Posted by Joy Bennett
Kristin Chenoweth at the Hollywood Bowl, August 24, 2013, photo by Joy Bennett
Last Saturday night was a real treat. I was given a press pass to see one of our favorite performers, who we've loved ever since we heard her powerful, expressive voice in the hit musical Wicked on Broadway: Kristin Chenoweth.
The Hollywood Bowl was a perfect setting for this amazing performer, the evening was pleasant and clear, and you couldn’t have asked for a better night to enjoy this very special event.
Right on time, Ms. Chenoweth came out in a long, dazzling white gown, reminiscent almost of a wedding dress. Her voice was superb and effortless throughout, and to Ms. Chenoweth’s credit, she did not rely heavily on the Wicked songbook for her show. A lesser performer certainly would.
The singer put an unmistakable emotional stamp on the evening with her choice of songs. She started with “Que Sera, Sera” and made her way through an impressive oeuvre of material, mostly from hit films and musicals, see song list below. She ended with “Smile” the classic song Charlie Chaplin wrote for his film Modern Times (1936). “Light up your face with gladness, hide every trace of sadness. Although a tear may be ever so near, that’s the time you must keep on trying…” Ms. Chenoweth made this familiar tune sound so fresh, with such emotional impact, I was left in tears.
The emotional arc of the concert was set, it was as if Ms. Chenoweth was telling us, here’s life, here’s what it can do to you, but here’s how to survive it: with humor, charisma, hard work, and faith. Just watch, I‘ll show you how.
Beautiful fireworks began and ended the concert, which only added to the excitement. At the Hollywood Bowl, a wonderful, outdoor venue, you can bring in your own picnic food, or order or pick up nicely prepared dinners, snacks and drinks there.
Ms. Chenoweth is funny and sweet, yet there is an unmistakable edge to her. You don’t get your own solo show for two nights at the Hollywood Bowl without some mettle. She came out of Oklahoma, from a not-particularly musical family, but has had an impressive career, largely due to her own perseverance, work ethic, charisma, and remarkable instrument.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic, led by Conductor Kevin Stites, did a wonderful job backing her up. This is a powerful orchestral machine, finely tuned to every musical nuance.
This is why I stay up late nights, blogging away, the chance to take in concerts like this. Kristin Chenoweth is a vocal artist of the finest caliber. Overall, an exceptional concert in a very special setting.
SONG LIST *
“Que Sera, Sera”
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
“The Man that Got Away”
“Working 9 to 5”
“Tuppins” from Mary Poppins
“When She Loved Me” from Toy Story 2
A Song from Phantom of the Opera
“I’m Tired” from Blazing Saddles
“My Lord and Master” from King and I
“Tits and Ass” from A Chorus Line (revised to “Boobs and Butt)
Avenue Q song w/puppets
“Popular” from Wicked sung in different languages
“For Good” from Wicked duet with audience member – great!
“WWDD -- What would Dolly [Parton] Do?” Ms. Chenoweth wrote
“God Bless America”
* I think it caught them all, forgive me if I missed one or two.
Hollywood Bowl, August 24, 2013, photo by Joy Bennett<
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August 24, 2013 | 4:07 am
Posted by Joy Bennett
Shot from Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, photo courtesy adoptfilms.net/harry
If you’re a fan of Harry Dean Stanton (and who in their right mind isn’t?) you will enjoy a documentary coming out in Los Angeles on September 13th called Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction directed by Sophie Huber. I was kindly invited by the publicity staff to a screening of this film last night in Hollywood, and got to see it at a really cool studio office building near Sunset. It was a fine film, shot partly in black and white, and features Mr. Stanton and his friends reminiscing about his remarkable life.
It also features Mr. Stanton singing. He has a fine, strong voice – who knew? He has a poet’s soul and admits to being a “womanizer” which has taken its toll on his love life. Yet with a face as soulful as his, it’s easy to forgive. He has a touch of a philosopher in him, too; and reflects on how “it’s all going to fade.”
Then after the film I wandered into the nearby Amoeba Music on Sunset – an amazing place, then drove back along Santa Monica Blvd. to Fairfax. I couldn’t resist running into Canters for some melt in your mouth chocolate chip rugula. Delicious! Traffic was blissfully light coming home, it was great. I love this city!
August 23, 2013 | 9:13 am
Posted by Joy Bennett
A recent Milk + Bookies book donating party in Santa Monica, CA, photo by Joy Bennett
Milk + Bookies, no that's not the name of a lactating gangster, but a unique and successful non-profit founded by my friend and neighbor, Meredith Alexander. Pictured above is a recent Milk + Bookies event. Meredith is there in the left background eating ice cream, and the children have just heard the actor dressed up in his colorful outfit read to them. Now they're coloring after inscribing and donating their books, and eating ice cream!
Some Hollywood wives (Ms. Alexander is married to Jesse Alexander, a writer and producer best known as Executive Producer of Lost, Hannibal, and several other TV shows) are content to sit back, shop, decorate, and enjoy a life of ease. Not so with Meredith. Through determination, creativity, hard work and perseverance, she has developed this non-profit for almost ten years. It now donates well over 10,000 books annually to needy children and organizations. She started it in 2004, yet didn’t take a salary until last year, and works full time at the task. She does have a board and early on asked two friends to help her, one a financial whiz and the other a producer. However, it was clear from my interview that Ms. Alexander is the driving force behind Milk + Bookies.
Note: I have made a small donation to her organization, and have helped take photos at a recent event. I also intend to get involved to support her efforts – literacy and giving back are two causes that are also very close to my heart.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Alexander on August 20, 2013 at the Milk + Bookies office in Santa Monica, California. We started by both agreeing how unique and valuable what Milk and Bookies does is, by instilling the habit of helping others at a young age. It makes giving fun and social; and also supports literacy, always a good thing!
I asked her what prepared her for this job, what did she study in college? She said she studied at the University of Colorado, but left before graduating to study floral design in London. Then she was a professional floral designer at several shops in Los Angeles.
I inquired what do her kids think of her job. She has two lovely boys, one seven, the other twelve. She thought a moment and then said they like it, they enjoy the events and are proud of the organization.
I asked what has been her biggest challenge has been with the non-profit, and she said, “Funding, and getting kids to stay excited about giving. This is hard to track, what happens after their Milk +Bookies event.”
I wondered if she had any recommendations if someone was going to go about starting their own foundation or non-profit. “There is strength in numbers, don’t try to do it all yourself, work with others, help out an existing organization. Otherwise your passion [may] get drowned out in administrative tasks.”
She does have a Golden Rolodex of celebrities that have become involved with Milk + Bookies. I asked her if she had any tips on working with well-known personalities. “No one size fits all.” Everyone’s different, yet most people are, underneath it all, the same. She said that the folks who become involved with Milk + Bookies are pretty much in line with the non-profit’s values and there haven’t been many difficulties.
I asked her about approaching corporations for support, do you always have a personal contact or connection there first? She said sometimes they do, but some corporations, for example, The Gap, came to them.
She does have a newly hired Program Manager to help her: Caitlin Young. Caitlin is a recently UCLA graduate and spent nearly a year at Milk + Bookies as an intern. Meredith is gradually training her to take on more and more administrative tasks.
I mentioned what was their yearly budget, and she said, "Our Annual Operating Budget is less than $250,000.”
I wondered if she had any tips about balancing work and family obligations for working women. “Not really, it’s always a challenge, especially with two young boys at home.” I mentioned we both probably lose a lot of sleep, even as I type up this interview at 4 am!
I asked about her husband Jesse’s involvement. “Minimally, other than being a supportive husband and cheerleader.” They met through friends years ago, and have been married for seventeen years.
Meredith also mentioned that other than organizing the Milk + Bookies events to get kids involved in donating books, they also run some side programs where, for example, publishers give them books directly and they find a home for them. They also do some special projects. For example, as I was interviewing her, an office intern was putting together some mini Milk + Bookies boxes to give to a crafts convention in Palm Springs.
Milk + Bookies also has an excellent website, where you can learn more about the non-profit at milkandbookies.org. It is designed by a professional website design company, and the music for the video on the website was composed by Oscar-winning composer Michael Jiacchino (who did, among other things, the music in Up.)
She also mentioned that although Milk + Bookies is non-denominational, it is considered a mitzvah, a good deed that kids having a bar or bat mitzvah need to do. This would count as that good deed.
In addition to their five member Board of Directors, they have twenty people on an Event Committee, and also have one large annual fundraising ball in April of each year. They also have four rotating office interns, usually from local colleges; and then there’s Caitlin Young, the newly hired Program Manager.
Meredith said the Milk +Bookies kits are $30, but are free to schools or teachers. They will also help find a deserving local recipient for the books donated at each Milk + Bookies event if necessary.
Milk + Bookies is a national organization with tax-exempt status, and events are continually being hosted across the country. In the boxes supplied for each event, there are also clear instructions and materials for each event, which can be held at a birthday party, school event, retail stores, book fair event, etc.
In addition to running Milk + Bookies, Meredith is also an author, and published the lovely book for children of all ages, Sweet Pete in 2011, with illustrations by Kerry Meyer. The book is now available as an eBook at Amazon.com for $2.99. I just read the little book and it's adorable.
It’s folks like Meredith, her staff and volunteers that make this world just a little bit better for all of us. For more information on Milk + Bookies, visit their website milkandbookies.org. Thank you Meredith, for being such a good friend, neighbor, and inspiration to us all!
August 23, 2013 | 1:42 am
Posted by Joy Bennett
Photo courtesy jonbatiste.com
Sometimes in life you get lucky. I was recently invited to see Jon Batiste and his band Stay Human the other night at Hotel Cafe, a small, hot Los Angeles nightspot that features outstanding singer/songwriters seven nights a week. The venue alone was worth the trip, it was adorable, with delicious light food, drinks, great acoustics, and friendly people. Check out their fantastic reviews on Yelp if you don't believe me, this place is awesome! Parking is by valet or pay at a lot, on-street parking is quite rare when it gets busy in this neighborhood.
Then I heard Jon's unmistakable, exhilarating sound. Jon Batiste is a born musician, he plays several instruments, sings like an angel, and has a New Orleans's style jazz/blues/rock/fusion sound that is most infectious. He and his family are part of the inspiration for HBO's excellent series Treme, about New Orleans and the musicians and people that live there. Mr. Batiste has also appeared on the show. He has a new album called Social Music coming out on October 15, 2013, and they played several songs from it. Mr. Batiste and his music are definitely worth checking out.
Jon Batiste is a wonderful musician, anything he plays sound magic. I have never heard ragtime played with so much sophisticated cool. The large turnout at Hotel Cafe was most appreciative, and this rowdy audience turned politely quiet when the music demanded it. The music was so good all you could do is close your eyes, drink it in, and shuffle your feet in rapture.
The Hotel Cafe has an impressive line-up seven nights a week of outstanding talent, this could very well become my new favorite hot spot. Check out Jon Batiste and his Stay Human band here: jonbatiste.com, and the Hotel Cafe's website is here: hotelcafe.com.
August 19, 2013 | 2:34 am
Posted by Joy Bennett
Last Saturday night I had the pleasure of attending the MUSE/IQUE Concert called "Lose Your Senses with Ellis Hall" conducted by MUSE/IQUE Artistic Director Rachael Worby. The concert was held at Caltech's Beckman Mall in Pasadena, a wonderful setting. I had never heard of MUSE/IQUE until recently, but this looked intriguing so off I went.
It was well worth the drive from Santa Monica out to Pasadena. First, the setting is very special and appropriate for what Ms. Worby's creative vision entails. Second, the music was consistently performed with spirit and technical prowess. Third, the eclectic but endearing musical program was quite refreshing, a perfect late-summer evening.
I am someone who will soon fall asleep at your typical classical musical concert, hence I tend to avoid them, unless it's someone really special or the 4th of July where there will be fireworks to keep me entertained. No such worries of being bored around Ms. Worby's orchestra and special guests. It was a great show, an eclectic grab bag of musical genres, and Ms. Worby led us all through it with unfailing enthusiasm, musical taste, grace and confidence.
The setting was also lovely, especially as the sun set and the lights dimmed, revealing the jumbo screens and lighting put out by the concert organizers, which was most appropriate and enjoyable. Unlike some, I am a big fan of jumbo screens, and don't have a problem with them at all.
The concert was outdoors, and you were welcome to bring your own food and beverages, but a catered meal was available if you called to arrange it beforehand. I did, and the food proved to be very nice. The nearby parking is free, which is always appreciated.
The MUSE/IQUE orchestra is absolutely top-notch, of note was the violin soloist during the Beethoven piece. It nearly brought tears to my eyes. The orchestra played with brilliance and power throughout, it was awesome.
Ms. Worby often jumps, waves, and even strolls through the audience in her enthusiasm, and the Motown medley led by special musical guest Ellis Hall, the wonderful, five-octave range musician who really rocked out, got many of us dancing in the aisles, myself included.
After the concert, the audience was invited to a special champagne reception to meet the orchestra, with cookies, treats, and coffee for those of us who had to drive home. The audience to a person were very friendly, the facilities were very comfortable, and they deserved, and received, a very large, appreciative audience. I can highly recommend a concert by MUSE/IQUE, visit their website www.muse-ique.com for more information and tickets for upcoming events.
I am also continually impressed by the City of Pasadena for its cultural resources, beauty of its city, and kindness of its inhabitants.
Thank you to the MUSE/IQUE staff for inviting me, it was a most pleasant evening!
August 13, 2013 | 2:02 am
Posted by Joy Bennett
If you only watch one show on TV, make it The Newsroom on HBO Sunday nights at 10. This tight, funny, mesmerizing drama, based on the high-wire act of producing a live daily national news show, is truly one of the best TV shows ever produced. Aaron Sorkin creates and writes the majority of the episodes, and it’s brilliant.
The show is based on the network ACN, based in the fictional city of Atlantis, reminiscent of CNN’s home base in Atlanta, Georgia.
The characters are all smart, neurotic types, who have an excess of book sense and not quite enough street sense to get by. Of particular note is Jeff Daniels, who plays the anchorman. This actor certainly has remarkable range. Mr. Daniels was such a convincing fool in the movie Dumb and Dumber, now he is the exact opposite: a highly intelligent but smug and neurotic news anchor. Other actors worth mentioning: the beautiful and talented Olivia Munn plays a financial reporter perfectly; and even the legendary Jane Fonda has a small role as a network executive.
You might say after watching a few episodes, well, people don’t talk like that, with whip smart, velvety dialogue, but oh, if only they would!
I’d also like to mention the free service you get if you’re an HBO subscriber. They now have a free service called HBO GO, which you can sign up for. It allows you to watch their programming on ROKU, iPads, your smart phone, Apple TV, Android, and other devices anytime you wish. Fun!
A note about comments: I understand it is very difficult to comment here at the Shiksa in Hollywood blog. However, if you visit my main website, joybennett.com, it is very easy to post comments there, and I hope you will.
August 10, 2013 | 6:04 am
Posted by Joy Bennett
Photo courtesy robgreebon.photoshelter.com
This weekend I'm visiting the lovely and culturally diverse city of Fort Worth, Texas. Our daughter is attending college here this fall, and it's my first extended stay in the area. For the size of the town (population just under one million), Forth Worth boasts a number of cultural and recreational attractions, and the huge city of Dallas, Texas is also an easy 40 minute drive to the east, just zip down Highway 30.
Yesterday, we toured the impressive and well-equipped Texas Christian University, a tiny private college with big athletic and academic facilities. This university has a small but quite beautiful campus, with friendly staff, impressive facilities, even the food at the orientation was delicious. For more information about Texas Christian University, visit tcu.edu.
The rest of the weekend has been spent enjoying all the wonderful things Fort Worth has to offer. One of the top five zoos in the nation, the Fort Worth Zoo, is a few minutes from downtown on the west side of the city, where many of the other cultural and artistic attractions are located. They also have the remarkable Kimbell Art Museum, one of the finest art museums in the Southwest. Fort Worth also is home to a number of other museums, musical venues, shopping, sightseeing, and you can even catch a rodeo. If you like BBQ, there are a number of fine restaurants that feature this type of food, but they also have a number of other delicious restaurants in the area, too.
Fort Worth's people are generally friendly and welcoming, and one could do worse than spend a few days here, enjoying the cowboy culture, shopping, artistic offerings, and beautiful surroundings. One warning, it does get quite warm here in the summer, so bring your lightweight summer clothes and be prepared to schedule some time indoors with air conditioning. I did enjoy the hotel pool several times though, which is wonderful on a hot summer day.
Fort Worth is a quick three hour flight from Los Angeles, and traffic and parking is generally much easier to handle here than the more crowded conditions in Los Angeles. For more information about Fort Worth, visit fortworth.com, and if you do visit, I hope you enjoy your stay as much as I did!
August 4, 2013 | 8:22 am
Posted by Joy Bennett
Film poster image courtesy smff.org
Last night I was delighted to attend the free Santa Monica Film Festival in my very own hometown of Santa Monica, California. This charming, small (tiny, really) film festival screened a number of outstanding short films, all of which were clever, amusing or scary, take your pick. There were so many wonderful films, it was a smorgasbord of high-quality short film maLast night I was delighted to attend the free Santa Monica Film Festival in my very own hometown of Santa Monica. This charming, small (tiny, really) film festival screened a number of outstanding short films, all of which were clever, amusing or scary, take your pick. There were so many wonderful films, it was a smorgasbord of high-quality short film making. Actor and writer Robert Rusler was the host, and did an outstanding job introducing the films and keeping the evening rolling along.
One in particular stood out in my mind, the short film 'Paper' directed by Ivan Kraljevic, who was also in attendance and spoke briefly and eloquently about the film after the screening. 'Paper' is a tight, engaging story of a poor, young Russian immigrant woman's struggle to make it in the USA. She is struggling to get out of the massage parlor business, but frustrated as her former boss there still has her passport. 'Paper' refers to the documents you need to legally work and live in the USA. She meets one young man, a photographer who falls for her, yet is torn by his lack of resources.
There were so many good short films here, though, too many to mention. Visit the festival's website to find out more about the films screened and plot summaries: smff.org.
After the film screenings, I walked a few blocks over to the small After Party held at a local bar and restaurant, which was itself very charming. Tinga is a new restaurant at 522 Wilshire in Santa Monica that serves Mexican fusion dishes and is what looks to be an outstanding taqueria. Sadly I didn't have the opportunity to taste the food, but just had a drink, but will be back soon to do so, since it looked just delicious and was reasonably priced, with a charming atmosphere.
In case you thought, as I did initially, because the film festival was free it would be packed, I was happily surprised that the seating was quite open, and this under-appreciated film festival well deserves a larger audience. This is their tenth year and the founder, David Katz, with whom I had the pleasure of speaking at the After Party, proved to be a kind and creative gentleman. I very much hope this festival finds a larger audience that it so well deserves. For more information, visit smff.org, hope to see you there next year!
-- August 5, 2013. Just an update to my previous post of August 4, 2013. Today I did return to the Tinga Restaurant in Santa Monica, California. I had a chance to taste the food, and it was lovely, with friendly staff, comfortable atmosphere, and delicious tacos!