Amoeblog

See a 'Backbeat' Performance at Amoeba Hollywood and Win a Pair of Tickets to See the Show at the Ahmanson

Posted by Billy Gil, January 18, 2013 03:15pm | Post a Comment

Amoeba Hollywood is hosting the cast of the stage show Backbeat direct from London Feb. 4 at 7:00 p.m for a performance and CD signing. You can also win tickets through Amoeba to the show, which is running now through March 1 at the Ahmanson Theatre. Enter to win a pair of tickets for the Feb. 7 show here. You can buy tickets as well at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org/RINGO or call  213.972.4400 and mention code RINGO — special pricing runs through Feb. 3.

The show tells the story of The Beatles before they were famous, when there were five members (even before Ringo was a member) and they were five working-class lads from the docks of Liverpool, playing seedy nightclubs while honing their epic new sound. The London press loves the show, calling it “edgy and cool” in the Sunday Express. The hit show is written by Iain Softley and Stephen Jeffreys and directed by five-time Tony award nominee David Leveaux.

The show features renditions of Beatles songs such as “Twist and Shout,” “Love Me Do,” “Long Tall Sally,” “P.S. I Love You,” “Rock and Roll Music” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” Sample two songs from Backbeat below.

 

Montage: Love Me Do, PS I Love You, Twist and Shout by Center Theatre Group
Long Tall Sally by Center Theatre Group

Happy (belated) birthday, Joe Orton

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 2, 2013 05:14pm | Post a Comment

Yesterday, had he not died in 1967, would've been the 79th birthday of my favorite, English, comic playwright, Joe Orton (provided he didn't pass away for some other reason in the intermediate years).


Saffron Lane council estate being built in 1927

John Kingsley "Joe" Orton was born 1 January in Leicester to William A Orton and Elsie M Orton (nėe Bentley). Joe's father worked as a gardener for the Leicester County Borough Council whilst his mom was in footwear until tuberculosis (and the subsequent removal of a lung) led to an early retirement. When Joe was two his family moved from Clarendon Park to the Saffron Lane council estate where the family was soon rounded out by the addition of Douglas, Marilyn, and Leonie.

After several serious bouts of asthma, Orton left school and took a position as a junior clerk making £3 a week in 1947. Over the next couple of years he developed an interest in improving his physical state and in theater. In pursuit of the former he took up body building, in pursuit of the former he joined several dramatic societies and local, amateur productions. He also wished to continue his education and began attending Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London on scholarship in 1951.

At school Orton met a well-off aspiring writer, Kenneth Halliwell. The two fell in love and moved in together, sharing a flat in West Hampstead flat with two other students. After graduation, Orton worked for a stint as an assistant stage manager in Ipswich whilst Halliwell's work to him to Llandudno, Wales. When they both returned to London, they collaborated on several novels in imitation of Ronald Firbank. In 1957, when their last collaboration, The last days of Sodom was just as unpublished as their previous works, they decided to work solo. Orton wrote his first play, He wrote his first play, Fred and Madge, and his last novel, The vision of Gombold Proval, in 1959.



The couple lived off Halliwell's shrinking inheritance, unemployment and occasionally worked proper jobs to afford a small flat in Islington (N1, Noel Road, 25). During this period they also borrowed books from the local library and altered the dust jacket art and blurbs on more than 70. They were caught in 1962 and the incident was reported in the Daily Mirror in an article titled, hilariously, "Gorilla in the roses." Their sentence was a fine of £262 and a six month stint in prison. Ironically, today some of the book covers (some of which are very much in the vein of subversive surrealist collage) are exhibited in the Islington Museum



Orton's was wit was darkened and honed by his harsh treatment for his and Halliwell's prank and when he was released his writing had an increased sense of urgency. In 1963, the BBC paid him for The ruffian on the stair, which was broadcast the following August. By then, Entertaining Mr. Sloane had premiered to a mixture of rave reviews and moral outrage -- some of which was fanned by Orton, who would sometimes write letters to publications under the guise of the easily-scandalized alter egos, including Edna Welthorpe.

His next play, Loot, was rushed into production to capitalize on Orton's growing fame and received mixed reviews (and re-workings). What the butler saw followed, along with other plays, and even a screenplay for a Beatles film, titled Up against it. Some works, such as The good and faithful servant and Funeral games aired as teleplays on ITV.

As Orton was celebrated for and propelled by his success, Halliwell plunged into deep depression, which was likely exacerbated by his glaring and total lack thereof. There was also word that Orton had found a new boyfriend and was planning on leaving Halliwell. On August 1967, Kenneth Halliwell beat Orton to death with nine hammer blows to the head before fatally overdosing on 22 pentobarbital tablets washed down with the syrupy juice of canned grapefruit. Halliwell left a note that his actions would be explained by reading Orton's diary. Their bodies were discovered by a chauffeur, who'd come around to take Orton to a meeting with Richard Lester, director of The Beatles' films. Orton was cremated and at the service, the great Harold Pinter read the eulogy and a recording of "A day in the life" played.




In 1978, John Lahr wrote a biography of Joe Orton titled Prick up your ears. In 1987 it was adapted into a great Stephen Frears-directed film starring Gary Oldman as Orton and Alfred Molina as Halliwell. The phrase, "prick up your ears," had originally been conceived by Orton as "prick up your erse" as an unpublishable title. In the Adam & the Ants song, "The Magnificent Five," Ant sang "Long ago in London town/A man called Ant sat deeply sighing/He was wondering/Which side of the fence he was on/Prick up your ears." In the 1990s, someone once remarked that Pulp's Jarvis Cocker was a mix of Joe Orton and Alan Bennett.



Great film, mildly unpleasant trailer for the US release on VHS

Although Orton's humor is sometimes compared to that of Irish playwright, Oscar Wilde, the two authors' tones are recognizably different enough to warrant the existence of both "Wildean" and "Ortonesque" as non-interchangeable terms.  


Orton Square, Leicester with the Curve Theatre and Athena (source: Steve Cadman)

In Leicester, a former industrial area has been redeveloped as a cultural quarter. The pedestrian concourse in front of the Curve Theatre opened as "Orton Square" in 2008.


Orton and Halliwell's former residence, marked by a circular plaque between the windows


*****

Follow me at ericbrightwell.com

Something In the Way He Moves: The Magic of Mansai Nomura

Posted by Kells, March 30, 2011 07:01pm | Post a Comment
When there's something strange in the imperial court, who you gonna call? During Japan's Heian period, an era of classical Japanese history spanning from 784 to 1185, most folks relied on powerful ghostbusters called onmyoji, wizard-like masters of yin and yang, to ease the energies of vengeful spirits (most famously that of Prince Sawara) who'd stir up all kinds of trouble from plagues and famine to earthquakes and typhoons and other natural disasters mistaken as superstitious punishment. As we have witnessed in recent weeks, perceiving catastrophe as divine comeuppance has changed little over the centuries thanks to Shintaro Ishihara and Glenn Beck, among others, for their knuckleheaded remarks --- no "that was then, this is now" about it. But this is not about jabbing trashy speculation at fresh wounds, this is about a cheesy, historic fantasy movie that I recently caught in my Heian Culture class called Onmyoji (2001, Yojiro Takita) starring Mansai Nomura as Abe no Seimei, a person of historic origin, legendary in Japanese folklore, who was in fact the Merlin of his time and place. Being one of those so-called "super seniors," it's a small miracle I didn't skip said scheduled movie day, I might add.

When it comes to guilty pleasure-esque cinema, for me, seeing Onmyoji fits right in there between Excalibur and Labyrinth, the only big difference being the sometimes-dazzling-yet-mostly-delightfully-laughable CG effects the likes of which predate the aforementioned films. However, Onmyoji doesn't rest on technical SFX innovation. There are actual puppets, impressive feats of make-up, hypnotic costuming and set design that set the stage for this well-known tale concerning the legendary Heian capitol city (now modern day Kyoto), her court drama, her heroes and enemies and, of course, her imperial ghostbuster #1 Abe no Seimei (if you're ever in Kyoto you may want to check out his shrine). All in all I give Onmyoji a solid A for pulling off history-buffing fantasy film excellence amid what could have been a potential "rotten tomatoes" recipe for disaster in terms of what feats and imagery the legend behind the story dictated. Besides, I have a feeling that seeing this flick will have proved helpful when it comes time for final exams. I mean, you try saying the name Sakanoue no Tamuramaro three times in a row without gagging on your tongue --- that's how difficult it is to keep facts straight in this class.

Anyway, on to the real subject of this post; casting noted kyogen stage actor Mansai Nomura for the lead role was a genius move as far as I'm concerned, as his eccentric performance carries the story and, much like Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow, makes one want to watch the sequel if for no other reason than to enjoy a broader scope of Nomura's skills in motion (Onmyoji II is arguably less fully realized than the first film, but I'm sure more is more as far as Nomura fans are concerned). No doubt foxy Nomura was in part considered for the role due to the legend that Abe no Seimei was born of a curious union between man and fox-wife, but it is the actor's honed movements, gracefully balletic yet arresting at times in their precision, that truly cast a spell and sell his performance as an unparalleled magic-maker. This evidence of his background in traditional theater arts showcased by way of fantasy entertainment brings to mind yet another comparison: get this guy in a Star Trek spacesuit and let's see if he can give Patrick Stewart's Captain Jean-Luc Picard a run for the neutral zone. Though most of what makes Nomura's presence in this film memorable to me is sadly lost in the trailer for Onmyoji, I feel I should post it below nonetheless as there are other people in this movie (I guess).
 

Here's a bonus look at Mansai Nomura as he appeared (with actress Kayoko Shiraishi) in a stage play he directed called Kuninusubito, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III. It looks like it was probably an absolutely amazing production!

Kay Nielsen - Artists in Film

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 16, 2010 04:00pm | Post a Comment

Kay Nielsen
was a Danish illustrator and key figure of the golden age of illustration. His art evinces the influence of ukiyo-e heavy Utagawa Hiroshige as well as Art Nouveau master Aubrey Beardsley. However, his synthesis was his own-- an instantly recognizable, highly ornate, fantastical world of pastels and light.

Nielsen was born March 12th, 1886, in Copenhagen, Denmark. His father was the director of the Royal Danish Theatre. From 1904 till 1916, he studied art in Paris and London. His first professional work was providing the illustrations for In Powder and Crinoline, Fairy Tales Retold by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, first published in 1913. He returned to Denmark in 1917 where he collaborated with Johannes Poulsen in painting stage scenery at the Royal Danish Theatre. After his theater work, he returned to illustrations, providing them for several collections of fairy tales.
In 1936, Nielsen was commissioned to provide stage art for a performance of Max Reinhardt's Everyman at the Hollywood Bowl. In 1938, Poulsen died, and the following year, Nielsen and his wife, Ulla, moved to California, where he found employment at Walt Disney. There he served as art director for the “Night on Bald Mountain” and “Ave Maria” segments of Fantasia.

Whilst at Disney, he also worked as a visual development artist for Little Mermaid. However, the pace and assembly line approach at Disney wore him out and he was let go in 1940. Disney intended to bring him back for a sequel to Fantasia but after the original was a box-office disappointment, plans for that film were scrapped. In 1956, his work was featured in an episode of Disneyland titled “The Plausible Impossible,” which dealt with animation techniques. The Little Mermaid was finally made into a film in 1989, although the look has little resemblance with Nielsen’s.

For the remainder of his life, he lived in poverty with most necessities provided by his friends. He occasionally painted murals around Los Angeles. His mural The First Spring originally hung at Central Junior High. After that school was demolished it was moved to John A. Sutter Middle School in Canoga Park. His illustration of the 23rd Psalm adorns the altar tablet at Wong Chapel. He died January 21st, 1957. His wife died the year after.


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Passing Strange

Posted by Whitmore, July 11, 2008 10:34am | Post a Comment


First the bad news: Passing Strange, the critically acclaimed Broadway Show about a young musician’s journey through sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, will close on July 20th in New York at the Belasco Theater. But the good news is that director Spike Lee plans on making a film version of the musical.

Written by native Angeleno and local musician Stew --who has played in such bands as Gutbucket, The Lullabies and most notably The Negro Problem-- and longtime musical collaborator Heidi Rodewald, formerly of Wednesday Week and also TNP, Passing Strange was originally work-shopped at the Sundance Institute in Utah and the Berkeley Repertory Theater in Berkeley before becoming an off-Broadway sensation last year. Passing Strange opened in February on Broadway to rave reviews and received seven Tony Award nominations, winning the prize for Best Book for its co-creator and star, Stew.

Overall, the musical will have played 165 performances and 20 previews by the time it closes at the Belasco Theater. Live stage footage will be shot on July 19 at both the matinee and evening performances, so all you west-coasters still have time to buy a plane ticket and reserve a couple of seats.


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