As an aging hipster, who is also a parent, I toe a thin line between finding cool places and events to bring my six-year-old and places where, if I did bring him, I would get all kinds of shade from other moms at PTA meetings. For example: A They Might Be Giants concert: Cool for both of us. The FYF Festival: Automatic clapback. Bootleggers Brewery anytime before 6 p.m.: OK to bring kids to, and share the cornhole game with. Bootleggers Brewery as soon as it is dark: Side eye all night long.
So when I decided to spend a week watching performances at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, I felt a little bit … custy. Like I was adhering to the PTA moms’ version of what acceptable parenthood was. And yet, I did it: Mid-January, I was there three times — twice to watch shows with my son, and once to see what it would be like without children. It was amazing to not get any flack for bringing little munchkins to a nighttime performance.
To be fair, Segerstrom, although it has the reputation of being hoity-toity, is truly the best place to watch concerts with children in Orange County. For one, their programming is excellent. They stage performances of a caliber that you can’t watch elsewhere in the area. For example, last summer, we chanced upon The Box Brothers — the story of four brothers who lived in a box told through percussion. It was amazing and fresh — and it was a hit among my toddler and his little friends. They also stage family-friendly musicals such as Cinderella and Lion King every year.
So when I checked out two events as part of the Off Center Festival (Segerstrom’s programming that focuses on contemporary and sometimes controversial artists and shows — definitely not mainstream ala Sound of Music), I made sure my son was in the audience for one of them.
I had watched Keith A. Wallace's The Bitter Game during the festival’s opening. The solo piece, based on playwright-actor Keith A. Wallace’s childhood in Philadelphia, brought to life the Black Lives Matter movement through a dramatic retelling of what happens during a police encounter with a black man. During the show, Wallace tossed a basketball back and forth with the audience and gave away candy, but it wasn’t as creative or compelling as Rickerby Hinds’ Dreamscape, for example. I didn’t hear anything said in The Bitter Game that I hadn’t already heard elsewhere.
I had better luck at the Mariachi Flor de Toloache concert. Considered New York City’s first all-female Mariachi band, it was made up of co-directors Mireya I. Ramos (on violin) and Shae Fiol (on vihuela), plus Julie Acosta on trumpet and Eunice Aparicio on guitarron. The quartet was a synesthetic delight; dressed in snazzy mariachi suits, they sang with so much earnest passion I got pretty choked up a bunch of times during the show. My son — who is familiar with Nirvana and the Eagles catalog (I blame the dad rock music on his dad) — was delighted with Flor de Toloache covered “Dust in the Wind” and “Come As You Are.” He said, “Why do they sing like they are crying?” It was an invaluable life lesson to introduce him to mariachi performed by women; now, whenever he sees mariachi, he will never think that only men perform that kind of music, although the genre has always been dominated by testosterone.
And then, last week, we saw Matilda, the Musical. Based on a Roald Dahl story, it was turned into a movie that Danny de Vito acted in and produced in the 1990s. I had rather high hopes for it, since it had won a slew of Tony Awards and was named TIME Magazine’s No. 1 Show of the Year. The story of an extraordinarily smart girl with abusive parents and (later in school) an abusive principal, it’s the story of kids taking charge and winning, so I figured my son (who loves the movie) would love the musical as well.
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Unfortunately, the first time we tried to see it (on opening night), the performance got cancelled due to technical difficulties. (A Segerstrom spokesperson said, “As everyone knows with live theater anything can happen, and last night that came true, with technical issues affecting the show. In consideration of the safety of the company, especially the children, it was determined to cancel last evening’s performance.”)
We got to see it the next day, but by then my son’s enthusiasm had dampened considerably. The show was funny, and watching adults and children browbeat each other with insults such as “maggot” and “nincompoop” were hilarious to my son. But maybe the British accents were too confusing for him, or that a two-and-a-half hour show was too long for a six-year-old, or that the songs were not as catchy as School of Rock. But by the intermission, he was asking me how many songs were left. (“Seven,” I replied.) Luckily, Segerstrom had a candy bar in the lobby, and for the first time ever, we could bring our candy into the show and eat it in the theater! My son felt like quite the rebel, eating candy at night, past his bedtime.
In the end, as we were walking to the parking lot, I asked him if he liked it. He nodded thoughtfully. “What was your favorite part?” “All of it!” he said. And me? I didn’t feel quite so custy after all. After all, I did go out thrice in a week. At night! With my kid! Try throwing some shade at that.