Pictured Center, L to R: Jason Baldwin (Father Grenville), Michael Mayes (Joseph De Rocher), Jennifer Rivera (Sister Helen Prejean). Photo by Mark Kiryluk.

More about this event in days to come, but a landmark opera is coming to The Broad Stage in Santa Monica. “Dead Man Walking,” a modern classic that has become one of opera’s most performed contemporary works, will be presented in a re-orchestrated performance on March 7 and 8 by San Francisco’s Opera Parall√®le.

Based on Sister Helen Prejean’s book about a nun who comes to the aid of a death row inmate, and adapted into the film that won Susan Sarandon her Best Actress Oscar, the libretto is written by playwright Terrence McNally and composer Jake Heggie.

Jake Heggie calls it a journey of the heart. “It is a powerful, dramatic story of love, loss, murder, vengeance and redemption. Terrence McNally and I made it our business not to preach or to take sides — but to tell the story well and draw people in. Musically, it touches on gospel, blues, rock and roll, pop, jazz and classical opera. I find that very American and terribly exciting.”

Two performances only. More information at www.thebroadstage.com or the Box Office at (310) 434-3200.


Do make a point of catching “Chavez Ravine: An LA Revival” with the inimitable Latino theatre troupe, Culture Clash. It’s onstage at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City through March 1.

Originally produced in 2003 at The Mark Taper Forum this revisited and reimagined production tells the story of how generations of Mexican Americans who had settled in a valley a few miles east of downtown (named in honor of the first Mexican American LA County Supervisor) were upended, their homes demolished, to make way for what might have been a somewhat enlightened public housing project.

But initiated during the era of the great “Red Scare,” the Housing Authority chief who planned the project was accused of being a Communist. With powerful private and political figures behind the scenes manipulating the takeover of the land, instead of public housing we have Dodger Stadium.

There are many laughs, some history and even some “flying” in this new production, energetically performed by Ric Salinas, Herbert Siguenza and Richard Montoya, with live music and photographic projections that enhance the action.

The first act is tighter and funnier than the second, but framing the action is a ballgame at Dodger Stadium where superstar Mexican pitcher Fernando Valenzuela is on the mound in 1981 when he is visited by the ghosts of Chavez Ravine.

We are taken through the history of the self-sufficient communities that thrived there and meet inhabitants of the three main neighborhoods, Palo Verde, La Loma and Bishop. Here, community members ran their own schools, built their own churches and grew their own food. But forces beyond their control would wrench all this away in the name of “progress.”

Culture Clash productions feature comedic references to events of the time and today and in the end, the play is a lightly phantasmagoric imagining of what really happened.

This is well worth your time and might even make you want to seek out the history of Chavez Ravine and maybe even listen to Ry Cooder’s first concept album of the same name.

For info and tickets, call (213) 628-2772 or www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.


If you missed it in Santa Monica, you can still see Albie Selznick’s unique and personal show about his life in the world of magic at the Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles.

An autobiographical play with lots of magic effects, Selznick tells the tale of his father who shared his love of magic and the great Harry Houdini with him. His death makes a lasting mark on the young prestidigitator, who sets out to make magic his life, in hopes that it will somehow reunite him with his dad.

Along the way, you’ll see doves appear and disappear, experience an impossible “psychic” reading of audience cards submitted in advance, revealing greatest fears and favorite toys, plus the mid-air suspension of the beautiful female assistant who, positioned over two straw brooms, is lifted and tilted with no visible means of support.

It’s both touching and amusing, and I had the opportunity to watch Albie perform his show accompanied by an American Sign Language interpreter. Despite having injured a foot at an earlier performance, Albie managed to be engaging and entertaining with this very personal professional story. Bring your greatest fear and a sense of wonder.

“Smoke and Mirrors” is scheduled through March 15, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and 3 p.m. matinees on Sundays. The Odyssey is located on Sepulveda Boulevard at La Grange; visit www.smokeandmirrorsmagic.com for more info and tickets.


Who knows? For $125 you might just get your hands on the next Andy Warhol or Jackson Pollock. That is if you attend the first annual UNICEF Next Generation Art Party on Saturday, Feb. 28 at 800Main, the event space in Venice.

This benefit for UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) will feature works by such name artists as actor and Renaissance man James Franco along with a donation from the late Dennis Hopper’s Trust. But the focus is on bringing both the next generation of philanthropists and collectors together with the newest generation of emerging artists.

All proceeds from the party will be donated to UNICEF’s Tap Project for clean water to help the world’s most vulnerable children.

Your $125 contribution gets you into the VIP party with an advance preview of the art, along with cocktails and caviar, at 5 p.m. and includes one $100 art piece as well. For details and tickets and the list of participating artists, visit unicefusa.org/artparty.

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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