Monday, June 30, 2008

The Other Broadway

Spent Saturday morning on a walking tour organized by the Los Angeles Conservancy of the Movie Palaces that remain in downtown Los Angeles on Broadway between Third and Ninth.

Around 1910 nickelodeons and vaudeville theaters began to appear on Broadway. The opening of Sid Grauman's opulent Million Dollar Theater in 1918 established Broadway as a venue for motion pictures, and helped cement the street's reputation as the city's principal theater district.

By 1931, Broadway between Third Street and Olympic Boulevard was the West Coast equivalent of New York's Great White Way. With a dozen major theater in a seven-block stretch, the Broadway district contained the highest concentration of movie palaces in the world at the time, with a combined seating capacity of more than 17,000.

Construction of the Chinese, Egyptian and Pantages theaters on Hollywood Boulevard in the late 1920s, however, prompted a shift in theatrical activity, eventually resulting in the emergence of Hollywood as the city's first-run theater district. Hollywood retained its dominance until the 1960s when the Westwood Village theaters began to attract premieres and large audiences.

Despite the loss of some theaters downtown, the Broadway Historic Theater District has remained largely intact, providing a rare glimpse into the past when theaters and theater-going figured prominently in the fabric of urban life.

Volunteer Tour Guide Reem Baroody did an outstanding job leading our group for the three hour tour. I had lots of questions and couldn't stump her once.
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Opened in 1918, Sid Grauman's Million Dollar Theater was one of the earliest and largest move palaces in the country, boasting 2,345 seats.

The architectural style known as "Churrigueresque" was used for the exterior.

William Mulholland and the Metropolitan Water District occupied offices in the Million Dollar Building until the 1960s.
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Longhorns adorn the exterior of the Million Dollar Theater.
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Built in 1931, the Roxie was the last theater constructed on Broadway before Hollywod usurped its position as Los Angeles' principal theater district.

The Roxie has been converted to retail use.
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The auditorium is now used as storage for the electronics store. In its day the movie screen was breathtaking for its size.
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The back of the auditorium of the Roxie Theater featured a soundproof "Crying Room" where mothers could take their fussy babies and still watch the movie.

In a nod to functionality, the chair armrests included an ashtray so breast-feeding mothers could keep on smoking.
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The Los Angeles Theater is the most elaborate theater along Broadway. Unfortunately we weren't able to go inside on Saturday. That's my one complaint about the tour.
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The neon marquee at the Rialto, added to the theater in the 30s, was the longest and widest on Broadway.
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Built in 1911 as the third home of the Orpheum vaudeville circuit in Los Angeles, the Orpheum is now the oldest remaining original Orpheum theater in the country.
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The Orpheum Wurlitzer was installed in 1928 and is the last surviving original installation of a theater organ in Los Angeles.

This gentleman, active in the Los Angeles Theatre Organ Society, demonstrated some of the sounds the Wurlitzer can make.
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Two chandeliers above the auditorium of the Orpheum Theater.
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Above the lobby of the Orpheum Theater.
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Before the walking tour I strolled through downtown's colorful Grand Central Market.
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The Geffen Playhouse in Westwood always seems to present the most milquetoast programming.

And their newest show, "Shipwrecked!" is yet another serving of vanilla ice cream, only with less flavor.

Starring Gregory Itzin, best known as President Charles Logan on "24," this show is about a gentlemen in London in 1898 who claims to have survived a shipwreck. He becomes famous as his tales capture the imagination of his countrymen.

Written by Donald Margulies, this show ran last year at the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa and was substituted into the Geffen schedule at the last minute when another Margulies play planned for this season wasn't ready to go.

Thanks for the warmed up leftovers, Geffen Playhouse.
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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sunday night I went to see the mildly entertaining "Dog Sees God -- Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead" at the Hudson Theater in Hollywood Sunday night.

Cute premise: the kids of the Peanuts comic strip grow up to be troubled teenagers. Linus is a pothead, Pigpen a germophobe, Peppermint Patty a slut, etc. And what's the name of the kid who played the piano? He still plays the piano.

So that's good for about 15 minutes. Filling it out for two hours is a bit problematic.

But every time one of those cartoon characters cussed, and they cuss a lot, the audience lapped it up.
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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Send in the Clowns

"Klub" (pronounced clue-b) at the Ivy Substation in Culver City is one of the most inventive, thrilling shows I've seen a long time.

The audience enters the theater to face a scowling clown on stage staring back while smoking a cigarette. And the hilarity ensues.

Written by Mitch Watson (who plays the clown), a group of actors find themselves trapped in the same show, forced to repeat it over and over for a maniacal director who promises that one of them will be allowed to leave after their latest performance.

The very talented cast play several different theater types like a bimbo, the grown-up child actor looking for his next break, a mime, a washed-up Vaudeville team and, of course, Annie.

Yes, it's an offbeat show but very funny and rewarding.

The theater has an interesting story to tell too. Built in 1907 by the Pacific Electric Railroad, the Ivy Substation served as a power distribution facility for the railroad line that ran from downtown to the ocean. Ultimately the sight was abandoned by the railroad and eventually turned into a legitimate theater facility.
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Went to see Mike Myers' new movie, "The Love Guru" Wednesday night. What a hoot! A summer movie that's actually funny.

Myers plays a Yogi who helps a hockey player get his mojo back. Mostly it's a set up for kookie characters and dirty sex jokes for 13-year olds.

It was a thrill to see the sight of my Mother's second wedding -- the Self-Realization Fellowship Shrine in Pacific Palisades -- used as the location shot for the Guru's home.
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Stopped by the BP Helios House Thursday night to buy a tank of gas. That's BP's fancy flagship Service Station built recently at the corner of Olympic and Robertson in Beverly Hills. Had to go to the cashier booth to get a receipt. How come they build a fancy gas station but they still can't keep receipt paper at the pump?
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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Not Deadpan, Just Dead

How in the world do you ruin "Get Smart?"

Based on the hilarious Mel Brooks/Buck Henry TV show, whoever was responsible for the movie remake figured out how to make a funny concept unfunny.

Steve Carrell in the Don Adams role falls flat. Anne Hathaway in the Barbara Feldon role is terrible.

This movie is just awful, awful, awful. Which makes me sad because I was really looking forward to it.

If you laughed at the previews you've seen all the funny parts. The rest is just stupid.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Fly on the Wall

Went to see the breath taking production of "March On, Dream Normal" by Jeanette Scherrer Sunday night.

Running at the Paul E. Richards Theater in Silver Lake, this play -- set in a suburban home in St. Louis, Missouri -- looks at the trauma soldiers deal with upon returning home.

What is amazing about this show is how "natural" the acting is. It just seems so real.

And that makes the "imaginary" presence of a haunting Sergeant who looms over a soldier who has returned from Iraq to his parents' home that much creepier.

Also making an impact is that this theater has just 39 seats. Most of the seats face the living room. But a few are along the wall "in" the living room. That's where I sat. During a couple points in the show actress Marie Del Marco, playing Viola (the Mom), was less than six inches from me as she sat at the dining room table.

I wanted to poke her and tell her what a great job she was doing -- but that seemed a little too realistic.

Sitting as close as I was I observed some of the details that went into this production. For instance, the newspaper they were reading at the dining table really was the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Even the pizza box was from a St. Louis pizzeria.
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Don't know what possessed me but I went to see "You Don't Mess With The Zohan" Monday night.

Turns out the movie actually has some pretty funny scenes. Sandler plays an Israeli counter-terrorist agent who, tired of his life, moves to New York City to become a hair dresser. He just wants to "make the silky smooth."
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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Not on Broadway Anymore

My return to the small theater scene in Los Angeles landed with a thud Friday night when I saw the dreadful "Nymphony in 12D" at the Meta Theater on Melrose Avenue.

Allegedly a sex farce, this show -- written and directed by Gib Wallis -- is about a Nymph (a fairy with a mission) who lives in the walls of the Ansonia Hotel in New York where she makes singers great in exchange for their physical attention.

Cute idea -- terribly executed. The script has some funny moments but the actors have been directed to perform with these awful voices and accents. The props are cardboard cutouts. And a handful of tepid songs are shoe-horned into the script.

Oh well -- it takes some low lying valleys in order to have beautiful mountains.
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Thursday night I saw the new weepy starring Collin Firth and Jim Broadbent, "When Did You Last See Your Father." Firth plays a man forced to reevaluate his relationship with his father as his father dies.

I like both of those actors and thought they were each effective in their roles.
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Thursday, June 19, 2008

It's Not Easy Being Green

And, apparently, it's not easy making an interesting Incredible Hulk movie.

But I did like it when Bruce Banner finally figures out if he wears "really stretchy" pants he can go from little to big and back to little without ending up naked.

The surprise in the final moments of the film (setting up the inevitable sequel) is well worth the wait.
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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I'm Helping

The TSA at the Denver International Airport is trying something interesting. Passengers clearing security are asked to choose one of three lines based on the speed they expect to go through the line.

Frequent travelers are to use the "Expert" line. A different line is available for those less familiar with TSA rules for carry-on luggage. And finally families with children have a third line available.

Of course, the entire system is based on self-awareness -- something lacking in many Americans.

For instance, the "expert" in line in front of me was angry he couldn't take a giant bottle of mouthwash on his airplane. He got even angrier as the TSA Agent searching his bag told him he could only have one quart size bag holding liquids of 3 ounces or less, not two.

Held up behind him I loudly muttered, to no one in particular, "I thought this was the 'Expert' line."

While "Expert" kept complaining I thanked the TSA Agent for working to keep us all safe and for enforcing the rules. I turned to "Expert" and reminded him there are bad people in the world trying to do bad things to us.

He said, "Gimme a break." And I replied, "the line for people needing a break is over there," pointing to the amateur line.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My Six Cents Worth

New York Magazine reported the Clinton Street Baking Company & Restaurant in the Lower East Side has the best pancakes in New York City. I don't know if that's true (I haven't tried them all for myself) but I do know they probably have the best pancakes I've ever eaten.

Sadly, I can't recommend this restaurant to others for three reasons:

1) They don't take credit cards (tacky).
2) They charge for a second glass of iced tea/no free refills (tackier).
3) After paying my bill I was owed $7.06 in change but the waitress "rounded up" and only brought me seven dollars (tackiest).

Unfortunately, I was running late for the airport (so I thought at the time) and couldn't take the time to demand all that I was owed. Would I actually argue for a nickel and a penny on principle? Without hesitation, yes.

Heck, I'm someone who still gets a little charge when I find a penny on the sidewalk.
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