A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

The art world has its superstars, just like sports, television, and film have theirs. This fall, you’ll find a variety of them on stages across LA. For instance, a young Venezuelan nicknamed the Dude gets ready to take the classical world on an energetic ride at the Bowl and Disney Hall; and the original Super Nanny lands with her parasol at the Ahmanson Theatre. These are just a couple of the stars in this fall’s constellation of entertainment options.

Gustavo Dudamel takes the helm as the LA Phil's new music director. / Photo by Sylvia Lleli

Gustavo Dudamel takes the helm as the LA Phil's new music director. / Photo by Sylvia Lleli

The Classical Dude: I don’t think he enjoys bowling like another well-known, but fictitious, Dude, but Gustavo Dudamel will definitely bowl people over as the LA Phil‘s new Music Director. You kind of have to feel bad for all the other orchestras, the New York Philharmonic included, who don’t have a superstar like Dudamel at the helm. He is as sought after by the media as top Hollywood celebrities and was featured on “60 Minutes” — as was El Sistema, the music education system he went through in his native Venezuela. Who knows where this vibrant conductor will take the sometimes-sleepy classical crowds?

Dudamel will kick things off with a huge free concert, “Bienvenido Gustavo!,” at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday, Oct. 3. The Bowl is big, but it can’t fit all of LA, and given the Dude’s popularity, there were many disappointed people after those free tickets were distributed. Hopefully, tickets will not be as hard to come by for the concerts scheduled at Disney Hall.

Dudamel will conduct John Adams’ “City Noir,” commissioned by the LA Phil, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 at the gala season opener at Disney Hall on Thursday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m. That weekend’s concerts (Friday and Saturday at 8, and Sunday at 2) will also feature Mahler’s First Symphony, as well as the US premiere of another LA Phil commission, Korean composer Unsuk Chin’s “Su,” featuring Wu Wei playing the sheng, the Chinese bamboo mouth organ. Dudamel conducts Verdi’s Requiem Nov. 5-8 with the LA Master Chorale. Dudamel’s Nov. 12-15 program includes Berio’s Folk Songs, featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw, and Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony No. 8. Violinist Gil Shaham joins Dudamel Nov. 19-22 for Berg’s Violin Concerto; Mozart’s “Prague” (No. 38) and “Jupiter” (No. 41) symphonies are also on the program.

Celebrity Theater:

Ashley Brown plays Mary Poppins at the Ahmanson Theatre through Feb. 7, 2010 / Photo by Joan Marcus

Ashley Brown plays Mary Poppins at the Ahmanson Theatre Nov. 13, 2009, through Feb. 7, 2010 / Photo by Joan Marcus

Mary Poppins,” the hit Broadway musical, is scheduled to open at the Ahmanson Theatre on Sunday, Nov. 15 (with previews Nov. 13-14). The show has already been extended four weeks and will run through Feb. 7, 2010.

Mary Poppins,” a co-production by Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, opened on Broadway Nov. 16, 2006. In its third year at the New Amsterdam Theatre, “Mary Poppins” is one of the top-grossing shows and recently staged its 1,000th performance, a rare feat in Broadway history. Based on P.L. Travers’ stories and the classic 1964 Walt Disney film, “Mary Poppins” features the Academy Award-winning music and lyrics of Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.  The stage production has been created, in collaboration with Cameron Mackintosh, by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes, who has written the book, and the Olivier Award-winning team of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, who have composed new songs and additional music and lyrics.

Heading up the company for the North American National Tour will be Ashley Brown, who originated the title role on Broadway and received Drama League, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations for Best Actress, and Gavin Lee, who originated the role of Bert in the hit London and Broadway productions and received the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor, as well as Tony, Outer Critics Circle and Olivier Award nominations for Best Actor.

UCLA Live brings “Medea,” starring Annette Bening to the Freud Playhouse Sept. 23 to Oct. 18 (Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8, and Sundays at 7). This world premiere adaptation of the classic Euripides tragedy, directed by Lenka Udovicki, promises a gripping and dramatic staging with a 12-woman chorus and live Persian music written by the Lian Ensemble and composer Nigel Osborne. Bening will tackle one of the most famous characters in literature, a woman betrayed by her husband and driven to a passionate and bloody revenge.

The Actors’ Gang, Tim Robbins‘ Culver City theater troupe, has lowered admission prices for its upcoming shows “The Need to Know: A Veteran’s Journey From Fear to Freedom” and “Sock & Shoe: One Man Circus From Cirque du Soleil Performer Daisuke Tsuji,” which will run Sept. 17 to Oct. 24. Reserved seats, normally $25, will be offered for $15.  Additional discounts include free admission to all shows for veterans with military ID and $10 Late Start Friday tickets available at the door for the 9 p.m. performances of “Sock & Shoe” with a dinner receipt from specified Culver City restaurants (call for details (310) 838-GANG). “The Need to Know: A Veteran’s Journey From Fear to Freedom,” written and performed by April Fitzsimmons, tells her personal story of transformation as a former Air Force intelligence analyst turned peace activist. Audience members are invited to a Veteran’s Forum following every performance (except the matinees on Oct. 17 and 24). “Sock & Shoe: One Man Circus From Cirque du Soleil Performer Daisuke Tsuji” has two wordless performance pieces developed in collaboration with Three Chairs Theatre Company: “Sole Mate” features found-object puppets; and “Death and Giggles” mixes clowning, puppetry, and modern dance.

There is still time to catch JoBeth Williams in “The Night Is a Child,” which closes Sept. 27 at the Pasadena Playhouse. Written by Charles Randolph-Wright (“Blue” and “Cuttin’ Up”) and directed by Playhouse Artistic Director Sheldon Epps, this new play follows a mother to Brazil where she finds “healing and hope in the freeing rhythm of samba.”

Literary LA:

Zócalo Public Square brings James Ellroy, author of the bestselling L.A. Quartet novels – “The Black Dahlia,” “The Big Nowhere,”  “LA Confidential,” and “White Jazz” – to the Hammer Museum on Monday, Oct. 19, at 7 p.m. The crime fiction author and LA native will discuss “Blood’s A Rover,” his latest novel and the third in his Underworld U.S.A. Trilogy, which takes a violent and crazy ride through American politics in the 1960s in the way only Ellroy can. The author will be in conversation with his former wife, author and critic Helen Knode.

Plus, UCLA Live‘s spoken word series brings Khaled Hosseini (“The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns”) to UCLA’s Royce Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 30, at 8 p.m. Margaret Atwood (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) appears on Friday, Oct. 9, at 8 p.m. Comic book artist R. Crumb makes a rare appearance on Thursday, Oct. 29, at 8 p.m.

Three Wild and Crazy Guys:

Eric Idle‘s Tony-winning musical “Spamalot” was onstage at the Ahmanson this year, but if you’re dying for more Python humor, look no further than “An Evening Without Monty Python” at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre. There will be 10 performances Sept. 23 through Oct. 4. Directors Idle and BT McNicholl describe the night of sketches and songs from the original “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” performed by “Pythonesque” actors as a “paeanastic laudatory exaltation of the works of John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry  Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Eric Idle.” Among the unforgettable sketches and tunes in the show are “Nudge Nudge” and the “Lumberjack Song” (all of the included pieces are listed online). This celebration of the 40th anniversary of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” will feature Jane Leeves (“Frasier”), Alan Tudyk (“Dodgeball”), Jeff B. Davis (“Whose Line Is It Anyway?”), Rick Holmes (Broadway and national tour of “Spamalot”), and Jim Piddock (“Austin Powers in Goldmember”).

Still craving more Python? Fellow Monty Python member John Cleese will appear in “A Final Wave at the World (Or the Alimony Tour, Year One).” Presented by Glendale Arts at the historic Alex Theatre on Brand Boulevard, the show is Cleese’s personal reflections on his career and life, including, we are promised, thoughts on folk dancing and his latest plan for world peace. The one-time show is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 14, at 8 p.m.

Steve Martin brings his banjo to Disney Hall.

Steve Martin brings his banjo to Disney Hall on Oct. 28. / Photo courtesy of the LA Phil

And now for an American comedian. But one who’s showing off a different talent. Steve Martin played the banjo as part of his stand-up act in the 1970s, but actually, he’s seriously skilled on the instrument. He starting playing when he was 17, has accompanied Earl Scruggs, and now his new CD, “The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo” is No. 2 on the Billboard bluegrass charts (it did reach the No. 1 position). Martin has been touring with the Steep Canyon Rangers (some of the shows have been fundraisers) and makes a stop for An Evening of Bluegrass and Banjo at Disney Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 28, at 8 p.m. You can get a taste of what the shows will be like with some YouTube videos. And while it’s not as many laughs as his Saturday Night Live Czech brothers skit, it is nonetheless an entertaining turn from this multi-talented comedian, actor, writer, and musician.

“A Young Woman—Hendrickje—Sleeping,” Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, about 1654 / Image courtesy of the British Museum, London and © The Trustees of the British Museum

“A Young Woman—Hendrickje—Sleeping,” Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, about 1654 / Image courtesy of the British Museum, London and © The Trustees of the British Museum

Celebrity Through the Centuries: Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn is definitely a celebrity of European art. His enormous “The Night Watch” painting is one reason the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is a must-see museum. But the Getty in LA also has seven paintings by Rembrandt on view in the permanent collection galleries, as well as three loans. “Portrait of a Girl Wearing a Gold-Trimmed Cloak,” on loan from a private collection through March 2010, is a fine example of his masterful use of light and dark. The Getty also owns some sketches and will be bringing a major international loan exhibition of drawings to the hilltop museum this fall. “Drawings by Rembrandt and His Pupils: Telling the Difference” invites viewers to compare works by the famous artist side-by-side with more than a dozen of his students and followers and points out the artistic differences. In anticipation of this exhibit, which opens Dec. 8, 2009, and runs through Feb. 28, 2010, the Getty provides some fun, interactive – and fairly tricky – examples on its website.