Two of my new favorite documentaries are opening at Laemmle’s newly-remodeled Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles — quite a spectacular renovation, with three top-tier theatres. Sadly, the Royal’s marquee is gone. I am told that it’s too complex and expensive for distributors of the independent films that screen there to change the sign for every new film, especially now that three movies will run simultaneously. Good reasons, but still, I’ll miss it!
Get to the Royal ASAP — starting March 1 — to meet Ed Koch. No, he’s not a member of the political Koch (pronounced koke) family but the truly one and only Ed Koch (pronounced as it looks), the masterful late mayor and re-maker of his beloved New York City.
In “Koch,” documentarian Neil Barsky has created a deeply personal film about the ultimate political creature. Koch, who died Feb. 1 and did have the opportunity to see this film before he left us, was a larger than life figure who came on strong and never stopped fighting. He was loved, he was hated but indubitably, under his aegis the broke and broken city of New York was shaken and revived, built up and cleaned up and began its return to its rightful place as one of the world’s leading cities.
Dramatically constructed and beautifully shot, interspersed with excellent historical footage, there’s a great through line between the film’s opening and closing scenes, which revolve around the naming of the Queensboro Bridge in Koch’s honor. In a single controversy, Barsky condenses the polarized views of this legendary mayor, whose undeniable achievements, humiliating failures and spectacular betrayals are presented chronologically and contextually through the lens of his many mayoral campaigns.
Compared with the paralysis in our nation’s capital, this film shows us what a true political leader can accomplish by getting down to work, all else be damned.
‘Hava Nagila: The Movie’
Also coming to the Royal, opening March 15, is a terrific documentary, “Hava Nagila: The Movie,” directed by Roberta Grossman. Great timing, just 10 days before Passover!
Who knew? While Hava Nagila is the de facto anthem at every Jewish celebration, it is in many ways the ultimate symbol of assimilation. It has been the subject of countless renditions by singers ranging from Italian-American Connie Francis to African-American Harry Belafonte and even plain old American Glen Campbell. But this song is a window into the world of Jewish history and is especially relevant to American Jews.
In addition to wonderful archival footage, classic renditions of the tune, and a look at the controversy over who gets the actual writing credit, you’re taken on a global journey, experiencing the song as it takes off from the poor little villages of Eastern Europe to the founding of the state of Israel, with stopovers including the Catskills and Ukraine. It’s a century and a half of cultural history told through these very familiar musical notes.
Find out more about “Koch” and “Hava Nagila: The Movie” at www.laemmle.com.
Bravo to the Ruskin Group Theatre, based at Santa Monica Airport. Their long-running original and frequently-extended production of “Sideways, the Play” was picked up for development by La Jolla Playhouse and hit-making director, Des MacAnuff. They have high hopes that their current original bluegrass musical “Paradise” will attract attention as well. It’s a fun production; Cynthia Citron’s “Play Time” in these pages will have a complete review of “Paradise” soon. Tickets at www.ruskingrouptheatre.com.
A real showstopper, named to Time Magazine’s Top Ten List, is headed to The Ahmanson Theatre downtown beginning March 20. “End of the Rainbow” received critical adulation both in London and on Broadway and its Tony Award-nominated stage duo of Tracie Bennett and Michael Cumpsty reunite onstage here.
It’s another comeback for Judy Garland, and she’s in her London hotel room, preparing for the concerts with her new young fiancé and her accompanist. Bennett, who made her Broadway debut in this role and originated it on London’s West End, puts in a performance that the New York Times called “an electrifying interpretation of Judy Garland,” featuring some of the most memorable songs by this towering and troubled legend. For more information visit www.centertheatregroup.org.
Next week I’ll review “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” which opened Feb. 20 and runs Wednesdays only, through April 10 at Hollywood’s Theatre Asylum. The backstory involves monologist Mike Deasey whose story, about horrific conditions at the factories in China where Apple’s popular products are manufactured, made headlines.
Part of his performance piece aired on public radio’s “This American Life,” which later renounced Daisey because he presented a partially fictional story as journalism. Since then, Daisey has acknowledged his fabrications, has revised and updated the story, and put the script on the Internet for anyone to perform.
Amazingly, Apple has taken note and also made some changes. Alex Lyras is the performer in this Los Angeles premiere. Theatre Asylum is located at 6320 Santa Monica Blvd.; call (800) 838-3006 for info and tickets.
Create your own play with Steve Stajich’s “Auto Parts,” which is constructed of four component “parts.” At each performance, the audience decides the order the parts will run, creating a unique narrative structure at each performance. Only two more Sunday performances, March 3 and March 10, at Fanatic Salon, 3815 Sawtelle Blvd. (at Venice Blvd.). Extemely limited seating; reservations required: (310) 396-0716.
And tonight, Thursday, Tale Spin presents true tales told by you! “Happiness” is the theme at this monthly unplugged story-telling gathering. Arrive at 7 p.m. with appetizers and a beverage to share, drop your name in the storytelling hat, and at 7:30 p.m. be prepared to stand and deliver your tale of happiness in five minutes or less.
If they’re not sold out, RSVP right now; contact email@example.com to get on the mailing list. Tale Spin takes place at the Vidiots Annex, now a non-profit organization, 320 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica.
Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.