Monday, July 30, 2018

Annie Live At The Hollywood Bowl!

Annie is one of the catchiest musicals of all time, and after attending the opening night of its three nights of performances at the Hollywood Bowl, I'm still humming "It's A Hard Knock Life" days later.

I brought my little 5 year old pal, Beckett, who is currently obsessed with the Annie oeuvre. Like has watched both cinematic versions a zillion times. Like starts his day with the original Broadway soundtrack BLASTING. Like humming and singing it all day and night long. There was no other choice for a companion to this event.

The stage was set on a beautiful Southern California full moon night, with a big red ANNIE set piece that doubled as an active set. It was an extra special night at the Bowl, as it was Beckett's first time there ever ... hopefully something he'll always remember. He was rapt from the National Anthem playing at the beginning to the last note of the finalé, and to every single thing in between. We were surrounded by an older crowd, who all got a kick out of every happy exclaim coming from this little fan boy.

"Oh, there's Miss Hannigan!", he shouted as Ana Gasteyer came on stage the first time, and drew cheers from everyone for her bawdy, boozy performance throughout. Equally crowd-pleasing was the little girl who played Molly (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), so tiny that every move she made was laughed with and applauded. But no one was a match for the canine star of the show - a scene-stealing rescue dog playing the part of Sandy. Every time this dog showed up on stage, the house came down. L.A. LOVES its dogs.

As much as this play is time-stamped in The Great Depression era, its little asides and commentaries apply just as much to the now. When Daddy Warbucks (a very capable David Alan Grier) says, "That's something I haven't heard since 1928." "What?" "Optimisim!" we can all feel that need now. Or "I know he's a Democrat, but he's a human being too," could easily be applied today to anyone who might still be supporting Trump these days as a Republican. (Gross.) When Steven Weber as F.D.R. says "This is STILL a free country!" ... you felt the collective sigh of relief that it might still be kind of true.

It was great to see diversity in the casting of this revival of Annie, from Grier as Daddy Warbucks to an actress in a wheelchair, Ali Stroker, playing "Star To Be" and belting out her parts with the best of them.

Annie was played by Kaylin Hedges, a great little performer, whose only lack was the curly, red hair classically worn by the character of Annie. It wasn't really missed, though, as the audience fell in love with Annie right along with Warbucks. Beckett interjected at this point that it would be nice for the Bowl to also do "Oliver" ... because that's the one with "Boy orphans". *Perhaps a note for Bowl programmers?

"You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile" was a show-stopper, and gave Gasteyer another laugh when it was over and she bellowed, "Do I hear happiness in here!?!" Yes - she absolutely did. From everyone in the Bowl audience. It was great.

Annie eludes the fake parents, inspires F.D.R. to create the New Deal, gets adopted by Daddy Warbucks, gets all the little orphans invited to his mansion for Christmas, and it all ends in a slam bang finish that had Beckett riveted ... and chattering about it all the way home well past his bedtime.

What a marvelous night of Broadway on the Bowl stage, in an evening that was truly fun for all ages. Anything you see at the Hollywood Bowl is always a special night, but some are more magical than others. With the wonder of a full moon (plus lunar eclipse!) and the wonder and amazement of childhood, this one was one for the memories. Thank you to the Bowl and to everyone who worked so hard to put on this unforgettable night of Annie ... and for reminding us that the sun will always come out tomorrow ... Come what may!

*Performance photographs courtesy of Craig T. Mathew and Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

90291: VENICE UNZIPPED - Now Casting For Venice Families!

I hope you were able to attend our awesome fundraiser at The Lantern House for our upcoming documentary 90291: Venice Unzipped, because you'd have a good idea of what we're trying to accomplish with the Venice stories that we'll be telling. If you were not there (sorry!), you can still get involved, and one of the best ways would be to help us cast our families.

We're looking for three families to embed with over the next year for a few shoot days in increments over the duration. We need a family from the three income levels the U.S. categorizes as low income/homeless, middle class (whatever that means anymore, and one of our topics of discussion), and a wealthy/1% style family. Ideally, each family would have at least one child under 18, so that we can explore what the different economic backgrounds deal with as an entire family, with school, activities, jobs ... all of it.

Income Inequality is THE topic of our times, as far as I'm concerned, along with the homeless and opioid crises (both of which will be addressed, because they have to be - they're a part of it all), and we want to open up a discussion, in an attempt to find solutions everyone can live with. I keep saying it, but we're all in this together, and that simply must be remembered. All citizens affect the Community, and Venice has always been mostly about the Community.

Venice is under the lens of our microscope, but it's really the story of the entire country. The entire globe, really, as income inequality is certainly everywhere. We're all just such a part of Venice, and it's the last frontier in the United States ... you can't go any farther West than 90291. This is a film for everyone, everywhere ... but especially our Venice.

Please reach out to if you have any excellent casting ideas, and always feel free to donate to the cause HERE! Thank you, Venice Community! You're the best. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

A Wilderness Getaway To Sequoia And King's Canyon National Parks - American Splendor

"This grand show is eternal." - John Muir

When I was home a few weeks ago, I had asked my Mom what places and things she had yet to see or do in life that she really wanted to. She mentioned seeing the giant trees in California, which I had yet to see myself, so for her birthday yesterday, we had her come out from Minnesota, jump in the car, and speed up to see the biggest trees in the world in Sequoia National Park for the weekend. And I'm SO glad we did!

Before we left on Saturday morning, Mom and I went to see Won't You Be My Neighbor? on Friday night. I mention this because you HAVE to see it. Mr. Rogers was a true American treasure - on a level with Generals Sherman and Grant that we were about to meet in the National Park. We cried our eyes out throughout the film, and silently vowed to try to be more like Fred Rogers. Seriously, no one left when the movie ended ... everyone just sat there in the quiet, trying to gather themselves before leaving the theater. All you heard were sniffles, and then the laughter that comes with an entire group of strangers being equally moved. A gem of a film that should be required American viewing - especially in these times. Please go. A quick sleep, and we were off to the forest the next morning!

Sequoia and Kings Canyon are really not that far away, and a few hours (like 3 1/2) from Venice, we were deep in the most gorgeous nature setting ever. I've been to Yosemite, which is the marquee California park, but these two are just as beautiful AND have these towering trees that honestly made me emotional to behold. We met General Sherman first, and he is the biggest tree in the world. I was super into it ... and not surprisingly - super moved. Pure, breathtaking majesty. It was so cool to see people from all over the globe all excited to see trees. Folks took turns taking photos of families, and kindness and politeness were the norm, as citizens of the world who still care about nature, and take time out of their lives to make these pilgrimages.

I choked up when I read the quote I opened this story with from John Muir, the famous naturalist who many places in these parks are named for. "This grand show is eternal." There has been talk under this current and awful Administration that these parks could be drilled in, or sold to corporate interests, or whatever nefarious things they've got up their sleeves. This. Must. Not. Happen. There is such a sense of relief when you leave the cities and enter these sacred, pristine lands ... that places like this still - and MUST - exist.  I mean, we saw a golden bear and her cub right from the road (with a far away, blurry photo- for obvious reasons)! And multiple deer! And and and! We HAVE to fight to protect them, no matter what. THIS is the best of America.

Mom thought so too. We had this road trip idea for her birthday, but her children got just as much out of it, believe me. I was gasping and yelling and running around taking photos the whole time, and I felt like I was in nature's church the entire weekend - beaming. Tourists, and proud of it.

The last minute plan meant we had no reservations to stay anywhere, but that's often how I roll, knowing that things will work out somehow. And they did. After a long day of driving and sight-seeing, we needed a hot meal and a bed, and we lucked out, pulling over to Gena's Sierra Inn right outside of the parks in Dunlap. The restaurant had a motel attached, with a vacancy! Bam. We ate, we drank, and we sat outside on the patio under the stars, as my brother Paul borrowed a guitar and played for Mom. It was excellent, and positioned us perfectly to wake up, have a great breakfast right there, and then head back into the parks to see General Grant and then King's Canyon.

General Grant is the third largest tree in the world, and was named "The Nation's Christmas Tree" by President Coolidge in 1926. There is a hushed awe when the flocks of tourists approach these giants, as there should be. The surrounding forest is just as impressive, and my brother and I had a grand old time climbing up the rocks and hills while our Mom watched us and yelled at us to be careful ... just like the good old days (Where's Pablo?!).

As it was just an overnight trek, we had a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time - again, how I often roll. We drove the winding roads into King's Canyon, and pretty much freaked out the whole time at how stunningly beautiful it all was. It was hot and sunny, with perfect white, fluffy clouds to add some flourishes to our photographic memories of our Mom's birthday.

Mountains, trees, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, animals, meadows, flowers ... all of it overwhelmingly beautiful, it was almost surreal. It was almost like a backdrop you couldn't believe was real, but there it was.

The river looked so inviting, it was all we could do to not jump in on this hot day, but that would have made for a rather uncomfortable ride back to Venice later ... but now I regret not doing it.

We had a picnic on a rock next to the river, and then Paul and I ran off to check out this meadow, as my Mom is dealing with a bum foot. I wish she had been with us, as this Zumwalt Meadow brought to mind one of Mom's favorite movies of all time ... The Sound Of Music. You almost HAD to twirl around with arms outstretched at the pure glory of what you were beholding. I'm back at the office now, and that meadow is the star of my daydreams, and I can still almost smell the pine needles. Forest Therapy is real.

We had almost every kind of day, from sweltering hot to thunder and rain to chilly and then back to boiling hot as we traversed the roads that took us from mountain high to valley low. Our photos look like they're from several days, but really is was a few hours. Hours that had eternal value.

As do these National Parks, hearkening back to the Muir quote up top. It truly IS a grand show, with oohs and aahs literally around every corner. Even the wildfires that happen up here (as evidenced by the black scarring on trees or barren branches) create new life ... the only thing that could really harm them is corporations and greed ... and we must never, ever let that happen.

 Trips like these re-fire me up about this stuff every single time. We just had the most special weekend together as a family (sans my brother Rich who had to work, but we thought of the whole time), and will remember it for always. Nature is our teacher, and our gift. We have to protect it to show our gratitude. And we will.

A speedy drive back to Venice got us back in time to take Mom out for her birthday dinner, which we spent looking at the photos and re-living our brief, but beautiful, time in the Giant Forest of Sequoia and in King's Canyon. Even after just two days in this American Splendor (another great movie), it was weird to be back in the hubbub of the city. Almost disturbing, really. It really should be on your list if you've never been, and your entrance fee alone is doing your part to show that these places matter - deeply. I'm so excited for you to see it too.

Thank you, Mother Nature, and thank you, Mother Gronner ... for you both were the reason for this road trip, and this story. And I love you both endlessly.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Summer Venice Art Crawl - A Sunset Stroll

The Venice Art Crawl focused on Washington Boulevard for its Summer edition, which was a nice change of pace - and scenery - if a little sparse this time out.

There was a headquarters set up at The Kinney hotel, and the art stops went from there to the beach, with a few too far away for foot outposts going on all the way to Rose.

The Kinney art party was upstairs next to their tiny pool that I had never seen or known about. Artists and friends mingled around a bar, and enjoyed the golden hour lighting. Of the group show happening there, my favorite was Annie Seaton's work. She takes her surf and ocean photography and prints them out on rice paper somehow, paints them with natural indigo dye, and sews the different pieces together, using a whole bunch of talents at once. I loved them. Phantastic Photography by Lily was also cool, featuring her water reflection photos.

There's no time to linger when you've got more art to see, so I left the scenesters at The Kinney to it, and took off toward the beach.

There was a big stretch of wasteland with no art stops on it, which was too bad, as there are a lot of potential venues there on Washington ... maybe next time. The real action was all centered around Washington Square, the end part by the pier. It was a gorgeous night, so there were a bunch of tourist people out anyway, but the Art Crawl made sure that the locals were out galilvanting around too. I hit up Venice Surf & Skate, and admired the ceramic work of John Fukuda from the Temple Of Mediclaytion. I keep meaning to take a class there, and chatting with Fukuda reinforced this intent, as he told me it changed his life. I can dig that.

I kept running into Venice pals, which is really always the best part of the Venice Art Crawl. The sunset was so beautiful right about at this point that it was probably my favorite work of art of the night. The entire Venice Pier was lined with admirers trying to capture the beauty that is always better in person. But we all tried anyway.

Mercede's Grille was full of sunset hour revelers, and the wonderful real deal Venice ladies like Emily Winters were there selling their keepsake of a book Art Tiles At Venice Beach: Graphic History of Venice 1901-2001. The book itself is a fundraiser to preserve the fantastic old tiles on the beach benches. I was extra touched that they gifted me one of the books, and will add it to my library of Venice lore (which I'll hopefully be a part of soon - stay tuned!).

Another highlight of this Crawl was happening in the alley behind L.A. Gastronomy (next door to Mercede's). Live painting was gathering a crowd back there, and street artist Honor was in the midst of creating a mural of Robert DeNiro from Taxi Driver. He kept his fumes mask on for the photo in the time-honored tradition of graffiti artists being anonymous, but I say be known for your awesome work. It was an honor to meet you, Honor.

Around the corner wall, another mural was being done by Showz Art, who was halfway through a rad rendering of Trayvon Martin. Some of the best art in Venice is in alleys, and it's always worth getting off the beaten paths to discover something great. Duck behind this strip of Washington next time you're there ... it's looking good.

The Cow's End was already closed at like 8:00, which was funny because the map said 10:00, but oh, well. A dude was set up out front anyway, and a lot of people were talking to him about his work, so that was good. Fresh air, fresh art.

The VB Surf Shop was featuring work from Maggie Boelter, a Venice local, whose bio says she grew up swimming at Tower 26. Awesome - as was her work of Venice beachy themes.

Priscilla Ortiz and Natalie Strong were showing their stuff at Arbor, where the skateboards were as fun to look at as the art. Wine and snacks were being shared pretty much everywhere, and Arbor was no different. What a great looking shop, check it out if you haven't been in for a while. Aren't they due for a music show there soon too? I believe so.

Next door at Aesthetic Ambition Piercing & Tattoo was the most rocking stop on the Crawl, as a reggae/ska band, Funky AF, was blasting out through the whole neighborhood. There was more art set up outside, but the main deal was folks getting DOWN to the band, especially one shirtless dude in a top hat that was extra feeling it. That's the Venice Vibe, and that's what is great about our town celebrating art - not just for events like the V.A.C., but all the dang time. Everyone was loving it, and it felt like full throttle Summer.

From there I headed over to the new New Deli (which I didn't even know was finally open, and will forever be Sal's to me), but they were shut up tight, well before their map's stated closing time. Lame. Especially as at this point I was feeling that I hadn't eaten yet, and probably would have picked up some stuff from this new New Deli, but nope. Oh, well. There wasn't a whole lot of time left in the Crawl, so I zipped over to Turning Point Pilates to check out the work of Marian Crostic. I'd long heard of Crostic's work, as my brother hangs it all for her when she has exhibitions, and she's lived right on Abbot Kinney forever. Her Pre-Dawn Venice pieces were lovely, as was Crostic ... as was the wine and cheese.

That was that for the Crawl for me this time, as I have a whole lot going on and was just grateful to see some art, some friends, and some gorgeous sights. The next Crawl will be the After-Burn one (September 21-23 in Windward Plaza) and that's always one you don't want to miss, as Burning Man comes to Venice - where it really should still be like Burning Man all the time. The Venice Art Crawl does a lot to help with those vibes, and I really try to never miss it to get that fix.

See you in September, Hippies! XO.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Where Is The Love?! Venice.

These are some crazy times, Man. Every day some new crazy thing/s happen to make you shake your damn head and wonder how we got here. Wonder what is wrong with people? Wonder where in the world is the LOVE anymore?! I'm thinking all that on my walk this morning, when I noticed that someone had done a little tag on a Canal bridge ... and then I zoomed in ...

Where is the love?!?! Right?!?! It's nice to know I'm not the only one wondering this - and what we can do about it. That was on my mind as I kept on trucking, and turned down Altair to head back. Well, THERE was some love! A cute little bungalow dweller put it right there in front, letting us all know that at least here, it's still Love Street. Phew.

Easing on down the road over to the French Market for my morning coffee, I saw that there was more big LOVE to be found, right there on Venice and Abbot Kinney. In rainbow colors and everything! So, the next time you think or hear the very important question of "Where is the love?", know that you can always find it in Venice. Better yet, you can always find it in your own heart to give, and in your own mind to receive.

Love you.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The French Market Celebrates Bastille Day With World Cup Championship!

The French Market was like the happiest place on Earth yesterday, when on the very day they had long planned for their annual Bastille Day celebration, France played in the World Cup final - and won! You've never seen more happy Frenchmen and women - except for maybe in actual France.

I was a bit torn as to who to root for, as I love my Frenchies, but my dearest friend back home is married to a Croatian man, and when I was home for a visit recently, we were cheering for Croatia all the way - like wearing the merch cheering. I looked at it as a win-win, because I'd really and truly be happy either way ... and let's face it, it's really a bunch of men kicking a ball around, so the world would still continue to spin around, whatever the outcome.

The French, however, were all in. Because it was also the Bastille Day shindig, the stage was already set with the tri-color bunting and flags everywhere. There was a t.v. set up inside and outside, to better watch the riveting match that really was not reflected well in the final score of 4-2. Croatia played wonderfully, but France got the ball in the net two times more and that was that. Venice erupted in cheers (in French) and cars waving flags drove back and forth between The French Market and Zinqué, with French happiness at a zenith. You couldn't help but share in their joy as people were lifted off of the ground in ecstatic embraces between countrymen/women. The elation was truly infectious.

Champagne flowed as people got their faces and bodies painted in the red, white, and blue of France, and French Market owner, Agnes Martinez, beamed at the sight of so many of her friends and fellow French folk went crazy with that special kind of jubilation that seems to only come from winning soccer games ...

... and maybe Can Can girls! When the Moulin Rouge type girls made their entrance to the French Market patio, the people gathered erupted in cheers again, and rowdily cheered on the dancers kicking up their heels to the classic French anthems. It was about as close as you could get to Gay Paree without actually being there, and everyone was loving it.

Bastille Day is already a packed to the rafters affair each year at The French Market, but to have it coincide with the World Cup Final - it was super extra tight squeeze in there. They had all the French specialties going (Croque Monsiuer, etc ...), as well as non-stop refilling of the celebratory bubbly, and they did it all with smiles - and berets on! Kudos to the hard workers that are there ever day, but especially in the mad house that was yesterday! Love you guys!

French Toast (The French Market mascot) was there to oversee it all, and perhaps played the good luck charm role that was needed to lift France over Croatia, without the extra time that Croatia had been forcing the whole tournament. Whatever it takes!

I was so happy for my French friends, looking around at how over the top happy they all were. It was a doubly special day for them all, and it was a delight to celebrate with and for them on a perfect Summer day on Abbot Kinney!  Vive La France!!