Never Leave LA

L.A. Summer with Tchaikovsky, Sondheim, and Chagall!

Back-to-School time is upon us, a chill is in the air, and I’m excited to help scoop up all of the best L.A. has to offer this year!  But before digging into new fall happenings, I’d like to share my culturally enriching summer season here in LaLaLand!  I challenge anyone who claims that L.A. is only about glitz and glam – for I experienced some of the very best artistic programming I’ve ever seen here in Los Angeles this summer.

Hershey Felder as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in Our Great Tchaikovsky at The Wallis Annenberg Center. (Photo credit: Hershey Felder Presents)

It began with a beautiful evening at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills in mid-July, at the Los Angeles Premiere of Hershey Felder’s Our Great Tchaikovsky. Running through August, this was a brilliant one-man show to behold, and all who saw Felder in action, knew they were witnessing something special – he’s a heartfelt writer, a compelling actor, and quite the piano player. I’d had the opportunity to see Felder portray George Gershwin back in my hometown of Philadelphia, in Gershwin Alone at the Prince Music Theater while I was still a student at Penn; I couldn’t miss this chance to see his latest incarnation as Tchaikovsky. A little less pop and a little more pomp, this show entwined Tchaikovsky’s great overtures, symphonies, concerti, and ballets like Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and The Nutcracker, with politics, history, and autobiography. From Russia’s current political climate under Putin, where Tchaikovsky is a celebrated musical icon – back to Russia’s Czarist regime, when his works were under appreciated and criticized, the show captured the many twists, turns, and nuances of Tchaikovsky’s life and work. The mystery of the composer’s untimely death at the age of 53 was also a focal point of the show, as it occurred only nine days after he premiered his Symphony No. 6 Pathetique in St. Petersberg and ushered rumors of homosexuality, suicide, and disease. Not only was the show especially moving to me, as a musician and songwriter, but it was a joy to discover what a gem of a theater The Wallis is – right in the heart of Beverly Hills!

Jonathan Groff, Vanessa Williams, Gustavo Dudamel, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Ruthie Ann Miles in Sondheim on Sondheim at the Hollywood Bowl. (Photo credit: Mathew Imaging / L.A. Philharmonic)

Next, it was up to the epicenter of music in Los Angeles – The Hollywood Bowl – for Sondheim on Sondheim, a special, one-night-only tribute concert to esteemed Broadway composer, Stephen Sondheim! On this rare, luminous night in the Hollywood Hills, Gustavo Dudamel conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in this concert conceived by James Lapine, directed by Sarna Lapine, starring some of the most acclaimed musical theatre performers of our time, and showcasing Sondheim’s biggest hits. A highlight of the night was hearing the great Vanessa Williams and Phillip Boykin take center stage during a moving rendition of “Children Will Listen,” featuring the children of the string section of Dudamel’s Youth Orchestra Los Angeles. It was also nice to see a friend take the stage, as Claybourne Elder sang “Finishing the Hat.” Elder portrayed Buck Barrow in Broadway’s Bonnie & Clyde, written by my esteemed songwriting collaborator, Frank Wildhorn. Modern Family’s Jessie Tyler Ferguson also made a special guest appearance and sang in “Opening Doors,” and my favorite number of the evening was “Good Thing Going,” delivered impeccably by Vanessa Williams. It was a special evening of music under the stars, and proceeds of the concert benefitted the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.

“The Magic Flute,” from Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. (Photo credit: Fredrik Nilsen)

Finally, a visit to the Los Angeles County of Art (LACMA) rounded out the summer, where I saw the incredible new exhibition, Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage. Up now through January 7, 2018, this show was unlike any Chagall exhibition I’ve ever seen, taking visitors through his sketches, costume designs, and stage designs for a few of his most celebrated ballet works – Tchaikovsky’s Aleko, Stravinsky’s The Firebird, Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé, and Mozart’s The Magic Flute. I had known that music was a great inspiration to Chagall, as many of his pieces feature musical instruments and musicians, but I had never known that Chagall actually hand-painted intricate, elaborate costumes and scenes for the ballet itself, in his very distinctive whimsical style! A few summers ago, I had the unique experience of visiting St. Paul de Vence in Southern France, where I stayed in the home of songwriting royalty, Mr. Leslie Bricusse (Willy Wonka, Dr. Dolittle, Goldfinger, Jekyll & Hyde). In addition to sitting atop the hill overlooking the Mediterranean sea, the cottage was filled with Chagall paintings – floor to ceiling! Chagall was very poor and had been so in need that he traded artwork for food; thus, the home contains a very personal collection that compliments the Chagall Museum in Nice. Yet never before have I seen the actual costumes that brought Chagall’s colorful two-dimensional works to life… LACMA, in association with the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, has assembled a truly magical exhibition filled with music and beauty.

Inspired and invigorated by these world class presentations this summer, I’m now looking forward to making new music, continue taking in the culture that Los Angeles has to offer throughout the fall and winter months, and sharing my enriching experiences with the LaLaScoop community!

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