Singing & Dancing in 2010, From “American Idol” to “Riverdance”

Photo by Joan Marcus

Scene from “Riverdance - The Farewell Performances.”

Every great entertainer had to start somewhere but “American Idol” gives daydreaming wannabes the fast-track to stardom if they can impress the judges and make it to the semi-finals. Then it’s up to American viewers to decide who moves forward in the competition. The super singing contest hosted by Ryan Seacrest returns with a double dose of auditions (the good, the bad and the truly horrendous), Jan. 12 and 13 on Fox TV. In the audition cities across the U.S., Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi will be joined by a parade of rotating guest judges, including Kristin Chenoweth, Victoria Beckham, Shania Twain, Avril Lavigne, Neil Patrick Harris and Joe Jonas.
Taking over the fourth seat on the judging panel once they get to Hollywood is Ellen DeGeneres (who signed on for a five year gig). The comedian replaces the often comical (maybe unintentionally) Paula Abdul, who got great mileage out of the phrase “I’m sooo proud of you” during her eight seasons on the show. For this ninth installment of “American Idol,” Ellen will be enthusiastic (as Paula certainly was) but sees herself more representative of the people’s point of view. Ellen claims to be just like every fan of the show who sees a performer and judges him or her by whether she’d like to download the song or pay to see that singer in concert. That’s a good way to judge.
Also showing off their singing skills are rockin’ senior citizens who formed a chorus called Young @ Heart. They are the subject of an inspiring “Independent Lens” documentary on PBS, airing Tuesday, Jan. 12. The “Lens” follows the group as they learn that Rock’n’Roll can be hard work. They go through rehearsals leading up to a triumphant performance, with songs ranging from James Brown to Coldplay. It is a must-see show for all ages that celebrates the life-affirming power of music.
Forever young Debbie Reynolds will be back in concert Sept. 22 to Oct. 3 at the El Portal Theatre, the crown jewel of the NoHo Arts District. (Yes, that’s lots of notice but she always sells out.) We got the heads up from the unsinkable Debbie herself when we ran into her enjoying a holiday performance of “Live At The Sahara” at the El Portal, before the “Live” stars Jake Broder and Vanessa Claire Smith headed to Broadway.
At the historic Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, another fabulous season has been put together by the folks at Broadway/LA. It’s the ultimate singing and dancing lineup, starting with dazzling Irish dancers who take the stage in “Riverdance” from Jan. 12 to 24 in the farewell performances of its cross-country tour. Following will be “Stomp,” returning with new surprises from Jan. 26 to Feb. 7. The crowd-pleasing show proves that anything can be a musical instrument in the hands of creative performers with lots of energy.
Talking about both “Riverdance” and “Stomp” with my theater-maven friend Benny Aguayo over at Broadway/LA, we agreed that these simple dance/performance shows outshine many elaborate Broadway productions. Why? Maybe because they impress audiences with the energy, discipline and the human dexterity involved in presenting the thunderous celebration of Irish dance and the intense Stomp-style musical creations.
Kudos to the nameless troupe of artists who maintain a level of excellence in their performance eight times a week while enduring an exhausting travel schedule. You can consider the dancers world-class athletes who have chosen a body-punishing career that requires them to stay in shape, train and perform with Olympian-like dancing skills. The fact that they don’t collapse after every performance astounds me, since I am left breathless and exhausted just watching them.
Among the other delightfully exhausting musicals coming to the Pantages are “Cats” (March 9-21), “Chicago” (April 20-May 7), and “The 101 Dalmatians Musical” (June 8-20) with Rachel York as the dognapping Cruella de Vil. Also, “Oprah Winfrey presents The Color Purple” (Feb. 10-28) is called “the musical about love” with Fantasia, a graduate of the “American Idol” school of stardom!

Classical Music in Glendale
“We are very happy to be a new addition to the community in the City of Glendale,” proudly announced Rusian Biryukov, founder of the Glendale Philharmonic Orchestra. The inaugural concert of the “Glendale Phil” is Saturday, Jan. 9 at 7:30pm at First Baptist Church of Glendale. The “Positive Motions” concert series will be launched under the baton of Mikael Avetisyan, the Phil’s artistic director and principal conductor. Alto Polis Music Management and Positive Motions Foundation will continue to present the concerts the first Saturday of every month at the First Baptist Church of Glendale, a recently restored acoustic jewel of the area, nearly 100 years old and as classical as the music.