April 22, 2014

`Shrek the Musical' at Big Bear PAC

Fall in love with an ogre during the high school’s Performing Arts Department spring production of Shrek the Musical five shows only at the Performing Arts Center.

Life isn’t easy for ogres as audiences discover in the lighthearted musical at 7:30 p.m. on April 25-26 and May 2-3 plus 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinee on April 27. Trinity Dostrow stars as Shrek, a beast who rescues feisty princess Fiona, doublecast by Arielle Jade Moreno and Elizabeth Johnson.

In a world of fantasy and elves the pair encounter a talkative donkey played by Cheyenne Baragiola Kaitlyn Smith, and bad guy Lord Farquaad, played by Spencer Cassling. Other performers include Arturo Atilano as a cookie with an attitude and all kinds of fairytale misfits. Predictably there’s a happy ending for the ogre albeit with a reverse twist.

Tickets are $15, students and seniors $10. Call the Performing Arts Center at (909) 866-4970.

April 16, 2014

Soft Winter Means Early Bike Park Season

There’s an upside to the lousy winter in Big Bear this year—mountain bike season gets an earlier start.

Downhill mountain biking in Big BearWhen Easter weekend arrives April 18-20, traditional closing for ski resorts, Snow Summit will be loading two-wheelers instead of two-plankers. It marks the earliest opening for the resort’s summer operations by a month, as Scenic Skychair will operate Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays till daily business begins June 14, and Saturday’s opening party sees giveaways, the Red Bull MXT, and DJ Slip Matt.

Snow Summit Adventure Park will be the first mountain bike park in North America to open. Since returning a year ago to the resort’s slopes the park has taken the mountain bike world by storm with trails professionally designed by Gravity Logic and an array of features like jumps, S-turns, bridges and whoop-di-doos.

Adventure Park returns with three top to bottom trails and many variations, all sporting paver-lined turns, steep drops, banked turns and switchbacks. Miracle Mile challenge the best riders with an array of sweeping s-turns plus 33 berms, six rollers, 10 jumps and three wood features including a 30-foot bridge, diving board and berm. Westridge winds through the forest with challenging terrain. And Cruiser may be a tame trail in winter but in summer it’s black diamond riding. Which is why Snow Summit is holding a contest to see who comes up with the best name—winner gets a free bike park season pass.

"This summer we plan to change up the park so it’s not the same," the resort’s Chris Riddle said. "Whether it’s Miracle Mile or Westridge, we’ll change the features and move stuff around just like we do in the park in winter."

Snow Summit is optimistic that it will receive Forest Service approval for a much-needed beginner trail that would wind down the mountain along the west side of the resort to the bottom. "That would really round out our offerings," Riddle said. "Families can go up for easy back and forth riding where they don’t need mountain bike skills, and the trail would be wider too."

In addition there are spurs that tie into Skyline Trail, new worldclass singletrack cut by Bear Valley Trails Foundation at the top of the mountain alongside 2N10 that has long offered terrific cross-country riding. From there an entire network of trails and Forest Service roads unfold of terrific cross-country riding.

The goal is to create a worldclass bike park that rivals those in Mammoth or Whistler. "Last year we jumped in with both feet, hired the right people in Gravity Logic, built trails right and maintained them, and the market responded in a big way," Riddle said. "We plan to continue to build."

So many riders showed up to ride the Southland’s only bike park, decked out in body armor and helmets, that both of the resort’s high-speed lifts often ran. Of course Skychair isn’t reserved for just bikers; it’s long been a family favorite as guests enjoy a leisurely 20-minute ride through the forest to the top of the mountain. Panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains unfold including San Gorgonio Wilderness and 11,502 ft. Mt. San Gorgonio, Southern California’s highest peak.

Lunch on the mountaintop View Haus restaurant’s outdoor sun deck is always a treat, with what has to be the Southland’s highest horseshoe pit. Snow Summit also operates barbecue at the base area, where it rents bikes including high end demos and full suspension bikes. The resort has a fleet of 3,500 high-end Trek demo bikes including cross-country and children’s rides.

Scenic Skychair is open daily from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., till 5 p.m. Saturdays. Roundtrip sightseeing rides or one way with bike are $16 or package it with lunch at the View Haus for $24.

Call (909) 866-5766.

April 15, 2014

Weekly Wildflower Walks on Baldwin Preserve

Baldwin Lake Ecological Reserve opened for the season on April 5 and there’s guided wildflower hikes organized by Southern California botanists every Saturday at 11:30 a.m.

SOCAL Botanists lead guided wildflower walk through the unique Pebble Plain, identifying some of the unique species that grow here and nowhere else in the world. The walk is a loop that's open anytime and is free; bring your own lunch and water and wear hiking boots. Parking and restrooms are available.

Best viewing is in April and May as colors are in full bloom and temperatures are still relatively cool. Tours continue every Saturday through June 28.

At Big Bear Discovery Center, free Nature Walks continue Saturdays at 1 and 2 p.m. and Sundays at 11 a.m. and noon. Each 30-minute, non-strenuous adventure explores Discovery Center’s forest grounds as naturalists point out local flora and fauna plus local history.

Call Big Bear Discovery Center at (909) 866-3437.

April 7, 2014

Big Bear Beer With Altitude at New Brewery

Check out Big Bear’s beautiful new microbrewery—and get in on some free pub grub— at its grand opening celebration on Tuesday, April 8.

Tank at new brewery in Big BearBig Bear Lake Brewing Co. opens its doors to the public with its line of fine craft beers and gourmet pub-style food. The brewery’s long-awaited opening features ribbon cutting at 5 p.m. and free tapas for guests as they check out the building’s classy mountain decor, including the second floor lakeview and big screen TVs everywhere with all sports all the time.

There’s fully-stocked bars on the bottom and top floors and both levels also have huge window views of the 15 barrel JV Northwest steam jacketed brewing system. Everything is done on premises, as grain is milled and then sent to huge vats where it is boiled, cooled and turned into beer during a process that takes anywhere from 14 to 30 days depending on the brew.

"The stronger the beer the longer it takes," said brewmaster Ron VandenBroeke. A seasoned brewer with over 25 years experience, VandenBroeke has won numerous awards for his distinctive recipes. Guests have been enjoying his Stone Summit honey blonde ale at The Cave and Wolf Creek Wine Room, brewed in Rancho Cucamonga till the brewery was ready.

Big Bear Lake Brewing Co. also produces brown ale, Hefeweizen-style, Orange wheat, porter, IPA and seasonal ales. Up to six of the brewery’s offerings will be on tap as guests enjoy their favorites by the pint, tasting flight samplers or gallon "growler" jugs for the trip home. Plans call for the brews to eventually be bottled and distributed in California and Nevada including some Las Vegas casinos.

In addition to microbrews and wine—including Big Bear’s own locally produced Stone Summit selections—the bars feature premium liquors, domestic and imported bottled beers, and a wide selection of wines from around the world. Some of the liquor it carries is very distinctive, like a single barrel of Jack Daniels, hand selected at the company’s Tennessee distillery Big Bear Lake Brewing Co. owner David Stone.

The eclectic menu features upscale pub grub like Kobe gourmet burgers, crab shrimp cakes, spicy wok edemome and seared ahi tuna, alongside brewery staples like wings in a variety of sauces—including ghostly hot with its own warning label—onion rings and nachos. Entrees include New York strip steak, cedar plank salmon and Brewer’s chicken, but look for the menu to regularly change.

Pizza is also a natural, with house specialties like roasted vegetable and gourmet cheese.

Big Bear Lake Brewing Co. is at 40827 Stone Rd. Call (909) 878-0500.

March 31, 2014

Stringfever's intense sound lights up Cave

Forty songs in five minutes, played at a frenetic pace by four guys all on string instruments.

"The History of Music in 5 Minutes" makes for a fitting finale for Stringfever, four worldclass musicians playing the finest custom made electric string instruments who put on the most intense show imaginable, at The Cave Big Bear April 5 at 8 p.m. and the Wolf Creek Wine Room April 6 at 4 p.m. Audiences are taken on a high-energy journey from classics to rock, movie and show tunes and much more, every note played on strings.

The fact that all four musicians are related doesn’t hurt either. Brothers Giles, Ralph and Neal Broadbent are joined by cousin Graham as they play five and six-string electric violins, viola and cello in a very unique show. Music runs in the family; Graham’s father was principal viola in the Welsh national Opera while the brothers’ dad was a Music Master at Rugby School. An uncle has been a violinist in the London Symphony Orchestra for nearly 30 years. This is a family tied together not with blood, but strings.

The Broadbents have continued the tradition. Giles led the orchestra of the German production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s "Sunset Boulevard" with Ralph playing along. Graham joined them in the orchestra for My Fair Lady at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, a time they were also session musicians for Paul McCartney, Groove Armada, Travis and Dido.

Their string skills make for a blazing show. Stringfever kills it during a helter-skelter James Bond medley and the group’s unique, internationally acclaimed version of Ravel’s "Bolero" has all four Broadbents bent on playing one cello simultaneously. And in the ultimate Name That Tune, Stringfever plays a 20 song medley of the most memorable show and movie tunes as the audience tries to guess them all.

Especially blistering is "Devil Went Down to Georgia," Charlie Daniels’ frantic string classic with a touch of fire thrown in for good visuals. Cirque du Soleil music, classical from Vivaldi to Brahms, the repetoire is huge and Stringfever presents the music with energy, humor and charisma while interacting with the audience. There’s never a slow moment, which is why Stringfever has been in demand at corporate events, concerts and festivals around the country.

The cozy, intimate Cave, where every seat is front and center, will be an ideal venue for Stringfever with its premium sound, lighting and special effects. Enjoy beverages including Stone Summit beer and wine plus good food. And how much closer can you get than the Wine Room?

Opening is Big Bear’s own youth orchestra MountainTop Strings, an elite ensemble and division of Lighthouse Youth Orchestras. The group presents 30-plus minutes of upbeat fun music selections including Coldplay’s "Viva La Vida" and "Yellow" and other favorites like Scott Joplin’s "Paragon Rag" and "Ashokan Farewell."

In addition MountainTop Strings members will join Stringfever on stage for "Stand By Me" and the James Bond theme.

Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are just $15 and a portion of the proceeds benefits MountainTop Strings.

The Cave is at 40789 Village Dr. (909) 878-0204 or www.thecavebigbear.com. Wolf Creek Wine Room is at 41421 Big Bear Blvd. Call (909) 866-2644.



March 27, 2014

I Do! I Do! a Trip Down Dinner Theater Memory Lane

First and only time I saw the hit musical I Do! I Do! was at Anaheim’s Grand Dinner Theater in 1986. Which is one more time than Karen "Sarge" Rachels, who directs Community Arts Theater Society’s presentation this month at the Warehouse Theater (story page 9), has seen it, I’ll have you know.

The show is a nostalgic journey through five decades of marriage between Michael and Agnes Snow, a fact that meant nothing to me at the time. Tying the knot was about the furthest thing on my mind. I was in my 20’s and in the process of getting dumped by a girlfriend, so songs about raising kids and growing old together were about as foreign to my life as winning the lottery. To put it in perspective, my date to see I Do! I Do! was college buddy Dan, not the most romantic night out I’ve had.

Rather, I was there to meet and interview Ken Berry. As a kid I fell in love with the zany television series "F Troop" and Berry’s portrayal of Captain Parmenter is classic for hilarious-if-idiotic craziness. He fell off fences, tripped over horses and generally turned the U.S. Cavalry into "Gilligan’s Island."

Berry had gone on to star in another hit series, "Mayberry R.F.D.," a spin-off from the "Andy Griffith Show," and also "Mama’s Family," always playing a lovable goof ball. Actually Berry is very graceful and athletically skilled, and his ability to effectively create mishaps made him one of the top pioneers of physical comedy. Yet he was so typecast as a bumbler it was hard to picture him starring in a romantic musical, even if it does have lots of comedic moments too.

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March 24, 2014

Beach Bash, Reggae Send Bear Out with a Bang

Bear Mountain plans to close out the 2013-14 winter season with a bang on March 29-30.

A challenging winter to say the least with little snowfall and tough snowmaking conditions, there's still enough white stuff on the slopes for a great end-of-season party. There's terrain for intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders--there are no recommended beginner runs or services for the remainder of the season--with top to bottom terrain and still 50 features spread around the slopes including the halfpipe.

First up is the Neff Beach Bash on Saturday, March 29, a crazy snowboard rail jam that last year has a little pond skim mixed in. There's lots of giveaways and music on the deck. Registration is free for those with a lift ticket or season pass at 10 a.m. with the event starting at noon.

Then get set for a hot afternoon of reggae at Bear Mountain on Sunday, March 30. Headliners include Through the Roots, fresh off a nationwide tour on the heels of their first full-length album released last July. The band recently traveled to Guam and Hawaii with its entertaining, pleasing music. Locally Through the Roots has been seen at house of Blues in Anaheim and San Diego plus the Wiltern in Los Angeles.

Thrive, another nationwide favorite with large following up and down the West Coast, is also on the bill. After playing to a sold out San Francisco audience, the band’s latest tour takes it to Phoenix, Flagstaff and Pacific Beach. Its new album "Relentless" is #3 on iTunes, and #6 on Billboard.

Other performers include popular San Diego-based bands The Devastators and Project Out of Bounds, Santa Cruz’s Animo, 80 Proof and Lady Reiko and the Sin City Prophets from Las Vegas, an international world roots reggae band that’s rising fast on the scene. Music begins at 10 a.m. with Through the Roots taking at the stage at 3 p.m.

DJ Club George spins in between sets and Alexia from San Diego’s Jamming Z90 FM radio is emcee. The after party at Whiskey Dave’s in the Village features five more bands—Ease Up, High Tide, Clear Conscience, Piracy Conspiracy and Jet West—making for a total of 12 reggae bands between the two venues.

There's still time to get your Screamin' Deal season pass working for you at the new reduced prices. Call (909) 866-5766 for details.

March 18. 2014

I Do! I Do! a Musical Journey Through Life

Life’s stages unfold on stage when Community Arts Theater Society (CATS) presents I Do! I Do! seven shows only at its Warehouse Theater.

With 7:30 p.m. shows on March 21-22, 26 and 28-29 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinees on March 23 and 30, I Do! I Do! takes audiences on a journey through 50 years of marriage, from wedding night jitters to old age. It’s a touching plot full of memories, nostalgia and reminiscing that features the birth of children, mid-life crises and affairs, and old-age love and reconciliation.

Jeffiner Gail, David Castagner Star in I Do! I Do!The show does all that and more with just one main set—their bedroom highlighted by a dramatic four-poster bed—and two performers who grow and age right before the audience’s eyes. Starring in the CATS production are Jennifer Gail and David Castagner, a real life married couple who bring true love and emotion to their roles. Gail is a veteran of many CATS shows, literally growing up on the Big Bear stage with roles as Luisa in The Fantasticks and more recently as Maria in The Sound of Music and Eliza in My Fair Lady.

"We have a slight advantage (as a married couple) because we’re already comfortable with each other and the physical aspects," Gail said. "But we’ve only been married three years. We’ve spent a lot of work figuring out who we might be in the next 50 years. The end of Act II is so emotional, everyone can relate to downsizing after the kids move out. It’s a very sweet and sentimental scene."

Gail is a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, specializing in musical theater and classic voice. Which she demonstrated in last fall’s CATS production of Christmas in the Mountains with her bone-chilling rendition of "O Holy Night." She’s not limited to classics either; in 2008 she wrote and recorded her debut folk rock album "Still" and toured the West Coast.

Castagner meanwhile is a relative stage newbie, appearing last summer as despicable Jud in CATS’ Oklahoma! He showed a softer side and talented voice in Christmas in the Mountains, no surprise since music has been the cornerstone of his background, from classical to jazz, blues and rock. "The pit ensemble was my only musical show experience (till CATS), and we used to make fun of the actors," he laughed.

"My Cup Runneth Over" is the signature song from I Do! I Do! but the show is filled top to bottom with great tunes. "Together Forever," "I Love My Wife," "Nobody’s Perfect" and "The Honeymoon is Over" are favorites and "Where Are the Snows" is a touching reflection on watching the years roll by.

As the soulmates tick the years off through the show they’re joined musically with live piano by Michael Reno, who has played the score professionally on previous occasions. Joe Sellarole accompanies with sound effects like slamming doors, ringing alarm clocks plus drums. The cozy Warehouse Theater is an ideal intimate venue for I Do! I Do! with the audience right on top of the action.

"We’re learning what our marriage will be like in the future," Castagner joked. "I’ve learned a lot from (Jennifer), picking up on her cues and getting a good sense of how to act out my character. One part that’s not really acting is when we kiss—that’s a true life moment we share."

Tickets are $20. Warehouse Theater is at 1117 W. Big Bear Blvd. in Big Bear City, just east of Division. (909) 585-4757.