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Hydrogen Jukebox

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Did you hear the one about the celebrated composer and the influential poet who met in a local bookstore (they were Greenwich Village neighbors) and decided to work together? That is how both Philp Glass and Allen Ginsberg remember the origin of Hydrogen Jukebox. And it is one of many reasons to lament the demise of the neighborhood bookstore.

It seems reductive to simply call Ginsberg a poet. As the 20th-century inheritor of Walt Whitman’s mantle, Ginsberg was both acclaimed and despised for his writing and the public way he lived his life. A natural provocateur, he gleefully pushed the envelope with subjects the general public was reluctant to face: war, drugs, Buddhism, the government, sexuality, and death. Though he became a prophetic figure for many of the movements of the 60’s, most people would have written him off as musty and antiquated by the time of Hydrogen Jukebox’s 1990 premiere. But the piece, created from published poems, proved just how prescient his words remained at the dawn of a new millennium.

Ginsberg’s words ring out with vitality, authority, and a still-pressing timeliness in Long Beach Opera’s splendid reimagining of Hydrogen Jukebox. Slimmed down to an intermissionless-80 minutes, with some alterations in the order of the poems, the production feels completely relevant. Continuing its experimentation with immersive, site-specific opera, the company has found a cavernous warehouse space at CRAFTED in San Pedro.

Director David Schweitzer uses the space with an assured theatricality that enhances Ginsberg’s non-narrative themes with simple, but memorable stage pictures. The Poet (Michael Shamus Wiles), a speaking role, surveys the scene atop a moving tower propelled by his Disciples. Below, rolling platforms carry the Singers who hop on and off as the staging demands. In the original production, the cast was costumed as American archetypes. Schweitzer strips this affectation away, dressing the Singers in simple blacks and the Disciples in white, which highlights the anonymous, ensemble feel of the group.

Jamie Chamberlin, Roberto Perlas Gomez, Ashley Knight, Karin Mushegain, Todd Strange, and Jason Switzer comprise the strong and full-voiced singing ensemble. Though creating a beautiful tone is made even more challenging by Schweitzer’s kinetic staging demands, still, they all accomplish both tasks with commendable grace and musicality.

Glass’ score is recognizably in his own voice, featuring his trademark arpeggios and the driving rhythmic figures. But the sound is less intense, less the focal point than in his other stage works. It feels as if he is stepping back slightly to allow Ginsberg’s words the place of honor. And, despite conductor Kristof Van Grysperre’s laudably precise work with his orchestra, the simple beauty of the final unaccompanied chorale is the musical heart of the work.

CRAFTED Warehouse   May 30 – June 7, 2015



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.