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Concerto competition at Music Academy, Cy Coleman & Neil Simon on stage

July 10, 2009

By STEVE LIBOWITZ

Summer music institutes such as at the Music Academy of the West are all about the learning. Even though the students – er, fellows – are rather advanced in their fields, there’s still a big focus on master classes, a full score of them every week, where the various instrumentalists and singers can refine their art. Plus, there are myriad performance opportunities where they can interact in front of audiences in recitals, chamber music pieces and full symphony orchestra, where the focus isn’t on who’s the best, but on communicating and playing together.

But twice each summer, the fellows do compete against each other for some highly coveted awards. The first of those annual contests takes place tomorrow on the Miraflores campus in Montecito, where 15 instrumentalists selected earlier this week will take their best shot in the Concerto Competition Finals accompanied by a single collaborater. The reward for the winners? A chance to repeat the performance two weeks later, this time in front of the entire nearly 100-member strong Academy Festival Orchestra conducted by Alexander Mickelthwate. (The vocal fellows get their chance during the daytime on July 25 in the Marilyn Horne Foundation Vocal Competition).

Hard to say who’s going to come out on top, but I wouldn’t be surprised if pianist Christopher Janwong McKiggan grabs one of the four spots, based on his utterly riveting and emotionally revealing performance at MAW's opening Picnic Concert last Friday. McKiggan played – from memory, no less – “Three Minds” by up-and-coming young Thai composer Narong Prangcharoen, a three-part work that was both technically challenging and tonally ambitious, as it transposes Thai folk melodies and scales onto the piano. McKiggan’s reading of the piece is so proficient and evocative it’s his version that’s on a brand new CD of Prangcharoen’s works called “Phenomenon.”

McKiggan will play Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 5 tomorrow at Hahn Hall. Don’t miss it. Tickets are $12 for the 9:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. session and $13 for the 1:45 to 5:30 p.m. show. Call 969-8787.

Staging area

Perhaps the only reason why Cy Coleman, who died at 75 in November 2004, isn’t the same kind of household name as Cole Porter, Irving Berlin or the Gershwins might be because he was so good at so many different approaches to music. Pop song stylist, Broadway musical composer, blues and jazz purveyor, Coleman could do it all.

But what kept him from superstardom on the boards in New York also makes him just right for a musical revue. Hence, “The Best is Yet to Come,” the new show at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura, which is titled after one of his biggest hits and spans a big portion of Coleman’s expansive career.

Expect to hear such standards as “Witchcraft,” “Hey Big Spender” and “If They Could See Me Now” alongside lesser-known selections from such shows as “Wildcat,” “On the Twentieth Century.” “The Will Rogers Follies” and “Welcome to the Club” in the world premiere production created and directed by lyricist David Zippel, who teamed with Coleman for the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “City of Angels.” The revue stars a cast of eight that includes several Broadway veterans, from David Burnham (“The Light in the Piazza” and “Wicked”) to Lillias White (“The Life,” “Dreamgirls.”)

Previews began yesterday and continue 8pm Wednesdays through Sundays before officially opening on July 19. Call 667-2900.

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SBCC’s Theatre Group has scored nicely in the past with several of Neil Simon’s comedies. Now the troupe is taking on “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” set in 1953 and inspired by a young Simon’s own experience churning out jokes for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.”

One-liners, in-jokes and lots of slapstick make up the bulk of the comedy for this popular play, a perfect elixir for both the summer doldrums and the dampened economy. SBCC regulars Joseph Beck, Leslie Gangl Howe George Coe and Jon Koons star, along with Trevor Dow, Rebecca Ridenour, Justin Stark, Jerry Vassallo and William H. Waxman; Judy Garey directs. Opening night at 8 tonight, and the play continues at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, plus 2pm Sundays, through July 25. Call 965-5935.

Also…Santa Barbara Summer Stock Youth Theater presents two different shows at the Center Stage this weekend. The 6-11 year old actors will perform “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” tomorrow at 1 and 7 p.m., while the 12-15 year olds take on “Grease” at 7 p.m. tonight and 1 & 7 p.m. Sunday. Call 963-0408.

Elsewhere, both Circle Bar B Dinner Theater’s West Coast premiere of the wonderfully warm and surprisingly tuneful musical “Tony & the Soprano” and PCPA’s critically-acclaimed production of the epic musical “Les Miserables” at the Solvang Festival Theatre wind up their runs this weekend.

On the beat

The Santa Barbara Bowl gets back to action tonight with Incubus, the alternative rock band that is the pride of Calabasas, California. After four albums, Incubus hit the big time in 2001 with the massive hit single “Drive” and the multi-platinum album “Morning View.” They’ve released only two more CDs since then – “Light Grenades” debuted at No. 1 in 2006 – but are touring now in support of “Monuments and Melodies,” a two-disc compilation celebrating its dozen Top 10 hits and a bunch of rarities, released just two weeks ago. The Duke Spirit, an English gritty blues and glam rock band featuring firecracker lead singer Leila Moss that first won acclaim at the 2006 Coachella Festival, opens the show. Info at 962-7411 or www.sbbowl.org. Also tonight: Cash’d Out – the only tribute band endorsed by and linked to the official Johnny Cash website – makes its Santa Barbara debut at SOhO.

Tomorrow, Austin-based singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo, one of Sings Like Hell’s most popular performers, returns to the Lobero toting fellow guitarist-songwriter Chuck Prophet, his collaborator in the critically-acclaimed 2008 CD “Real Animal.” The two will share the stage for the entire evening with a little help from guitarist David Pulkingham, a fellow Texan who frequently plays with Escovedo. Info at 963-0761 or Stoopid – the San Diego-based band that fuses everything from acoustic rock and funk to blues, reggae, hip hop and funk – joins hip hop hero Snoop Dog and reggae scion Stephen Marley for the Blazed & Confused tour at the Santa Barbara Bowl. And former Santa Barbara resident Gina Villalobos returns to town to preview her latest solo CD, “Days on Their Side.” The founder of the bands Liquid Sunshine and The Mades performs at 9 p.m. at the Mercury Lounge in Goleta.