Sunday, December 27, 2009

review - House of Besarab

House of Besarab
conceived and written by Terance Duddy & Theodore Ott
produced and directed by Terance Duddy
The Hollywood American Legion Theater
through January 17, 2010 (possibly beyond) (Since I am reviewing this production late in the run and because of its extension into 2010, it will be in consideration for my year-end list of Bests for 2010.)
Not since the ultra successful Tamara, which played the American Legion for a record 11 years (Duddy was one of its producers), has an environmental play been so well received. Certainly the House of Besarab is an exciting concept: to visit Dracula's castle in Transylvania, to move around from room to room, peeking in on what's going on, whilst the atmosphere of the dark, musty place plays enticingly upon one's senses. In the Great Hall, where much of the exposition takes place, it was so cold the night I was there. "How perfect!" I thought. Would I expect to be warm in the home of the undead? Every creak, every rustling of fire or paper affected my eyes and ears, as I attempted to listen to the characters and get caught up in the satanic plot.
The ensemble, headed by Michael Hegedus as Dracula, is superb. Hegedus is attractive, suave, charming and seductive all in one breath. Chase McKenna as Mina is simply divine. Under the spell of Count Dracula, her Mina is the ultimate victim, thoroughly intense in her trance-like state, emotionally evocative and lovely to behold. Dane Bowman makes a dutiful Jonathan Harker and is especially effective in his fight scene with Slava, a newly trained servant of Dracula. Travis Michael Holder uses chilling restraint in his portrayal of Dr. Van Helsing. It is easy to go over the top with this role, as Van Helsing is Dracula's foremost enemy, but Holder maintains a perfect balance of strength and fright. Equally convincing is Terra Shelman as Dr. Seward, who has more reaction than dialogue, and as a focused reactor, she is right on target. Sara Spink and Megan Harwick are the vixens of the castle - Dracula's human mistresses - Riva and Cruza respectively. Playtoys for Dracula, these creatures play quite heavily into the Count's demonic plan for the future. Two understudies performed on the night I attended: Adam T. Rosencrance as Slava (normally played by Jason Parsons) and Terance M. Duddy as Renfield (usually played by David Himes). Because of following certain characters - which is expected of the audience, I missed Slava's first scene, so can only comment on his skill in the duel, but Duddy as Renfield, for me, lacked a certain psychotic craze which I prefer to see in Renfield. Duddy played him more of a scared, impish knave.
As to the overall script, it's engaging, but could use more fleshing out. Rather than be told that I could not follow Renfield, as he only serves the master, I think it might be fun to catch him in his quarters...say, eating insects or in some perplexed state of bewilderment over his misplaced loyalty. As we are restricted to the foyer, the guest bedroom and the Great Hall - all on one floor - it might be more intriguing to move, for example. to the grand entryway as Van Helsing and Seward make their first entrance and then follow them to the bedroom, if we choose. Give the audience more options! As is, the assistant stage manager Austin Grehan was more than accomodating in leading us to and from the different locales. It would take a few more warm bodies to assist in moving audience around to various other places on different levels - and that's quite a lot to expect of an Equity waiver play.
Another constructive criticism I heard from some audience patrons was that it might help to include more exposition in every scene about what happened previously - elsewhere, so the audience does not have to guess about elements of the plot they were not physically privy to. In Act II, I missed Riva's miracle in the foyer, but heard little about it from the characters after they entered the Great Hall for the finale. And, of course, there's always the part about the amusing, campy side of Dracula, which seems to be lacking in this version.
Overall, a wonderfully exciting piece of theatre, beautifully acted and executed. Praise also to David Gibson for his low key music and sound design, to Sara Spink for affecting period costume design and to Miliza Milo who as the Gypsy Woman cautions us to accept rosary beads to save our souls, as we enter the stark and startlingly awesome House of Besarab.
4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

LA's Next Great Stage STAR!

Sterling's Upstairs at Vitello's is presenting its annual LA's Next Great Stage STAR! What a terrific event! Not unlike TV's American Idol, talented artists compete before judges and a live audience. At Sterling's they go head to head for 6 Sundays: the first was November 29 with the finale to take place on January 3, 2010 at 12pm. At that time 13/18 contestants will be eliminated and the 5 remaining contestants will go on to compete once more. From these 5 the winner will be announced. The winner will receive $1000 in cash as well as a paid headlining engagement at Sterling's, and a variety of auditions for local musical theatres such as the outstanding Musical Theatre West and Cabrillo Music Theatre. The 4 runners up will also get headlining engagements at Sterling's and various private auditions as well.
One feature that makes the competitive show pleasurable is producer Michael Sterling himself presenting each of the contestants onstage. He is such a charming gentleman! Four judges (there are 12 in total) voice their comments after each performance, giving the contestants fine constructive criticisms. Judges on Sunday, December 20 were: Rey O'Day, producing artistic director of Performance Riverside, Steven Dry, West Coast Senior Theatre Agent at Schiowitz Connor Ankrum Wolf, Daniel Solis, Disney casting director and Eric Stevens, owner of Rainbow High Entertainment Talent Agency. They were all encouraging, but I particularly liked O'Day, as she critiqued every aspect of appearance including choice of clothes and jewelry, attitude and posture, as well as vocal ability.
Of the 18 contestants who performed, several blew me away with their talent, raw guts and nerve. My favorites were: the so well-acted "I Won't Mind" from Raquel Sandler, the very smooth Barry Manilow-sounding Bobby Bennett singing "Somewhere Down the Road", Janet Krupin with a stunning rendition of "If I Loved You" (photo top left), Matthew Claiborne with a dynamic "This Is the Moment", Luke Yellin utilizing great body language in Jason Robert Brown's "Shiksa Godess", Sam Ayoub opening big with "Giants in the Sky", Domonique Paton pouring every ounce of herself into a splendiferous "Disneyland", Nicole Ligerman with "I Have Everything I Want" and Taylor Tracey with an affecting "Get Out and Stay Out" from 9 to 5: The Musical.
Producers Michael Sterling and Tony Monsour may be exceedingly proud of the event which has been SRO for all 6 weeks. Vitello's serves a delicious luncheon and there is continuous beverage service throughout the 3 hour contest. The winner will be announced January 3, 2010 - I can't wait! - but, win or lose, all of these immensely talented ladies and gentlemen are truly winning performers.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Jay Johnson The Winner

Grigware Says: BEST SOLO SHOW 2009. See list below!!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Grigware's Best in So Cal Theatre for 2009

The Best in LA Theatre for 2009(alphabetical listings)
(artists performing outside LA may be included in performance categories)

Top Productions

Anita Bryant Died For Your Sins - West Coast Ensemble

The Apple Tree - Crown City Theatre

August Osage County - Ahmanson Theatre

Cabaret - Met Theatre

Farragut North - Geffen Playhouse

F*cking Men - Celebration Theatre

Life Could Be a Dream - Hudson Mainstage

Meet Me in St. Louis - Musical Theatre West @ The Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts, Long Beach

Parade - Mark Taper Forum

Voice Lessons - Zephyr Theatre

Most Promising New Musical

Bonnie & Clyde - La Jolla Playhouse

Most Promising New Play

Anita Bryant Died For Your Sins - West Coast Ensemble

Best Revival (tie)

The Light in the Piazza

@ El Portal Secondstage


@ Mark Taper Forum

Best Ensemble: Play (3 cast split)

Anita Bryant Died For Your Sins

Carved in Stone @ Theatre Asylum

F*cking Men
@ Celebration

Best Ensemble: Musical (tie)

Life Could Be a Dream

@ Hudson


@ Mark Taper Forum

Best Lead Performance

Sam Anderson The Bird and Mr. Banks @The Road

Eduardo Enrikez Cabaret @ The Met

Stephanie Fredericks The Apple Tree @ Crown City Theatre

Laurie Metcalf Voice Lessons @ Zephyr

Megan Mullally The Receptionist @ Odyssey Theatre

Laura Osnes/Stark Sands Bonnie & Clyde @ La Jolla

Estelle Parsons August Osage County @ Ahmanson

Chris Pine Farragut North @ Geffen

Bill Pullman/Julia Stiles Oleanna @ Mark Taper Forum

Leslie Uggams Stormy Weather @ Pasadena Playhouse

Best Featured Performance

Ray Abruzzo Mauritius @ Pasadena Playhouse

Shannon Cochran August Osage County @ Ahmanson

Rachel Dratch Minsky’s @ Ahmanson

Annalisa Erickson Cabaret @ Met

Sam Harris The First Wives Club @ Old Globe, San Diego

Dee Hoty/ Nikki Crawford Stormy Weather @ Pasadena Playhouse

David McBean Twist @ Diversionary Theatre, San Diego

John W. McLaughlin The Golden Gays @ Cavern Club, Casita del Campo, Silverlake

Julia Migenes Man of La Mancha @ Reprise!, Freud Playhouse

Kimberly Van Luin Wonder of the World @ Victory Theatre

Mare Winningham Bonnie & Clyde La Jolla Playhouse

Best Solo Show

The Two & Only
Jay Johnson @ The Colony

Best Cabaret Artist: Male

Alan Cumming
I Bought a Blue Car Today
@ Geffen

Best Cabaret Artist: Female

Alexandra Billings
Everybody’s Girl
@ Sterling’s Upstairs @ Vitello’s

Best Seasonal Show (tie)

Wicked Summer Nights: Upright Cabaret
@ Ford Amphitheatre

Winter Wonderettes
@ Laguna Playhouse

Best CD

this place I know
stephanie j. block

Mini-Reviews of Nutcracker, Dr. Frankincense & White Christmas

White Christmas
( Dr. Frankincense)

Moscow Ballet's thrilling Great Russian Nutcracker, seen at La Mirada Performing Arts Center one nite only on December 23, Cabrillo Music Theatre's White Christmas, playing but 7 performances from December 26-29 in Thousand Oaks...and an over-the-top silly one-act entitled Dr. Frankincense and the Christmas Monster guesting at Write Act Rep in Hollywood.
Firstly, The Nutcracker has always been my favorite ballet; Tchaikovsky's music is so dreamlike and exhilarating that it overpowers me. The dance, however, is another story. I have seen local companies ruin its beauty with their amateurish moves, and so, despite the glorious sounds, the sights have left much to be desired. Not so, I am pleased to say with the Moscow Ballet under the outstanding direction of Anatoliy Emelianov, who also dances the role of the Balletmaster. Every skilled move was to be relished. And... the gorgeously colorful hand-painted sets and costumes were all breathtaking. This was a Nutcracker to remember! Kudos as well to Evgeni Poclitari as the Nutcracker, Ekaterina Bortykova as Masha and Akzhol Mussakhanov as the Prince and the rest of the excellent company for their brilliant artistry. The story is somewhat different in this version; it does not begin at the Drosselmeyer's home but rather in the studio where the Balletmaster leads the freshly come-to-life dolls to the Christmas Eve soiree. In Act II the "Land of Peace and Harmony" in which Arabian, Chinese, Moore, French, Spanish and Russian folk are represented is nothing short of exotic, and the oversized animal dolls are thrilling to watch, whether dancing or just hamming it up. Great stuff!!

White Christmas is one treat of a film and even brighter on stage. The touring and original Broadway productions, which played Los Angeles only once at the Pantages, in 2005 - please bring it back next season! - were gloriously directed by Walter Bobbie and choreographed by Randy Skinner, who turns the second act opener "I Love a Piano" into one of the most inventive & lively tap sequences ever! Cabrillo Music Theatre mounted the show this year for 7 performances only, and under Todd Nielsen's meticulous direction, a sturdy acting company made this production a sublimely frothy confection. David Engel (Bob), Roger Rogel (Phil), Jennifer Mathews (Betty) and Cassie Silva (Judy) gave diliriously energizing performances and with Michael Catlin (Sheldrake), Ron Rezac (the General), and Karla J. Franco (Martha) et al offering consistently steady support, the ensemble was top-notch. Melissa Giattino was faithful to Skinner's original choreography - "...Piano" had its own special zing. Darryl Archibald served marvelously as musical director, with the entire orchestra visible on stage. Mounted like a Reprise! production, the show lacked nothing; it was a delightfully generous post-holiday offering to its SRO audiences.

Lastly - and a huge surprise for me - was Sean Abley's silly one-act Dr. Frankincense and the Christmas Monster which played in tandem with the more readily dismissed short one-act Yardsale at Write Act Rep prior to Christmas. Akin to a Mel Brooks parody, the play, set in Christmas Village, featured such characters as Santa and Mrs. Claus, Rudolph, Frosty, Sugarplum Fairy, Ms. Tinsel, Jack Frost, the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Noels, the Evergreens and Myrrh, spastic assistant to Dr. Frankincense.

Why Frankincense created the monster and how it eventually affected the townsfolk are treated with an abundance of sick one-liners and over-the-top acting, but it proved far more saitsfying than I anticipated. Praise to the ever reliable Alexandra Billings as the neglected Mrs. Noel ("I am important"), who brings zest to any role she plays, to Dylan Vox as a hilariously overbearing mess of an assistant Myrrh and to Tchia Casselle who makes the drunken Ghost extra funny. Adapted from Ray Kampf's "The Horrible Account of Dr. Frankincense", Abley's play needs some of its repetitiousness pruned and certain kinks need smoothening, but the piece has definite promise and is hardly forgettable.

Happy New Year 2010!!!!

James Barbour Holiday Concert to Play Colony Theatre

James Barbour brought his holiday concert straight from New York to the Colony Theatre in Burbank for one performance only Monday December 21 at 7pm. The benefit for the Colony co-starred rock/jazz singer Michelle Wolf with husband, brilliant musician Peter Wolf accompanying. Barbour referred to him as "Chopin at the piano!"
The hour and a half set gave singer par excellence Barbour a chance to show his lighter side - he is one helluva funny storyteller - as he engaged the audience in an interactive "12 Days of Christmas", the Hawaiian "Mele Kalikimaka" and the "Dreidel Song" ("Growing up in New Jersey, mine was the only house that had Christmas lights."). On a more serious note, Barbour performed stunning renditions of "O Holy Night" (his late mom's favorite), Frank Wildhorn's "Measure of a Man", "Believe" and "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year".
Michelle Wolf, from a completely different musical background than Barbour, blends quite amazingly with him, which was apparent in fine renditions of "Silent Night", "White Christmas" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas". Solo, she soared with "Away in a Manger", a breathtaking Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah", the plaintive "Everything Must Change" and with an entrancingly different sound on "Ave Maria".
Not unlike Andy Williams or Bing Crosby, James Barbour has a laid-back quality that really came alive in this Christmas show. His boyish charm and good looks, along with his awesome
voice, make him one of the hottest Broadway stars to grace a contemporary stage. Those, however, who have only seen him in A Tale of Two Cities cannot appreciate what a deliciously loony mind he has!
Peter Wolf arranged "O Holy Night" for Barbour which is on a new 2 track CD called A Gift of Christmas. Available at iTunes, it also includes a reading by Barbour of "Twas the Night Before Christmas", fully scored by Wolf.
Michelle Wolf has her own Christmas CD entitled Angel of Christmas.


The Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles presented their annual holiday concert extravaganza at the Alex Theatre in Glendale on Saturday, December 19 @ 3pm and 8pm and again on Sunday, December 20 @ 3pm. What you can always expect is something truly different, and this year was no exception. Entitled Nutcracker, a Choral Fantasy, this may not have been my absolute favorite, but it certainly bristled with warmth, joy and diversity.

Traditional Christmas tunes like Jerry Herman's "We Need a Little Christmas", "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" Lynn Ahrens' and Alan Menken's gorgeous "A Place Called Home" and Polar Express' "Believe" were interspersed with Tchaikovsky's "Sugar Plum Fairy", "Waltz of the Flowers" "Trepak" and "Dance of the Toy Flutes". There were tiny tots playing sheep, a lovely tap number, plenty of men in women's clothing, a seductive Nutcracker doll, but all done in the utmost of good taste with the great chorus surrounding.

Another feather in GMCLA's cap, this ambitious staging is one more happy memory in a treasure chest of sparkling holiday concerts.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Beth Kennedy Beaming after Frosty Opening

I love Beth Kennedy's work. What an actress of AMAZING comic genius! Wait 'til you see her on stilts!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

review - A Rubicon Family Christmas

An evening of holiday music and frolic for the entire family at Ventura's Rubicon Theatre.
through December 27
There's an old adage that "the show must go on!" Saturday evening December 12 the sound board at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura got drenched from the downpour of rain that day and went out, causing the director Brian McDonald and cast of Family Christmas to do some pretty fast decision-making. Because of the intricacies of many of the arrangements of the musical selections, they decided to cancel the show, allowing audience to reschedule their tix for another performance...but to go on to perform a half dozen tunes as an enticement.

"Welcome to our living room!" began McDonald, and then the glowing 6 member cast performed practically a dozen songs, so the evening became extra special...and in theatre, as we all know, anything can happen. It's the unexpected that makes it all worthwhile. Gerry Sternbach at the piano as musical director - always a great choice! - accompanied beautifully diverse arrangements of "Winter Wonderland", "Christmas Time Is Here", "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "The First Noel" in medley, "Oh, Holy Night", "Silent Night", joined by all the kids in the cast, "River", "A Place Called Home", "Joy to the World" and "Chanukah"/"Shine On". Teri Bibb, Dina Bennett, Joan Almedilla, Anthony Manough, Trey Ellett, and Brian Sutherland sans costumes gave it their all - unmiked, unplugged so-to-speak - enchanting the intimate audience. Set design by director McDonald is especially appealing, lending a sense of a chilling outdoors scenario with starry sky, wreathed lamp-posts, snow and overall winter zeal.
From this little 40 minute presentation, I can truthfully declare that this is terrifically jolly fare for the whole family! Highly recommended!

5 out of 5 stars

Julia Migenes' Holiday Concert at Upright Cabaret

The unequalled Julia Migenes brought her holiday show Julia Migenes' Holiday Magic from Bach to Pop! to the Upright Cabaret on Vermont St in Hollywood Sunday December 20; this diva could sing the phone book and I'd show up! Dressed in black velvet and quoting from Stephen Nissenbaum's book The Battle for Christmas (1997), Migenes was nothing less than enchanting on both sophisticated and pure entertainment levels, as she made her way through close to 25 tunes from Mozart's "Laudate Dominum" to Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song".

She made the evening seem like a friendly sojourn in her living room, with chat, mirth and song. She filled the one hour set with interesting cultural tidbits of how Christmas, as we know it, came to be, stories about her impoverished childhood Christmas and her daughter's more opulent one years later in Vienna - and of course, the glorious music into which she passionately immerses herself, like Mozart's "Ave Verum", Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", "Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen" ("Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming"), and German versions of "O' Tannenbaum" and "Silent Night". Victoria Kirsh accompanied Migenes in the first half hour and David Herrera in the second, which took on a much lighter, more frivolous tone. Yes, there were some carols like "The First Noel", "We Three Kings" and "Deck the Halls", but then mama Migenes really got down with "How Shall I Send Thee?" a la Tina Turner, "The 12 Days of Christmas" and the piece de resistance, a meticulously sultry "Santa Baby" that would make even Eartha Kitt sit up and take notice. There is no funnier image than Migenes in angel attire replete with wings and halo nor the puny, bare Christmas bush onstage that she claims to reuse every year, stating "Freud would find it curious!"

The beautiful part of Julia Migenes, apart from her musical passion and her tremendous range - she can do it all- is her uncanny warmth with an audience. She simply glows ...and possesses that rare quality of being able to transform even the most sceptical to a better appreciation of the classics.

This was one Christmas concert for the books, certainly a stretch for Upright Cabaret: totally diverse, enlightening, uplifting and unforgettable. Julia Migenes is a knockout in every musical venue.

review - Frosty the Snow Manilow

Beth Kennedy returns as the Winter Warlock and the Vogt twins (top right) are Frosty and Crystal respectively in this year's Christmas spectacular show Frosty the Snow Manilow from the Troubies at the Falcon Theatre.
Frosty the Snow Manilow
conceived and written by Matt Walker & The Troubies
directed by Matt Walker
Falcon Theatre
through January 17
Matt Walker and the Troubies have done it again! Every year, like a little kid, I eagerly anticipate the opening of their Christmas show at the Falcon, and every year I am never disappointed, proclaiming that particular show to be the best ever!! Well, I must admit, Frosty the Snow Manilow ranks in among the best!
First of all, there are those always tuneful, zesty sing-a-long Barry Manilow songs like "I Write the Songs", "Even Now" and "Copacabana", given a new spin the "Greenhouse Cabana", along with snappy choreography by Nadine Ellis and Ameenah Kaplan. It's a musical blast. Then, there's the story of Frosty chopped to smithereens by the Troubies and their inimitable humoresque - asides, too numerous to count, political jokes, tech gone wrong, pratfalls aplenty and the grotesque elements too, like penguin poop and sprays of puke to make an audience groan with pleasure. Lastly - but foremost - there's the talented ensemble that make the entire thing click or misfire as the case may be. Matt Walker, Beth Kennedy, Rick Batalla, Lisa Valenzuela, Christine Lakin, Lorin Shapiro, Mike Sulprizio et al are la creme de la creme -physically as well as verbally hilarious: they can sing, dance and tumble or juggle as all good circus performers do. Joining in the fun this year are film vet Jack McGee as the poker-faced narrator and comical redneck Santa - and Paul C. and Peter Allen Vogt, the twins with all the wins. These two guys are nonstop mischief and hilarity. Their dance and romantic entanglements as Frosty and his long-awaited galpal Crystal are by themselves worth the cost of admission, and their adlibs - priceless!
This is one great evening of theatre not to be missed: you leave smiling and begging for more!
No bah humbug here, thank you very much!!!!!
5 out of 5 stars

Live December 21

The Best in LA Theatre for 2009
(alphabetical listings)
(artists performing outside LA may be included in performance categories)

Top Productions

Best Production Outside LA

Best Ensemble - Play

Best Ensemble - Musical

Best Lead Performance

Best Featured Performance

Best Solo Artist: Play

Best Solo Artist: Musical

Best Cabaret: Male

Best Cabaret: Female

Entertainer of the Year

Best CD

Remember: Up December 21!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

review - Tea at Five

Tea at Five
by Matthew Lombardo
directed by Jenny Sullivan
Ensemble Theatre Company,
Santa Barbara
through December 27

Few actresses have the look, talent or audacity to portray legendary, larger-than-life Katharine Hepburn. Let's face it, she was an awesome figure and had a distinct manner of walking, talking and just being... well, Kate. Like Kate Mulgrew before her, Stephanie Zimbalist has the right look and acting chops to fit the bill, and succeeds quite astonishingly.

In Matthew Lombardo's one-woman play Tea at Five, Zimbalist plays Hepburn first in 1938 and 45 years later in 1983. In Act I, Hepburn enters the living room of her Fenwick, Connecticut home (meticulous scenic design by Neil Prince and set dressing) at a time when she had left Hollywood. Branded box office poison yet still thoroughly optimistic at being cast as Scarlett O'Hara in the then upcoming Gone with the Wind, Hepburn wanted stardom. Sporting long, fiery red-hair and wearing the characteristic slacks, Zimbalist plays Hepburn with most of the physicality down pat and with all the youthful feisty arrogance, but somehow holds back on the distinctive Hepburn voice, giving merely an essence of those patrician vocal intonations. That aside, everything else is fine. The look, the stride, leg up on the sofa, sitting down and leaning forward like a truckdriver... her impetuousness, impatience and insecurity are totally convincing. This was the very private Hepburn that we did not know but had only heard about: bold, abrasive, brazen, yet girlishly unsteady and not fully aware of who she was or where she was going.

In Act II we get the retired Hepburn, about mid seventies, who is being wooed by Warren Beatty to play his grandmother in the remake film Love Affair. This is a far more fragile Hepburn, limping around the living room (great detailed set decorations) with a broken ankle in a cast, due to an automobile accident...and head and hands shaking and voice quaking due to Parkinson's- although she denied having it. She was stubborn and headstrong, but loveable: the Hepburn we had come to trust and admire. Due to her television interviews and increased TV special movie appearances, Hepburn had made herself more accessible to the public. Here Zimbalist is in her glory playing the aged Hepburn to the hilt. Hair now mixed grey & up in a bun, wearing slacks, turtle neck and over it a man's long-sleeve work shirt and characteristic outer red sweater tied around her shoulders, Zimbalist brings out Hepburn's brutal sense of honesty, wisdom, eccentric humor and extreme sensitivity. Her monologue about brother Tom and his suicide at age 15 is heartbreakingly rendered.

Lombardo's script is crisp and well written, laced with abundant humor, and clearly separating the young fiery, insecure Hepburn from the older more stable one. However, there is no reason for the play's existence - Is she being interviewed for a memoir or documentary? No! - other than to present Hepburn the curiosity to an inquisitive audience.

Sullivan's direction of Zimbalist is admirable. The pacing is brisk and she keeps the actress in perpetual motion. Zimbalist is a miraculous actor, who immerses herself fully in the characterization, never fearing to dig deep. Apart from needing to make her voice more Hepburnish in Act I, her performance is nothing short of brilliant.

4 out of 5 stars

Stephanie Zimbalist Essays Kate Hepburn

Stan Mazin and I greet Stephanie Zimbalist after her wonderful turn as Kate Hepburn in M. Lombardo's Tea at Five at Ensemble Theatre in Santa Barbara.
review above!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

19th Edition of PS Follies with Susan Anton Smashing

Beautiful Susan Anton is in the 19th edition of the Palm Springs Follies through December 31 performing her jubilant Christmas act. She just recorded a Christmas CD, on sale at the show, which you must add to your collection! I was overwhelmed by Anton's charm and warmth as she sang "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus", a lovely medley of "Count Your Blessings" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and a sing-a-long in the audience with "Winter Wonderland", "Let It Snow!", "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree". Her finale Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" is a mind blower, as she assures us, like the great George Burns, that we all grow older, but not necessarily old.

Another delightful part of this year's Follies is Brad Cummings & "Rex", a super ventriloquist whose partner is a mini dinosaur in a cracked egg shell. They're a hoot - and when Cummings brings someone onstage and manipulates him like a dummy, it's one hilarious set.

What's new in the show this year is a change in format. Instead of 3 acts with 2 intermissions, we now have 2 acts with one intermission. It works well and moves the show along a lot more smoothly. The only set missing is the Flash Act, but that's OK, as the gals and guys tap their toesies off and strut around some pretty amazing stuff. Dorothy Dale Kloss is still a miracle showgirl at 86, Judy Bell revives her very amusing drunken number in the Christmas set with "Zat You, Santa Claus?" and everyone is having a super great time onstage as this year's theme Let The Good Times Roll! implies. What spirit and joie de vivre!

Friday, December 4, 2009

review - gay apparel: A Christmas Carol

gay apparel:
A Christmas Carol
adapted and directed by Jason Moyer
Lyric Hyperion Theatre
through December 20

Mounted originally in 2007 at the Celebration, gay apparel returns this season to the Lyric Hyperion and rises skillfully to the ranks of well above average fare. Campy. cute, a little naughty but tastefully conceived - and faithful to Dickens' classic, the play has simplistic accoutrements: a bare blackbox stage, a costume rack and a few moveable props and set pieces... and 6 devilishly skilled actors essaying a plethora of roles.
John Downey III as Scrooge is stern and stubborn, never flinching, even an inch, in a fine performance. Leon Acord adds class and distinction to his character portrayals of Marley, Fezziwig and ailing Uncle Tim (this version's answer to Tiny Tim). Jason Moyer playing assistant Bobby (we know him as Bob Cratchit) and Christopher Grant Pearson as young and older Ben (Ebeneezer) are full of zealous energy and gay mischief and are great fun to watch especially lipsyncing and dancing as Mary Christmas and Christmas Carol. Completing the ensemble are Lorianne Hill and Mandi Moss outstandingly strong in all the female roles.

Set in the world of fashion/clothing design - S&M (Scrooge and Marley) - there are plenty of glimpses via fashion shows of changing trends in apparel - loved the Ghost of Marley and his coat hangers! - and also fun peeks at gay lifestyle fads with a roller girl (Christmas Past) and disco boy (Christmas Present) as the Ghosts.

Gay Apparel's lines are humorously bitchy but not overdone, the acting is overwhelmingly excellent, and the staging is full. The show has a quick pace with not a dull moment to be had!
A very slick, finely tuned and welcomed adaptation of Christmas Carol, worth your time and not to be missed! Treat yourself! It's Christmas.

5 out of 5 stars

review - The Two & Only!

The Two and Only!
written by & starring Jay Johnson
directed by Murphy Cross & Paul Kreppel
Colony Theatre
through December 13 only

How to describe The Two & Only!? Well, for starters, it's a one-man show about the life and career of comic/actor/artist/ventriloquist Jay Johnson. Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, this show has a lot more to offer than your average solo show. Apart from being informative in a personal way and entertaining, it's also educational. The audience learns about the origins of ventriloquism, which includes negative as well as positive conceptions of it. Many viewed a ventriloquist as wicked or mentally ill. The entertainment side came later.
Enchanting us with a snake puppet, a nutcracker doll, a vulture and a monkey, as well as pal Squeaky (top photo above) and partner Bob, Johnson gives all of these creatures a
life of their own - they become living, breathing - aimiable - souls, each with his own special perspective on life...and quirky, screwball sense of humor. Most will remember Johnson from his 1970s gig on the TV sitcom Soap, in which he played Chuck and his alter ego Bob. There are memorable stories about Soap's producers and how Squeaky was passed over - because he was too gentle and sweet - in favor of another Dummy to play the irascible Bob. There is also a loving tribute to Johnson's mentor Art (Arthur) Sieving who fashioned Squeaky and remained Johnson's friend throughout his life.
Set design by Beowulf Boritt with its tiers of suitcases from which Johnson lovingly removes his treasures adds much intrigue. Direction by Cross and Kreppel (bottom photo above with Jay Johnson, left) is tight and caringly focused.
Describing himself as an artisan rather than an artist, Johnson humbly calls ventriloquism his job. After watching this man for 95 minutes, you will regard him as a true artist in every sense of the word ... whose talent not only keeps a dying art alive but captivates everyone within his warm, endearing presence.
5 out of 5 stars