Arts & Culture Newsletter: Celebrating jazz this Fourth of July weekend

Good morning, and welcome to the U-T Arts & Culture Newsletter.

I’m David L. Coddon, and here’s your guide to all things essential in San Diego’s arts and culture this week.

What could be more patriotic this Fourth of July weekend than celebrating the truly American art form that is jazz? Among the places the genre was nurtured in the early part of the 20th century was Harlem, and in particular the Cotton Club on 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue. Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Ethel Waters entertained there, cementing the legacy of the storied nightclub.

The sound of the Cotton Club comes to life again in the musical “After Midnight,” a joyous and evocative show available from Broadway On Demand through Aug. 4. Tickets to access the 90-minute streaming are $35.

This sung-through musical premiered on Broadway in 2013 and variously included among its rotating ensemble cast Patti LaBelle, Toni Braxton and Babyface. If you’re not yet ready to return to a live theater, this virtual production featuring 25 singers and period-costumed dancers and a 17-person orchestra right on the stage will fill your living room with high energy.

Framed by the words of poet Langston Hughes, the rollicking revue is set on the streets of Harlem. Young Jared Grimes directs and choreographs a cast that covers classic after classic: “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “It Don’t Mean A Thing,” “Stormy Weather,” “I’ve Got the World On A String” and more. The accompanying orchestra is cooking like gas throughout.

More theater

A scene from "The Catastrophist."

A scene from “The Catastrophist.”

(Courtesy photo by Peter Ruocco)

Lauren Gunderson’s “The Catastrophist” is no ordinary one-person play. Its protagonist is virologist Nathan Wolfe, Gunderson’s husband (portrayed in this streaming Marin Theatre Co. production by William DeMerritt). Early in the going, the Wolfe character realizes he’s in a play … written by his wife, and we’re witness to a reality show of sorts in which the raison d’etre of a scientist is explored in depth.

The San Diego Repertory Theatre is presenting “The Catastrophist” through July 11, and the tickets are pay what you can ($35 is suggested). The timeliness of a work about a virologist is clear enough, and there’s enough lively storytelling in the play to keep even those uninitiated to or uninterested in science engaged. Still, “The Catastrophist” is way too “meta” for me, and, I thought, way too long. I found Gunderson’s “Silent Sky,” most recently produced at Lamb’s Players Theatre in 2017, a more intriguing science story. But then “Silent Sky” is about an astronomer (the real-life Henrietta Leavitt), and I used to dabble at stargazing as a kid. More on my thing for astronomy later.

Note: The San Diego Rep will host a live virtual talkback with playwright Gunderson and actor DeMerritt on July 8.


Will Smith, left, and Jeff Goldblum aim to save the nation from space aliens in "Independence Day."

Will Smith, left, and Jeff Goldblum aim to save the nation from space aliens in “Independence Day.”

(20th Century Fox)

Fourth of July weekend at-home film-watching means popcorn movies, and my recommendation for this year is a blast from the past: 1996’s “Independence Day.” This raucous aliens-from-space romp written and directed by Roland Emmerich was actually released on July 3 that year and would go on to rake in $104 million its first week.

No doubt you’ve seen it, but you may be wondering if “Independence Day” still holds up after all these years. My answer, having watched it again very recently, is absolutely. The unlikely buddy team of Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, along with memorable support from Bill Pullman (as the rock-jawed prez), Margaret Colin, Judd Hirsch (hamming it up as Goldblum’s dad) and a gonzo Randy Quaid, makes “Independence Day” about more than its special effects. Those, granted, may seem quaint by today’s high-tech standards. The film does wave the flag, too, so it was and is well-named.

Revisit it (available for digital rental via Amazon Prime), and don’t overdo it on the popcorn.

Virtual visit

Palomar Observatory's 200-inch Hale telescope

Palomar Observatory’s 200-inch Hale telescope, despite its age, produces its share of data, sometimes eclipsing other more modern optical devices.

(John Gastaldo / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Searching the heavens if not necessarily for alien spacecraft for more than 70 years, the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory is one of San Diego County’s most venerable scientific institutions. For now you can tour it virtually and, if you’ve never been there, get an idea why.

Start with the three-minute welcome video that tells the story of the observatory’s history, albeit in a robotic narrative that doesn’t come close to conveying how cool a place Palomar is. Then take the 360-degree virtual tour that allows you at your own pace to explore the multi-telescope facility inside and out. For best navigation, use the drop-down menu on the left.

If you’re waiting for the observatory to reopen to the public, keep tabs using the Palomar webpage.


A tribute band dressed as members of British band, the Beatles, walk across the famous pedestrian crossing on Abbey Road

A tribute band dressed as members of British band, the Beatles, walk across the famous pedestrian crossing on Abbey Road, in London, in a recreation of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover as hundreds of people gathered to mark the 40th anniversary of the album, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2009.

( AP)

What’s the most famous album cover of all time? Arguably, it’s The Beatles’ 1969 “Abbey Road,” which depicts John, Paul, George and Ringo crossing that street in the London borough of Camden.

Well, the Abbey Road Studios webpage offers a little curiosity you may enjoy: a live “Crossing Cam” that lets you watch, day or night, anyone making their way on foot as the Fab Four once did. That includes tourists who hold up traffic taking pictures of themselves.


The scenic design for San Diego Opera's 2022 production of "Romeo et Juliette."

The scenic design for San Diego Opera’s “Romeo et Juliette,” which will open at the San Diego Civic Theatre March 26, 2022.

(Dan Norman)

San Diego Opera fans who’ve been eagerly awaiting the return of mainstage opera to the San Diego Civic Theatre will have to cool their heels a bit longer. The company’s just-announced 2021-22 season will include two large-scale productions of “Così fan tutte” and “Roméo et Juliette” at the Civic, but they won’t arrive until early 2022. Read more in this story by the Union-Tribune’s Pam Kragen.

Earlier this week, Kragen also reported on the San Diego Opera’s financials. Read her story here.

Visual art

Artist Shinpei Takeda

Artist Shinpei Takeda

(Courtesy photo by Yumi Watanabe)

The U-T reported on a lot of art happenings this week. Here they are:

Duke Windsor: "Golden Skies No. 34," 2020, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas

Duke Windsor: “Golden Skies No. 34,” 2020, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas

(City of San Diego Civic Art Collection, purchase, through a gift of Thomas O. Rasmussen. © Duke Windsor)


University of California Television (UCTV) is making a host of videos available on its website during this period of social distancing. Among them, with descriptions courtesy of UCTV (text written by UCTV staff):

“Brahms’ ‘Symphony No. 3 in F Major’ – La Jolla Symphony & Chorus”: Brahms’ “Symphony No. 3,” composed in 1883, is the shortest, subtlest and most concise of his four symphonies. Each movement demonstrates Brahms’ mastery of the form as he ranges from uncharacteristically boisterous to introspective. The structure is unusual for a 19th-century symphony and belies Brahms’ reticent nature; for the third movement, instead of the expected rapid scherzo Brahms created a unique kind of movement that is moderate in tempo (poco allegretto) and intensely lyrical in character. The finale is a surprisingly passionate movement, rich in melody that is intensely exploited, altered and developed before fading to a unusually quiet ending.

“The Sustainable Learning Framework”: It’s generally agreed among education experts that the future of learning and knowledge sharing is above all digitally mediated and human centered. Enabling this future requires an explicit framework that includes standards and indicators that can assure a consistent approach with built-in quality assurance. Diana Woolis from the Carey Institute for Global Good argues that capturing and sharing experience is largely absent from current processes and explains how the Sustainable Learning Framework provides the critical and missing feedback loop that enables continuous real-time learning from experience, while providing insight about progress on goals, and guides course adjustment.

“Precision Genomics and Immunotherapy”: Oncologists are long accustomed to looking for commonalities in patients, but highly personalized therapies are now being developed based on technologic advances that make it possible to profile abnormalities in the genetic code of tumors. Clinicians at the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy are beginning to use this information to tailor treatments to individual patients. The center’s director, Dr. Razelle Kurzrock, explains that every tumor is unique, and the goal is to use advanced genomic tools to predict who will respond to a specific treatment and to match each patient with the best drug for a particular tumor.

And finally: Things to do in San Diego

Swifty Swine Racing Pigs are a center stage attraction at this year's HomeGrownFun

Swifty Swine Racing Pigs are a center stage attraction at this year’s HomeGrownFun, a scaled-down version of the San Diego County Fair which will take place June 11 through July 4 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

(Nancee E. Lewis/© 2021 Nancee Lewis / Nancee Le)

From fireworks and comedy to movie musicals and a New Wave dance party, here are the top events happening in San Diego from Thursday, July 1 through Sunday, July 4.

Alice G. Collins

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