Post image for Music Concert Review: MAGIC HOUR IN LOS ANGELES: AMERICA’S CULTURAL RENAISSANCE OF 1974 (MUSE/IQUE at the Mark Taper Forum)

by Tony Frankel on March 24, 2024

in Concerts / Events,Music,Theater-Los Angeles


Still haven’t heard of MUSE/IQUE, Los Angeles? I first discovered this prestigious outfit in 2012 on stage at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in a program called Ebony Meets Ivory, a celebration of the piano. Since then, I have thrilled at dozens of MUSE/IQUE events, and they just get more and more fascinating and entertaining. With Artistic and Music Director and curator Rachael Worby‘s historical annotations, the assemblage of transplendent talent, and a wide-ranging selection of music and spoken word, MUSE/IQUE has established itself as an accessibly modern Salon des Artistes, a triple-cherry jackpot appropriate for any social and economic class.

Cut to 2024, in which concerts have grown to more than one performance in various locations (Skirball, Caltech, The Wallis, The Huntington and more). The visionary Ms. Worby still leads – or should I say conducts – the events with the intellectualism of a professorial musicologist, the grace of a seasoned actress, and the propriety of a schoolmarm. And long before it became the trend of the day, Worby always had a diverse band of musicians and performers, because the goal is great music and understanding the context in which it was born. Worby once stated, “Duke Ellington said there are two types of music in this world: great music and the other kind. Whether it’s gospel, jazz, classical Western, non-Western classical, musical theater or film – if it’s great, we want to use it.” MUSE/IQUE reimagines great American songs for today.

This afternoon, I caught one of three weekend performances at The Mark Taper Forum called Magic Hour in Los Angeles: America’s Cultural Renaissance of 1974. In a season entitled “Make Some Noise: Music and Stories of American Defiance and Hope,” this was a celebration of the wellspring of culture that wound up in L.A. in that infamous year With forty artists on stage, all performing brand-new arrangements specifically for MUSE/IQUE, Worby managed to encapsulate volumes of information into a glorious 90-minute program that elicited both joy and melancholy. And what an era! The 1970s were a period of transition for America as the progressive values that emerged in the 1960s around political awareness and women’s rights continued to flourish. A shift in pop culture also was under way, from Beatlemania and flower power to disco. Moviemakers, theater practitioners, musicians, and writers were acting as agents of social change.

Joni Mitchell was probably at the peak of her popularity in 1974, releasing her best-selling album, Court and Spark, and then going on a big tour, including three nights at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, right next to the Taper. L.A. native singer-songwriter Rachel Gonzalez sang “A Case of You” from Mitchell’s Blue, a gorgeous string arrangement by drummer Jamey Tate that had woodwind and brass gently sneaking in. And since Joni had a hand in the formation of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, all of whom hung out with her in Laurel Canyon (well, more than “hung out” you could say), we got David Saul Lee‘s jazzy doo-wop a cappella arrangement of “Teach Your Children,” sung by The DC6 Singers Collective, an L.A.-based ensemble of superb gospel and Motown singers.

Movies released in 1974 included Jaws and Mel Brooks’ one-two punch Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. And Paramount produced twenty-three movies. In tribute to the New Hollywood, we heard themes from three: Robert Schaer‘s orchestral take on Jerry Goldsmith’s smokey, film-noir “Love Theme” from Chinatown; Alan Steinberger‘s haunting solo piano arrangement of David Shire’s theme from The Conversation; and Schaer’s arrangement of “The Immigrant” theme from that year’s best picture winner The Godfather Part II. And at the 1974 Oscars, “The Way We Were” won for Original Song, so we got Jonah Sirota‘s luscious new styling, sung by Ms. Gonzalez, who I think may have feathered her hair for the occasion.

For TV, Norman Lear, whose wife Lyn was in the house, was the compass of America’s conscience. “We laughed ourselves into consciousness,” Worby said. Lear, a supporter of MUSE/IQUE, was celebrated with a “Suite for Sweet Norman, new arrangements of themes from Maude (written by “The Way We Were” lyricists Alan & Marilyn Bergman and Dave Grusin) All in the Family (“Those Were the Days” (by Bye, Bye, Birdie‘s Charles Strouse and Lee Adams), Sanford and Son (written by Quincy Jones) and The Jeffersons, (“Movin’ on Up” was composed by Ja’net Du Bois, who starred in another Lear show, Good Times).

50 years ago this month, actor Glynn Turman portrayed Hamlet at The Mark Taper Forum — then under the aegis of Gordon Davidson, founding artistic director of L.A.’s Center Theater Group — the same weekend Joni was at the Chandler. Turman quoted from both the “To be or not to be” speech as well as reciting Derek Walcott’s poem “Love After Love.” This while playing the harmonica! Walcott’s The Charlatan, which had its world premiere at the Mark Taper in 1974, starred Sherman Helmsley from The Jeffersons. I LOVED how Worby kept tying everything together.

Worby mentioned that Casey Kasem was fresh with his Top-40 countdown (I wonder if she knew that Kasem was also the voice of Shaggy on Scooby-Doo), and Kasem played hits from Stevie Wonder, the first Black person to win an Album of the Year GRAMMY. It was for Innervisions, and the year was — you guessed it — 1974. And this was Stevie’s 16th album at the age of 23! (Yes, Maestro Worby, keep those stats coming. I was spellbound.) Well, you should have heard vocalist LaVance Colley take on “Living for the City” and later “What’s Going On,” a tie-in from a story about Marvin Gaye and Motown, which had moved its headquarters to L.A. I’m telling you, Colley sounded just as good as Stevie, and he swept through high notes like a woodwind. Extraordinary. The smooth-voiced Don Cornelius also came to L.A. with his Soul Train, on which Bill Withers sang “Lean on Me,” performed and sung her by the entire MUSE/IQUE orchestra and cast … and us.

The other phenomenal vocalist was the handsome Javier Almaráz, who crooned with a wide register “Sabor a mí,” which was covered by Los Lobos, the rock band from East Los Angeles.

1974. Richard Nixon, after visiting China and forming the EPA, resigned following the Watergate scandal; Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record while playing for the Atlanta Braves; Tom Bradley became mayor of Los Angeles; A young novelist named Stephen King published his debut novel, Carrie; and much more. All of this on the heels of Harry Blackmun authoring the majority opinion in Roe vWade. This was the year Los Angeles exerted more influence over pop culture than any other city in America. Magic Hour in Los Angeles, partially inspired by Ronald Brownstein’s book Rock Me on the Water, brought that year back vividly and honestly, but with love and honor and celebration.

Magic Hour in Los Angeles: America’s Cultural Renaissance of 1974
in association with Center Theatre Group
Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave
ends on March 17, 2024
for tickets, visit MUSE-IQUE or CTG
MUSE/IQUE membership begins at $225;
members receive complimentary admission to all MUSE/IQUE events

MUSE/IQUE 2024 Season

In the 2024 season, MUSE/IQUE spotlights the transformative American artists and thinkers who rejected norms and limitations to forge a new and better future. When artists make loud choices and take bold stances, they teach us that nothing is impossible as we celebrate the stories and music that moved America.

Really Big Show: How Ed Sullivan Changed America Every Sunday Night
Tuesday, April 30 and Wednesday, May 1 at 7:30 pm
Outside at The Huntington, 1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino, CA 91108
Sunday, May 5 at 7:30 pm
Indoors at Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049

Every Sunday Night, in front of a live studio audience, Ed Sullivan promised millions of Americans gathered around televisions in their living rooms a “really big show.” Beginning in the late 1940s and enduring for nearly a quarter of a century, The Ed Sullivan Show was the ultimate primetime, must-watch variety show; a show that broke the mold and turned a revolving door of top-notch dancers, singers, bands, comedians, and a variety of entertainers into overnight sensations. But the true magic was how The Ed Sullivan Show was the way its on-air talent reflected the true diversity of the American public; Ed welcomed guests regardless of their race, ethnicity, or nationality when it was exceedingly unpopular and difficult to do so. The Ed Sullivan Show held up a mirror to America and reflected the possibility of a more hopeful and harmonious future. Join MUSE/IQUE and Artistic & Music Director Rachael Worby for a “really big shoo”—as Ed’s impersonators would lovingly pronounce it!—that celebrates how Ed Sullivan shook up the system and reached into living rooms across the country and into our hearts, minds, and imaginations.

The Judas of Folk: Dylan Plugs In
Open House: June 22 and 23 at Pasadena Memorial Park
85 E. Holly Street, Pasadena CA 91103
Tuesday, June 25 and Wednesday, June 26 at Skirball Cultural Center
Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049

It was outrageous. It was audacious. It was electric. When Bob Dylan plugged in his guitar for an electric set at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, he changed the conversation about the rules of music and art forever. With his stunning “betrayal” in Newport, Dylan challenged the conventions of folk and propelled the genre into thrilling new territory. Join MUSE/IQUE and Artistic & Music Director Rachael Worby as we trace the progression of folk music from its traditional roots to its role as the music of movements and protests; to Dylan’s bold swing, and beyond.

Plenty of Heart, Plenty of Hope: The Making of Oklahoma! and the Modern Musical
Friday, July 26; Saturday, July 27; and Sunday, July 28
The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Oklahoma! was undoubtedly the first of its kind. In the early 1940s, it was unconceivable to combine the complex storytelling of the typical stage play with the music and movement of traditional musicals. All of that changed when composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein joined forces for what would be the very first of many legendary collaborations. Their provocative, unprecedented musical dared to tackle darker themes and serious subject matter all while capturing the hopeful, resilient spirit of the nation. With its ambitious dream ballet sequence and stirring musical motifs, Oklahoma! broke and rewrote all the rules for what was possible on Broadway. Join MUSE/IQUE and Artistic & Music Director Rachael Worby for the dazzling story behind Oklahoma! and how its enduring legacy inspires us to dream differently.

Freedom at The Moulin Rouge: A Las Vegas Civil Rights Story
Tuesday, August 27 and Wednesday, August 28 at 7:30 pm
Outside at The Huntington, 1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino, CA 91108
Wednesday, September 4 and Thursday, September 5 at 7:30 pm
Indoors at Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049

For one short year in 1955, The Moulin Rouge Hotel and Casino had its name up in neon lights. MUSE/IQUE and Artistic & Music Director Rachael Worby present Freedom at The Moulin Rouge, the incredible, under-told story of the first-ever fully integrated hotel and casino in the country. Located just off The Strip in Las Vegas, which catered exclusively to white guests, The Moulin Rouge was a miraculous, vibrant place where people of all backgrounds could come together to relax, gamble, and, of course, dance ‘til dawn. Attracting a who’s-who of late-night patrons, including Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne, as well as Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and Marlene Dietrich, The Moulin Rouge sparked a new vision of people living, working, and making art together. Join us as we explore how, in a place that reflects the very best and very worst of America, The Moulin Rouge became a symbol for a community that ignited a movement and left an everlasting mark on Las Vegas that reverberates today.

Indivisible: The Glory of Lincoln’s Musical Soul
Wednesday, October 16 and Thursday, October 17 at 7:30 pm
Outside at The Huntington, 1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino, CA 91108
Sunday, October 20 at 7:30 pm
Indoors at Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049

In dark and uncertain times, music has always given us the courage of conviction. With much of his presidency plagued by war and civil unrest, Abraham Lincoln often turned to music for comfort, encouragement, and hope. Though he neither sang nor played an instrument, Lincoln once said: “Listening to melody, every man becomes his own poet, and measures the depth of his own nature.” Join MUSE/IQUE and Artistic Director Rachael Worby for our invigorating season finale, where we examine the impact of music on Lincoln’s soul. This triumphant performance celebrates the power of art to unite us and inspire us to keep marching forward.

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