I enter the Hollywood Bowl. It looks clean, festive and somewhat renewed since last season. The stage resembles a 60s go-go dancer nervously awaiting her first cut rug clad in dayglo blue and pink square chain earrings, either hung from the Bowl ceiling or projected onto the topography of its dorsal shell—like a deliciously colorful but confusing dream. (This amphitheatre is funny that way. One isn’t always sure whether the celebratory decoration is tangible or illusory, but festive, mystical and magical to be sure…)
I arrive at my seat (section Q2). With its sweeping view of the dell and the mountains, I feel as though I am queen over a foreign yet fabulously entertaining land–only the peasants I look down upon ironically have the finances and the wherewithal to purchase the most expensive and exquisite seats and I—most elevated queen—have forfeited my financial prowess in exchange for my panoramic Big Brother rendered Sisterish view! It’s sometimes like that with queens…to speak nothing of the glitter. For my entire section is clad in confetti! I am not sure who when, where or how this happened but I can only envision a helicopter’s flight the night before irreverently hovering over the Bowl (as they are so frequently encouraged NOT to do) and unleashing a blizzard of gold and rainbow sparkles!
I sit. The sun settles. I eat my sandwich. The people settle. I get to know the ladies sitting in front of me. They are office mates four years running and in that time have become fast friends. One of them has an autistic child and about 17 other kids it seems. They are celebrating the beginning of summer in the midst of unwinding from the work week. The more gregarious of the two takes a picture of the Bowl as I hear her exclaim to her maternal friend, “Great. Now I can tag you in something not shaped like a <insert private male body part here>”. This is clearly an inside joke she has no problem sharing with me (though I am an utmost dignified and sophisticated queen). “See this week I left a cup of ice out and all the water around it melted just leaving the center part of it and well, you can see it for yourself…” She lobs her phone towards the direction of my face—the ocular portion to be specific. It is hard to see from the glare of the sunset but I can sort of deduce, that it does, indeed, look a bit like a male body part—a very cold, liquid male body part—like something that should have been a part of the special effects in Terminator 2—had the film gone a totally different direction cinematically. I smile politely but haven’t the heart to tell her that the Hollywood Bowl sometimes looks decidedly like a female body part. To me anyway…
Suddenly, the lights don’t dim (because we are in an outdoor amphitheatre) but rather come up—come up onstage! Master conductor Thomas Wilkins makes his brisk adrenaline-fueled entrance and the joint is classed up all over again! So commences and concludes the National Anthem. I sing with in my true non-falsetto—hitting all the notes despite the sandwich now laying like a rock in my gut–and sit, now more eager than ever to be entertained. The evening’s honorary festivities are now ready to begin!
“My name is Thomas Wilkins and this, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra <smattering of applause>. I think you’ll all notice the Hollywood Bowl is all spiffed up tonight thanks in part to Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky who funded our new High Definition L.E.D. screens.”
Maestro Wilkins then transitions from visuals to that of sound as he introduces the first piece of the evening, “Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring” by pointing out that it is in its 100th year anniversary and is celebrating its 80th anniversary “of its first outdoor recording here at the Hollywood Bowl.”
“This piece is as wild today as it was 100 years ago (only) there was a riot when the piece premiered in Paris in 1913. I’m suggesting we shouldn’t do that tonight.”
And the music commences, sounding as glorious and intense as it always has. County Supervisor Yaroslavsky’s new L.E.D. screens are put to good use as they feature very Matrixy, Tron-like visuals resembling colorful, computer generated fireworks over the likes of old photos of the Hollywood Bowl and a hydra-headed black and white, Kaleidoscope projection of Stravinsky conducting his own piece. If the music itself doesn’t make people riot, a part of me wonders if this will… But the ending comes and goes without a hitch as a short burst of fireworks emanates from the spiffy new L.E.D. screens at its conclusion. (Funny the new firework capability was not mentioned along with the L.E.D. aspect… Hmm…)
The lovely and glossy lipped Angela Basset then takes the stage and introduces the laudatory evening of “92 years of music and artistry. All proceeds (from tonight) celebrate the LA Phil and its music education programs.” I am gobsmacked that this is the 92nd year the Hollywood Bowl has inducted artists into its Hall of Fame and happily reminded that my ticket purchase supports the LA Phil’s YOLA (Youth Orchestra L.A.) and HOLA programs.
Ms. Bassett is followed by Arsenio Hall who speaks first to Maestro Wilkins, “Sir that Stravinsky made me wanna riot Brothah!” (I laugh and feel suddenly as though I am at The Grammys.) He then goes on to introduce the first Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame inductee of the evening, Patti Austen. “Patti Austen is described as a singer’s singer. I was first exposed to her when I was invited to my first mentor Quincy Jones’ studio to listen to Michael Jackson’s ‘Off the Wall’–music that’s about to become historic. (During the course of that visit), he asked me if I would like to hear his goddaughter (Patti Austen)…and at that moment, I forgot about Michael…”
A career video retrospective is shown on the L.E.D. screens. Ms. Austen is described as “a singer you’ve never heard”. Who knew she was the Meowmeowmeowmeow singing Meow Mix cat? Or ever shilled Diet Coke in a two word song! A clip of a “60 Minutes” interview is shown, “My parents always made me feel like performance was a reward. ‘You can do this if you clean your room and make your bed.’”
Clearly it is in Ms. Austen’s blood as she glides on to the stage and opens her performance with “How do you Keep the Music Playing” (former duet with James Ingram and theme song form the 1983 film ‘Best Friends’ starring Goldie Hawn and Burt Reynolds) morphing into a solo version of “Baby Come to Me”, her erstwhile runaway hit with James Ingram from the fall of ’83—7th grade for me. Lots of memories of being driven to and from ballet class to that one, watching the leaves turn, the sky transform into grayness and the snow begin to fall as it stayed on the charts well past Christmas… ~sigh~ Both are backed by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the horn section is divine…
Austen addresses the audience, in part, to congratulate her fellow inductees, John Legend, Joe Perry and Steven Tyler (saying Tyler’s name as though she is the Aerosmith-meister himself in a most spot on and gravelly imitation)! She jokes that she’s been calling them both “Tyler Perry” all day. She then goes on to pay homage to Music Matters and the LA Phil’s youth music programs (YOLA and HOLA), “I love working with kids, though it was my ego that drove me to center stage but it’s important to get instruments into kids hands before they get other things in their hands.”
The Hollywood Bowl orchestra plays the opening chords of “Lean on Me” and the sound is blissful to the very end. Austen then introduces her last song, “I’ve been told I have a kinetic energy that makes lights go out. But tonight I’m working on making lights go on. Tonight we have a super moon!” The audience cheers as she croons the lyrics to “How High the Moon” but really we are all thinking, “How high is the Super Moon?”—particularly in light of invisible marijuana smokers smelt somewhere in the Bowl’s upper bowels…
Stevie Wonder graces the stage–and all 16,000 audience members–with his presence. I believe there is a standing ovation: “John Legend—the fastest man to become a legend…he’s won award after award after award and then I just get jealous…(and pause for audience laughter) and he cares about people.” To date Legend has reached out to Katrina and Haiti Earthquake survivors. He is a champion of women’s issues and most recently performed at a women’s rights concert in London.
Legend’s presence is so beautiful he glows. He commences by singing “Where did my Baby Go?”, “Again”, “All of Me” and does a most smooth and touching version of “Bridge over Troubled Water”. The soft spoken Legend then pauses to address the audience, “I am truly humbled because I don’t feel like I belong here and I am so grateful to be here with all the other inductees.” Legend then credits his musical abilities to having been given the opportunity to start piano lessons at the age of four in a school system that “provided music lessons for the kids”. Legend rounds out his set by singing “Ordinary People” with the heretofore “jealous” Wonder. Wonder plays harmonica in between crooning along in duets and solos and suddenly even more is right with the world than it was before…
~Intermission comes and goes and I don’t have to go to the bathroom. It is awesome!~
The stage lights come up thereafter. A disembodied voice informs us that Damon Criss flew from Paris to New York City in the last couple of days, tells us he essentially “interrupted his busy schedule to be with us” and essentially intimates that we’d all better be damned grateful he is gracing us with his presence–and I don’t even know who he is!
Criss enters stage right and sings a delightful little (turning eventually quite big) musical number, “Standing in the Hall of Fame” and suddenly I get it. I comprehend his greatness and understand why I should know him even if I don’t. “What a trip.” He exclaims after his last note has been sung along with his final kick-ball-change. “I do that on TV (Glee—yeah I’ve heard of it.) but they edit it. So nice to finally do it live!”
Mr. Criss then introduces the LA Phil’s Youth Music Program—YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles) along with giving nod to HOLA (YOLA’s counterpart in the Rampart district). Both programs educate at risk underprivileged youth in the art of classical music. Criss explains that proceeds from this evening’s concert will all go to further fund YOLA and HOLA. He then adds, “This March, four students were selected to travel with the LA Phil to London where they experienced their first plane ride, first snow storm and first bringing the audience to tears.” A fun and touching slideshow of the happy young musicians accompanies Sir Criss’ narration. YOLA then commences their performance of the last movement of Stravinsky’s Firebird and if I close my eyes, I can almost forget they are teenagers…
Peter Fonda, dressed all in leather, seemingly *trips out* to the onstage podium. And if we don’t use our imagination enough, it almost feels as though it is 1969 all over again and he’s just walked off the set of “Easy Rider”. “You all havin’ a good time? Look at those colors. Far out Man.” he cries in a giddily awkward cadence punctuated by an oddly guttural laugh. He then goes on to introduce Tyler and Perry, “Behind their rock n’ roll image, Steven and Joe have really huge hearts.” As the docu-reel rolls enumerating their various and sundry charity appearances, Tyler’s voice cuts in on the narration as he begins talking about his music, “I thought if I could combine my father’s classical music with my own shit, maybe I’ve got something…” The film reel ends as Peter Fonda reels a little himself, “Ladies and Gentlemen…’scuse me I gotta look at the script. I’m filling in for Johnny Depp—not bad…Steven Tyler and Joe Perry!”
The duo enters, the crowd goes as wild as I’ve seen it all night (aside from Stevie Wonder’s musical appearance) and you’ve never heard “Love in an Elevator” more contrapuntally elevator musicky than this as the symphony orchestra swells behind them! As the song comes to a conclusion, Perry further impresses upon the audience his dad’s influence on his career and life view, “My father always told me, ‘You can’t have harmony if everyone is singing the same note.’”
A white piano is surreptitiously yet ceremoniously rolled out to center stage. Tyler approaches it, flicks the back of his long white dinner-looking jacket with a flourish and looks to Maestro Wilkins with a gleam in his eye, “Now I get to throw back MY coattails!” The opening chords to “Dream On” can be heard as the crowd cheers yet again. As the music escalates to a crescendo and the strings soar serenely in the background, Tyler alights the lid of his white grand piano, guitar in hand and concludes the serenade. Four jets of simultaneous white steam burst from the stage like the final exclamation point(s) to the most languid yet dramatically intense run-on sentence you’ve ever heard…
From a run-on sentence to an emotional outburst, Tyler and Perry begin “Cryin’”. Tyler stands center stage, his back to the audience. At the orchestral into, the wind suddenly whips up seemingly on cue as Tyler then turns to the audience and smiles coquettishly, his hair flowing glamorously in the breeze almost like a fairy princess (eclipsing my own imagined royalty in my dominion over the Bowl via section Q2!). As he stops flirting with us and makes an actual commitment to face us, Tyler does more than that in an attempt to get closer to his subjects as he leaves the actual stage and walks around the perimeter of the Pool circle. From the vantage point of the new L.E.D. screens, he sings predominantly to a group of pudgy balding men in business shirts—well worth having left his kingdom in Centri-Stageistan for I say!
But the flirting is not over…oh no no, no, not by a long shot. Tyler may have receded back into the orchestral territory (away from the pool circle and its balding inhabitants) but by the evening’s end, the last thing he can purr to us all is, “Walk this Way” in only the most repetitive and hypnotic of fashions and the audience is nothing less than mesmerized. The orchestra swells behind the pulsating beat like a marching band—a really good, subtexual marching band and puffs of steam pant out of the stage in time to the music as the firework finale then takes over!
The crooning fades, the music swells and Tyler and Perry have left the stage. The crowd cheers insistently for an encore. The duo reappears, the backbeat to “Walk this Way”, still thumping along. Tyler and Perry invite the other inductees out to join them and I am suddenly reminded of the Gary Larson comic panel wherein a characteristic rotund, buck toothed, horn-rim glasses-clad tourist is surprised to stumble upon Godzilla(?), Jackie O. and the Lochness Monster standing side by side in a random forest. All four honorees croon “Walk this Way”. Yes it is just that Motely of a Crew—but that’s another concert all together. Patti Austen growls the lyrics into Tyler’s microphone imitating his voice once more. And nearly on cue, as if stalling against an encore, Tyler begins square dancing to a skip, do si doing John Legend first, and Austen second. Then as quickly as he has begun exploring his Country Curiosities, stops and begins walking off the stage, Austen and Legend in the lead. Arm around Joe Perry, Tyler speaks subtly—about how bodacious the four of them just were together no doubt and as he leaves the stage, picks a piece of lint off his lips, ever so subtly but necessarily and I am satisfied. I may not have gotten to see Tyler and Perry perform an encore, but instead got to witness this little slice-of-life tableau reminding me that Tyler is not merely an alienesque rock God first but an omnipotent human and I got to see him picking a lint ball out from between his lips. Those big prominent nearly Mick Jagger proportioned lips. I can now go home happy…
For tickets and information regarding the Bowl’s upcoming season, please visit, http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/ or simply call Hollywood Bowl Audience Services at (323) 850-2000.