Good morning, and welcome to the U-T Arts & Culture Newsletter.
I’m David L. Coddon, and here’s your guide to all things essential in San Diego’s arts and culture this week.
There’s nothing “ironic” about Alanis Morissette’s new video covering John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over”). Paying homage to Lennon’s 1971 recording with the Plastic Ono Band and to Yoko Ono as well, the three-minute video depicts Morissette in a “bed-in” with her family while at the same time celebrating the holidays in this most difficult of years. True to Lennon’s original message, Morissette’s “Happy Xmas” also envisions a brighter future. Lennon at the time sang out for an end to the Vietnam War; the implied message in Morissette’s cover today is hope for an end to the viral enemy we’re fighting together.
Incredibly, it’s been 25 years since Morissette broke through with her fiercely confessional album “Jagged Little Pill.” A year ago this month, a rock musical adaptation of “Jagged Little Pill” opened on Broadway. With a book by Diablo Cody (“Juno,” “Young Adult”) and music by Morissette and Glen Ballard, who co-wrote with her the original album, “Jagged Little Pill The Musical” would run for only a couple of months before the Great White Way shut down in March.
On Sunday, however, at 5 p.m. Pacific time, the spirit of the show will be revived for “Jagged live in NYC: A Broadway Reunion Concert.” Tickets for the show, featuring the Broadway cast, begin at $33.
Los Angeles-based Center Theatre Group, in partnership with the Getty Museum, is streaming playwright Luis Alfaro’s “Greek Trilogy,” his Chicanx adaptations of three classic plays. Staged readings of “Oedipus El Rey,” “Mojada” and “Electricidad” were filmed onstage at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. You can watch them free through Jan. 20, though donations are requested.
Having seen the San Diego Repertory Theatre’s production of Alfaro’s “Oedipus El Rey” back in 2015, I chose to revisit the play in this digital presentation. Then, as now, I’d classify “Oedipus El Rey” as good-not-great, but there’s no doubting the ingenuity of Alfaro’s adaptation, and the bilingual, Chicanx setting makes for an urgent reimagination of Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex.”
The nature of staged readings, however viscerally recited, precludes believable portrayals of love or fight scenes, both of which are crucial to the storytelling of “Oedipus El Rey.” Still, the direction by Chay Yew, who directed La Jolla Playhouse’s stupendous production of “Cambodian Rock Band” last year, capitalizes on a fine cast’s fervor.
For me, as for many other Southern Californians, there’s no place better to enjoy and appreciate a performance outdoors than the Hollywood Bowl. So at first it’s a little sad to see the iconic amphitheater empty of patrons in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Sound/Stage” series.
Yet so beautifully filmed are the environs of the Bowl as well as intermittent panoramas of L.A. from the Hollywood Hills site that you can forget the absence of audiences and immerse yourself in this diverse series of performances (there are nine currently available for free screening).
Variety is the name of the game. The debut episode (from Sept. 25) is titled “Love in the Time of COVID.” Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel conducts L.A. Phil musicians onstage in the Bowl in three pieces that are framed by recitals of romantic poems by Pablo Neruda. Featured is a dramatic vocal by mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges.
Among the other three concerts I streamed were “Power to the People,” a musical call for racial justice highlighted by a performance by San Diego-raised Andra Day of her anthemic “Rise Up”; jazzman Kamasi Washington and a spirited ensemble recreating his original score to the Michelle Obama Netflix documentary “Becoming”; and a funkadelic 20-minute set by the L.A. band Chicano Batman.
The wandering camera angles onstage and the outstanding sound quality combine for a fulfilling virtual reality experience.
Malashock Dance’s fall “Streamline” series of virtual performances is a viewer-friendly way to keep current with San Diegan John Malashock’s dynamic choreography during this period of isolation. The episodes are a half-hour in length and hosted by Malashock himself.
The Dec. 4 edition, the fifth in the series, included three offerings: “Rebound,” a duet “about longing,” Malashock tells us, danced beneath a touching vocal; the relevantly named “On Shaky Ground,” in which the searching quality of the movement attests to the prevailing uncertainty about the arts and the world; and a re-screening of the dance film “Inbound” from this past summer, with company dancers performing to the music of Chopin.
The virtual series, Malashock says, will continue into the winter. A variety of works can be viewed on the website.
Averse as I am to cliches, I’m not going to say “’tis the season,” but it is for holiday specials. Each year I tell myself I’m not going to watch Rudolph and Charlie Brown and The Grinch AGAIN, yet of course I always do. But for the past five years, my holiday-specials list has included without fail Bill Murray’s “A Very Murray Christmas” on Netflix.
Directed by Sofia Coppola and with a supporting cast that includes Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Miley Cyrus, ex-Rilo Kiley star Jenny Lewis, Chris Rock and George Clooney, the hourlong “A Very Murray Christmas” is loose, unpredictable and irresistibly off the wall. In spite of its bizarre moments, the special does not make fun of the holidays. Rather, it embraces the season’s music and traditions in a hip, insider fashion. Example: Cyrus warmly crooning “Silent Night” one moment, Murray and Clooney rapping a tune called “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’” the next. (See for yourself here.)
Theater, Part II
In the final lines of Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella “A Christmas Carol,” readers learn that Ebenezer Scrooge’s overnight transformation from a miser to a charitable man was no passing fancy. “Scrooge was better than his word,” Dickens summed up. “He did it all, and infinitely more.”
But that’s where the book ends. Now, a new stage adaptation of the story opening for streaming Wednesday afternoon imagines how Scrooge’s change of heart might have impacted others in Victorian London who benefited from his generosity.
North Coast Repertory Theatre commissioned the adaptation from playwright Zander Michaelson, which is titled “A Christmas Carol: As told by one man to whom it matters.”
North Coast’s artistic director David Ellenstein directs the 75-minute piece, which was filmed without an audience last month at the Solana Beach theater. It stars local actor James Newcomb as the narrator and all of the other characters in the book.
Read more about this production in this story by the Union-Tribune’s Pam Kragen.
Real heroes rarely brag about their accomplishments.
And to hear Raquel Ramsey tell it, her sister-in-law, Nadine Ramsey, was humble until the end.
“She was human, with all the foibles and weaknesses, but she was also a hero,” says Raquel from her home in Los Angeles.
Indeed, Nadine Ramsey, who passed away in 1997 and is the subject of Raquel’s new book, “Taking Flight: The Nadine Ramsey Story,” possessed a certain humility throughout her life. From growing up in rural Kansas to her time as a pioneering woman pilot during World War II, Ramsey rarely saw herself as anything other than someone who would not be told what to do.
Read more about this new book in this Union-Tribune story by Seth Combs.
Theater, Part III
If your Christmas season isn’t complete without a holiday play or musical, San Diego’s theaters are serving up a bevy of streamed holiday entertainment to keep spirits bright. Some are live Zoomcasts, some are films new and old and some are audiocasts. Check out this roundup by the U-T’s Kragen.
Music, Part II
From a Pulitzer Prize-winning new opera and a Grammy Award nomination to the Library of Congress’ induction of a 42-year-old disco anthem, 2020 was a banner year for San Diego musicians.
That they commanded the national and international spotlight like never before would be worthy of celebration at any time. It is even more notable these San Diego musicians did so in a year when the arts — like much of the world itself — have been dramatically impacted by the still-surging coronavirus pandemic.
To celebrate their accomplishments anew, here’s a recap of what they did and the honors they earned, courtesy of the U-T’s George Varga.
University of California Television (UCTV) is making a host of videos available on its website during this period of social distancing. Among them, with descriptions courtesy of UCTV (text written by UCTV staff):
“Music and Nature”: From the Lake Poets to John Luther Adams’ “Become Ocean,” there have always been intimate connections between music, literature and nature. World-renowned percussionist and conductor Steven Schick welcomes National Book Award winning author and environmentalist Barry Lopez for a wide-ranging conversation about the affinity between musicians and writers, as both mine the natural world for experiences to creatively interpret. Topics include the use of music as an aid to the creative process and the vital role the arts can play in raising awareness and understanding of such pressing issues as climate change and humanity’s detrimental impact on nature.
“The Test-Optional Movement”: In the wake of serious questions about the value of standardized admissions exams, a growing number of undergraduate institutions are adopting “test-score optional” admissions. Presently more than one quarter of accredited American four-year schools do not mandate submission of standardized exam results for admissions decisions. Schools joining this movement assert that standardized tests reveal only verbal and mathematical aptitude while excluding other desirable qualities. Many are evaluating their review process, which is accelerating with more revelations of flaws with the “new” SAT.
“A Deep Conversation with Jon Beckwith”: Harvard Medical School biologist Jon Beckwith explains how personal biases or erroneous beliefs entrenched in a society can influence the practice of science where it intersects with social mores. He cites as an example the 20th-century eugenics movement that promoted so-called genetic “facts” and converted them into social policy. Some American scientists attributed social conditions like poverty to genetics based on little more than their own prejudices. Even today, outmoded notions of genetic variation can still be used to justify discrimination. Beckwith stresses the importance of an understanding of genetics in scientifically exploring the human condition.
And finally: Arts in the Time of COVID
In this week’s edition of Arts in the Time of COVID, Pacific editor Nina Garin talks about the Playwrights Project, the art of Sarah Stieber and San Diego Symphony’s New Year’s Eve concert. Watch it here.
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