Saturday, October 31, 2009

review - MTW's Meet Me in St. Louis

Meet Me in St. Louis
songs by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane; book by Hugh Wheeler

directed by Richard Israel

Musical Theatre West @
Carpenter Performing Arts Center, Long Beach
through November 15

The classic 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis directed by Vincente Minnelli is so revered that to imagine a stage version of equal prominence is... Well, Musical Theatre West's (MTW) impressive reproduction of the 1989 Broadway version is so charmingly rendered, that one forgets the movie, Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien & company... at least for 2 hours. Not unlike White Christmas on stage, Meet Me in St. Louis captivates its audience with mesmerizing production values and an astounding ensemble.

Not one actor is miscast; even the youngest children are top-notch performers. With director Richard Israel's (Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins) dependably smooth staging, everyone contributes beautifully to the big picture of the family unit that somehow remained more cohesive in 1904 than it does today. Heading the clan are the always steadfast Norman Large and Mary Gordon Murray as father and mother Alonso and Anna Smith. Cassie Silva - what a treasure! - is Esther. She's pure heaven! Cathy Newman is delightfully caustic as Katie. Kevin Cooney is the perfect gentleman as Grandpa Prophater. Grace Kaufman makes an adorably precocious Tootie. Rounding out the outstanding mix are Robert Pieranunzi as brother Lon, Sarah Bermudez as Rose, Jason Evans a divine John Truitt and Jeremy Bernard, a wonderfully insistent Warren Sheffield.

I assume with no credit listed that the set is a purchased touring set, but it's great to look at - the house, the trolley, the ice-skating pond, et al. Choreographer Lee Martino makes stellar contributions, as does musical director Daniel Thomas.

I love edgy mateial, which St. Louis is not. But I am also a sucker for nostalgia, especially when it's well done, and this production is delectable in every way. It's the top!

5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lisa Stanley Afterglow

Lisa Stanley was a charmer onstage and off. Here she greets moi after her cabaret set Sunday evening, October 25 at Sterling's Upstairs @ Vitello's.

CABARET review - Lisa Stanley

Lisa Stanley is most gratefully a cabaret artist of the old school, who brings everything she has to her performance: good singing, a little dancing, a gigantic sense of humor and enough charisma and warmth to make everyone feel good. Never letting her high enegy fail her for a split second, Stanley presented her Life on the Double D List at Sterling's Upstairs @ Vitello's on Sunday, October 25 to a thoroughly receptive SRO audience.
Stanley kept her hour-long set in motion by mingling frequently with the audience and bringing folks onstage to participate. There was never a dull moment. Highlights included: "Come On-A My House", where she carried a basket into the audience and handed out candy, "I Got Rhythm", an evocative "The Lady Is a Tramp" and even juicier calypso number "The Big Bamboo" - "I bet Harry Belafonte never sang this song!" She did a hilarious version of "Fever" with 3 chorus boys hand-picked from the crowd, that, of course, could not coordinate finger snapping and foot movements to save their lives. Stanley did a soulful "My Heart Belongs to Daddy", whilst cuddling a bald-headed friend from the front row and a cute "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf" with fairy tale book in hand. Then there was a total reverse in style, the ballad "You're Still You", beautifully interpreted and dedicated to her husband. Stanley ended with the frenetic "Minute Waltz" and then slowed down once more encoring with the crowd-pleasing "One For My Baby".
There was still more. The whole room crooned "Happy Birthday" as she brought all October-November birthday guys and gals from the audience onstage for candle-lit cupcakes.
This was a completely enjoyable evening from a perky, loving songbird that I want to see perform a lot more in the future, the very comedically talented Miss Lisa Stanley.

Friday, October 23, 2009

review - De La Locura A La Esperanza

De La Locura A La Esperanza:
From Madness To Hope
Produced by Olin Theater Presenters and Saul Mendez Folkloric Ballet
conceived and directed by William Flores
Los Angeles Theatre Center
through November 1

Seeing this native Salvadoran company of artists present this new work is like visiting an indigenous village in El Salvador and witnessing first hand a pageant that has been lovingly created by a fiercely proud race. It is pure and honest in its simplicity and filled with the emotional excitement and sorrow felt by all cultures. Yes, indeed, the story, told plainly and gracefully by a Mujer (Rocio Enriquez) dressed in white belongs exclusively to la cultura salvadoreña, but will be understood universally.
The play uses a bare stage, a projection screen above it to translate the Spanish narrative to English, 16 dancers, some of whom play various sowers, workers, soldiers and priests, and a young people's choir to recreate the impact of the Civil War that ravaged the countryside and killed 75, 000 men, women and children for a twelve year period from 1980 to 1992. There is the joy of the cosecha or harvest of corn, followed by the onslaught of war. As the women hear the sound of the helicopters hovering above, they try helplessly to flee from the fields. Symbolically a pile of the harvested corn husks in the center of the stage serves as a bed for a barrage of rocks that land on top of them, each rock representing a slaughtered child, some as young as one week old. This entire scene is beautifully choreographed by Saul Mendez: we feel the gentle joy and community of the harvest, the nonstop pain and violence that quickly follow it and the grieving memorial afterward, again with a profound sense of community.
The story must be told. People must accept it in order to move forward. Todos perdieron - everyone lost - but as the chorus sings:
the sea shines,
the garden stays green,
a happy world,
lift your voices
they carry the truth.
Esta es mi historia
Cuál es la suya?
There is nothing earth-shattering or novel in this piece of performance art, but its sheer artistry is breathtaking and cries out to all generations to be seen.
4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ovation comments

With my own year-end List of Bests quickly approaching - 2 months to be exact - I am pleased to see many noms that will be on my list as well.
But I am horrified if Anita Bryant Died For Your Sins (West Coast Ensemble) was overlooked. It did open in August, so I believe was eligible. If this is the case, what a travesty!!! Like Chris Pine (Farragut North) is hands down the Best Nonmusical Performance of the Year and Leslie Uggams (Stormy Weather) is the Best Musical Performance, Anita is by far the Best Production of a Play. Go see for yourselves! I rest my case.
I hate awards - always have - because: somehow one, two or more of the most deserving for some idiotic reason miss out. I am tired of hearing that there are too many Waiver productions for Ovation voters to cover. This type of error would never occur in New York where the theatre receives much more RESPECT.

2008-2009 Ovation Nominations

Congrats to all! Check out full list of nominees @:

Friday, October 16, 2009

review - Cirque du Soleil's KOOZA

When I interviewed Melanie Laland (artistic director of Kooza) for, she told me it would be thrilling, but what I felt as I experienced Kooza at the Sant Monica Pier exceeded my wildest expectations. This Cirque du Soleil show is a return to the basics of cirque: the art of performance, which, in turn, includes the brilliant aerial acts and the absurd bafoonery of the clowns. 2009 marks the 25th anniversary of Cirque du Soleil - it premiered on the Santa Monica Pier in 1984 - so another viewing, with some re-envisioning, of the acts that make this unique circus tick seems only natural.
I remember and welcome the petit Outsider who wants so much to belong to the dazzling troupe of vagabond performers, and also the box, out of which pops the Trickster who cleverly conjures up a series of obstacles, kind of like life. The comic clowns intermingling with the audience have been a cirque staple in every single show, and none disappoint here. Audience members join in the fun onstage - some return to their seats, some do not. One gal disappeared in a magic sequence in Act I only to reappear at the most unexpected moment in Act II. Surprise, surprise, surprise!
The orchestra, which sits on top of a huge traveling set piece called the bataclan - and singers are enchanting as they entertain with a wide variety of music. The colorful costumes are breathtaking and every act, nothing short of sensational. I was particularly blown away by the Wheel of Death (upper photo) where 2 aerialists 'ride' within and on top of the spinning wheels. Not only do the wheels spin, but the entire unit rotates with incredible speed while
the men defy gravity with their rope jumping and other daring physical antics. It is not that easy to frighten me, but I sincerely gasped and blinked my eyes a few times during this set.

If you have never seen a Cirque du Soleil show, go, go go!!!! If you are a diehard fan like me, be prepared for the ride of your life, as Kooza opens up a plethora of new thrills, chills and spills!
5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 11, 2009

world premiere musical readying at La Jolla Playhouse

Stark Sands as “Clyde” and Laura Osnes as “Bonnie” in La Jolla Playhouse’s world-premiere musical Bonnie & Clyde, book by Ivan Menchell; music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black; directed by Jeff Calhoun, playing in the Mandell Weiss Theatre November 10 through December 20. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Monday, October 5, 2009

review - I Bought a Blue Car Today

Few cabaret performers electrify an audience. Peter Allen was able to do it with sheer energy, talent and drive. You had to see him jump on top of the piano to understand just how much energy was used up. Hugh Jackman can do it. His personality and good looks alone drive both men and women crazy. His energetic talent is also phenomenal. Then there's Alan Cumming, whose extraordinary talent and devilish sense of humor can keep a show in high gear. He's hard to describe-a shy, retiring soul with a lot of the bad boy underneath that creeps out to shock us every now and again - but, wow, what a magnetic vocalist...and those bizarre, outlandish, outrageous anecdotes he you're getting familiar with someone famous for the very first time. I never knew Ann Miller wanted to see more ...well, bless her!
Whether he sings from John Cameron Mitchell and Hedwig, or a Dore Previn or William Finn ballad, his emotional range is incredible, he pulls you in and you are hooked!
Cumming has star quality, whatever that means; he has what it takes to be GREAT!
I Bought a Blue Car Today, as it happens, was a sentence on his examination for US citizenship last year and he found it so appropo to the American energy and financial crises, that he decided to title his solo show after it. His new solo CD with the same title has the show pretty much in tact, with the addition of Cindy Lauper and John Bucchino songs. Good stuff! And Lance Horne, musical director, has some fab arrangements and original tunes.
Alan Cumming, I'm proud to announce early, is my choice for Best Solo Performance of 2009.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

review - Parade

book by Alfred Uhry; music by Jason Robert Brown
directed by Rob Ashford
Mark Taper Forum
through November 15
In 1998 when Jason Robert Brown won a Tony Award for the score of this unusually provocative musical, the opulent Broadway production closed to critical acclaim, but due to excessive costs, the show remained inaccessible until the Donmar Warehouse resurrected it and produced this tight - without all the frills -superlative mounting, now on view at the Mark Taper Forum.
Most remarkable about Parade is the combined brilliance of the book and music in capturing the in depth texture/mood of every emotion: fear, hope, pain or joy. In Atlanta, Georgia, circa 1913 a memorial day parade symbolizes celebration, but underneath a truly artificial sense of freedom there lies festering something undeniably evil that is destined to explode. Leo Frank and wife Lucille are at odds in their marriage. He's a Northern Jew; she a Southern Jew. He feels the great gap that exists between them. Guilty or not guilty of the murder of Mary Phagan - a crime of which he is accused, tried and convicted - he remains, in every social encounter, the constant outsider. Comparisons will be made to Ragtime because of the time period in which both musicals take place, but Ragtime concerns itself more deeply with the black experience. It becomes quite obvious that in Parade's perspective of the deep South, not only blacks are victims, but anyone who does not fit into Atlanta's manufactured world of pretentious perfection. If the Ku Klux Klan are not lynching blacks, then they'll go after Jews, perverts, sodomites or anyone else that veers even 10 degrees away from their cockeyed morality. Post Civil War changes may be in effect, but bad habits die hard.
In a work of such complex proportions, the staging must be fluid and clear. Ashford has directed with ultimate precision, as the entire Taper space is utilized to grande advantage. The ensemble of actors is superb with T.R. Knight magnificently centered as Leo Frank. We never really know this complicated man, and Knight keeps us guessing. Lara Pulver is sheer joy as the brave Lucille, never giving up in the face of defeat. David St. Louis makes a riveting statement of unwavering determination as Jim Conley ("Blues: Feel the Rain Fall") and it is admirable to see Charlotte d'Amboise and Davis Gaines, both musical stars in other shows, playing a variety of smaller roles so skillfully in the large ensemble.
Stark set design by Christopher Oram with a domineering political painting on the upper level adds a sense of unrelenting control and power to the all-encompassing powerhouse that is
this Parade.
5 out of 5 stars

review - That Perfect Moment

That Perfect Moment
by Charles Bartlett and Jack Cooper
directed by Rick Sparks
NoHo Arts Center
through November 8
When 4 rock musicians from the 60s reunite and try to get their old band in swing again for a brand new gig, all hell breaks loose in That Perfect Moment. 'That perfect moment' being the harmony of one voice that musicians would sell their souls to experience... at least once. The Plaids of Forever Plaid died for it and now it's The Weeds' turn at bat! It's what good musicians live for, at least what Mark (Tait Ruppert) still craves after so many years, to the consternation of his wife Sarah (Kelly Lester), who's had all she can take and walks out on him at the top of the play.
It's Christmastime, he's a total asshole and fellow band members Al (John Bigham) and Gabriel (Guerin Barry) somehow put up with his foolishness in the hopes of making a deal which involves some of their old songs - that belong to fourth band member Skip Chandler (Bruce Katzman)... who, as it turns out, is reluctant to let them out of his possession. He's a big businessman, successful as all hell - has superceded all the others to the top - has a house with 8 bathrooms - but still wants ownership of the music. He's snooty, as far as Mark is concerned and stands in the way of their comeback. The Weeds, a tiny San Fernando Valley rock band, who never made it further than Calabasas. With a new song that is called "overly complex, petulant and negative" by contemp music execs, just how elusive is that rainbow that they've dreamed of for over 40 years? Ah, dreams and the desire to be remembered! We carry them into middle age like excess baggage, dimming the lights on other possibilities and sometimes they haunt us right up to the end! It's sad, especially if you're alone!
But these guys have each other. They can still learn to care and support one another in times of desperation and need. Kind of like a male Steel Magnolias, the play offers a light still burning at the end of the tunnel. Under Rick Sparks' consistently upbeat and always winning direction, these 5 actors offer diversely rich and engaging performances. Ruppert fits his role like a glove, especially with ponytail, and becomes a likeable oddball, a Quixote for all seasons. Katzman is outstanding. His change of attitude is ever so subtly delivered. Barry aptly underplays Gabriel's homosexuality and Bigham makes Al as dependable as an old oak tree. He is particularly amusing as he stands sturdily on one foot or falls to his knees in reverent Buddha posture. Lester is a knockout as the wife and also as the no nonsense music exec, who axes the deal.
The set design by Adam Flemming, with the living room wall also serving as a scrim behind which Sarah's outside of home scenes are all played, makes the tiny space seem much brighter and larger than it actually is.
This is a sweet, charming play. For any artists who have ever kept hoping for a 'second coming', this one's for you!
4 out of 5 stars

review - a big gay north hollywood wedding

A Big Gay North Hollywood Wedding
by William A. Reilly and Ben Rovner
directed by William A. Reilly
Crown City Theatre Company
through October 25
I loved Tony and Tina's Wedding. So, naturally I expected that Crown City Theatre, who was producing A Big Gay North Hollywood Wedding, would let pigs fly and be out and out outrageous. I looked forward to the queer nuptials with glee. So many dramatic and humorous possibilities! Well, I'm sorry to say, I was quite disappointed...not with the actors or the production values, but with the script... that takes itself far too literally and plays out like an actual wedding instead of a surreal play.
St. Matthew's Lutheran Church is the setting for Part I where the exchange of vows between Brent Logan (Sterling Price) and Josh Weinberg (Ben Rovner) takes place. Within the course of 30-35 minutes, an usher passes out copious amounts of kleenex, a ditzy photographer snaps polaroids of just about everyone in sight, a visiting aunt from New Jersey goes to the ladies' room, gets locked out and must knock loudly - during the crucial part of the ceremony - to get back into the church - and perhaps the screwiest mishap - 2 guys are caught making out in the choir loft in full view of the entire congregation at the onset. There are laughs, yes, but not enough of them. And what is funny could be much funnier! Why not put anti-gay picketers out front? Why not have one burst into the church and scream " Same sex marriage is illegal!" or "Death to homosexuals!" only to be thrown out by a bevy of ushers. There are so many missed opportunites. Brent Logan's mom (Jodi Harrison) is a drug addict and she and her husband Phil (Bob Dean) are vehemently opposed to the marriage. Why not have them throw a huge tantrum in the lobby of the church in front of everyone before entering? "Why did you drag me to this goddamn fiasco? I refuse to go in and see our son ruin his entire life!" Could be uproarious!
Then there's Part II, the reception in the theatre space behind the church. Thank God, there's cake and champagne, some dancing and a few saucy musical numbers to please, but for the most part during the course of 90 minutes, there's at least an hour where people merely drink, mingle and chat. Nothing happens to threaten the new couple's future happiness until the last 30 minutes. And when the dramatic conflict arises, it is silly, very weak and is too quickly resolved.
As I recall there were scenes in Tony and Tina's Wedding played out in every crook and cranny of the reception room and the audience had to get up and follow a mutitude of sexual, drunken or darkly tainted entanglements. All it takes is to bring the lights up on a certain area, talk loudly and the audience will follow long - gladly!
Aunt Myra's (a very delightful Yiddisha interp by Evelyn Celic) present and her description of Josh's parents' demise will hardly be forgotten - it surely appealed to my dark sense of humor, nor will Tiffany Sutter's (Jackie Nico), girlfriend of Brent's brother Bobby (Dane White), physical attack on the gal that tries to steal a dance with him. Nico is hilarious as this jealous and inebriated woman and she should be given more funny business to do in the script. She chatted with me, but was not given juicy info to disclose. What if she found Bobby in the broomcloset or behind the bar having a quickie with a waiter? She'd faint and they'd have to carry her away!
Loved the dance numbers. It was fun to revisit The Village People and loved sexy Aussie L (Ben Pauley) whose entertaining dance gyrations and song during the ceremony ("You Are That Man" by Reilly and Rovner) provided some long-awaited enjoyable moments.
Rewrite, guys, you have the potential for such a great show here. At present, much of it is colorless and uneventful.
3 out of 5 stars

Friday, October 2, 2009

Michael Bernardi goes solo @ Sterling's

Sterling's Upstairs at Vitello's in Studio City, CA is pleased to announce that MICHAEL BERNARDI will make his cabaret concert debut in The One That Got Away - Sunday, October 4, 2009 James Lent will serve as Musical Director.
Like his father Herschel Bernardi (1982 Tony Nominee for the role of "Tevye" in Fiddler on the Roof), Michael began performing at a very young age. A stand-up comic by the age of 9, Michael was given the nickname "Wonderboy" by the world famous Comedy Store; a name, coincidentally given to his father as a child in the Yiddish theatre. A recent graduate of SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Acting in New York. Michael made his west coast musical theatre debut as "Clifford Bradshaw" in the stunning, critically acclaimed production of Cabaret presented by Musical Theatre of Los Angeles at The Met Theatre in Hollywood. Michael's Film and television credits include: The House Bunny, Born to Be a Star, Soul Surfer, If I Tell You I Have to Kill You, Radio Needles and Monk.
Current pricing at Sterling's Upstairs at Vitello's is a $50 VIP Premium, Preferred Seating Package which includes a four-course, prix-fixe dinner with a choice from four signature entrees, plus a one hour performance. A select number of $25 General Admission, general seating packages (inclusive of a minimum toward food and/or beverage and the performance) is also available.
Dinner seating on Sunday, October 4th is from 5:30 to 6:00 pm, followed by a 7:00 pm performance.
Attendance is by reservation only! For reservations, please call Sterling's Upstairs at Vitello's at (818) 754-8700. VITELLO'S is located at 4349 Tujunga Ave. Studio City, CA 91604. Valet Parking is available.
Dubbed "LA's Cabaret Destination" by the Los Angeles Times; voted Best Live Entertainment in Los Angeles by readers of the Los Angeles Daily News; named Best Live Entertainment by Los Angeles Magazine; and a 2007 and 2008 winner of MyFoxLA's famed "Hot List," STERLING'S UPSTAIRS at Vitello's is produced by MICHAEL STERLING of Michael Sterling & Associates (MSA), the Studio City-based entertainment public relations and Production Company. Tony Monsour serves as Associate Talent Producer. For additional information on Sterling's Upstairs, please visit the club's web site at: