Our Laguna: Festival of Arts opening night reminiscent of 1930s

The Festival of Arts celebrated its 80th season at an invitation-only party Saturday night that harkened to the 1930s.

But it was this year's show that created the buzz.

"It is stunning," said Rosemary Swimm, wife of artist Tom Swimm, who was decked out in a tan, double-breasted suit with dark shirt and a spiffy hat for the opening, among the folks who dressed for the 1930s theme.

Swimm is celebrating his 25th anniversary in the show by producing 25 miniatures of scenes from some of his big pieces or favorite subjects, but he is pleased to see newcomers in the show.

"There are a lot of new styles," he said.

Newcomers include photographer Don Earhart, a retired businessman who had taken his hobby to the next level.

He submitted three black-and-white photos of flowers past their prime, which got him juried into the show.

"I was told I couldn't call them "Dying Flowers," so they are "Florals in Transition," he said.

His booth also displays some color photos that he transferred to canvas.

Other newcomers include Ron Azevedo, Linda Grossman, V. Lee Cabanilla, Paul Cheng, Gina Mead Howie, Elaine Cohen, Josh Corbin, Nancy Egan, Amanda Fish, Robin Johnson, MN Kelly, Arlene Rheinish, Michelle LaRae, Ester Roi, Stacey Van Hanswyk, Lee Munsell, Michelle Lance, Annette Wimmer, Will Silverman, Cheyne Walls, Anthony Salvo, Wai-Sin Tong-Darbonne, Fabrice Spies, Marie Tippets, Dan Witte and September McGee.

One of McGee's pieces is featured on the "Black is Back" brochure that publicizes "Art to Go" originals that are donated by Festival of Art exhibitors to raise funds for festival artists suffering financial hardship. The motto is "Without artists there can be no art."

Jacquie Moffet holds the title for longevity at the festival. She has been exhibiting for 44 years, in addition to serving on the board for 16 years, a position in which her husband, Robert, now serves.

Familiar exhibitors included Julita Jones, back in the show after a one-year sabbatical to recover from a fire at her home.

The party included music of the '30s played by Wise Guys Big Band Machine. Gina's al fresco catered the event.

Among those enjoying the evening: Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson, Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham, Arts Commissioners Mary Ferguson and Suzi Chauvel, Bob and Marge Earl, Laguna Concert Band founder Carol Reynolds, former Mayor Paul Freeman and former city administrator Sandy Groves who has opened a studio in Laguna Canyon.


By George, they are good

If you missed it, it was your loss.

"George Gershwin and his Lovely Wife Ira: The Gershwins" was performed June 29 and 30 at Veterans Memorial Building on Legion Street, home to No Square Theatre.

The show was the third of three "American Songbook" productions this year, featuring the music by American composers and insights into their creativity. The series included the music of Frank Loesser and Irving Berlin.

"We hope you have enjoyed the music and perhaps learned something new about these great masters and their significant contributions to the fabric of America," said Bree Burgess Rosen, founder of No Square Theater.

Among the new information: the tidbit about brother Ira being incorrectly identified as George's wife, which accounted for the title of the show.

George wrote the music, Ira the lyrics for such famous songs in the show as "'S Wonderful," "How Long has this Been Going On," "Embraceable You" (written 80 years ago), and "Strike Up The Band," which the brothers gave to UCLA in 1936 and is still played at the university's athletic events.

There was also songs that were not as familiar as "Strike Up the Band" sung by the cast and the chant, "I Don't Know What's Been Said, but George and Ira never wed," to open the show, or "Love is Here to Stay," which closed it.

"There were at least a couple of songs I had never heard," said Planning Commissioner Anne Johnson, who considers herself something of an authority on theater.

"The Gershwins' music continues to be recorded year after year by everyone from Janis Joplin to Bon Jovi, Willie Neslon and Diana Krall and this year's release of 'Someone to Watch Over Me' byLady Gaga," said Burgess Rosen.

If the Gershwins' music is worth hearing again, "George Gershwin and his Wife Ira" also bears repeating.

This was Laguna's community theater at the top of its game — with cast, crew and venue all locally connected to the audience.

The show was conceived and written by Burgess Rosen. Roxanna Ward directed the music and played the piano — including a brief riff of "Rhapsody in Blue," piano, as well as singing a number or two. Joe Lauderdale, who directed "More of Loesser" earlier this year, was in charge of lighting. Patrick Quilter handled the sound.

The cast included three professionals: Actor's Equity Assn. members Burgess Rosen, the debonair Paul Nygro and Erika Whalen, and Pat Kollenda, who might as well be a professional, and Randy Hatfield, Susan Kotses (whose voice was perfect for "Summertime," which she sang in the second act) Jay Rechter, Ron Dier, Debbie Meeker, Natalie Powers and Carol Robinson, the best amateurs that money couldn't buy.

No Square is slowly, but steadily upgrading its rehearsal and performance venue it shares with American Legion Post 222. To date: black draperies that disguise the walls and provide a backdrop that focuses attention on the performers; updated lighting, sound and air conditioning.

New portable stadium seating was installed for the weekend shows. There wasn't a bad seat in the house.

In the seats: Judge Paul and Mayor Jane Egly — delighted to learn that Meeker's brother was one of her students; City Councilwoman Toni Iseman and her cousin, Ellen, visiting from New York; Johnson's brother, Harvey Morrison, visiting from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam; and Jock Stalker, who had one of the better voices singing "The Star Spangled Banner," which always opens No Square productions; City Treasurer Laura Parisi, and City Council candidate Bob Whalen, applauding his daughter.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (714) 966-4627 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.

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