Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Viva Verdi! Launches Indiegogo Campaign


VIVA VERDI! Documentary on Giuseppe Verdi's Casa Verdi,
the Inspiration Behind Dustin Hoffman's QUARTET
Joins Year-long Celebration of Verdi’s Bicentennial


“Among my works, the one I like best is the home that I have had built in Milan for accommodating old singers not favored by fortune….the poor, dear companions of my lifetime! Believe me, my friend, that home is truly my most beautiful work.”                                                                                                                       Giuseppe Verdi

LOS ANGELES, JULY 29, 2014 – Joining in the celebration of renowned opera composer Giuseppe Verdi’s Bicentennial year, VIVA VERDI!’s award-winning filmmakers, director Yvonne Russo and producer Christine La Monte, are bringing to the screen the remarkable story of the hidden lives inside Casa Verdi of Milan, the home built by Verdi for retired opera singers and musicians. While Verdi composed many of the 19th century’s most beloved operas (La Traviata, Aida, Rigoletto, Otello), Casa Verdi was the work he felt was his most important. The inspiration behind Dustin Hoffman’s film, QUARTET, the stately retirement home built in 1896 still remains the heart of Verdi’s legacy.

VIVA VERDI’s first phase of filming was completed in 2013 and captured the extraordinary stories of tragedy and triumph, of love lost and won, from Casa Verdi’s marvelously eccentric artists. Once gracing the great opera stages of the world, the home’s current residents, who range in age from 77-103, are living out their “third act” with dignity and purpose. Comprised of international opera singers, ballet dancers, musicians, conductors and composers, these living legends are still creating, performing and passionately mentoring in-house or visiting students – the future stars of opera, ballet and music.  Because of Verdi’s extraordinary generosity and strong belief in a dignified musical retirement, over 1,000 of Verdi’s “dear companions” have called Casa Verdi home since its opening.

To live here, residents must have “exercised the art of music as a profession.” Singers, composers, conductors, musicians, music teachers and dancers pay whatever they can afford; if they have nothing, yet remain able-bodied, dedicated artists, they may still live out their days here for free. Mentoring young music students has always been an important aspect of Casa Verdi's history, and currently 16 gifted students from around the world live here, mentored by these renowned residents.



“Our goal is to provide a glimpse into the vital lives of these legendary artists, who are a testament to the importance of being creative at any stage of life,” states filmmaker Yvonne Russo, “and to show that self-expression, art and music evoke vivid memories in the elderly, reviving a sense of belonging to the world as when they were young.” Christine La Monte, the film’s producer, adds, “The act of creating is life-enhancing and nourishing to the spirit - at any age. We hope through our film to create a more vibrant blueprint for retirement homes, one where music and the arts play a more prominent role.” 

An Indiegogo campaign launched today to raise funds for the film’s second round of filming in Milan, Italy – where Casa Verdi is located. Donor gifts include Verdi Bicentennial collectible items in limited editions; decoupage bowls and watercolor paintings made by Casa Verdi residents; and a private screening of the film and homemade Italian dinner for six, prepared by the filmmakers.

Produced by Christine La Monte and Yvonne Russo, who also directs, VIVA VERDI! is an independent production slated for theatrical release in 2015. Sponsors include the Grand Hotel et de Milano, in Milan, Italy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Kim Waters Releases 'Silver Soul', His 20th Album



Lasting romance should be celebrated, especially when it comes to monumental moments such as anniversaries. For 25 years, urban-jazz saxophonist Kim Waters (www.KimWaters.net) has ardently set the mood with musical overtures, vows and come-ons that have been embraced to the tune of four No. 1 albums, 14 No. 1 singles and 16 Top 10 singles. The September 2 release of his 20th album, “Silver Soul,” commemorates a quarter century of romance on a disc of new R&B, contemporary jazz and pop gems that he produced, wrote (ten of the twelve songs) and performed (saxes, background vocals and all the instrumentation except for guitar).

Like many writers, Waters wants his listeners to interpret his compositions rather than spell out the specific meaning behind the songs. Perhaps a hint of mystery heightens the romance although it is no mystery that the sweeping, cinematically sweet soprano sax valentine “A Song For Dana” is about his wife and collaborator, vocalist Dana Pope, who occupies the spotlight on the amorous pledge “Anything You Need.” The first single and session starter, “Dreaming Of You,” on which Waters gets an assist on piano from his daughter Kayla Waters, is an exuberant paean redolent of falling in love. Waters has long displayed a proclivity for crafting infectious hooks. “On A Mission” serves as a prime example on which the gifted technician who orates though a variety of saxophones fervently explores the full potential of the groove with his tenor horn. A pleading sax is reinforced with a beautiful piano melody and vocal chorus sung by Waters on the seductive “Stay Together.”

Originally from the Baltimore, Maryland area, Waters was mentored by and shared friendship with nearby Washington, DC go-go pioneer Chuck Brown, who receives a tribute on the bouncy energizer “Go-Go Smooth.”  Waters currently resides near Austin, Texas in the enclave of Round Rock spawning the radio-friendly excursion “Cruising Round Rock.”

Delving back into his romantic muse, Waters gives the John Legend smash “All Of Me” a stirring soprano sax treatment as arresting as the original. Perhaps the most stunning cut is “Fireflies” on which the Disney star and Hollywood Records vocalist Zendaya revisits her own illuminating recording for a breathtaking duet with Waters that soars sensually aboard a cascading track that ebbs and flows. The passion continues on the steamy “Let’s Make Love” making its intentions known on the vocal chorus. Changing the mood, “High Stride” lifts the tempo with a lilting strut led by tenor sax. Waters and R&B crooner Eric Roberson co-wrote “Laying Beside Me,” which closes the record with what bodes to become an urban AC hit. In fact, the entire album sounds like a collection of multi-formatted radio singles, something Waters deliberately set out to do when writing the music. Please listen to “Silver Soul” and decide for yourself. Kindly consider Waters for a feature, interview, album review and/or an appropriate roundup piece. I will follow-up soon. Thanks for your open ears.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Scarlett Johansson's 'Lucy' Is On A Power Trip


Scarlett Johansson is Lucy

By Darlene Donloe

Luc Besson’s Lucy got some splaining to do!

Universal's newest action-packed thriller, starring Scarlett Johansson in the title role, is a roller coaster ride of imagination, science and technology.

Lucy is the story of a young woman who is accidentally caught in a dark world and subsequently taken into captivity as a drug mule due to the unethical antics of her desperate boyfriend.

When she is initially abducted, the scenes are incredibly intense. Lucy doesn’t know if she’s going to die, be tortured or worse.  Strangely, she is allowed to call her mother. She tells her mother how much she loves and appreciates her. It’s a fabulous scene shot close-up.  It’s brilliant, although the dialogue is a bit hokey.

After a beating by one of her captors, the CPH4 sewn inside Lucy’s abdomen dislodge from the plastic bag and are absorbed in her body.

The result is nothing if not spectacular!

The drugs transform her into a merciless warrior and  enables superhuman capabilities and an unparalleled amount of brainpower.  Suddenly she is able to kick ass, take names, change her cells, control people and manipulate time.

What? Yep!

It’s been said that human beings barely use 10 percent of their brainpower. The drugs in Lucy’s body has her heading toward using 100 percent of her brainpower – and no one is quite sure what will occur when that happens.

Enter Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) a neuroscientist who is the foremost authority on the inner workings of the brain.

Lucy enlists his help so that she can not only beat the bad guys, but can also leave information behind that could help human kind in the future.

It’s fun watching Lucy flex her brainpower and girl power!  Her abilities are truly exceptional. However, it would have been more powerful to show Lucy spending her time to forward mankind than to thwart a drug lord (Choi Min Sik).

The movie starts off in one direction and veers to the left. Even though it misses in several areas, it’s a nice high-octane ride. One of the misses is a scene where she has the ability to kill the drug lord, but doesn’t only to be confronted by him later in the film. Really?

Still, it’s popcorn fun!

Lucy is written and directed by Besson. It stars Johannson, Freeman, Choi Min-Sik, Analeigh Tipton and Amr Waked.

Lucy (Universal), now open nationwide, is Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images and sexuality. It runs 1h. 29 m.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (OK) and E (excellent), Lucy gets an O (OK).


Friday, July 25, 2014

Latest Jonathan Butler CD Is 'Living My Dream'



By darlene c donloe
                                                               
For decades Jonathan Butler has been entertaining with his vibrant vocals and luscious guitar licks.

By now everyone knows his story. In South Africa in 1968 he won a talent contest that brought him a $25-a-week job with a musical troupe that toured South Africa, Libya and Zaire. By age 13, Butler was a local pop star whose covers of Please Stay and I Love How You Love Me became pan-African hits. In 1984, he moved to London, where he recorded his first album, Introducing Jonathan Butler, which came out in 1986. He first came to the attention of Americans when he debuted as the opening act for Whitney Houston, playing for huge stadium crowds.  A jazz guitarist and melodic pop singer, Butler’s first self-titled album, Jonathan Butler, was a two-record set that featured the singles Lies and Holding On. That was his launching pad. Since then, Butler’s popularity and success has only grown.


His itinerary for the year is already full. He has several cruises, jazz concerts, his foundation, a trip to South Africa and he plans to host yet another South African safari. In 2013, he did something he has always wanted to do, he released his first Christmas album titled, Merry Christmas To You.

On the outside looking in, one would think the popular singer/songwriter/guitarist has it all.

Personally, for Butler, he never allowed himself to feel that way.

Like everyone else in the world, Butler was dealing with personal issues. He had doubts and insecurities just like the rest of the world. Who knew?

Although he was happy with his career, he could never admit it publicly because he didn’t want to look or seem arrogant.

Thank goodness with time comes maturity.

Today Butler is confident. He’s happy. He’s on top of the world.  He’s living his dream and he doesn’t mind letting the world know.

So much so, that he recently released a CD titled, Living My Dream, to express his gratitude for a life and career beyond anything he could ever have imagined.

And, at 52, he’s unapologetic!

I caught up with Butler recently to talk about his life, his career and his latest CD.

DD: Why did it take years for you to be able to use the term 'Living My Dream'?

JB: We all get to a place where we have to take stock of our lives. I certainly was going through transitions in my life.  I felt like I was living my dream. I started thinking about the lyrics. It became a declaration of sorts. I’m recognizing that I am. God has blessed me. I can help my family in South Africa. I’ve been making music for so long. It’s a dream come true. In declaring, I hesitated. I didn’t want it to come out as conceited or being egotistical or prideful. Now I’m coming from a place of celebration of my life. Being a family man is all I care about. This is my declaration.

DD: Why did you record this CD at the House of Blues Studio?  Was there some significance?

JB: No significance, but I enjoyed it. A friend of mine worked out of it. It was warm and real.


DD: George Duke worked on this project with you. Talk about George Duke and what he meant to you.

JB: George will always remain an inspiration and a big brother to me. He’s somebody I depended on in L.A. He always opened doors for me. The friendship I shared with him was incredible until the very last minute. We connected on the last days. The days I spent with him writing, we actually spent talking about the stuff he endured. I was encouraged.

DD: Talk to me about the song you two wrote. What was the process? How long did it take to write?

JB: It took 20 minutes to write because we were so connected to each other. It was about transparency and vulnerability. George would come to the studio to record and made it more significant and important. He left his studio to come to this studio to partake in the process.

DD: I understand that Marcus Miller was also in the mix.

JB: Marcus Miller and I wrote a song together. He stayed and listened to what George [Duke] and I wrote. It was a very moving time for me.   I didn’t know he was sick. I knew he lost some weight.  I was also close to his wife. Her death was shocking. George’s passing was shocking. We all have our issues and things we have to endure.


DD: Tell me about Heart and Soul.


JB: That took 20 minutes to write. I had tears rolling down your cheek.

DD:  Why the tears?

JB: The lyrics and melody are deep. It’s one of those songs you stumble across. You look at your life. These are stories that people have. These are things we want to say to each other. I did a lot of co-writing. This is the song that was picked up. It talks about things men and women want to say to each other. Things that affect me.   We argue, fuss and fight. It takes work to understand what each other needs. It’s about a healthy relationship. Sometimes you hit a bump in the road.

DD: When doing a new CD, how do you decide whom to bring into the project. You have Marcus and George.

JB: I not only have Marcus [Miller] and George [Duke]. I also brought in other musicians to make an organic album. I opened up the pool. I opened up the writing pool. It was time for me to reach out to people like Bob James, Lee Ritenour, Marcus and George. It really worked.  

DD: Talk about your foundation.

JB: I launched a foundation in South Africa, focusing on music and art education as an intervention for substance abuse.

DD: How is it going?

JB: It’s going well. It’s our second year. I’m launching one in Cape Town, my hometown. I’m creating a model for a Jonathan Butler after school program. It’s not just about music. Some of these kids are smart. We want to facilitate these kids not just musically.  There is going to be a big launch in Cape Town. We initially launched in Johannesburg. There is so much work to do. I will do it for the rest of my life. 




Thursday, July 24, 2014

Eva Marcille & VIBE Hosts 'Lucy' Reception in LA


Eva Marcille

Model actress Eva Marcille & VIBE Magazine hosted an exclusive, private screening of Universal Pictures' LUCY last night at the Landmark Theater in West LA. The exclusive event kicked-off with a pre-reception at the Wine Bar on the main floor. VIBE’s ‘Movies with Milan’ hosted the red carpet with interviews and appearances from numerous celebrity during the pre-reception. Marcille awarded one lucky winner from social media a $100 VISA GIFT CARD for joining the social conversation using hashtag #LUCYmovieLA before introducing the film.

Omarion and Apryl Jones
 
Celebs on hand included vocalist Eric Bellinger, singer/songwriter Jo Jo, Leah Labelle, Kyla Pratt (Let’s Stay Together), Omarion and Apryl Jones, Verse Simmonds, Kid Red, Melody Thornton (Pussycat Dolls) and Redaric Williams (The Young and the Restless).

Photos Courtesy of: Arnold Turner/A Turner Archives 


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

'We Will Rock You' Pays Rockin Homage To Queen


 (top to bottom)  Ryan Knowles, Brian Justin Crum and Ruby Lewis

By Darlene Donloe

Queen and Ben Elton’s We Will Rock You, now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles through Aug. 24, is nothing short of a rockin’ good time.

In fact, audience members are encouraged to wear their concert tees, download lighter apps and bring their drinks from the lobby into the theatre – including the special themed drinks The Bohemian Rhapsody (rum, blue curaƧao, orange juice and tonic) and The Killer Queen (Jack Daniels Whiskey, ginger ale, pineapple juice and lemon). 

Yes, some Queen aficionados will surely find fault with some parts of the show, but the real meat of the production, the music, is on point. In its defense (which it doesn’t need), this show doesn’t take itself seriously.  It’s fast, it’s furious, it’s silly, it’s raunchy, the costumes are crazy, the dialogue at times ridiculous, it takes liberties, has cheap jokes and it’s very campy. Very campy!!!

One character bemoans that the death of rock has something to do with American Idol.

Queen was known for the unapologetic pureness of its rock n’ roll music. Who doesn’t bop their head, clap their hands or stomp their feet while listening to, Another One Bites The Dust or We Will Rock You?

This is not a stuffy, buttoned down affair. Act like you’re going to a rock concert – because you are!!!!

The long-running, West End smash hit musical is built around 24 of Queen’s biggest hits.

The show includes such songs as, Another One Bites The Dust, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, We Are The Champions, Bohemian Rhapsody and, of course, We Will Rock You 

The high-energy, hilarious jukebox musical is set in the future on a planet once called Earth that is now controlled by a big corporation (Globalsoft). Don’t laugh, it could happen!!

Computer-generated music reigns, no rock music, no live music is heard, all musical instruments are banned and conformity is enforced.

Well, two young renegades are having none of it. They don’t know what they’re feeling deep down in their souls, but they know they feel something.

Galileo (Brian Justin Crum) and Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis) are determined to bring live music back to the masses.

They decide to lead a band of former pure rock enthusiasts, who are also looking to rock it out.  So, they go up against Globalsoft and the Killer Queen, and, of course, are met with resistance.

If Queen frontman, Freddie Mercury, is watching this show, he must be smiling every time Crum or Lewis opens their mouths to blow.  These two singers are stadium-quality singers. They are incredible!!!  They do Queen’s music justice – in every possible way!

Jacqueline B. Arnold, who plays Killer Queen, the leader of Globalsoft, is no slouch. She blows as well. With her musical chops she commands the stage every time she steps afoot.

Ryan Knowles, who plays Buddy, part of the underground renegades seeking to hear and play real music, nearly steals this show. His voice is luscious and his one-liners are hilarious!

In fact, this show is full of musically gifted singers, which is good because Queen’s music is the real star of this show.

We Will Rock You, now on its first U.S. tour, was a huge success in London, where it closed last May after a 12-year run.

We Will Rock You is a fun romp. Go, sing, reminisce, have fun, ROCK ON!!!!

Will Rock You, directed by Elton, features Brian Justin Crum, Ruby Lewis, Jacqueline B. Arnold, P.J. Griffith, Ryan Knowles, Erica Peck and Jared Zirilli.

The cast also includes Todd Adamson, Danny Balkwill, Samantha Berman, Jessica Crouch, Alex DeLeo, Saccha Dennis, Sam DiGiuseppe, Suzanna Dupree, Daniel Greenberg, Stephen Hernandez, Nathan Keen, Daniel Kermidas, Ryan Koss, Brooke Morrison, Corey Mosello, Jennifer Mote, Katie Murphy, Jennifer Noble, Stephanie Sy and Kasey Walker.

The show’s lighting designer is Willie Williams, hair and make up is by John ‘Jack’ Curtin, costumes by Tim Goodchild, sound design Bobby Aitken, Nate Patten is the musical director/conductor.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (OK) and E (excellent), We Will Rock You gets an E (excellent).

We Will Rock You, Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles; $25-$120; through Aug. 24; 213 972-4400 or www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.

Robbins Directs 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

 
LA Performances Dates From Thursday, July 24 – Saturday, August 30
Actors’ Gang Set To Debut Production in Nashville and Brazil
 
JULY 22, 2014 – For a month this summer, The Actors’ Gang, the renowned Los Angeles based ensemble theatre company, will perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Actors’ Gang Theater in Culver City. Tickets for performances can be purchased anytime at www.theactorsgang.com, by calling the box office: (310) 838-4264 or by visiting The Actors’ Gang theatre in Culver City (9070 Venice Boulevard). The box office is open Thursdays through Saturdays from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The Actors’ Gang is returning from a three-week-long international tour in China and Italy. Under the direction of Academy Award® winner Tim Robbins, the troupe attracted thousands of attendees to its sold-out performances, drawing 8,000 people to performances in China and 1,800 to those in Italy.  Following its mid-summer run in Los Angeles, The Actors’ Gang will move the production to Nashville (September 12 & 13) and then Brazil (September 19 - 21).

"I'm so proud of the work this company has done and the joy it has spread with this production overseas. The laughter we experienced from the crowds in Italy and China is a testament to the timelessness of Shakespeare's text and the talent of the performers in the company. We are very excited to bring this new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream home to Los Angeles and then on to Nashville and Brazil."

In one of The Actors’ Gangs initial workshop performances in Los Angeles, The Huffington Post said, “The trust that the actors displayed for Tim Robbins' intense vision, the commitment that they made to their roles, and the love and respect that they showed for each other, the language, the play, Shakespeare, the theater in general and their theater in particular, were magical, riveting, and inspiring."

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a surreal world of fairies, spells, incantations, magic, and disorder made right by the mischief of the night. Fourteen actors from The Actors’ Gang working with director Tim Robbins and the company’s Co-Artistic Director, Cynthia Ettinger, illuminate Shakespeare’s forest with original music, kinesthetic movement, and a fervent approach to the surreality and magic of the beloved and classic play. A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be presented with minimal costumes, props, and scenery, relying mainly on Shakespeare's extraordinary text and the creative imagination of its players to realize this magical world.

The Actors’ Gang is one of the only true theatrical ensembles in the United States that tours internationally. Ensemble members train together regularly and develop pieces through a rigorous workshop process. The actors in the company, in addition to their training and performance schedule, are also educators in the LAUSD school system and dedicated participants in The Actors’ Gang Prison Project.

For over 33 years, Robbins has served as the Artistic Director of The Actors’ Gang. In addition to over a hundred and fifty productions produced at The Actors’ Gang’s Los Angeles base of operations, the award-winning company has toured extensively throughout the United States and to five continents throughout the world with productions such as Embedded, George Orwells’ 1984, The Exonerated, The Guys, Tartuffe, Carnage, and The Trial of Catonsville Nine. The Actors’ Gang has toured in London, Madrid, Barcelona, Athens, Bogota, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong and Melbourne as well as throughout the United States and Mexico.