Saturday, June 25, 2016

Getting Denied, Turned Away, Trapped in Traffic, Stood Up and Let Down and Pissed Off in the City of Angels: I Vowed Never to Return, and then --- Something Magic Happened

Have you ever made travel plans, only to see them fall apart, one by one, once you reach your destination?  Here is my story.

Okay, so it's clear I like Union Station. Always the best way to enter the ugly sprawl that is the Los Angeles so hated by so many people.  I understand their disdain.  For me, though, it's what you'll find amidst all of the mind-numbing vastness that draws me down there time and time again.

Is there a more beautiful train station in the country?  In the world? 

The tunnel to the trains, once a barren walk through, has been greatly upgraded with with uplifting  panoramas.

Charmer on a bus:  There's Peppy, whom I sat next to on the 780 out to Glendale.  I touched the frosty top of his nose, and he smiled back.

First big let down: Had the streets not been so clogged with traffic, I would have arrived at my first destination of choice, Moonlight Rollerway in Glendale. Rink owner Dominic, above, is one of the best dance music organists ever, having put out dozens of tunes set to regulated metronome dance tempos (fox trot,tango, waltz, etc.)  We are friends, and I wanted to to say hello  

Had I arrived in good time, I would have spent an hour or so simply listening to Dominc's pulsing music, which takes me back to my boyhood in roller rinks.  You may recognize Dominic's rink in movies and TV shows, many filmed there   

BUT, my bus into Glendale was so late, to have walked the rest of the way, as I planed, would have not given me enough time to make an early exit. A bummer.

Next morning, on foot to another let down ...

Setting out for the new Broad Art Museum downtown, I took a familiar walk down a dreary stretch of Vermont.  Full disclosure: Urban decay fascinates me.

Once upon a time, so vital.  Now, they hang around like abandoned skeletons.
Biggest dream buster of all:  I went the stunning new Broad Modern Art Museum, hoping not to find a long line. Last time, the waiting line, just for a chance to maybe get in, was so long that I gave up.  Yes, I hate waiting.  You can book a free ticket on-line, but two or three months ahead. And, still, I assumed that with the museum now open for nearly a year, there would no longer be a line.

How wrong I was.  That damn long line was still there. I am now officially suspicious of a sly promotional stunt by Mr. Broad, going Barnum on us, to create the illusion of  his venue being still (and maybe forever, if enough people will put up with his cynical charade) the HOTTEST ticket in town.  After a half hour, I walked to the front to ask a staff member what were my chances. She said quite good, but once I got a ticket, I would be waiting in another line for around one or two hours!    XX*!!xx+|{"{{##@!!!!!

I refuse to be a pawn for Mr. Broad, who, I'll bet, loves the image of perpetual lines clamoring to get into his spectacular galleries. I walked off.  Never again. The Getty on the Hill?  Free, too, and I've always walked up, only waiting a few minutes for the next train up the hill.

Glorious Restoration:  Curtain up on the reopening of the famed Clifton's Cafeteria on Broadway. A must-see item on my list.   I took a dash down there.  Love those dashing little buses that feel like private drawing rooms on wheels.

Thus multi-storied architectural extravaganza, bathed in moody lighting, offers a dazzling variety of settings, including cozy little alcoves.   You keep climbing up stairs to yet more options.  I wondered if in its early days, a higher floor offered adult pleasures. Well, study the decor!

People sit in all kinds of places.

But, I did  not dine at Clifton's.  My heart that day belonged to Traxx at Union Station, where I usually entertain one meal during each visit.   I enjoy sitting at a table out in the lobby.  This time, all were taken, so I opted for the restful courtyard.

Not stood up, simply left a little wanting. I would like to have raved about mt seared wild Salmon  Trouble was, the skin was too stiff to cut into, so I easily pushed it away, as if it were detachable.  Do salmon wear topees? 

Another big let down:  Since they've been talking up a glorious renaissance underway for a number of grand old  movies palaces on Broadway, I wanted to check out the scene.  Not what I expected.  The theaters seem fairly lost in a very pedestrian street, far more Tijuana than Hollywood.  Who would want to come down here?  Totally unsold on the idea.

Redeeming serenity:  Next goal, I took a long bus ride out West Adams to the Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens.   You need to reserve a free ticket on line to be admitted.  Even for the same day.  They put you through some hurdles.

Surprisingly confined to a rather small space, there is s section of descending walking paths through  lush exotic vegetation, and one can find a comforting respite from the humdrum city. 

Here on the circle of something to do with working out one's problems, you are suppose to follow an intricate circular path while working out your issue, in stages. The path pulls you deeper into the middle, and then it takes you out in a  less arduous walk. Can't remember what my "problem" or "issue" was.  The heat that afternoon wilted my inner Plato. I dispensed with the challenge as if it were an "E" ticket in the original Disneyland. (Please don't tell them; they are lovely people.)

Sorry to report, a semi-let down:  Website photos lend the appearance of a vast and deep landscape, the very opposite of  what I found.  But I did enjoy walking the intimate paths, and sitting on chairs.

Back to being let down:  I had to take a ride on the heralded new new Expo Blue Line. And it made me blue.  Far too many stops make the journey an ordeal.  Whatever scenic elements are worth taking in (hardly any)  they are fairly obscured by  the stern utilitarian barriers, which make the ride feel like being shuttled through a high security zone. 

From what I heard, I expected a lot more. This is nothing like the rather entrancing Gold line from Union Station  to Pasadena and points beyond, the latter, I think, over track running parallel to one of LA's ever delightful freeways.  Get OFF at Pasadena.  

Crap!  Even the Santa Monica beach scene stood me up! Can you find any sun in this picture?

Bus ride into Hollywood Hell

Onto one last chance: My spirits down to near zero, I was wondering, why do I come to this city?  I had little desire to return.

I had wanted to save the trip by catching a performance of a new musical, I Only Have Eyes For You, playing that night at the Montalban in Hollywood.  More than enough time to get there.  At 5:40, I boarded a Number 4 in Santa Monica for Hollywood.

Moved at a good clip, then slowed down to a  crawl. In  Hollywood near Fairfax, traffic came to a near halt, and the bus had to follow a bypass.  All around were automobiles stalled in a sea of vehicular hell.  The end of the world, it looked to me.  I hate this city.  I'm never coming back!  But then, back on Hollywood Boulevard, traffic thinned out, and then a rush of wheels beneath me!

We might make it!   Two hours had passed.  Still had ten minutes to get there.  The bus coasted like a breeze, and put me off at Vine, eight minutes before curtain.

I ran down to the theatre on wings of joy -- my last night in LA might not be the last.  Settled on one of two lines, At the  window, with my billfold out, I asked the lady on the other side of the glass for an inexpensive seat.

She looked at me, then she inquired:  Does it matter where you sit?

No, anywhere, I answered.

She picked up a ticket and raised it in her hand.  "I am giving this to you"

Front row, orchestra.  I was stunned.  "Free?" I said.


Well thank you!

I could not believe myself.  NEVER have I ever been given a ticket from a theater ticket window seller.

Had Fate sent her a message: We have one last chance not to lose that guy. It's up to you.

The show's songs and production numbers engaged me passionately.  My review of the show can be found here under the subject category "musicals." 

Next morning, shunning the underground like a death sentence, I took the Sunset #2 downtown, and transferred to a Dash for Union Station.

Back to the starting point.  Okay, LA, you got me again.  How could I ever desert you after the ride that got me to the theatre on time, and  the free ticket handed me by the lady on the other side of the glass?

It may be an urban nightmare, but I gotta tell you, this town has a heart, and it can even feel like a city of angels.

Photos not by Showbiz David:  Those of Moonlight Rollerway and the of the musical, I Only Have Eyes for You, at the Montalban.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Big Tops on the Brink: Ringling Puts Circus on Ice ... Big Apple Passes the Hat ... Cole on a Slow Roll to the Bitter End?

UPDATE, 6/18/16, 7:24 am:  Latest on the Cole opera:  Show to go out as King Cole in July, opening in Jacksonville NC and offering more rides, food and pre-show activities in a "fun zone."  About the latter, you heard it first here from Agent X, on the posting below.

Revolutionary Rambles: iRingling down in Florida putting the cast on ice in rehearsals for its new post-pachyderm gamble, says AP story advanced my way by Ken Dickinson.   The Felds, struggling to recapture iPhone junkies, plan to lure them into the show with apps allowing for broadcast of selfie sharing during the performance and interactivity between patrons and performers.  Ice skaters and motor sports into the mix. It’s a new world, says Alana Feld to the press, promising what looks to be a radical departure from all other amusements; I mean, would you prefer attending a musical, play, or movie while others around you are fiddling with and jabbering over their  the gadgets in hand? ...  It’s the over ice part that gives me grave pause.  Then again, that misty white sheet does open one’s imagination to the outer space theme.  Show heads for the cosmos down in LA, mid July.  I’m tempted to be there for the launch.
Johnny Pugh’s Cole Bros Circus, now owned by Dick Garden, is holding firm on common ground.  The status quo stubbornly on parade, what with wild animals returning.  The Garden free ticket blitz may improve on crowd size.  Question may be, how weaker might the actual performance be?  Poster art promises more Pugh than Garden.  Maybe between the two disparate souls, there may be a decent middle ground.  Affordable mediocrity is not such a bad thing, not that is, to the eyes of a toddler tickling to a circus show for the first time. And, yes, the writing of this feels totally hollow, given counter currents pointing to a Dead End, as witness what follows ...

Facing the Truth on Facebook? Here's what you will find on Facebook's Clyde Beatty and Cole Bros. Tribute Page: "A historic page that pays homage to an iconic show that no longer exists.  Please mo messages that are negative and no more questions about a route.  This show is gone but not forgotten.  It still lives in our hearts for those who lived it and loved it...Thank you..The Management!" ... Now this touched me.  You'll find plenty of photos that will bring back favored memories of your days at the show.  Here's one of Johnny Pugh in 1971.  Oh, we were all young once! 

The last Grand Tour for Big Apple Circus? New York's own begging for 2 million bucks from private donations in order to keep its date at Lincoln Center, the rental tab alone a  harsh half million.  New York Times bleeding bias in advocacy reporting, story pushing BAC charity angles and art purity — show favoring “artistry over vulgarity.” (Guess whose – read on).  Reporter Ginia Bellafanote failing to come clean on actual attendance figures, fewer bodies in the seats?  That’s another issue too unpleasant perhaps to report. But what gives away blatant NYT bias is Bellafante’s implicit pitting of Big Apple's nobler artistic standards  against “the mayhem of Ringling,” the latter show owned and operated by, in case you do not know –  “billionaire Kenneth Feld.”  Mayhem?  Really?  Ringling and Big Apple go for the same world class acts , but Ringling manages to pull in thousands more customers for a typical show.  Does that make Ringling “vulgar”?    I’ve yet to hear of Ringling begging for public donations or working Wall Street’s greedy TICS (Thieves-in-Chief--yes, you heard it here first) for funding bail-outs.

 Will the man in red have a job next season?

Pardon me for feeling okay about the free Market.  I’m all for BAC going on — I’ve gone on record as a fan of the show, but two of the last shows that I saw left a lot to be desired.  The very idea that BAC needs “another $11.5 million to produce the circus each year" is  ludicrous.  How many people did it take, couple of years back, to put on a show that was going to be live-streamed into hundreds of movie houses, nationwide, and fail to have bodies in more than maybe a third of the seats?  How many? All of which promoted my brother Dick, who watched the show in a Utah movie house, with one other person – his wife — to declare, “You’re watching a loser.”   A key issue the Times story failed to address: Why can’t this show attract larger crowds as once it did?  Maybe it’s the public’s declining taste for circus? Or maybe a bloated and bumbling Big Apple Circus organization, itself perhaps the biggest of all charity cases.  Maybe the Times will fork over a nice clean $1 mil.  So far, show has raised half a million, and that's not bad.  When it comes to soliciting,
they are pros.

END RINGERS: Boffo early biz for Cirque du Soleil’s  Paramour down a bit since bum reviews hit the streets. Another new CDS property, Tourk – The First Flight, pulling in tepid notices ...  Historical relief may be on the way!  From Don Covington comes  news that Circus 1903 is promising to "recreate a turn of the twentieth century circus" in a nationally touring theater show.  Premiere set for LA in February. Another reason to go down there again ... Carson & Barnes, without admitting wrongdoing, agreed to fork up a $16, 000 fine for putting its elephants in dangerous proximity to  customers ...  Lastly, on the passing of Pete Cristiani, I once worked for the man  (and for the lovely Norma), but only for six weeks on Wallace Bros., too thin-skinned to be truly “with it and for it.” I would forever after think of Pete as the Robert Mitchum of the big Top.  Once, while passing me on the midway during set up with a sledgehammer in my hand (if you can believe that), he called me Snow Cone.  Okay, maybe a job description upgrade from Hot Dog?

I feel very sad posting this. In my boyhood, when the Clyde Beatty Circus came to town, I got to climb up into one of the bed reg wagons, to help hoist seating parts over the edge and down onto the ground.  And to help raise the sidewall.  I was given a ticket that got me into the sideshow, and into both performances of the big show that day.  Sat on hard planks and thrilled to the wonder of it all.  Gone are those days we once so easily enjoyed. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sunday Morning, Waiting for Agent X with the Inside on Cole. Bros, Pugh and Garden ...

Chilly down here by the old ice house, a shell without ice, a haven for  homeless weeds and people like me who like to wander around in the shadows of ancient boyhood memories.

Agent X, always in a hurry — staged, I suppose —  promised to drive by around now. Early as the first section in   Train tracks still.  I’m thinking days of Foley & Burk rattling onto a spur with old carny wagons ready to be tugged and coddled down the runs for a haul to the fairgrounds.

Got a question about Johnny Pugh and the man he sold Cole to.  Improbable.  Impossible!  Agent X can explain if anybody.

Is that him?  Beat up old Cadillac out there breaking through dirty mist. 

Slowing down.  Could be.  I’m waving my hand.

Cad screeches, bounces like a stubborn horse across the rails, snorts to a stop.  Spots me.  Down comes the window. That’s him in there, I think ...

Okay, kid, what was it?  Hurry up!

I have to shout: Hey, Pugh and the man he sold Cole to?  Doesn’t make sense!

You mean Johnny Pugh’s new Garden?   He grinned like a barker.

That Garden?  Dick Garden?

That’s the one!   Dickie!

I take my stand:  I don’t believe it!

Oh, hell, kid!  Where were you born?   How about Pugh and Frisco?  Pugh and Davenport?   

I make a face, wanting to irk more out of Agent X. You gotta make faces and act gosh-oh stupid. So I blurted out,  But doesn't Garden  burn up towns?

He fell for the irking, and laughed:  You mean those toothpick bleachers?  Long as Johnny keeps his own seats.  What do you know about circus biz, kid?”

I know Pugh puts out a better show than Garden, I positioned.

Agent X pushed back:  But Garden puts up a better crowd.  Storms of free tickets. 

Know anything about the acts? I asked

Agent X grinned.  Mexicana-o-rama!   The Family plan, ours to yours.  He was warming up.

I warned back:  You don’t think Pugh is stooping low?

He thought a bit, barked:  The show you mean?   No, should be better.  He’s getting better rides —  kiddie merry go round, fresh ponies, bigger bungee bounce. Maybe a small coaster.  Intermission’s now the big show.

Playing dumb, I said, what did you mean about Pugh keeping his seats?

He looked at me skeptically.  Are you kidding?  Ever heard Toby Tyler?  In a Garden layout. the seating capacity is unlimited.

Unlimited? How can that be?

Agent X grinned:  Garden knows he can always make more room in the blues, if necessary.

And with that, he lighted up, laughing at his own joke, waved me off.  Up went the glass, and the Cadillac made an abrupt U-turn and then suddenly stopped short.   Down came the glass again.  Agent X shouted:

Take a lawn chair and stay safe in the Johnny’s new garden!

The Cadillac bolted off in a blaze, vanishing into the dirty mist from whence it came.

Okay, just you and me now. And, yeah, I know, you’re gonna leave.  So am I – after lingering around the ice house, a boyhood favorite.

They don’t sell ice here anymore.

And the circus no longer rails into town.

That would be Clyde Beatty.  Oh, what a show that was!

And they didn’t even have an intermissions back then.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Midway Flash! Showbiz David in Contact with Agent X Over Cole Bros. Circus Turmoil ...

Sketchy voice claiming to be in contact with Agent X directing me to be at the ice house in Santa Rosa early tomorrow morning. Agent X may drive by with inside info.

I'm on my way now.

Have Some (Imagined) Laffs in the Dark on Showbiz David's New Ride ...

This Way to a Mini-Midway Preview!

The signage is based on the old dark ride at San Francisco's long gone Playland-at-the-Beach.

Scale is quarter inch.

On You Tube:


Saturday, June 04, 2016

New Musical About 42nd Street Songwriters Rides Sky-High on Socko Songs -- Plods Along in Fairy Tale Scripting

 Jared Gertner and Constantine Rousouli as Dubin and Warren.

New Musical Review: I Only Have Eyes For You
at the Montalban, Hollywood
through June 12

Bottom Line:  The singing and dancing is so exhilarating, it's a must-see.

Out of Warner Bros. during the great depression came a hot slate of Busby Berkeley musicals with songs by probably the greatest song-writing team ever created in Hollywood: composer Harry Warren and lyricist Al Dubin.  Best known for their contributions to Forty Second Street, their toe-taping tunes include Shuffle Off to Buffalo, Lullaby of Broadway, You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me.

A new musical about the life of Dubin. I Only Have Eyes for You, opened recently in tryout at the The Montlaban theatre on Vine Street. The smartly crafted production soars with an emphatic sure-footed sizzle across the stage, if only its shallow book was less afraid to face the real life of its subject.  Writers Jerry Leichtling and Arlen Sarner push a superimposed theme of ever-lasting love onto Dubin and his stay-at-home wife, a former showgirl.   Dubin agreed to convert from Jew to Catholic if she would give up showbiz (hard to believe) to raise a family.

The Dubin marriage on this snap-happy stage is a one dimensional affair of break ups and make ups, so many I couldn’t keep track of them all. The jokes are not very funny.  Dubin becomes ever more erratic, gone for days on binges and womanizing, exasperating both his more grounded collaborator,  Warren, and his dutifully bland wife.

Between the powerhouse singing and dancing — the entire cast, a fair sensation, is spot on perfect — a plodding book charts Dubin’s gradual fall into alcoholism and professional failure  Towards what feels like the inevitable end point for the musical, we see him collapsing onto a New York street in lonely disarray.  This scene gives the treatment a suddenly gripping gravitas, and I could feel a final curtain about to fall.   In deed, this did happen to Dubin in his real life; three days later, only in his mid-fifties and estranged from his wife, he was dead. But not here. Not on this stage.  No, comes yet another embracing reconciliation for the two inseparable  Dubins.  Pure fairy tale.

Darkness is something this musical has a hard time facing.  We see a homeless man wandering across the stage at intervals, and his presence can send shivers of reality down the spine. Dubin is sympathetic with money, and, so,  how can we not logically expect the arrival of the team’s great song, The Forgotten Man?  Incredible, that song never arrives, even when Dubin, stumbling down into a shell on the street of his doom, becomes the song himself. 

Director-choreographer  Kay Cole does a terrific job in shaping the dances, pacing the show fluidly.   Orchestrations by Doug Walter and Steven Scott Smalley are heavenly fine, especially the reprisals of melodies just sung, now instrumentally floating below the surface.

Warren and Dubin produced very few ballads of note;  September in the Rain, a notable exception, gives the tuner some depth.  But, Don’t Give Up The Ship, an obscure number, falls flat.

The team’s greatest movie musical, Forty Second Street, is a true rags to riches story.  Here, in I Only Have Eyes for You, is the making of a more dramatic riches to rags tale.

I loved this musical despite its flaws.  Tuner could easily shed 30 minutes and come out ahead.  Some of the production numbers, trading on old movie musical imagery, are supernatural to behold.  Surreal scenic effects by the gifted John Iacovelli, with lighting by Brandon Baruch,  create a misty cinematic sheen.   Al Jolson and Carmen Miranda both have cameos so real, it is almost like watching them springing back to life from the dead. And to sit with an audience composed, I had to, wanted to believe, of old-line Hollywood pros, knowing that they who helped create such film legends as these were watching them come back to life -- now that perception alone was electrifying to contemplate.

The stars were out that night -- only in Hollywood.

See it if you can.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Big Apple Circus Desperately on the Edge: Seeking Public Donations to Stave Off Going Under

Yes, sadly, that's what I'm reading, and it's reported in NYT.

More about this ahead.