Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mini review - eLove: A

written (book, music & lyrics) and directed by Wayland Pickard
NoHo Arts Center
Second Stage
through December 21

Anyone who has seen Wayland Pickard play Liberace onstage has experienced close to the real thing. This actor/musician/musical composer is a multi-faceted dynamo. His latest one-act eLove is a sweet ode to love and cute satire on the effects of computer dating. He has composed and recorded the beautiful background music to his original songs (to accompany the live singing onstage) and cast two delightful actors - Lloyd Pederson and Bobbi Stamm, who are funny and appealing, like folks next door, and both with consummate vocalizing.
However, all is not perfect. The book's major problem lies in the repetitiousness in the opening scene. Many of us know what it's like to be alone, single and lonely. Here, the lines practically stand up and hit us over the head. A suggestion: why not cut about 15 minutes off the dialogue and let the songs tell the story? Isn't that what music is supposed to do in a musical - say what the lines do not? "I'm Single", "Pity Party", "You've Got Mail", "My Ex", "We're Already There" "Fault". I think these tunes already move the plot forward. Much of the dialogue is superfluous.
With a major trimming, the show will gain momentum, allowing the showdown that occurs at the top of scene two - I won't spoil what happens, to come sooner, sustaining more audience interest. Both Pederson and Stamm cook in this scene; it's real fun, but right now, it takes much too long to get there.
Applause to Chris Winfield for his economical set of 2 modern apartments in this tiny space and to choreographer Stan Mazin for his fine dance movements.
Oh, the computer age! Can computers really create the Perfect Match? Well, anything's worth a try; it sure beats staying in on a Saturday night!

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mini review - Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara


Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara

written by & starring Vanessa Claire Smith & Jake Broder

directed by Jeremy Aldridge

Matrix Theatre

extended thru December 21

This show shines brightly on so many levels. First, it's a well- written musical biography of Louis Prima and Keely Smith, who set the Vegas musical scene on fire from the late 40s to the early 60s. It features the original standards made famous by the duo and their band: "That Old Black Magic", "Embraceable You", "Pennies from Heaven", "I've Got You Under My Skin", "Just a Gigolo", "I Ain't Got Nobody", these gems and many more!! Secondly, it's great drama, as the story of the stormy relationship - professional and personal - unfolds throughout the onstage live performance, from Prima's band leader beginnings in New Orleans, to Smith's joining on as a band singer and eventually becoming Mrs. Prima, to Prima's physical demise due to a brain tumor. Last but hardly least, it's as entertaining as all get-out. And thank goodness, a new generation will come in contact with this super-great music, and get to know, or at least glimpse and taste, the geniuses that were Louis Prima and Keely Smith.

To praise Smith, Vanessa Claire that is, for her inventive play and virtuoso singing, and Broder for his rhythmically dynamic portrait of Prima that never lets down for a split second, and to Aldridge for his fluid staging, will only end up being an understatement of the facts. All I want to say is that this is what truly great theatre is all about. Thank you for your sheer brilliance, and to the 7 musicians in the band, "You blew the roof off the joint!". I did not want it to stop! I look forward to seeing L & K on the Great White Way!

5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Best of - 2008 Theatre-Coming Soon!!!!

The votes are in on December 22!
Check back!!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Christmas Theatre Offerings

Big happenings in Southland theatres. I have already seen two productions with Christmas themes - one local and the other, not. 9 O'Clock Players present The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood (see my review!) for a couple more weekends.
The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies is now offering their Holiday Show thru New Year's Eve (see review!).
Santasia (Whitefire Theatre)
Bob's Holiday Office Party (Zephyr Theatre)
Inspecting Carol (LCGRT - opening December 5)
Christmas One-Acts (Actor's Co-op)
Jeff Trachta's Holiday Show (Spa Resort Casino, PS-month of December)
It's a Stevie Wonderful Life (Troubies @ The Falcon - opening December 12)
GMCLA's Annual Holiday Concert (Alex Theatre - December 19-21)
Yo Ho Ho: A Pirate's Christmas (NoHo Arts Center)
The Three Filipino Tenors (East West Players - December 12-14)
Also, new plays from Furious Theatre Co @ the Carrie Hamilton Theatre in Pasadena-
The Night Before Christmas
and @ the Eclectic Theatre on Laurel Canyon in NoHo-
A Christmas Carol (Celebration Theater)
Winter Vaudeville Show - NoHo London Music Hall (Dec 6 & 7 only)
Light Sensitive - CART (Dec 6 only)
Here's a Wish List for next year:
Bring back:
Buon Natale by Rita Andriello
White People Christmas by Ernest Thompson
Judy's Scary Little Christmas with music by Joe Patrick Ward and featuring Ovation winner Connie Champagne
Nuncrackers Dan Goggin's Christmas Nunsense
CSI: Bethlehem or Sister's Christmas Catechism with Mary Pat Donovan
Plaid Tidings (Forever Plaid's Christmas Show)
Greater Tuna
*****WHITE CHRISTMAS (currently on Broadway) *****
Winter Wonderettes (XMas version of The Marvelous Wonderettes,
currently off-Broadway)
****Radio City Music Hall Rocketttes XMas Show****

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review - PS Follies 18th Edition: Holiday Show through December 31

This all new18th edition, with guest star Freda Payne plays at the Historic Plaza Theatre through New Year's Eve! The Palm Springs Follies is an annual treat for me and sets the happy tone of the theatrical Christmas season.
This year's show, though in 3 acts, went by quicker than a flash, I was having such a good time.
Ventriloquist/guitarrist Sammy King and puppet parrot Francisco are hilarious, and this is their final appearance as a team this season.
Irina Markova's Russian Poodles (or Russian Wolfhounds, as Riff Markowitz calls them) are adorable -
and Freda Payne sings like an angel. Her classic golden hit "Band of Gold" is, of course, a highlight, as are many classy standards by Ella Fitzgerald. Miss Payne is paying hommage to Miss Ella, the Queen of Scat, and considered by many to be the greatest singer of all time, in a solo show soon to play the Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood. (or so Miss Payne told me after the show) Check out her photo above with yours truly. She looks gorgeous!
The show plays tighter than in previous years. Director Markowitz's monologues are pleasingly crisp and curtailed - they work just right with less milking! Loved his jokes about Sarah Palin, Obama's White House dog and what it's like to grow old. Dorothy Kloss, now 85 - the Oldest Living Showgirl - had a cute dualogue with Markowitz in the third act. She hates going to the doctor, still eats chocolate chip cookies, has a lover 23 years her junior and will even show you her prized Winged Time Step tap dance. Boy, oh boy, I can't do that, and I'm only in my...
The Christmas segment was too trimmed down this time around. Judy Bell, always in great voice, did not do her drunken "12 Days of Christmas". I am putting this request on my Wish List for next year: Put it back in! It's the top!!!! The parody of "Waltz of the Flowers" from Tchaikovsky was a perfect vehicle for the cute and dynamically skilled Leonard Crofoot.
This year's theme Get Your Kicks on Route 66 worked splendidly in the opening number and in Act III's Seems Like Old Times as well as in the always moving patriotic Red, White and Blue finale.
It was great to hear such standards as "The Yellow Rose of Texas", "Kansas City" "St. Louis Blues" and "Big Noise from Winnetka" paying tribute to cities along the famous route.
The costumes, the sets, the Follies - both male and female - all the beautiful sights and sounds add up to a joyous experience that I wouldn't miss for the world! Even if you've seen it many times, it feels better and better like an old comfie shoe!!!! Go see for yourselves!!!!!
5 out of 5 stars

Club Review - Jeff Trachta

The former heart-throb from The Bold and the Beautiful is performing his electric Las Vegas Variety Act in the Cascade Room of Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs.
I feel lucky to have caught this gem of a performer in action. Energy?! Trachta has it in spades. Backed by an incredible video display of dizzying characters all played by him and other TV and political images, Trachta is as alluring as a dazzlingly bright set of aerial fireworks on the Fourth of July. His powerful singing voice simply soars, and his biting sense of humor is fast, cracklingly spontaneous and genuine. Appealing impressions of George Burns, Joan Rivers, and a myriad of politicians from Bush to Nixon to Regan stand tall - and an hysterical recreation of the All in the Family theme song with Trachta doing both Archie and Edith's vocals is uproarious. And that is just the beginning. There are right-on-target takeoffs of personalities from TV Land like Paul Lynde, Jim Backus' character from Gilligan's Island or Ted Knight as Ted Baxter from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, all of whom had a sensitivity that just couldn't be labeled as gay. His choice of music suits the mood: big, bold and splashy hits like "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", "Honesty", "Imagine" "Hey Jude" with a couple of romantic ballads thrown in to keep that soap opera image alive, like "Love Me Tender". His is quite an amazing range.
There are cartoons, political commentaries - silly, of course, and a myriad of exchanges - both crazy and charming - that make an audience fall in love with a true, living showman: Jeff Trachta, Mr. Showman. Don't miss this gigantic talent!!
Fridays & Saturdays @ 7pm and Sundays at 2pm at the Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs.
It would be a good idea to call for reservations: 1-888-999-1995 ext 4050.
5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Para mis amigos que sólo hablan español, unas partes (preguntas y respuestas) de la entrevista con Al Coronel
(de 2007) aparecen en español. Mira mi página Grigware Interviews!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cabaret Review - Wild Women Don't Get the Blues - Mary Jo Mundy

Mary Jo Mundy at the M Bar in her all new show Wild Women Don't Get the Blues - Friday and Saturday, November 21 and 22.
Musical director/accompanist Todd Schroeder took his seat at the piano on the M Bar stage and began speaking from Camelot of King Arthur and then segued into song with "How to Handle a Woman". About a quarter of the way in Mary Jo Mundy stepped up on to the stage and picking up from where Schroeder left off, made her loving, truly original way into the lyrics. A different kind of opening and quite an unusual song for a female singer: "How to Handle a Woman", but then Mundy is not known for doing the ordinary; like a great singer should be, she is totally open and willing to startle and surprise.
And what an actress! Every lyric, every note, in fact, rings with meaning, from the depths of her soul. When she talked about calling her show A Siren's Call: Projections, Reflections of Being a Woman, she was recalling her own personal experiences - and this for anyone, takes tremendous courage. As a teenager, being called fat (I can relate to that!), being in love with a gay man: an unrequited love for Miss Mundy, and then on to obsessions with food, buying shoes (she owns 175 pair - more than Imelda Marcos?) and - sex!! Also, being tolerant of relations who demand that she be nothing short of perfect (It's impossible!). Very human feelings expressed via delightful songs - we must laugh at ourselves, after all - some new, some old, including "Mashed Potatoes" by Kevin Fisher, "I Want It Now" by Leslie Bricusse, "Wild Women Don't Get the Blues", allowing her to exude a lot of sensual charisma and "I Think He's Gay" by Pussy Tourette. More passionately serious numbers followed like "Moment of Madness" by Cy Coleman, the very dramatic "You Don't Know What Love Is" by Don Raye and Gene DePaul, the rousing "I'm Gonna Live" co-composed by Fisher and Schroeder and, dedicated to her hubbie of 21 years, Jim, the Beatles' wonderful "Here, There and Everywhere".
Mundy loves to bring her talented friends centerstage. She's sooo generous! This time, the tall and voluptuous Britta Berlongieri offered the sexy Jessica Rabbit number from the 80s film, and she was absolutely captivating. What a lovely set of pipes!
It was a somewhat risky, yet fully entertaining evening for Mundy and her devoted audience. It was also laid back, with Mundy pulling her audience in with ease and style. Truly memorable in every way - no wonder Mary Jo Mundy is one of my very favorite singers!
- and kudos to musicians Schroeder, and to Tony Mandracchia on guitar and banjo and last but not least to Terry Schonig on drums!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Review - The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood


The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood

book by Robert Emmett; music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill

directed/choreographed by Todd Nielsen

9 O'Clock Players:

Assistance League of Southern California
1370 N. St. Andrews Place, LA

Sundays through December 7 @ 2pm, except November 30; Saturdays - November 22 & December 6 @ 2pm

To recreate on stage a 1965 TV film that starred Liza Minnelli, Cyril Ritchard (remember the Captain Hook?) and Vic Damone: that is courageous. The wonderful 9 O'Clock Players are celebrated for taking risks. I first reviewed them in 2001 when they staged the fascinating Mr. Scrooge. It was as rich as a fine Christmas pudding. A volunteer cast of women, some with professional theatre credits, others not, give their all to bring theatre to LA children of every age, including the less fortunate.
Helmed by skilled professional director Todd Nielsen, the theatrically campy Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood works best for die-hard theatre lovers. With music composed by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, fresh from the success of Funny Girl, it's show time, folks! How can one resist lines like "People who give people presents are the luckiest people in the world." But it takes a theatre buff to understand and appreciate where it's coming from. Barbra Streisand's "People" from Funny Girl was a number one hit and remains a theatrical treasure.

That firmly established, this mounting has other merits in that it's cute and pleasing for the toddlers, for, although they will not understand much of the theatre humor, they assuredly will enjoy the animal characters singing and skipping around the stage and through the audience whilst dangling snowflakes over their heads. There are no 4 letter words to gripe about, thank heavens, so you don't have to plug up their ears. The multiple play on words throughout the script will keep you, their adult guardians chuckling. So you will all have a good time. What more could a family want for Christmas?
The cast is uniformly enjoyable. Andrea Saccone makes Red Riding Hood a precocious attention grabber, craving a flashy cape for Christmas and a glance in the mirror at herself more than a visit to grandma's house. Like Funny Girl Fanny Brice hogging the spotlight as the greatest star, she's meant to be a little diva. Saccone could have gone further, but that's OK; she does a dandy job. Christina Doren covets the role of Lone T. Wolf, who as narrator of this fairy tale parody, tries to prove that 'Lillian", Little Red Riding Hood's real name, at least according to author Emmett, twisted the facts against him and deprived him of the friendship for which he was 'famished'. What strength Kim Harrison lacks in song, she makes up for in presence and ego as the self-centered Woodsman. Arlen O'Hara, Roxie Amdur and Mary Ferrara make a deliciously silly trio of backup wolves, Jann Cobler is perfectly agile as The Mute Mouse and Shelly Berman is adorably cuddly as Skunk.

Bill Brown is an energetic musical director, the forest set by Stephen Gifford of snowcapped trees is appropriately wintry and the costumes by Carol Onofrio, just right.

Styne and Merrill's score is tuneful, especially Lillian's "I'm Naive" and "Ding-A-Ling", but hardly memorable. Despite the flaws, it's overall a fun-filled afternoon, as The 9 O'Clock Players, as always, have their heart in the right place and know how to satisfy!!!

4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Adam Simmons charming after his show at Sterling's

Adam Simmons greeted one and all, including yours truly, who had the good fortune to be seated with my friend Jose Ruiz, next to Simmons' biological father and half-brother visiting from North Carolina. At one point during the performance, his father leaned forward and tapped me on the shoulder inquiring, "Do you know if Adam wrote all of this himself?" We were all impressed with the intelligence and tremendous effort of the piece, but I would have been happier to just hear him sing.

After redoing my old interview with Simmons, I am reminded how ambitious he was then ... and still is. To thrust oneself into the cabaret scene with a daring display such as
Life, I have to applaud his endeavor. He is a grande risk-taker.

See my review below and a 2005 interview I did with Simmons @

Cabaret Review - Life with Adam Simmons

Adam Simmons in Concert
Sterling's Upstairs @ Vitello's
Sunday, November 9

Hardly your run of the mill young talent, energetic and resourceful Adam Simmons worked diligently to come up with an unusual concept for his Los Angeles cabaret debut at Sterling's Upstairs @ Vitello's Sunday, November 9. The theme was life and Adam guided his adoring audience from birth to the afterlife via song and quite an extraordinary montage of video clips (that he controlled himself onstage by pushing buttons): some animated, some from film and TV shows and celebrities and some of himself and his family during the growth years - and now. Interesting? - to a point. When the audience starts to watch the video screen instead of the performer - which was getting to be the case 75% of the time, the technology takes control and the singer becomes merely a a prop in the act, and not the act itself. There was a beautiful clear tenor voice belting out a song, but it was the pratfalls of The Simpsons or cute little Opie (Ronnie Howard) from The Andy Griffith Show getting more of the oohs and ahhs and chuckles. Simmons faded into the background. I would have preferred him to take center stage, microphone in hand and sing, accompanied by a pianist and - sans so much technology. Some of it was fun to watch, but there was just too damn much of it.
That said, I think the world of Adam Simmons and am a huge fan of his theatrical gifts which include his powerful voice. Proving his range, Simmons sang upbeat fanciful tunes like "Facts of Life", "9 to 5" "Help!" and then more vocally challenging ones such as "Nessun Dorma" and "Unbreak My Heart". Also effective was Mike and the Mechanics' "In the Living Years" with familiar glimpses of families from the Beaver Cleavers to Robert Young's TV clan to the Simmons. But it was the moving "Through the Years" that was his best moment, during which the screen was blank - for the first time during the 1 hour set.
Although it's a dynamic number, Simmons is a bit too young to have "My Way" as a finale. The singer hopefully has many great formative years ahead of him and has no regrets careerwise. His star is on the rise.
Adam, you are a terrifically talented singer/actor. You are funny and do not need a gimmick to be appreciated. The next time you take the cabaret stage, leave the David Merrick/PT Barnum dreams aside, forget the excess - and just sing your heart out, which you do incredibly well! The love you speak of comes cascading back to you. You don't need any accoutrements.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Groaning Over What Should Have Happened in 2008

On the national scene, Obama, great!! Prop 8? What a disaster! Gays deserve their rights!!
As far as LA Theatre is concerned, there were brilliant performances, and none more so than Brian Childers' portrayal of Danny Kaye in The Kid from Brooklyn. He made my list for 2007, as the show opened in December of last year, and then was extended - twice -at the El Portal to the end of February, 2008. He did not get one Critics' nomination nor an Ovation nod. These are gross oversights. Such a talented performer and such an astonishing performance!!!! It has Tony written all over it!

The Best in LA Theatre for 2008



of 2008?

Will the new musical GREAT EXPECTATIONS, which played the Hudson and later transferred to the Odyssey, make my Top 10? What about Nick DeGruccio's KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN or THRILL ME?

Adam Simmons? Chad Borden? David Engel in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN? Who is your favorite actor for 2008?

The votes are in December 22!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Mini review - Leading Ladies

Leading Ladies
by Ken Ludwig
directed by Richard Israel
Actors Co-op
through November 16
The more I see Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo, now Leading Ladies), the more I am convinced that he is our greatest American farceur.
Since I saw this production late in its run, my words will be brief but I am long on praise. This representation of Ladies' silly, campy romp is sheer magic. As one audience member declared, "It's so funny!"
The outstanding cast make it seem fresh and spontaneous: Bruce Ladd and Kyle Nudo, (pictured) as Leo/Maxene and Jack/Stephanie, respectively: crazed to the max, Karla Droege delicious as Meg, Tawny Mertes, the cute pixie Audrey, Barbara Kerr Condon, a scream as Florence, the old aunt who refuses to lie down and die, Gus Corrado as old but unreliable Doc, Aaron Misakian as goofy but hunky Butch and guest star Carl J. Johnson so good as the greedy , overly self-righteous minister Duncan. Director Richard Israel does a masterful job with pacing the entire piece.
Ludwig loves to have his actors enact Shakespeare within his plays. It fits so consistently with the quick pace, theatricality and over-the-top flambuoyant performances that make farce sparkle. A sparkling production this is, indeed!
5 out of 5 stars