October 6th, 2013


Much Done

Busy day, went mostly as planned. Somehow doing stuff online to prepare for tomorrow's mobile home tour/financing, a stop at the PO to drop off a couple of packages (the gov't shutdown didn't affect the PO), delayed my noon visit to the uke shop until about 1 pm. The nice lady showed me some of the differences in the ukes, and the prices are clearly marked above each one. There were not many for less than $100, which I decided was my limit since this is for starters. And I wanted a soprano (the smallest adult size) because of the irony of big man, small instrument. After tryng out a few, I bought the Kala KA-S, a very pretty mahogany box with rosewood fretboard. Sounds excellent for $72. Another candidate was Daniel Ho's starter kit for $99, which included a carrying bag, but also a DVD and instruction book which I don't need, since I'll be taking a class which has its own book.

Back near home, got gas, since the price is down and I still had a trip across the Bay later. On to Target, hoping to score Dean Edell readers for work, but they have dropped his product line and now only have crap Foster Grants. I did manage to stock up on insulting birthday cards and got a replacement for the hair trimmer which broke this morning.

Home, watched some football but all the games I was really interested had to be relegated to Tivo.

Early dinner was sausages and baked beans.

7 pm, on the road to Newark memorial HS, whose theater was the venue for Stage 1's Les Miserables. I'll do a fuller review tomorrow, but for now let me say that the standing ovation lasted more than 5 minutes. Every member of the cast had at least one solo line and every voice was excellent. There were some casting disconnects because it was cast for the voice first, and in several cases they completely ignored looks as a factor. More later, probably with [Spoiler (click to open)] spoilers.

Plans for tomorrow:
Catch some early football
12:30 meet mobile home rep for two open houses and start the financing thing.
Danvers Hookers

Les Miserables @ Stage 1 Review

Last night I joined a standing room only audience at Newark, CA's Memorial High School theater to see Stage 1's Les Miserables. Before I start to nitpick, so that you don't get the wrong idea, I was one of the first ones up and one of the last to stop applauding during the 7-minute standing ovation.

Non-spoilers first:
There are about 50 people in the cast. I counted more than 60 names in the program, but some of those played more than one part. It is very hard to costume that many people, each of whom had at least 3 costume changes. Unfortunately, it showed. Costumes were mostly adequate, few were more, most were less. Javert was cheated out of what should have been progressively ornate uniforms, wearing a greatcoat for his last two iterations. That was a FAIL. Valjean wore pretty much the same thing throughout. Cosette's dresses were atrocious. The only example of planned costuming was the matching dresses for all the woman in the factory scene, a symptom of making the costumes in the order that the show takes place. Police & army uniforms were far from authentic period or

The director blew it on several levels. Blocking was like a children's pageant, one long line across the stage, no groupings, no levels, boring.

The program lists a choreographer, but I saw no choreography. Not that there needed to be, it isn't that kind of musical. Javert and Valjean fight hand to hand, very poorly staged, could have used a fight choreographer.

Audio. Every member of the cast was wearing a horribly apparent mike, glued to the forehead, with the wire coming up the back and loosely over the head. Disgustingly distracting. And while the sound was clear and totally feedback-free, it was also non-directional, and the way the show was directed, it was hard to tell in the group scenes who was singing. FAIL.

Orchestra. It's a difficult score. On the whole they did well, but as the show wore on, the oboe and first violin went out of tune, and because the conductor only conducted the orchestra and ignored the actors, there were several missed cues on stage, and times when leads had to rush to get together with the orchestra. I was also a bit put off by the conductor having the orchestra take a bow before the start of the second act. That's not the etiquette I was brought up with.

Set. There was not much of one. Just a backdrop which never changed, even though the scene changed. The barricade was a clever construction in two parts, half rolled in from stage left and the other from stage right, with stage hands inside it hidden by a burlap flap. Once onstage it bolted together. It was able to rotate. That was well done.

Lighting. The theater has minimal lighting facilities, they did what they could. The follow spot operator was spot on.

The cast. Lots of people on stage all at once a couple of times. Almost everyone had at least one solo singing line. Every voice I heard was professional-grade. Quite amazing.

Dean Christman as Jean Valjean was very good, it is a grueling part and he survived it well. His voice cracked several times, and his rendition of his final scene was a bit uninspiring.

Jess Martinez nailed it as Javert. Extraordinary combination of voice, acting skills and attitude. He played a heroic upholder of the law, not a Bad Guy™.

Ben Decker as the Bishop did well in this small but critical role.

As Fantine, Kristen Del Rio was adequate. The craptastic costumes and wigs did not help.

Piper Sperske as Little Cosette was very cute until she started to sing, and then she was transformed into a little girl who could use some age-appropriate voice lessons.

Diminutive Elmer Strasser played the part of Thenardier as a sleezy little twerp, reminded me of Fagin, but without the sense of majesty. He was very, very good, I wanted to throttle him every time he appeared. The Mrs., played by the very large Belinda Maloney, was a superb foil. Both of them would have benefited from competent costuming.

Young Eponine was a total WTF, partly because of a lack of talent, and partly because of something in the spoilers section.

Nico Duchez nailed it as Gavroche, he did so well that I didn't recognize him - even though we had just done Brigadoon together and he was paired with me in a lot of the stage schtick. He has grown. But also he was allowed to act. I forgot how clear his voice is. Part of not recognizing him is he is billed as Nickolas in the program.

Eponine is played by a high school junior named Angela Busgano. She was ever so close to perfect, just a couple of vocal snags away. And maybe a couple more major acting roles under her belt, too.

Robert Lopez was okay as Marius, a little wooden acting but great vocals.

And Brian Palac got to show off his voice but not his acting skills as Enjolras. I have seen him a few times, he is better than this, but woefully mis-cast.

Final ding is for Cara Wodka playing Cosette. Kinda like watching a puppet. Great voice, but when she goes to dialog there is no way I am believing she is in love.

[Spoiler (click to open)]
So, some spoilers. During the chain gang scene, they cut the part where Valjean shows his super-human strength, which ruins the follow-up where Javert recognizes the guy who pulls the cart off of the man it fell on. To add to the mistake, they have Valjean struggle mightily to raise the wagon just enough for the victim to be pulled out from under - and immediately two cast members grab a handle and right the thing easily to roll it offstage. Completely destroys this critical plot device.

They cut most of the violence against Fantine, which makes it unbelievable that she is suddenly in the hospital on death's door. Again, fight choreography could have saved this scene.

Little Eponine is white as an aspirin, she is in a curly wig, and is as Caucasian as can be. Grown-up Eponine is Asian, with dark skin and straight silky hair. Little Eponine is apparently a relative (daughter or granddaughter) of the Bishop. Non-traditional casting is one thing, (Lea Salonga is my favorite Broadway Eponine) but this was a FAIL.

What makes Brian Palac mis-cast is he is about 5 feet tall, and very slightly built. Not the image of a Great Leader. But also his acting was many stops short of firebrand.

In the Eponine death scene, she has been shot, the script says she is covered in blood. It's in Marius' lines as he holds her. We can see her white blouse when her coat opens. It would have been so easy for the blouse under the coat to have been blotched with red. The white blouse transported the scene from 7 Kleenex to maybe 1.5.

I'll leave it there. Despite the little failings, it is still worth making a trip across the Bay to see. It runs one more weekend.

Les Miserables
Stage 1 Theatre
Newark Memorial High School
Newark, CA
Link here.

I Can Haz Manufactured Home?

Wednesday Marilee of Alliance Manufactured Homes gave me printouts for two homes in Willow Ranch Park, a 55+ community of 236 spaces, about 5 miles from where I work. In the interim I sent her financial items and identified which mutual fund to sell for a downpayment. Today I brought the final form, and she drove us out to take a look. She also had found one more listing in the park new today. All three had advertised open houses today at 1.

The first one already had a "sale pending" sign on it, and was not viewable. The second one we went to was the new listing, a 3Br 2ba double-wide built 15 years ago. The owner was home, but there was no scheduled open house. However, she (Bobbi) invited us in, and after some chatting in the kitchen (she was making kale chips) she gave us The Tour. She is still very much still living there, is the original owner, and has kept it in great shape. The appliances apear new and top of the line,  and it's very roomy. Big livingroom, wide steps to the livingroom door will make it easy to move in the piano. Fully carpeted, laundry room is inside but off to the side. Lots of closet space, a storage shed at the back of the carport. No lawn, no view, but a front porch suitable for mint juleps. It was 85° outside but comfortable inside even without air conditioning.

Next stop was down the road a bit, a 2Br 1Ba which also wasn't having an open house but the owner let us tour it while he went out for a walk. Not very well taken care of, it was only a notch better than a trailer. He has already packed everything up and is living with just the essentials - TV, computer, couch.

I really liked the first one we saw. When we got back to her office I told Marilee I wanted to make an offer. The listed price was fine, a good $20k less than others in its class. I was a little taken by surprise that she needed a 3% deposit (I don't have that much in my checking account) but I do have ore than enough in my brokerage cash account to cover that. We did the paperwork for the loan, and the plan was for me to go home and print a check while she went home before her next appointment at 4. It was a little after 2.

Home, I printed a check and also logged into the brokerage account and placed an order to sell one of my mutual funds, which will cover most of the downpayment. I have to call them tomorrow to mail me a check for the deposit plus another $5k to complete the downpayment. Drove back and dropped off the check.

Home, watched football.

The timeline goes like this:
By Friday confirm for her that there is enough in my checking to cover the deposit.
Need seller approval (maybe tomorrow)
Loan approval within 10 days
Park approval after that
Health & safety inspections are done somewhere in there. I'll pay for the inspections, Bobbi pays for any required repairs. I doubt there will be any.
Escrow closes in 45 days or so ( we are targeting 11/30)
My current lease is not up till 1/24/2014, which means if I move out before then I will owe them rent through that date unless someone rents the apartment.
Bobbi is nowhere near close to being able to pack up and leave, so this is probably mutually beneficial.

Interesting things about Bobbi's home:
On the windows by the doors are signs declaring this to be a profanity-free household. I don't effing swear, so that works for me.
The whole wall alongside the fireplace holds a collection of crosses from around the world.
Above the bedroom which serves as her office, she has had a calligrapher paint a Christian affirmation
The kitchen walls have small picture snippets painted by a very good 3-D artist. One makes it look like there is a tear in the wall and a brick wall behind it.
The kitchen has a central island, and she had rigged a cookware holder hanging from the ceiling a few feet above it. Very handy, very French Cheffy.