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I first met Alden West in January when I was helping direct Taking Care of Mimi, a provocative play being produced as a staged reading by the Script to Stage to Screen (S2S2S) theater. West was playing a lead role as a matriarch with dementia whose death leads to a murder investigation—and I couldn’t believe it when West revealed she was 87 years old.

“Eight-seven and a half!” she proudly proclaims.

West, a resident of Sun City in Palm Desert since 2003, was an only child, born in Washington, D.C.

“I figure I can claim any state,” she says with a laugh, “and I was raised all over the country: West Virginia, Detroit, Buffalo, Baltimore, Richmond and New York City. I went to so many different schools, each with its own teaching styles, that when I moved from Buffalo to Baltimore, I found that they had learned script writing in the first-grade, while I hadn’t. I had a little yellow desk at home, and many tears were shed at that desk!

“It was a challenge going to schools in big cities and then in rural areas. I came from Jackson Heights in New York City, where if you bumped into somebody, you’d never say you were sorry. In rural areas, if you bumped into somebody, they’d say they were sorry—they were very polite.”

West’s father worked at Chevrolet, which moved him around a lot; he also served in the Navy during World War II.

“My mom had married early, at age 18, and was a homemaker until the war, when she went to work,” West says. “I was very close to my mother, even when I was a teenager, and I could tell my dad anything. I not only loved my parents; I liked them.

“My dad was a college graduate, and after I graduated high school in Virginia, where we had lived since I was about 11 or 12, I went to Cornell, where both my dad and granddad had gone. I didn’t stay at college, however, because I had promised to marry my first husband, so I left school at Christmas of my sophomore year. If I had stayed in school, I would have majored in theater arts, but I left too soon to declare a major.”

West proudly proclaims that she had three grandparents in Congress.

“My father’s father was a Republican; my mother’s father was a Democrat. Then when my mother’s father passed away, his wife filled out his term. She had to run for it and was elected.”

West’s jobs over the years included retail; she also worked as assistant in a dental office. In 1980, she studied for and got her real estate license. She sold real estate until she moved to Sun City from Hillsborough, Calif.

West started acting in high school, in Falls Church, Va.

“There was a local community theater, and a friend suggested I audition,” West says. “I got a part and was cast as an Eskimo girl, in a full Eskimo costume, doing a hula. I loved it! I did a little acting before I had my children, and I still remember getting my first stage kiss.

“In college, I got the lead part in my freshman year in The Importance of Being Earnest, and in my sophomore year, in The Madwoman of Chaillot. In that one, I actually had to learn how to whistle! I had always been a little shy; I’d cross the street to avoid someone I didn’t know well. What I found was that when I’m onstage, I’m the character.”

West didn’t start acting in earnest until she came to the desert.

“There was a Panhellenic group meeting I attended, and at the end, they announced an audition was being held for some work at local venues,” West says. “They gave me a part, and that gave me confidence. Then Ron Celona (artistic director of Coachella Valley Repertory) cast me in Driving Miss Daisy. I got a nomination from the Desert Theatre League for that part.

“After that,” she laughs, “I tried out for all the old-lady parts!”

West has subsequently earned more nominations and several wins from the Desert Theatre League—including the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

“When I went up to get the lifetime award, I said, ‘I feel like this is the gold watch,’ but then I thought, ‘You people probably don’t even know what I’m talking about.’” Again, she laughs heartily.

West never formally studied acting, although she has taken some courses locally. She says she can’t do “method acting,” in which an actor digs into personal experience to present a realism-based performance. “I try to think of what is written and who that character is. I try to figure out how that character would deal with the situation being portrayed.

“Truth is, it’s getting more difficult to memorize lines. Sometimes, there’s a word I just can’t get, and I have to substitute one. Lately, I’m noticing that I can only be friends with someone who can complete my sentences,” she says, again with a laugh. “I always have to respond to what’s written and what’s happening onstage in that moment.”

Respond, she does. In the show I helped direct with Script to Stage to Screen, West portrayed an aging woman whose family is at odds about her condition. West’s ability to become that woman and respond to what was happening around her, even when she had no dialogue, was astounding.

West has three children—two daughters and a son. Her second marriage began in 1960 and lasted until her husband died in 2011.

“I’m lucky to have two of my children living fairly close, and the third has a place in Mexico, so it’s a great place for a getaway,” she says.

Does West have a guilty pleasure? “Sweets,” she answers immediately. “My kids tell me I’m indecisive, but I’ll take a cookie over a drink any day.”

How has the current stay-at-home policy affected West? “Being an only child, I’ve had no problem at all,” she says. “I walk every day and do my cardio exercises. I’m used to being alone. I even prefer it sometimes. I’ve learned to adapt to whatever is going on.”

That is a reaction worth emulating.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Ron Celona looked weary as patrons entered the CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City for the Saturday, March 14, matinee performance of The City of Conversation.

This was supposed to be a bustling, packed weekend of theater in the Coachella Valley. At least four theaters were opening new productions, while two more companies continued successful shows.

But as of that Saturday afternoon, The City of Conversation was the only show still open. Before we entered the theater—not even one-third full—Celona confided that after the Sunday show, CVRep, too, would be going dark.

Barring a miracle, we were watching the last play to be performed in the Coachella Valley by our fantastic theater companies in quite some time.

The production of The City of Conversation was a fantastic. Thanks to a great cast, led by Martha Hackett as old-school liberal activist/socialite Hester Ferris, the play showed how political differences can rip a family apart. It was compelling and riveting—so much so that it managed to make at least some theater-goers temporarily forget the unprecedented weirdness going on outside.

That is, until one of the characters made a joke about an expired toilet-paper coupon.

Celona’s angst over whether or not to let the show go on encapsulates the dilemma our valley’s producers faced heading into the weekend: On one hand, out of an abundance of caution, they could do societal good by closing the theater doors and having people staying home. On the other, they could take precautions and let the amazing, expensive work they’d rehearsed, built sets for and toiled over for weeks and months be seen and enjoyed by people who badly needed a distraction from the outside world.

As of Thursday, March 12, when the Independent started reaching out to local theater professionals, all six shows were slated to go on as scheduled—with the aforementioned precautions.

“We are offering hand sanitizer to people who have bought tickets,” said Chuck Yates, whose Coyote StageWorks was set to open The Velocity of Autumn the next night in the company’s new home at the Palm Springs Cultural Center. “For those who haven’t bought tickets yet, we don’t know if they will come.

“It’s a huge financial impact. Theater is never easy, and this is particularly hard. … There are a lot of people who don’t know what to do. All of the small theaters here, like us—nobody is in a financial situation to handle this, so we are opening The Velocity of Autumn. … It’s got heart; it’s funny; it’s beautifully written. It’s perfect for our community.”

The play—about an 80-year-old artist who’s barricaded herself in her Brooklyn brownstone with Molotov cocktails (!) to keep her family from removing her—would have been a lovely distraction for people who needed it. But these are unprecedented times.

Yates called back later in the day on Thursday to let us know he’d changed his mind.

“Of course I’m disappointed,” he said. “But we will try to figure out alternative dates. Right now, we’re biding time, waiting to see what the news brings. Maybe we can do it in a few weeks or months, or maybe next season.”

Robbie Wayne, the producing artistic director at the LGBT-themed Desert Rose Playhouse, told us on Thursday he intended to continue the run of Beautiful Thing, which had opened to rave reviews the weekend before.

“You’re not given a class on how to do this. Nobody knows how to handle this, so we are learning as we go,” he said. “I’m trying to be as informed as possible about this—everyone’s trying to figure it out. We haven’t had a large number of refund requests, but we are trying to figure out how to do this—it’s a dilemma. We don’t want it to be about the money, but that has to be taken into consideration for the venue. As of right now, we are removing snacks; we offer hand sanitizers; we are scrubbing the place down; and we are telling people stay home if you don’t feel well. But we also want to keep some normalcy in our lives.

“We want to be responsible for helping to curb this outbreak … It’s a hard place to be in. I have the TV on all the time. I go with whatever my gut tells me at the end of the day, because 24 hours can change everything. It is minute by minute now, because there is so much to consider.”

Wayne’s words were spot-on: The next day, he made the decision to suspend the weekend’s shows.

“We have staff members and patrons with compromised immune systems, so I went with my conscience. There are no winners in a situation like this, unfortunately,” Wayne said.

Over at Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, the same dilemma played out: After announcing on Wednesday that the “curtain will go up!” on the weekend’s opening of—yes, really—How to Survive an Apocalypse, the next day, executive director Shawn Abramowitz and artistic director Jerome Elliott announced the show would not go on, at least for opening weekend.

“We are so proud of our team for their magnificent work on this play,” they said. “This was a hard decision, but we feel it is the right call during this unsettled and confusing time.

That meant that as of Friday night, three of the six shows were still open: Palm Canyon Theatre’s The Pajama Game, and the opening night for Desert Theatreworks’ The Producers went on as scheduled, along with CVRep’s The City of Conversation.

“We have scrubbed the theater down,” Celona said on Thursday, March 12. “We have a cleaning crew coming in after every performance. We have purchased professional wall-mounted sanitizing dispensers for the lobby and the theater area. Our theater is 208 seats, so we are less than the 250-seat gatherings that are being cancelled, and we are about 50 to 60 percent of capacity. The bottom line is, when our accountants say we have to close, we close, and when the county of Riverside says we have to close, we close.”

The morning after those Friday-night shows, both Palm Canyon Theatre and Desert Theatreworks announced they would go dark. CVRep followed two days later.

“I hope if someone has a ticket to a live theater event, and the show is closed due to the virus, that they would consider donating the money to the theater instead of asking for a refund,” Coyote StageWorks’ Yates said. “This is the kind of thing that kills arts organizations.”

Published in Theater and Dance

Last night, I met friends for drinks at a bar on Arenas Road, in downtown Palm Springs. I haven’t been out much this week, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

As we drove down Arenas, unsuccessfully looking for a spot, I was surprised to see that most of the bars appeared to be packed.

“I don’t know if I have ever had more mixed feelings about something in my life,” I told my husband.

On one hand … I was elated to see that all of these small, locally owned businesses were getting much-needed business. It was good to see the servers and bartenders making good money. I was proud to be part of that needed cash infusion.

On the other hand … I kept thinking: Should all of us be out and about like this?

After drinks, we wandered down Palm Canyon Drive and got dinner at a local restaurant. While the street wasn’t dead, it certainly was getting quieter as the night went on.

Again, mixed feelings.

After I hit send on this Daily Digest, I am going to get ready to head to CVRep in Cathedral City, to do a review of The City of Conversation—the only play currently running in the valley that has not yet been shuttered by the pandemic. (More on this below.) Then I am going to meet friends at a charity art event, and go to dinner at Lulu. I am going to savor it like it’s the last good night on the town I have for a while … because it might very well be.

I hope it’s not. But it might very well be.

Here’s today’s news.

• The Desert AIDS Project just announced something huge: It’s opening a COVID-19 triage clinic.

This just arrived in my inbox, from CEO David Brinkman:

“In the next 48 hours DAP will take a bold step and we ask you to please have our backs. Last week, we opened our new clinics for DAP’s day-to-day healthcare operations, leaving our original clinic temporarily vacant. Today, I worked with our infectious disease doctors to develop an emergency plan of action to ensure the health and well-being of all we serve. The original clinic will be transformed this weekend into a specialized COVID-19 triage clinic. This will allow our medical experts to screen patients demonstrating symptoms in a quarantined space, while also allowing our non-symptomatic patients to continue having their health needs met without potential exposure.

“This is no small undertaking. Desert AIDS Project is the healthcare home to 7,000 of our friends and neighbors, most of whom live at 200 percent of the federal poverty level or below. And, the majority of our patients are of an age with significantly increased risk. We already are seeing a dramatic increase in inquiries and we must be able to meet the need as it grows in the coming weeks.

“This new clinic will cost DAP $575,000 to operate over the coming months.”

Wow.

See the full announcement—and make a donation while there, if you can—here.

• As for those plays: Yesterday, we reported that Desert TheatreWorks, Palm Canyon Theatre and CVRep were moving forward with their productions. This morning, however, Desert TheatreWorks announced last night’s production of The Producers would be its last until April 10, while Palm Canyon Theatre announced it was cancelling the final two planned performances this weekend of The Pajama Game. As of now, PCT plans on proceeding with the rest of its season—Sordid Lives is slated to open Thursday, March 26—but noted that this is a “very fluid situation.” This makes CVRep the last theater company standing: As of this writing, The City of Conversation will continue at least through this weekend.

Read more about all of this tomorrow in the second Installment of the Independent’s Pandemic Stories series. Yeah, I said yesterday that story would be available today … and then things changed. It’ll be worth the wait, I promise.

• All schools in Riverside County are closed for the next three weeks, per county Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser. More info here.

• Good news: During the closure, kids in need within the Palm Springs Unified School District can still get free meals. School buses will be delivering them on normal morning routes, or they can be picked up at schools. Get the details hereDesert Sands and Coachella Valley Unified are also making meals available to kids at schools.

• The United Way of the Desert has launched a very good information page, chock full of resources and phone numbers people may need during this crisis. View it here

• This is amazingly cool: Yesterday, we reported that the Certified Farmers’ Markets had been suspended for the time being. Today, the organizers have started posting direct contact info for the various vendors (with their blessing) on the Certified Farmers’ Market Facebook page, so people can directly contact and buy from the vendors if they so choose. Get all the 411 here.

• The Palm Springs Art Museum has decided to close for the time being. More info here.

That’s all for now. Please, support local businesses. Be a good neighbor. Stop hoarding crap. Be smart and diligent and caring. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Welcome to the first-ever Coachella Valley Independent Daily Digest. The goal for this Daily Digest is to round up reliable, vetted news related to COVID-19 and the accompanying societal changes. There’s too much unreliable information floating around on social media (and even coming out of some elected officials’ mouths)—and in this space, we'll sort through it all to get to truthfulness and sanity.

In addition to news updates, we’ll also highlight good things happening—specials from local businesses (that REALLY need your support right now), enlightening comments from members of the community, and so on. Please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you have anything you think should be included.

And with that ... here's the news.

• As we were getting close to clicking send on this, the Palm Springs Unified School District announced it would be closing schools the next two weeks. They're moving up Spring Break, essentially. Parents are receiving this message right now: "Hello PSUSD families. This is Supt. Sandy Lyon. I wanted to provide you with an update on the coronavirus situation as it relates to our District. You may be aware that over the past day, there has been an increase in the number of confirmed cases here in the Coachella Valley, and there are a number of tests pending that could result in several other confirmed cases. Additionally, both the Riverside County Department of Health and Governor Newsom issued a directive to suspend gatherings of over 250 people. As a result, Palm Springs Unified School District is moving its two-week spring break. It will begin on Monday, March 16."

• Eisenhower Medical Center announced earlier today that visitors will no longer be allowed at EMC for the time being. More on what EMC is doing to protect the community can be found here.

• As of this writing, local theaters have made a split decision on whether to stay open or not. While Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, Coyote StageWorks and the Desert Rose Playhouse have cancelled or postponed shows this weekend, Palm Canyon Theatre, CVRep and Desert TheatreWorks are letting the shows go on. Read more about this in the second installment in the Independent's Pandemic Stories series tomorrow (Saturday).

As for that first Pandemic Stories installment: Kevin Fitzgerald talked to the owner of Piero's PizzaVino about the cancellation of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tourney, and how that devastated her and her staff. Piero's is one of the few local restaurants to have a pop-up location at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, alongside big names like Nobu and Spago.

• As for closures and cancellations: The Palm Springs Gay Softball league has suspended practices and play through March, and the national NAGAAA Cup tourney the league was hosting at the end of March is cancelled. Other recent cancellations/closures include the Palm Desert Food and Wine fest, all Certified Farmers Markets through at least March 30 (though the Palm Springs Cultural Center remains open for now), the Palm Springs Library (though the Palm Desert Library remains open), and shockingly, The Abbey down in West Hollywood.

• From our partners at CalMatters: As the coronavirus toll rises, so do concerns about health-care workers' safety.

• Earlier today, President Trump declared a national emergency. The press conference was ... well, fascinating. At one point, after Trump said he didn't take any responsibility for the pandemic, a reporter from PBS asked him about his firing of the national pandemic response team. His response was that he didn't do it, and that this was a "nasty question." As for that firing, Snopes says it's true that it happened.

• Support local businesses! If you're comfortable with going out (while taking all the precautions that you should be), local bars and restaurants need you right now. If not, order food from a local restaurant on GrubHub or one of the apps!

• Alternately, consider buying gift cards from local businesses. Some places are offering 20 percent bonuses.

• If you found this email helpful, forward to a friend, or have them email us and we'll add them to the list. Please consider supporting the Independent, too ... we could use it!

Until tomorrow ... stay safe; support local business, and wash your hands!

Published in Daily Digest

Coachella Valley Repertory has chosen a re-imagined version of Jerome Kass’ Ballroom as its second production this season.

Originally based on Kass’ Emmy Award-winning teleplay Queen of the Stardust Ballroom starring Maureen Stapleton, the show morphed into the 1978 Broadway musical Ballroom, which was nominated for eight Tony Awards, winning the Tony for Best Choreography.

This is the most ambitious production the Small Professional Theatre with Equity status has ever pulled off: CVRep’s version includes all the musical numbers from the Broadway production, plus several restored songs—and three brand-new numbers, written by Marilyn and Alan Bergman, and Billy Goldenberg, who also wrote the music and lyrics for the original. This production boasts a cast of 24, an onstage eight-piece orchestra and impressive sets by Jimmy Cuomo. There are some lovely moments, along with strong singing, and often-entertaining dancing.

Unfortunately, despite the grandness of the production, and all of the great bells and whistles, the pacing of this production of Ballroom slow, and the audience is left feeling vaguely unsatisfied.

Set in the 1970s, the story centers around Bea Asher (Melodie Wolford), a lonely Bronx widow who doesn’t know what to do with herself since the death of her husband the year before. Friends convince her to tag along to a night at the local dance hall, the Stardust Ballroom. It’s a place where other middle-aged folks meet to socialize, kick up their heels—and hopefully find romance.

Bea hits the jackpot when she meets Al Rossi (Bill Nolte), a local mailman … who happens to be married. Their budding romance is not received well by Bea’s meddling sister, Helen (Marcia Rodd), or her daughter, Diane (Aviva Pressman). They would prefer that Bea continue mourning, though it’s been a year since her husband’s death. The men in the family, son David (Sean Timothy Brown) and brother-in-law Jack (Bill Lewis), are far more accepting of Bea’s newfound happiness.

There are some interesting characters who frequent the Stardust Ballroom, including Bea’s buddy Angie (Teri Ralston), Harry “The Noodle” (Doug Graham), recent heart-attack-survivor Shirley (Corinne Levy), and current Queen of the Ballroom, Pauline (Leslie Tinnaro).

The Stardust Orchestra is terrific. Featuring Bill Saitta (bass), Dominique Torres (drums), Kurt Kelley (keyboards), Dave Thomason (reeds), Stewart Undem (trombone), Stan Watkins (trumpet), Cindy Brogan (vioIin) and musical director Scott Storr on piano, the band executes the score beautifully, and provides wonderful musical interludes during what seem like endless scene changes.

The constant rearranging of the set is one of the biggest problems with this production. Part of that is due to the way the show is written, of course. However—given the huge stage CVRep has to work with—one wonders if Bea’s apartment couldn’t have been stationary, with the shift in focus between there and the ballroom indicated with lighting changes, rather than dragging furniture on and off repeatedly.

The ensemble does well, with a nice feeling of camaraderie onstage. Though one would not expect a Bronx dance hall to be filled with hoofers like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, I was hoping to see more than the few flashes of great dancing this production offers.

The best part of this show is the sweet love story between Bea and Al, and the strength of the lead actors. Wolford captures our hearts as Bea. We root for her as she tentatively steps into her new life, and with the support of Al’s love, blossoms. She’s also a dynamic singer—even if she missed opportunities to really wow the audience during her big number, “Fifty Percent,” and the reprise of “I Wish You a Waltz.” Both renditions were lovely, but could have concluded with a bit more drama and “oomph.”

Nolte is marvelous as Al. A big, lovable teddy bear, his sometimes-awkward attempts to win Bea’s heart are touching. He shows off his superb vocal pipes on “Suddenly There’s You,” one of the more memorable musical numbers.

Both Rodd, as Bea’s sister Helen, and Ralston, as Bea’s friend Angie, are marvelous. When Bea shows off her new haircut and wardrobe, Rodd’s reaction is swift and priceless: “You look ridiculous!” Pressman and Brown, as Bea’s children, are quite good.

Local favorite Doug Graham nearly steals the show as the odd but highly skilled dancer Harry “The Noodle.” He commands the stage every time he appears; too bad we don’t get to see more of him.

The revamped Ballroom score is pleasant, but not particularly memorable. One notable exception is “When a Guy Really Knows How to Dance,” a group number featuring several of the dance-hall gals.

Director Ron Celona and choreographer Jose De La Cuesta do a nice job of keeping the large cast moving around the stage smoothly—a monumental task. Celona also pulls some strong acting out of his leads. But the production is long (about 2 1/2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission), and the many set changes and the lack of show-stopping musical numbers make it seem even longer.

Pretty music, fun sets, strong lead actors and enjoyable dancing make CVRep’s Ballroom a lovely, if flawed, evening of theater. It’s neither momentous, nor deeply moving, but it’s lovely.

Ballroom is performed at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 16, the CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City, 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive. Tickets are $53 to $63. For tickets or more information, call 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

If your holiday schedule is not yet completely packed, take note: Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre is bringing back its popular Twisted Broadway fundraiser.

What makes these revues of show tunes twisted? According to the press release, Twister Broadway “will feature a lineup of talented Broadway artists performing songs that were originally written for the opposite gender, as well as songs they always wanted to sing, but couldn’t, because they would be miscast.”

“We did it two years ago,” said Ron Celona, CVRep’s founding artistic director. “We wanted to see how people would react to it, and people had so much fun. It was a great, different way of raising money compared to the thousands of other fundraisers out there for different nonprofit organizations. So we decided to do it again this year, and in our new venue. For the first time, it will be under our own roof.

“And this time, we’re doing two shows: One at 4 p.m., and one at 7:30 p.m. In between the two shows, there will be receptions that come with each ticket.”

The funds raised will not only help CVRep continue to put on professional Equity theatrical productions; it’ll help CVRep as it expands its education programs via the CVRep Conservatory.

“We built a school,” Celona said, proudly. “Adjacent to our new theater was a Mexican restaurant. We own the whole property, so we spent the last year and a half gutting the restaurant, and building a two-room schoolhouse, basically, with a soundproof wall in between the two classrooms. We opened our first semester in the new school (a couple of months ago), and we had 80 students for that first semester, which I think is pretty damn good. Also, we’re going to have a holiday semester, and then we’ll open our winter/spring semester. My goal is to double the attendance in those winter/spring classes.”

CVRep is offering a wide range of courses, beginning with “Broadway Babies” for ages 4-7; acting for ages 8-10 and 11-14; “Stage Combat/Sword-Fighting” for daring high school students; and adult classes including “The Art of Auditioning With Monologues,” “Voice and Movement for the Actor” and improv classes.

“We get a lot of middle-aged to senior citizens in these adult classes,” Celona said. “Also included in our educational programming is our outreach program. We have teaching artists who are out teaching in the schools. Right now, they’re at Cathedral City High School. So, we go there instead of them coming to us.

“Lastly, another project we have is a comedy and improv festival that will be happening at the end of May 2020. People will apply to be a part of that from all over the country.”

Back to Twisted Broadway: Celona said he borrowed the idea from Broadway itself.

“The concept, which has been done in New York for years, (comes from a revue) called Broadway Backwards, and that is an annual fundraiser for the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fund. I got the title, Twisted Broadway, from a show done by a company in Australia that uses the same concept. I thought that was a much more fun title.

“But, ultimately, some of these concepts by other companies are just gender-bending. I thought that could become boring, so I’ve expanded the concept, and I’m including parodies of favorite show tunes, and that’s a lot of fun. There will be some group numbers that will be parodies, and then I have an individual artist, Robert Yacko, who’s going to be doing two parodies: on Sondheim, and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Then, in the arena of gender-bending, (we’ll have) a moment that comes from a wonderful show called Side Show. There are two sisters … conjoined twins who are attached at the hip, and the whole musical is about them. We’re going to have a man and a woman attached, so it’s just twisting it and making it different and, hopefully, funny. The most important part here is that all of the songs are comical.”

Celona said Julie Garnyé, who had been listed as appearing in the show, had to pull out of the production due to a conflict. “I’ve replaced her with Alyssa Simmons, who’s currently doing Frozen at Disney,” Celona said. “(She joins) Jeffrey Landman, who is doing Frozen as well. They’ll be playing the twins in Side Show. Since they already know each other, that will help the chemistry.”

Other performers slated to appear include Randy Brenner, Erica Hanrahan, Loren Freeman, Sal Mistretta, Perry Ojeda and Kristen Towers Rowles.

Twisted Broadway, a fundraiser for the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre, will take place at 4 and 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 12, at the CVRep Playhouse, 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Cathedral City. Tickets are $150 to $300, and include receptions between the two shows. For tickets or more information, 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Best Band to Help You Learn Spanish

Ocho Ojos

In all honesty, the only Spanish words I—a decidedly white guy—know are lyrics to Ocho Ojos songs.

Following a last-minute booking at Coachella in 2017, and an album and EP release in 2018, the duo transformed into a quartet, with the band’s sound evolving into something that could be described as “psychedelic cumbia.”

This has been a standout year for Ocho Ojos: The band was again on the Coachella schedule—when the poster was released, not as a last-minute addition. This prompted a frenzy for Ocho Ojos, as the group could seemingly be seen performing anywhere in the valley, and even in Los Angeles. The shows could range from 30 minutes to three hours, thanks to the band members’ ability to perform many popular Spanish tunes in addition their own catalog—all while keeping the crowd singing along and dancing the night away.

When Sunday nights at Coachella came, the boys proceeded to close out the Sonora Stage in front of a packed tent. The energy was electric, and it was something only a band that truly represents the Coachella Valley could pull off.

Don’t believe me? Then take it from Rolling Stone: “Ocho Ojos managed to make their performance feel like a grand family function of pure baile with all your primos and extended relatives in attendance.” The performances were listed by the publication’s writers as one of the 16 best things they saw.

—Matt King


Best Weird Place to See a Band

Gadi’s Bar and Grill

In a building at 56193 Twentynine Palms Highway that has been home to various restaurants since the 1960s, Gadi’s Bar and Grill (www.gadisbarandgrill.com)has now been around since 2014, when Gadi Okevi bought what was then a Yucca Valley rib joint.

One side has a tiny bar with dining booths … but a short walk down a hallway will take you to an adjoining second barroom with a sound stage. Here’s where things get weird: Looming above the generic tables, chairs and tile floor is some wacked-out wavy woodwork that worms its way over the room. It was apparently created in the ’60s, and the wood-lined walls and ceiling don’t match anything else.

Why the funky ceiling was built remains a mystery. Was it was done as a creative way to hide vents? Or to amplify acoustics? Who knows. Whatever the case may be, soundman Jason Maxfield always makes the room sound amazing.

Gadi’s hosts an eclectic mix of live shows, from smaller local bands to occasional bigger acts, in genres including country, metal, old school punk or rock—Gadi doesn’t seem to have met a genre he doesn’t like. And thanks to Jason Maxfield, it all sounds amazing—whether or not that crazy ceiling is a help or a hinderance.

—Beth Allen


Best Ramen

Ramen Musashi

We’ve often posited in these pages that the Coachella Valley is about five years behind the big cities regarding the arrival of food and drink trends—and such is the case when it comes to ramen.

This time last year, if I wanted reliably good ramen in the Coachella Valley, I had nowhere to go, at least that I knew of. However, today, I have at least one regularly available option: Hooray for Ramen Musashi, located at 44491 Town Center Way, in Palm Desert.

This little restaurant was opened earlier this year by the good folks who also operate Musashi Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar, which has been around since 1996. In other words, Ramen Musashi is run by restaurateurs who know what they’re doing—and this is proven by every bowl of original Musashi tonkatsu that comes out of the kitchen.

Here’s what I wrote about the Musashi tonkotsu a few months back: “The ramen was revelatory. All of the ingredients were perfect. The pork was tender and delicious; the egg was a creamy delight. The garlic chips and onion did not overwhelm, and the noodles were just right. But for me, ramen is all about the broth—and this tonkotsu broth was stellar. It was packed with umami, seasoned masterfully and soooooo delicious.”

Damn. My mouth’s watering just thinking about it.

—Jimmy Boegle


Best Local Album

Captain Ghost, Into the Grave

If you’re looking for an album to listen to while driving very fast, look no further than Into the Grave.

Captain Ghost exploded onto the music scene this year—and very quickly made a name for itself, with lyrics of love and politics being screamed out in a desperate cry over firework-style guitar riffs and tight, crunchy bass and drum lines.

If you get a chance to see Captain Ghost live, take note: It is fun to see people’s reactions to the group, as mustachioed leader Brad Burton towers over his bandmates, almost Joey Ramone-esque, and his sweet stage banter offers a direct contrast to his emphatic cries.

After the band began performing, it began to win more and more hearts with each show—while anticipation grew for the release of Captain Ghost’s debut album, which is a hard-hitting 35 minutes of rock. Tracks like “Raise the Flag,” “Behold the Press” and “Last Day” are sure to make any music fan a Captain Ghost fanatic.

—Matt King


Best Evidence of Our Flourishing Theater Scene

CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City

I’ve been fortunate enough to occasionally attend theatrical productions in the Coachella Valley for seven years now, and I’m shocked—in a good way—at how much the theater scene has absolutely flourished during that timeframe.

Dezart Performs is wowing audiences with top-notch performances in its home at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club—a home the company is quickly outgrowing. Dezart’s fellow Woman’s Club tenant, Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, is continuously mounting edgy productions of brand-new shows; Desert Theatreworks has helped revitalize the Indio Performing Arts Center with a steady slate of varied productions; and the LGBT-focused Desert Rose Playhouse continues to raise the figurative bar with seemingly every play. (Its summer production of Ruthless! was one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, period.)

However, this all pales in comparison to what Coachella Valley Repertory has pulled off: Raising millions of dollars to turn the old IMAX theater in Cathedral City into a Broadway-caliber, state-of-the-art playhouse.

It is, in a word, stunning. Founder Ron Celona—along with his staff, board and volunteers—have changed the game for Coachella Valley theater with the CVRep Playhouse. It’s proof that while the Coachella Valley as a whole may still be a “small town,” our theater scene is worthy of a big city.

—Jimmy Boegle


Best Comic Book Shop by Day, and Music Venue by Night

Interstellar Comic Books and Collectibles

Music nerds and comic nerds can unite under one roof at Interstellar Comics.

In the heart of Palm Springs, on Tahquitz Canyon Drive just off Indian Canyon Drive, sits this colorful comic-book shop. Whether you’re in search of a vintage find, or are excited about a new issue, you can find both on the shelves at Interstellar. You can even come in to play various card games, such as Magic the Gathering, with your friends.

But on occasion, when the sun sets over the strip, you can hear local bands reverberating within the walls of the shop. Interstellar has been host to a few shows over the year, once every couple months or so—and I couldn’t think of a better place to perform or watch a show. During these shows, local artists also sell their art inside the multifaceted space. In other words: If you catch a show at Interstellar, you are celebrating all that the local art scene has to offer, in one place, at the same time.

—Matt King


Best Tucked-Away Pastry Palace

Carousel Bakery

Carousel Bakery is an unassuming little gem, tucked away in a hidden corner of the airport-adjacent El Cielo Center (440 S. El Cielo Road), known mostly for its Spectrum storefront.

Inside, friendly and hard-working owners Elizabeth and Alberto create all their baked masterpieces from scratch, with no pre-made anything. Yep: They actually cut up and cooked a real pumpkin to make that fresh pie in the case. The result is the best possible combination of professionally baked goods and homemade appeal.

Along with a surprising variety of traditional bakery fare (pies, cakes, cookies, muffins, croissants, bagels, etc.), Carousel produces some delicious Latin specialties. Think sweet empanadas in an array of flavors ranging from apple to the more-exotic guava with cheese. And don’t miss their one-day-only offerings of Pan de Muerto for Day of the Dead, and Rosca de Reyes for Epiphany.

Carousel serves tasty sandwiches that are enough of a reason to visit, but the real jewels here are the pastries. So the next time you’ve had to wait 45 minutes to return equipment at the Spectrum store, take the edge off with a baked treasure from Carousel.

—Jeffrey Clarkson


Best Place to Feel Childlike Wonderment and Joy

Bob’s Crystal Cave at the Sky Village Swap Meet

A tiny enclave in the middle of Yucca Valley’s seven-acre Saturday-and-Sunday swap meet (7028 Theatre Road), Bob’s Crystal Cave is an anomaly amidst junk and vintage vendors, stained-glass art and desert cactus gardens.

What is it, exactly? Well, it’s a Flintstones-esque building created from chicken wire and spray foam—and its puffy porthole-pocked exterior unveils a walk of wonderment. A short wander through the spray-foam-packed hall reveals locked doors (what lurks behind them?) and small windows here and there. You can peek into a whimsical miniature world of tiny trees; and mosaics of glass, mirror and precious stone. Water flows throughout into pools of lazily swimming goldfish.

Sadly, creator Bob Carr died in January of this year. But his legacy lives on through his serene creation, one that can make even the biggest curmudgeon crack a smile. Bob’s Crystal Cave is so cool that it’s written about in “the definitive guide to the world’s hidden wonders,” Atlas Obscura.

—Beth Allen


Best Place to Learn About and Look at the Cosmos

Joshua Tree Astronomy Arts Theater

The Joshua Tree Astronomy Arts Theater is an open-air theater located next to the Joshua Tree Lake RV and Campground, at 2601 Sunfair Road.

What is it? Well, it’s a fenced-in area with a large stage and screen—including plenty of nice, sloped outdoor-chair seating, with plenty of room to set up your own chairs or blankets. It’s a big, dark place—perfect for stargazing.

Along the left side of the “theater” are various telescopes manned by gregarious members of the Southern California Desert Video Astronomers (www.scdva.org), who are happy to tour the constellations with anyone who wanders over. People of all ages can come to relax and learn tales of the cosmos. The group hosts regular events with cool themes like Friday the 13th’s “Spooky Superstitions: Lucky Stars and Moons of Doom,” or an amazing night of meteor showers at their peak. The JTAAT has also hosted movies (about aliens!) and the live tunes of local musician Clive Wright, who plays guitar along with “singing plants.”

When you go, BYOB—food, beers, buds—or, in other words, pack a picnic! Don’t forget to bring a flashlight so you can find your way to the porta-potties in the parking lot.

—Beth Allen


Best Combination of Silky and Fried

The California Avocado Fries at Grill a Burger

The other day, I was driving down the road, when all of a sudden, a thought popped into my mind: “Damn, I could go for some avocado fries at Grill-a-Burger right now.”

Now, let me place this random thought in proper context: I had not been to Grill-a-Burger in about a year and a half. I haven’t had avocado fries of any sort since then. So, what in tarnation led me to have this thought at this time? Was it the result of some unknown stimuli? A signal from the mothership?

I have no freaking idea. All I know is that ever since, I have not been able to get Grill-a-Burger’s avocado fries off my mind. These deliciously filling wedges have it all: Sweet. Savory. Smoothness. A Panko-breadcrumb crunch. Yum.

If you like avocado to the slightest degree, you must try these. Get thee to 73091 Country Club Drive, in Palm Desert, pronto.

—Jimmy Boegle


Best Pie

Buttermilk Pie at Billy Reed’s

As our press deadline for this issue approached, the heartbreaking news broke that Robbie Lemley, the co-owner of Billy Reed’s (at 1800 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs), had passed away at the age of 86.

After the news broke, local social-media pages were flooded with remembrances and tributes, both to Lemley himself and the iconic restaurant he helped create. I didn’t know Lemley personally (although I am sure he greeted me a time or three during my visits to Billy Reed’s). However, I adore his work: Billy Reed’s is truly one of a kind.

Billy Reed’s is the place where I celebrated my most recent birthday. It’s the place I recently took some close friends who just moved here for their first “official meal” as Palm Springs residents. And it’s the place that introduced me to what has become one of my favorite desserts: buttermilk pie.

A piece of this pie looks simple, but its flavor is surprisingly complex. I don’t know exactly what the bakers at Billy Reed’s put in their version, but buttermilk pie, I’ve come to learn, typically includes a blend of buttermilk, eggs, butter, flour, lemon, vanilla and a whole lot of sugar. The resulting custard pie is pure decadence.

Thank you, Mr. Lemley, for the special place you helped make. And thank you for broadening my dessert horizons just a little, too.

—Jimmy Boegle

Published in Staff Picks

The Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre has begun its first full season in the company’s wonderful new playhouse in Cathedral City—and, rather appropriately, this season’s theme is “New Beginnings.”

The opening show is Dinner With Friends, by playwright Donald Margulies. It won the Pulitzer Prize for drama back in 2000, along with a batch of other awards. Now … if you’re looking for a play full of action, this is not for you. If you’re looking for a catharsis-provoking tragedy that will have you wringing out your Kleenex, forget it. If you want an uproarious thigh-slapper of a comedy, move on. However … if you have ever wanted to be a fly on some wall where you could watch the interactions between people and see the changing of their relationships, this quiet play might interest you.

Dinner With Friends has a cast of four—all efficient actors who maintain a low-key approach to their work. The role of Beth is played by Corryn Cummins, a slender actress with a plump resume which includes work onstage, in film and on TV. Redheaded Beth, when we meet her, is finishing up dinner and vainly attempting to appear interested in the blathering of a married couple, Gabe and Karen, who are endlessly rattling on about their trip to Italy—specifically, about the food they encountered. It turns out that their profession is, in fact, writing about food, so it is of keen interest to them … though not so much to their friends.

The role of Gabe is brought to life by Scott Golden, a veteran of TV series and commercials as well as theater. Dark-haired Gabe is married, stable and solid, a family man keenly interested in all food and drink—a topic that occupies part of his brain in almost every scene, regardless of what else is going on.

His stolid brunette wife, Karen, is portrayed by Jennifer Sorenson, an actress and a dramatist in her own right. She brings a wide range of experience to the role of Karen, a woman with the casual air of a multitasker accustomed to juggling kids, husband, kitchen, friends and career—without raising an eyebrow.

Christopher Wallinger, who can be seen on everything from HBO to FX as well as the stage, plays Tom, Beth’s husband—although he is not present in the first scene. An attorney, he travels a lot, and when we meet him, Wallinger subtly shows us a Tom who is a slightly spoiled and entitled golden boy, despite his rather casual attire.

Director Darin Anthony captures the laid-back quality of the writing and inserts it into the actors’ movements and speech—in every scene. The audience will sense a restrained and drifting quality in the ambiance of the play, which prevents us from anticipating what will happen next. Many plays charge full speed ahead to their goal, but here, as in life, there are no big important signs flashing or foreshadowing every event that occurs. Hmmm.

A heads-up that you could miss if you don’t carefully read the program: The second act is a flashback to 12 years before to the first act.

As always, CVRep’s resident set designer comes through beautifully with scene changes that amaze: Jimmy Cuomo’s designs for each scene are moved in the dark or semi-dark, which is a bit of a disappointment, because it is such fun to watch his terrific sets morph from one to another. Moira Wilkie Whitaker’s lighting designs come through beautifully as well in each of the play’s seven scenes. Kudos to the entire CVRep crew members, who, as usual, have thoughtfully and professionally shared their skills.

I won’t give away the rather thin plot—but this play is all about relationships, and what happens to other people who are not directly involved when a sudden, enormous change occurs in someone else’s relationship(s). It has happened to all of us: A friend or relative goes through a transformation of some sort, and you react to it. This raises questions, such as: What do we really truly want for our friends? How is being married different from being single, beyond the obvious? Have we assigned labels or roles to our family and acquaintances that suddenly don’t apply when a person changes? Are true family members our blood relations, or the people we choose to be close to us? What are the necessary and/or sufficient ingredients that affect or alter the course of a relationship? Why do people grow in different directions after being together for years? Can you ever truly reinvent yourself?

Heavy stuff. We see the characters wrestle with denial, with differing views of reality, with the bonds of marriage and of friendship. We see them talk at the same time instead of listening to each other. We see them test their relationships, with varying results. We see people surrounded by other people—yet experiencing a deep loneliness. We see people unable to communicate their wants and needs—and the craters in relationships this can create. We see people blame others for their own choices. We see them wonder if they ever actually knew each other.

You get to be the fly on the wall watching all this.

Dinner With Friends is performed at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Nov. 24, the CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City, 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive. Tickets are $48 to $58. For tickets or more information, call 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

We’ve reached the end of the season at most of the valley’s theater companies—sob! But what a year it’s been, and what a great way to end it: with Good People, at Coachella Valley Repertory.

Have you seen the new CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City? This is the second production here, and right away, you have to love the steeply raked levels of seating so that no head, no matter how tall, can blot out your view of the stage. Huzzah! And they serve coffee at the snack bar! Can it get better than this?

Well, actually yes. I hate to give this away, but nothing could dampen the surprise that awaits you when you see the scenery: The amazing Jimmy Cuomo, CVRep’s resident set designer, nearly steals the show. Wait until you see what he does with this high-tech new stage! The open set that greets the audience is a grotty and depressing back alley in South Boston’s lower end, with one lonely plain chair on the stage. Some jaw-dropping theater magic is in store for you thanks to Cuomo. It gave us goose bumps.

The playwright of Good People is David Lindsay-Abaire, a Pulitzer Prize-winner. When this play opened on Broadway, it garnered all kinds of awards, including two Tony nominations. If his name seems familiar, it’s because he penned Rabbit Hole (which was given a riveting production by Dezart Performs in January 2018), and you might remember him as author and lyricist for Shrek the Musical. You are in good hands here.

The show’s guest director, Michael Matthews, has brilliantly aimed this script directly at your brain pan. Its gritty reality is played out, giving the audience a being-there feeling that never wavers. The dialogue is cleverly “telescoped” so that Matthews’ actors appear truly spontaneous, and it gives the show a spirit of breathless anticipation. There isn’t a great deal of movement onstage, but it is accomplished logically (except twice when an actor moved on someone else’s line … distracting, but not important.)

Remember the seedy back alley we mentioned? Our protagonist, Margaret, magnificently and utterly believably portrayed by Reamy Hall, is marched out the back of the dollar store where she toils, by manager Stevie, perfectly underplayed by Erik Odom, for a talking-to about her work performance. It does not go well. In the next scene, in a cramped kitchen with two friends—the cynical Dottie, unforgettably played by Barbara Gruen, and the fiery gossip Jean, delightfully played by Candi Milo—Margie bemoans her lot. We learn about the women’s relationships with their families, the neighbors and each other. We learn about their values like “Southie Pride,” the local spirit in so many places—here with a special defiance attached to it. We see some flashes of the infamous Irish temper. We learn about their lives in “the projects,” and attempts to escape—with various results.

How much does it matter where you come from? So many desert residents cheerfully admit to “re-inventing” themselves upon arrival here, without a trace of embarrassment about it. But back in Southie, it apparently matters a great deal. Those who do well are jeered at as being “lace-curtain Irish.” Those who never make it away from their ghetto will forever play desperate mind games of “What if?” How much does our environment really shape us?

But we also discover that, in looking back, two people can selectively remember the same incident very differently. Michael Matthys gives us a deliciously multi-layered performance as Mikey Dillon, who, through hard work and some luck, makes it out of the neighborhood. Now an upscale and successful doctor, he is married to his privileged, elegant and sophisticated wife, an African-American woman named Kate, played by the smoothly stunning Nadege August. When they find themselves confronted with Mike’s past by Margie, their attitudes about it show how memory can be affected by time. Kate, with her combination of high-society finishing-school grace—plus her phenomenal figure in a skin-tight knit, and her wicked eagerness to sneak into the wild side—is one of the most complex characters on any stage, and August shrewdly plays every card in her hand to create this fascinating role.

The play’s theme slowly emerges: the eternal conflict between truth and rationalization. How far can your moral compass wobble before you are no longer a good person? Can blaming someone else justify your actions? Are your choices the right ones? How far will you bend your morality to change someone else’s life? Whom do you “owe,” and how much? Whew …

Study the biographies of the actors (and staff!) in the hefty program. The full bios detail where you may have glimpsed these terrific performers elsewhere, in movies or on TV. These experienced pros know how to sweep you into their world. They will drag you through a bumpy mix of thoughts and emotions … and they’ll bring you to your feet at the end of the show.

This theater’s matchless brain trust, led by artistic director Ron Celona, has assembled a formidable staff. Kudos to lighting designer Moira Wilkie Whitaker, production stage manager Marcedes L. Clanton, sound designer Rebecca Kessin, sound engineer/audio technician Karlene Roller, costume designer Chandler Smith, hair/makeup artist Lynda Shaeps, and prop master Doug Morris. Flawless work!

Good People is performed at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, May 19, the CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City, 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive. (There is no show Tuesday, May 7.) Tickets are $53. For tickets or more information, call 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

There is only one word to express the feeling one gets when entering Coachella Valley Repertory’s new digs: awe.

Artistic director Ron Celona and his board of directors have completely transformed the old IMAX theater in Cathedral City into a live playhouse worthy of Broadway. From the impressive “Wall of Donors” and the expansive refreshment bar with gracious bartenders, to the luxurious VIP Lounge (called the Producer’s Room)—complete with its own flat-screen TV, piano and automated sliding glass door—everything screams “class.” The lobby of the new CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City also features a rendering of the Cathedral City Downtown Arts and Entertainment District. With CVRep as a hub, if all goes according to plan, it will feature an outdoor amphitheater, an alternative transportation trail and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians’ new gaming/retail and entertainment center. As for the playhouse, the $3 million price tag was covered by private donors, a loan from the city and a grant from the Cathedral City Downtown Foundation.

Then there is the theater itself: Celona has more than doubled his seating capacity (208 versus 86 in his previous location) and installed a massive 2,700-square-foot stage.

It’s all the realization of a dream Celona said kicked into high gear when he left his position directing plays at the Joslyn Center 12 years ago. He took a year off and traveled the country, picking the brains of other successful theater companies. Celona’s goal was always to produce “theater of substance,” he said, adding that Coachella Valley audiences have grown more sophisticated in recent years. As a result, the timing was just right for CVRep to take the step up to the current location.

The company’s production of Chess—with the book by Richard Nelson, lyrics by Tim Rice and music by ABBA’s Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson—was a wise choice to christen the new facility.

The musical tells the story of a world chess championship between brash American Freddie Trumper (Garrett Marshall) and dour Russian Anatoly Sergievsky (David Sattler); the characters are loosely based on Viktor Korchnoi and Bobby Fischer. Freddie’s assistant is the beautiful Florence (Gabriela Carrillo), who tries her best to keep him in line. Anatoly’s second, Molokov (Michael Dotson), is actually a KGB agent. The first game of the match does not go well, and a meeting is called to smooth things over. Florence and Anatoly eventually realize they have feelings for each other; this budding romance and Freddie’s erratic behavior cause Florence to leave her post.

The Russian wins the chess championship—and defects to the West. While defending his title year a later in Bangkok, with Florence by his side, Anatoly faces even more complications: His wife, Svetlana (Ashley Hunt), has showed up to watch the match. Meanwhile, Freddie’s agent, Walter (Glenn Rosenblum), suggests to Florence that her father, whom she has not seen since they fled Hungary decades earlier, may still be alive. I won’t give away more, but the plot is chock-full of betrayal, heartbreak and political intrigue.

The cast is stellar across the board. Garrett Marshall’s Freddie is spot-on—cocky, immature and full of swagger. As the somber Anatoly, David Sattler is excellent. He has a soaring singing voice and strong acting chops; both his romantic and patriotic conflicts ring true.

Michael Dotson is terrific as Molokov. Cold, calculating and sly as a fox, he embodies our vision of a Russian spy. The Russian accents used by both Dotson and Sattler are quite believable. As Freddie’s money-hungry agent, Walter, Glenn Rosenblum is a perfect fit, as is Jeremy Whatley as the arbiter, who enforces the rules of chess throughout the show, and keeps the matches moving along. Ashley Hunt is quite strong as Anatoly’s betrayed wife, with musical pipes that shake the rafters.

The ensemble (Sydney Clemenson, Brianna Maloney, Cassidy McCarron, Roman Skryabin, Daniel Sugimoto and Michael Rawls) adds the right touch to the proceedings. Each actor is featured in small speaking roles, and their group numbers are top-notch.

But the highlight in this superb cast is Gabriela Carrillo as Florence. Lovely and charismatic, she has us rooting for her immediately. We feel her frustration in trying to control Freddie, and then later, we relate to her true love for Anatoly. Her singing voice is flawless, and she has some of the best numbers in the show, including “Heaven Help My Heart” and her duet with Svetlana, “I Know Him So Well.”

“Chess” has a bit of a rock-opera feel, and some of the music is a bit dissonant. If you’re a big fan of Oklahoma! and hoping for tunes to hum on the way home, you may be a bit disappointed.

The orchestra, led by musical director Scott Storr on piano, is fabulous. The choreography, lighting, sound and costumes are all outstanding. Special mention has to be made of Jimmy Cuomo’s exquisite set.

But the biggest kudos of all have to go to director Ron Celona for assembling such an amazing cast and coaxing stellar performances from each actor. Chess is an impressive production that’s well worth seeing.

It’s amazing to see the dream that Celona has made come true. Thanks to him for providing the Coachella Valley with thought-provoking, quality theater—now in a gorgeous Broadway-style venue.

Chess is performed at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, March 31, the CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City, 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive. Tickets are $53, and the running time is about 2 1/2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission.For tickets or more information, call 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

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