Wednesday, October 28, 2020


It’s been years since I’ve been to a drive in of any kind, and I’ve been around long enough to remember drive in restaurants where the servers were in roller skates. If that’s hard to imagine, imagine a drive in opera. It’s not so farfetched in the year of Covid 19 but it, in a way, farfetched as well. With theatres dark and with the exception of those creative enough to figure out ways to film and stream one or two person plays, the prospects of seeing live performances is almost unheard of …until now.

Enter the bold and courageous San Diego Opera. For all intents and purposes and because of the restrictions and health standards, the opera would not begin to have a season. The Met. is shuttered as are most opera houses around the world. At the beginning of the pandemic, yours truly was watching operas from the past that were recorded for history. This held my interest for several months until they started repeating them. 

No more! Believe it or not, we here in San Diego are able to see Puccini’s gorgeous “La bohème” in the comfort of our cars in the parking lot of the one-time Sports Arena parking lot now Pechanga Arena. It was made possible by generous donors and the inspired mind of General Director David Bennett. 

Together with Conductor Rafael Payare, and the reduced (23 musicians) SD Symphony Orchestra, Director Keturah Stickann, costume designer Opera dé Montreal, Lighting Designer Chris Rynne, Sound Designer, Ross Goldman and Stage Manager Michael Janney it was an opera lover’s paradise.


                                    Tenor Joshua Guerrero

Reimaged as a memory play instead of in the moment, Rodolfo finds himself ‘reflecting on a bittersweet moment’ ten years earlier of his first meeting with Mimi and the story of the beginning of their love affair and its tragic ending. 

Making her company debut as Mimi, is the lovely Ana María Martínez who replaced Angel Joy Blue (health reasons) and did it in a way that won the hearts and minds of those who love a beautiful love story. The vulnerable and sickly Mimi (Martìnez) never disappointed living up to her vocal challenges especially when in duets with Guerrero. Her “Si. Mi chiamano Mimi”  telling Rodolfo about herself sets the tone for some stunning singing. 

Her poet lover Rodolfo, tenor Joshua Guerrero, is excellent, and that was immediately apparent in his tender aria “Che gelida manina” in Act I when they first meet. The two are a perfect match vocally.


      Robert Mellon in background, with Ana Maria Martinez as Mimi

 There are lighter times however when Soprano Andrea Carrol’s Musetta comes to the outdoor celebrations in the Latin Quarter with her rich sponsor, Alcindoro, bass baritone Scott Sikon. Left holding the dinner check and looking completely baffled, she taunts her ex-lover painter Marcello (Baritone Alexander Birch Elliot) in her centerpiece aria, “Quando m’en vo" about her popularity. Bass Collin Ramsey, and baritone Robert Mellon’s Schaunard along with Rodolfo round out the roommate trio. Both Mellon and Ramsey have more to do in a full length rendition, but the entire cast was more than up to the task the night I attended.  

Andrea Carrol's Musetta

The entire production lasts about ninety minutes without intermission. Rynne’s crisp sound design was heard  by tuning into the car's FM radio. There are sufficient screens placed strategically around the parking lot allowing  anyone and then some, not close enough to the stage, to be able to watch mostly everything on a super large TV screen with Supertitles.

The one drawback was that, while we could see and hear each of the performers singing one or two at a time, we were not able to see the entire cast on stage; a small price to pay to see live performances at this time when everything else we see is filmed and streamed. 

The changes in the format of Puccini’s  "La bohéme” under Director Keturah Stickann was a necessity especially in the time of Covid, safety protocols, and social distancing on stage. The lack of chorus and keeping a distance of 15 feet of each other with each singer having four feet on either side worked just fine. In a way, while the distancing could have thrown an emotional wrench into the passionate feelings, it never felt less than passionate. In fact, so strong were the voices and so avid the feelings, honking (instead of clapping) to the cacophony of car horns was quite novel. 

Cast of La Boheme

But in the times of a major pandemic, we have to give a shout out to the San Diego Opera Company for this big boost to the arts our and
our well being.

There is nothing like a good cry at the end in the privacy and darkness of your own car and your own bubble. Sigh.

It will be shown again on October 30th and November 1st. Do enjoy!

San Diego Opera

233 A Street, Suite 500

San Diego, CA 92101

T. (619) 232-7636


 Photo: Karli Cadel

Friday, October 23, 2020


“The Times They Are A Changin.” Over the course of twenty five years, people change; love grows deeper; people fall out of love, grow older and values change. In Bernard Slade’s bitter sweet love story, his 1975 “Same Time, Next Year”, starring the real husband and wife team of Bruce Turk as George and Katie MacNichol as Doris, and directed by NCR’s artistic director David Ellentsein the couples’ once every year clandestine rendezvous brings with it a new revelation with each passing year.

The play unfolds every five years starting in 1951 in a comfortable Spanish style (Marty Burnett) motel room in Northen Ca. They met over a steak dinner. No, they were not dining together, he sent a steak over to her table as a gesture. I guess people fall in love over less expensive food choices, but that’s the story we’re stuck with. It doesn’t end there, however. It moves into an overnight tryst and then to a weekend long date, one laced with guilt laden explanation as to why and how it’s going to work out. 

The two are so uptight that first morning when they awake, and after a night of lovemaking Doris wraps herself up in the bed sheets crawls out of bed and gets dressed in the bathroom. That doesn’t stop them, however from meeting at the same time and same place each year.


No big surprise. The next scene, five years later (we know because there is a hint hanging on the piano: ‘5 year anniversary’ in bold red letters) the clothes and wigs have been updated from 1956’s to ‘70’s (Elsa Benzoni and Peter Herman) with 50’s dresses with garter belts and crinoline slips to hipster beads and suede vests to slacks and tops for Doris with an assortment of wigs noting the hair styles and slight noticeable changes in the styles of George’s clothes, the lapel widths, shirt designs and a slight graying at the temples.

They talk, they sleep they exchange little stories about their lives, their mates and they make love. In fact, in that time George and Doris made love together one hundred and thirteen times. Now most married couples, at least the ones I know don’t keep track of their lovemaking, but here’s the scoop: Doris and George are married but not to each other, they are carrying on a ‘secret’ love affair behind their spouse’s backs and George is a wiz at numbers. 

Slade is clever enough to toss in just the right amount of pathos, family illness, the Vietnam War, the drug culture, death of a child, near death of a spouse. He balances the serious with the light and frivolous, and to the actor’s credit, they manage it with ease making the most of the situations and giving it and them a measure of credibility. 

Over the course of the years she grows more self-assured, finishes college, opens a thriving business and learns to be content with her husband, George. On the other hand, he grows more serious as his business grows and he sees Doris changing, but not at all to his liking. 

Both manage to rein in their differences as they become more in tune with each other, older, comfortable and the shifting attitudes of the times. Their personal triumphs and disappointments are met with understanding and love as they share stories, empathize and commiserate; he even helps with the birth of her fourth child in one of the funniest scenes in the play.

Slade’s play ran on Broadway from 1975 to 1978 with over 1,453 performances and was later (some might remember) made into a movie starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. It earned her a Best Actress Award. Slade also created “The Partridge Family,” “The Flying Nun “and “Bewitched”. Now that would be fun to see. But more than morals changing and with everything going viral, in retrospect its difficult not to wince at the dialogue, gender roles, reference to race and religion (“You must be Jewish… because they’re always feeling guilty.) and corny jokes. As I said it's vintage, but not necessarily good.

To that end, with Covid in the picture and theatres having to reinvent themselves “Same Time Next Year” with husband and wife playing against each other, the choice of this two person play makes sense at least as a filler. 

 I can't help comparing the excellent and intense past production of  "Necessary Sacrifices” and "Same Time". It is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, you can’t. That’s not to take anything away from the fine acting of Turk and MacNichol, and perhaps a little levity is what folks at home want to see. 

I may be an old fuddy- duddy, but give me something fresh and new and gutsy and I’m a happy camper. 

“Same Time Next Year” will be streaming on line through Nov. 15th.

North Coast Rep. 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive  #D, Solana Beach, Ca.  

Photos: Aaron Rumley

Props: Philip Roth

Phone: 858-481-1055

Saturday, October 17, 2020


The dynamic duo of Freedman and Johnson are at it again. If you recall the two tackled the Hollywood Blacklist fiasco of the 50’s in a one man show, “A Jewish Joke” starring Johnson as Bernie Lutz, funnyman, writer, comic and actor.  

In this ‘bitter comedy’ Lutz came under the evil eye of Joe McCarthy’s House Committee on Un American activities whose one purpose was to ‘out’ anyone in the entertainment industry (read Blacklist) that had any connections, past or present, to the Communist Party, causing them to lose their jobs and taint their reputations putting them out of their work. Most of the targets were Jewish entertainers including directors, actors, writers and performers.

The duo is at it again with another solo show starring Johnson in “Roosevelt-Charge the Bear”. It’s another look into American  politics but this time it’s about founder of the ‘Bull Moose’ Party, Teddy-Theodore Roosevelt whose rise to the presidency came as much of  a surprise as well as chagrin to him as it did the Republican Party after the assassination of President McKinley.

              Photos by Daren Scott

Curiously, after watching all of Ken Burn’s five or six part series on the Roosevelt’s I came away with little memory of his accomplishments as the 26th.  President of the United States.  With the exception of (and no easy fete) his being a conservationist, historian, naturalist and explorer, he will be remembered by his 1898 organization of the Rough Riders, the first volunteer cavalry in the Spanish American War. They were best remembered for their charge up San Juan Hill in 1898 years before he became president.  His likeness is also carved on Mount Rushmore along with Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. 

At the ripe old age of 43 he was then the youngest President in the nation’s history. He brought with him a more progressive agenda than the traditional Republican mantra claiming that the President is the “steward of the people” and should take whatever action necessary for the public good. Nothing could have prepared him for the fight the established Republican party would give him as he struggled to settle the eastern Pennsylvania coal miner’s strike of 1902. He tried bringing together mine owners, money men like Carnegie, and Rockefeller to the United Mine Workers of America and the miners to negotiate for better housing, higher wages and safer working conditions

He hones in on a letter he received from a young boy (13 years old) whose brother who is nine and working in the mines and already is sick from the fumes he inhaled He carries the letter around to remind himself of what’s happening in the real world outside of politics as he travels the country by train from Bangor, Maine to Burlington, Vermont to Providence, Rhode Island and beyond reaching out and meeting those waiting to see him. 

In this exciting world premiere, Marni Freedman and Phil Johnson along with actor/ director Rosina Reynolds have given us a clear picture of the 26th President’s, early into his presidency one of the biggest challenges of his career: solving or putting an end to the coal miner’s strike. When he learns that one hundred and forty thousand men are on strike including the firemen, engineers and pump men it’s difficult for him to fathom that there will be no heat, and American’s would “die in the streets, to literally freeze to death in their own homes.” ‘And the party and money men wanted me to sit down and shut my mouth."

The play pivots back and forth in and around other locations but for most of part Johnson’s Roosevelt is either sitting behind his desk in the oval office (Tony Cucuzzella) or walking around it, or sitting at its edge, getting a shave and/or talking to reporters or talking about taking a hike with reporters.  He valued the opinions of the reporters to keep him on track and tell the truth. 

The conversations give background into his inner thinking about the job he was thrown into, the few ally’s he thought he had inside the Republican party (Senator Mark Hanna, “Now that damn cowboy is president.” ) but really never had, to the deaths of both his mother and first wife coming hours apart, to his enthusiasm about building the Panama Canal; about his sisters disability from a spinal condition and how he encouraged  science and medicine to work together to help all those with physical disabilities by making less cumbersome braces (not to mock them as our current leader does). 

In a reflective moment he reminisces about the time he invited his friend Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House. Later in response to the invitation from the senator of South Carolina, senator Tillman “we shall have to kill a thousand of them to get them back in their places”. I can hear Lindsay Graham referring to Jim Crow laws as the ‘Good Old Days’. Not much has changed in the Republican party or South Carolina.

Johnson, who acts  as Artistic Director and a pro at heart, does throw his heart and soul into giving the audiences a clear picture of another man of history whose heart and soul were definitely for the American people. From his early days as his time as a conservationist to the story of his stalking ‘The Bear’ to’ hunting the bear’ to admitting that he was ready to ‘charge ‘the bear (intervene in the strike), his is a performance well worth remembering. It carries with it the utmost sincerity, confidence and genuine belief in his character. Presidential is a good word. For ninety minutes his presidential posture never falters as he transforms himself to become Roosevelt. 

As the other dynamic duo of director Reynolds and actor Johnson this show is flawless, inviting and engaging and definitely worth watching, perhaps more than once as the character of Roosevelt the man is in such stark contrast to the one sitting in the White House now its mind boggling. The comparison is a lesson in humanity/humility for all who cherish our democracy and  miss right now!

The making of a production (i.e. filmed staging)  during the time of a pandemic involves the work of many behind the scenes technicians from stage manager Jassmyn Foster, to costume designer Jordyn  Smyley (period clothes perfect) to assistant Costume Designer Ross Stewart, to Lghting Designer Joel Britt to Sound  Designer Matt Lescault-Wood to Director of Photography/Editor Michael Brueggmyer and last but not least Daren Scott’s wonderful photos of Roosevelt the man looking very presidential.  

The show runs through Nov. 2nd 

Tickets: $25to $100.00

Phone: 619-568-5800

Theatre: Roustabouts

Two thumbs up!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020



If you like the music and songs of Johnny and June Cash, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Woody Guthrie, Paul McCartney to name a few, you will love Lamb’s now on line show, "Lamb's Cabaret". It was filmed live, directed by Robert Smyth, and is now being streamed on any number of your home devices  through Nov. 1st. Running time is 50 minutes. 

Staring husband and wife team Caitie Grady and Charles Evans, Jr. 
with Cris O'Brryon on piano, it's a fun, upbeat and entertaining show. The couple show off their many talents together and oft in solo as Evans repeats some of the Johnny Cash songs from Lamb's mega hit "Million Dollar Quartet" just this past year. 

Both artists are among the companies resident artists at the theatre. Their recent performance "Babette's Feast had the audience holding their breaths while the couple showed us their talents in gorgeous arias from Mozarts "Don Giovanni". 

The two also performed together in "Once" and "Chaps.  Always up beat and comfortable with each other, this 'Cabaret' will keep you humming long after its over. 

Photos: Lamb's Players Theatre.