Thursday, March 26, 2009

latest review - Louis & Keely

photos: michael lamont
Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara

Geffen Playhouse - Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater
directed by Taylor Hackford
through April 26 with possibility of extension through May
written by and starring Award-winning Vanessa Claire Smith and Jake Broder
as Keely Smith and Louis Prima
In its third LA incarnation (before the Geffen it played the Sacred Fools and Matrix Theatres), this multi-award-winning musical play continues to ROCK!!!!!
Taylor Hackford has taken over the direction and what he has achieved is to tighten the dramatic core of the piece. By introducing new characters - Frank Sinatra and the various females in Prima's life, including his third wife - the personal conflict between Prima and Smith becomes more intense, as well as the friction in their professional relationship. When Smith was asked to record sans Prima, she became the star of the act, pushing Prima into the background. Sinatra became Smith's friend, helping her land a solo album at Capitol Records, and her confidant during Prima's extramarital affairs and... eventual lover, which pushed Prima to the brink.
Broder and Smith's performances remain mesmerizing. Broder's total immersion inro Prima's raw musicality and Sicilian skin must be experienced to be believed. Erin Matthews carries off the various females with ease and versatility, and Nick Cagle as Sinatra is attractive with a pleasant voice, but sounds nothing like Sinatra. Audiences are so familiar with the Chairman of the Board that there should be some instant recognition to help make the character & relationship with the duo more plausible.
Vibrant set pieces by Joel Daavid, costumes by Melissa Bruning, and the use of additional colorful background projections also designed by Daavid make the production slicker. After all, this is set in Las Vegas, so the flashier the better! The substitution of some new songs enriches the dramatic impact, especially at the end with "I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me" when Prima learns the extent of Smith's infidelity with Sinatra. The song onstage, followed by the volatile confrontation backstage, are both electric.
I would like to hear more banter between Prima and the band, as before, but that is neither here nor there; the musicians once again are the best.
Stellar show!
5+ out of 5 stars

Friday, March 20, 2009

review - Everybody Say "Cheese!"

Everybody Say "Cheese!"
written by Garry Marshall
directed by Steve Zuckerman
Falcon Theatre
through April 11
In Garry Marshall's hit Happy Days the Musical, currently on tour, Mrs. Cunningham exposes a flash of feminist independence when she yearns to find herself sans family. This was a big step for women's lib in the 50s/60s, as a woman's place had pretty much been limited to wife and mother in the home. Now in his newest comedy Everybody Say "Cheese!", Marshall has decided to create a whole play around the mother of a typical American family, who, as she grows older, is still extremely young at heart. She refuses to throw her life away by simply catering to her stick-in-the-mud husband.
Harriet announces that she will divorce Leo and in New York in 1965, the only way to divorce a spouse was to prove infidelity. But what if the spouse's problem was not his disloyalty? Would she go so far as to lie in order to gain her freedom? Ah, what a clash! The innocence of the 60s violated by the folly of a burgeoning feminist!
I was at first put off by the broad approach to the comedy, under the capable direction of Steve Zuckerman, as actors pushed and pushed for laughs. Then it became clear that dated material about sexual dysfunction, divorce and hookers will play funny to a contemporary audience (particularly those that did not live through the 60s) only if they see it in a farcical vein. If you can accept how very ludicrous a situation is, all is well with the world, at least in the theatrical world of comedy.
And this cast is a comedic marvel. Husky-voiced and adorable DeeDee Rescher is outstanding as Harriet. Her comic timing is only surpassed by her fine sense of drama, as when tender feelings about her upcoming birthday come spilling out. Joe Regalbuto is hilarious as Leo; his second act drunken scene is his finest hour. Roberta Valderrama steals the show as the hooker Lee Lynn, who will allow any epithet but hore. John Capodice shines as Charlie, the neighbor you just can't live without. Joel Johnstone makes his lawyer Artie memorably pushy, and Heather Corwin and Cyrus Alexander complete the terrific ensemble as daughter Gail and her football player hubbie.
Like an early Neil Simon comedy, mixing reality with schmaltz, Everybody Say "Cheese!" is a fun evening of theatre. Harriet's strength of character will stay with you, making you recall you own delightfully manipulative mom. Rescher's aura sure worked its magic on me.
4 out of 5 stars

Grigware Talks Film: A Penn For All Seasons

Academy Award for Best Actor - Sean Penn

Some actors scream bad attitude.
Sean Penn has been at the top of my bad boy list for a long while. But it's time for a change. With his portrayal of Harvey Milk - which totally blew me away - he has finally found his niche within a select crop of great contemporary actors.

Milk also boasts outstanding direction from Gus Van Sant and should be seen by everyone. Filmed documentary style with San Francisco's gay activism of the 70s as backdrop, Milk has an intense pace, ferocity of spirit and evocative cinematography that stay riveting throughout.This kind of benevolent dedication to showing the unsteady consequences of fighting a righteous but seemingly impossible cause is a victory in itself. Bravo to Van Sant and to his entire cast and crew! Josh Brolin's portrait of Dan White is certainly intriguing.

5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, March 8, 2009

review - Madame Butterfly

Photo of Kaz Mata Mura as Cho Cho San by Michael Helms

One Acts
Madame Butterfly/ Fool on a Roof

Secret Rose Theatre
directed by Mike Rademaekers
through March 22

Without the music, Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly would leave me cold. Perhaps it is a cultural misunderstanding on my part of the interpretation of the story: not so much how a person could be intensely hurt by the absence of love, but why one would commit suicide. The play Madame Butterfly upon which the opera is based, written by David Belasco, however, makes it quite clear that one must ... die with honor when one can no longer live with honor.
Americans seem to have lost count of what honor really means; to the Japanese, it is everything.
The Secret Rose began operation in 1999 with this one-act play and are currently remounting it as a 10th anniversary commemoration.

This is a straightforward representation with no frills or sentimentality. It is realistic, but without the overly dramatic suffering one associates with this work. The pacing is smooth and continuous, with simple and handsome staging by Mike Rademaekers and a beautifully realized performance by Kaz Mata Mura as Cho Cho San. Mata Mura is to be lauded for her bold perspective: from the beginning she underplays, but is always up and full of optimism, and even at the end, there is a ray of hope, as she fiercely views the sunlight after a long and unfulfilling vigil. Others in the ensemble worthy of note are Kiko Kiko as the loyal servant Suzuki, Shannon Altland as the sympathetic Kate, Max Andes as Pinkerton, Robert Sampson who makes Mr. Sharpless as gentlemanly as possible, and Austin Pender as the lovely child Trouble.

The first one act Fool on a Roof by Kan Kikuchi, often used as comic relief and sometimes played in a commedia dell'arte style, is in contrast to Butterfly: an over-the-top, farcical look at how the Japanese suffer to save face. They are so afraid that a certain kind of behavior may disgrace the family name that they go to absurd extremes to try to preserve the status quo. They act more foolish than the fool on the roof. But, alas, as in life itself, they cannot change, nor should they, a young boy's optimism and dreams. If he finds joy on a rooftop longing for a castle on the cloud, then so be it. In this lies the connection of the two plays: an awkward and relentless sense of hope. Director Rademaekers makes a wise choice in avoiding the commedia dell'arte masks and sticking to the silly, clownish slapstick to elicit laughs. It works well. Off-the-wall hilarious are Warren G. Hall, Kaye Chen, Ron Velasco, Doan Nyugen, Andres Ramacho and Jesse Wang, who also do a commendable job of changing the set pieces for Butterfly at intermission.

A terrific evening of theatre, economically yet stylishly produced.
4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Madame Butterfly rare one-act receives special production at Secret Rose Theatre

Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly is based upon David Belasco's original one-act Madame Butterfly, now on stage at the Secret Rose in NoHo to celebrate the theatre's 10th anniversary. It plays in tandem with Kan Kikuchi's Fool on a Roof through March 22.

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