more familiar with Valdez’s speech, which is rife with million-dollar words. And the man becomes so dear and admirable that one wants to leap over the non-existent footlights and give him hugs. Indeed many playgoers did so at the end of the play in which Manuel urges each of us to tell our own story, a step on the road to becoming our own man.

And He Became Man is a must-see. Additional performances at Diversionary Black Box 7:30pm Saturday, June 25; 10:30pm Monday, June 27; 2:30pm Saturday, July 2.

The Hamlet Comedy Hour
Presented by Naked Shakespeare Company

The less said about Naked Shakespeare’s The Hamlet Comedy Hour the better. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead it is not. The billing as a burlesque comedy drew me, and so did my extreme familiarity with and love of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

The company of The Hamlet Comedy Hour
Jeffrey Gles as Hamlet, foreground
Photo Courtesy of SD Fringe

Let us just say that in order to spoof something so iconic one must first thoroughly understand and inhabit the material and have the ability to play it with absolute sincerity. Many actors in this production had not the slightest idea what they were about. Needless to say, in spite of the fact that some of the sight gags – (Ophelia is a Caitlyn Jenner look-alike) and the costumes are amusing – I mostly suffered. In case you’re inspired to go (I now discover that the director is Christopher R), additional performances at Diversionary Main Stage are 11:30am Saturday, June 25; 9pm Sunday, June 26; 4pm Wednesday, June 29; 4pm Saturday, June 2.

T.S. Eliot: A New Musical
Produced by American International Theater and Akim O’Quinn (what a splendid name! who plays Rev. Hammond).

J. Alfred Prufrock (Liz Marsden) and T.S. Eliot (Bradley Beamon) are the main characters as Prufrock, title character in Eliot's 1915 poem, endeavors to save Eliot (later a Nobel Prize winner) from himself, an American-born British poet and essayist with homosexual proclivities (the international jury is still out on this matter). We all know what happened to his first wife, Vivienne, but the musical doesn't take us that far, though she is a character in the play.

In William Roetzheim’s book (and lyrics), Eliot waxes long about his love for Jack (Leviticus Padilla) while Prufrock tries to convince him he can never be successful in Great Britain without a “normal” life – wife and children.

There are 11 songs, written by Vladimir Spasojevic and Andrew Fox, in the almost sung-through piece. Most sound alike. The clever title and perhaps the most memorable song is “Sin Just a Little Bit.” The 11 person company does a good job of articulating the lyrics, though few of them have vocal and musical chops, and few could be termed singers. A trio of dancers is included in the scene, which includes the potential bride with an unfortunate high note, the forbidden lover, a fortuneteller and the requisite Furies. Poor Eliot.

Though not original, the premise is clever. The piece needs to be reconsidered and stripped of redundancy. This group from Jamul can do it. 

For a schedule and tickets to all Fringe shows (only $10 each; plus Fringe tag,(one time, $5) go to

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mozart, Ethan Bortnick and American Rhythm

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
Mainly Mozart Festival 2016 Concludes

Moving right along, circumstance dictated going alone to the June 15 Mainly Mozart Orchestra concert at the Balboa Theatre. I drove to Broadway Circle early in order to secure free street parking in advance of the 6:30 “Overture.” Most edifying, the concert preamble consisted of individual players from the Mainly Mozart Youth Orchestra mixing it up with individual All-Star Orchestra players, such as concertmaster William Preucil, in chamber quintets, quartets and trios. A wonderful experience for the kids, whose families were present in the auditorium, which is perfect spot for chamber works.

William Preucil
In the concert that followed Maestro Michael Francis led the orchestra and guest soloist, the much acclaimed, much recorded Canadian violinist James Ehnes (in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Major and Franz Schubert’s Rondo in A Major) and the orchestra in other early works by Mozart (Overture: “La finta semplice” and Symphony in D Major “Il Sogno di Scipone”) and Schubert (Symphony No. 1 in D Major). It was gratifying to see so many kids and families remain for the concert by this pre-eminent soloist and orchestra, which Mo. Francis proclaims the best in the world.
Maestro Michael Francis

Ehnes is on world tour in celebration of his 40th birthday this year. He is very fine, and he and Francis, of an age give or take a year, made an attractive duo when they took their bows, looking like two succulent peas from the same pod, tuxedo-clad and bursting from their confines. They and the orchestra were so attuned that there was no lag at all between Ehnes’ deliciously clean cadenzas and the ensuing orchestral entrances. It was a magical partnership to say the least between two enthusiastic, personality-filled colleagues.

Another of those rare suspension-of-breath moments came late in the orchestra’s rendering of the Schubert Symphony, which Schubert wrote in 1813 when he was 12. There’s a subtle, yet abrupt, change in time signature from a rather martial cadence to duple time, and at that moment and in the ensuing bars, the orchestra grew hushed and so did the audience: magic.

The inspired programming of this particular concert allows us to explore and compare the development of two prodigies, Mozart and Schubert, in works composed when they were 12-17 years of age.

Ethan Bortnick’s The Power of Music

Ethan Bortnick, who persuaded his parents that he needed piano lessons when he was only 3, is by now a very talented young man at an exceptionally awkward time in his life. At 15, his face has yet to grow into his jaw and many of his movements, especially when he bows, are ungainly, certainly common to one of his years, charming in its way, but irksome over the course of a self-hosted evening’s entertainment. I know he has a singing coach. I wonder if he would consider a movement coach. He also needs a script so that his patter is not so repetitive.

Ethan Bortnick
Right now Bortnick is much more the pianist and composer than the pop vocalist. Because his voice is changing, he isn’t able to engage in full-out vocalism that would allow him to sing as though he loves to sing. 

Nonetheless, he is much the showman – a segment where he calls audience members to the stage and composes from their ring tones was particularly enjoyable – and he is at ease with the audience, who seemed to have a rip-roaring good time. His four-member backup band (keyboard, percussion, guitar and bass) is excellent, and the three who sang have beautiful voices. Bortnick also utilized the San Diego North Coast Singers, with whom he performed the evening’s closing number, “We Are the World.”

The Closing Concert of the Orchestra Series

Gavin George
The final concert in the Mainly Mozart Festival featured impressive 12-year-old pianist Gavin George, whose playing of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in D Major displayed mature aplomb. It was rife with facility as well as budding spiritual understanding. His encore – Rachmaninoff’s Prelude Opus 23, #5 – showed both unabashed bombast and a love of melodic beauty.

The program began with Maestro Francis and the orchestra’s amusing performance of Leopold Mozart’s Cassation in G Major (“Toy Symphony”), replete with airs by lovesick cuckoos and toy trumpets, a drum, bells and whistles and ratchet. Leopold was Mozart’s father. The performance was good-naturedly performed by soloists from the ranks of the orchestra.

Maestro Francis and the Festival Orchestra
Other explorations included Mozart Symphonies No. 2 (unprogrammed but included as what Maestro described as a “palate cleanser” prior to what followed the Cassation), Mozart’s symphonies No. 5 and No. 52. The program concluded with a thrilling reading of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 1 in C minor, written when he was 15. Here there was applause between movements, and as my learned friend observed, it was justified because the conclusions of each movement were electrifying.

American Rhythm

Seen Sunday afternoon (June 19) at Lamb’s Players Theatre, Coronado

The Company of American Rhythm
Photos by Ken Jacques

I remember this piece from 2000 when Lamb’s first presented it, a survey of everything living musical and historical thing (well, not quite) from Tin Pan Alley to the present. It aspires to tell the story of the last century in the U.S.A. up to the present without bias or comment, illustrated with music. Now, as originally, it changes its mind and becomes something else after bogging down in the Dust Bowl and the ensuing Great Depression, and at last becomes more of what it should have been all along – lots of talent, performing and dancing to music that spans the century and more.

American Rhythm was conceived originally by Lamb’s Artistic Director Robert Smyth and commissioned of Kerry Meads and Vanda Eggington, both involved still as director and musical director. It now has new choreography by Colleen Kollar Smith. At nearly three hours, it’s still way too much for one music lover to endure, even one with a generously padded rear. There’s no doubt about it, though, the assembled company of ten – familiar and new – plus a fine 7-piece band, the songs, and their intelligent execution and arrangements are a wondrous glut. Veterans include Sandy Campbell, Catie Grady, Siri Hafso, David S. Humphrey, Luke Harvey Jacobs, Benjamin Roy, Lance Arthur Smith and Joy Yandell. Those making their Lamb’s debuts are Kiana Bell and Michael Cusimano.

The production plays through August 7 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado. or 619-437-6000.

Introducing the 2016 Fringe

Monday night, I attended the press preview of the San Diego International Fringe Festival (June 23-July 3 at various locations), two-minute snippets of around 50 of the groups presenting more than 400 50-minute performances of plays, music and dance this year. Tickets are only $10, and a complete schedule may be found at Better yet, a public preview ($5) takes place tonight at 7-9pm at the Readers Spreckels Theatre, 923 First Avenue.