Saturday, February 28, 2009

review - Misconceptions

7 mini-plays
written by Art Shulman
directors: Shulman, Wynn Marlow,
Kaz Mata Mura, Stan Mazin, Kristina Lloyd
through March 29
A mixed bag, the best being Waitress starring Nancy Van Iderstine and Pigeons also with Iderstine, Fox Carney and Patrick Burke. Iderstine's work is riveting, by far the best in the evening. Other playlets show promise, but fall somewhat short, due to uninspired acting or uneven direction.
Shulman's concept thread for the plays is fairly consistent. The idea being that each character may be radically different from the way we first perceive them, the way others perceive them, or the way they perceive themselves. The theme fairs best in those playlets already mentioned and - the first entry Beggars, in which a homeless man (Bob McCollum) takes advantage of - in fact, seduces - a recovery missioner (Cynthia Bryant). At the end both characters are better off. He has work, self-esteem and she has a new man - one she can trust. The actors are both well cast and just plain fun to watch, especially McCollum. Bryant should avoid self-awareness; it makes her somewhat wooden.
Another with a strong premise is Measuring in which a young man (Robert Minsky) seeks to find the truth about his father, a homeless soul supposedly killed in an accident. Larry Margo plays the man's best friend - also homeless, sleeping on a park bench, whom the young man suspects may very well be the father. Shulman exhibits a real sense of caring and a sweetness with this one, well directed by Kaz Mata Mura. It does play a tad too hastily in spots, however, with major details unraveling unrealistically fast. Margo suits his role, but Minsky needs to pace himself better and fully appreciate his character's wants and needs.
Pigeons, as mentioned already, is a delight, with performances, direction and writing - perfect, as is Iderstine's wonderful solo turn in Waitress, fluidly directed by Stan Mazin. The waitress is the most believable character as written. Every actor can relate to her, especially via Iderstine's tender portrait.
Another fun entry is the finale Discussion After the Play Reading, with Fox Carney highly amusing as the pompous playwright. Laurie Morgan and Wynn Marlow both lend solid support.
The Hole is a tedious entry. Its solo actor Diane Frank needs to find her center in telling the story. As is, her past life, as it relates to the present, is lacking depth and credibility. This is also the case with Graveside, in which Shulman plays a dying man at the graves of his parents. It exemplifies self-indulgence at its worst. The monologue's emotional focus gets totally drowned in self-pity.
Overall, not a bad effort, with some very good performances and finely-tuned direction.
Plays Saturday mats at 2pm and Sunday eves at 7pm thru March 29!
3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sharon McNight Live at the Celebration Theatre

SONGS TO OFFEND ALMOST EVERYONE - February 26-March 7 only @ The Celebration Theatre in Hollywood. Don't miss her. She's an original!!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Event - Forever Plaid, The Movie

Original Plaid Boys Larry Raben and David Engel, along with Stan Chandler (pictured) and Daniel Reichard, costar in the new movie version of Forever Plaid, to be screened on March 14 at a very special gala in Long Beach for Musical Theatre West. There's dinner with the stars to proceed the screening. Contact Musical Theatre West!!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

review - Divorce! The Musical

Divorce! The Musical
book, music & lyrics by Erin Kamler
staged and directed by Rick Sparks
musical direction by David O
Hudson Mainstage
through March 29
Leave it to LA to premiere a musical about divorce! It's a hip topic in a hip town. You mean it's not cool to change spouses every now and then? Well, one thing is certain... it is here that therapists and divorce lawyers build an empire off of their clients' separations and indiscretions. Ahhh, it's a ruthless game, and may the best man win! That's entertainment, folks! Divorce! The Musical, currently in its world premiere on the Hudson Mainstage, is high on show, but low on heart.
The versatile actors are all top-notch, as is the zippy direction of Rick Sparks. Even much of the well-arranged music (David O) is accompanied by realistic lyrics about familiar issues like "Rebound Sex" or "We Stuck It Out". Nonetheless, Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Year is a far-more substantial and engaging musical about a couple's breakup, because we get to know the two people more intimately and can see more clearly the ups and downs of their relationship. In Divorce!, by the end of the show, I couldn't care less about the couple, because I only got to know them on a superficial level.
That aside, I enjoyed the cast tremendously, especially the character work of Leslie Stevens and Gabrielle Wagner, who are devilishly good as the opposing lawyers. They sizzle in"Best Friends" and give new meaning to: Are you a lawyer or a volunteer worker? Rick Segall and Lowe Taylor are both appealing and do the best they can to express the feelings/moods beneath the facade. Gregory Franklin is terrif as the groom's aging father and totally suave as the
Rick Sparks is such a talented director and should be producing/directing on Broadway at this point in time. He puts the show in showmanship! To say that this is his best work, however, would be a down and out lie. As always, he rises to the occasion and by means of prolific staging makes the material play far better than it actually is.
RECOMMENDED for its cast and direction. As in a fast-paced game show, you get caught up in its entertaining frenzy.
4 out of 5 stars

review: Backseats & Bathroom Stalls

Backseats & Bathroom Stalls
written & directed by Rob Mersola
Lyric-Hyperion Theatre Cafe
Fridays & Saturdays at 10pm
through March 28

This adult late-nighter is just what the doctor ordered: it's laden with sex, dirty talk about sex and plays more genuinely funny than many legit comedies around town.
Regarding the relationships of 2 roommates - one straight female and one gay male - it explores what happens to young people who want more out of a relationship than just sex - or do they? He sleeps with her boyfriend, not aware of who he is. She sticks her nose into his business and offers the wrong advice to one of his tricks. The trick's fiancee - that's right, he cannot make up his mind about his sexuality - and a horny Italian, whose mother had gypsy blood in her and who's out to make every woman on the planet - somehow work their way into the main characters' lives. What results is mayhem! More bloody mistaken identities than a Shakespearean comedy! More laughs than 2 sitcoms rolled into 1!
The actors are all fabulous, with special attention to Jeni Pearsons and Sadie Alexandru as the fiancee and roommate respectively. They will make your neuroses seem tame and are wacky, laugh-out-loud hilarious! Joshua Bitton, Daniel Ponickly, Michael Alperin are just great and Anil Kumar steals the show as Giuseppi.
New York, like LA, engenders neurotic souls, but never before have they been served up so damned enticingly! Mersola has penned a minor cult classic.
Due to adult language, no kids allowed!
Suggestion: some nudity could add titillation to the promiscuous fun! It fits the bill.
4 out of 5 stars

Monday, February 16, 2009


Sandy Zacky and Mike Clifford: A Special Valentine Evening of Love Songs

Sterling's Upstairs @ Vitello's

Saturday, February 14

Sandy Zacky and Mike Clifford have been a popular singing team for the last 20 years, and I must admit this is the first time I have seen them perform. But, God willing, it will certainly not be my last. This was their second appearance at Sterling's - a sold-out concert - and a stunning evening of cabaret. Both singers bring a warmth and love to the work that is unforgettable.

For me, Zacky is a cross between Rosemary Clooney and Ella Fitzgerald. She is a truly great singer with consummate phrasing. I agree with her when she says, "Music is my soul."

Clifford, singing since 1959 with Patience and Prudence and with the pop hit "Close to Cathy" (1962) to his credit as well as the very first touring company of the Broadway classic Grease, has a velvety smooth delivery and style reminiscent of Vic Damone. Both Clifford and Zacky know their way around a song. As Zacky said, "I love lyrics. They tell a story. Each song is a one-act play." She was not referring to just any music, but to the great standards of George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Rodgers and Hart. She sang an abundance of these, thank goodness, including: "Our Love Is Here To Stay", "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and, of course, this being Valentine's Day, the Rodgers & Hart favorite "My Funny Valentine". Another beautiful arrangement for Zacky was Gershwin's "Embraceable You" and a tribute to her husband "The Very Thought Of You".

Clifford's high points included a medley of Barry Manilow songs: "Daybreak" and "Could It Be Magic". Another terrific moment came with Jimmy McHugh's "Sunny Side of the Street".

Together Zacky and Clifford soared with "Come In From the Rain", "Love Is Everything" (from their popular CD ), "Evergreen", "For Once In My Life" and "Bye Bye Blackbird".

Backed by the fabulous Matt Harris Trio, Zacky and Clifford created real magic and made my Valentine's Day, as well as that of every other cheering member of the packed room at Sterling's, a truly memorable one.

This is one of the finest examples of what good cabaret is all about. Zacky and Clifford are a class act. Don't miss them when they return! I know I'll be back.


Post Note: It was a real treat to see actress Elena Verdugo, friend of Clifford and Zacky, introduce their act. She is still spunky and adorable!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

review - Dracula

Bram Stoker’s

written by
Hamilton Dean and John L. Balderston
conceived and directed by Ken Sawyer

NoHo Arts Center Ensemble
through March 22

The very first screen Count Dracula that comes to mind is Bela Lugosi, who bared his fangs and scared the world. Next, in a TV film, came Jack Palance, offering a more sympathetic, even pitiable perspective of the man doomed to roam the streets at night for all eternity, as the leader of the undead. Then in the late 70s Frank Langella portrayed the infamous Count on stage and film, painting a much more romantic side. Bram Stoker, after all, wrote about the power of love, and in the newest stage version of the classic Dracula at the No Ho Arts Center, directed meticulously by Ken Sawyer, it is love that reverberates and perseveres.

For any one that does not know the story, rent one of the aforementioned movies, as my intent is to talk about the production values of this new Dracula. Set in Whitby, England in the1920s at a mental asylum and its surroundings, there is abundant opportunity presented by the script to display vast, dark, gothic interior and exterior spaces. The NoHo Arts Center with its expansive stage and wide open space in which entrances and exits may be made from the back as well as the front, including movement down and up stairs through the audience, provides the perfect theatrical ambiance. Aided by the brilliant ingenuity of scenic designer Desma Murphy and lighting designer Luke Moyer, the entire space becomes the living, breathing demonic playground of Count Dracula. Renfield (a very nimble Alex Robert Holmes) scales the entire stage wall and cavorts high up on the outer ledge of an upper story window - which appears much farther up than it actually is - as does intern Butterworh (Chad Coe, lending a subtle creepiness to a supporting character). This is but one example of how well the space and set - a principal character here - enrich the visual experience. Sawyer’s imaginative staging, making use of every crook and cranny of the large space, is fascinating, as are the prolonged silent pauses that he allows in the action. The actors move in silence, and then, as if from nowhere there are instantaneous, terrifying moments like the sudden appearance of an undead child surrounded by a burst of burning light in a hall window.

Let me add that the love scene between Dracula and Lucy is deliciously sensuous, as is Dracula’s opening seduction of Mina in the nude.

The entire cast is solid, including the before mentioned Holmes and Coe, Robert Arbogast, underplaying Dracula, Joe Hart as Van Helsing, Karessa McElheny as Dr. Seward, Darcy Jo Martin as Lucy, J. R. Mangels as Jonathan Harker, Tahni DeLong, making the maid Wells interesting to watch and lovely Mara Marini as Mina.

This entire production is a treat – one of the best Draculas I’ve seen - due mainly to the splendid creative team led by Ken Sawyer’s artful vision.
Parental guidance is suggested due to partial nudity.

5 out of 5 stars

Friday, February 13, 2009

review - Man of La Mancha

Man of La Mancha
book by Dale Wasserman
music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion
directed by Michael Michetti
Reprise Theatre
@ The Freud Playhouse, UCLA
through March 1
As many times as I have seen Man of La Mancha, I relish the music and high dramatic moments of this classic piece of theatre. Being, naturally, that the production of it is top notch, with the right actors and skilled direction. Reprise's current revival is definitely worthy of your time and money.
Michael Michetti lovingly directs the production on a raked stage with an outstanding ensemble headed by opera great Julia Migenes and Brent Spiner as Cervantes/Quijana/Quixote. Migenes is a glorious actress, so playful and loose, which makes her a next-to-perfect Aldonza. She makes some interesting singing choices: she underplays her opening number "It's All the Same" (almost to the point of speaking it) and saves her rich soprano for "What Does He Want Of Me?" and "Dulcinea". Interesting and fascinating, as I found the woman riveting at every turn. The real surprise here is Brent Spiner in the leading role. I have seen Richard Kiley, Raul Julia and other great actors play it, and I must say, Spiner makes the part his own. He is strong, focused and sings incredibly well. Lee Wilkof is an absolute delight as Sancho, George Ball outstanding as the Governor/Innkeeper, and praise as well to other members of the ensemble: Sam Zeller, Wendy Worthington ( very funny as the housekeeper and innkeeper's irritated wife), Maegan McConnell (lovely voice) as Antonia, Christopher Guilmet stalwart as Carrasco, et al.
One note of criticism, I believe at least five minutes of dialogue at the beginning between Cervantes and the prisoners has been put back into the script. I find it unnecessary, as the opening scene should play more briskly, as we need to get to the trial and play-within-a- play as quickly as possible.
Appropriate choreography (fight scenes could play a bit less stagey) from Kitty McNamee and fine set design from Tom Buderwitz and costume design by Garry Lennon all add to a rich evening of theatre.
5 out of 5 stars
Post Note: Reprise Theatre Company started out a few years ago presenting semi-staged muiscals that were wonderful, but more like staged concerts. As of late, the productions are almost fully staged and right up to Broadway calibre. Bravissimo!!

review -Time Stands Still

Time Stands Still
by Donald Margulies
directed by Daniel Sullivan
Geffen Playhouse
through March 15
Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Donald Margulies, like his contemporary John Patrick Shanley, really knows his characters down to the most minute detail: from the color of their underwear to their least favorite breakfast food. More urgently, he has the uncanny ability to shatter us with their innermost feelings. In Dinner With Friends four characters grapple full force with their loyalies to marriage and comaraderie. In his newest play, Time Stands Still, four people are still struggling fiercely with these issues, but it is the incompatibility of career and family (with an emphasis on motherhood) that leaves the most indelible impression.
Sarah (Anna Gunn, in an intensely moving performance) is a photo journalist, covering the atrocities in a Middle East war zone when a bomb explodes at the side of a road and she almost dies from her injuries. Her lover James (David Harbour), also her reporter partner, who left before Sarah's accident due to a near nervous breakdown and then later returned faithfully to her side, wants out of his assignments in favor of a more peaceful marital life in the US with Sarah. The play opens with their return to New York after her European hospitalization. They marry within six months, but are at constant odds over the future. She lives for the cause and wants to return to Europe; he does not. Then Sarah's photo editor Richard (Robin Thomas, in a very understated performance), who encourages the couple to do a coffee table book with the photos from the last perilous assignment, turns his romantic intentions to a much younger woman Mandy (Alicia Silverstone, most impressive) and marries her, to the consternation of Sarah. Mandy in Sarah's mind is nothing more than a child, but Mandy's transformation after marriage into a totally responsible mother conflicts further with Sarah's restless, independent spirit and need for adventure.
Most riveting within the play are the volatile confrontations between Sarah and James, and between Mandy and Sarah and James. Mandy is a tower of strength who really knows herself and where she belongs, and Silverstone's portrayal is a standout. Gunn is great as the tormented and confused Sarah who remains torn at play's end. Harbour's sensitivity is palpable, as is Thomas's caring nature.
Serious issues are presented with little or no humor, but it doesn't matter, as Margulies has penned a totally engaging script that springs to life with four thrilling performances and tight direction from Daniel Sullivan.
5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, February 8, 2009

review - A Don't Hug Me County Fair

A Don't Hug Me County Fair
book & lyrics by Phil Olson
music by Paul Olson

directed by Doug Engalla
staging by Stan Mazin

through March 22

Seeing an Olson Brothers' show, set deep in the heart of Minnesota, may be an unbelievably perplexing experience for first-timers. Do these Norwegians actually talk this way and behave as if they were living in a 60s time warp? We may be witnessing life on another planet. Cartoon or reality? Remember Rose Nyland of The Golden Girls? Once in a childlike mindset, you will have a grand old time, like eating bacon and gravy on a stick - well, it's better than it sounds! A Don't Hug Me County Fair, now onstage at LCGRT in North Hollywood, is the third installment in the Olsons' parodies and offers a barrel and a half of laughs.
This is unsophisticated humor, which tends toward downright crudity sometimes. Like Gunner implies, if you want polite, hang around Canadians! Men ogle and grope their women, treat them like crap, and the women do little about it except to whine and, in this case, join a local competition - for Walleye Queen - where they may find some appreciation and perhaps a teeny bit of self-esteem in this macho fisherman's world. I've never thought much of Redneck humor, but I have to admit, I fell right on into the gags of this show and ended up loving the clever one liners, sincerely innocent tunes and genuinely talented cast.
Tom Gibis is a hoot as Gunner/Trigger. "There's no way I'm gonna be here when she's here". He makes his Trixie as overtly and obnoxiously unsensuous as humanly possible. Judy Heneghan makes a perfectly sensible Clara and beautiful Katherine Brunk, a voluptuous Bernice. Tom Lommel is an approriately annoying Kanute, and Brad MacDonald plays Aarvid as the super flashy loser that he is.
Tunes "When Ya Need to Share Your Feelings, Get a Card" and "Bunyan Bay" are favorites and go a long way to bring an endearing sense of charm to the otherwise Beverly Hillbilly-type foolishness.
Praise to Chris Winfield for all the detail in his set design of the bar and to Stan Mazin for his engaging dance movements, especially for the surprise rap at Act I's finale.
All in all, a fun romp that is bound to be a popular superhit for GRT.
4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, February 5, 2009

review - Minsky's @ The Ahmanson

The New Musical Comedy
book by Bob Martin
music by Charles Strouse; lyrics by Susan Birkenhead
directed & choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
Ahmanson Theatre
through March 1

Entertainment will always offer the common man a chance to unravel: it did circa 1930 during the depression and is currently doing so, once again in hard economic times. Although a period piece, Minsky's is hardly dated. True, we no longer attend burlesque, but its emphasis on beautiful women, mounds of flesh, and hysterical blackout sketches that are fast-paced and off-the-wall is still a part of contemporary theatre. It is little wonder that audiences are thoroughly enjoying Minsky's at the Ahmanson, produced by MGM On Stage (they gave us the film The Night They Raided Minsky's, the basis for this show) and ingeniously directed by Casey Nicholaw, who so brilliantly helmed The Drowsy Chaperone a mere 3 years ago. Minsky's pluses do not stop with Nicholaw; also featured is the ultra-spirited music of Charles Strouse (Bye, Bye Birdie and Annie), and an upbeat book by Bob Martin, who also wrote and starred in Chaperone, etc, etc, etc. This team is amongst la creme de la creme of American musical theatre.
The cast is uniformly outstanding, headed by another Chaperone veteran, Beth Leavel (Maisie). Leavel garnered a Tony Award for her unforgettable portrayal of the drowsy chaperone. The role of dance captain Maisie is much bigger in size, so much the better for us, as Leavel is bold, brassy and a complete joy, singing, dancing and acting her heart out. Tony nominee (for Young Frankenstein) Christopher Fitzgerald essays the miniature giant Billy Minsky with guts and ever-present charisma. Katharine Leonard is pretty and lively as Mary Sumner; Paul Vogt, delightfully deadpan as stage assistant Boris, and George Wendt despiccably appealing (especially in drag) as Councilman Randolph Sumner, bent on closing Minsky's down. Rachel Dratch is the scene stealer as Beula - the petite and frumpy girl who looks like a guy and just does not fit in. Her duet "I Want a Life" with John Cariani as Jason Shimpkin, another quiet, out-of-place creature in a boisterous theatrical world, is the evening's show stopper. Gerry Vichi rounds out the excellent character ensemble as the older and wise clown Scratch.
Strouse's music includes a variety of big, flashy chorus numbers like the fast and furious first act opener "Workin' Hot", "Bananas", the quitessential burlesque song "Every Number Needs a Button", the deliriously sizzling tap number at the top of Act II "Tap Happy" as well as a quite touching ballad "Home", which gives Minsky's and all show biz establishments a loving priority in an otherwise dismal world.
5 out of 5 stars

@ The Falcon - Surviving Sex

A comic Valentine at the Falcon!!!!!!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Review - The Producers @ Musical Theatre West

The Producers
book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
music and lyrics by Mel Brooks
choreography (recreated from the original) by Matthew J. Vargo
directed by Steven Glaudini
Musical Theatre West @
The Carpenter Performing Arts Center, Long Beach
through February 15
What is left to be said about The Producers? It has toured and been produced many times over. You either love Mel Brooks or you hate him. I happen to be one of those who like what Mel Brooks does. Whether it be staged or on film, the incredible silliness of the words, story and music latches onto your private laugh track for all time. This Producers is exceptional because it has the original touring sets and costumes, tip-top direction and choreography and best of all, a truly smart cast headed by Larry Raben, Michael Kostroff and David Engel.
There is no attempt here to copy the antics of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick or Jason Alexander and Martin Short. The actors - all - play their roles as written, with no personality excesses or quirks, or unnecessary shtick. It's good solid work. Raben is a natural as Leo Bloom, making the annoying mannerisms totally believable. Kostroff, reminding me of Jon Lovitz, fits Max Bialystock like a glove, and like Raben, plays the character without pushing for laughs. Brooks makes the dialogue funny enough; there's no need to go over the top!
Engel, who never ceases to surprise, makes Roger Debris one diva of a director, and his Hitler is hilariously loveable. Kudos also to Michael Paternostro as his 'queenly' partner Carmen, to the beautiful (is she 7 foot tall?) Sarah Cornell as delicious Ulla, to Nick Santa Maria as a wanna-be butch Franz Liebkind and to Tracy Lore, an adorable standout as Hold Me-Touch Me.
This is a wonderful evening of fun and camp - and yet another triumph for Musical Theatre West.
5 out of 5 stars