Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dodger Stadium Redux

We may have changed our allegiance to the Angels several years ago, but we still love L.A.'s Dodger Stadium, which got a much-deserved facelift this past year. We went to our first game of the season on Saturday. The seats were in "nose-bleed"—still, the view was pretty damn terrific.

Taking the field: 1st inning

New twin scoreboards

Dodgers dugout

The new look of the stadium is definitely retro, celebrating the team's often illustrious history in L.A. Everywhere you look there's a reminder of Dodgers' accomplishments—made me proud to be a baseball fan in Los Angeles!

New bobblehead dolls greet the fans outside the stadium

#32 Sandy Koufax, my all-time favorite ballplayer

Even the hot dogs are famous in L.A.!

Dodger history is celebrated at every turn. Murals 
now welcome fans to the newly renovated
bathrooms (yay!)

Unfortunately, parking is as heinous as ever!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

L.A. Times Festival of Books

Fans waiting for Debbie Reynolds

The L.A. Times Festival of Books is Los Angeles’ annual weekend-long celebration of reading and local authors. The event, which is free, attracts hundreds of thousands of people. We used to go every year when it was held at UCLA. But we stopped when it moved to USC—just too busy, I guess (she said, flashing her Bruin smile). However, with our rival campus now just a short trolley ride away, we had no excuse this year and so went last Saturday.

The weather was perfect as we strolled around, peering at the booths while trying to avoid the eyes of vendors and self-published authors. Tim ended up buying a book written by a woman who collects and sells Miata cars. I, on the other hand, couldn’t resist The Beatle Who Vanished, about the poor schlub who briefly filled in for a sick Ringo on one of the Beatles’ tours. Impulse shopping is a big part of the festival! The main draw, however, remains the countless author panels featuring celebrities and non-celebrities alike. This year’s line-up included Margaret Atwood, Carol Burnett, Orson Scott Card, Raymond Feist, Joyce Carol Oates, and everyone’s favorite Angeleno, Steve Lopez. We saw state-librarian-emeritus Kevin Starr interviewed before a standing-room-only crowd.

The true highlight of the day, though, was seeing movie star Debbie Reynolds, who was promoting her new autobiography UnsinkableThe audience erupted into applause as soon as she walked on stage with her daughter Carrie Fisher’s dog, Dwight, and Mark Olsen, the young L.A. Times journalist assigned to interview her. Debbie took control before Olsen could even utter one word.

Walking on stage

“I know what you’re all thinking,” she told the enthusiastic crowd. “So I’m just going to tell you. I’m 81 years old and still alive!” She then proceeded to tell amusingly self-deprecating stories about her career and former husbands. She spoke very fondly of Fred Astaire, who mentored her during Singin’ in the Rain, her first musical with Gene Kelly. She also talked about attending school at the MGM studio with Elizabeth Taylor, who would later scandalize the movie world by stealing Debbie’s husband Eddie Fisher. “You know I’m the mother of Princess Leia!” Debbie exclaimed, speaking of her daughter Carrie’s role in the original Star Wars trilogy. “I guess that makes me a queen!,” she said, waving to a group of strapping young men sitting to her left.

A microphone was then opened to the audience. Instead of asking questions, her fans gushed with love and requested that she sing their favorite songs (e.g., “Tammy” and, from How the West Was Won, “Home in the Meadow”—yay!). Some even gave emotional testimonials. One woman made Debbie cry when she related how, in 1964, the actress had opened her home to a group of low-income schoolgirls, who spent the day swimming and enjoying Beverly Hills. “You changed my life that day,” she told Debbie, who seemed sincerely grateful for the memory. An older man then stood up and confessed to being in love with Debbie Reynolds since her very first movie, June Bride. He still has her autographed photo hanging on his wall. It was my turn to cry.

Chiding Carrie's dog

Staying cool in my new hipster hat

Friday, April 05, 2013

One Night with Janis Joplin

I love larger-than-life personalities—especially women who are guided by their keen wits and emotions. Sometimes their lives end tragically; but when they’re at the top of their game, they are truly something amazing to behold.

As a kid, I was never a big fan of Janis Joplin—to my young ear, her songs seemed more filled with screeching than passion. Over the years, however, I’ve come to appreciate her bluesy delivery and raw pain. I became particularly fascinated by her after seeing the movie The Rose, a thinly-veiled fictional account of Joplin’s short life, starring Bette Midler, and Love, Janis, a terrific biographical play we saw in San Diego in 2002. Both cover the final days of her life before she overdosed on heroin at the age of 27.

There’s a new Joplin tribute being staged at the Pasadena Playhouse now until April 21: One Night with Janis Joplin. Less a play than a musical concert, it features an outstanding Mary Bridget Davies channeling Janis’s famous gravelly voice as if we were seeing her perform live in the late 1960s. Between songs, she interacts with the audience, telling stories about growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, where she learned to sing the Broadway show tunes her mother played over and over again. When she reminisces about her other musical influences—Bessie Smith, Etta James and Nina Simone—songstress extraordinaire Sabrina Elayne Carten emerges as the “Blues Singer,” providing more traditional versions of the songs, like “Tell Mama” and “Summertime,” Janis ultimately made her own. Right before the intermission, Davies and Carten (as Aretha Franklin), bring the house down with their rockin’ rendition of “Spirit in the Dark.”

One Night with Janis Joplin is a fabulous show that’s well worth the drive to Pasadena (during rush hour!), even if you live on the westside. As I was walking into the theater last night, I looked around at the other audience members and thought, “Yikes! We baby-boomers are certainly getting old!” But, believe me, we all felt 45 years younger when we came out again two hours later.

Click here and here to read L.A. Times reviews of the play.

The real Janis at Woodstock