Photo of the Week


“Nonconformist” © Bob Corn-Revere

Of Note

Irene Dalis, who went on to a starry international career as an operatic mezzo-soprano before returning to establish and run Opera San José for 30 years, died Sunday in San Jose after a long illness. She was 89. Dalis retired from the stage in 1977 and was severly injured in a 2010 automobile accident. Funeral arrangements are pending.  San Francisco Chronicle

A new national study looks at the relationship between the arts and economic development in larger urban areas. One of the study’s main conclusions, according to Michael Florida, is that the role of the arts in urban development has been “highly underestimated” by government officials.  Atlantic

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is planning a $50 million renovation that will add new gallery space and a rooftop garden. The museum has been in the old post office at the corner of State and Anapamu Streets for the last 50 years. All the funding for the project, to be phased in over the next five years, will be privately raised. Santa Barbara Independent

santalanddiariesManaging artistic director Kevin Harris returns to the stage of San Luis Obispo Little Theatre for one last weekend of his one-man show The Santaland Diaries December 19-21. The “After Hours” production is based on a story by humorist David Sedaris. Harris plays an elf caught up in the holiday hoopla of Macy’s department store. Final performances of the comedy are slated Friday and Saturday at 9:45 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. Buy your tickets here.

Inspiration for Writers: New York Times bestselling author Eileen Goudge shares her transformation into a successful independent author. Anne R. Allen  &&&   Mandy Wallace suggests seven ways to continue writing when you feel like quitting. Write or Die   &&&   The next meeting of South County Poets is scheduled for Sunday, December 28, at 5:30 p.m. Stacey Warde will be the featured reader for the gathering, which meets at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, 301 Trinity Way in Arroyo Grande.   &&&  Veteran broadcasters Guy Rathbun and David Congalton share pointers to authors looking for radio interviews on Saturday, February 7 at the Coastal Dunes chapter of the California Writers Club. The meeting begins at 10:30 a.m. in the Community Room of the Nipomo Public Library.

DidionWe Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live is the first and only documentary being made about Joan Didion. The director, Griffin Dunne, has known Joan his entire life. Joining Griffin as co-director is award-winning filmmaker, Susanne Rostock. Made with Joan, using Joan’s words.

Acclaimed director Ridley Scott says that Harrison Ford called the script for Blade Runner 2 “the best he’s ever read.” That makes us even more excited about the chances for a follow-up to the 1982 sci-fi classic. They even have a website up already. Variety

Kirsten Acuna suggests her 14 Movies to See This Winter. No real surprises on a list that includes Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice, Selma, and The Imitation Game. Industry analysts are predicting box office gold come Christmas with any number of outstanding movies that will draw audiences well into 2015. Business Insider

Although many people agree that the arts are an important part of education, they may not realize the powerful “trickle-up” effect of arts education on a modern, innovative workforce. Americans for the Arts CEO Robert L. Lynch makes the case that arts education has the power to transform societies for the better. Huffington Post


Christmas, Christmas, and More Christmas!

By Charlotte Alexander

December 7, 2014 (Nipomo, CA) – So . . . Christmas is coming earlier every year, with stores touting tinseled trees in August and Black Friday ads making their first appearance about the time Halloween candy goes on sale. Makes you think the future holds one very long harvesting/trick-or-treating/thanksgiving/gift-giving holiday that won’t end ’til a twelfth-night pumpkin/tree-burning in January. (Tim Burton’s 20-year-old film The Nightmare Before Christmas is a seductive herald of this possibility – with a stage version rumored to be in the works in 2015.)

Even local holiday theatrical productions started their end-of-year runs as early as pre-Thanksgiving live Christmas tree sales. This year, PCPA led the pack by opening its world premiere production of Christmas Is Here Again on November 13. The Great American Melodrama followed, opening its annual Holiday Extravaganza – one of its best – on November 20. San Luis Obispo Little Theatre was the exception, holding A Christmas Story until its delightful opening the first weekend in December. Its late start, however, was most likely due to SLOLT’s extremely packed 2014-15 production schedule in which very few weekends are dark during the entire season.

All told, each one of these productions is a special gift to the community. A Christmas Story ends December 21, but very few seats remain so if you want to see it, make your reservations now. Christmas Is Here Again winds up on Christmas Eve, with tickets still available for most shows until then. Seats for the Melodrama’s Extravaganza are limited through Christmas, but open up the last week in December, with the production winding up on New Year’s Eve.


A Christmas Story: A Sparkling Gift

achristmasstoryComparisons are always made when a story originally created in one form is translated into another. Philip Grecian’s play A Christmas Story is a quite successful adaptation of the 1983 film written by Jean Shepherd, which itself was based on material derived from a couple of Shepherd’s books.

The SLO Little Theatre production brings the two-act play to sparkling life, and any attempts to judge the play or this production against the film are misguided. The story of 9-year-old Ralphie and his inspired quest to obtain a BB gun (sorry, a 200-shot carbine action range model air rifle etc. etc. etc.) for Christmas is highly entertaining whether you’ve seen the film or not.

Thanks mostly to the play’s narrator, the adult Ralphie, we put the memories of one long-ago Christmas into the context of a different time. This look back, of course, is filled with nostalgia and an adult understanding of circumstances that might baffle a 9-year-old boy.

Remembrances are for adults, after all, not kids. That’s likely why this production will be most appreciated by the over-21 crowd. Some children attending a recent two-hour matinee seemed restless, perhaps because the only modern conveniences in evidence were a radio, a BB gun and a lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg – no talking phones or LED monitors in sight.

There are, however, plenty of kids in the production. Director Don Stewart has assembled a great cast of youngsters headed by Drew VanderWeele as Ralphie, who proves exceptionally capable of playing all the roles that Ralphie takes on in fact as well as fantasy. He is ably supported by school chums Devin Orr, Tobin Merriam, Zoe Piette, Serafina Regusci and Trevyn Wong.

Drew VanderWeele plays Ralphie

© Jamie Foster Photography

Andy Miklas as Ralphie’s little brother Randy is priceless, and together with Mother (Kristen Saunders) and The Old Man (Keith Stanfield) this family is as realistic (and flawed) as a nostalgic holiday remembrance can make them.

Saunders and Stanfield take turns entertaining us with their attention to detail and timing, thanks as well to some deft direction by Stewart. All of the actors shine within the memories of the adult Ralphie, who is played by Gregg Wolff with agility and grace. Wolff is the glue that holds this charming production together. His engaging narration, as well as his dexterity participating in the action, plays a major part in the success of this show.

Special mention should be made of the sets and costumes. David Linfield once again amazes audiences with his ability to transform a small thrust stage into many different locations thanks to his engineering and master design skills. The slide leading kids away from the department store Santa is ingenious!

Randal Lee Sumabat’s costumes are perfect, from the matching pajamas for Ralphie and Randy to the pink ribbons in a little girl’s hair to the black and white cowhide chaps Ralphie wears during his cowboy-with-an-air-rifle fantasy. And don’t miss the nod to The Wizard of Oz (featuring Katie Ridge Hofstetter) in the second act.

Give your family, friends and neighbors a sparkling gift in advance of Christmas: tickets to see SLO Little Theatre’s A Christmas Story.


Christmas Is Here Again: A World Premiere on the Central Coast

christmas2The world premiere of a new musical is a seldom-seen event on the Central Coast. For that reason alone, visiting PCPA for the extravagant Christmas Is Here Again should be on any local theatre enthusiast’s Christmas “to-do” list. Coincidentally, this production is also an adaptation of a film – an animated musical adventure released for the children’s market in 2007.

This premiere emerged from a series of workshops in which director Roger DeLaurier and several PCPA students participated along with co-creators Brad Carroll and Jeremy Mann. A unique part of the production is the incorporation of animated projections based on the film’s original artwork that provide background for the perilous quest undertaken by members of the cast.

And many cast members there are. The show brings together a variety of Christmas characters and traditions: dancing snowflakes, Christmas tree ornaments and candy canes; perky pixies and lovable orphans; a sly fox, an excitable reindeer, a singing elf and a cavorting polar bear. The result is a two-hour-plus spectacle that at times seems a bit over the top.

christmas1Production design is true to PCPA’s well-earned reputation for excellence. Scenic designer DeAnne Kennedy and lighting designer Jennifer “Z” Zornow have created a world almost devoid of color (in a time when there is no Christmas) and then amazingly full of color and light as orphan Sophiana and her gaggle of companions find a way (no surprise here) to bring Christmas back. Children should love the costume designs by Marcy Froehlich, and the sound design by Elisabeth Rebel is both effective and affecting.

The acting as well is first-rate, led by Erik Stein, Billy Breed, Kitty Balay, Andrew Philpot, Elizabeth Stuart, and George Walker. Second year acting student Charlette Rawls as Sophiana holds her own with these PCPA veterans, singing and dancing and providing a convincing link to the child in all of us.

The show itself, however, is a somewhat strange mixture of other musicals, Christian doctrine and a multitude of secular Christmas characters. Annie, The Wizard of Oz, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and even The Sound of Music are obvious inspirations. When Elizabeth Stuart as Miss Victoria breaks into the first song of the evening, which includes the words “If you’re feeling sad…,” it’s as if she were channeling Julie Andrews.

Perhaps the show’s setting, which is indeed its premise, needs a bit more work. “A time when there is no Christmas” raises a lot of questions. The entire production is somewhat circular and begs the question: its characters, particularly Sophiana, take to a quest to find something masquerading as Christmas – hope? faith? belief in yourself? – that requires hope, faith or a belief in yourself to find. Assigning religious connotations to Santa Clause paraphernalia along the way is needlessly confusing as well. In the end, theatre-goers should see Christmas Is Here Again as a flamboyant inaugural for PCPA’s 51st season, and not examine its philosophical underpinnings too closely.

Consider it a gift that we have a professional conservatory theatre in our midst, and celebrate the promise of upcoming PCPA shows like Peter and the Starcatcher, My Fair Lady, Man of LaMancha, as well as Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad and John Robin Baitz’ Other Desert Cities.


Holiday Extravaganza:  The Best Scrooge Around

Beau Heckman & Katie WorleyAudiences come back year after year to experience a trio of productions known collectively as The Great American Melodrama’s Holiday Extravaganza. The reason is simple: the stories are always entertaining, the actors are always endearing, and the laughs are always guaranteed.

First comes an all-out chain-rattling usually-dark but ultimately-uplifting adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, then comes a really funny fractured fairytale opera, and finally comes a sentimental and hilarious (by turns) holiday vaudeville revue. This year, all three acts of the Holiday Extravaganza are outstanding.

Treat yourself to the best Ebenezer Scrooge you’ve seen in a long time. Melodrama newcomer Beau Heckman leads a talented cast in making the old miser and his relatives, employees, charity seekers and unbidden ghostly visitors so real you’ll want to leap out of your seat and celebrate with all of them when, in the end, a wonderful Victorian Christmas morning dawns (and the goblins have vanished, at least until next year).

Cody Jolly as Junior WolfHeckman’s performance is magical and extremely physical. He begins as an embittered, wily, hunched-over taskmaster, but his transformation (following the usual ghostly encounters, of course) into a happy, gleeful, even skipping philanthropist is a delight to behold. Also notable in the cast are Noah Kaplan, Katie Worley, Alex Sheets and Cody Jolly, who make much of their special ghostly duties.

The success of this engrossing and well-coordinated staging of A Christmas Carol can be ascribed to what seems like an absolutely seamless collaboration of creative individuals working behind the actors, beginning with director Kevin Harris. Producing artistic director Nova Cunningham provided the adaptation (which runs taut and tight), Kevin Lawson provides the excellent musical direction and live accompaniment, the costume and wig designs by Renee Van Niel are rich and flawless, and the lighting design and technical direction by Richard Jackson and Scott Amiotte, respectively, are sophisticated, haunting and so appropriate for this kind of supernatural show. Kudos to the Melodrama for the best Christmas Carol in many years.

But the show, of course, doesn’t stop there. This year’s fractured fairytale opera showcases the talents of Katie Worley as Little Red (yes, that would be her first name) and Cody Jolly as Junior Wolf (yes, that would be the son of “Big Bad”).

She’s a spoiled typical teenager who only wants an iPhone to make her life complete (yes, it’s set in the “Middle Ages… sort of” but who’s worrying about details?). He’s a carnivore who has decided he really wants to be a vegetarian chef, not a man-eating Vaudeville Revuebeast. With a chorus made up of hand puppets, and a quartet of fairy tale geezers (including Rapunzel and Prince Charming, if you’re into name-dropping), this tale is destined to sing and dance its way to a happily ever after, as only a fractured fairy tale can.

And finally, a Holiday Vaudeville Revue winds up the evening with some new material as well as old favorites, including the Oceano Waterglass Orchestra (how do they do that with water glasses?) and the not-to-be-missed infamous “Reindeer Rap.”

Give yourself a final Christmas gift and spend New Year’s Eve at the Melodrama. You won’t be disappointed.

Asked & Answered

Merrell Fankhauser, Singer/Songwriter/Surf Band Rocker

“The best advice and ideas I got were from Bill McEuen, to remain original no matter what the trend may be.”


December 14, 2014 (San Luis Obispo, CA) — Merrell Fankhauser shows no signs of slowing down. The surf music icon has a new album out and his autobiography, Calling from a Star, has just been released. Merrell’s magic musical tour dates back to the 1960s when surf music was king and the beach was the place to be. Merrell talks about those days and where his career is heading.

David Congalton: Congratulations on your autobiography Calling from a Star being published. How did this project come together?

mwfcoverbookMerrell Fankhauser:  I started working on my autobiography in 1990. People kept telling me I should write a book with all the adventures I’ve had in and outside the music business. My mom was a great help when she was still alive and remembered events that I didn’t, and she kept a lot of old newspaper and magazine clippings that helped nail down dates for various events.

DC: You’ve had quite a journey, Merrell. What are a couple of highlights?

MF: My surf band was discovered in 1962 by Del Fi records while performing at The Rose Garden Ballroom in Pismo Beach. They immediately released our album. It sold well and that got everything started. We didn’t make any royalties, however, as we signed away our rights to the song sharks in Hollywood. We were all just teenagers and had no idea about copyrights and recording contracts. In 1964 I formed Merrell And The Exiles and moved to Lancaster and had four 45 singles released on the Glenn Record label and an album titled Fapardokly in 1967 that has become one of the most sought after and valuable ’60s albums.

DC: That had to be a big turning point in your career.

MF: Definitely! Then in 1968 my group HMS Bounty was signed to Uni Records. They were a major label and we had two hit singles on the national charts: Things and Girl I’m Waitin’ for You. In 1969 I formed “MU” and did two albums on Era Records and United Artist Records. In 1976 I did a solo album titled Maui . I had moved to the island with “MU” in 1973. The album was highly acclaimed by reviewers and critics. In 1991, I recorded an album with record producer William E. McEuen titled Return To MU that came out on three labels worldwide. I considered it to be my best album. After several more solo albums and two with Spirit drummer Ed Cassidy I was nominated for a Grammy in the historical album category for my 1967 song Tomorrows Girl that was on the Warner Rhino box set Where The Action Is L.A. Nuggets 1965- 1968.

DC: You’ve worked with some truly great musicians over the years. Did any of them give you any solid advice that changed your approach to music?

MF: I think I learned a lot from all the musicians I worked with including Nicky Hopkins who played with The Beatles and Rolling Stones and many others. The best advice and ideas I got were from Bill McEuen, to remain original no matter what the trend may be.

DC: “Surf rock” seemed to make a comeback in the ’90s. Is it being picked up by younger musicians today?

MF:  Surf Rock actually came back in the late ’80s. I started getting letters and emails from young musicians that were doing surf instrumentals wanting to know the chords for different songs and what kind of guitar and amp was I using. I also got lots of DJs in the ’90s asking for more surf instrumentals. I got back for a short two-year stint with the remaing Impacts members and did three albums, and then in 2000, I started a solo surf CD titled Rockin and Surfin. As of 2014, I have released four volumes of Rockin and Surfin’ instrumentals. There are still quite a few DJs around the globe that play surf instrumentals.

DC: How did you pick up such an international following? In some ways, you’re more famous in Europe than you are here.

MF:  Yeah, true. The fans in Europe and even Japan and South America found me in the ’60s because, unknown to me, the U.S. companies were licensing my albums to countries all over, UK, Sweden, France, Italy, Spain, Po;land and Greece. I’m on several Japanese labels and a few in Brazil and Argentina! With the Grammy nomination in 2011, I’m now catching up with my European popularity in the U.S.

DC: Name your All-Star Band. If you could have any musicians, dead or alive, back you up for one concert, who would it be?

mwfanddeanMF: My All-Star Band would be some of the guys from my “MU” band, plus Nicky Hopkins on piano, Ed Cassidy on drums, Dean Torrence on vocal. Dean (of Jan & Dean fame) sings harmony on Return To MU and we did a concert together at the Clark Center a few years back. I’d also have to include my son Tim and members of my current band, Sal Garza on violin, Art Dougall on drums, and Phil Gross on bass. Also, Pete Sears of The Starship. Sadly several of these great guys are no longer with us.

DC: What’s next for you, Merrell? What are you working on now?

MF:  I just finished a new album Signals From Malibu that is now out and the single is already on 80 radio stations nationaly. And my autobiography is out and available at and many other online sources and soon in bookstores everywhere. I will be doing a book signing tour next year.