BJ Ward Stand-Up Opera Special

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The following appeared in the Riverside Press-Enterprise. The citation is Sokolsky, Bob (1997-06-01). "No more omelets, just `Stand-Up Opera'". The Riverside Press-Enterprise.

These days the act is bigger, too big to be held in the living room of her San Fernando Valley home, too big, in fact for Tom Rolla's Gardenia, the Hollywood nightclub that was once B.J. Ward's principal venue. Now the sites have grown to houses like the Alex, which bills itself as "Glendale's Legendary Theatre."

That's where Ward will be at 8 p.m. Saturday as the one-woman cast of a show she calls "Stand-Up Opera." It is the grown-up version of the "Opera and Omelettes" she used to present in her home and at the time there was a good reason for that title because Ward frequently ended her performance by cracking some eggs and preparing omelets for her audiences. (Polite interviewers often received the same kind treatment.)

But that was back in the early '90s and things have definitely changed. "I've changed, too," Ward says (apologizing for the fact that she doesn't have time to prepare any omelets this day). "I've changed a lot in my abilities, added lots of pieces, lots of polish."

And lots of theaters - like the Alex, like the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where she will appear in November.

The basics, however, remain the same. Ward still gets out there with her blend of opera and comedy. Saturday, she says, the mix will include Verdi, Puccini and Donizetti with at least a small amount of Gian Carlo Menotti tossed in for good measure.

That's not what makes her unique, though. Opera and classical music have always been fertile grounds for comedy as the likes of Anna Russell, Peter Schickele and Victor Borge have so ably demonstrated. But Ward approaches things differently. She sings the numbers straight and fills in the spaces between the music with plot descriptions that range from the whimsical to downright hilarious.

There is no particular trick to that, she says. These stories were often funny. "They were the soap operas of their day."

And now there are a lot more of them to provide her material. "I've picked up a lot over the years," Ward says. "Lots of people send in stories."

The best way to get her to adapt one of those stories is to send her a Puccini. "He's definitely one of my favorites," she says. But she's also branching out. "I'm now finding some of the atonal stuff," and quickly notes that there was once a time when she would have retreated rapidly from someone like Menotti. "But now I find him really theatrical and fascinating."

Mozart is good, too. "I just can't sing him loud," Ward says. "And I don't do any Strauss or Wagner. I like some of Wagner, but I don't want to make fun of him. I don't do those horns-on-the-head things."

And while she was known for years for the voices of Glinda, the good witch of the animated "Wizard of Oz" series, and Betty Rubble of "The Flintstones," she doesn't do many of those voiceover things either. Sharp-eared listeners can still pick her up, though - on the Cartoon Channel as Iris the computer on "Jonny Quest" and the sympathetic mother deer on the Allstate insurance commercials.

"But I don't have a lot of time for that now," Ward says. "I travel a lot. I'm out most weekends and am booked into 20 to 30 different places this year."

Still, there are plans to get back into the studio for another CD to follow her successful "Stand-Up Opera" release. Like that earlier one, it will be directed by her husband, Gordon Hunt, father of "Mad About You" co-star Helen Hunt. "He directs all my CDs and shows," Ward says.

That arrangement, she adds, seems to be working out exceptionally well "and, no, I've had no complaints from opera enthusiasts. I think they realize I don't mess around with the music so they can't find fault with what I do."

The Alex is at 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Tickets are $17.50 and $22.50. For reservations, call (800) 233-3123.

The Winds of summer

The Riverside Winds begins its summer schedule this month with two concerts scheduled for libraries in Riverside.

The Winds, under the leadership of conductor emeritus Roger Rickson, will perform at 7:30 p.m. June 18 at the La Sierra Library, 4600 La Sierra Ave. Also set is a 7:30 p.m. concert June 20 at the Glen Avon Library, 9244 Galena St. Additional concerts are planned for June 21 and 23 at sites to be announced.

The programs are free and will include selections from Robert Russell Bennett, Frank Erickson, Paul Yoder, John Philip Sousa, Sammy Nestico, Alfred Reed and Leroy Anderson.

Rehearsals begin Monday in Music 105 on the Riverside Community College campus, 4800 Magnolia Ave., Riverside. Rickson says he is particularly anxious to recruit woodwind, brass and percussion players. Musicians interested in performing with the ensemble should contact him at (909) 222-8332.

Closing out the season

Lois Musman will direct the Moreno Valley Master Chorale in the American Sampler Concert that will close out the group's season Saturday. The presentation is set for 8 p.m. at the Moreno Valley Congregational Church, 24215 Fir St., Moreno Valley.

The program will mark the West Coast debut of Gwyneth Walker's "American Ballads" with special arrangements of such traditional songs as "Shenandoah" and "Careless Love." Also to be sung are the spirituals "Witness" and "Steal Away" along with "Season of Love" from the Broadway musical "Rent."

Included as an added "extra" will be a "Sweet Indulgence Buffet" of desserts and beverages.

Concert tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for seniors, students and children. For reservations and other information, call (909) 924-7127.

Choral concert

The University of California, Riverside, Choral Society will appear in concert at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The program, conducted by Ruth Charloff, will be held at the University Theatre.

Tickets are $5 for general admission, $3 for seniors and students. Reservations can be made by calling (909) 787-4331. For additional information call (909) 787-3343.

Free UCR carillon concerts are listed for 3 p.m. today and noon Tuesday at the campus' Carillon Bell Tower. UCR is located at 900 University Ave., Riverside.

Bob Sokolsky writes a monthly classical-music preview in the Arts & Entertainment section of the Sunday Press-Enterprise.


B.J. Ward blends opera and comedy in her solo show, ``Stand-Up Opera.



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