Saturday, January 27, 2018

Struggling To Reach Out and Touch Someone

We see signs of alienation all around us. From people crossing busy intersections while looking down at their smartphones to the lonely teen who, during an interview, confesses that some day he'd like to learn how to have a conversation with another person in real time. From the people who keep swiping through profiles on Tinder and Grindr while muttering "Oh, yeah, I'd tap that!" to the increasing number of classes being offered in "adulting."

No amount of trending hashtags (#MeToo, #NotAll Men), texted acronyms (LMAO, TFW, IANAL), and cute emojis can hide the fact that huge numbers of people, like, can't get through a simple conversation, like, without inserting the word "like" every, like, third or fourth word. What happens after people have grown up behind the electronic barriers created by blocking incoming texts, emails, and phone calls in order to avoid telemarketers and uncomfortable personal conversations? Or when the only way to enjoy dinner with friends is to place all their smartphones in a basket in another room? One's communication skills become severely diminished.

For some people, that means spontaneity can be terrifying and listening becomes a lost art. For others, it ensures that opportunities which, in the past, would have instantly been recognized had a person been paying attention, now go unnoticed and are easily forgotten. Gone are the days when so much could be telegraphed in a glance, a smile, a wink, and a nod.


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For more than 30 years symphony orchestras have been collaborating with vocalists to bring the orchestra's full strength to bear on popular songs from Broadway musicals. Evenings of "highlights" have been especially successful with summer "Pops" programs as well as concert fundraisers or one-night-only tributes to composers like Richard Rodgers, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Stephen Sondheim.

Many theatre fans grew up listening to LP albums of popular musicals without any awareness that, when original cast recordings are made, the show's pit orchestra is often bolstered by pick-up musicians performing on strings and brass instruments. With so many musicals now being performed using reduced orchestrations (or accompanied by smaller ensembles aided by synthesizers), many audiences get a modified version of the composer's original intention. Add in the fact that, in a fully-staged production of a musical, the musicians are usually located in an orchestra pit between the audience and the performers whereas, in a concert performances, singers are usually positioned downstage, between the audience and the orchestra (which can allow for a very different dynamic).

Derrick Silva co-starred as Emile de Becque in South Pacific

The word "lush" is not just used to describe a chronic drunk. It can also be applied to the power of an orchestra to lend its strength to key moments of romantic expression such as "If I Loved You" from 1945's Carousel, "It Might As Well Be Spring" from 1945's State Fair, "We Kiss in a Shadow" from 1951's The King and I, "Ten Minutes Ago" from 1958's Cinderella, "You Are Beautiful" from 1958's Flower Drum Song, and "Climb Every Mountain" from 1959's The Sound of Music.


Last year, 42nd Street Moon's new management team began to lay a foundation for partnering with local orchestras on concert performances of Broadway musicals. In June of 2017, the company celebrated its 25th anniversary with two performances of Kismet (Robert Wright and George Forrest's 1953 adaptation of music from Alexander Borodin's 1890 opera, Prince Igor) with a 23-piece orchestra. The company began 2018 by joining forces with the Peninsula Symphony for two performances of South Pacific under the baton of Mitchell Sardou Klein (one at the Flint Center in Cupertino and the other at Capuchino High School in San Bruno).

Marisa Cozart co-starred as Ensign Nellie Forbush in South Pacific

Blessed with a score that contains such overtly dramatic musical numbers as "Twin Soliloquies," "Some Enchanted Evening," "Younger Than Springtime," and "This Nearly Was Mine," South Pacific is an ideal show for a concert-style performance. Not only do the symphonic orchestrations enhance the score, the audience gets a refreshing chance to listen to the lyrics of "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" and understand the societal taboos and inherent racism that causes characters like Ensign Nellie Forbush and Lieutenant Joseph Cable to recoil from the thought of marrying someone who is either Tonkinese or a white widower who has fathered two children with a Polynesian woman.

With stage direction by Daren A.C. Carollo and choreography by Kelly Krauss Cooper, the audience easily warmed to Jackie De Muro's Bloody Mary, John Brown's Luther Billis, Rio Martinez's Stewpot, and Vida Mae Fernandez's Liat. The romantic leads were ably sung by Derrick Silva as Emile de Becque and Marisa Cozart as Nellie Forbush, with Nikita Burshteyn delivering a beautifully layered portrayal of the young Lieutenant Joseph Cable. As Emile de Becque's two mixed-race children, Panita Serizawa's Ngana and Thomas Hija's Jerome instantly won the audience's hearts.

Nikita Burshteyn appeared as the young
Lieutenant Joseph Cable in South Pacific

Based on the success of their venture with the Peninsula Symphony, there might be fertile ground for 42nd Street Moon's management to approach the Oakland Symphony, Berkeley Symphony, Marin Symphony, and Symphony Silicon Valley with similar collaborations in mind. A quick look at musicals which would easily lend themselves to this treatment includes 110 in the Shade, Brigadoon, Carnival! Carousel, Cinderella, Fiorello! Flower Drum Song, Milk and Honey, The Pajama Game, Sweeney Todd, The Most Happy Fella, Titanic, and She Loves Me. I really don't think the folks at 42nd Street Moon need to worry about potential ticket buyers having seen any of its shows in recent years to embark on a fully-orchestrated concert performance of the same show with a local symphony orchestra. Whatever duplication may exist between the two audiences is likely to spur greater cross-pollination in ticket sales.

The curtain call for the Peninsula Symphony/42nd Street Moon
concert production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific

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While the characters in South Pacific are stuck on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, hungry for love and frustrated by their long-held prejudices, the characters in The California No (a new film being screened during the 2018 SFIndie Film Festival) have the opposite predicament. As the film begins, a man and woman are seen during a couples counseling session that is not going particularly well. Comfortably secure in the thought that their relationship is monogamous, Elliott (Noah Segan) is completely blindsided when his wife, Allison (Ursula Mills), states that she's assumed for quite a while they have an open relationship. Their ride home (with Allison at the wheel) is an extremely uncomfortable one.

Noah Segan (Elliott) and Ursula Mills (Allison)
in a scene from The California No

The film's title refers to the extremely common yet highly dysfunctional practice of not being able to be honest with someone close to you. In his director's statement, Ned Ehrbar writes:
"I didn’t invent the phrase 'the California No' (the distinctly Angeleno method of rejecting someone by saying nothing at all, by ignoring emails, not returning calls, and simply waiting until the other person gets fed up or embarrassed enough to just leave it alone), but I fell in love with it as soon as I heard it. Simply put, its guiding principle is conflict avoidance, something I’ve encountered plenty of in Los Angeles. So I created a story where the conflict is created by characters trying way too hard to avoid conflict. It’s also a tongue-in-cheek indictment of straight white male entitlement. We’re following a hapless, nearly useless beta male as he makes terrible decision after terrible decision, testing the patience of the diverse group of fully actualized adults around him. He expects a lot from the world with no good reason to."
Noah Segan (Elliott) in a scene from The California No

Among Elliott's various quirks is his suspicion that local birds are mimicking the sound of car alarms as a warning of something bad coming his way. In the past, he has survived on a steady stream of freelance writing assignments based on celebrity interviews with movie stars doing press junkets for upcoming film releases. Just as the actors are only willing to offer up canned quotes, Elliott is a completely dull and predictable interviewer -- until one afternoon, while distracted by the thought of breaking up with Allison, he has a meltdown during an interview and comes to blows with a male film star. The incident leads to Elliott being dropped from the press rosters of loyal publicists who have been his primary source of income.

In a beautifully crafted scene, Elliott is visited by his tall and hunky gay friend, Jocko (Paul Telfer), who seems much better at letting emotional conflicts roll off his back. While Elliott keeps looking down at his smartphone at his outstanding bills and diminishing bank balance, Jocko is swiping through his messages on Grindr, obviously pleased by his prospects.

Paul Telfer is Elliott's hunky gay friend, Jocko, in The California No

With his manipulative wife, Allison, either ignoring him or heading off to England to attend her father's funeral, it doesn't take much for Elliott to ruin what few prospects cross his path. While out with Jocko one night at a gay club, he meets Kaley (Jordan Hinson), an intriguing blonde who is willing to fuck him on their first date in order to get their sexual tension out of the way, but won't have sex on their second date. It doesn't take long before Kaley has to explain to Elliott that they're not dating, they're fucking, and that she doesn't want him using his wife to "fuck up her shit."

Jordan Hinson as Kaley in The California No

When Elliott hooks up with a Hollywood publicist named Samantha (Tracie Thoms), he grabs hold of her smartphone while she is in the kitchen getting some more wine and copies the contact information for Colton Jane (Jesse Bradford), a fallen actor whose career has stalled and needs help making a comeback.

Tracie Thoms as Samantha in The California No

After many hours spent hanging out with the egomaniacal Colton on the false assumption that Elliott can get the actor a career-changing profile, he publishes a puff piece on a friend's blog instead of a feature article in Vanity Fair. When Elliott tries to hit Colton up for enough money to pay for his divorce from Allison, the furious actor (who has just learned that Samantha never tried to put the two men together) hauls off and decks him.

Noah Segan (Elliott) and Jessie Bradford (Colton)
in a scene from The California No

Elliott's problem is that he is not just a clueless, privileged white male. He's mentally lazy, socially inept, and a hopeless loser. Although Ned Ehrbar's film is beautifully shot and quite well made, its basic problem is that its pathetic protagonist (who comes across as a bit of a blivit) is the least interesting person in it. Here's a clip from the film.

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