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Short Takes: 'Angel,' '24' both rebound; Maazel delivers; Algo Latino sizzles

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Arts & Entertainment writers offer capsule comments on this, that and the other thing ...


The WB's "Angel" (9 p.m. tomorrow) always has lived in the shadow of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," the series it was spun off from, but for at least the past two seasons, "Angel" has been the superior show.

Tomorrow's season finale also could be a series finale if The WB doesn't renew this cult favorite for a fifth year. We won't know if that happens until May 13, when The WB announces its fall schedule. While "Angel's" season finale would work as a series finale -- some, but not all, loose ends get wrapped up -- there's so much potential invested in setting the series on a new course, it would be a shame to see it end.

Last week, Team Angel finished off Jasmine (Gina Torres), a goddess who promised world peace at the price of world enslavement. It couldn't have come soon enough. After a season of gymnast-worthy twists and turns, the appearance of Jasmine in March ground the show to a halt.

Maybe those weeks of no forward plot momentum were worth it for tonight's tour-de-force hour. Dead evil lawyer Lilah (Stephanie Romanov) has returned to offer Angel (David Boreanaz) the keys to her kingdom, Wolfram & Hart.

"You want to give us your evil law firm?" asks an incredulous Gunn (J. August Richards). "We aren't lawyers ..."

"Or evil. Currently," Fred (Amy Acker) adds.

Angel and the gang resist Lilah's entreaties at first, but the opportunity to "beat the system from inside the belly of the beast" has its allure.

Tomorrow's episode, titled "Home," was written and directed by Tim Minear, and it's as entertaining and affecting an hour as there's been all season, culminating in an ending that's as surprising as it is necessary.

"Angel" is a show that has plenty of life left in it; it's not ready to be consigned to TV show heaven just yet.

-- Review by Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor


Fox's real-time drama "24" suffered an inevitable slump midway through its sophomore season. After a groundbreaking first year, the second time around was bound to pale in comparison. It got off to a decent start, but bogged down with predictable plot turns and lost its well-honed ability to surprise.

Thankfully, in recent weeks the old "24" has come roaring back. The drama is in particularly fine form tonight at 9 as Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) has his first tete-a-tete with duplicitous Sherry Palmer (Penny Johnson Jerald). It's a doozy of an hour with twists at every turn.

Jack Bauer's second bad day may end well for viewers after all.

-- Review by Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

The attractive campus of Washington & Jefferson College is tucked away in Washington County, but it has a presenting series rivaling the best in Pittsburgh, or New York, for that matter. The Vilar Distinguished Artist Series, a gift by alumnus Alberto Vilar, brings classical heavy hitters to the Olin Fine Arts Center for students (at no cost), the community and those making the short trip from Pittsburgh.

Sunday afternoon was a highlight as Lorin Maazel's Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra made a stop on its American tour, with violinist Gil Shaham, for a concert of Brahms. It was an opportunity to hear a different timbre of orchestra -- German to the core -- complete with a different woodwind system of playing.

The downside is that multipurpose Olin is not nearly equipped to handle such a group, either in stage size or acoustics. But cramped environs, blinking lighting and inadequate reverberation didn't deter the youthful orchestra from a deft performance.

In the Violin Concerto, Shaham was focused and impassioned, switching from shredder to serenader in an instant. Here and in Symphony No. 2, Maazel cued the musicians excellently. Navigating the acoustical problems with grace, he maintained the orchestra's intensity and vivid interpretations without overwhelming the 486-seat auditorium.

-- Review by Andrew Druckenbrod, Post-Gazette Classical Music Critic

Algo Latino

New orchestra Algo Latino, which includes singer/saxman John Orsini, cranks out music to dance to over the next few Tuesday nights at the Rhythm House Cafe in Bridgeville. (John Heller, Post-Gazette)

If you like your jazz to sizzle, it might be time to check out Algo Latino, an 11-piece orchestra that's quietly endearing itself to local fans.

The group's music is accessible and encourages dancing, which is what the band is hoping you'll do, because there's plenty of room on the floor at the Rhythm House Cafe in Bridgeville where Algo Latino performs tonight and is scheduled for several more consecutive Tuesdays from 8 to 11 p.m.

The group, co-led by Alan Skwarla and John Orsini, is first-rate, featuring Orsini and Jackie Rodriguez on vocals and some of Pittsburgh's best jazz musicians, many of whom can be found performing in other musical configurations.

Besides the sheer pleasure of watching a small group of dancers completely enthralled in the music, part of what makes Algo Latino special is the group's wide-ranging choice of material. Many of the tunes are drawn from the music of Arturo Sandoval, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barreto and Tito Puente, including "Oye, Como Va" and "Tokyo Blues."

Orsini and Rodriguez's suave and expressive lyricism is also a treat, especially when they delve into romantic ballads.

The group was formed only a few weeks ago, but they sound as though they have been together for years.

Stop by -- you'll be pleasantly surprised. For more information, call 412-221-5010.

-- Review by Nate Guidry, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

'Yaatra: Journey'

It's difficult under any circumstances when the winds of change sweep away the dust of tradition. But when that tradition is 2,000 years old, the task at hand is even more daunting.

But choreographer Sreyashi Dey is carefully revealing a gleaming new art form in Odissi dance, deeply rooted in Indian history but open to so much more.

Her program at Carnegie Mellon University's Philip Chosky Theater last weekend took the audience on a "Yaatra: Journey," one that reflected Dey's own personal choreographic quest as it portrayed the cycles of birth and death.

Dey employed her own skillful Odissi dance in a solo, "Anubhava," where the struggle to accept death was apparent in the wonderful way she would arrest the flow of the arms in the air and then accent with the head.

But much of this journey was new. There were the almost sculptural tableaus that revealed her foray into the theater of Kathakali dance, with a touch of the ritualistic elements of Japanese butoh dance. This gave this journey a lyric flow, particularly in the soft sand painting, the slow pilgrimages across the stage and the slow, deliberate pouring of ashes.

At times the seams did show, particularly in the yoga-inspired sun salutation and some of the turning sequences -- the comfort and skill are not there yet. But, on the whole, Dey demonstrated a choreographic balance and eye and a radiance of spirit that carried the night.

-- Review by Jane Vranish, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

'Send Me No Flowers'

Throughout the summer, amateur community drama groups produce shows with built-in audiences who are attracted as much by the low ticket prices as by the convenience of seeing a play close to home. The quality of so-called straw-hat theater can be good or bad, but to be fair, the shows should be compared to other straw-hat productions.

Rent one of Pittsburgh's grand theater houses and charge top rate for a ticket, and audiences should get something more.

That's only part of the problem with Latshaw Productions' "Send Me No Flowers." The show is a perfectly fine marital farce by Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore that should be evaluated on a scale that includes local straw hats. Unfortunately, the producer has placed it at the North Side's Hazlett Theater, the former home of Pittsburgh Public Theater, and is asking the mostly senior audience to cough up $30 a ticket.

Far worse, however, the star of the show couldn't act happy on payday. Charlie Prose is an Atlantic City comic and variety show host who's trying to stretch his repertoire to include acting. It's not working out. While the professional cast includes some fine actors, including Elizabeth Campbell and Samantha A. Camp, Prose doesn't have the acting chops to pull off the lead in a scripted comedy.

For an arts critic, there's not much art to critique. A consumer advocate might advise that while it's not illegal to charge fixed-income audiences professional-caliber prices to see amateur acting, it's not very nice, either. Audiences should do themselves a favor: Go to Little Lake, Red Barn or another of the city's best straw-hat companies and pay less than a third as much to see far better performances of the same type of theater.

Latshaw Productions at Hazlett Theater North Side. 2 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; through May 17. $30; 724-853-4050.

-- Review by John Hayes, Post-Gazette staff writer

Breaking records

At a time when there's so much bad financial news about the arts, two organizations have some record news to report.

The "Millet to Matisse" exhibition at the Frick Art & Historical Center has broken the museum's attendance record -- and still has three weeks to go.

As of May 1, 23,219 people had visited the exhibition, which opened March 2. The previous highest attendance number for a Frick exhibition was 20,105 for 2000's "Jean-Francois Millet: Drawn Into the Light."

"Obviously exhibitions with Impressionist paintings are always popular, and we've used a Van Gogh image to promote the show," said Frick executive director William Bodine as a way to explain the high attendance numbers.

Bodine said that even though admission to the museum is free, high attendance brings more income to the Frick by way of contribution boxes, membership applications and visits to the cafe, gift shop and historic mansion.

In addition, Pittsburgh Opera set a monetary record for total single ticket sales and group sales. It made $601,000 on such sales this season. Last year, it made $453,000.

-- By Caroline Abels, Post-Gazette Cultural Arts Writer

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