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The Valley Line: A hot day becomes a fiery night

The Valley Line: A hot day becomes a fiery night
“Mrs. Brown,” played by Phyre Hawkins, surprises Mormon Missionaries Gavin Creel who plays Elder Price, and Jared Gertner who plays Elder Cunningham, in the “Book of Mormon” musical now playing at The Panages Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus)

Wouldn’t you just know it? The very week that the musical theater production of “The Book of Mormon” opened at the Pantages Theatre and the L.A. Opera opened its season the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, heat records were being set in the greater Los Angeles basin.

These hot temps certainly were more than fitting for the Hades scene in “The Book of Mormon.” The musical won nine Tony Awards in its first year of on Broadway in New York City.

When the Nederlander Production of “The Book of Mormon” hit the stage here in L.A. it was a sell-out opening night as the searchlights swept over the dark night sky. Yes, it was a star-studded night too, as notable actors and theater people gathered in the lobby during intermission to compare notes. I found myself elbow-to-elbow with actor John C. Riley, who was showing his enthusiasm for the production as he chatted with friends.

True to the warning printed on the ticket, the language in the play may not be suitable for children. Indeed, in my opinion, that is so; and it might also be a bit iffy for some adults with tender sensibilities.


It is a groundbreaking, over-the-edge, high-powered production that aims straight for established, age-old religious beliefs. However, the good and innocent intentions of the erstwhile young Mormon missionaries remain almost unsullied and humorously intact as they deal with issues rarely discussed, or even thought of, in Salt Lake City.

If you want great singing, dancing, costumes and scenery, this production roars ahead non-stop. The audience on opening night could barely contain its enthusiasm, as members applauded each song and laughed uproariously at the jabs. The production runs through Nov. 25.


On Saturday night of the same week, the Los Angeles Opera was attracting an entirely different kind of crowd.


Exquisitely coiffed and gowned women on the arms of the tuxedo-clad escorts arrived at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the season opener, Giuseppe Verdi’s “Two Foscaris,” set in Venice, Italy in the 1400s.

Placido Domingo played the title baritone role of Francesco Foscari, the 140th role he has sung in his career. Known as one of the greatest tenor/baritones in the world, Domingo is exploring the deeper tones of his voice with this role.

The great Russian soprano Marina Popavskaya sang the role of Francesco’s daughter-in-law, whose husband, Jacobo, is accused of murder and being banished from his beloved city. The role of Jacobo was sung by tenor Francesco Meli.

“The Two Foscari” was a dramatic beginning for this new season and it did put “grand” back into opera, even though this is a rarely seen Verdi work.

This spectacular evening began before the blazing sun had set. More than 350 opera lovers gathered in the plaza in front of the pavilion to sip cocktails and dine before the 7:30 curtain beckoned them to the stage.

With the thermometer hovering around 103 degrees, ladies were given fans that said, “I’m a fan of LA Opera — Greater than the Sum of its Arts.” This was an absolutely necessary accessory for both men and women.

Jill Baldauf, who named this fund-raiser “Ignite,” chaired this pre-concert dinner, which raised $1.5 million dollars for the opera.

After the last curtain call for the exceptional cast, more than 450 guests came back to the plaza to party into the wee hours of the morning.


Beautiful female fire-eaters intrigued guests as they twirled their torches, bringing the theme “Ignite” to brilliant life.

The party was created to attract members of Aria, an opera support group geared for the 20-, 30- and 40-year-olds. A special celeb attending the party that night was Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the film “Inglourious Basterds.”

Stena Katic, who plays the role of Kate Beckett in the TV series “Castle,” served as the Aria honorary chair for the party that sizzled and smoldered as guests danced, quaffed flaming drinks and tasted exotic desserts.

Over the years, our foothill community has supported the L.A. Opera in many ways. LCF resident Gene Stein is a managing director of the L.A. Opera. There were several foothill area singers in the two choruses at the opening performance and they will appear throughout the year at various productions. Our community also has musicians in the orchestra. Bravo to all.

JANE NAPIER NEELY covers the La Cañada Flintridge social scene. Email her at with news of your local event.