Coburn Celebrity Recital Series, Twelve O’Clock Tales with Ava Gardner, and 1776 the Musical

Emanuel Ax (piano), Leonidas Kavakos (violin), and Yo-Yo Ma (cello) were featured in a Coburn Celebrity Recital Series at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. (Photo courtesy of LA Phil.)

Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma, musicians at the top of their fields, friends, and chamber music enthusiasts, joined forces for an unforgettable all-Beethoven program exploring his evolution as a composer as part of the Colburn Celebrity Recital Series at Walt Disney Concert Hall last Saturday. Selections included Beethoven (arr. Shai Wosner) Symphony No. 4 and Beethoven Piano Trio in B-flat, Op. 97 (“Archduke”). It was an extraordinary experience being in the presence of such enthusiastically talented musicians in such a magnificent space, with Yo-Yo Ma melding with his cello as if the two were conjoined twins, moving in complete syncopation with his every dip, twist and turn. Combined with violinist Kavakos’ captivating artistry and Ax adding in harmonic piano counterpoint, Beethoven’s trios, along with a surprise encore of the title song from “Schindler’s List” written as a trio for them by John Williams, made for an extraordinary afternoon in the presence of soul-affirming musicality. For more information about future Coburn Celebrity Recitals, concerts and events at Walt Disney Concert Hall, visit Masks are strongly recommended indoors.

Alessandra Assaf shares celebrity secrets in Twelve O’Clock Tales with Ava Gardner. (Photo credit: Frank Ishman)

Written by Alessandra Assafand Michael Lorre, directed with flash and flair by Michael A. Shepperd, the world premiere of Twelve O’Clock Tales with Ava Gardner reveals the contradictions and complexities of the passionate and deeply flawed woman behind silver screen icon Ava Gardner, brilliantly channeled by Assaf as she reveals some well-known facts and even more celebrity secrets.

Famous for her tumultuous life that included marriages to Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra as well as numerous love affairs, the Academy Award-nominated actress was raised the daughter of poor tobacco sharecroppers in Grabtown, North Carolina, and never forgot her rural roots, always calling herself a “country girl.” Assaf moves effortlessly, filled with Ava’s own self-importance as she drinks cold vodka and smokes cigarettes (thankfully never lit) as she shares (and records) secrets and scandalous tales with her longtime assistant, Mearene “Reenie” Jordan, her closest personal confidante whom Assaf addresses as if she is sitting in the audience.

The play takes place in Hollywood, California, during the time Ava was on the set of the blockbuster disaster film, Earthquake, in 1974. Tucked away in her dressing room bungalow, the queen of the scandal sheets once dubbed “The World’s Most Beautiful Animal” shares bedroom and celebrity secrets (including Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Lena Horne, Liz Taylor, Howard Hughes and George C. Scott along with her husbands) as well as tales of brutal love affairs, calling every second of one “an eternity of terror,” which resulted in broken bones and bruises hidden from the public by great studio make-up artists. And every moment through every sordid tale, Assaf pulls you into the real person behind the celebrity persona, brilliantly directed by Shepperd to constantly move between several period-perfect scenic alcoves, each authentically designed by Irmgard Quint, right down to the orange Princess phone!

There are so many wonderful quotes from Ava in the play, which I’d like to think are all true. A few of my favorites: “the best sex comes from those you are not in love with,” “I thoroughly enjoyed my random romps in the feathers, but love is everything,” and “stardom gave me everything I always wanted but not what I really needed.” Kudos to Assaf for every entertaining moment of her brilliant portrayal of a screen goddess more interested in being her real self in charge of her own life, rather than the media image imposed upon her. 

The world premiere of Twelve O’Clock Tales with Ava Gardner runs every Sunday at2 p.m. through March 5 as part of the second largest solo fest in the country at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks, 91423. General admission to all performances is $25.  For more information and to purchase tickets, call (818) 687-8559 or go to Masks are optional indoors.  

Franklin hopes bringing Martha Jefferson for a romantic visit with her husband will inspire him to write the Declaration of Independence. (L-R) Evan Cooper (John Adams), Bob Minnichelli (Benjamin Franklin), Isabella Francisco (Martha Jefferson), Charles Keppler (Thomas Jefferson). (Photo credit: John Nolan)

We all know the Declaration of Independence is celebrated with a national holiday on July 4. But who were the founding fathers and what happened during the two-year process in the Congressional Congress in Philadelphia that led to the document’s ratification? It all begins with a deadlocked Congress with reps from the original 13 colonies attempting to adopt the Declaration of Independence during the hot and steamy early summer months of 1776 while shuttered together in a room with closed windows to keep the bugs from flying inside. Tempers are boiling over in heated confrontations, men who have been absent from their wives are anxious to get home, and George Washington is sending missives about the impending British invasion while his troops are sorely lacking in skill and supplies. Challenging times indeed!

And while the Northern statesmen are ready to sign the document, how will they finally convince the Southern reps to approve it over their many objections? This Broadway musical shares more about the committee assigned to create the Declaration (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson) than we’ve ever seen before, while showing us what truly made America great in the first place – the ability to differ and compromise for the greater good of all people.

A few standouts in the cast include Bob Minnichelli, whose physical antics perfectly embody the many sides of Benjamin Franklin, including not only his wit and sage advice but also his lewd and lascivious nature when it comes to women. Charles Keppler shares the more reserved and observant Thomas Jefferson, including his overwhelming desire to return to his lovely and lonely bride Martha (Isabella Francisco) back in Virginia. After Franklin arranges for a romantic visit between the newlyweds, Francisco shines as Martha explaining her love for her husband during “He Plays the Violin.” 

But it is Evan Cooper who really carries the show as the outspoken and often disliked John Adams (the others complain about him during the opening number “For God Sake, John, Sit Down”), who is the most adamant about ratifying the document and creating the new country as a separate entity from Great Britain. His tender side is certainly shared each time he and his wife Abigail (Erin Callaway), who is struggling to keep their home afloat in Massachusetts, communicate with each other in song (“Till Then” and “Yours, Yours, Yours’) from opposite sides of the stage, expressing their devotion to each other across the miles separating them.   

First performed on Broadway in 1969, the musical 1776 with Music & Lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a Book by Peter Stone won three Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It’s an entertaining history lesson now being presented by The Aerospace Players at the James Armstrong Theatre, 3330 Civic Center Dr., Torrance 90503. Directed by Chuck Gustafson with choreography by Jeannine Barba, performances continue on Thursday, Feb. 2 at 7 p.m.; Friday, Feb. 3 at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Feb. 4 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $24 adults and $22 Seniors, Students and Children, available online at, in person at the James Armstrong box office, or via phone (310) 781-7171. Group rates are available via email to Free onsite parking with masks optional indoors.