CULTURE WATCH — A quick trip to Portland last week prevented me from seeing anything local this week, but my inbox is overflowing with news about the arts around Santa Monica and the Westside, so let me share a few must-see events.
The Broad Stage opens its new season with “The Magic Flute.” And while you might think this is just another production of a popular opera, there’s a twist. South African Tourism sponsors this West Coast debut performance by the internationally acclaimed Isango Ensemble, with six performances only starting Wed., October 8.
This South African theatre company draws its artists primarily from the townships surrounding Cape Town, and reimagines Western theatre classics in the context of a South African setting. “The Magic Flute” is an international box office hit that won the British Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival and the Globes de Cristal for Best Opera Production following a sold-out season at the Th√©√¢tre du Ch√¢telet in Paris.
No less a wizard than British acting legend Sir Ian McKellan declares, ” I believe no other theatre group in the world so successfully brings old theatre classics into a modern, wholly African expression.” And The Times of South Africa describes the production this way: “Packing enough energy to power a couple of national grids, and enough decibels to lift several roofs.”
Prepare to be astonished. With its orchestra of marimbas and brightly colored costumes, this is definitely not your father’s opera production. For info and tickets, visit www.thebroadstage.com or call (310) 434-3200. The Broad Stage is located at 1310 11th Street, Santa Monica. Parking is free.

“Locals Only”
While the Broad Stage is part of The Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, SMC has some exciting theatre news of its own to announce.
Bill Borden, The Emmy Award-winning Santa Monica writer/executive producer of Disney Television’s cult classic series, “High School Musical,” has been working with SMC on a campus-wide multi-media, multi-disciplinary collaboration, resulting in a world premiere musical called “Locals Only!” onstage October 3 ‚Äì 19 at SMC’s Main Stage.
With book and concept by Borden and music by a host of songwriters he has collaborated with previously, “Locals Only!” is directed by Perviz Sawoski, chair of the Theatre Arts Department. Choreography is by dance professor Mark Tomasic and music direction by Gary Gray from the Music Department.
“Locals Only” refers to the phrase often used by surfers to mark their beach territory. Featuring more than a dozen songs ‚Äì from energetic, foot-stomping numbers to ballads ‚Äì “Locals Only!” tells the story of Buzz (Harrison Meloney), a young surfer who falls in love with Ariel (Autumn Powers), a “Valley Girl” from a sheltered, privileged background. Filled with colorful characters, the 90-minute musical reveals the inevitable conflicts when different worlds collide.
“I wanted this to be a production that reached deep into the campus, across many disciplines,” said SMC President Dr. Chui L. Tsang, who brought the project to the college. “It’s rewarding to see that students in film, animation, photography, cosmetology, art, business, computer science and other departments have contributed so much, alongside those in theatre, dance and music. The college has never embarked on a multi-disciplinary program as wide ranging as this, and to see it come together is very exciting.”
Film students have been shooting footage that will be projected on an onstage screen; photography students are taking promotional shots from the beach to the rehearsal hall; cosmetology students have made hair extensions and are assisting with hair and makeup; business students have developed marketing plans; and computer science students have launched social media projects for the show.
In addition, art student Pace has created a group of animated murals (with the help of the Entertainment Technology Department) that will be projected onstage and serve as stunning backdrops for the show. (A Venice Beach mural plays a key role in the musical’s plot.)
Performances are Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with a preview on Thursday, Oct. 2. Tickets can be ordered online at www.sme.edu/mainstage or call (310) 434-4319; while tickets are very affordable, there are discounts for SMC students and seniors.

Jazz Legend
With news of the passing of legendary jazzman and orchestra leader Gerald Wilson, release of the documentary, “Keep on Keepin’ On” is timelier than ever.
Winner of both the Audience Award and the Best New Documentary Director prize at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, first-time filmmaker Al Hicks shot it over the course of five years. The film depicts the remarkable story of 93-year-old jazz legend Clark Terry. A living monument to the Golden Era of Jazz, Terry — a mentor to Miles Davis — is among the few performers ever to have played in both Count Basie’s and Duke Ellington’s bands. In the 1960’s, he broke the color barrier as the first African-American staff musician at NBC — on “The Tonight Show.”
After a life spent working with and teaching the most totemic figures in jazz history, Terry continues to cultivate budding talents. The film highlights his friendship with the preternaturally gifted Justin Kauflin, a blind, 23-year-old piano prodigy who suffers from debilitating stage fright. Not long after Kauflin is invited to compete in an elite Jazz competition, Terry’s health takes a turn for the worse. As the clock ticks, we see two friends confront the toughest challenges of their lives.
Kauflin’s work with composer Dave Grusin’s score sets the tone for a story that spans decades, lifetimes and the entire history of modern Jazz, complete with firsthand anecdotes from Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock. Crafted with great affection by Hicks — another former student of Terry’s — this film is a grace note for his teacher, infused with soulfulness and serendipity.
“Keep on Keepin’ On” opens at the Arclight and Landmark Theatres on September 19. More info at http://keeponkeepinon.com. Kauflin will be on hand to perform following the opening screenings.

Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.

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