Monday, June 29, 2009

review - BROADWAY!

GMCLA (Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles)
Guest Star: Jennifer Holliday
Saturday& Sunday, June 27 & 28
Alex Theatre, Glendale

GMCLA consistently does fine concert work and last Sunday's BROADWAY! was no exception. The chorus did some gorgeous renditions of Sondheim, including "Loving You" from Passion and a brave "Getting Married Today" from Company - pure solo material, I do not believe it has ever been sung by a chorus before. There was a fast-moving, well choreographed "The Bitch of Living" from Spring Awakening, an utterly scrumptious "Life Is" from Zorba and even a skin show in comic renditions of "Honey Bun", "There Is Nothing Like a ----" (no Dame here, hon, this is an all male-choir, after all!) and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair" from South Pacific and a leather exhibition in "He Vas My Boyfriend" from Young Frankenstein. Not as original or hilarious as many comedic numbers in past productions, but still amusing none the less - these leather and towels segments!
The piece de resistance was assuredly Miss Jennifer Holliday, who did not let down her fans - and that was the whole audience! - with "One Night Only" in Act I and in Act II her signature monologue "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going", both from Dreamgirls.
Her voice is still phenomenal and, with what seems to be a 100 or more lb weight loss, she looks very pretty and oh so sexy. (See photo below!) Holliday also pulled out all the stops on "Blues in the Night" in Act I and joined the chorus for the finale "We Are Family".
Other soloists worthy of note: powerhouses Jessay Martin and Richard Rocha with "Written in the Stars"/"The Gods of Nubia" from Aida and Bill Bowersock wonderful in a Jerry Herman medley "Let's Not Waste a Moment" and "It Only Takes a Moment" from Milk and Honey and
Hello Dolly! respectively.
There was a rousing "Circle of Life" from The Lion King to open Act II and a simply divine "First You Dream" as closing song from Steel Pier.
This was an elegant concert from GMCLA. They never disappoint! And don't miss their Christmas concert in December! It's always one of the most exciting holiday shows.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

CABARET review - Daniel Tatar @ Sterling's Upstairs @ Vitello's

Daniel Tatar
Boy Band Wannabe
Sterling's Upstairs @ Vitello's
Sunday, June 28
Daniel Tatar, Valentin in the LA Ovation-nominated Kiss of the Spider Woman from fall 2008, is a very charismatic and focused actor. In my book, great actors who can sing make the best cabaret artists. First of all, they know how to sing a song, and secondly, they usually have a natural way with handling an audience. Think of Mandy Patinkin, who has never held back a fret or a syllable! It's all out there and the audience eats it up. Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Patti Lupone have all brought their personality intact to the night club setting, and the audience has adored them for it. Tatar has personality plus and an infectious sense of humor which invaded his entire 75-minute set in his cabaret debut Sunday, June 28 at Sterling's Upstairs at Vitello's. So, my question arises, why has he waited so long to do an act? He's a natural!
Boy Band Wannabe, he explained, emanated from his geeky 7th grade days in Chicago with his group the Four Dradles on into his college cutup days where his band was called the Extension Chords and at the present time he's preparing with a group of musicians to open a new show Life Could Be a Dream, Roger Bean's new sequel, with mostly men, to his off-Broadway hit revue The Marvelous Wonderettes. Throughout the set we were entertained with these band recollections (Dream supplied the encore, with other cast members in attendance, lending their voices) and humorous stories of Tatar growing up Jewish, his grandma, whom he compared to Doris Roberts and her continuous tsk, tsk, tsk... and a variety of songs from shows in which he's had a tremendous success. These have included Jesus Christ Superstar (Judas), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jason Robert Brown's stupendous Last Five Years, William Finn's poignantly beautiful Elegies, from which he sang a heartrendering "When the Earth Stopped Turning" in tribute to the passing of his second grandmother, and Kiss of the Spider Woman. He did fun numbers from three original musicals: "Something Special" from The Golem, which he called Disney's answer to a zero turning into a hero, "Right Behind That Door" from Campaign of the Century, an actor's vibrant fantasy of making a film at MGM with Irving Thalberg and Norma Shearer - the energy here was ecstatic! - and "Never" from Darling, a very dark take on Wendy and the Darling clan from Peter Pan. During all of these songs Tatar was alive, ferociously committed and very charmingly funny.
After seeing this man in several of these musical roles in LA, I look forward to seeing him do a show with lighter material. If Boy Band Wannabe is any example of Tatar's comedic abilities, he may very well turn out to be the next Norbert Leo Butz...or ... Matthew Broderick ...or Martin Short. Whatever, I expect great things from him.

Jennifer Holliday @ GMCLA'S BROADWAY!

Jennifer Holliday, slimmer than moi, dolls! She was fabulous with a capital F! Great set of pipes, great face & figure! This diva sang 4 songs (2 from Dreamgirls, "The Blues in the Night" + finale) in the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles' summer concert: BROADWAY!
review above!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

review - Insanity

Left to right: psychiatrist (Dana Meller) and patient (Kevin Bailey)

music & lyrics by Scott DeTurk
book & additional lyrics by James J. Mellon
based on a concept by Larry Russo
directed by James J. Mellon
through August 9

Within its first year of production (2004-2005) NoHo ACE (Arts Center Ensemble) created the marvelous original musicals Dorian The Musical and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. The newest, Insanity, by the same creative team of DeTurk & Mellon, is by far their most genuine effort. Grounded in the reality of treating manic depression, the piece explores both sides of the coin, and not unlike One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - but with a far more optimistic ending and uplifting tunes - shows that affliction with a disease may indeed be more a gift than a burden. As in Nest, the characterizations are carefully and ingeniously drawn, here by James J. Mellon and ebulliently portrayed by an outstanding cast.
Kevin Bailey is dynamically right on target in his portrayal of Zarek Saxton. Painful as it is to watch mood swings of manic depression, it is fascinating and enjoyable to watch Bailey go in and out of them from an acting standpoint. Every move/feeling is full and complete, but never over the top. Dana Meller as Dr. Megan Goodman brings patience & strength to this most difficult role. Torn between taking the case and her own personal feelings, she is engaging at every turn and wins our sympathy. One line of hers stays with me: "I hate it when they make sense", referring to her charges and the normal side of their abnormality. Sabrina Miller as sexy actress Katelyn Keenan knows how to turn on the charm and appeal to suit her own selfish needs, and does so quite deliciously. Kudos as well to Joanathan Zenz as Matt, Zarek's straight-laced brother, to Curtis C as the attendant and God Ovacu, and to all the patients, from religious fanatic to homosexual to repressed opera singer to an overweight blackman who fantasizes being impregnated by an alien: they all have unique moments of brilliance: Cat Davis, Clarissa Park, Brad Blaisdell, Arthur Ross, Alex Robert Holmes, and Victor Warren.
There are many terrific songs, highlights among them "You Couldn't Write This Shit", "Normal" and "It's Time For Me to Change the World".
What exactly the greater good means has been the issue of several pieces, including Cuckoo's Nest and Equus, the most mainstream, but the majority have been straight plays. Very few musicals dare to explore the depths of illness, and the consequences of treatment on the patients and the effects on those around them. NoHo ACE once again sticks its neck out and takes a risk. What results is simply splendid! I was totally engaged from start to finish.
5 out of 5 stars

Friday, June 26, 2009

First photo of Old Globe's First Wives Club musical

Barbara Walsh, Karen Ziemba and Sheryl Lee Ralph headline The Fist Wives Club musical in San Diego at the Old Globe, beginning previews July 17 with official opening slated for July 31.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

review - An Evening with Patti Lupone & Mandy Patinkin

An Evening with Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin
conceived by Mandy Patinkin and Paul Ford
directed by Mandy Patinkin
Ahmanson Theatre
through June 29 only
Mandy Patinkin and Patti Lupone, legendary stage stars that they are, have more than a few tricks up their theatrical sleeves. However, the true grit of an artist shines through when he does not use any of them, but rather says the words, sings the songs and bares his soul.
Such can be said of both of these artists, who, in their simplistically staged concert at the Ahmanson Theatre, do more with one song than most singers merely dream of. She with "In Buddy's Eyes", he with "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues"; she with "April in Paris", he with "April in Fairbanks"; she with "Getting Married Today", he with "Franklin Shepard Inc". The list goes on and on. Rodgers and Hammerstein and Sondheim have never sounded better, and the two even have some fun along the way. A dance here, some choreography on chairs there...and even some mime. A bare theatre stage, some lights, a few chairs as props, musicians and two brilliant singing actors relating the ins and outs of love throush the great Broadway music of the past.
Of course, there's her signature "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" and the more recent "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from her Tony-winning portrayal of Mama Rose in Gypsy thrown in for good measure- Lupone has never sounded or looked better; she simply grows finer with age. Patinkin's tenor voice, on the other hand, cannot hit all of the upper notes and his excessively quivering tremelo is now more caricatured than ever ... but, he infuses the work with everything he's got, and for that alone, I admire and respect him, self-indulgence, warts and all!
This is a great evening of theatre that all performers should see- and everyone else as well, for the pure entertainment and CLASS of it.
5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sam Harris to costar in Old Globe's Broadway-bound musical

Holland, Dozier, Holland's The First Wives Club, a new stage musical based upon the hit film - and Broadway-bound -will costar Sam Harris, along with Tony winner Karen Ziemba and dynamite Sheryl Lee Ralph. It opens July 31 at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre.

Holland-Dozier-Holland First Wives Club musical to bow at Old Globe Theatre

(Holland, Dozier, Holland - pop rock music composers)

(Sheryl Lee Ralph and Karen Ziemba are 2 of the stars of Holland-Dozier-Holland's musical The First Wives Club, opening July 31 at the Old Globe in San Diego.)
The First Wives Club is a funny, moving and empowering new musical based on the smash-hit movie comedy and Olivia Goldsmith's bestselling novel. Former college friends reunite at middle-age and soon discover they share the same unhappy story - their ungrateful husbands careened into midlife by dumping them for younger women. Inspired by their renewed friendship, the three women band together and take back their lives in style! This captivating new musical is destined to be the theatrical event of 2009! The First Wives Club will run July 17 through August 23, 2009, with an official opening on July 31.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

review - Mini Musical Fest @ Secret Rose Theatre

Winner of the annual Mini Musical Fest @ The Secret Rose Theatre in my book is More Precious Than Diamonds by Stephanie Hutchinson. (In the above photo, cast members, on a rehearsal field trip, visit a real Tiffany's in Beverly Hills.) The play revolves around Julie (Fay Gauthier) and friend Michelle (Deborah Png) , window shopping a diamond ring in a Tiffany's store. Julie has always wanted a ring and is fed up with waiting for the right man to come along & buy one for her. Stewart, the salesman (Marco Antonio Aguilar), who assists Julie, not only shows her an $84, 900 ring, but ends up giving her much, much more. The mini play, with book, music and lyrics by Stephanie Hutchinson, is a sweet, fresh take on love at first sight. Jonathan Levit ably directs the mini play with Steve Walby also in the ensemble as a tough store security guard. The plot is simple and clear, the songs fresh and pretty, and the actors do a truly first-rate job in acting and singing their roles.
Other offerings seen in the festival include The Red Bouquet, Change of Plans, Something Not Real and My Jovi El Musical, all of which for one reason or another, do not hit the professional mark. Most promising performers in these mini plays are Jordan T. Maxwell, making a strong impression in Change of Plans and Derek Houck (Something Not Real) and Ian Federgreen (My Jovi), both rendering fast, funny comedic portrayals.
The Red Bouquet (book, music & lyrics by Joshua Fardon) has a somewhat appealing bittersweet texture, but the actors do not give it their all, with the exception of Kelly J. Roberts, interesting as robotic waiter Claude. Change of Plans (book, music & lyrics by Micahel Gordon Shapiro) has posibilities too, but needs more interaction between Jimmy and his wife Katherine (Kristin Chiles, wasted). His is the only singing role. With more flack from his wife, Jimmy's final decision will make even more sense. Something Not Real (also by Joshua Fardon) is not without potential, but at present is far too convoluted and unfocused. Attempting to be like a party scene in a Sondheim show, its characters are an odd and intriguing mix, but what's the bottom line? My Jovi (music, book & lyrics by Jan Michael Alejandro), the longest of the plays, is dismally unfunny and needs reimagining. Alejandro may have been thinking Cheech and Chong when he wrote this, but it just doesn't work in its current cartoonish, unfulfilling form. And, more urgently, it does not put Latinos - who deserve far better material - in a very positive light.
I did not see The Queen & the Dragon (begins June 25), but without question, at present, More Precious Than Diamonds comes up the winning entry.

review - 2 Pianos 4 Hands @ The Colony

2 Pianos 4 Hands
by Ted Dykstra & Richard Greenblatt
directed by Tom Frey
Colony Theatre
through July 26
Beware the title! 2 Pianos 4 Hands is not a lesson in how to play the piano or is it a concert/revue of dueling pianos, although this is certainly included and a welcomed part of the diverse evening. Based on the lives of piano virtuosos Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt,
the play offers actors/musicians Jeffrey Rockwell and Roy Abramsohn the golden opportunity to strut their stuff...and quite brilliantly.
Playing the men as boys, teenagers and grown up, as well as their parents, a bevy of teachers - with an assortment of international accents - and students, both male ansd female, Rockwell and Abramsohn show an incredible range of artistry. And their timing at the keyboards is impeccable.
With an emphasis on the classics, including pieces by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin there are also lighter moments with a medley of pop tunes, like those of Scott Joplin, the Beatles, Elton John, the theme from Chariots of Fire and Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire".
The main issue at stake is committing one's life to the instrument - the pain of music lessons, which deprives a child of his... well, ordinary childhood playtime - and just how full a commitment one is willing to make during one's entire lifespan... to become a virtuoso player. Without the discipline, desire and commitment to endless hours of practice to perfect a talent, that talent is wasted. And then there are the tortured feelings of the students who feel guilty when they do not practice and inadequate when they do. It's never good enough! There are unending competitions in the early years, festivals, conservatory auditions, and even the occasional piano bar along the way - to make money. Always an ugly word for a serious musician! Remember Shirley MacLaine's dynamic Madame Sousatska, the piano teacher who knew how to dampen any spirit and drive one to drink? Well, these two fellas have more than one such maestro. It's tough to stick it out, but somehow they do. At play's end, the two recant not making it to the very top of their profession, but satisfy themselves with being the best, if not in the country or in the city, then at least in the neighborhood.
The beauty of this piece is that it translates well to just about every art form - acting, singing, dance, or painting, sculpture, etc. Artists give up so much and some never reap the rewards that they deserve. It's a cruel world, where one must oft times compromise and rejoice in that he is making a living, not in some humdrum, boring job, but doing what he honestly loves to do.
On the minus side, this piece is too long, repetitious and with a tendency toward self-indulgence. Artists are self-absorbed, that's a natural. OK. As to the repetition... a teacher myself, I am reminded of how important to learning it can be, but let's not hit them over the head with it!
That aside, under Tom Frey's never tedious pacing as director, both performers are consistently riveting to watch and listen to, and that alone is worth the price of admission!
4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

review - CABARET

book by Joe Masteroff; music by John Kander & lyrics by Fred Ebb
based on the play I Am a Camera by John Van Druten
directed by Judy Norton
Musical Theatre of Los Angeles
@ The Met Theatre
through August 9
This show is a classic in every sense of the word. Its sustained dark & forboding atmosphere of pre-Nazi Berlin and its celebrated Kander & Ebb score are but two glowing attributes. One, of course, cannot deny Bob Fosse's brilliant 1970 film, but, it was totally different from the Broadway show, as it became more of a showcase for Liza Minnelli's unique talent. The musical play is really an ensemble piece with the emcee (Eduardo Enrikez) weaving his way in and out of the plot as a symbol of evil about to break loose. Musical Theatre of Los Angeles under the stellar direction of Judy Norton, has turned The Met into the Kit Kat Club with front tables and sexy waiters serving up drinks - and plenty of skin - before the show. This Cabaret is by no means flawless but is without a doubt a very entertaining production, topped off by some terribly memorable performances.
In your face and astounding is Enrikez, making the Emcee every inch his own creation. He's bold, raunchy, electric and scary, but deliciously so. Annalisa Erickson as Fraulein Schneider gives a heartbreaking and vibrant portrayal of the aging apartment owner who is forced to look out for herself alone. Also touching is Jayson Kraid as Herr Schultz. In supporting roles Josie Yount as the hooker Fraulein Kost is gritty and unforgettable , as is Craig Bachmann as Nazi Ernst Ludwig. Michael Bernardi plays Cliff Bradshaw with clean and direct intent. Kalinda Gray is still working through the curious and complex behavior of Sally Bowles, perhaps the most difficult role to play, but makes a dynamite splash with "Cabaret" and in her final moments. The Kit Kat ensemble of boys and girls are energetic and appetizing.
Norton is a fine director and defines 2 wonderful moments in which Enrikez plays with a flower, eventually crumpling it to bits at the finale of Act I. I found his upper stage right appearance during Schneider/Schultz's duet "It Couldn't Please Me More" somewhat distracting, though, to the amusing, yet tender feelings of the aging couple stage center. The threat of doom to come is obvious, but maybe this upstaging is too blatant.
Set by Victoria Bellocq is fascinating in its almost 70s hippyish quality of color and design with mirrored doors just perfect. Also it is interesting to note that it copies popular artist Paul Klee who was considered degenerate and banned by the Nazis. Quite a remarkable detail!
Wondefully appropriate costuming, particularly the flimsy and tattered outfits for the dancers by Ann Mcmahan, ungaudy lighting design by Derrick Mcdaniel and lively musical direction by Greg Hakke add blasts of fun to the dark concoction.
I love revisiting a classic, especially a musical. Kander & Ebb's optimistic music is enough by itself to put bodies into the seats - and "Maybe This Time", originally written for the film and Minnelli is now a permanent part of the stage score. And, another reason... appreciating the message of Cabaret, to live for each and every moment, is more timely now than ever, and MTLA's ensemble reechoes that individualistic spirit.
4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, June 13, 2009

review - The Apple Tree

1 2

The Apple Tree
book, music & lyrics by Sheldon Harnick & Jerry Bock
additional book by Jerome Coopersmith
directed by Gary Lamb (1), William A. Reilly (2), Matthew J. Williamson (3)
choreography by Gary Lamb and Bradley Michael
Crown City Theatre
@St. Matthew's Church on Camarillo in NoHo
through June 28,
with probable extension

Composers Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, after their phenomenal success with Fiddler on the Roof in 1964, composed The Apple Tree (1966), which, at that time, was considered a unique musical due to its structure of 3 separate one-act plays. As in Fiddler, they were fond of stories about man and morality, how you learn life's lessons through experience. The current and rare mounting of the show at Crown City Theatre is a consummate joy, a great success for the entire creative team.
Act I - The Diary of Adam and Eve. Based on a story by Mark Twain, this chronicle is infused with incomparable wit and a homespun sense of humor that identified Twain as the genius that he was. It starts at the very beginning and takes us from Adam and Eve's awakening through their 'married' lives with sons Cain and Abel through to the end with Eve's death. It is simplicity at the core which makes this yarn work with all of its inferences to what makes man and woman tick, their differences and idiosyncrasies - and the simplest message of all: true love. Beautifully acted by Morgan Landers (Eve), Matthew J. Williamson (Adam) , Jon Mullich (Snake) and the entire ensemble recreating the various animals and cautiously directed by Gary Lamb, this is a bittersweet look at life in its truest form, before all the complexities of civilization came to the fore.
Act II - The Lady or the Tiger? Based on material by Frank R. Stockton, this short and satirical look at early civilization akin to the Roman Empire, deliciously shows man's obsession with power, control and greed. No more the innocence of Adam and Eve. When a prisoner is punished, he must choose one of 2 doors, a temptress waiting behind one and a ferocious tiger behind the other. But like The Price Is Right- it, too, was like a game, a sport, afterall - each door represents the unknown. Captain Sanjar (Josh Helmuth) and Princess Barbara (Kit Paquin) are put to the test of love, when their clandestine affair is discovered and he is arrested. To save him, the Princess finds out behind which door the tiger lies, but when she learns that her lovely servant Najira (Amy Ball) is the lady behind the other door, her jealousy consumes her. She will lose her lover either way. What does she do? Well guided by William A. Reilly, the entire cast is terrific with a particular nod to seductive Paquin.
Act III - Passionella. Based on a story by Jules Feiffer, who adores the cartoon to show the foibles of humanity and does it to perfection, this is life contemporary, where greed is king and the winner takes it all. A parody of Cinderella, a hardworking chimney sweep Ella (stunning Stephanie Fredericks), wants more than life to be a glamorous movie star and gets her wish thanks to fairy godmother, Narrator (Amy Ball), who appears to her through a TV set. She turns her into Passionella, but just for a few hours, of course. Life is grande until Passionella realizes how lonely she is. She meets rock star Flip (Bradley Michael, stepping into the role) who prefers his women 'down-to-earth'. With a clever reversal to the fairy tale's ending. the 2 lovebirds become...well, I won't spoil the surprise! Let's just say, the message reverts to Adam and Eve: true love wins out when life is unadorned, in its purest form. Fredericks is outstanding as Passionella, engaging and vocally supreme. Ball is a comic gem. Matthew J. Williamson serving as director here, does a skillful job and even makes a brief, but memorable appearance as a foreign film director.
This is an enchanting evening of theatre, so exquisitely produced for a 99-seat venue.
This is my first association with Crown City Theatre, but it certainly will not be my last. It is a gift to find another Broadway calibre theatre right in the neighborhood. They are in the league of the great theatre companies that include The Road, Antaeus and NoHo Arts Center.
5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Shoshana Bean Sings Streisand @ The Ford Amphitheatre

CABARET review
Upright L.A. Cabaret
Chris Isaacson & Shane Scheel, producers
Thursday, June 11 - Opening of
L.A. Gay Pride Week
@ The Ford:
Shoshana Bean: A Happening at the Ford
(part of Upright Cabaret's "Wicked" Summer Nights)

Some singers defy description. They are just so plain amazing that it is difficult to classify them. Shoshana Bean happens to be amongst la creme de la creme of musical artists. Her versatility allows her to do an hour set of Barbra Steisand songs-quite effortlessly and beautifully, and then, as if by magic, present a 50 minute rock/pop set from her new solo album
Bean is also charismatic with a girl-next-door appeal and a humorous way with telling a story. Take, for example, the traditional Yiddish love tale hilariously told by Streisand many years ago. Bean found her own eclectic way into it, and then needlessly confided her nervousness about replicating it. Therein lies the wholesomeness of Shoshana Bean who, like her aunt before her, rinses out and reuses ziploc baggies. Charming!
Having grown up on Streisand tunes, and having seen every televised concert, I felt like I was in hog heaven during Act I. Bean performed about 22 songs, including Chopin's "Minute Waltz". She put her own indelible stamp on "Down With Love", "You'll Never Know", "Cry Me a River", the "Second Hand Rose" medley, "Evergreen" (Streisand's own composition - now that takes guts! Bean is her own superhero!),
"Don't Rain On My Parade", "I'm the Greatest Star" (another brave turn), "Some of these Days" and the finale "Happy Days Are Here Again" (equal bravery!) The wonderful Gerald Sternbach served as musical director for this half. Miss Bean's cream-colored, beige & satiny, sparkly gown and upswept hairstyle were so appropriate for Streisand.
In Act II, Bean switched bands and musical directors -to Matt Cusson, to perform six numbers from her bestselling CD, Superhero. Quite a switch from Act I standards, these vocals are fast-paced, sassy rock vocal arrangements, of which I particularly enjoyed "Like My Man" and Bean's own composition "On 116" which poignantly , but not sentimentally, relates a tragic past love affair. Lindsay Rose and Jacqueline Arnold, whom Bean referred to as the Twin Towers, splendidly provided back-up vocals. Bean's Act I gown converted to a white jacket/mini-skirt ensemble, and with her hair down on her shoulders, the entire look added a smouldering touch to the diversified contemporary set.
After an emotional, mini speech laden with gratitude to her mentor Barbra Streisand, Bean performed a lovely rendition of "The Way We Were" and as a finale made the ultimately dramatic "My Man" totally her own special creation.
This was an evening to remember under the stars at the Ford Amphitheatre thanks to Upright Cabaret, Isaacson and Sheel and the supreme artistry of Shoshana Bean. She's a true original!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

review - Dame Edna's First Last Tour

Dame Edna
"My First Last Tour"
crafted by Dr. Barry Humphries
additional material by Andrew Ross
no director credited
Ahmanson Theatre
limited engagement through June 21

Dame Edna is back and the little Ahmanson Theatre will never be the same thanks to Barry Humphries. He's Edna's manager and has exploited the lady's mind, body and spirit so much through the years that they are practically joined at the hip. Humphries plays more of a role in this version of the ever popular show, but I refuse to spoil the ingenious surprise. Let's just say it's well worth your time to drop in for a visit. Edna spreads her good will abundantly and American audiences adore her, at least the majority, who also just happen to adore her son Kenny.
"My First Last Tour" begins with a delightful film tracing the lady's career over 50 years from her early days in Australia to becoming the Giga International star that she is...there are tidbits about her husband Norm & about his death due to a prostate 'that loomed over Edna's head' far too long... glimpses of her bridesmaid Madge Allsop, the tiny deadpan frump who almost became as celebrated a personality as the Dame herself... infamous gossip about Edna's escapades while joining the international swing set and her 'brief encounter' with Osama Bin Laden ...the list goes on.
Edna's charm comes from her quick wit and ad libs. When she greets her court, she does not 'pick on them' so much as 'empower' them. That's what she claims anyway! Whatever, it's one big happy love fest with a myriad of sarcastic jokes about the upper and middle classes ("Do you live north or south of Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills?"/ "My mizzies way up in the balcony seats should be called nouveaux pauvres!") , George W. Bush ("Michelle Obama confided there wasn't one bookshelf in the White House!"), gays, referred to lovingly as 'friends of Kenny', who, FYI, designed the Dame's colorfully gaudy frocks.
There are jibes about Angelenos and their casual - I mean, do nothing - lifestyle in LaLa Land, and, of course, multiple assaults on seniors, who can't remember anything. (Edna's favorite expression SAGA - Send Aussie Geriatrics Abroad now becomes GAGA - Give American Geriatrics Away!)
The play's a deliciously mindless gabfest for seniors, who need not worry about any confusing plot to unravel. Two thirds of the way in, senior members of the audience (hand picked by the lady herself) come up on stage to be her guests on the pilot episode of a new LA based talk show... where the silly gab & dishing continue.
The ending is a dispensing of the traditional gladiolas, Edna's emblem of peace and love, with the Gladdie song. And the finale tops all shhhh...I'm sworn to secrecy!
There are three musical numbers to which Edna gleefully lends her quaking alto, and an appearance by Edna's delinquent daughter Valmai (fun turn by Erin-Kate Whitcomb). Whitcomb is fine, but the use of Valmai seems pointless here, except to further the joke about Edna's wavering image as a caring mother. "I wasn't a very good mother. I blame my children." Yet, there's the African infant she's planning to adopt....hmmmmm. Edna's becoming more complex than Joan Crawford!
Regardless of what she says or does, though, audiences eat up every word of it, and if this turns out to be , in fact, Dame Edna's last tour, who could possibly replace this sparkling wit?
That's right, Dame Edna is most assuredly an international treasure. Well, a world class phenomenon, at any rate! Don't miss her during her brief stay until June 21 only!
5 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sterling's 3rd. anniversary

A happy group (clockwise left to right): David Engel, moi, and Tami Tappan Damiano celebrate the 3rd anniversary of Sterling's Upstairs @ Vitello's, the premiere supper club of Los Angeles.
On Sunday, June 7, prior to the Tonys, David and Tami performed their show (see review below) and then we all toasted with a glass of Chardonnay on the house.

CABARET review - A Fine Romance

David Engel and Tami Tappan Damiano premiered their original cabaret show A Fine Romance on Tony Award Sunday, June 7 at Sterling's Upstairs @ Vitello's. This evening was also in celebration of Sterling's 3rd anniversary.
Engel and Damiano have performed together countless times in musicals for Musical Theatre West including Crazy For You, Never Gonna Dance, The Full Monty, among many others. They are dynamite triple threats and so performing a mini musical on a smaller, more intimate stage allows them to dynamically exercise their acting and singing chops, but forces them to trim the dance numbers to a minimal number of steps. That's fine, as their playlet A Fine Romance about a young couple meeting, falling in love, getting married and then living and loving through a myriad of issues, told completely through song, was a glorious thrill. Damiano and Engel were both in top form.

She soared with "I Will Be Loved Tonight", Sondheim's brilliant monologue from Company "Not Getting Married Today", "Blues in the Night" and encore "The World Goes Round" topping Liza Minnelli's rendering on the Tony Award show.

Engel's finest moments came with "Where Is the Life That Late I Led" from Kiss Me Kate, "Me" and an absolutely beautiful and personal rendition of "My Foolish Heart".

Together they thrilled with "This Could Be the Start of Something Big", "Bli-Blip", "Baby It's Cold Outside" "All Of Me", "I Won't Dance", "Love Is In the Air" and the title tune "A Fine Romance". Musical director was the prolific Michael Paternostro, who even lifted his own fine voice in song during the Sondheim wedding number.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable way to welcome in the Tony Awards, cherishing two consummate LA performers that should be performing on Broadway again with the best of them. Damiano and Engel are stellar performers, not yet with Tony, but with several Ovation nominations and wins to their credit.

Congratulations as well to Michael Sterling for three terrifically successful years with Sterling's Upstairs @ Vitello's, the premiere supper club of Los Angeles.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

review - Red, Hot and Blue!

Red, Hot and Blue!
the 1936 Musical
music & lyrics by Cole Porter
book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse

directed/choreographed by Joe Joyce
Whitefire Theatre
through July 5

Red, Hot and Blue! may be dated with its corny jokes and timewarn flimsy plot, but seeing what made classic stars Jimmy Durante, Ethel Merman and newcomer Bob Hope (see original 1936 program above) popular musical comedy performers is an enriching experience in musical theatre history - and those fabulous Cole Porter songs are forever de-lovely. A combination of 30s naughty screwball antics, a lot of vaudeville sketches and burlesque's beautiful showgirls, By George's production of Red, Hot and Blue! at the Whitefire has a multitude of pleasurable moments.

Director/choreographer Joe Joyce and musical director Brian O"Halloran keep the entertainment rolling on the tiny stage with 3 talented leads and a lovely ensemble of debutantes. The star of the evening is without a doubt Richard Horvitz as "Policy" Pinkle, the role made famous by Durante. Horvitz is an excellent comic actor with perfect timing, zippy delivery and an overabundance of energy. This is no Durante impression; Horvitz puts his own stamp on it. Allyson Turner as socialite "Nails" Duquesne is a terrific singer and has the delivery, if not like Merman, then perhaps akin to Eve Arden. She's attractive, funny and a solid performer! Kyle Nudo is an interesting choice for Bob Hale. Like Hope, he has a unique look and makes the debonair conman slick and appealing. All the chorus girls have lovely voices, with Nadia Ahern a comic standout. Equally memorable are Sandra Purpuro as squeaky-voiced Peaches and Richard Van Slyke as gay designer Mr. Philippe.

This is a cute, fun evening that will titillate fans of musical theatre. Its political jokes about Congress cheating the American people are those that still hold up. The others, mostly double entendres, despite their old-fashioned silliness, were part of the era and are worth a few chuckles.

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, June 6, 2009

review - Oleanna

by David Mamet
directed by Doug Hughes

Mark Taper Forum
through July 12

This is not the first time I have seen Mamet's Oleanna, but it is the first time that it has provoked me to a level of wrath I found impossible to contain. Like many in the audience I was squirming in my seat, but more than the others, I found myself choking Carol (Julia Stiles) as John (Bill Pullman) was physically manipulating her so onstage. Isn't this the reaction that Mamet wants? Isn't John driven to violent acts by the ruthless and senseless verbal abuse of the student? You see, I am a teacher and a caring one like John, who just happens to have a sense of humor about life, like John and who has a tendency to say too much at the wrong time, like John.
We are easy victims for those who overanalyze, overcriticize and then usurp control. A power many women hve used effectively and unjustly to gain equality in the workplace or just to get what they want.
I abhor the character of Carol who pretends not to understand, preys on her professor's vulnerabilities and faults and then destroys him and his future. This is to Julia Stiles' credit who plays the role of the student without a flaw. Carol has an agenda, charts her course and will do anything it takes to carry it through. Pullman as John is also outstanding. His easygoing manner and sympathy little by little turn to frustration and confusion until finally he becomes unglued. Pullman utilizes subtle gestures and body language meticulously throughout. And of course, Doug Hughes' direction of the duo is taught and brilliantly paced. But, again, let's leave the most applause to David Mamet whose uncanny use of fractured language and unexpected transitions surprise, intrigue and challenge us to think long after the play takes its last breath.
There are an incredible number of layers in this play. The question of the value of higher education, abuse of power, playing God are but a few issues that come to mind . And with freedom of thought being put to the test, I watch with sadness just how greatly fascist ideals have empowered our thinking and behavior. Is censorship around the corner? Mamet's power is at play.
Set design by Neil Patel and clever sound cues of the opening and closing of window blinds between scenes to conceal and reveal certain behaviors add greatly to the play's intrigue.
5 out of 5 stars

Friday, June 5, 2009

Patti Lupone & Mandy Patinkin Together at the Ahmanson

Tony Award-winning Broadway legends Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin will light up the stage of the Ahmanson Theatre with an intimate musical evening of some of the greatest tunes ever composed for the Broadway stage - for one week only June 23-June 29.

Don't miss: An Evening with Patti Lupone & Mandy Patinkin!

Visit: for tix and schedule info