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Entertainment Tips of the Week: March 24, 2014

By Jean Strauber, Entertainment Editor

There’s Music In The Air

The El Portal Theatre in association with Off Broadway Productions (a division of Rock N Roll Inc) will be presenting Country Roads:  A John Denver Celebration from Thursday, April 3 to Sunday, April 13, 2014.
Starring Jim Curry, you’ll be entertained with a multimedia musical production of the music of the late John Denver.  Acclaimed performer Curry invites you to join in this tribute to one of the most beloved singer/songwriters ever to grace the stage.   Jim Curry, whose voice was heard in the CBS-TV movie Take Me Home:  The John Denver Story, has performed Denver’s music in sold out shows throughout the country and has emerged as today’s top performer of Denver’s vast legacy of multi-platinum hits with his uncanny ability to mirror John’ voice. You’ll be taken back to the time when “Rocky Mountain High,” “Sunshine,” “Calypso” and “Annie’s Song (my personal favorite)” topped the charts with Denver’s heartfelt message of caring for the earth and caring for each other.
During this special presentation of the stories and songs that have made this American icon a musical tradition, you will hear (along with those I mentioned above) “Take Me Home Country Roads,” “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” “Sunshine On My Shoulders,” “Leaving On A Jet Plane,” “Calypso,” and many others.
Performance schedule: Thursday-Saturday Evening Performances at 8:00 pm; Saturday and Sunday matinee performances at 3:00 pm.
To order tickets and for more information, call 818-508-4200 or toll-free at (866) 811-4111.  You can also order online www.elportaltheatre.com.     Tickets are  $46 general; $42 Student & Senior.
The El Portal Theatre is located at 5269 Lankershim Blvd in the heart of the NoHo Arts District in North Hollywood CA.  Free parking is available in the Lankershim Public School Parking lot on Weddington, a half-block west of Lankershim.

Harmony — A New Musical By Barry Manilow

This past week I had the wonderful pleasure of attending the opening night of this musical that tells a true story. The Comedian Harmonists were an ensemble of six young men in pre-World War II Germany who rose from unemployed street musicians to become world-famous entertainers, selling millions of records, starring in over a dozen films and selling out the most prestigious concert halls around the world.  Their comedy and sophisticated music made them the brightest of stars, but would later put them on a collision course with the Nazi party and its edicts in pre-World War II Germany.  And, it is that story that is told in Harmony.  Barry Manilow (music) and David Sussman (book and lyrics)  have really been able to recreate the Comedian Harmonists sound- the jazz and the big band sound of the 30s.    The cast was remarkable in their portrayal of these singers.  Two musical numbers really stand out and reflect the versatility of the group, “Hungarian Rhapsody #20  which displayed the group’s ability to sound like musical instruments.
The original group was acclaimed for their Overture to the Barber of Seville. And, “How Can I Serve You Madame?” which was hilarious. All I can say about that number is that the six singers are standing behind a tall table with a cloth draped down to the floor; the mean are wearing a waiter’s jacket and white shirt and the hilarity begins when they step from behind the table.
For ticket and schedule information go to www.CenterTheaterGroup.com/Ahmanson.

Lucia Di Lammermoor

My second Entertainment Tip is the LA Opera’s  production of Lucia di Lammermoor at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.  What a fabulous evening! What an outstanding cast! I will not be surprised if this LA Opera production of Lucia di Lammermoor will be sold out.
Ms. Albina Shagimuratova (Lucia) certainly deserved the sustained ovation after the last note of the aria, “Oh, gusto cielo..Il Dolce suono” (the mad scene).   At times I found the modern set design disconcerting as  I tried to puzzle the meaning of the  green  neon lighting over the steps  during the most dramatic highlight of Act II.  I must say that good use was made of rear projection to foretell what the audience could anticipate in what was to come. For example, the use of black, stormy clouds during the overture of Act II  was a sign of the  emotional storm that is sure to come. My friend, Blossom Shores, who has sung with the Verdi Chorus, stated, “I thought the set, lighting, and costumes were distracting from the music. Though I understand that they were meant to provide symbolism, I didn’t feel the production fortified the cast’s stupendous effort and left me perplexed.”
Both of us agree it was  the voices which made the evening so memorable.  With the invention of super-titles (the words are translated and shown on a screen above the stage),  I understood what the words meant, which added to the pleasure of the opera.       Saimir Pirgu (Edgardo) also heard numerous “Bravos” from the audience after his last note of “Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali” (he wants to join Lucia in heaven) in Act III was sung. Stephen Powell (Enrico), James Creswell (Raimondo), Vladimir Dmitruk (Arturo), Joshua Guerrero (Normanno) and D’Ana Lombard (Alisa) added much to the evening’s pleasure. And, I must not forget the Sextet in Act II, one of the greatest ensemble pieces in all of operadom.  No sooner had the last note had been sung, I along with the rest of the audience in sustained applause and cries of “Bravo.”  As Blossom shared with me, “The soprano and tenor were spectacular and the orchestra music was emotion provoking even though, at times, the set and lighting design left me perplexed.
The remaining performances are Wednesday, March 26 at 7:30 pm, Saturday, March 29 at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, April 6 at 2:00 pm at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the Los Angeles County Music Center. Following the March 26 performance you are invited to join the Ms. Shagimuratova and Mr. Pirgu for a Q & A discussion in the Pavilion’s Eva and Marc Stern Grand Hall and learn how these opera stars brought their characters to life. At the Oval Bar, you will be able to purchase dessert and coffee.
It’s another Don’t Miss It! As Blossom told me when I asked her what was her final comment, “I recommend seeing Luci Di Lammermoor because of its musical exquisiteness.”  I heartily concur.
The Los Angeles County Music Center is located at 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles CA 90012. Tickets for LA Opera are available at www.laopera.cpm/tickets.

Jean Strauber

Entertainment Writer

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