If I told you I was sat on our little patio at a mosaic table for two with a candle burning upon it, another glowing on the mantle inside, the outdoor fairy lights switched on by the fence and the final wafts of incense cleansing the air would you believe me? I use no poetic license. This is my picture of our little Los Angelesian slice of heaven. A perfect little sanctuary from the scurry that has been the last few days. Heaven knows we like to do a thing or three lickety split but the bombardment of my senses leaves me with some need for a few hours of a solace. And that is what I have found most perfectly. Here in the back yard. Our niece is watching the show for the last time before she heads back to Blighty tomorrow, the man is bringing pleasure to the raucous LA crowd, surpassing everybody's expectations both in number and vigour. Mini boy is ensconced in the bed with a well deserved early night. And me? I'm a tip tapping to the rhythm of the stone urn water feature trickling by the fence.
On tip tapping I have more news. A few nights ago I had the barely containable delight of meeting a certain Mr Fred, who as head of the local wardrobe team here at the Pantages Theatre, proudly told me of his dancing history. Cory opened up the dialogue by informing Sam that Fred had danced with Sammy Davis Junior. The boy looked up all googly eyes and tells Fred that he named himself after him. Fred smiles and does a little shuffle. Then Sam shows him a cartwheel or twelve and Fred gets on his knees (he is no spring chicken) and proceeds to coach the lad. He talks about angles, lines, straightening this and that. Sam listens and does his best to take the note. They laugh together. Then Fred does half a headstand. We all instinctively move closer in case he hasn't warmed up enough (!). Half an hour later, when he has finished dressing Brad, he comes back in with a thick ring binder full of plastic sheet protected photographs from most of the movies he has danced in. My eye dances over images of him flanking Barbara Streisand in Hello Dolly, gazing at him as one of the brothers in 7 Brides for 7 Brothers, Guys and Dolls, Brigadoon and other MGM classics with which I grew up with of a rainy saturday afternoon. My favourite is a picture of him standing next to a small chalk board on which is written his character, his height and the name of the picture's director. None other than Mr Gene Kelly. Now it's my turn to almost fall off my chair. Here, tangibly present is the closest thing I will ever have to meeting one of my idols. Truth be known, I suspected I would have married the man. Gene that is, not Fred (I don't think women are his type). In my nine year old head I had trouble grappling with time you see. I did find my song and dance man in the end with Mr English. When Fred comes back in I quiz him ad nauseum about the man. He tells me that he actually preferred working with Astaire. I flick back to the shot of him doing a leap in splits behind the star. He tells me of Mr Astaire's perfectionism, his keen need to help and teach when his dancers might not be absolutely on the beat in contrast to the impatience of Kelly. I listen with my wide nine year old eyes. The Fred does half a pirouette, throws a line to Sam whom, tells me our lad is 3 going on 20 and shimmys back out to work, folder in hand. I explain to the mini fella that Fred has worked with the Singin in the Rain man. Now we both have that wide eyed look.
It is not only this encounter that has fuelled the magical quality about life at this theatre. Granted it has the awful reputation of being the place where productions come to die (ironically we finish the run here also) but the production I have been observing since October has been injected with a new lease of life. Perhaps it has something to do with it being the final leg? The fact that Mel Brooks came on stage on opening night and gave a heartfelt speech on the excellence of the actors, siting Roger, Schuler and then later Cory? The way each performance has appeared utterly sold out? The way they roar in all the right places and adore the lead? Or maybe its something to do with the fact that Cory's dressing room opens right onto the wings so that you can hear the performance live and through the speakers also making it easy for everyone to stop in and chat? Or maybe, it is having the renewed sense of wonder because we can experience it through my niece's eyes as she ogles the beautiful male ensemble? Goes weak at the knees for the lead? Looks proudly at her uncle? Chats openly with all the crew as if she might very well like to make herself a home here? She has confessed, since the cab ride into the city that this place will be her home. Her uncle teased her that we hadn't even seen our home yet and that she can't drive. She shrugs this off and flicks her hair over her face so that only one eye pokes out from underneath in the enigmatic-fold-over-style.
She has been a wonderful traveller and has enjoyed being dragged about fitting into our schedule. The most recent was Cory's commercial casting. He feared the worst when, on entry, they asked for his bar code. I asked him if he rolled up his sleeve to scan in the micro chip under his wrist. He tells me he stood there all gaga until one Andy came to the rescue. None other than the chap who played Leo Bloom opposite his Max Bialystock back in the summery days of Ogunquit's playhouse summer season a couple of years ago in Maine. It was an idyllic six weeks up in the New England splendour where the two kicked off a sincere connection. Mr Taylor was also Sam's baby sitter on many occasions, under his insistence, seeing as he missed his three children so (they had had to remain home in LA with their mum and her last minute casting in a great job). The two of them, with Andy's daughter in tow met us at the park opposite the casting office afterwards whereupon Lucy became Sam's new best friend/big sister. They swung, climbed and climbed some more. I said goodbye to the impossibly yummy mummys I had started chit chat with, and as we walked to the truck Lucy and Sam made a date for that night. It was with some trepidation that we broke the news that that evening would not work out so well but that we would absolutely definitely see them very very soon (I think that's tomorrow by now actually!). With a few hours to spare before Cory had to head back to the theatre for an interview ahead of half hour call, we decided to carry on towards Venice Beach.
The sun was blazing down bleaching out the pastel 1920s bungalows that line the hill down to the blue brilliance of the ocean. What is it about an ocean view that gives me wings? On towards the palms, pass the volley ball nets, the speedy skaters, the army of bicyclists and round the back doubles on the hunt for a picnic lunch. We found the Rose Market, opposite the Rose temple. As we walked in I wondered how much my niece would be into vegetarian yogi delights. What we found was a roomy cafe and gift shop their displays full of luscious fresh salads. Just what the tummy ordered. We loaded up on all sorts of greens and purples and breads and noodles and things and scurried back to the beach. On wards we trod, narrowly averting disaster with a tanned person zooming on a bike and another coming the other way with wheels on her feet, across the fine sand, wind whipping autumnally at our faces. Finally we camped down, next to a few more bikinis and filled ourselves with Rose's delights. Boy, full of pastas then cavorted like a little chimp with needles on his feet, hopping and twirling and doing the beach-boogie. He made a few friends. When the family next to us left they all shouted out for Sammy from the sandy distance as they paced away under their baggage. Heading close to four we decided it prudent to allow time for traffic and set off, sand laden, sun kissed and happy.
What greeted us, after a couple of wrong turns (I am a hopeless navigator when chatting with my ma-in-law at the same time on the phone) was a route 450 moving at, ooh, roughly 0 m.p.h. We eventually turn off for Santa Monica Boulevard where the traffic is moving even slower. Grid. Lock. The young'uns are conked out in the back seat, my niece contorting herself around the car seat, Sammy open mouthed ready inviting any passing sumo fly to make home. We inch forward for a couple of blocks. I think I catch a snail overtaking us. When, on our nth look at the clock we realise it is almost 6 o clock and that at the rate we are going it is likely to be past curtain up before we get to the theatre we decide to gamble domestic bliss by me navigating Cory through the rat routes of Hollywood to get him to his church on time. Me, head down in iphone, pretending I am a traffic controller. He, all high shoulders and eyes on the road with the determination of a hero in the last few shots of the movie. We zig zag up and down and around, through neighbourhoods parallel to main roads. We are almost half way there when Cory tells me he is below the final notch on the gas dial. I bite my tongue (almost) about the three gas stations he has refused to stop at minutes after leaving the freeway and hour ago. Onwards with zoom, knuckles white with hope. Finally Hollywood Boulevard welcomes us and we park with 5 minutes to spare. The boy and girl wake up from their doze. No prizes to guess which looked like they had been sleeping under 7 ft of sand. Mum has seaweed for hair. Dad looks exhausted. Niece does a shimmy of the carefully ironed tresses (luckily for her I am getting the hang of doing it having never held those straightener things in my life till this week) and looks the most refreshed but for sporting the huge shirt of her uncles. Cory sprints to work to get to his interview. Niece picks up the sand monster and the three of us edge out of the parking lot looking every inch the gypsy travellers. Our mission to find food for the man is accomplished quite easily at Juicy Burger, a surprisingly tasty, fresh delight and then family camps out for an unexpected evening at the theatre. This delights niece no end, especially when actors and dancers take turns to come in and play with the cartwheeler and listen to the budding actresses' stories of life and love and anything and everything. Towards the end of the night, boy is fading, I throw him into the shower ( to remove the beach and the inch thick layer of make up he has slapped on to turn himself into Igor-ino) and then he conks out after a book or two after which I lay him on several blankets under Dad's dressing table. Niece is up a stairwell in the shadows of backstage cosied up in Cory's Young Frankenstein dressing gown with a cat's eye view of the male ensemble's changing area and the wings. At the end of the show Cory and she leave me and the sleeping Sam to get the car and begin unloading The Hamper. That chilly empty wing silence envelops me. I read articles on my iphone to silence my imagination that is busily crafting detailed scenarios involving ghosts and slamming doors and being locked in. In the midst of my internal bickering I receive a call from Cory that the gate is locked and would I please wander around and find the security guy and let us in. A moment after picturing myself tip toeing around the wings trying to find help in a darkened deserted theatre I am tip toeing around the wings trying to find help in a darkened deserted theatre. Calling out for help. My resistance to normal breathing cut short when security guy pops up from some stairs. We give each other a fright. Moments later we are in gypsy scene two, surrounded this time by cases and cookers and family shoving all of the above into the car.
But it has not all been work work work. Cory has many dear friends in this town. All of whom have been utterly welcoming and hospitable. One lady, who has spent some time in England filming with her family welcomed us into her home a few nights ago for supper. A grand 1938 purpose built block, all Hollywood black and white movie, complete with stone stairwells, original coving and stove. Let it be known that our son has, for the past year and a half, etched the memory of her daughter into his mind under the title of Girlfriend. It came as no surprise to me that when he finally got to see her, jet lagged as she was from her recent return from China where she has family, that he could hardly wait to put his little arm around her. She, somewhat more discerning of character took a little while to accept his advances. Half and hour later they were hiding under the dinner table telling the grown ups they did not want to be seen. We carried on snacking the hors d'oeuvres whilst giggles bubbled up from our feet. Each time we lifted the tablecloth we found them locked into each other in a tight hug grinning from ear to China. Later perhaps, when the young lady decided she did not really want another hug and Sam burst into the most tragic heart broken tears I have ever seen him wail, it was a slightly different story. The fella must learn someday I spose. The ladies need a little room to breathe. Yesterday, it was similar story whilst we dined at an uber elegant dining room across from the theatre with another wonderful lady who hadtravelled into town from San Diego to see Cory. I caught whiff of the tale end of some healthy bickering when suddenly Sam clasps at his ears and begins that wail again. I hug him tight till the storm passes. Our friend takes hold of her lady and she begins to wail. The course of true love never did run smooth.
In fairness it had been a big afternoon for the two. Our friend had kindly invited us to a marionette show. Dad equipped me with the iphone directions and a good luck and the boy and I braved the public transits of the city whilst niece went to watch the show. Underground, we found a spotless, bright station, with a handful of unlikelies gracing the platform. Everyone else was sitting in traffic upstairs. Empty film reels lining the ceiling and walls, giant sculptures of movie cameras standing like dinosaurs at an exhibition along the entry. We are in Hollywood. When we reach our stop we get out into the light and start the mum scramble to find the bus stop. One lady walks by and I approach her but she waves her hands at me with a "no english!" The next lady minces by with a strapless black dress and funky sun glasses. I ask her where the number 14 bus stop is. She points up at the sign above me with a crunched brow no attempt to mask her irritation of my obvious stupidity. I point our that the sign reads 714 and that I am looking for the 14. She shrugs that it is a local line. I half expect her to add a "duh!" to the end of it but she is mincing into the distance before I can say thank you. Over the hill I catch the bus peeking up and wave my hand to flag it. It drives right by me to the number 14 stop 100 yards or so down the road at which point boy and ma rev into mega sprint. Its ok, there is a couple questioning the driver every which way about some place or other so we have several minutes to spare before we get going.
Eventually by a flyover we hop off and saunter downhill under the lunchtime glare, passed aloe and succulents and rhododendron towards the theatre. We find a milieu of children beginning to swarm the parking lot. In we pile to a carpeted room, swagged with what looks like christmas decorations. Eventually the show begins and the heavy red curtains lift up to reveal a fairy lit marionette wonderland. The show that unfolds over the next forty five minutes is like nothing I had ever seen to date. Picture a 1950s nostalgia piece harking back to vaudeville and music hall and you are half way there. Then add demonic looking marionettes and hallucinogenic portrayals of farmyard animals, plants and crops, add some slightly out of synch lip synching from a few novice puppeteers and you are almost there. One woman was rather adept at her job and delighted young and old by running around operating "Peter Rabbit" who painted our noses different flavours. I got Margarita. Hiccup. Sam got blueberry. In between the musical skits that bore absolutely no relation to the previous or the following and adhered to no notion of story telling whatsoever, a fox and a chicken made appearances in a chase sequence. Chicken bends down to flutter her eyelashes at the audience. Fox looks at her derriere and tells he she has "a nice...fan." One for the dads I guess. Turns out I had found myself at one of LA's institutions, now celebrating its 50th year. I fear it may rely somewhat too much on its reputation. A bit like the museum piece The Mousetrap back home, unchanged in every way apart from the cast, since its creation over 50 years ago. Still, the image of that blue eyed goat with a blonde wig will not leave me for some time and for this I am truly grateful.
Till my next instalment I will carry on admiring the Spanish architecture, picking out my pretend homes, wowing at the tans and the triceps and the general sunshiny-ness of this place. The agent I met the other day told me that everyone gets bored of the sun. When that happens you take off to the mountains and ski. He also told me that should I live here permanently he would guarantee I would miss damp afternoons curled up on the sofa reading. Right now its very hard to imagine, so happy am I, sat out on this clear night at my little candlelit table. The air feels like Sardinian august night.
We are entering that time of year when all my family and friends have birthdays. I always revel in that summery feeling whatever the weather. It is also when I the feeling of being away from them all is most marked. This year, the day before my birthday, we will be bidding adieu to some of our favourite folks in the show as they head back to New York. A small group of core players and crew are staying on for the next leg, but big changes are afoot. I briefed our little tyke tonight. He seemed to be absorbing the reality on some level. Then he launched himself into a complex performance which involved every musical instrument we own. And a finale. And a big bow. Holding the hands of imaginary colleagues either side of course.
Tomorrow we send our niece back to her London life where she will soon begin training to become an actrine, proper. Cory has bought her his favourite books on acting. She bought herself some new trainers. And a photoshop picture of her and another one of ther fabourite actors. ANd has filed a truck load of stories about her life backstage. In LA. I wait for her and Cory to return from her final show.