By John Farrell
Dmitri Shostakovich, probably the greatest classical composer of the 20th century, was in and out of favor with the Soviet government many times, especially under the capricious and violent Stalin, but when Khrushchev came to power he was still busy writing and felt safe enough to combine with two Russian comic writers, Vladimir Mass and Mikhail Chervinsky, to write a comic operetta about the Soviet bureaucracy as it developed “Moscow, Cherry Town,” a huge development of apartments built to ease the problems of homelessness. That was in 1959, and the operetta was a hit on stage and as a large film a few years later.
Fifty years after the fact the work has been slowly rediscovered across Europe and the U.S. It was given its west coast premier at the Terrace Theatre in Long Beach last Sunday by Long Beach Opera and there is one more performance in Santa Monica on Sunday, well worth the trouble if you want to see what Shostakovich could do in a lighter vein, and especially what LBO does in its thrilling and exciting performance with a large cast, mostly company alumni, all under the sure hand of director Isabel Milenski, herself the daughter of company founder Michael Milenski. Artistic and General Director Andreas Mitisek conducts the performance, which is sung in clear English with supertitles as well. Shostakovich was apparently ambivalent at best about his score, but audiences fifty years later see things in a very different light and enjoy all the jokes.
“Moscow, Cherry Town” is about the new building of apartment blocks in Moscow after the war, “...happiness in one thousand concrete rooms.” There are four couples involved, including a corrupt official and his lover, a young married pair who have to live in separate housing, and the bureaucrat who doesn't want to give out the keys to the apartments because then he'd just be a landlord without any power.
It is all sung to a lightweight but accessible score with musical references to everything from Tchaikovsky to Lehar's “Merry Widow,” with plenty of comic action, including a Soviet rock and roll number, a ballet dream sequence featuring the two male villains in tutus and a happy ending. The bad end badly, the good end well. That's how Lady Bracknell describes fiction in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and it is true here too.
Tickets are $25-$115. The remaining performance is at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 22.
Venue: Barnum Hall
Address: 601 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica
Information: (562) 432-5934 or visit www.longbeachopera.org
Last Year the Golden State Pops gave the west coast premier of “A Tale as Old as Time,” a concert of Disney music licensed by the Disney Concert Library that sold well at two concerts. This year they reprised that performance with a single concert Saturday night and it proved just as popular, with just under 900 people coming to enjoy the music and the films clips, and a lot more.
There were maybe fifty Little Princess in the audience Saturday, one on a leash, all to compete in the costume contest at intermission. One actually won, as did a very small boy who had to be held up on stage but kept waving, dressed in a Tygger suit.
The audience was filled with kids, and plenty of adults, all to enjoy the music as the orchestra, under Artistic Director and Conductor Steven Allen Fox, played its way through selections from the newest film, “Up,” and from classics like “Sleeping Beauty” and half a dozen other films, represented in clips projected above the stage as the orchestra played arrangements prepared especially for professional orchestral groups.
There were differences this year, including “Up” and a medley from the newest in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, which opens this weekend and was represented by stills from the new movie. The audience cheered their favorite heroes, but it seemed that the villains, especially Cruella DeVille from the ”101 Dalmatians” movies had a special place in the hearts of the more adults members of the large audience. No announcement has been made of next year's concert season, but it does seem likely that this program will be back next year. Starting sewing those Little Princess costumes now.
“Dog Sees God” is a look at the Peanuts characters later in life, when bullying and homosexuality and the harsh realities of life begin to set in. It opens Friday, May 20 at the Long Beach Playhouse and continues there in the Studio Theatre through Saturday, June 18, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $22, $20 for students and seniors.
Venue: Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre
Address: 5021 East Anaheim, Long Beach
Information: (562) 494-1014 or visit www.lbplayhouse.org