Friday, July 31, 2009

Guys and Dolls in Concert at the Hollywood Bowl

Featured Artists:
Hollywood Bowl Orchestra
Kevin Stites, conductor
Richard Jay-Alexander, director
Donna McKechnie, choreographer
Cast to Include:
Jessica Biel, Sarah Brown
Scott Bakula, Nathan Detroit
Beau Bridges, Arvide Abernathy
Ellen Greene, Miss Adelaide
Brian Stokes Mitchell, Sky Masterson
Ken Page, Nicely-Nicely Johnson
Ruth Williamson, General Matilda Cartwright
Herschel Sparber, Big Jule
Jason Graae, Benny Southstreet
Bill Lewis, Harry the Horse
Danny Stiles, Rusty Charlie
Amir Talai, Angie the Ox/Joey Biltmore
Jody Ashworth, Lt. Brannigan
Cindy Benson, Agatha
Grace Wall, Hot Box Girl
Sandahl Bergman, Hot Box Girl
Valarie Pettiford, Hot Box Girl
Jane Lanier, Hot Box Girl
Kathryn Wright, Hot Box Girl
Chelsea Field, Hot Box Girl
Tracy Powell, Hot Box Girl

I saw the dress rehearsal and it's great! Ellen Greene is a natural as Miss Adelaide, Brian Stokes Mitchell so suave as Sky Masterson, Scott Bakula so unfettered as Nathan Detroit - and Jessica Biel - what a find! - perfect casting as Sarah. 3 performances only through Sunday, August 2 at 7:30

(Top Photos: Craig T. Mathew - Ken Page, so memorable as Nicely Nicely leading "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat";
Jessica Biel as Sarah Brown and Ellen Greene as Miss Adelaide decide to "Marry the Man Today")

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cabaret review - Rachel York

I first saw Rachel York onstage in Kiss Me Kate and was astounded by her fierce acting style. She devoured the role of Kate and was consistently mesmerizing. I also saw her on DVD in a live tape performance of Victor/Victoria and was equally taken by her dazzling presence and comedic flair. Then at Sterling's Upstairs @ Vitello's she performed her solo show in September, 2007 and it was so good, I gave her Top Female Cabaret Artist on my List of Bests for that year. When I was invited to review her again at the Inner Circle of the Magic Castle, I jumped at the chance - and I only return to see those performers that I truly love. That's the reason I returned-and I will again! Not only does Rachel York possess a glorious instrument, she is terribly funny and her sense of humor infects everyone around her. Her 70-minute set is one of the most entertaining cabaret acts anywhere.
Entering with "Don't Rain On My Parade" she took hold of the crowd and held them spellbound. Other great singing moments were:"He Touched Me", another early Streisand favorite, "I Dreamed a Dream" - unlike Susan Boyle, she lived through the lyrics, playing Fantine in Les Mis, "My Heart Will Go On","Maybe This Time" preceded by a hilarious story about Liza replacing Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria, "Lonely Goatherd" preceded by a cute story about Julie's private walk in the Alps, and a stunning Burt Bacharach Medley entitled The Looks of Love.
If she missed an opening note, she stopped, laughed and began again, stating that she had only had one rehearsal with congenial musical director Eugene Gwozdz. Newcomers, who had never seen her before, were won over by her beauteous charisma and consummate vocals.
Rachel also does great voice impersonations of Barbra, Julie, Liza, Cher, Marilyn Monroe, to name a few. Her "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend", which had served as her New York audition for City of Angels, in combo with "Diamonds Are Forever" was a nice surprise, as were her 2 encores - the jubilant sing-a-long"Those Were the Days" followed by a soaring, uniqely awesome interp of "Defying Gravity".
This beautiful lady, a cross between Raquel (Welch) and Rita (Hayworth), is a dynamic talent that is not to be missed! The look, the voice, the style belong to yet another R: Rachel (York): one helluva great entertainer and... once again a top contender for Female Cabaret Artist of 2009.

review - Altar Boyz

altar BOYZ
book by Kevin Del Aguila; music & lyrics by Gary Adler & Michael Patrick Walker
directed by Patrick Pearson
Celebration Theatre
through August 23

altar BOYZ, currently playing the Celebration Theatre in WeHo, is a jubilant celebration of living by 5 members of a boy band that really care about each other and you, their audience! With their genesis as altar boys, all but one are catholic and show via rock music the ins and outs of staying sin free, or at least a close proximity. They announce that their mission is to save all souls - quite a hefty goal, but you haven't met these boys or experienced their drive and commitment.
"Everybody fits in God's big family" is a motto that guarantees membership to a Jew, Abraham (Kelly Rice), a Latin, Juan (Robert Acinapura), a homosexual, Mark (Clifford Banagale), his best freind Matthew (Jesse Bradley) and tough guy, loveable Luke (Jake Wesley Stewart). Friends for life these guys sing, dance and tell their stories, not unlike the pals in Stephen Schwartz's Godspell and Stuart Ross' Forever Plaid. As in these other pop musical shows, each guy is a down-to-earth character that must learn to stay true to the gang, but first to himself. There are some silly jokes, some games like a confession session, and live audience participation. But all is not fun. The boys encounter problems, none more grave than Juan's birthday surprise of finding his real parents for the first time. Sadly, for him, their home is underneath a tree. The religion teaches that we cannot be slaves to those we leave behind; we must accept their passing as a natural stage of life. A painful lesson, to be sure! And Mark, who must learn that the acceptance of one's gayness in an atagonistic world is a never-ending battle.
There are examples of vanity, pride, lust, betrayal and greed to contend with. As in Forever Plaid, where the lads seek the harmony of the perfect chord, the altar BOYS seek a lifelong harmony that can only be found in being true to one another.
This is a soulful, sometimes irreverent, but always spiritual ...journey - of trying to find one's niche, hopefully righteous, in this crazy world. The entire cast are a joy to watch under Pearson's skilled direction and within Ameenah Kaplan's stomp-like choreography. Whether catholic or not, you'll EXULT and be OVERJOYED!
5 out of 5 stars
Post Note: I am overjoyed with the new artistic direction of the Celebration. This wonderful show ushers in a new season that looks very, very bright, indeed.

Rachel York Does Magic

Rachel York, my choice for 2007 Female Cabaret Artist, did 2 nights of Cabaret at the Magic Castle - July 26 and 27 - and wowed the audience with her dynamic style and beauty.

Don's Altar Boys

(left to right) Robert Acinapura (Juan), Jake Wesley Stewart (Luke), Clifford Banagale (Mark), Kelly Rice (Abraham) and Jesse Bradley (Matthew) from the Celebration Theatre's fab production of Altar Boyz spread more goodwill after the show.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cabaret - revisited!

Michael Bernardi and Eduardo Enrikez horse around after a performance of Cabaret @ The Met. The show is playing so much tighter and the entire cast is terrific! Through August 9!!!!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Eden Espinosa @ The Ford - ME

Eden Espinosa performed her solo show ME, which had already sold out 4 nights at Joe's Pub in New York this winter, at the Ford Amphitheatre on Friday, July 24 in the second concert of Upright Cabaret's Wicked Summer Nights! Espinosa creates a sensation wherever she sings and this evening was no exception. Her set began Act II, which included an appearance by Grammy-winning Paula Cole; cute, petite Audra Mae, grand-niece of Judy Garland, was the Act I opener. There was a definite rock, pop feel to the evening whose theme was Lost Love, Found Love, Found Me.
Mae, an Oklahoma gal with a real downhome, folksy quality, performed 8 numbers and really revved up the audience for Espinosa. Her own composition "Sullivan's Letter" about a Civil War soldier was quite moving. She also offered "Joey, Joey, Joey", unusual and daring for a female singer, from The Most Happy Fella.
After the intermission, Espinosa, attired in black, made a rather unusual and unannounced entrance in the dark and began simply with a quiet, reflective love ballad "Gravity". With the second rousing "River Deep" followed by Dolly Parton's "Here You Come Again", she was off and rolling. Five songs followed. including "Lover You Should...", "I'm Gonna Be Strong" and the title of her cabaret "Me", which showed incredible vocal range, depth and stamina. 'Ballbuster' was a word the lady used herself to describe one of those songs, as she comically faked a collapse to the stage.
Ms. Cole was introduced and performed two of her hits at the piano: "I Am So Ordinary" and the catchy, popular "I Don't Wanna Wait" which was the hit theme of TV's Dawson's Creek. She briefly spoke of the precariousness of the music industry and was overcome by Espinosa's enthusiasm for her artistry. A touching moment for Cole and for us!
Espinosa returned to the stage energetically for the hand-clapping "Halo" and a tribute to Michael Jackson in duet with Ty Taylor "I Just Can't Stop Loving You". Onward and upward, we were treated to "Oh, City", a very grittily real "The Story" about the physical changes in one's appearance that reflect the emotional changes beneath. The finale was a super trio of songs: Audra Mae's fascinating "Ruby Shoes", a more slowed-down, pensive rendition of "Defying Gravity" and a return to her opening song "Gravity". Mae joined Espinosa on stage for "Ruby Shoes".
Espinosa spoke very little, but when she did, she revealed a very humane and caring side to her personality. What is most appealing about her comes through her magnetic interpretation of the music. She is a true artiste, reminding me greatly of the splendid Betty Buckley, who allows her instrument to carry her and her audience to never-before-visited places in the heart ... and soul.
Other musicians who complemented the evening were musical director Chris Bratten at piano, Jake Simpson on keyboards and vocals and terrific backup singers Debby Holiday and Nicole Marie Poynter. Kudos to Upright producers Shane Scheel and Chris Isaacson for another dynamite summer cabaret under the stars.
Stephen Schwartz will perform the third evening on Sunday August 23rd at the Ford at 7:30 pm, thrilling us with selections from his new opera Seance on a Wet Afternoon.
Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Twist Afterglow

Young Jacob Caltrider, playing Twist at the Diversionary Theatre, San Diego, has a great future ahead of him in musical theatre. This is his third show for the group and perhaps his best role.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

review - Twist @ Diversionary Theatre, San Diego

book & lyrics by Gila Sand; music by Paul Leschen
directed by James Vasquez
Diversionary Theatre
San Diego
through August 9
This is the second production of Twist that I have seen. Paul Storiale directed the LA premiere at the Avery Schreiber Theatre in NoHo in December, 2007. Limited by space, Storiale did a miraculous job of staging and the entire cast, including Alexandra Billings and Brandon Ruckdashel, were excellent. It was an audacious and delightful enterprise.
Fast forward one year and a half later to San Diego and the highly respected Diversionary Theatre. This is a subscription based Equity waiver space that is dedicated to producing top notch work, and with Twist, the results are most impressive. There is a 3-piece band, a set, some funky costumes in leather with flashy high-heeled boots for Fagin and the ladies, and a cast who are blessed with astounding musical artistry. Sand and Leschen have added some new music to the Drama Desk nominated score, and the story unfolds with a bawdy and bold vision that sustains itself well beyond the two hour performance. There is still a bright future for this imaginative work.
Jacob Caltrider as Oliver is meek, yet willing and never loses sight of who he is and where he came from. There is a terrific feat of casting here with Tom Zohar as The Artful Dodger, who provides a dynamic contrast to Caltrider's low-key performance. David McBean is a marvel as Fagin. Short offstage, he makes himself appear much taller on and sashays around as if he truly owned the entire space, barking and bullying with a rich baritone - and that's just his speaking voice. His singing is perfect for rock opera. I can see him essaying Frank'n Furter in Rocky Horror and Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. He also wears the silk and leather to the hilt. Jackie Cuccaro as Lady Downlow and Amy Northcutt as Nancy are both deliciously off-center in their look and attitude. Cuccaro is more whorish than Victorian (as I last saw her portrayed-...and justifiable) and Northcutt with her clownlike hair color comes off a sadder and more victimized Nancy. Tony Houck is hilarious as Charlie Bates - a sort of Sean Hayes in heels, and Andy Collins is very memorable as the weird, dancing Mr. Sowerberry.
Vasquez' liquidy direction makes the entire piece flow as smooth as Fagin's silk scarf.
Twist is worth the ride to San Diego. It is more than camp. It is more than what some refer to as a crude joke. This is a very smart... fearless gay's perception of the Oliver Twist tale, made imaginatively darker, scarier, more lascivious, more cruel, and far more truthful than most straight renditions to date. The finale "Beautiful Boys and Lovely Ladies", a new number added in San Diego, is so befitting as the onstage Dickensian characters address the audience of the future. It offers s a brave hope for gay lifestyles everywhere in time and space.
5 out of 5 stars

review - Cy Coleman revue @ Rubicon in Ventura

The Best Is Yet To Come:
The Music of Cy Coleman
directed by David Zippel
musical direction: Billy Stritch
Rubicon Theatre, Ventura
through August 2
In Cy Coleman's Seesaw, Gittel Mosca bemoans screwing up her chances for happiness. Coleman cherished the female underdog. Gittel. Charity in Sweet Charity and Sonja in The Life are three examples of ordinary hard-working gals who helped elevate Coleman's upbeat songs to majestic heights. Finally, composer Coleman is getting is due, as audiences agree that "Nobody Does It Like Cy". The Rubicon Theatre in Ventura presents an exhilarating world premiere revue The Best Is Yet to Come celebrating the genius that is Cy Coleman.
Six artists of incomparable range under the ingenious direction of David Zippel make us laugh and cry as they sing to the very depths of the soul. Jason Graae, Billy Stritch, David Burnham are the men; Lillias White, Sally Mayes, and Julia Murney, the ladies. Unlike most revues that slow down to a snail's pace and shift gears to suit the musical arrangement, this piece builds an engaging momentum that keeps climbing upward. There is no dialogue; everything is told via the music. And with that music, there is never a dull or superfluous moment. White's showstopping "Oldest Profession", Stritch's "It Amazes Me", Murney's glorious "Come Summer", Graae's "Witchcraft", Mayes' "With Every Breath I Take", Burnham's "I've Got Your Number" all move, as do the duets like Stritch and White's "Little Me", Graae and Mayes' "The Measure of Love".
It is to Zippel's credit that there are full renditions of lesser known songs and that the medleys are sparse. There is one fast-paced mix at the end, wrapping up hits with a bow like "If My Friends Could See Me Now", "I'm Nothing Without You", "It's Not Where You Start, It's Where You Finish" and "Hey There Good Times".
The understated finale "It Started with a Dream" with Coleman's image projected above for a limited few moments is tasteful and restrained.
The background set of a blownup piano and keys with a staircase separating members of the onstage terrific 8-piece orchestra by Douglas W. Schmidt adds a touch of class.
This is a lovely, beautifully directed and performed evening of theatre that ensures Cy Coleman's place among la creme de la creme of American songwriters.
5 out of 5 stars
PS The evening continued at the after party at the Ventura Marriot Beach Hotel where guest and Cy Coleman friend Liza Minnelli treated the audience to "He's Funny That Way" with her pal Billy Stritch accompanying her on piano. Liza was so gracious. After Lillias White's number in the show, she was the first to rise up and give White a standing ovation. Liza loves good theatre, loves to support others...and she's looking and sounding better than she has in years. What a double treat this evening was!!

review - Murray Schisgal One-Acts @ LCGRT

Murray Schisgal's One-Acts:
The Pushcart Peddlers
& 74 Georgia Avenue
directors: Chris Winfield & Frances Mizrahi, respectively
LCGRT (Group Repertory Theatre)
through August 22
Murray Schisgal has the uncanny ability to portray the Jewish culture both comedically and dramatically - with equal ease. In the one-act The Pushcart Peddlers he shows us Jewish immigrants at the turn of 20th Century America, learning how to survive in their newfound land of golden opportunity. written, this is hardly overbearing. It's slapstick and vaudeville at its finest. A middle-aged banana peddler and wannabe Broadway producer Cornelius (Lloyd Pederson) teaches newcomer, young and green Samuel the ins and outs of capitalism. First of all, how can one survive on the streets of New York with a name like Shimmel Schitzman (Ren Bell), so Cornelius sells the greenhorn a new American name, Sam Stone - and he is not only quick to accept but even to invest everything he owns to go into the banana selling trade with Cornelius at a 60/40 split. Get the picture? Therein lies the plot's complications. Oh, a young Irish girl, who is passing herself off as a blind beggar, Maggie (Melissa Soso), but who really wants to be a Broadway actress, enters the picture, and Sam becomes instantly smitten with her. Sam works his charm on Maggie, Maggie works her charm on Cornelius and...
This is your typical Come to America, land of plenty, and see just how far you can go to get everything you can lay your hands on! Schisgal's humor comes totally out of character. The threesome compete and top one another with more aplomb than the Marx Brothers. It's cute, fun, and under Chris Winfield's expert direction, the actors shine, shine, shine, especially Bell as Shimmel. Reminding me of a Matthew Broderick/Jonathan Silverman rolled into one, Bell is energetic, resourceful and utterly charming.
In the second one-act 74 Georgia Avenue, Schisgal moves 360 degrees away from the schtick of Peddlers to produce a very serious and heartwarming piece of theatre. The setting is contemporary Brooklyn where a disillusioned man Martin Robbins (Larry Margo) visits the tenement where he grew up and encounters an intiguing black man Joseph Watson (Disraeli Ellison), who strangely enough finds solace in connecting to dead Jews. How did this come to pass? Joseph's father was a janitor at the nearby temple and as a little boy he came to respect and admire the Yiddish culture around him.
Robbins is at present having marital difficultuies with his much younger wife; Watson is taking care of his terminally ill wife, who lies dying in the bedroom offstage. This is the very apartment in which Robbins grew up, and he never put closure on the relationship with his deceased father-or on his grandfather's, for that matter, who considered the young man a failure. Watson, in possession of the old Yiddish garb from the temple, dons the costumes and channels the dead spirits of these people. The spirits, called dybbuks, exist between the two worlds of the living and the dead in a state of unrest.
What results is a very touching confrontation between the two men, who had an instant distaste for one another at the play's onset. Each helps the other through his time of personal grief.
On top of the unusual nature of the dybbuk here is the fact that Jewish traditions are dying away like the people themselves, and it is extraordinary that a man of different racial background would relate to them and be able to provide the necessary consolation.
Margo and Ellison are both wonderful in their emotional attachment to these roles, especially Ellison who goes in and out of the many characters with strength and assurance. For the most part, director Mizrahi keeps the pacing on the right track.
This is a lovely spiritual journey that keeps kaddish (Jewish death prayer) alive and unites mankind for a common purpose.
Laurie Morgan opens both pieces as the vocalist with guitar. She has a lovely voice and her choice for Act II of the music from Streisand's Yentl is highly effective.
5 out of 5 stars

Friday, July 17, 2009

Peter Paige

Catching Up with Peter Paige after a performance of Little Shop of Horrors in Long Beach. Since I interviewed him during the run of The History Boys at the Ahmanson in 2007, he's been busy writing and producing a new screenplay.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

review - MTW's Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors
book & lyrics by Howard Ashman; music by Alan Menken
directed by Steven Glaudini
Musical Theatre West
@The Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts, Long Beach
through July 26

As many times as I see Little Shop, I delight in its madcap, ageless appeal. Theatre lovers adore camp and, of course, LS has it in abundance. Every time I hear "Somewhere That's Green" or "Suddenly, Seymour" I think of the original Audrey Ellen Greene whose high-pitched voice and fast, slutlike gait are locked in my memory for all time. Monsters, an overly abusive boyfriend who also happens to be a masochistic dentist, a miserably impoverished & risked-filled, yet dreamy existence on skid row, the Shirelles or the Supremes serving as a Greek Chorus? well, why not? this is 50s, 60s rock! - the sky's the limit. Musical Theatre West's current mounting starts off a tad slow and tired, but by Act II the cast and effects are in full throttle, and the show takes its place in the pantheon of memorable LSH productions.
Danny Gurwin makes a great Seymour. His expressive underdog wins the audience's sympathetic affection from the top. Lowe Taylor as Audrey makes the role her own. This is not a copy of the original in either voice or movement. Her first act is sufficient, but she wins our hearts bigtime with "Suddenly, Seymour" at the start of Act II. Peter Paige's Orin hits the highest mark of despicability characterwise, but he has more fun - and shows more versatility - in essaying the half dozen or so other characters, including a female, with multiple accents and moods. Stuart Pankin fits Mr. Mushnik to a tee, and Meloney Collins, Kamilah Marshall, and Fredericka Meek make the singing trio of divas a delicious seduction x 3. Praise as well to Michael A. Shepperd who supplies the sexy pleading voice of Audrey II ... and to James W. Gruessing as Audrey II 's puppeteer. Glaudini's pacing as director is finely tuned, and his staging works well.
All in all, a fun-filled, toe-tapping evening of theatre. I know I've said this before, but MTW always manages to produce a top-notch professional evening within a very short rehearsal period. Warts and all, this is one of LA's finest musical theatre companies.
5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, July 12, 2009

review - The Light in the Piazza

The Light in the Piazza
book by Craig Lucas; music & lyrics by Adam Guettel
directed by William Robert Ewing
El Portal Second stage
through July 26
Like a beautiful painting Adam Guettel's The Light in the Piazza is a true work of art. With discordant music not unlike that of Stephen Sondheim, written for a small chamber orchestra, feelings of love - from all kinds of people -fuel passionately. Without the right actresses to play the American mother and daughter visiting Florence, the play loses its fragility and inner beauty. This production could not be more divine. Mary Donnelly Haskell as Margaret Johnson and Stephanie Wall as her decidedly different daughter make sparks fly with their glorious acting and singing.
Clara Johnson was kicked by a pony in the back of the head at age 12 and suffered a mental deficiency as a consequence. So, at first glance, she seems sincere and enthusiastically atuned to the world around her, but it isn't until later when reactions of fear and rage emerge from her, that we clearly understand how very unusual she is. And...this different behavior is at times keen and extraordinarily insightful, especially when it comes to appreciating the loyalty that should exist between lovers...
Fabrizio Naccarelli (Blake Mciver Ewing) falls madly and passionately for Clara. It is up to Margaret to decide if his intentions are truly honorable and if Clara will be able to handle the situation with any any form of stability. At first she objects vehemently, but gradually comes to realize that Clara is more mature than she has given her credit for. Fabrizio's brother Giuseppe (Darius Rose), in typical Italian style, cheats on his wife Franca (Christine M. Capsuto, in a stunning performance) and the Signora (Dena Drotar) is quick to attest to the fact that Italian husbands are prone to wander, as is her husband (Joanathan Kruger). What bothers Clara is this open sense of infidelity and she is not afraid to point out to Franca that Fabrizio is her fiance and to keep her hands off.
Minor confusion about Clara's age and her own father's (Gregory Franklin) protestations put a damper on the engagement, but there is a happy ending. And it is mother Margaret's decision about Clara's future that sets the play apart and brings it to a most remarkable and joyous conclusion.
The entire ensemble is superb under Ewing's meticulous direction. Haskell brilliantly makes Margaret a three dimensional woman and Wall is endearing at every turn.
Stunning here as well is the outstanding use of the small stage to accommodate both the inner and outer worlds of Florence and Rome.
Guettel's music is so delicately beautiful that I am not ashamed to admit it moved me to tears more than once. A passionately engrossing evening for lovers, friends and for anyone who believes in the value of love.
5 out of 5 stars

review - Crowns

written by Regina Taylor
directed by Israel Hicks
Pasadena Playhouse
through August 16
Being the son of a lady who always wore a hat, even when she was not in church, it is quite easy for me, even though I was not born black, to derive pleasure and inner fulfillment from Crowns. This is a terribly funny piece with some uniquely stylized dramatic moments and with some of the most unforgettable gospel tunes ever written.
I know it is perhaps politically incorrect to refer to Crowns as a black musical. Black artists like to be thought of as artists, period. And well, they should. But, since the whole substance of the play is grounded in black culture and finding one's place within it, I am not quite sure that a similar play done by white women would bear the same effect. If you were born black, you will understand this play deeply. If you were not, you will come to appreciate it as a piece that reverberates the joy of living quite unlike any other. No one sings "His Eye is On the Sparrow" quite like a black gospel singer. I remember Ethel Waters' indelible rendition of it in The Member of the Wedding, but Sharon Catherine Blanks' sharing of it as Velma in Crowns is so amazing, it tore me to pieces.
Yolanda (Angela Wildflower Polk), a Brooklyn teenager, loses her brother to gang violence and moves south to be with her grandmother (Paula Kelly). She gradually learns to look inside and to truly love herself and her heritage. Polk has an astonishing vocal range. Kelly is mesmerizingly beautiful. With the figure of a twenty-year old dancer, her presence onstage is consistently commanding. Her life ballet with Clinton Derricks-Carroll as her husband - from marriage to his death - literally stops the show with its simplistic and undying conviction.
Other sterling performances under Israel Hicks' great direction emanate from Ann Weldon, so terribly funny "Git your hand off my hat!" and touching at the funeral of her father, from Vanessa Bell Calloway as Jeanette and from Suzanne Douglas as Wanda.
You will leave the theatre with hattitude, remembering the humorous elements: "I'd sell my children before I'd lend my hat!" or a husband's objections to his wife having too many hats - "You don't have but one head!" - and the serious side: "It took the Civil Rights Movement to get those hats off our heads!" or Mother Shaw's (Kelly) heartfelt determination to have a stylish hat and sacrificing every penny she had to own it.
Hats represent status, as they reveal or conceal. They are also crowns, as the women that wear them are queens. My mother, in her own way, was a queen. And queens one day "Walk All Over God's Heaven".
What a spiritual rush!
5 out of 5 stars

review - My Way

My Way:
A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra
created by David Grapes & Todd Olson
directed by David Grapes
Moult6on Theatre @Laguna Playhouse
through August 23
Frank Sinatra has been impersonated in The Rat Pack and in various night club settings. Some actors do him very well, such as Stephen Triffitt in The Rat Pack Live at the Sands; others do not even begin to do him justice as in Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara, so maybe it's just as well that we do not get this treatment in My Way at the Laguna Playhouse. Although, somehow, when I saw the graphic advertisement for the show, that's what I expected. No, indeed, this is a revue of his music, neatly packaged and tied up with a bow. Four super-talented artists sing and chat about ole' blue eyes, quoting him a bit and telling a little story now and again about his womanizing or philosophy of fast living.
David Grapes has put together a slick piece that is high on entertainment, but hardly cutting edge. The performers are all good...with music that is... inspirational. It lingers for all time. As Sinatra himself once said about the key to his success: SING GOOD SONGS! Of course, the Italian immigrant who became a band singer, movie star and a great legend, was never humble for a second. He hoped that people lived to be 100 and that the last voice they heard would be his. Moving around the spacious bar set (Bruce Goodrich) with the ease and poise that made Sinatra a demigod, Casey Erin Clark, John Fredo, Karen Jefferys and Jason Watson entertain for 2 hours, singing individually, in couples and all together... favorite standards such as "My Funny Valentine", "All of Me", "High Hopes", "New York, New York", "The Tender Trap", "That Old Black Magic", "Witchcraft", "All the Way", "That's Life" and of course, "My Way". The songs are divided into categories like: Songs for Survivors, a Losers Medley, a Moon Medley (Remember Sinatra's concept album in the 60s to coincide with Earth's moonwalk?), Young Love, Love and Marriage, and a Broadway/Film Medley. There's even an encore - which Sinatra never did -"I'll Be Seeing You". All told, it's a nice celebration of the spirit of Sinatra who gave us a song for every mood, every emotion.
The second act is more reflective than the first with each performer drinking alone: "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry", "One for My Baby" and "It Was a Very Good Year". The last was a favorite of mine at a very early age; I guess I was old before I was young and understood life as Sinatra obviously did when he sang about it. Costumes here in black (Lou Bird) are elegant, particularly the ladies' dresses with a touch of either blue or mauve.
Great musical accompaniment from: Vince Di Mura at the piano, Drew Hemwall on drums and James Leary on bass. They never stop cookin'!
Overall, a great dinner theatre or cruise ship evening full of beautiful music but low on surprises. Go for the foursome: I particularly loved Fredo's terrific tapping and Clark's clean and sultry vocal stylings.
4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, July 9, 2009

some notes on Forever Plaid the Movie

Daniel Reichard (Frankie), Larry Raben (Sparky), Stan Chandler (Jinx) and David Engel (Smudge) surround director/creator Stuart Ross of Forever Plaid. The film premiered at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles on July 9 and was simulcast to theatres across the country. A live performance of never before heard selections by the group followed with special guest star Carol Channing joining in with "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" The boys retorted, "Carol is a Plaid's Best Friend". The new arrangements of "Memory" from Cats and "Sweeney Todd" (Don't be a weenie; get a cut from Sweeney!) were heavenly and Carol's cutesy shabooms were sheer delight!
Hopefully, the last 20 minutes of the film did not go out across country the way it came through on the big screen at Nokia. The picture went unpleasantly in and out and put a damper on an otherwise fun experience. The boys are terrific in the film. I can't wait for the DVD release in the fall!

review - Spamalot

Monty Python's
book & lyrics by
Eric Idle
music by John Du Prez & Eric Idle
directed by Mike Nichols
Ahmanson Theatre
through September 6
Part Monty Python and the Holy Grail, part Mel Brooks' History of the World Part I, and Mel Brooks' The Producers all rolled into one, there is enough silliness here to make us forget we're in the midst of a recession. If lots of sight gags, double entendres, and grotesque/crass behavior are your tea cup - and I mean, NO plotline - then Spamalot is for you! I frankly think a little of it goes a long, long way, but, naturally, I cannot overlook the splendiferous production values and luscious cast.
John O'Hurley, straight from a two-year stint as King Arthur in Las Vegas, lends his tasty deadpan to a very merry band of knights in "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life". Merle Dandridge, as The Lady of the Lake, is a sumptuous feast all by herself. And...what a range of vocal versatility! Others worthy of praise include Jeff Dumas as lovely Prince Herbert, Rick Holmes daunting - and gay!~ as Lancelot, Ben Davis, divinely self-absorbed as Sir Dennis Galahad, Christopher Gurr a hoot as his butch mother and kudos to the entire ensemble for some spectacular tap dancing, with nifty choreography from Casey Nicholaw, and for the nonstop merriment. Sets and costumes by Tim Hatley are colorful to look at, and Nichols' overall direction is a psychedelic knockout! I'm sure after all the heavy-handed plays he has directed over the last 40 some odd years, this project must have been a refreshingly fun
change of pace.
When I first saw a scene from the film Porky's Revenge, I quickly switched channels. I might have done the same for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, had I seen it. But, alas... there is humor in the lame - how can one not smile at the Black Knight and his flesh wounds! or howl at the Frenchmen and their copious farting or guffaw at the oversized RABBIT - and God knows, in this day and age, do we ever need to laugh!!
4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

a few words about Michael Mann's film Public Enemies

I rarely devote time/space to writing about films, but when I am moved to the extreme, I make an exception. And... I was blown away by the pulse of Michael Mann's thrilling Public Enemies. When actors state that a movie is the director's medium, this is the perfect example. Mann's pace, amazing camera work and clearly delineated and focused performances leave a lasting impression. Depp proves once again that he is just about our greatest living actor.
The final scene with Marion Cotillard as Billie hearing Dillinger's last words, "Tell Billie: Bye, bye, blackbird!" reduced me to tears.
I will stick my neck out and say that this picture, director, and its star will be big winners for 2010.
Oh, did I mention that The Untouchables was one of my favorite TV series during my teen years? This whole era of the 30s defined American culture and produced incomparable folk heroes/icons. Unfortunately, crime in America has always proved big business and undeniable success for its perpetrators. I'm forced to... eat my words when I frequently say how very much I hate violence in any shape or form. Like most Americans, I need to stop and think about what
really turns me on and why. Moi, hypocritical...?!?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

review - Farragut North

Farragut North
written by Beau Willimon
directed by Doug Hughes
Geffen Playhouse
through July 26
(photo left: Chris Noth as campaign manager Paul;
photo top: Chris Pine as ambitious press secretary Stephen)
credit: Michael Lamont
The most thrilling aspect of Beau Willimon's taut play Farragut North lies in its unpredictability. It opens in a bar where four people - who appear to be friends, or at least, friendly - are casually enjoying chitchat or occupational gossip over drinks. What follows from one beat to the next is a terrifying examination of character ambition and betrayal. This Los Angeles premiere boasts a stellar cast with a particularly amazing performance from Chris Pine as s young press secretary, who by play's end becomes more ruthless than the boss who groomed him - that's Paul, played by Chris Noth, also delivering a superb performance.
In the political arena, not only the candidates, but the entire creative team surrounding them, will do anything it takes to win. We've seen dirty politics in countless films, none more detailed than 1998's Primary Colors. Winning means destroying, so get out of the way, if you're the slightest bit honest! It's a tough game, where players get 'stoneheaded' and heartless. So, why stay with it? Farragut North supplies the only answer: once the knife is in, turn it and, sadly, learn not to look back! Climb the corporate ladder the quickest way possible; it's the American way. We expect it of everyone and encourage it in all our peers. Win at all costs: to be ruthless is in.
Chris Pine as Stephen Bellamy is confidence personified, and when he is down for the count, takes full-throttle revenge even while it means ruining the girl that cares about him. Olivia Thirlby is Molly, that young intern, who despite having slept around, has a sincere interest in Stephen. But alas, fate plays them a losing hand. Pine is a wonder to watch. He has moments of joy, bewilderment, sorrow, and, in his final rage, is as explosive as a time bomb. Thirlby brings great maturity to her role, and her playfulness with Pine is, acting-wise, as good as it gets. Noth makes Paul a scruffy, piggish, despiccable human being that cares for no one. Isiah Whitlock Jr. plays cool and in control as Tom Duffy; Mia Barron gives new meaning to the phrase 'calculating bitch' as Ida Horowicz; Dan Bittner as Ben and Justin Huen as the waiter bring elements of surprise to the table, each in a totally different way, proving that there is no such thing as a small part. No small actors to be found in this ensemble... and Doug Hughes' direction is tight and pulsating.
This is a stunning new work (soon to hit the big screen with Leonardo DiCaprio) that will appeal to everyone, regardless of one's political orientation. It offers a slice of the pie that entices us all.
5 out of 5 stars