OOPS I DID IT AGAIN.
— let the summer go by without taking full advantage of the music and other cultural opportunities that are so deliciously rife, mostly outdoors in our gorgeous clime, and mostly free. I’d have to give myself only a B for effort, and through no fault of my own, a C for results because what was offered was not as good as in most previous years.
But the summer’s not over! There are still a lot of goodies coming up between now and the waning days of September, and I’ll tell you about a few of them. In a minute.
I had a pretty good weekend, though. Caught a formidable presentation of a classic, sadly American, tale at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga Canyon, and a second visit, just as entertaining as the first, to the gem of a musical created at the Ruskin Group Theatre Co., at the airport.
In between I went to Inglewood for a daytime City Hall concert of promise that didn’t happen, and a couple of bands at the Original Farmers Market (on Fairfax) that were not worth the trip. Oh well. They have country-rockabilly-Americana mostly, every Saturday night there at 7:30 p.m., every Friday night during the summer, an assortment of world music. Free, and you’re surrounded by literally dozens of food choices. Pretty cheap date night.
A GOOD OLE TIME BY THE PLANES
The Ruskin is playing “Sneaky Ole Time,” a brand-new musical created from the songs of country scribe Paul Overstreet. Let me tell you about Paul Overstreet.
His first solo album went nowhere but his second one banged out five singles that all went Top 10. (He’s had 27 altogether.) Number Ones as a songwriter: Tanya Tucker (and a Number Two), two for Randy Travis (“Forever and Ever, Amen” is crucial to the story line of “Sneaky”) and one each for Keith Whitley and Blake Shelton and a couple more on his own. Also a Top Five for Alison Krauss, and hits for Kenny Chesney, the Judds, Glen Campbell, Mel Tillis, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, Travis Tritt and more.
Most cool on the list, for me: his first hit was for the ole possum hisself, George Jones – “Same Ole Me.” And you may remember “When You Say Nothing at All,” from the Julia Roberts movie “Notting Hill.” (You’ll hear it in the musical, too.)
Two Grammys, but Overstreet’s most impressive accomplishment is being named BMI Songwriter of the Year five straight times. Because no one else has ever done that.
Musicals are plays with music. Duh. So the tunes are what make or break a musical. If you’ve got a couple of memorable songs, that may be all you need.
Unlike many that have the story first then write songs to fit it, this project started with his award-winning songs and wrote the story around them. They brought in accomplished local screenwriter (“Heartbreakers,” Jim Carrey’s “Liar, Liar”) Steve Mazur, and he came up with a clever, funny book with some unusual twists.
But Overstreet made his entire catalog available and a few obscure songs fit perfectly, and he even wrote new ones just for this new work. It was a collaborative effort that included producer Yonta Taiwo and resident Ruskin director Mike Myers (also five-time chair of our Arts Commission), who told me he hadn’t chosen to direct anything for the last six years, after helming more than 100 plays there, until he got hold of this, because nothing caught his interest so strongly. “Paul was so much fun to work with,” he told me, “but mainly, of course, his songs are pure gold.”
As of this moment of me typing, the next three shows are sold out, but the end date was extended two weeks past Sept. 6. Don’t let this one get away. On my second visit Friday evening, I heard two women talking as I passed them in the hall: “You sure like this, don’t you?” – “I guess so – this is my fifth time.” Sneaky ole time.
“MOCKINGBIRD” KILLS IT
No sing-alongs, few smiles but equal high satisfaction at the Will Geer in Topanga. Usually I catch at least one Shakespeare there every summer (that’s their forte) – there’s simply not much better a place to be on a perfect summer’s day or evening, or even a hot one, than under the big trees, in the woods, post picnic dinner, at this lush outdoor stage – but this summer I opted for the temptation of a staging of “To Kill a Mockingbird” (adaptation approved by author Harper Lee). The always top-flight cast and crew delivered superbly all around, even (or especially) young Lily Andrew as young Scout. But she grew up in the Canyon and has been hanging around Theatricum since she was really little. I recognized Atticus as veteran screen actor Richard Tyson, and he was outstanding, as was Earnestine Phillips’ flamboyant, anchoring Calpurnia.
It’s a familiar but difficult subject matter to see played out in front of you. But it struck me that I was watching the antecedent to the racial ugliness we have been experiencing lately in America. (Spoiler alert.) We’re no longer completely mocking justice by convicting a man with a useless left arm of a left-handed murder, just because he’s black and somebody (ignorant, maybe addled, no-‘count, but white) pointed the finger, but I realized that 30 or 40 years before this setting, people of color were routinely lynched for no cause at all, forget a trial.
Two Shakespeares and three others continue there through Sept. 27. You really can’t go wrong.
WHAT ELSE? – you still have one more Jazz on the Lawn at Stewart Park this Sunday, 5 to 7, with “Brasil Brazil.” (I know nothing.) Three Pier concerts left: Rebirth Brass Band Sept. 3 might be good, otherwise I’ll skip what’s left of another dismal series there. Check the schedules for LACMA and Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park (especially Los Lobos Sept. 19); LACMA’s jazz concerts run two more Saturdays (at 5) but their Friday jazz and Sunday classical concerts (at 6) continue through the year. All free and outdoors.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: ” One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” – Bob Marley (“Trenchtown Rock”)
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for almost 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at email@example.com