Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Weathering funding challenges, the turbulent national economy and the perpetual crisis of the performing arts, this Orange County-based entity headed into its 31st season as one of the nation's most respected contemporary-classical symphonies. For 20 years, director Carl St. Clair has not only helped keep the Pacific Symphony Orchestra (PSO) solvent and entertained thousands of Southern Californians, but he's also helped this OC-born-and-bred organization attain international status, including European tours, working with many of the world's finest musicians and continually pushing the musical envelope. The orchestra performs more than 100 concerts per year, both in its permanent home inside the Orange County Performing Arts Center and at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater for its summer series. And it's always offering educational and community programs. Clearly, the PSO isn't just keeping classical musical relevant in Orange County: It's making a case that it's absolutely indispensable.
This bong-water-addled send-up of the notoriously bad anti-marijuana propaganda film was a complete ensemble effort, so singling out one actor in the highly talented cast might seem suspect. But Mike Martin, as Reefer Madness's narrator and oh-so-guilty conscience, was so funny and commanding that he nearly walked off with the show. Whether brandishing an enormous joint over his head as if he were Zeus threatening to fire lighting bolts down from Mount Olympus or breaking the fourth wall by directly addressing the audience, Martin injected an air of smiling menace that truly displayed that sometimes Satan does come as a man of peace.
Another ensemble effort, and another example of one cast member shining so brightly she nearly eclipsed the rest of the cast. Many an actress salivates over the chance to play Noises Off's blond, myopic, dumb-as-a-post bombshell. Jennifer Lyon looked the part, and she certainly possessed a deer-in-the-headlights demeanor. But what she accomplished with this fairly stock, if fun, character, was truly outstanding, transforming simple-minded Brooke into a ravishingly executed full-dimensional character that, contrary to everything that seemed to be happening onstage, may have been the smartest one in this wild farce. Many actresses have played this role and generated plenty of laughs, but few have ever understood, as Lyon did, that there can be far more to Brooke than meets the eye.
Since 1983, Santa Ana's St. Joseph Ballet Academy has been turning its mostly underprivileged 400 annual enrollees—ages 8 through high school—on to dance. Many have gone on to pursue careers in the highly competitive field. But less publicized are the academy's services that have nothing to do with ballon, cabrioles or èpaulement. Free academic help, including college-prep testing, is offered to all students, who arrive each afternoon at 3:30, after their regular classes. As a result, since 2005, every St. Joseph student has not only graduated from local high schools, but has also moved on to college coursework. California Institute of the Arts, Northern Arizona University and UCLA are among the institutions that this fall welcomed freshmen who had been members of the St. Joseph class of '09. Most had received academic scholarships, with Jessica Camacho leading the pack with her full-ride to Wellesley. Considering that many St. Joseph students come from Latino households in which parents work multiple jobs and do not have the time to help with homework, the feat is even more amazing. Perhaps the surrounding Santa Ana Unified School District, which has long struggled to raise its graduation rates, could learn something from St. Joseph. Surely the instructors would throw in a free pas de deux.
Greater California took almost five years between sophomore release Somber Wurlitzer and this year's All the Colors, and the result was a lush record that paid tribute to the best of power-pop and Byrds-y psychedelic rock, all while establishing its own distinct voice. Produced by Long Beach music mainstay Ikey Owens (Free Moral Agents bandleader/keyboard player for the Mars Volta), the album's a colorful celebration of '70s nostalgia that's represented even on the CD itself, which is designed to resemble a View-Master reel. Warm, summery tracks such as "All the Colors" and "Five Senses"—buoyed by intricate instrumentation that includes vibraphones, trumpets and a Hammond organ—will set up residence in your brain, and you'll welcome the company.
A gallery is as much a work of art as the pieces it displays, and the Hibbleton Gallery's glass and black-trimmed storefront, red door, blond-wood flooring, and clean white walls are a rigorous contrast to the stimulating underground art it exhibits. Swing by to see a show, attend poetry readings, or stop in for local music or movie nights, and you'll see that the work is chosen with real thought and a precise sense of aesthetics by curator Jesse La Tour. You'd be hard-pressed to find an Orange County gallery that's smarter than this year-old gem.
Our unspoken art-nerd fantasy is to spend the better part of a weekend playing Indiana Jones and do an excavation of the video-art storage facilities at the Orange County Museum of Art. The museum was there at the beginning of the video-art movement, and despite the (presumed) dearth of celebrity-sex footage, the very thought of immersing ourselves in a bacchanalia of magnetic tape, amid the dusty and decaying formats of VHS and Beta, makes us hot.
In an ink-stained freelancer's cluttered home office far, far away, there was a critic who thought he knew everything there was to know about art. He'd studied Inside the White Cube: The Idealogy of the Gallery Space, subscribed to Artforum, knew the difference between an installation and an exhibition, worshiped at the no-nonsense feet of Coagula Art Journal, took classes, could appreciate performance art, and even watched all four seasons of Art In the 21st Century on PBS. Then along came artist Hugh Brown and his goddamn chain-saw "collection" at Grand Central Art Center Gallery—for which Brown created spot-on homages to the styles of such well-known artists as Andy Warhol and Georgia O'Keefe, only with chain saws somehow incorporated into each "lost work" by the master in question—and all of that knowledge and hard work was for naught. Said critic is currently plotting his unholy revenge.
You might not know them by name, but you'll recognize this group as the guys with the Great Gatsby-style straw hats, immaculately combed hair, pearly white teeth and impeccably pressed candy-striped suits who stroll up and down Disneyland's Main Street every afternoon, singing old-timey standards such as "Mr. Sandman." The quartet have been part of the theme park's musical entertainment program since 1959, with some members belting out a cappella tunes for a decade or more. They're so good they've even been on TV, both as themselves (The Johnny Carson Show, circa 1974) and as the fictional a capella group the Be Sharps (The Simpsons, 1993). They're the perfect late-afternoon diversion for your little tyke while you're stuck on the sidewalk for an hour to ensure you've got a front-row view of that day's parade.
The place is often messy because patrons are required to throw away their own trash (come on, people!), it's a little run-down, and the movies are usually a bit outdated, but you can't really complain too much about a $1 (on Tuesdays) or $2 (all other days) moviegoing experience. Especially while other theaters are charging a wallet-violating $11.50. The Starplex Cinemas Woodbridge Movies 5 also offers cheap concessions, including hot dogs for a buck. It's a great place to go to either kill a few hours without breaking the bank, or catch a flick you missed out on when it ran at the more expensive theaters. (Is stadium seating really worth a $10 premium these days?)
Cover bands are ubiquitous in the clubs and bars of our not-so-humble backwater, and there are more than a few excellent tribute bands, including the Rolling Stones' homage, Jumpin' Jack Flash, and the godfather of them all, Wild Child, who have been around far longer than the band they're based on, the Doors. But this Springsteen-tribute band does something a bit different: Rather than focusing on the biggest hits of the Boss, circa "Born In the USA," front man Josh Tanner, who grew up in the same Jersey town as Springsteen, leads his talented band mates through set lists heavy on pre-superstar Boss tunes. Looking like he stepped right off the cover of Born to Run, the scruffy, wiry Tanner prowls his way through such hits as "Jungleland" and "Thunder Road," but its on such catalog stuff as "Saint In the City" and "Lost In the Flood" that he truly channels his muse.
The unfortunate demise of the Rude Guerrilla Theater Co. leaves a gaping hole in terms of alternative theater programming. Thankfully, there's a fitting surrogate up the road in this gritty troupe, which launched in 2001. Formed by several products of Orange Coast College's theater department, the Garagians have produced an impressive array of plays rarely touched by most theaters, including Amiri Baraka's politically charged tract of simmering racism, Dutchman; Don DeLillo's The Day Room and Valparaiso; Tracey Lett's Killer Joe; plus seldom-produced work by David Mamet, Sam Shepard and Jose Luis Rivera. This summer, it became the first Southern California theater—that we know of—to produce Cannibal! The Musical by Southpark co-creator Trey Parker.