SHOPPING FOR THE “HOTTEST” GIFT(S)

     Every year about this time, retailers, marketers, and others groups than deal in stats and statistics always try to predict what type of retail goods will become the “hottest” gifts to buy for others in this so-called holiday season that has already kicked off since the time when the Halloween decorations were coming down!
     Many of these gifts tend to focus upon toys and related items that are marketed to kids. Of course, the demographic its targeted for are not the ones doing the buying. It’s the adults out there that are spending for the little ones within their life, be it parents, step parents, grand parents, care takers, relatives of kids, or others that have the option and the drive to buy items geared toward a person who is not of an adult age.
     For many years, outright toys tend to be the focus here. Although kids still play with traditional toys, many of them are wanting and eventually getting toys geared toward an adult frame of mind. That is, electronic gadgets ranging from video game devices to smart phones, electronic tablets, and other gadgets that are for the post modern over wired youngin’.
     For adults, many do desire to get these same items, but more as a replacement or upgrade. Most adults do possess a smart phone device. According to a recent marketing survey, some two thirds of adult cell phone owners use a smart phone. However, that number may be underestimated since this writer, performing his own observing the domestic landscape seen right before his eyes, note that very few people use a traditional flip phone–the kind of phone that was once the norm ten or so years ago–and outside of sending and receiving calls, have limited functions. If a flip phone is seen used by somebody today, that user tends to be someone over the age of 60. However, many people of this demographic are making the switch to a smart phone.
     But getting back to what’s hot for the holiday shopping season. For many years, people were purchasing gift cards as gifts. These cards that look like credit cards and are used in the same fashion, have a value to them (usually in incriminates of ten dollars and up) that can be used at a specific retail outlet (traditional or virtual) to buy whatever the user chooses. These type are cards are given to someone that can be used at a retailer for goods that the person would want to get. If one is in home decorating or what used to be called “housekeeping” would want a card from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. If one was into getting something for the house in terms of upkeep and repair, a Home Depot  card would fit that bill.
     Getting cards for somebody was popular because it was easy. The giver would already know what the receiver would be happy with, and that same receiver can get whatever (s)he wanted, and get it whenever the user of the card desired the purchase. Cards of these type no longer expire, so for most cases, the card can be used nearly forever, although it would be ideal if the card was used in a reasonable amount of time. And giving a card didn’t allow the giver to wrap the card up. One can stuff it into an envelop with the “holiday” card, and end it right there! And the receiver was usually pleased to get the gift card. If was a practical gift, and much better that getting a gift that showed little to know afterthought. Gifts as sausage, cracker, and cheese kits, or the ever loving fruitcake has been so beaten to death, it’s has its own category of comedy relief.
     However, gift cards may be losing a bit of stream in terms of popularity and reemerging from being the “hottest” gift. According to a recent marketing report by BDO’s tenth annual Retail Compass Survey of Chief Marketing Operators, electronic devices are taking over this coveted spot. According to the report, retail marketing executives are forecasting a 4.2% increase in seasonal sales, just slightly ahead of the National Retail Federation’s report of a 3.7% gain, based on responses from 100 CMOs at leading retailers. Although two thirds note that folks will be getting electronic gadgets, a little over half note that these devices will be heavily discounted, the reason why folks will be grabbing the goods in December.
     Of course, people getting electronic devices are not necessarily getting these gifts to somebody else. It’s most likely a gift for the buyer to the buyer. Many of the so-called Black Friday sale offers tend to be in the form of big screen TV sets and off brand electronic pads. It’s not as common to find bargains such as clothing, household appliances, and other items that are amusing for what they are, but these items are far from genuine gift fodder. Then again, goods as these tend to be available year round. However, a buying frenzy is at its peak this time of year rather than let’s say, middle-late March. The real ideal is to get shoppers into the stores (or visiting their web sites) is to spend away!
     In spit of all of these trends, people will still follow the leaders like sheep. Unlike sheep, people still hold the spending power. In spite it ot all, folks will still give a cracker and cheese kit to somebody on their list. Perhaps the receiver will like it, or perhaps they will be on the joke. After all, the holidays come but once a year, so why not milk it to death??
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                                         NEWS AND REVIEWS
     The Sierra Madre Playhouse in Sierre Madre presents the Los Angeles premier of A CHRISTMAS MEMORY, a musical memoir about a young boy’s life living in rural Alabama with his eccentric elder cousin, and the memories he experienced for the Yuletide season.
      The story focuses upon Buddy (Ian Branch, alternating with Patrick Geringer), a young man who grew up within meager means inside a small town in Alabama during the thick of the great depression and in the waning days of probation. A child of a broken home (polite speak for parents who divorced), he was raised by other relatives; Jennie (Jean Kaufman) the mother figure, Seabon (Kevin Michael Moran), the “father” of the clan, and a distant cousin called Sook (Diane Kelber). She was much older than Buddy, but served as a sibling of sorts. Sook wasn’t a sister figure per se, but more of a close friend where the two shared in small adventures around their neighborhood, from flying kites to making do with what they had. During Christmas, Sook and Buddy would make their own fruitcakes as their own creation, blending the usual mix of candied fruits, nuts, and a touch of bootleg whiskey for “bonding”. They would get the hooch from a local roadhouse owned and operated by a mysterious man known as Mr. HaHa and managed by his right hand man Farley (Christopher Showerman). The fruitcakes were a special treat to make and give, eventually sending a few to their admired people, from Hollywood starlet Jean Harlow to President Roosevelt–the man who would take them out the depression to a future prosperity. They may not have had much in terms of money or fancy goods, but they had each other and the memories that Buddy would keep well into his adulthood.
     This musical with book by Duane Pool, and music by Larry Grossman with lyrics by Carole Hall, is based on the personal memories by writer Truman Capote, who indeed was living poor in the deep south–light years away from eventually receiving his celebrity status from the books he would compose. The story in full of charming characters that were part of Truman’s life, as represented through Buddy and his own little world. The musical numbers that enhance the story are far from show shopping tunes. There are no brazen effects depicted on stage, nor there are massive amount of dancers donning flashy over the top outfits that are part of a Broadway musical! In this case, it’s totally the opposite. The score is played out in a humble method, showing off in song setting how people who had lint in their pockets rather than cash had one another to give the riches of the heart and soul. The cast of players that appear in this stage production all fit in quite well. The two leads, Ian Branch/Patrick Geringer as Buddy and Diane Kelber as Sook may seem to be an unlikely pair. (Is Sook old enough to be Buddy’s mother or elder sibling?) Although they appear to be a bit awkward, they don’t let this trait fall between them. They get along and that’s what really matters! This theme also makes this play work rather well using a Christmastime backdrop that never overplays the holiday motive. (No dancing Santas appear in this show either!)
     Outside of the two ”Buddies” that appear performing opposite Diane Kelber, the cast also features Lucy Ferrante, alternating with Samantha Salamoff as Nellie, Buddy’s tomboy of a neighbor that was based on Truman’s real life neighbor Nellie Harper Lee, who would later write her own novel set in the deep depression-era south; Anna (Charlotte Crossley, alternating with Theresa Ford), the “colored” maid that lived in Buddy’s household; Jeff Scot Carey as Buddy as an adult, who looks back at his childhood from twenty plus years before who serves as the on-stage narrator, and Sheldon the dog as Queenie, Buddy’s four legged “buddy”.
     In addition to the actors on stage, the orchestra that performs the music score consists of Brian Cannady on percussion, and Katie Clarke alternating with Sean Paxton on synthesizer, under the musical direction of Emilt Cohn. Special mention also goes to David Goldstein’s set design of Buddy’s homestead and neighborhood, and Vicki Conrad’s costuming, showing off the simple outfits that were worn during this period of “poor yet happy”.
      A CHRISTMAS MEMORY is an appealing musical work that is for all ages to enjoy and wonder. It also proves that fruitcake, the Christmas treat that everyone loves to hate, isn’t as bad as it may seem! Sure, there are bad fruitcakes out there, but this stage presentation isn’t one of those. There is more bad Christmas sweaters in existence, but that’s for another tale and for another stage musical!
     PS…Don’t forget to take a view of the walled display that’s within the SMP theater lobby, giving one a brief timeline to the story, the era it take place, and the US map (made from a depression-esque era quilt), where fruitcake is featured as a local hero!

     A CHRISTMAS MEMORY, presented by and performs at the Sierre Madre Playhouse, 87 West Sierre Madre Blvd, Sierre Madre, until December 27th. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 PM, Sunday afternoons at 2:30 PM, and Saturday matinees, December 12th, 19th, and 26th at 2:30 PM. Special performances also take place Thursdays December 10th at 2:30 PM and December 17th at 8:00 PM, and Tuesday and Wednesday, December 22nd and 23rd at 8:00 PM. No performance on December 25th.
     For ticket reservations or for more information, call (626) 355-4318, or via online at http://www.SierreMadrePlayhouse.org
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    Performing at The Lounge Theatre in Hollywood is A GOOD FAMILY, Marja-Lewis Ryan’s new play about a family’s Christmas get-together turned upside down when an ugly fact becomes reviled over a family member and the consequences that may take place.
    The setting in the home of the Sutton family, located within in a small Midwestern town. It’s Christmas eve, and mom Sutton Sara (Heidi Sulzman) has the house all decked out for Christmas. She, with her spouse Matthew (John K. Linton) along with her teen daughter Lacy (Kelli Anderson) are expecting two family members to join them for the holiday cheer; Sara’s attorney sister Kerry (Lindsey Haun) and the eldest child of the Suttons, Jack (Alec Frasier) who is home from college. At first, the family is going through the standard family antics associated with seasonal get togethers. During the amusing shenanigans, Jack receives a phone call from a woman he knew from school. It appears that he had a fling with this woman that was mutually agreed upon. However, the woman states otherwise, now accusing him of committing a personal violation. This accuser reported this episode to a local journalist, and the story itself has gone virtual. Jack learns about the notion that either he turns himself over to law authorities, or those same law authorities will come to take him away! He announces the facts to his family, already in full force over their festive celebration. Kerry tries to assist the young Jack in what to do next. There are a lot of unanswered questions to a situation that doesn’t hold any immediate solutions nor responds to what actually occurred, or what didn’t happen.
    This drama written, produced, and directed by Marja-Lewis Ryan, takes its subject matter form an inspiration to actual situations that have occurred in recent times on selected college campuses that may have been proven to be true or not. Although this play is a work of fiction, the situations it speaks for are real, especially in this era when such stories and circumstances are immediately accessible on any electronic device-the same methods as depicted in this play. The Sutton family as portrayed are a typical middle class post modern group where everyone is wired to their phones and related devices–some more than others. This method of living doesn’t necessarily change the situation that the Jack character is facing. He can either be a standard college student that stepped over the boundaries through opportunity, or wind up an a victim of circumstance in lieu of his domestic privileges.
     In short, A GOOD FAMILY is a well written play, even for its rather condensed running time of 75 minutes. Granted, it’s a bit of a downer, although it starts up on a bright note. But life as it is can rear its head in any direction for the good or otherwise. This play just enhances this truth.

     A GOOD FAMILY, performs at The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., one block east of Vine Street, Hollywood, until December 20th. Showtimes are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 8:00 PM, and Sundays at 2:00 and 7:00 PM. For ticket reservations, call (800) 838-3006, or via online at http://AGoodFamily.BrownPaperTickets.com
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     THE GOOD DINOSAUR (Disney/Pixar) takes place a few million years ago on earth where a dinosaur family consisting of the mother named “Momma” (voiced by Frances McDormand) the father “Poppa” (Jeffrey Wright), and their kids Libby (Maleah Nipay-Padilla), Buck (Marcus Scribner) and Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) live together in a valley along a river where they raise corn and other staples to keep them alive. Arlo looked up to his Poppa as he showed him the way on how to grow up. One day when Poppa taught him how to build a trap to catch a creature that was stealing their crops, Arlo finds caught in the trap a human figure of a boy that he calls “Spot” (Jack Bright). At first, Spot didn’t bode too well with Arlo as the boy-cub acts very wild and feisty. But one day, Arlo becomes lost from his family after a heavy storm washed him away from his clan. Arlo, with Spot along his side, attempt to find their way home and back to the family that this young dinosaur left behind.
     This animated feature by Pixar is a very gentle and heartwarming film, attempting to use the themes of family bonding, togetherness, teamwork, and how two totally different creatures can become the best of friends. With a story line written by Erik Benson, Meg LeFauve, Kelsey Mann, Bob Peterson, & Peter Sohn with a screenplay by Meg LeFauve, the dialogue and its set of characters holds on to the standard Pixar touch, yet is far from anything that can be labeled as crass or over-the-top. In fact, this feature is pleasant and even childlike at times, but in a good way. Peter Sohn, best known for his work on such previous Pixar releases as Ratatouille, The Incredibles, and Monsters University, directs this feature that shows more realistic natural landscapes (running waters, mountainscapes, foliage, etc.) with characters that are near real, although the Dino family are the most “cartoony” looking of them all!
     The other character voices that are heard also include in order of appearance, Peter Sohn, Steve Zahn, Mandy Freund, Steven Clay Hunter, A.J. Buckley, Anna Paquin, Sam Elliott, David Boat, Carrie Paff , Calum Grant , and John Ratzenberger, who still holds the record for appearing in every Pixar feature film released within the last twenty years!
     And speaking of firsts, this is the first time that Pixar has released two titles in the same calendar year. (This studio sat out 2014.) Its first release Inside Out (See review Vol. 20, No. 25) is more wild and wacky with a bit of tenderness thrown in. That form of attitude is ideal for a Summertime release. THE GOOD DINOSAUR is perfect for a Thanksgiving period, a holiday season where family bonding (or its equivalent) is at its peak. And since this animated title was created by the company that literally invented CGI animation, it is very sure to not only to become a hit, but may follow the so-called “Oscar Buzz” a.k.a. “Gimmie an Oscar” movies that tend to come around the end of the calendar year. Let the nominating votes begin!
     This feature is rated “PG” for cartoon action violence and mild “bathroom humor”. Now playing in both 2-D and 3-D at all multiplexes nationwide.
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    The Angel City Chorale will present its 22nd annual holiday theme performance entitled SING JOY!  taking place at the Wilshire United Methodist Church the weekend of Saturday and Sunday, December 5th and 6th.
    This concert for the festive season, lead and conducted by ACC artistic director and musical master Sue Fink, will consist of a blend of sounds and vocals that take their roots from African, Middle Eastern, Jewish, English, and South American heritages that adds towards the flavor to the sprit of the season. These choruses, along with the tunes one may be more familiar with ranging from classical to contemporary, is the ideal experience for all ages to enjoy and cherish. And with family style events as this event is, it’s also a sing-a-long too! It’s just a harmonious celebration of the season were tidings and high level sprit become the theme for all world places and all colors, be it red and green, blue and white, and all in between, commemorate.
     The performances occurs at the Wilshire United Methodist Church, 4350 Wilshire Blvd. (adjacent to the Wilshire-Ebell Theatre), Los Angeles (90010). A dessert reception in the church’s main social hall follows each performance.
     For more information on SING JOY!, including ticket pricing, directions to the event, and about The Angel City Choral itself, call (310) 943-923, or visit ACC online at http://www.AngelCityChorale.org.
    The Angel City Choral is also present on all the major social media outlets. (Facebook, SoundCloud, Twitter, and YouTube.)
     (Reprinted from the previous week’s issue. -Eds.)
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     In the review for the production of The Latina Christmas Special presented by the Latino Theatre Company that appeared in the previous issue, (Vol. 20-No. 47), this performance was also referred to as “The Latina Christmas Show” as presented by the Latino Company Theatre. Please note that the correct name The Latina Christmas Special as presented by The Latino Theatre Company. All other details to this show as noted within the review stand as correct.
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