Thursday, April 8, 2021

Oregon Cabaret Theatre: toasting a theatrical institution in Ashland


A lovingly restored 1911 church is home to Oregon Cabaret Theatre, a mainstay in Ashland, Oregon's cultural scene. After surviving the brutal pandemic year, the Cabaret is back in full swing. 

Themed menu offerings are available, as in this tasty French inspired
appetizer plate for "Picasso at the Lapin Agile." The "Sweeney Todd'
 menu featured meat pies, naturally, made with beef (not victims!)

DELIGHTFUL THEATER AWAITS IN LOVELY RESTORED CHURCH

Oregon Cabaret Theater celebrates 36 seasons serving up top entertainment and fine fare in an intimate setting -- and it's back in business after the pandemic's challenging year of change and cutbacks 



STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER
and courtesy Oregon Cabaret Theatre

The range of productions at Oregon Cabaret Theatre
is impressive, from popular dramas to mysteries,
and musicals. Special one-nighters sometimes
round out the season. After a brutal year, the
cabaret is back. Dinner is also an option.
PEOPLE COME to Ashland, Oregon, for its beauty, small-town charm, fine food and world class theater.  Everyone knows about the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and we're among legions who also take in a show at the lively, top-quality Oregon Cabaret Theatre.
It's been a brutal year for performance, but things are looking up and a spring-summer-fall slate is on the boards. "The Spitfire Grill," running into April, is already sold out.
Those who regularly frequent OSF's famous trio of theaters -- both locals and tourists -- know that another theatrical treasure exists in the neighborhood.  A short walk brings the play lover to Oregon Cabaret Theatre.
ALTHOUGH is an entirely separate enterprise from OSF,  the cabaret, too, shares a long, distinguished history.  This year marks its 36th season, and the cabaret expects to welcome nearly 40,000 people to its delightful theatrical and dining offerings where theater magic takes place under a glittering chandelier. 
An earlier Cabaret production, "Sweeney Todd" was
 masterfully done, featuring Valerie Rachelle
 as Mrs. Lovett and Galloway Stevens in the title role. 
Jackson County has been moved off the extreme risk designation, opening up indoor dining in the county, allowing the cabaret to re-open with safety measures.  Eager patrons quickly sold out "The Spitfire Grill." On tap after are "The Great American Trailer Park Musical" and "Buddy: The Music of Buddy Holly," followed by "Poirot: Murder on the Links" and a world premiere holiday show, "Christmas, Contigo" to finish off the season. So get your tickets now.
 
Lithia Park is near both the cabaret and the OSF,
a lovely place to unwind and relax between plays
.

In past years,  spirited one-night performances include sold-out tributes -- to Rosemary Clooney and Patsy Cline, for instance, enhanced by the cabaret setting, tasty food and a talented band.
HOUSED IN the historic "Old Pink Church" on the corner of First Street and Hagardine,  the cabaret's history traces to 1982 when Craig Hudson purchased the dilapidated, boarded up building and began a meticulous renovation.  He eventually restored the structure to its 1911 appearance, hiring artisans to replicate the stained glass windows.  The enterprising Hudson salvaged many of the theater's unique appointments -- including a vintage crystal chandelier -- from a 1927 movie palace in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.
Diners and theater lovers enjoy a leisurely meal while awaiting the beginning
of the production at Oregon Cabaret Theatre, now in its 36th season.



The first season was only 30 performances and the shows were immensely popular, allowing steady growth to  300-plus performances before the pandemic.  The cabaret is hitting its stride again.
BELOVED ACTOR, dancer and the Cabaret's founding member and artistic director for years, Jim Giancarlo, passed away in 2014.  Artistic director and accomplished actor Valerie Rachelle took over, promising "Our stage may be small, but the scope of our stories is large."
The Cabaret does an interesting display of each
show with a miniature set and costume designs.
The intimate house gives viewers a bird's eye view of the action, as we've seen in dozens of top-drawer shows through the years.  We've sat on the ground floor, the balcony, and the bar stools near the back.  All provide fine sight lines. 
A "pre pandemic" "Sweeney Todd" was a classic example of the theater's clever use of space.  The murderous barber's second-floor shop was expertly staged, along with the basement ovens where the barber's victims were dispatched and Mrs. Lovett baked her infamous, human-ingredients meat pies.
 SPEAKING OF FOOD, the Cabaret offers a lovely menu, usually themed to the show, for both dinner and -- on matinee days -- a festive brunch. Offerings range from quiche, tasty salads and beef burritos for lunch. For dinner, pick from a thoughtful variety including goat cheese and fig tarts to whet the appetite, prime rib and Yorkshire pudding, duck breast, steelhead salmon and delightful desserts, all carefully chosen to complement the plays.
The enduringly popular Dick Hay pie is plenty to share, a decadent chocolate cookie- ice cream treat named for longtime OCT patron and OSF lighting designer, a beloved cabaret fixture for decades.
DINNER THEATER in a historic, welcoming setting -- in a beautiful small venue with fine, well staged productions and a tasty menu... this appealing amalgam makes Oregon Cabaret Theatre a favorite for this reporter and thousands of other visitors to Ashland. Sets are clever, acting sharp, music tuneful and small space well used. Costumes, lighting, make-up all follow suit.
Yes, this picturesque town is famous for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. But don't overlook one of the country's most successful dinner theaters, Oregon Cabaret Theatre.  Considering the sell-out of the opener, "The Spitfire Grill ," one is wise to book now and avoid disappointment. 
oregoncabaret.com/2021-season/
or
oregoncabaret.com 541 488-2902



This fetching fox is among more than two
dozen sculptures outdoors at Living Desert Zoo
and Gardens, an outdoor venue in Palm Springs
.
UP NEXT:  Art and the outdoors are time honored companions, and we've found some magnificent places to explore as the world slowly returns to "normal." Meanwhile, masking and distancing don't have to be confining.  Come join us in sculpture parks, wildlife preserves and more, as we explore artistic outdoor venues which educate, inform and provide fresh air. Many of the world's great parks, nature preserves, outdoor art venues and wildlife parks are open, providing exciting nature-driven entertainment for the eyes, ears and senses. Palm Springs' Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, for instance, offers more than a dozen gorgeous bronze statues (see right, this delightful fox.) Consider botanical gardens, sculpture gardens, zoos and other options await to break the spell of isolation and offer an opportunity to enjoy fresh air and appreciate new sights and artwork Remember to explore, learn and live as you go.  Catch us each Friday for a fresh look at the arts, travel, nature, family and more. www.whereiscookie.com

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Birthday bravo: Honoring Bruce Meyers' well lived life in the theater

Bruce Kemp Meyers celebrated life and shared his acting talents, despite chronic heart problems. 
 

Bruce Meyers played Daddy Warbucks in "Annie." The title role was
played by Becca Barthelmess and Lana Fox Gribas played Grace.
Warbucks and Grace marry and adopt all the orphans. Our Airedale
Gandalf played Sandy the dog, also adopted by the new family.

OVATION: A birthday salute for Bruce Kemp Meyers and his lively life in the theater

STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS

Photos from CM Archives, scanned and digitized by Bruce Keller

"A LIFE in the Theatre" is a wonderful David
Mamet play about two actors -- one young and on the rise, the other in his sunset days upon the stage.

It is also a fitting moniker for the life of Bruce Kemp Meyers, who would have turned 78 on April 1.  We had  fun with his "April Fools Day" anniversary.  We had fun in general. We knew our time might be limited.

Bruce Meyers played Curly in a high school
production of "Oklahoma" in his native Ohio.
WHEN BRUCE was called for his Army physical in Cleveland, during the Vietnam War, he was already a leading man. He'd played several leading roles, including Curly in a Shaw High School production of "Oklahoma,"
and was performing in a string of musicals at Kent State University in Ohio. He was surprised but not unhappy to fail the physical. "The doctor listened to my heart, paused, stared at me, put the stethoscope back on my test, listened again and said, 'You have a serious murmur, but it may save your life'."

Christene and Bruce Meyers, in a scene from
"Showstoppers" at der Schwartzwald  Theater. 
That was in 1965. The malady was diagnosed as aortic valve stenosis -- simply, the aortic valve has narrowed, reducing blood flow, a condition that can be fatal. Doctors advised keeping an eye on it, which he did during graduate school and on to Montana in 1967 for a teaching post in the English department at then Eastern Montana College, now MSU-Billings.

Bruce Meyers, Karen Jackson, Lysa Fox in
"The Mystery of Edwin Drood" at BST.
WE DIDN'T DWELL on the problem until he felt increasing weakness. So early in 1976, doctors John Heizer and Hewes Agnew replaced the valve at then Deaconess Hospital in Billings. A few weeks later, he was cast in the lead of Tommy Allbright, in "Brigadoon" at Billings Studio Theatre. Hewes and Susan Agnew sang in the chorus.
For us, the best of times were on the boards -- usually I playing piano and music directing and Bruce in a major or leading role.  During a prolific period beginning in the 1970s into the early 1990s -- from "Brigadoon" and right up to his death while rehearsing "The Apple Tree," -- ours was a wonderful life in the theatre. We logged nearly 50 collaborations at BST, the Fox Theater, MSU-Billings, Gramma's Drammas and Der Schwartzwald Dinner Theater.
BRUCE WOULD, I'm sure, be happy that I have continued my creative life -- conducting and playing piano, traveling, teaching writing workshops and seeing dozens of plays a year.
I believe he would like Bruce Keller and get a charge out of his moniker, "Bruce the Second." He and William Jones, "husband number two," were friends; the four of us -- Bill and his wife Debbie and Bruce and I -- traveled a few times together before we both found ourselves single.

I've written about the strange co-incidence of the names of my three partners:  Bruce Meyers, William Jones, Bruce William Keller, and of the huge role theater plays in my life.

 Bruce, William, Keller coincidence

A wonderful life on the boards 

Bruce Meyers, center, with three of the Kit Kat Girls
in a 1977 production of "Cabaret" at BST. Above left
small photo: Bruce and Christene in "Our Town,"
a "Save the Fox" fundraiser, 1979, at the Fox, now ABT. 

I THINK fondly of those hectic, fulfilling days.  Often we'd be rehearsing one show, reading scripts for another and performing a third. I'd come home from a full day at The Billings Gazette, where I was film reviewer and arts editor, and Bruce would be upstairs grading papers after teaching at MSU-Billings.  We'd grab something light to eat -- no alcohol until after the show or rehearsal. Then we'd head for the boards.
DURING 17 performances of "Cabaret" at BST in 1977, it was so cold that the lines the emcee utters in "Wilkommen" rang true: "Outside it is winter, but in here, it it so hot! Every night we have to battle with the girls to keep them from taking off all their clothes. Who knows? Tonight we may lose the battle."
Vint Lavinder and Bruce Meyers in "Man 
of La Mancha" at der Schwartzwald.
BRUCE WAS a trooper.  For him, the old theater adage, "the show must go on" was a solemn oath. He was a professional: learned his lines, supported other actors, was early for rehearsal, never missed a show. Even when he was in recovery from his open-heart surgery, or in pain from hematomas and bruising, he was dependable. His damaged heart was huge.
During rehearsals for "Good," Bruce's mother Dorothy was dying. It was one of Bruce's favorite roles, in a complex play about the conflicted feelings of a brilliant professor in Nazi Germany. He'd fly on weekends to his native Cleveland, Ohio, and had just returned the day she passed away. That night in Petro Hall at MSU-B, our director, friend and colleague Victoria Coffman, offered to cancel the show.  Bruce declined, but asked that the performance be dedicated to his mother. Vicky granted the wish and announced it to the audience.  It was a flawless performance with a standing ovation. 
LYA FOX, now teaching at Western Illinois University, as head of the BFA musical theater program, is one of many Bruce influenced. "He taught me so much. He had a beautiful, quiet confidence -- a dear, wonderful artist."
 At MSU-B, where he taught creative writing and English for 25 years, a scholarship honors Bruce's memory, helping English majors achieve their degrees. Contributions are welcome and still coming in these many years later. Happy birthday, Bruce Meyers, in that great theater in the sky. Break a leg!

 More info: https://msubfoundation.com/programs/scholarships/

https://www.collegexpress.com/scholarships/bruce-meyers-memorial-english-endowed-scholarship/2007501/
 

"Sweeney Todd" at Oregon Cabaret Theatre was a sell-out, before the pandemic, beautifully
acted and directed. Below right, the warm and welcoming space is a dinner theater cabaret setting. 

UP NEXT:
 For years, the Oregon Cabaret Theatre has been entertaining
sell-out crowds in a beautifully restored church in Ashland, Oregon. Back in business after a brutal pandemic year, the Oregon Cabaret Theatre is up and running with an exciting season.  Across from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Cabaret is part of our annual trek to Ashland, and a worthy complement to the OSF and its three distinctly different theaters. We'll preview the new season, now underway. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each week for  a fresh look at the arts, travel, nature, family and more. Please share the links: whereiscookie.com
 


Thursday, March 25, 2021

'Godfather' film memoir: celebrating 50 years, the making of a classic


The Church of San Nicolò in Savoca was the filming location of some of the iconic scenes in "The Godfather." We joined fans of the film to visit the village and climb to the church, remembering the wedding of Michael Corleone and Apollonia and other scenes shot a half-century ago.

The village of Savoca, Italy, owes its recent prosperity to
the legendary film, "The Godfather," shot there 50 years ago.

TRAVEL WRITERS VISIT THE VILLAGE WHERE HISTORY WAS MADE


STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER  and courtesy Paramount Studios

A SMALL VILLAGE in Sicily owes its popularity to a film made there 50 years ago. That's when principal photography on "The Godfather" began. The film is now considered legendary, a landmark motion picture, and I hold happy memories of attending its  premier and visiting the film's on-location setting.

 

The film premiered in 1972, with a gala charity
event followed by several other showings.

I was invited -- along with movie reviewers from all 50 states and many foreign countries -- to Loew's State Theater, New York, March 25, 1972. It was a gala event, a star-studded evening. I'd been to Italy twice already, but had not visited Savoca. Forty-five years later, Bruce Keller and I did.  We spent a day in Savoca, where much of the film was shot in 1971. 

 DIRECTOR Francis Ford Coppola scouted Sicily to find the perfect "borghi."  He fell in love with the historic village of Savoca because it captured his imagination; he could picture the Mario Puzo story unfolding there. His vision would come true, as Savoca became the centerpiece for his masterful film.

Marlon Brando in the leading role takes direction from
Francis Ford Coppola in a studio shot, March, 1971.
What attracts most visitors here is the chance to retrace the locations of the film.  All manner of "Godfather" memorabilia awaits -- t-shirts, shot glasses, posters.  The bar-cafe where other scenes were shot is the much visited Bar Vitelli, and we stopped there at day's end to enjoy a cocktail.
THE CASTING of Brando was controversial because the studio was considering Anthony Quinn and Ernest Borgnine for the role of Mafia boss Don Vito Corleone, chief of the organized crime family.
But Coppola was insistent: his first and only choice was Marlon Brando.
Writer Puzo agreed and the inflexible stand of the pair caused a stir at Paramount. But after much debate, Brando it was!

Director Francis Ford Coppola's Italian
 heritage was a plus for Paramount's decision.
THEN AL PACINO was hired to play the part of the young Michael Corleone. We heard tales of his time in the village, while reminiscing at Bar Vitelli.  It's at the entrance to town, where young Michael meets the cafe owner, the father of of his future wife.
Our cocktail there was our reward for making it up the steep slopes to the Church of San Nicolò where the wedding between Michael and
Keller and Cookie relax at
the end of their Savoca tour.

Apollonia took place. Most of the principal photography took place a half-century ago, from March 29, 1971, to August 6, 1971. A whiz-bang total of 77 days of shooting -- fewer than the 83 planned days -- brought the picture in under budget.

The success of "The Godfather" has also meant success
in tourism for the village of Savoca. Here, an artful tribute. 



AS WE CLIMBED, we joined other tourists and locals on the streets -- shopping, dining, browsing, selling "Godfather" memorabilia and limoncello. Taking breaks on the  cactus lined hill, we admired citrus trees, olive groves and vineyards below. We wanted to explore this small medieval town on foot but we'd underestimated the climb's steepness.

The narrow streets, flanked by historic buildings, are like those of all southern Europe -- meandering, full of history and intriguing shops. Below, we caught views that reach as far as the Gulf of Taormina. We also rested often, enjoying the visual treats.

The famous wedding
scene from the film.
Paramount promoted "The Godfather" as the first Italian mob drama made by Italians, but we found from our bartender that some of his American relatives were skeptical. "Italian-Americans were always portrayed as criminals in the movies," Giuseppe said, "and my people were tired of the stereotypes."
We did some homework. There was controversy. Joseph Colombo, of the crime family that bore his name, formed The Italian-American Civil Rights League in 1969 demanding the words “mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” be pulled from the script and that all the money the movie made at its premier be donated to a fund to build a new hospital. This came to be.
 THE CHOICE of the leading man wasn't the only cause for debate. Studio production chief, Robert Evans, approached several directors—including Sergio Leone and Costa Gavras— before hiring the relatively
Cactus lines the walk to the church in Savoca
where "The Godfather" scenes were filmed.
unknown Coppola, who was only 31 years old. As an Italian American, Coppola wanted to to make the film an authentic representation of the culture and times. He wanted to do justice to family loyalty and the complex relationships within the Corleone family, rather than focusing on the crime aspect. He worked with Puzo on the screenplay and persuaded Paramount to increase the film's meager $2.5 million budget.
Coppola persuaded Paramount to up the ante to $7 million.  The film made $287 million, was nominated for 11 Oscars, won three and will long be remembered for Nino Rota's haunting score.


Actor, poet, teacher Bruce Meyers was born April 1, 1943.
He acted in more than 50 performances and taught at MSU-
Billings for 25 years before his death in 1992.
  
NEXT UP:
We segue from the movies to theater as we celebrate the life of Bruce Kemp Meyers, born April 1, 1943.  He would be 78 years old this week, so we celebrate his talents and note his remarkable legacy as actor, teacher, poet, friend. We'll also update readers on the Bruce Meyers scholarship fund at Montana State University-Billings where Meyers taught for 25 years.  Each year, it honors an English major and it is possible to contribute to this worthy endeavor. Tune in for fun memories of a talented man. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at the arts, travel, nature, family and more: whereiscookie.com

 

Friday, March 19, 2021

Blooms, art vie for attention in the desert near Borrego Springs


Ricardo Breceda's whimsical sculptures include desert wildlife and this fetching dragon,
 whose tail intriguingly goes under the road and emerges on the other side of the highway.

DESERT DELIGHTS: INTRIGUING SCULPTURE, FLOWERS, FRESH AIR ASSAIL THE SENSES

A daughter's infatuation with movie creatures
inspired sculptor Ricardo Breceda's success.


Recent March rains have brought out the blooms on cacti.

Head east and slightly north of San Diego
to find a bonanza of art and flowers. 
These remarkable art pieces—sometimes whimsical, sometimes haunting—are  one of a kind works. Some of Breceda's creatures are ambitious fantasies. They bring a smile. We can almost see Breceda winking as he playfully places his serpent on both sides of the road -- suggesting in a clever arc that the critter's tail dips under the playa, emerging on the other side. Other pieces realistically represent now extinct creatures.

Our search is for blooms bursting from cacti. As we walk, drive or bike, we listen to bird song as sweet as the morning air and happily happen upon a bonus of unusual sculpture.

 WE QUICKLY discover that nature's bounty isn't the desert's only attraction. Dozens of art pieces by Durango, Mexico, native and California transplant Breceda draw us in, too. His free-ranging artwork runs the gamut from prehistoric mammals to historical characters, dinosaurs, western figures and  native wildlife.   

Beneath the desert hillside, surrounded by cholla, an
elephant by Ricardo Breceda awaits inspection. 
Once you find Borrego Springs Road, you're on a path to nature's wonders -- plus delightful sculpture of elephants, sabre-tooth cats, ancient camels, raptors and big horn sheep coming down from the mountains to graze. Several imaginative human figures complement the artist's wide ranging critter kingdom. One, of an early priest who settled in the area, is a bit of a walk, well worth it if you're in a car rather than on foot or or bike.

KNOWN AS the "Accidental artist," Breceda began creating his metal animal kingdom when his daughter Lianna, then six, requested a dinosaur for Christmas, after being captivated by the film "Jurassic Park III."

At the time, Breceda was selling cowboy boots for a living, so he traded a pair of those for a welding machine. (One could say his boots were made for sculpting!) After a few weeks of labor, he unveiled his first sculpture, a 20-foot tall tyrannosaurus rex. The hobby grew into a passion as he created one after another life-like creations, becoming in short order a sought after sculptor and designer.              
A bounty of blooms can be found in Anza Borrego desert
if one is willing to spend time and patience.

 GOOD FORTUNE continued to visit him when he met Dennis Avery, of well known label maker  Avery Dennison Corporation. Avery owned Galleta Meadows Estates and nurtured a vision of a giant free-standing gallery on his property. The dream flourished and now includes more than 130 pieces which pepper the landscape, including the remarkably fetching 350 foot sea serpent featured in this article's top photo by our team's own travel-nature fan and artistic visionary, Bruce Keller.    
One of Ricardo Breceda's wonderfully crafted
bighorn sheep awaits roadside viewing in the Anza Borrego desert.

BOTH ART MADE by man and that of the natural world delight and surprise drivers near Borrego Springs. We look for them, along with the blooms and always take in the Anza Borrego State Park Visitor Center, where this time of year, you'll find poppies, visalia, and brittlebush blooming. North of Borrego Springs proper, along Henderson Canyon Road, Canyon Road is where you'll want to be for flowers fields of delicate purples and golds, and unique sculpture not found anywhere else. We recommend taking your time for this treasure hunt.   Bring plenty of water and a protein bar to keep you hydrated and nourished on your adventure.  
Bruce Keller and Christene"Cookie" Meyers
take bikes to the desert in search of art, blooms.
BRECEDA'S ART brings life to the desert, which is otherwise not as colorful as it has been some years. Lack of consistent moisture has resulted in fewer blooms than usual, but the recent March rains have brought the cactus and wildflowers out. It just takes a bit more looking than in the "super bloom" years when one can see bursts of color even from the car. The ocotillo are just beginning to bud out and the wild flowers are showing color. Meanwhile, enjoy the sculpture, which is to be savored along with the colors nature provides.
STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

A DRIVE, HIKE or bike ride through the Anza Borrego desert is a feast for the eyes and balm for the soul. You've stumbled upon an amazing outdoor "museum," as you discover not only nature's bounty, but the eye catching sculpture of Ricardo Breceda, artfully spread throughout the park. 
Flowers complement the sculpture for a pleasing mix as we embark upon our treasure hunt. 
 

 Spotlight on desert sculptor

 

A miner's faithful companion is loaded with gear.
Some of the sculptures may be seen from the road.
Others require a bit of a short walk to view up close.

WE RECOMMEND a few days in the desert. You'll return to your world refreshed and invigorated at the sights and sounds. And if you wonder, as we did, what the name "Anza Borrego" means, here you go: the park takes its moniker from the 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and the word borrego, Spanish for sheep.
Looking for a place to stay, steps away from the action? The Palms at Indian Head and La Casa del Zorro are our two favorites, very different from one another and each with its charms and much to recommend.
 lacasadelzorro.com/
 thepalmsatindianhead.com/
 parks.ca.gov/



Director Francis Ford Coppola is immortalized in a sculpture
in Savoca, Italy, which he has visited multiple times since
the filming of "The Godfather," nearly a half-century ago.
UP NEXT: Next week marks the 49th anniversary of the premier of "The Godfather," a movie that people still talk about and watch again and again.  It raked in the big bucks at the box office in 1972, winning Oscars for its stars and director Francis Ford Coppola.  It also made a star of the quiet little village of Savoca in Sicily. Come with us to  celebrate what many consider one of the best films of all time -- and the sleepy village which became a star in its own right. Please share the link: whereiscookie.com




Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Head for bawdy, brilliant drag shows at Oscar's in Palm Springs



Big hair, tights and roller skates for artist Marina Mac, who brought
the house down with a high-stepping performance on Oscar's balcony.



DRAG DAZZLES THE DESERT BOARDS: QUALITY CABARET SHOWS OFFER A FUN REASON  TO VISIT PALM SPRINGS

STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER
Actor Anita Rose applies makeup to host a sold-out show.

KEEPING A small business afloat during a pandemic is no small challenge. 
But Dan Gore, owner and manager of Oscar's in Palm Springs, has survived a year that put many restaurants and bistros under.
It's flourishing now -- perhaps not economically, but certainly in spirit, because Gore believes in the power of performance and the human spirit to transcend and triumph.
"The pandemic has given us  opportunity to reflect on life and both personal and business goals," he muses. 

AFTER lockdown curtailed indoor activities and closed down his popular eatery and theater, Gore and company revived the vital connection with his cabaret's loyal following. Using the patio as its main venue, the format allows for distancing, fresh air and fun times. 

Emcee Anita Rose has a witty, fun and free-wheeling style -- and several
fetching costume changes -- to keep Oscar's shows lively.
Loyal locals and supportive tourists are the lifeblood of Oscar's, known for its gender-bending productions, excellent menu, reliable kitchen, and its fresh, funny stable of talent.
WE WERE THRILLED to be in the audience at a recent sold-out "Bitchiest Brunch" revival Sunday matinee with emcee Anita Rose flamboyant, accomplished and endearing.  Drag is a long-standing tradition in theater and at Oscar's and Rose adeptly sets the tone with good-natured, let's have fun banter.
Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers
are happy to be once again at a live show.

"I felt it was important to keep this going," Gore said. "Entertainment is one of the most essential elements of human life -- a chance for the entertainer to become someone else."  In turn, he reflects, "a good show allows the audience to escape reality for a couple hours, to leave depressing thoughts or physical ailments behind, to fantasize."
Oscar's drag queens fulfill that in spades -- to the delight of packed houses. The result brings a smile to Gore's face. An entertainer, producer and director for three decades, he said he hasn't necessarily been financially rewarded by staying the course, "but there's no greater reward than bringing smiles to the faces of our show audiences. The spiritual value for audiences and performers alike is infinite."   
Mimosa Man are on tap at Oscar's Saturday;
the cabaret's menu offers tasty dining and 
beverages which can be served during the show
Rosemary -- audacious,
funny, pretty in pink.
  OSCAR'S IS presenting a variety of spirited live entertainment as we recover from the pandemic performance drought.
Oscar's owner Dan Gore is
optimistic about Oscar's future
 and devoted to live performance.

Such  delights as a male exotic revue, Latin drag show and wickedly entertaining Sunday "bitchiest brunch" with roller skating acts and big hair await those of us who have been performance-starved. All the action is outside with distanced tables, and includes: Mondays, Las Chicas Calientes drag show; Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 pm. the Kal David Trio blues band; Saturday, Mimosa Men; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Bitchiest Brunch. Sunday's popular T-Dance Disco Party resumes as Covid restrictions lift.
Our hunt for live entertainment always includes a stop at this lively cabaret when we're anywhere near Palm Springs. Oscar's on its own is even reason enough for a visit. 
For reservations (recommended) or information: oscarspalmsprings.com; 760 325-1188.


The intriguing sculpture of artist Ricardo Breceda await
pleasure seekers in California's Anza Borrego desert.


UP NEXT: The desert calls us and we must answer. We continue our look at southern California's beautiful cultural and nature-driven life away from the major cities. Sculptures, flowers, and lovely places to hike and picnic await. Whether you can join us in person, or vicariously and virtually, come along. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each week for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, nature, family and more. Please share the links with like minded people: whereiscookie.com



Thursday, March 4, 2021

Desert hotel offers boutique hideaway, mid-Century modern retreat

It's 5 p.m. and the sun is setting over the pool at The Palms at Indian Head. Diners are beginning
to gather at distanced tables on the welcoming patio for gourmet fare at Coyote Steakhouse. 

STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
The inviting lobby, reception and bar area reflect the desert's
soothing colors and inviting shapes. You'll hear recordings
of Frank Sinatra or on weekends, excellent live piano music.

PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER


STEP BACK in time at the Palms at Indian Head and imagine Clark Gable, Lon Chaney, Will Rogers, Bing Crosby and Marilyn Monroe lounging by the pool. It's 1950. Crosby is relaxing after a round of golf. Monroe orders her favorite champagne -- "make it a double," she winks at the poolside waiter.
Gable yawns and dives into the Olympic size pool, to do laps in its 25-yard lanes. Marlon Brando wanders off by himself, engrossed in a detective novel. Raymond Burr studies a script over a beer.
EVERYONE is relaxed and laid back at the 20-acre resort, built in 1947.
Mature trees and landscaping welcome the eye and offer
habitat for rabbits and other desert critters.
 
Thanks to an enterprising couple with a love of nature and an impeccable artistic vision, you can relax here, too.  Seventy-plus years after the property was conceived, owners David Leibert and Cindy Wood are patiently restoring it to its glory days -- with their own spin and some architectural changes. (The original bungalows -- lost to fire --are mostly replaced by a charming boutique hotel over the lobby and lounge.)
The two were inspired by the beautiful trees on the property -- California's famous fan palms, Mexican palms and date producing palms near the pool. Thus the name, which also reflects the inn's location -- at the base of Indian Head Mountain,  a stately summit in the gorgeous San Ysidro Mountains.
A delightful opener -- ahi tartare with
 wasabi --  is artfully presented. (One
wonton tasted by the hungry writer.)


THE OWNERS have worked hard to make the place welcoming, with a wonderful restaurant, The Coyote Steakhouse, chirping birds and desert pleasures as the property's main draws.  A lovely gallery offers artfully presented desert landscapes, appealing pottery and imaginative paintings. On weekends, gifted pianist Joe Ross offers a range of beautifully played classics, '50s and '60s pop and occasional Scott Joplin ragtime. A genius at mixing and segue, he plays his inventive medleys with hypnotic force in a repertoire ranging from French impressionists to Frank Sinatra.  
Framed by a soon-to-bloom
ocotillo on a Palms bike ride.
 

THE MENU
at the Steakhouse is superbly chosen, with entrees including steaks, chops, seafood and chicken  -- all artfully prepared.  An early-bird special -- a true bargain at $21 -- includes a generous three courses. We began with the tasty ahi tartare and ended with cheesecake, delighted with our leisurely served meal.
The property rests on land once occupied by the Cahuilla Indians and the mountain profile of a reclining Indian frames the property and inspires a closer look during a stroll at dawn or dusk. 

Gifted pianist Joe Ross plays weekends at the
Palms, here with musician Cookie enjoying.

Borrego is less known than its nearby neighbor Palm Springs, but it is only three hours from Hollywood.  As Palm Springs was "discovered," Borrego became a quieter get-away for privacy-seeking stars, who could ride horseback, swim, drink, dine and play tennis between movie shoots, escape publicity and return to the studios in a few hours. 

THE BUILDING that now houses most of the rooms was constructed in 1958 in the famous California "Mid-Century Modern" style -- with Mondrian influences. The architect is unknown but David and Cindy narrowed the field to Joseph Eickler, Cliff May and Albert Frey, all known for their flair in the style of the day.

IN THE DAY it was called Hoberg's Desert Resort, and guests reveled in the star-studded night sky. We did the same last week, after hiking and biking the 20-acre retreat and exploring nearby Palm Canyon.

We parked our bikes outside the Palms' gallery, which offers
a nicely displayed and tasteful mix of paintings and sculpture.
What we loved most about our four peaceful days at the resort was the quiet, laid back calm the place offers. We truly soaked up the ambience, with the inn's amiable "Girl Friday" Marcy always on call for ice or directions.

Keller and Cookie enjoyed 
dinner at the inn's delightful
restaurant, Coyote Steakhouse.






I TOOK a swim in the once largest privately owned pool in San Diego county. The owners plan to solar heat the pool, but it's currently "natural" and it will wake you up, guaranteed, even after a glass of champagne! Marcy said that the place is packed in the summer, as guests enjoy the cooling waters when desert temperatures soar!

Don't miss a meal at the Red Ocotillo, the owners' other enterprise, just off Christmas Circle with a fabulous all-day menu, popular with locals and tourists alike. thepalmsatindianhead.com; redocotillo.com
 

The glorious pinks of desert cactus await as spring arrives.

UP NEXT: While we're in the desert, we'll take in the blooms. If you don't associate desert landscape with blossoms, you're in for a treat. Depending on the winter moisture, there are plenty of blooms on cactus and flowers to greet the plant lover. So we're off on our bikes to continue our exploration of Borrego Springs, a quieter, more laid back alternative to Palm Springs, and a welcoming place to recharge. Remember to explore, learn and live, and join us weekly for a fresh spin on nature, travel, the arts, family and more: whereiscookie.com. Please share the links and tell like minded friends.