‘Mormon’ at SCFTA, Keaton-Beckett and Judeo-Spanish docs and indies on DVD

What do Jews do on Purim? This one went to see “Book of Mormon,” natch (at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts, where it runs through Apr. 3). This Trey Parker-Robert Lopez-Matt Stone musical appears to be an amusing but innocuous satire at first, opening with a parade of missionaries zealously ringing doorbells.

The show soon reveals its real mission, offering something to offend nearly everyone, and gradually ratchets up the raunch until the audience is virtually swimming in sleaze. From defecation and bestiality to anal sex and AIDS—not to mention Disney World—everything is a joking matter. The book and lyrics might be called Rabelaisian if they weren’t so sorely lacking in wit; the show may be a hot ticket, but an energetic ensemble cast is wasting a lot of talent at SCFTA.

At the other end of the spectrum is “Flory’s Flame,” an award-winning 60-minute documentary that’s been screening at film festivals everywhere (available on DVD from JEMGLO). Judeo-Spanish musician Flory Jagoda and her legacy is the focus of this heart-warming film, which intersperses the Sephardic songs the nonagenarian has perpetuated with her memories of growing up during the Holocaust. You won’t be able to watch it with a dry eye if you have any soul.

Filmmaker and archivist Ross Lipman’s “Notfilm” is destined to become a must-see for two distinctly different groups of people—aficionados of comedian Buster Keaton and Nobel Prize-winning author Samuel Beckett, especially the latter. The documentary, which debuts next week in Hollywood (April 1-9 at the American Cinematheque) and New York, explores the strange collaboration between the two, the 1965 avant-garde short simply titled “Film.”

The doc (which will also be available on DVD from Milestone Film & Video along with a restored version of “Film”) is full of great surprises—including long-lost outtakes and a rare audio recording of Beckett discussing the project. It’s also a bit disappointing; Lipman goes off on every conceivable tangent but barely hints at the initial casting of Jack MacGowran, for whom Beckett wrote the similarly themed “Eh Joe.”

Writer-director Marya Cohn’s first film is no “Citizen Kane,” and that’s in her favor. “The Girl in the Book” (available on DVD from Monarch Home Entertainment) is an intimate personal film about real world flesh-and-blood characters that draw you in at once. Alice (Emily VanCamp) is a young woman with writer’s block and a ghost in her past (Michael Nyqvist) whose present-day shadow looms large, in this highly likeable romantic drama set in Manhattan’s publishing world.

New York’s contemporary art scene comes alive in “Swim Little Fish Swim,” a charming naturalistic drama written and directed by Lola Bessis and Ruben Amar in their feature film debut (available on DVD from Indie Pix Films). Lilas, an aspiring video artist from France (Bessis), is trying to make her own way in the world when her life intersects with Leeward, a quirky musician and irresponsible husband-father (Dustin Guy Defa); the characters are so lifelike you’ll swear you know them.

 

David Crosby and Yuja Wang at SCFTA, LA Opera’s “Magic Flute”

LA Opera’s production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” (through Mar. 6 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion) is surprisingly cartoony. It makes extensive use of animation; at its best it’s as wild and surreal as the work of Tex Avery. At other times it’s downright silly, too much so for my taste. But the fact that much of it seems created with children in mind isn’t a bad thing—after all, where is the next generation of opera lovers going to come from? The kids in attendance last weekend obviously had a great time.

The production design, created by Suzanne Andrade, Barrie Kosky and animator Paul Barritt, was largely influenced by silent movies; Monostatos (portrayed by Brenton Ryan), the villain of the piece, was made up to resemble Nosferatu, Germany’s silent era Dracula. The leads, Marita Solberg (Pamina) Ben Bliss (Tamino) and Jonathan Michie (Papageno) were in fine voice, though they played second fiddle to the pervasive design of the show. Conductor James Conlon was in top form as usual. Upcoming at LA Opera: “Madame Butterfly,” Mar. 12-Apr. 3.

Yuja Wang cut quite a figure last week at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts, in a bright lime green floor-length dress. She may be a looker in the field of classical music but she knows she’s judged by her handling of the keyboard, and she more than met expectations in her rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2. From the pastoral passages of this quirky, demanding piece to its thrilling crescendos, Wang delivered on behalf of the Philharmonic Society of OC.

Nor did the Russian National Orchestra disappoint the crowd in its performance of Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture” or Stravinsky’s “The Firebird.” From first chord to final march-like downbeat, the piece with which Stravinsky made his mark as a young composer at the behest of ballet impresario Serge Diahilev was a perfect choice for RNO’s 25th anniversary tour. Among the goodies the Philharmonic Society has up its sleeve at SCFTA: Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (Mar. 7) and the Polish Baltic Philharmonic in an all-Beethoven program (Mar. 15).

Meanwhile, SCFTA welcomes two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer David Crosby tonight on the first stop of his West Coast tour this month. It’s not business as usual for the singer-songwriter—he’ll be performing intimate solo acoustic for the first time on tour. Crosby’s repertoire will reportedly span his entire career, including selections from his 1971 solo debut album, new songs from his acclaimed 2014 solo album, The Byrds, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. “This is about the songs. The tale telling,” Crosby stated. “Taking you on a voyage to my world for a moment.”

This writer is reminded of a Neil Young concert at the Forum decades ago, which began with a superb acoustic set. Then he plugged in his guitars and amps and literally blew us out of the place in about 10 minutes. The L.A. Times’ music critic said it best the next morning, observing Young’s second set had all the subtlety of a jackhammer.