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2023 Wrap Up

I've mentioned my love of live performances in a prior post. The rich, educational, communal and immersive experiences I always have, led to one of last year's resolutions, which was to attend more live performances in 2023. Here is how my goal panned out.


Les Misérables

I will launch this post with Les Misérables, my favorite musical of all time. It is the only musical I have seen multiple times and would still see again. Les Misérables is a musical based on the 1862 book by poet and author, Victor Hugo. This French, historical novel, considered to be one of the greatest of the 19th century, tells a moving story about love, loss, struggle, perseverance, vengeance, forgiveness and redemption.

The musical adaptation incorporates songs that enhance the story, and a score that works synergistically with all of the other elements of the show, to draw the viewer into every theme and emotion, the most dominant being the value of love. That theme is captured poetically and eloquently in the lyrics to one of the musical's songs which states, "To love another person is to see the face of God."

It is no surprise that Les Misérables has been captivating audiences for over 35 years and has won eight Tony awards. It is also no surprise, that due to its popularity, 2012 saw the film adaptation of the musical starring Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman and Amanda Seyfried, among others. The movie was nominated for eight Academy Awards, of which is took home three, including Best Supporting Actress for Anne Hathaway.

While I really enjoyed the film, it doesn't compare to the live, musical performance, in my opinion. The musical will be on tour through most of 2024 in various U.S. cities. Catch it if you can.


Pageant of the Masters

The Pageant of the Masters takes place every summer in Laguna Beach, California during the annual Festival of the Arts, which is the longest running, outdoor, fine art exhibition in California. When the Pageant of the Masters first began in 1933, it debuted with only eight shows. Today, the show runs over 50 times throughout the summer months.

It is easily the most unique production I have ever seen. Growing up, my mom would take me to see the show almost every summer, and though I have seen it many, many times, it has never gotten stale.

So, what is the Pageant of the Masters? It is tableaux vivants at their best. The 90 minute production features famous, classical and contemporary masterpieces, with a catch. Embedded within each flawless, re-creation are actors, that through the use of make up and costume, blend seamlessly into each piece. For example, in the statue above, the horse is manufactured, but the rider is an actor.

The Last Supper

Each year the show has a different theme. I was fortunate to attend the 2023 production themed, "Art Colony: In the Company of Artists," which celebrated the Pageant's 90th anniversary. This year's theme will be "À La Mode: The Art of Fashion."

Regardless of the annual theme chosen, the production's traditional finale has been Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, all but three years of the show's nine-decade history. Can you distinguish between the painted humans and the live actors in the piece above?


Despite my best efforts to describe the Pageant, I won't do it justice. There is something spectacularly surreal about seeing these pieces live, in the gorgeous, outdoor amphitheater, while hearing the narrator's description of each masterpiece and listening to the live orchestra play. Carve out a day this summer to enjoy the Festival of the Arts and complete the adventure with the 2024 Pageant of the Masters performance.


Wuthering Heights

The Berkeley Repertory Theater (Berkeley Rep) is located in Berkeley, California. Since 1968, the Berkeley Rep has been hosting truly dazzling performances and New York is watching. In fact, in recent years, 14 Berkeley Rep productions have made it to New York and at least five have landed on Broadway.

I recently saw the stunning musical, Wuthering Heights directed by Emily Rice, and I believe it will make its way from the Berkeley Rep to the Big Apple as well. This musical was an adaption of Emily Brontë's gothic, fiction novel, Wuthering Heights, written in 1847.

It is the tale of the turbulent relationship between two families living in the West Yorkshire Moors, in England. The book is usually most remembered for the tragic, love story between the characters Heathcliff and Catherine. I have not read the book since high school, but this play has inspired me to revisit it.


Cirque du Soleil: Mystère

If you have never been to a Cirque du Soleil performance, I guess you can think of it as a circus on steroids. Cirque du Soleil started in the early 1980's with a small group of street performers in Quebec. In 1987, Cirque made its U.S. debut and six years later, Mystère, the show I saw last year, became the first permanent Cirque du Soleil show ever.

Mystère took up residency in Las Vegas, Nevada where a custom-built theater was erected at the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino. The show has been running there since its opening on Christmas Day in 1993.

Today, Mystère is Cirque's longest running show world-wide. Mystère has made its impact on Cirque du Soleil fans of course, but it also paved the way for other Vegas based residencies including Celine Dion's "A New Day."

If you get the chance to see Mystère, or any Cirque du Soleil show, you are in for a treat. My favorite Cirque show is "O" which weaves in an aquatic element. You can see this water-themed show on the Las Vegas Strip at the Bellagio. The Bellagio's custom-built "O" theater includes a swimming pool, on the stage, that holds 1.5 million gallons of water.


Matilda

Julia Morgan is a renowned architect and one of the first, female, engineering majors from U.C. Berkeley. Morgan has designed more than 700 buildings, mostly in California. She is perhaps best known as the architect behind the Hearst Castle, in San Simeon, California.

One of the buildings that Morgan designed in Berkeley, is the eponymous Julia Morgan Theater. Last year, I visited the Julia Morgan Theater to see the musical, Matilda. Matilda is a great, family show based on the 1988 children's book by Roald Dahl. There is also a film adaptation of the book that was made in 1996, and more recently, a movie musical that can be watched on Netflix.


Football

I love football, but I especially love college football because there's so much heart in it. I watch college ball on T.V. pretty religiously, but whenever I can, I attend a live game. In 2023, I was fortunate to attend three. The game above was held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which opened in 1923 and has since been home to the USC Trojans and so much more.


This National and California Historic Landmark has hosted a World Series, NASCAR, two Super Bowls, U.S. Presidents including Roosevelt and Kennedy, dignitaries including Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez and evangelist Billy Graham, whose visit set the attendance record for the Coliseum at 134,254. The L.A. Coliseum is also the only venue to host two Summer Olympics, and soon, a third in 2028. The majestic, Olympic Cauldron that sits at the east end of the stadium, is lit during special occasions, as well as during the fourth quarter of every USC football home game, as above.

Melodrama

The Oxford dictionary defines a melodrama as "a sensational dramatic piece with exaggerated characters and exciting events intended to appeal to the emotions."

That is exactly what I got at the Holiday Extravaganza performance of "Santa's Angels" at the Gaslight Melodrama Theater and Music Hall.

The production featured some very famous individuals including Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Cupid, who all came together to usurp Father Time's scheme to destroy Christmas. Their ingenious plan prevailed with the help of audience participation (apparently, that is expected at a melodrama). In the end, Christmas was saved, and all was right once again.

Painting

This one isn't really a performance, unless I count myself the performer. It was however, a 2023 adventure that took me right out of my comfort zone and into a painting smock. To wrap up the year, I decided to take a painting class, which is very out of character for me and something I haven't done in about a decade. The instructor supplied the paint, brushes, canvas and wine, which we sipped on while following her step-by-step instructions that resulted in my creation above. This turned out to be a very fun activity, filled with a lot of laughter.


In addition to the shows and experiences above, I posted in 2023 about a moving fado performance I saw in Lisbon, Portugal, and an acrobatic performance I went to in Alaska. I also attended a gorgeous candlelight concert, featuring the music of Aretha Franklin, in Minneapolis, Minnesota and a beautiful flamenco show in Barcelona, Spain, both of which I intend to post about this year.

Beyond the amazing experiences I wrote about in 2023 including these, it was an incredible year with many unexpected blessings and so much peace. I am grateful beyond words and excited for what this new year will hold. Thank you for journeying with me on my 2023 adventures and many blessings to you and yours in 2024.

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