'The Whipping Man' Shows a Side of the Civil War South You've Never Seen

Categories: Culture, Theater

Courtesy South Coast Repertory
Cast of the Whipping Man (left to right): Adam Haas Hunter,Charlie Robinson and Jarrod M. Smith
Wait a minute: there were Jews, real, live, Torah-reading Jews in the Confederate states in the Civil War, many of whom actually fought FOR the South? And some of these Jews had slaves who were raised Jewish and actually considered themselves Jews?
Matthew Lopez' play, The Whipping Man may sound like a piece of historical speculative fiction, but it's based on true accounts of people like Judah Benjamin, a prominent Louisiana lawyer who was the first Jew ever elected to the U.S. Senate and who also served as the Confederacy's secretary of state.

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Straight Outta Broadway: Three Musical Theater Events Coming to Orange County

Categories: Culture, Theater

Jeff Skowron and Timothy Hughes in Big Fish.

Love, despise or just don't give a general damn about them, musicals continue to reign supreme in American theater. They get the most attention, the most butts in seats per venue, and are pretty much what most god-fearing Americans care about when it comes to theater.

And if you're a fan of the bright lights and the (mostly) thin ideas of big, boffo Broadway musicals, you're in the right place for the next couple of weeks -- Orange County. From Big Fish to Pippin to Stephen Sondheim, here's three Broadway shows or events happening in OC, or right next door, this week:

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Knotfest - October 24-26, 2014 - San Manuel Amphitheater

Rachael Mattice
Corey Taylor of Slipknot at Knotfest

October 24-26, 2014
San Manuel Amphitheater

Thank the Dark Lord the temperature in San Bernardino was only in the 80s on Saturday, as an estimated 50,000 metalheads, campers and revelers flocked to the San Manuel Amphitheater in Devore for Knotfest -- three days of camping and a dark carnival/heavy-metal music festival curated by Slipknot (who were inspired by European metal festivals) to bring a musical and cultural event of this magnitude to San Bernardino. For three days, fans explored dark art, fire, carnival rides, roller coasters music, and more.

The party got started Friday evening with Suicide Silence and The Black Dahlia Murder opening a nighttime show. Combined, Saturday and Sunday featured over 20 bands on a total of five stages per day. Saturday included bands such as Carcass, Testament, Fear Factory, Prong, Butcher Babies and In This Moment. Sunday offered bands like Napalm Death, Devildriver, Miss May I, Of Mice and Men, Killswitch Engage and Whitechapel.

Both nights were headlined by Slipknot, and night one featured main stage acts Black Label Society, Hatebreed, Black Label Society, Anthrax and Danzig. Night two also featured main stage acts Hellyeah, Atreyu, Tech N9NE, Volbeat, and Five Finger Death Punch.

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How Could 'War of the Worlds' Be Such a Bore?

Categories: Culture, Theater

It's hard to tell if the actors in War of the Worlds: The Radio Play are pretending to be radio actors afraid of a Martian invasion of Earth, or if they are real actors fighting boredom. Whatever the case, they're losing either battle.

The mother of all mass media hoaxes, the effects of Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre actors' 1938 radio performance of H.G. Wells 1898 sci-fi classic, while sensationalized by the newspapers of the time, certainly showed the power of that mass media. While there was nothing like the widespread panic in the streets of America we commonly associate with the event, there were enough people who believed the entirely fictitious performance that the Federal Communications Commission seriously considered mandating that all radio programming be reviewed by government censors before broadcast.

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Schoolhouse Rock Live! - Samueli Theater - October 4, 2014

Schoolhouse Rocks Live! Photo by Tim Trumble
Schoolhouse Rock Live!
Samueli Theater

Children of the '70s and early '80s no doubt remember educational Schoolhouse Rock tunes like "Conjunction Junction," and "I'm Just a Bill." Similarly, children of the '90s likely experienced the catchy musical cartoon shorts when the series was put back on the air. Both the images from the series and many of the songs have made the Schoolhouse Rock brand a part of American culture. In 1996, a musical theater adaptation of the material called Schoolhouse Rock Live! premiered, and last weekend professional theater company Childsplay performed the show at Samueli Theater.

While the familiar cartoon images, as well as the memorable voice of Jack Sheldon (who originally sang many of the Schoolhouse Rock songs), were missed, Childsplay's minimalist production captivated the attention of parents and children alike. In fact, the atmosphere that parents brought to the theater was one of nostalgia as they all seemed to be chanting the old tunes -- both as an effort to increase their children's enthusiasm for the show as well as to celebrate their fondness for the material; but as soon as the show began, the audience became hooked into Childsplay's adaptation.

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We Still Hang People in Orange County

Categories: Culture, Halloween

The Hangman and The Lawman get ready for a hangin'! Photo by Scott Feinblatt
The Halloween season fills a very important need in America. It is a time when society collectively derides its lasting Puritanical bent and celebrates demonic imagery. With the season come haunted attractions; some, like Knott's Scary Farm, are SoCal institutions, and in addition to the mazes and rides tricked-out with Halloween decor, the theme park hosts a variety of interactive attractions and traditional shows. One of those shows is "Elvira's Big Top," and the other is "The Hanging."

On top of being a highly theatrical and musical theme park show, "The Hanging" is foremost a roast of celebrities and of society, in general. It is an anomaly which transgresses almost every boundary of taste. While nudity and profanity do not factor, no topic is sacred from ridicule. Thus, "The Hanging" occupies a very special niche in Orange County culture -- one that is almost as important as Halloween is to the US.

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This Epic Production Refuses to Let Audiences Stay in One Place

Categories: Culture, Theater

Call it the most ambitious theater initiative in Orange County history. The most striking community outreach in Orange County cultural history. An ode to the turbulent, dense, culturally diverse city of Santa Ana.

It's all those things, but in its premiere performance,The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy is also something else: realllllly long.

Clocking it at about two hours and 40 minutes (about twice the time listed in the program) the length isn't terminal. There's enough going on in this movable feast--from dance and music to puppets and video projections--to hold your interest. But considering the audience is split into four groups and travels across a good chunk of Santa Ana's civic center to four site-specific areas, where four scenes are enacted, there's an awful lot of moving and standing around (unless you were one of the lucky few to get the memo to bring your own folding chair).

Then again, when a play takes a year to write, when more than nearly 1,000 people are interviewed, and their cumulative recollections and insights are distilled into a play, it's a monumental task keeping things concise.

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Elvis Makes a Triumphant Return to the Maverick Theater

Categories: Culture, Theater

Courtesy of the Maverick Theater

Elvis 68
Maverick Theater

It may not be completely accurate to say The King is the play that built the Maverick Theater. After all, there have been other shows at the Fullerton space since Brian Newell's homage to Elvis Presley, who wakes up after decades of cyrogenic slumber, first opened.
But since then, Newell has staged the play about 6,000 times (well, really just seven or eight or maybe it's 50) and it's continued to lure huge crowds in every incarnation.
And, now, Elvis is back at the Maverick. But there's no concern that Newell will kill any golden geese with this one. His new Elvis homage is Elvis '68, a staged version of Presley's landmark 1968 comeback concert, which re-introduced a nation of fans to the sexualized, edgy and downright interesting Elvis that years of whoring his talents in stupid movies had diluted.

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10 Best Black Empowerment Songs

Categories: Culture

As we come up on the 50th anniversary of the MFDP (Mississippit Freedom Democratic Party) and the Freedom Summer, we find ourselves in the midst of the Ferguson debacle, a situation that has disarmed the pundits claiming we live in a post-racial country. This musical highlight of the Black Experience from the middle of the last century until now illustrates that though things have changed, much progress is still in order before we're all free. Calibrate your moral compass and throw up a fist as we take you through our list of the 10 Best Black Empowerment Songs.

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The Tavern Gets Us Drunk On Well-Aged Comedic Melodrama

Categories: Culture

George M. Cohan has been dust for more than 70 years and today is remembered mostly for writing popular ditties like "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "It's a Grand Old Flag," and by film buffs for James Cagney and Mickey Rooney portraying him in several movies. But his contributions to American popular culture in the first decades of the 20th Century were far greater. He helped lay the foundation for America's sole contribution to world theater--the book musical--was a founding member of ASCAP and was one one of the first major American playwrights to write plays for the common man, instead of well-heeled douchebags.

And, had he had his way in 1919, he would have destroyed the Actors Equity Association, the union for stage actors in the United States. As a producer, he felt he took care of his actors, so viciously opposed a union strike that year, something that many in the theater community never forgave him for. He lost, the union won and after refusing to join the union, Cohan basically was unable to perform in his own shows for a number of years.

His opposition to the union sparked him to write The Tavern in 1920. Unlike the song-and-dance revues that had made him an international star, this was a far more subdued work, a comedic melodrama that was both an homage to the theater as well as a big fuck you to those who he thought were hellbent on destroying it. At least that's the impression in this excellent production at the retooled Shakespeare Orange County Summerfest, which runs through next weekend in Garden Grove.

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