THE ELEPHANT’S GRAVEYARD

It’s yet another sad day in the circus world where Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus recently reported that after 145 plus years, they will retire their heard of performing elephants within three years, totally phasing them out by their 2018 season. The main reason it seems is based upon reports about their treatment while on the road, as well as being in captivity.

According to a news filing by the Associated Press, Alana Feld, Executive VP of Feld Entertainment, the group that owns the Ringing Bros. circus, stated “There’s been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers. A lot of people aren’t comfortable with us touring with our elephants.”

As one may suspect, this decision by this form of entertainment that’s been billed as The Greatest Show On Earth since the days of PT Barham, known for his somewhat unethical ways of giving the public what they thought they wanted, is based upon recent tensions sparked by pressure groups that speak toward animal rights and the treatment of. The biggest of these groups, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has hailed this decision as a victory where many of their local chapters (as well as splinter groups that speak for the same concerns), have made their presence known by organizing protest groups at locations where the circus performs, holding up sings and passing out flyers that speak for their causes and concerns, mostly toward the elephants.

Ringing Bros’s elephants are not totally going away. Although they may no longer be part of the show, their heard will be settled at the company’s 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation located near Sarasota, Florida where they will still be bread and raised.

The traveling circus such as Ringling Bros. has been known as the last of its kind, where the art of hosting a hugh show is unique, featuring thrill acts from trapeze performers, tightrope walkers, stunt riders (first on horses, later on motorcycles) and of course, the animals from lion and tiger taming, dog acts, and the famous elephants–perhaps the only place outside of a traditional zoo where one can see these beasts up close! (Yeah, there are the clowns as well!)

Throughout time and tide, the circus has indeed changed. Many smaller circuses featured their collection of performing animals, but also featured the side show “freaks”, from the fat lady, the dwarfs, and other human oddities. Those sights were commonplace well into the 1970’s, although Ringing Bros. never overly used those acts in their modern era when music promoter Irving Feld purchased the circus in 1967 from the Ringing Bros. estate. Today, Irving’s son Kenneth Feld and with his daughters, Nicole and Alana Feld, are in charge in keeping this namesake alive.

Throughout the years, people have attended Ringing Bros. circus performances expecting the said thrills and laughs that delighted their fans for generations. Families attend as a group, where many of these same family clans pass on this ritual to their kids and so on! Sure, one may see a circus act perform on TV, from International Showtime to the TV specials that CBS aired in the 1960’s and 1970’s that featured an hour’s worth sampling of Ringing Bros’ upcoming touring season. However, one had to be there, and that notion was always present.

When political correctness started to kick in through domestic society in the middle 1990’s, the reports of suspected animal abuse (targeting the elephants) started to make the rounds. Bands such as PETA, as well as other pressure groups that take their concerns over the animal world (many of them having an aggressive “Meat is Murder” attitude) started to hold rallies where the circus would appear in a classic protest fashion with the sign boards, flyer distribution, and the occasional guy/gal with the bullhorn making their concerns known to a public that just wanted to attend a circus show.

When this writer first attended the Ringling Bros. circus, there was never such a concern over the elephants or any other animal ever mentioned or implied. One would attend for the thrills and excitement. It was all done in the name of family friendly entertainment, something that the kids would remember and talk about in the many school yards across the land with their fellow classmates. Last year when this same writer attended the circus when Ringing Bros. made their stop in downtown Los Angeles, there were groups of protesters near and around the Staples Center expressing their concerns. (The local LAPD had a few officers nearby to keep the peace in order.)  Of course, many of the passers by were a bit irked over their presence, even taking photos of these groups with their phones while the kids didn’t really know just what was going on! But even yours truly took a flyer that was handed out from these groups, placing the same piece of paper printed on slick paper stock in my circus program where it would be kept for the archives.

Again, Ringing Bros will only phase out the elephants. The lion and tiger acts will remain, as well as the dog packs and other forms of animal acts–or at least for the moment. But if one wanted to run away from home to join the circus, al least one won’t have to go on shovel duty–the starting point in joining the circus world. One has to start from the bottom all in the name of show biz!

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NEWS AND REVIEWS

     LOOPHOLES, A PAIN IN THE I.R.S., a stage musical about one man’s fight with the government agency that collects income taxes based on their terms, makes its world premier presentation at The Hudson MainStage Theatre in Hollywood.

Bruce Nozick is Isadore “Izzy” Rich, a financial planner that specializes in tax shelters. One humble day, he receives a letter from the Internal Revenue Service stating that he owes extensive taxes for a number of reasons that are not in Izzy’s favor. This filing was conducted by IRS agent Howie Catchem (Brad Griffith) who insists (of course) that Izzy pays his tax bill. Izzy consults his accountant Harry Grimm (Perry Lambert) to see if he indeed owns the amount. While his tax situations becomes more tangled, Izzy has his therapist Dr. Marsha Mellow (Caryn Richman) to rely upon that may not solve his tax problems, but gives him the therapy he needs. Through time (fifteen years worth to be exact), Izzy finds his salvation through a government loophole that saves the day. It’s the classic saga of one little man playing out in a war with the nation’s least liked agency that tends to handle internal revenue as a service!

This one act musical review offers plenty of comical interludes that consists of bad puns, jokes and gags that are so old, they were originally printed in an extinct language (or they could have), and features enough songs as part of its repertoire to make this piece a two act. (It’s only a single act–so there!) The piece, with book by Stan Rich with music by Ronnie Jayne and lyrics by Rich and Jayne, is very lively and just as comical, and speaks about a topic that has never been presented as a full fledged stage musical before–or at least not to this writer’s knowledge! The songs are clever enough to stand out on their own, while a few numbers mimic other songs taken from other sources that play like the original numbers, but are different and unique enough to keep the copyright attorney far away! There are thirty five(!!) songs sung by the various cast members that are performed under the musical direction of Ronnie Jayne on the keyboards. And with such musicals, there is choreography as performed by the cast provided by Lindsay Martin that keeps the talented crew of players busy throughout. Kiff Scholl directs the non dancing parts that give this show enough spunk to make a tax audit as enjoyable as anything but!

In addition to the lead players appearing as noted, this showcase also features as listed in their alphabetical order, Ryan Brady, Julie Cardia, Taji Coleman, Nora King, Camille Licate, and Bruce Nozick.

Playwright Stan Rich based the plot through an actual episode from his own life where he was audited by the IRS for back taxes. This source material was enough for him to compile a stage piece that is indeed a real comical hoot and holler! There are so many gags spoken and depicted here that one might miss out on a selection of the laughable interludes! So one must pay attention to all what goes on!

In spite of a musical subject of paying taxes, does this show have its happy ending? For Rich (the stage character Izzy and Stan the playwright), both had to clear their name (if not bank account) to survive in their ends. Whatever the reason and whatever the cost, LOOPHOLES… is one very original and very witty piece that will bring the audience to tell the IRS where to shove that tax payment! (Hint: The sun don’t shine there!) It will be a long time until another musical as this one will ever make the theater circuits for quite a while, as long as there is death and…you know what!

  LOOPHOLES, A PAIN IN THE I.R.S., presented by Tax Review Productions, and performs at the Hudson MainStage Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd. (between Hudson and WIlcox) in the heart of Hollywood’s Theatre Row, until May 17th. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 PM, and Sundays at 3:00 and 7:00 PM. For ticket reservations or for more information, call (323) 960-7735, or via online at http://www.LoopholesTheMusical.com

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Performing at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown Los Angeles is the production of DREAMSCAPE, Rickerby Hinds’ theater piece that is a hybred of hip-hop theater and a sobering drama about the untimely death of a young African-American through the hands of community law enforcement.

The piece speaks for Myeisha Mills, who, as a nineteen year old woman of color living in Riverside, California in the waning days of 1998, was found by police seated unconscious in her vehicle with a gun placed in her lap. Attempting to get the woman out of the vehicle while taking caution to the firearm, one of the officers, hearing a sound mimicking to a gun going off, opened fire and shot Myeisha a dozen times at a near close range. In this show, Rhaechyl Walker performs as Myeisha, a black woman living in the area known as the Inland Empire a.k.a. “The IE”. Through the support of the motion of dance, she speaks about elements from living in the area and as the person she is-a person who is young, female, and of color; elements that can work in her favor, but through her unfortunate circumstance, they do not. She is just like the many that live supposedly far off from the “getto ‘hoods” of south central Los Angeles, but isn’t necessarily within a safer location. It’s just another fable of a death of an individual through the control of authority because the person was just at the wrong place at the wrong time!

This presentation is a commixture of modern dance with a hop-hop beat consisting of a selection of monologues from someone who would otherwise not have a voice to speak of her life that would be cut short through means not of her making, and an expression of a occurrence that is taking place far too often not necessarily brought to the attention for a public at large. Playwright Rickerby Hinds, who also directs this showpiece, takes the actual episode that really did occur using facts extracted from the Riverside Police reports as well as the medical examiner who conducted the cause(s) of death, and deliver the concepts of what did happen without taking any sides or measures. There isn’t a victim pointed out per se, and the subject never acknowledges that she was a victim, not even noting if the police shooting was even justified! These lack of results are not the scope of this show, not does is contain a “right vs. wrong” challenge. Rhaechyl Walker uses her voice and expeditious dance movements thanks to Carrie Mikuls’s rapid fire choreography, that brings her character into a new light as a person who had a promising youth, while her future will no longer exist.

Although Rhaechyl and her character are the center focus, she does not perform as a solo. Within the cast is John “Faahz” Mechand. He plays the other inessential characters from her life and death, and also provides the rhythmic vibrations that are of the hip-hop stock, complete with sounds of scratching, sampling, and beats and measures expressed through his mouth. This form of percussion develops as the prime voice of a culture and age that had been considered a stock equal yet separate from races of fairer complexions. WIth the talents of this duo, they carry this show throughout each beat measure and stanza. Along with the stage lighting as designed by Patsy McCormack, there is no other physical set present. It’s just a barren stage with no recognized props used (not counting two chairs only used on occasion) with Rhaechyl and her dance moves, and Faahz as the human beat box on the M.I.C.

Over the last year, the subject of law enforcement vs. people of color has been making the headlines occurring from large metropolises as New York city, to smaller suburban communities as one located in north St. Louis. DREAMSCAPE’s only namesake comes from an illusion. Again, there are no sides taken in this presentation, and although there is dance set to rhythm, this isn’t a “musical” to state the least. It’s just a notion to bring an aspect to the attention of those that would not be in the know otherwise. This stage show, for its theatrics and subject matter, is highly recommend.

DREAMSCAPE, presented by Hindsight Production and The Latino Theatre Company, performs in the Gallery space within the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street, downtown Los Angeles, until May 17th. Showtimes are Thursday through Saturday nights at 8:00 PM, and Sunday matinees at 3:00 PM. For tickets reservations and information, call (866) 811-4111, or via online at http://www.TheLATC.org

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The Colony Theatre in Burbank concludes its 2014-15 season with WORDS BY IRA GERSHWIN, Joseph Vass’ musical play on the life, times, and music of one of American’s greatest songwriters.

Jake Broder is Ira Gershwin. He, along with his sibling George became one of the most successful song writing teams of the 20th century the nation, if not the world, has ever sung along to. In this show, Ira expresses to his audience about how he and his younger brother were exposed to the classical European composers. Although George was the man responsible of placing the notes where they belong, Ira was the one to add words to those notes, as long as there were notes for the words to fit in their place. Although he tells many tales about how he became part of the tin pan alley crowd in New York and eventually in Hollywood, there are many opportunities to show off a sampling of what’s called The Great American Songbook. Backed by a four piece jazz band consisting of Kevin Toney on piano, Terry Wollman of guitar, John B. Williams on bass, and Greg Webster on percussion with musical direction by Toney and musical arrangement by the playwright, the combo performs many of the hits that Ira worded, some well known (“Fascinating, Rhythm”, “Shall We Dance?”, Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off”, etc.), along with a few that time nearly forgot (“Union Square”, etc.). Of course, if Ira is the wordsmith, there must be somebody to sing those words to the music spoken for. Elijah Rock and Angela Teck are on hand to provide the vocals that make these songs come alive for another welcomed stanza or two.

This show directed by David Ellenstein, is one part biographical tale, and two parts musical review. The audience will learn a thing or two about Ira, a man who was happier to stay behind the scenes, unlike his brother who played the piano with the opportunity came about. Ira also worked with such composers as Kurt Weill, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, and many others long after George’s untimely death of a brain tumor at age 37. However, the real star of this show is the music score, as the audience will take part of those songs that still wows ‘em right in these very days and times!

As to the technical side of things, David Potts creates a stage setting where the band is off on stage left, the center stage is for the theatrics as performed by the talented set (even Jake Broder as Ira sings a tune or two), and on stage right, an oversized Victorian-esk chair along with an antique side table with matching floor lamp is present where Ira is seated (a la. Alistair Cooke) to not only express about his long career, but where he places himself while Elijah Rock and Angela Teck are doing their thing–if not joining them on occasion.

For those that are fans of harmonies from the so-called golden ear of popular music, or for those that have medium exposure to the tunes from not so long ago, this showpiece is a course to the music that sings and swings, and captures the mood for romance. (Songs do their best when expressing love!) Its title WORDS BY IRA GERSHWIN says it all! They may not write ‘em as they used to, but when they did, it was done as Ira positioned those words in their place that still makes sense–even in this post modern world!

    WORDS BY IRA GERSHWIN, presented by and performs at The Colony Theatre, 555 North Third Street (at Cypress), next to the Burbank Town Center Mall, Burbank, until May 17th. Showtimes are Thursday through Saturday nights at *;00 PM, with matinee performances on Saturday at 3:00 PM, and Sunday at 2:00 PM. Special talk back presentations with a Q & A with the cast and crew, takes place following the performances on April 24th and May 7th. 

     For ticket reservations or for more information, call (818) 558-7000 x 15, or via online at http://www.ColonyTheatre.org

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WOMAN ON TIME, an anthology of seven short plays whose theme speaks for the position of women through various eras and places extending nearly one hundred years, perform at The Working Stage Theatre.

Kimberly Alexander, Julie Janney, and Joanna Miles are featured as various characters on how women set themselves throughout the ages. The plays presented in order of appearance consist of Bonnie Garvin’s Flight School, an early 1990’s episode of a trio of flight attendants where one become hit upon by the copilot (directed by Jenny O’Hara), To Bra Or Not To Bra, written by Nikki McCauley and directed by Jenny O’Hara, is about a mother shopping for a bra from her young adult daughter at a notions shop c.1969 where daughter would rather “ban the bra”, Invaluable, written by Deborah Pearl about a seasoned staff member of a business firm in the present day (2015) who meets her new boss, a woman young enough to be her daughter (directed by Maria Gobetti), Rosies, written and directed by Bridget Terry, is about a team of woman working in the same munitions plant c.1945, Lorin Howard’s Defining Moments, directed by Iria Merlis, is a middle 1950’s tale of a young woman barely out of her teens that is pregnant and unmarried, seeking the aid of a woman who specializes in terminating pregnancies, Lunch, written by Joanna Miles and directed by Maria Gobetti, takes place a few scant years ago (2011) about a trio of Beverly Hills types, one spouse is running for office while a photo of his manhood is found all over the ‘net, and rounding out the selection is Susanna Styron’s Suffrage, directed by Iris Merlis, occurs in 1917 during “The Great War”, where one woman plans to fight for the right to vote that would make the nation safe for democracy.

These short pieces converse in various concerns and issues that were timely for the periods they verbalize for. Although comedy is the common link to all of these mini epics, some deal with sobering issues but are taken into consideration. The entire focus to this retrospect is how women have progressed and/or regressed within the last century. Some issues have changed for the better over the years, a few have remained flat, while the rest are presented as comical satire. The trio of players consisting of a character in her teens-20’s, a middle aged being, as well as a woman in her senior years, fit the roles they play through the decades represented. The writers and directors of material presented vocalize for their own gender, so all themes and expressions are true to their meanings, making each slice of life real–with a bit of creative license added for good measure!

In addition to the acting talent seen on stage, Fritz Davis provides the visual images that are projected using still and moving imagery that shows a bit of the period spoken for, setting up the year(s) as presented. Betty Madden’s costuming also exhibits the days that the action took or takes place.

Anthology stage programs can become a hit or miss situation, perhaps the reason why theater companies never attempt to offer this form of omnibus. WOMAN ON TIME completes this demand. It’s amusing to note that sometimes the more things change, the more they stay in place. This element may be good as long as the concerns remain in state! These woman are on a time that waits for no (wo)man!

     WOMAN ON TIME, presented by 5inaHIVE, and performs at the Working Stage Theatre, 1516 North Gardner (off Sunset Blvd.), Los Angeles, until May 17th. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 PM, and Sunday afternoons at 3:00 PM. For tickets, call (323) 960-7724, or via online at http://www.Plays411.com/wotime

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All rights reserved. The views and opinions are those of the writers, and not necessarily of the staff and management. ‘Nuff said!

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