Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
As an independent, all-ages venue, the Observatory (and its deep-pocketed owners and investors) created a phenomenon in OC, in which the ability to bid aggressively for the biggest acts in the world has made it (and talent buyer Jeff Shuman) a crushing force in Southern California entertainment. In January, a second venue in the North Park area of San Diego was announced; it's already pumping out sold-out shows. The venue's main asset continues to be the ability to tap into the sounds and styles that escape the mainstream radar. Sure, you might be able to go there to see Morrissey on a Tuesday. But it's not just booking the big artists; it's also booking the one you're two months away from obsessing about.
We really wanted to do a new up-and-coming punk band for this one, but we just couldn't find one that tops the masters. Until that happens (or until the older bands stop touring), OC punk remains Social Distortion and its contemporaries. And given this year is the 25th anniversary of Social D's self-titled album, Mike Ness and his endless growl get the nod over all the veterans. Now, any of you have tickets for their December residency at the House of Blues?
You might not have heard of Hiatus, and that's probably because they only play a few times per month—whenever the dozen or so members can find free time between other gigs. Their show schedule might seem a little spare, but you won't think so when you actually check out one of their shows packed with adoring fans from . . . somewhere. Their act is crazy; expect plenty of heavy-energy covers, cheering crowds and the unexpected. And a good time because if there's anything that'll make a rock band the best, it's their ability to make their fans happy.
Avenue Q is part of the relatively new wave of anti-musicals that poke fun at musical conventions while also adopting most of them. This mash-up of Sesame Street and Gen-X reality is a bit overrated (unlike its contemporaries such as Urinetown and The Book of Mormon), but that wasn't the fault of director Stephen Hulsey or his wholly committed cast at the Maverick Theater. There wasn't a weak link, with each performer (Tyler McGraw, Rachel McLaughlan, Kevin Garcia, Michael Rodriguez, Adair Gilliam, Tara Alkazian, Bachi Dillague, Curtis Andersen and Jilly Pretzel) creating defined characters in human and puppet form, but also blending seamlessly into a greater whole. McLaughlan, as the primary female love interest, and Gilliam, as a scene-stealing Gary Coleman-turned-building superintendent, get the best material, but everyone contributed fantabulous performances.
Long Beach's finest storefront theater doesn't produce many plays; for instance, this year it has only produced three. But two were world premieres, and the third was the local premiere of Rajiv Joseph's Gruesome Playground Injuries. Head honcho Eric Hamme and his intrepid band of creatives get this nod for the recently concluded Darkside. Legendary writer Tom Stoppard created the piece, based on Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, as a radio play for the BBC. When Hamme heard about it, he contacted the BBC and Stoppard, then got the clearance to turn it into its first staged production, one the Garagelings murdered in the best of ways. It was a big ol' existential, prog-rock mindfuck, thoroughly entertaining and a splendid integration of live performance, sound and visuals.
Jordan Harrison's 2011 play Maple and Vine turned Mad Men-like nostalgia on its head, as contemporary urbanites, fleeing from the frightening ubiquity of 24-7 technological connection, sign up with a strange movement that has meticulously re-created 1955 in a huge gated community in Somewhere Middle America. No Internet, smartphones, poly blends, poke bowls or Donald Trump. It was a smart play, with no small amount of menace, and underscored the problematic nature of pining for an idyllic past that never truly existed. Staged at the Chance Theater, Mark Ramont's strong direction led a fine ensemble, paced by Jennifer Ruckman, who aches the most for "authenticity," and Daniel Fagan, as the impossibly slick head of the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence.