Archive for the 'Live Performances' Category

Frank Warren: PostSecret Live

Frank Warren: PostSecret Live (1/28/15) UCLA Royce Hall (2015 ***1/2) My wife has been a fan of PostSecret.com for years. The premise of the website is simple: People mail postcards to PostSecret creator Frank Warren, and he posts them anonymously on the PostSecret blog, something he’s done since January 1, 2005. Each postcard contains a secret, with the most common being “I Pee in the Shower.” What began as a social experiment soon took on a life of its own. Warren has published six books so far based on the postcards, and has also given a number of personal appearances, including the one my wife and I attended. Everyone has secrets, of course, and those secrets can range from quirky and cute to emotionally devastating. In his live presentation, Warren gave a taste of the range, and he wasn’t afraid to talk about what is unfortunately one of the most common of secrets: thoughts of suicide. It’s for that reason that Warren teamed up with The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-Suicide) in 2008. The last part of Warren’s show is a half hour or so of audience participation, in which two microphones are placed at the back or the hall and attendees are invited to come up and share their souls with the group. It was during this part of the program when I became most aware of just how large a percentage of the audience members were college students. As much as I enjoyed the presentation and admire Warren’s quality execution of a simple but brilliant idea, there was a sense throughout the show of being talked down to. Given the average age of the audience, that might have been appropriate, but I can’t help but wonder how many people besides myself were a little more than turned off by that.

Brian Setzer Christmas Concert

Brian Setzer Christmas Concert (12/21/14) Nokia Live (2014 ****) Brian Setzer and his orchestra serve up a heaping plate of holiday goodness. I’m not sure when I’ve been to a concert nearly this fun. Prior to the show, I didn’t really know what to expect. What I got was a weird combination of Stray Cats hits and a traditional Christmas spectacular, all served up with a rockabilly big band. It was fun for the whole family, too. I went with my wife and her parents, and they absolutely had a blast, and I saw plenty of kids in the audience dancing away as well. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any weirder, Setzer cried out “I feel like a Johnny Cash song” and launched into “Ring of Fire.” My hope is it becomes a Christmas tradition, and if he swings (sorry) by this way again next year I imagine we all may find ourselves in the audience again.

Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac (12/6/14) Forum, Inglewood (2014 ****) Christine McVie joins Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Lyndsey Buckingham and the rest of Fleetwood Mac, playing their hits to the adoration of the colosseum crowd at the Fabulous Forum. My wife is a big Fleetwood Mac fan, and I’m almost positive I went to see them back in the early 1990s in Des Moines with a former girlfriend. Much was made during this show about McVie rejoining the band after such a long absence, but rightly so. It was nice to see them all together, though each of them were given opportunities to take solo spots, more or less. Though their advanced age was clearly a factor, those old guys and gals showed the audience they still knew how to rock. My only regret, honestly, were our seats, which were practically in the stage left nosebleed section.

Billy Joel

Billy Joel (5/22/14) Hollywood Bowl (2014 ****) Billy Joel proves that after all these years the Piano Man still has what it takes to please an audience. I have a confession to make: I wasn’t all that excited about going to this show. For starters, it was on a Thursday night at the Bowl, which meant a very late night and not much sleep before going into work Friday morning. Also, between excessive talking and cell phone use by those seated around us, our past few experiences with shows at The Hollywood Bowl haven’t been great. However, this time we lucked out and our neighbors were relatively well-behaved. Another reason I was less-than-excited was that I’d seen Billy Joel once before, about 20 years ago in Ames, Iowa (on 8/13/1994), and I remembered him as being unbelievably cheesy. But you know what? Billy Joel at the Hollywood Bowl absolutely surprised me. My wife and I were delighted to see him in such good voice, having seen so many other “greats” whose voices had deteriorated. Joel showed a lot of energy for an aging man and he focused on playing his crowd-pleasing hits. While he hasn’t had a song on the charts in a long time (something he joked about), I’d forgotten how many memorable songs he’d created during a period of only a little more than a decade. Leaving the concert, I found myself with a newfound respect for him as an artist, and I’m glad he’s still around playing his music to appreciative, sold-out audiences. Finally, on a weird note: one of the songs he performed, “Allentown,” had recently become a frequent earworm for me, and for reasons based more in superstition than logic, I hoped hearing him perform it live would liberate me from its demonic grip. Sadly, it didn’t.

The Little Orphaned Fannie

The Little Orphaned Fannie (12/27/13) Royal Vauxhall Tavern, London (2013 ***) Directed by Tim McArthur, written by Gareth Joyner, starring Myra DuBois, Ginger Johnson, Harry Clayton Wright, The Divine Miss Em and Andrew Truluck. The Great Depression’s favorite ginger-haired orphan aims to fulfill her destiny as the ward of a filthy rich man, in spite of the villainous Ms P’st Hagan and Randy the Fox. Having had our taste of family-friendly British Pantomime a week before with Puss in Boots at Hackney Empire, I was somewhat more prepared to enjoy its “poor cousin” with this decidedly budget-limited “Gay Panto,” put on in the somewhat cramped quarters of a gay bar only slightly larger than our back patio at home. I went in with an open mind, of course, and for the most part I enjoyed the show, despite several microphone audio problems that indicated a less-than-professional stage production. My other complaint was that the place was an absolute furnace, so hot as to be distractingly uncomfortable. I’m still glad we went, for the experience of it, but was very glad to leave the bar and step out into the cool night air. Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, I’m well-acquainted with the British meaning of the word “fanny.”

Royal Albert Hall Christmas Spectacular

Royal Albert Hall Christmas Spectacular (12/27/13) Royal Albert Hall, London (2013 ***1/4) Music provided by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with conductor Anthony Inglis, opera singers Stephanie Corley and Marco Panuccio, and The Russian State Ballet of Siberia, featuring Natalia Bobrova and Nickolai Chevychelow. Our Christmastime visit to London continued with one of the city’s winter traditions. First off, if you ever get a chance to see a performance at the Royal Albert Hall, by all means go. The place is huge, with incredible acoustics. The show itself offered up a variety of talents, a kind of sampler platter spanning the spectrum of the kind of entertainment you might expect upper class Brits to see. To be honest, and I hate to admit this, I started to get a little bored. My mind drifted as I pondered the difference between opera and operetta, and just how they were going to pull off the the indoor fireworks they promised. Also, lasers. The show featured an impressive laser system, though I think they might have used it just a little to often. Still, lasers.

Let It Be

Let It Be (12/22/13) Savoy Theater, London (2013 ***1/2) Musical Supervision and direction by John Maher. In the early sixties, a band of four musicians from Liverpool came on the scene, changing rock history in the process, and while they were together they produced some pretty amazing music. Hell, you might even call them “fab.” First off, it’s important to note that this show is fundamentally a well-produced Beatles tribute band, much to the disappointment of our friend who went to the show with us. During intermission, he lamented, “I expected more of a story.” As for myself, you’d be hard-pressed to put on a Beatles-related stage production that I didn’t enjoy, and I’m happy to say I’ve seen about a half dozen now, ranging from Circe du Soleil’s Love to a show on a cruise ship. As for this production, my first reaction was: “Why are there two Ringos and no George?” Which is a reasonable question to ask. Actually, there was a George, but he was a dead ringer for Harry Shearer’s Derek Smalls in This is Spinal Tap. You know what? If you’re a Beatles fan looking to rise to your feet and dance to “Twist and Shout,” this is definitely a show you should check out.

Puss In Boots

Puss In Boots (12/21/13) Hackney Empire, London (2013 ***1/4) Written and Directed by Susie McKenna, starring Kat B as Puss in Boots, Sharon D Clarke as Queen Talulah the Hoo Ha, and Josefina Gabrielle as evil witch Evilena. A talking pussycat in magic boots travels to the kingdom of Hackneyonia, where comedy and drama reign supreme. This was my first direct exposure to British theatrical Pantomime, or “Panto,” as it’s commonly called. However, I had an image in my head, thanks to an episode of Extras in which Ricky Gervais’ character got a gig playing the genie in a panto version of Aladdin. It was definitely a cultural experience, and for the most part I enjoyed it, though a few scenes had me scratching my head, particularly ones that clearly did nothing to advance the plot. Early in the production, one of the players refers to panto as (I’m paraphrasing): “Thirty seconds of enjoyment spread over three and a half hours.” At 2.5 hours (including intermission), it wasn’t quite that long, but there was still a great deal of truth in the statement. In other words, it was well done (for what it was) and I’m glad we went, but I don’t think I’ll make it a regular habit.

David Copperfield

David Copperfield (11/27/13) MGM Grand, Las Vegas (2013 ***1/4) David Copperfield is a Las Vegas fixture, and was an appropriate choice for us, especially with half price tickets. Prior to the show, I was somewhat familiar with his work, and had been aware of (but don’t specifically recall watching) his TV specials in which he made impossibly large objects disappear, but had never seen him live. I was surprised first of all, at how fairly scruffy he looked, wearing an un-tucked oversized shirt, rather than a traditional magician’s tuxedo. The second surprise came with just how deliciously cheesy he was, playing the part of “David Copperfield” to the hilt. His audience the night we saw him was composed largely of Chinese tourists, and I suspected they were part of a large tour group. The reason I mention that is I appreciated how Copperfield tailored his performance to them, making them (and other foreign visitors) feel very welcome. Overall, the show was fun, with a wide variety of magic tricks, some of which (like a time-traveling emailed photograph) seemed unnecessarily complicated, but others of which were quite impressive. The most memorable trick for me involved wrist bands that had been distributed to the audience at the beginning of the show that later transformed, exhibiting an unusual quality. Hopefully the trick didn’t require the theater to be flooded with gamma radiation.

(11/26/13) MGM Grand, Las Vegas (2013 ***1/2) Created and directed by Robert Lepage. Two twins witness the deaths of their imperial parents, are separated and must endure great trials — including combat and attacks by archers — to be reunited. Each Cirque du Soleil show offers a different theme, but this particular show has far more of a story than any of the others, as opposed to a collection of what are essentially high-end French circus acts (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The multi-million dollar custom-built theater is stunning, and it’s almost worth the price of admission just to see it. The stage features a giant moving and rotating platform driven by hydraulics, which is featured throughout the show, often moving and tilted to varying degrees. This show is infamous for one of the darkest days in Cirque du Soleil history, the death of performer Sarah Guillot-Guyard on June 29, 2013. As a result of that tragedy, which occurred during the climactic battle scene in which the platform was nearly vertical, that sequence was altered significantly, showing projected animations on the surface instead of live humans. This change to the program lessened its impact monumentally, and while I appreciate the merits behind being respectful to the artist’s death, this alteration really took the wind out of ‘s dramatic sails.