A Comical PINOCCHIO from Disney & Class Act

Andersen McDaniel as PINOCCHIO and Jordan Rubio as GEPPETTO Photo: K. Navarra

Andersen McDaniel as PINOCCHIO and Jordan Rubio as GEPPETTO
Photo: K. Navarra

***Click Any Photo to Enlarge***

Before curtain time at the Nancy Bock Center for the Performing Arts, the room was filled with the familiar buzz of audience excitement that one has come to expect when Class Act Productions is presenting a show from Founder/Producer, Keith Brumfield. In this case, the offering was the Disney musical, MY SON PINOCCHIO Geppetto’s Musical Tale. With book by David I. Stern and Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, this edition was delightfully directed by Tina Kraft. Adding to that delight was the enormous cast of talented local youngsters that brought this new and amusing take on the familiar story to joyous life for last weekend’s three sellout performances.

This charming journey, based on both the original 1883 Carlo Collodi tale, The Adventures of Pinocchio, and the later 1940 Disney film, Pinocchio, begins as we meet the hilariously egotistical Blue Fairy (Isabelle Yost) who thinks she is the living embodiment of perfection and can do no wrong.

Isabelle Yost as THE BLUE FAIRY Photo: Paul Wickboldt

Isabelle Yost as THE BLUE FAIRY
Photo: Paul Wickboldt

Enter Geppetto the woodcarver and toymaker (Jordan Rubio), who approaches the Blue Fairy to complain he would like to return the wooden boy, Pinocchio, that she had once brought to life through her magic. Mr. Rubio displays his fine singing voice as Geppetto claims the fairy has created an imperfect boy because Pinocchio (Andersen McDaniel) is a problem child. She is incensed at the suggestion her handiwork was not perfect, and her blatant narcissism is so innocently and genuinely over-the-top it adds to the fun throughout the show. Miss Yost plays it to the hilt with a terrific flair for comedy, but better still she has a very wonderful voice for songs like “Just Because It’s Magic,” and of course the classic, “When You Wish Upon a Star.”

The Blue Fairy & her Fairies-in-Training PHOTO: K. Navarra

The Blue Fairy & her Fairies-in-Training
PHOTO: K. Navarra

She is merrily assisted by her four Fairies-in-Training (Marina Garcia de Quevedo, Katarina Brosvik, Madisen Campbell, and Riley Mitchell). They sing beautifully as well, and add to the hilarity, but conflict arises when we meet the conniving puppeteer, Stromboli, wickedly played by Jessica Helgerud.

Jessica Helgerud as STROMBOLI Photo: Paul Wickboldt

Jessica Helgerud as STROMBOLI
Photo: Paul Wickboldt

Stromboli has two very animated marionettes (Emily Freeman & Greta Faith Lamb), and meanwhile conspires to capture the amazing live wooden boy, Pinocchio, to be the star of her own puppet show. For his part, Mr. McDaniel brings both deviltry and tenderness to his performance in the title role, and does nicely performing the charming, “I  Got No Strings.”

Anchoring all this action is the beautiful singing (Music Director, Laurelyn Korfhage) and dancing (Choreographer, Jodi Schrier) from this huge ensemble of very talented young people. The beaming joy they project for the many songs in this labor of love would clearly warm the hearts of all those present in the audience. The music in this edition is pleasant enough and appropriate to the light-weight plot, but the new songs are probably not destined for the classic status awarded to “When You Wish Upon a Star,” and “I Got No Strings,” both included here from the earlier Disney film with the music by Leigh Harline & lyrics by Ned Washington.

Sromboli's Puppet Show PHOTO: K. Navarra

Sromboli’s Puppet Show
PHOTO: K. Navarra

Never-the-less, there was fun on every hand in various brilliant scenes that take place in Geppetto’s toyshop, at Stromboli’s puppet show, along a forest road, or in the laboratory of zany, Professor Buonragazzo (Maeve Jensen), who has invented a machine that can manufacture perfect little boys and girls.


Photo: K. Navarra

Another dazzling scene was the world of “Pleasure Island,” where bad boys soon make jackasses of themselves, and the joyous “Mardi Gras Dance” there was a knock-out that wove its way right through the audience! All these scenes featured the beautiful set designs of Kent Hale, the scenic artistry of Katie Arceneaux & Sally Menes, and fine lighting from designer Blake Minor. The countless and glorious costumes were designed by Kristi Tabor. Score this another victory for Class Act Productions and the countless community volunteers that make the magic happen. Area resident, Mattie Tabor, seemed to agree as she was leaving the theater. She was overheard to say, “I’ve never seen one of these shows that wasn’t wonderful!”

Cast of MY SON PINOCCHIO Photo: K. Navarra

Photo: K. Navarra

CLASS ACT plans performances of MARY POPPINS on July 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, & 19 in 2015. Auditions are scheduled for May 2, 2015. For further updates visit http://www.ClassActProductions.org .

Posted in Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, Class Act Productions, Disney, Geppetto, HereHouston.com, Houston Community Newspapers online, My Son Pinocchio, Pinocchio, The Courier Columns, The TICKET, ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

An Exceptional SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN at Crighton

Cast of Singin' in the Rain Photo: Michael Pittman *CLICK any photo to enlarge*

Cast of Singin’ in the Rain
Photo: Michael Pittman
*CLICK any photo to enlarge*

Director, Manny Cafeo PHOTO: Dave Clements

Director, Manny Cafeo
PHOTO: Dave Clements

For lovers of musical theatre there is something incredibly important and very wonderful going on at Conroe’s Crighton Theater. Brilliantly directed by Manny Cafeo, the current production of Singin’ in the Rain from the Stage Right Players is an absolute wonder to behold. In fact, let me take that a step further. It is miraculous! Fondly remembered and revisited by most of us, the 1952 MGM film version starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor is a classic cinema masterpiece by any standard. Attempting to duplicate its joys on the stage would be a daunting task in any event, but to accomplish it with the artistic perfection found in this production must certainly be a crowning achievement for Stage Right producers, Steve & Carolyn Wong.

The realization of this miracle has countless ingredients which must begin with the unmistakable love, energy and joy this universally excellent cast has brought to the performance. Common sense tells us how much hard work made this all possible. But somehow it comes across the footlights that everyone on that stage is having as much fun as the audience. At the same time virtually every detail of the film is brought magically to life on the Crighton stage. Of course that magic includes the witty original screenplay of Betty Comden & Adolph Green, and the memorable music of Arthur Freed (who also wrote the lyrics) & Nacio Herb Brown. In this production the score is in the very capable hands of Musical Director, Ana Guirola Ladd, and the superb dancing is a much deserved jewel in the crown of both choreographer, Dinah Mahlman, and her astonishing cast that repeatedly sets the house on fire with sensational tap dancing.

Let’s get more specific about the stellar cast that brings to life this amusing tale about the silent film star pairing of Lina Lamont (Alexandra Casey), and Don Lockwood (Victor Suarez) at the time in the 1920’s when the “talkies” were about to replace silent films. Self-centered Lina is a perfect example of the silent film stars who had no suitable voice for sound. Don’t miss the fun of the vocal coaches played by Lindsay Freireich & Adam Isbell, and Todd Brady as the amusingly desperate director trying to make sense of cinema’s transition to sound.

Alexandra Casey & Will  Alexandra Casey & Will Radcliffe PHOTO: Dave Clements

Alexandra Casey & Will
Alexandra Casey & Will Radcliffe
PHOTO: Dave Clements

Lina’s persistent whining and poor diction are totally annoying, and all the while she is oblivious to the fact that Don is only her lover on screen and has no interest in her otherwise. Pretty Miss Casey carries off the part with consistently hilarious comic flair, even as vain Lina does some serious soul searching during her deliberately annoying Act II song, “What’s Wrong With me?” The head of Monumental Pictures, R.F. Simpson (Willard Radcliffe) has his hands full trying to deal with his spoiled brat starlet during filming of “The Dueling Cavalier,” and that problem is central to the fun that follows.

The Dueling Cavalier PHOTO: Dave Clements

The Dueling Cavalier
PHOTO: Dave Clements

Amazingly, video engineer, Steven Wong, assisted by his son, Michael Wong as fencing choreographer, has created superb silent film segments for “The Dueling Cavalier” that are incorporated into the plot using the actual members of the cast. The professional high definition clarity of the result adds endless fun to the action, and it is worth mentioning that even before the show began, Mr. Wong created an amusing silent comedy take-off of Laurel & Hardy designed to gently remind the audience about cell phone shutdowns. On the other hand, Mrs. Wong, always a comedic winner in Crighton productions, is no less in her deliciously outlandish role of film columnist and radio personality, Dora Bailey, who hosts the red carpet arrivals of the stars for the Hollywood movie premiere that opens Act One.

R. Isaiah Owens sings "Beautiful Girls" Photo:Dave Clements

R. Isaiah Owens sings
“Beautiful Girls”
Photo:Dave Clements

Ryan Rodriquez- "Make 'Em Laugh" Photo: Dave Clements

Ryan Rodriquez- “Make ‘Em Laugh”
Photo: Dave Clements

Oh, those glamorous costumes that would lavishly continue to be a feature throughout the show (Designer, Marieda Kilgore). It would also quickly become clear that a central core of this show’s success is the splendid singing of the leads. In the song, “Make ‘Em Laugh,” Ryan Rodriquez is terrific capturing the comic deviltry as Don’s pal, Cosmo Brown, the role originally played by Donald O’Connor in the film. Ryan is a perfect pairing with Suarez in the role of Don. The two gents are as handsome as matinee idols with vocal chords to match.

"Fit as a Fiddle" PHOTO: Dave Clements

“Fit as a Fiddle”
PHOTO: Dave Clements

Their singing and athletic tap dancing will dazzle you with numbers like “Moses Supposes,” the show-stopping “Broadway Melody,” and the very cute and acrobatic “Fit as a Fiddle.” That latter number is cleverly staged as a memory flashback and might be clarified as such if the surrounding stage lighting briefly dimmed to set the focus on the boys during the song, but the overall lighting designs of Roger Ormiston and Lighting Engineer, Peter Kelly really make this show shine.

Victor Suarez & Sara Priesler-Kent Photo: Dave Clements

Victor Suarez & Sara Priesler-Kent
Photo: Dave Clements

Another technical triumph came in the area of sound. (Designer, Ms. Wong, and Engineer, Nick Marshall). I point this out because there is always danger when coordinating performances with a recorded musical soundtrack. With one or two minor glitches it is splendidly carried off here. I first realized that when Suarez began singing the lushly romantic, “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” to beautiful Sara Preisler Kent. Kent portrays Don’s love interest, the lovely ingénue and would-be star, Kathy Selden. It’s the role that helped make Debbie Reynolds a Hollywood legend. As Suarez’ velvet smooth voice embraced the audience, I thought at first he must be lip-syncing to some professional voice recorded on the soundtrack. What a pleasure to discover this talented young man’s voice was the real deal. And what a match to have him in duet with the sweetly elegant voice of Miss Kent. Wow!

"Good Morning" (L-R Suarez,Kent,Rodriquez) PHOTO: Dave Clements

“Good Morning” (L-R Suarez,Kent,Rodriquez) PHOTO: Dave Clements

The duo would team beautifully for the songs, “You Are My Lucky Star,” and “Would You,” and the pair would join Rodriquez for the playful delights of “Good Morning.” As for outstanding solo moments, Kent delivers a wonderful “All I Do is Dream of You,” with great back-up from the Chorus Girls.

Suarez: "Singin' in the Rain" PHOTO: Dave Clements

Suarez: “Singin’ in the Rain”
PHOTO: Dave Clements

Suarez shines for, “You Were Meant for Me,” and of course for the title tune. Thanks to the creativity of Master Carpenter, Dennis O’Connor and Scenic Designer, Denise DeBold, “Singin’ in the Rain” was able to actually happen right there in front of our eyes as Mr. Suarez joyfully danced and sang through showers and puddles, umbrella in hand. It was a delight.

Mahlman as seductress in "Broadway Melody" PHOTO: Dave Clements

Mahlman as seductress in “Broadway Melody”
PHOTO: Dave Clements

Other sensational production numbers include the classy “Beautiful Girls” led by talented, R. Isaiah Owens, and a jazzy “Broadway Melody” that featured the seductive dance talents of choreographer, Mahlman.

(L-R) Victor Suarez, Sara Priesler-Kent, & Ryan Rodriquez PHOTO: Michael Pittman

(L-R) Victor Suarez, Sara Priesler-Kent, & Ryan Rodriquez
PHOTO: Michael Pittman

Throughout this epic masterpiece of musical theatre, the Dancers and Chorus of the cast really deserve top billing. They are amazing, so readers beware. If you miss this sweetheart of a show you will miss something so special that my eyes were moist with tears of joy at the conclusion. I will never forget Valentine’s Day 2015.

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN continues through March 1, 2015 with Friday & Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., all at the beautiful Crighton Theatre, 234 N. Main St. in Conroe. (Prices are $20 adults, $18 for seniors and groups of 15 or more, $15 for youngsters 16 and under, and senior groups of 15 or more persons). For tickets and information call 936-441-7469 or visit the website at www.stage-right.org

Posted in Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, Conroe Courier, Crighton Theatre, Houston Community Newspapers online, Singin' in the Rain, Stage Right Players, The Courier Columns, The TICKET, ThePeoplesCritic.com, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

KINKY BOOTS Are Kickin’ in Houston

The Cast of KINKY BOOTS Photo: Matthew Murphy

Photo: Matthew Murphy

It is a bit of a fairy tale in its own right, and that may be the source of the joy that now spreads across the theatrical world leaving smiles on the faces of everyone it touches. I refer, of course, to KINKY BOOTS, the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical now delighting audiences via the national tour currently playing at Houston’s Hobby Center through February 22nd. With the very likable music & lyrics of Cyndi Lauper, the cleverly witty book by Harvey Fierstein, and the shimmering direction & choreography of Jerry Mitchell, we have a real winner on our hands. Better still, the theater’s sound engineers seem to have begun mastering, for the most part, the art of creating comfortably audible sound levels for music and dialogue that can be clearly heard without assaulting the audience with excess volume and distortion. Bravo!

The pleasant story is based on some real events and revolves around the struggling Price & Son shoe factory in Northampton, England. Kenny Morris plays the elder Mr. Price with such powerful vocal projection, that like several other strong cast members, one suspects he could play the part without microphones or amplification. With bright enthusiasm and a solid singing voice, Steven Booth plays his son, Charlie, an eager young fellow all set to leave this small town with his self-centered fiancée, Nicola (Grace Stockdale), and head for new adventures in London. That dream is short-lived when the elder Mr. Price suddenly passes away and Charlie inherits the factory he had planned to escape. (Fine workplace scenic design from David Rockwell, complete with moving conveyor belt.)  

Darius Harper as Lola PHOTO: Matthew Murphy

Darius Harper as Lola
PHOTO: Matthew Murphy

With business dwindling at the factory, Charlie has an unexpected encounter with the hilarious drag queen, Lola (Darius Harper). That’s where the real fun begins. Lola needs a nice outlandish pair of custom made boots to wear in her performances at the clubs. One of Charlie’s factory workers, Lauren (Lindsay Nicole Chambers), gives Charlie an idea that perhaps this could open an equally outlandish product line for his failing factory. Thereby hangs the plot of this fun-filled production, but it is the singing, dancing, and above all, the music that give the show its winning personality. (Musical Director, Adam Souza, with arrangements and orchestrations by Stephen Oremus).

The vocal power of the full cast ensemble was immediately apparent in the opening numbers of “Price& Son Theme,” and “The Most Beautiful Thing in the World.” Charlie has his work cut out for him in running the factory, but he learns he must play the hand life has dealt him as he joins his friend Harry (Mike Longo) and the full ensemble for the encouraging song, “Take What You Got.” The song features great guitar work and hints of bluegrass. Then the show rockets to a whole new level when we first see Lola in performance for the dazzling fun of “Land of Lola.” Surrounded by gleaming tinsel and decked out in a glittering outfit of sexy red (Costume designer, Gregg Barnes), Mr. Harper is bold and sassy as he leads this sensational number. It is further enhanced by the fine backup singing of the half dozen “Angels” who beautifully support several of the show’s numbers. With campy flair, Lola is deliciously bawdy as she takes pride in performing for “a room full of people waiting to feel normal by comparison.” Many in the audience would no doubt qualify.

Cast of Kinky Boots PHOTO: Matthew Murphy

Cast of Kinky Boots
PHOTO: Matthew Murphy

The excitement continues as Charlie brings his boyish enthusiasm and sense of discovery to the new boot designs during the explosive energy of, “Step One.” Not to be outdone, Lola returns with a brief lecture on her favorite color, red, and follows with the thunderous and rockin’ rhythms of “Sex is in the Heel.” The number is a knockout celebration of ultra-stiletto heels on boots, and if the singing here was a touch strident at times, Mitchell’s eye-popping choreography and the waves of pastel lighting (designer, Kenneth Posner) kept the focus on the visual.

Lauren soon finds she is falling for Charlie as Miss Chambers delivers a soaring, “The History of Wrong Guys.” Meanwhile, Lola senses some disdain for drag queens among the factory workers, especially rugged Don (Joe Coots). Before long the two will come to blows during the cleverly staged boxing match of Act II that is performed in convincing, but harmless, slow motion. I won’t reveal the tender outcome. And speaking of tender, there are sweet reflections when Lola reveals her name was Simon as a child. She and Charlie join in thoughtful self-examination for the touching and poignant song, “Not My Father’s Son.” Act I then closes with the frenzied excitement of another show-stopper as the workers celebrate the first finished pair of new boots, and Charlie becomes the head cheerleader for the sensational, “Everybody Say Yeah.”

Cast of Kinky boots PHOTO: Matthew Murphy

Cast of Kinky boots
PHOTO: Matthew Murphy

Act II’s thoughtful examination of “What a Woman Wants” gives Don a chance to think about what virtues women seek in a “real man.” The number is a pip and features some buxom fun from a gyrating factory worker named Pat (Bonnie Milligan). Complications ensue as Charlie insists the new boot collection must be taken to Milan for the fashion show. In a power-packed scene he alienates Lola by refusing to have her backup Angels as the boot models on the Milan fashion runway. As Lola departs in anger, Charlie becomes so tyrannical and demanding as the boss that the workers all walk off the job. His self-examination in the song, “Soul of a Man,” was an exception to the fine sound engineering mentioned earlier. The lyrics were inaudible amid the over-amplification on that one. That sin would quickly be forgotten in the following stunning scene as Lola, sparkling in a soft and flowing chiffon gown, is found giving a concert in the nursing home where her long-estranged father is a wheelchair-bound patient. This number, “Hold Me in Your Heart,” tops the list of great moments in the show. Harper gives a memorable performance that seemed like some sensational Las Vegas showroom finale from Whitney Houston at her peak. But of course there is much more as things finally work out for the boot show in Milan. We all remember the Ruby Slippers. Now we have the Ruby Boots and a whole lot more. Talk about a finale! This one has to be seen to be believed.


KINKY BOOTS continues through February 22nd at Houston’s Hobby Center main stage with performances on Fridays and Saturday evenings at 8pm, Tuesday thru Thursday & Sunday evenings at 7:30 pm (dark on Monday), Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. For tickets ($24-$100) visit the website at www.TUTS.com, or call (713) 558-8887 locally and (888) 558-3882 (outside of Houston).


Posted in Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, Conroe Courier, Cyndi Lauper, Harvey Fierstein, HERE HOUSTON-Lifestyle & Entertainment, HereHouston.com, Houston Community Newspapers online, Houston's Hobby Center, Kinky Boots, The Courier Columns, The Villager Columns, Theatre Under the Stars, ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment


The Cast of ALMOST,MAINE Photo by Brad Meyer

Photo by Brad Meyer

Ten months of family business in New York had kept me away from the Conroe theatre scene for a very long time, so it was especially nice last Saturday evening to follow dinner with a dear friend at Joe’s Italian Restaurant (Oh, that divine tomato sauce!) by a visit to the latest Players Theatre Company production at the Owen Theatre. (Artistic Director, Joe Viser) Written by John Cariani and titled Almost, Maine, the play offered evidence that this must be my week to attend slightly offbeat shows. I had just finished reviewing a cute and “edgy” one-woman musical titled, In Search of Johnny Depp, at the TUTS Underground in downtown Houston’s Hobby Center. (See review at www.ThePeoplesCritic.com). Both of these shows served up generous portions of the unexpected, with side orders of both humor and pathos.

Almost, Maine could be mistaken for a theater workshop class with its series of eight little vignettes, each with only two or three players from among the cast of twenty-one. In his program notes, director, Don Hampton, describes the show’s primary theme as “the irrationality, sheer joy, and sometimes heartbreak of LOVE.” The love theme seemed timely with the approach of Valentine’s Day, and the house even offered attending couples the opportunity to be photographed against a valentine backdrop in the theater’s lobby. And even before the show began, a series of love-related quotations and sayings were being slowly projected on the stage. Lines like, “True love stories never have endings,” and “If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?” come quickly to mind. It was a nice way to settle the nearly full-house audience before ShowTime.

The scenes all take place in frozen northeastern Maine under a very starry sky, (Lighting, Tony Knepper). Everyone is bundled up against the cold, while cottony snow and frost border the stage and simple set pieces. The sketches were loosely linked by a Prologue, Interlogue & Epilogue featuring Jody and Amy Nabors in short scenes amusingly demonstrating that when you are right next to someone, you are also as faraway from them as you can be because the world is round. Speaking of being faraway, those of us seated in the last rows would have occasionally appreciated stronger vocal projection from some in the cast.

When the show really gets underway, the first scene features, Katt Gilcrease and Shelby Escamilla in “Her Heart,” the sweet short tale of a gal who has traveled to icy Maine in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights.

(L-R) Timothy Eggert, Angeli De Los Santos, & Jessica Harlan PHOTO: Brad Meyer

(L-R) Timothy Eggert, Angeli De Los Santos, & Jessica Harlan
PHOTO: Brad Meyer

“Sad & Glad” is the amusing Scene 2 with Timothy Eggert and Jessica Harlan as a long-separated boyfriend and girlfriend who have an awkward chance encounter at the bar where she is being feted with a bachelorette party on the eve of her wedding. I loved the part when he tells her about his parents moving “down south” to Vermont to escape the rugged Maine winters. The bar’s overworked waitress (Angelie De Los Santos) adds to the fun. “This Hurts’ is the nutty Scene 3 account of a couple who meet at the Laundromat. Clinton Jeter plays the mentally challenged young man who apparently suffers from a “hereditary sensory neuropathy” condition that does not allow him to feel pain. While waiting for his laundry he is making a list of things that might hurt when he is unaware of it. Brooke Riley plays the gal who accidentally smacks him in the head when she turns around with her ironing board. Need I say more? As happened from time to time in this play, the directorial pacing here was on the sluggish side, and I noticed a woman seated in front of me suddenly snapped her head back when she was abruptly awakened by her own snoring. Scene 4 was titled “Getting it Back,” and Grace McDaniel & Bob Galley play lovers with relationship problems that do happily resolve when she demands the return of “all the love I ever gave you.”

After my nice Intermission cup of hot coffee in the theater’s cozy lobby, Act II opened with a kooky but endearing first scene titled, “They Fell.” Landon Edwards and Drew Schultz cleverly portray two rugged young Mainers who have been rejected in love by the ladies. But they find consolation in being really good buddies to one another. The comic timing here is terrific, and the results are pretty hilarious. I’ll leave it at that. Scene 2 is called “Where It Went,” in which an ice skating couple (Bill Giffen & Bre Jatzlau) is confounded by the disappearance of a shoe during their skating. Expect a surprise when the next shoe drops in that sketch. Scene 3, “The Story of Hope,” features Margaret McDonald & Mr. Jeter as it depicts the return of a girl searching to find the old beau who once asked her to marry him. The long gaps and tedious pacing in this scene made one look forward to the brisk and focused activity of the talented stage crew that efficiently shifted scenery during each set change.

Angelie De Los Santos & Hunter McMahon PHOTO: Brad Meyer

Angelie De Los Santos & Hunter McMahon
PHOTO: Brad Meyer

In the final scene, “Seeing the Thing,” there is a slow start with Miss De Los Santos playing a shyly inexperienced girl frightened by the affectionate advances of Hunter McMahon. But as the scene progresses it becomes one of the most delightfully hilarious segments in the show. If that’s not temptation enough to attend, consider this. There is a strip scene that beats anything Gypsy Rose Lee ever tried, and it is not X-Rated. You can safely bring the whole family!

ALMOST, MAINE continues through February 15th at The Owen Theatre, 225 Metcalf Street in Conroe. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm with 2pm Sunday matiness on February 8th & 15th. Tickets are $22 or less, depending on group or age discounts. For information visit the website at www.owentheatre.com or call 936-539-4090.



Posted in Almost Maine, BroadwayStars.com, Conroe Courier, Houston Community Newspapers online, Off Broadway, Owen Theatre, The Courier Columns, The Players Theatre Company, The TICKET, Theater Reviews, ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

“JOHNNY DEPP” Inspires Tour de Force Performance at TUTS

Brooke Wilson as Rita Donatella ALL PHOTOS By Christian Brown

Brooke Wilson as Rita Donatella
ALL PHOTOS By Christian Brown

Neatly tucked away in the smaller theater of Houston’s Hobby Center one can find the unusual offerings of the TUTS UNDERGROUND. The company self-describes its productions as, “…edgy, captivating, and occasionally a bit risqué,” and it lives up to that description with the current musical comedy/drama, Waiting for Johnny Depp. With shrewd musical direction from conductor, Jack Beetle, the show features book, music & lyrics by Janet Cole Valdez & DeeDee O’Malley, and musical arrangements from co-composer, Bettie Ross. Advance publicity has declared the show to be, “Quirky, flighty, and a little bit crazy.” Again, correct on all counts, but we could easily add the word fun to that list. As for “risqué,” I guess that was verifiable when, at one point, the audience found itself being chorally directed in a cheerful sing-a-long of a tune titled, “WTF.” Younger readers will no doubt recognize the significance of those three letters, and older readers are probably better off not knowing. No prudes need apply.

Starring in this one-woman show is the multi-talented Brooke Wilson, who very much owns the stage for the two hours that tell this tale of Rita Donatella, a struggling young actress in New York, who has abandoned her career in science laboratories (sewage and sludge engineering) to seek success in the theatre. We listen in as Rita has phone conversations with her demanding agent, (“change your hairstyle,” “go on a diet,” “lose that New York accent”), and her whining mother who does not like the idea that her daughter’s $60,000 education is being tossed aside for life upon the wicked stage. But Rita is determined, and determination is very much in order as she faces one obstacle after another in her quest for success.

The show’s title derives from exciting news received from Rita’s agent in the opening scenes. It appears the young actress is being selected to star in an upcoming movie with film legend, Johnny Depp.

Raising Needed Cash PHOTO by Christian Brown

Raising Needed Cash
PHOTO by Christian Brown

The excitement builds as she awaits final details on that project, but it can be very expensive waiting around in New York City. Meanwhile, to afford keeping her modest apartment (pleasant scenic design from Matthew Schlief), Rita begins gleefully selling off all her possessions while singing the witty song, “Craigslist.” One by one she optimistically surrenders lamps, appliances, furnishings, and paintings to raise the cash needed to hold on to her now barren apartment. Finally, while awaiting her anticipated big break, she is left with little but her simple rehearsal clothes and hot pink sneakers (costume designer, Coleen Grady). When all else fails she dabbles in tawdry part-time opportunities with singing telegrams or phone sex, and even auditions for a ridiculous play. Adding to the fun is the way the play frequently eliminates the theatrical “fourth wall” as Rita merrily addresses the audience directly, even briefly interacting with audience members on several amusing occasions.

The Ribbon Dance PHOTO by Christian Brown

The Ribbon Dance
PHOTO by Christian Brown

Miss Wilson brings tremendous energy to the piece whether Rita is

A Take-off on Marilyn Monroe PHOTO by Christian Brown

A Take-off on Marilyn Monroe
PHOTO by Christian Brown

doing her aerobics, whirling in a ribbon dance, mimicking Marilyn Monroe’s famous scene on the subway grate, or taking a flight of fancy as she imagines accepting a major acting award. (With the “trophy” represented by the whiskey bottle she sometimes retreats to when times are tough). We learn about the generosity of her big brother Tony helping her through the rough times, and that comprises one of the more touching parts of the often-hilarious play. I noticed a woman seated near me in the theater was sobbing during that poignant sequence.

Accepting the "Award" PHOTO by Christian Brown

Accepting the “Award”
PHOTO by Christian Brown

With a generally witty script and an eclectic assortment of pleasant tunes, it is worth noting that a few songs rose above the prevailing silliness to a level that might do well if recorded by contemporary pop or country singers. Rita’s determination is well-displayed in, “Anything for My Craft,” there is genuine warmth in the tender, “Flowers From Phoenix,” and a hopeful optimism characterizes the song, “This Time.” And there was one last musical surprise as Musical Director, Mr. Beetle, always onstage at his piano, suddenly joined Wilson for a pleasing duet of the lovely, “What Really Matters.” If you’re not a prude, you may want to find out more about what really matters by attending one of this week’s remaining performances.

WAITING FOR JOHHNY DEPP concludes with Houston Hobby Center performances this week on Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., and a final performance on Saturday, January 31st at 8:30 p.m. For tickets call 713-558-8887, or visit the website at www.TutsUnderground.com.

Posted in BroadwayStars.com, Houston's Hobby Center, Johnny Depp, Theater Reviews, Theatre Under the Stars, ThePeoplesCritic.com, TUTS Underground, Waiting for Johnny Depp | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Jazz Age Returns with CAFÉ SOCIETY SWING

Allan Harris in CAFE SOCIETY SWING at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Allan Harris in CAFE SOCIETY SWING at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

New York’s legendary Café Society nightclub debuted in the Greenwich Village of the late 1930’s. For many years that followed it would be the Mecca for many African American jazz greats who would pass into legend themselves. Club founder, Barney Josephson, was of a Jewish family that had fled Hitler’s Nazi Germany years earlier. He had a flair for attracting great jazz talents of the time, but also a liberal political mentality that put him and his club at odds with the growing conservative crusaders that would culminate in the “red scare” of the Joseph McCarthy era. The story is now exquisitely and musically told in the 59E59 Theaters production of, CAFÉ SOCIETY SWING, by Alex Webb with brilliant direction from Simon Green.

The razor-sharp 8-piece orchestra is first-class with Mr. Webb on piano as Musical Director. The cast of four internationally renowned vocalists includes Allan Harris (who also doubles on guitar), Cyrille Aimée, Evan Pappas, and Charenee Wade. With his smoky, rich and delightfully raspy voice, Harris opens the proceedings with the title tune, “Café Society.”

Charenee Wade in CAFE SOCIETY SWING at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Charenee Wade in CAFE SOCIETY SWING at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

The number quickly evolves into a showcase of instrumental virtuosity that hints of the many solo moments to come for guitar, drums, bass, tenor sax, alto sax, trumpet, clarinet, and trombone. It would be a feast of musicianship as the evening progressed.

While Webb dazzles on piano during the tune, “Rollin’,” Miss Wade arrives elegantly onstage in a gown of ruby-red with the color of fine wine. (The show’s beautiful costumes, and the playful set murals that poke fun at high society come from designer, David Woodhead.) With Harris on sparkling guitar, Wade launches into her smooth and splendid opener, “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” and follows with an equally splendid, “All of Me.” The show is really “rollin’” now!

Cyrille Aimée in CAFE SOCIETY SWING at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Cyrille Aimée in CAFE SOCIETY SWING at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Next, looking like a delicate doll, the lovely and demure Miss Aimée takes the stage in a glittering gown of gold satin with shimmering bracelet to match. Better still, she brings a voice of pure gold to her coy representation of a fair-skinned black vocalist of the day whose coloring was sometimes derogatorily referred to as, “high yellow.” It was Lena Horne, and Aimée’s bright interpretations of “Stormy Weather,” and “Where or When,” both beautifully capture the vocal stylings of Miss Horne.

Propelling the plot line of growing political suspicions about those deemed to be “left-wingers,” we have a deft performance from actor, Evan Pappas, as a kind of investigative reporter assigned to dish the dirt on this suspicious nightclub that dares to allow blacks and whites on the same stage, not to mention permitting mixed races in the audience. His skillful narrations serve as asides to the audience and help clarify the ongoing controversies that will eventually consume the club sometimes known as “the right place for the wrong people.” (Our four lead singers skillfully join forces for the smooth harmonies of the politically charged quartet, “Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’.”) Lighting designer, Maruti Evans, beautifully creates the smoky back rooms of the press office, and shows equal skill in knowing when to throw a misty spotlight on both singers and instrumental soloists. Job well done! Great renditions of “Closing Time,” and “I Left My Baby,” wind down an Act One that goes out with a bang during a “Society Jump,” that has the whole room jumpin’ to numerous fine instrumental solos.

Evan Pappas in CAFE SOCIETY SWING at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Evan Pappas in CAFE SOCIETY SWING at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

In Act Two, Mr. Pappas has a new persona as narrator while skillfully taking on the role of the nightclub’s chatty bartender. Political dangers continue to escalate as the song, “Red Scare,” pokes fun at the McCarthy era. Josephson’s brother Leon is even jailed after being called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. But musical delights continue to abound as Aimée arrives in a glamorous beaded gown while tipping her hat to the world of French jazz with a polished performance of, “Parlez-Moi D’Amour.” With scat singing included, Miss Wade knocks one out of the park during a saucy and authoritative performance of the Sarah Vaughn hit, “What Is This Thing Called Love?” Harris brings endless musical variety to a masterful and rich, “Lush Life,” that would have made Nat King Cole proud. There is so much more to savor here, and before the show ends there is a perky and joyful, “Too Hot For Words.”

Charenee Wade in CAFE SOCIETY SWING at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Charenee Wade in CAFE SOCIETY SWING at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Maybe the show itself is just too hot for words, and if you don’t believe me just wait until you see Miss Wade channel Billie Holiday as she closes the show with a sensational and never-to-be-forgotten, “Strange Fruit.” With incredibly gifted vocalists and musicians, Café Society Swing works on virtually every level while recreating a golden musical age. I predict a word-of-mouth sellout, so readers beware.

CAFE SOCIETY SWING continues this limited engagement through January 4, 2015 at the 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues). The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; Sunday at 3 PM & 7 PM. Please note the following holiday schedule adjustments: There is no performance on Thursday, December 25; there is an added performance on Friday, December 26 at 2 PM; the performances on December 24 and December 31 are at 6 PM. Single tickets are $70 ($49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org.

Posted in 59E59 Theaters, Barney Josephson, Billie Holiday, BroadwayStars.com, Cafe Society Swing, Concert Reviews, French Jazz, House Un-American Activities Committee, Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, Nightclubs, Off Broadway, Sarah Vaughn, Theater Reviews, ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment




An end-of-year musical treasure I discovered this past weekend is Beware of Young Girls: Kate Dimbleby Sings the Dory Previn Story, now playing at 59E59 Theaters. Created and performed by Kate Dimbleby, written with Amy Rosenthal, and directed by Cal McCrystal, this fascinating musical journey is the story of the woman who has been called, “Queen of the 1970’s confessional songwriters.” While Dory was less well known than her prolific composer husband, Andre Previn, if hers was a contemporary story of our own day, it would undoubtedly be splashed across the tabloids and featured on Entertainment Tonight with all the lurid details of Andre leaving her for the much younger, Mia Farrow. Perhaps that betrayal was an important source for what would become Dory Previn’s own impressive songbook full of heartbreak and longing in tunes that would be picked up by such stars as Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney and Tony Bennett.

Slim and sleek in elegantly sequined dark slacks, matching jacket and soft white blouse, Miss Dimbleby brought warmth and mystery to the unusual opening number, “Mythical Kings and Iguanas,” the title tune from Dory Previn’s most successful album.

KATE DIMBLEBY  Photo by Carol Rosegg

KATE DIMBLEBY Photo by Carol Rosegg

With sparkling eyes and a confident air, she was at once a gently compelling storyteller. As she narrates the tale of Miss Previn, her crisp and clear enunciation was reminiscent of Julie Andrews. We learn of Dory’s sometimes-distant father in the song, “My Daddy Says I Ain’t His Child”, but he later encouraged his child star’s efforts in dance and song. We see ambition take hold with the song, “You’re Gonna Hear From Me.” Soon young Dory’s knack for song writing lands her in Hollywood. There’s an early look at her dark side in the black comedy of the song, “Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign.” It was based on the true story of a troubled girl who committed suicide by jumping to her death from the famous landmark. Reflecting on the sign with disillusionment, the song spoofs that Hollywood welcome with a parody of Emma Lazarus’ words on the Statue of Liberty using lyrics like, “ Give me your poor and maladjusted…your black-listed…” etc.

At that point Dory’s husband-to-be, composer Andre Previn, enters her life as we hear the song of her enchantment, “Perfect Man.” But the tune ends, as does the marriage, with Dory’s discovery that he has “…feet of clay.” Those feet soon wander to the arms of actress, Mia Farrow, leaving the schizophrenic Dory with more reasons to be troubled in the title tune, “Beware of Young Girls.” Dory collaborates with her husband on the score for the film, Valley of the Dolls, but her jealousy and resentment of Mia are clear as she thinks to herself, “…she would never have to raise her tone to get what she wanted.” Finally Dory says “yes” to divorce, but “no” to further collaboration with Andre. Her subsequently schizophrenic episodes, like being removed from a commercial airliner, are neatly summarized in the screaming frenzy of the, “Twenty Mile Zone.”

As Act II opens, the star is provocatively gowned in lush emerald green chiffon. We begin to learn of Dory’s childhood mistreatment in school by nuns who forced her to abandon her natural left-handedness. Clearly, that is perceived to be an important source of Dory’s identity confusion. Unsympathetic Catholic priests cause her to leave the faith, and perhaps inspired Dory’s daring song, “Did Jesus Have a Baby Sister?”

Dory later connects with a young producer named Nick, but even he has a tendency to wander toward Hollywood blondes as we learn in the haunting song, “Lemon Haired Ladies.” It must be mentioned that an ever-present highlight of the production is the elegantly delicate, but never intrusive piano accompaniment of Naadia Sheriff. Miss Sheriff also enhances various numbers with gentle vocal support, as when she duets superbly during Dory’s ironic ruminations about men in the tune, “Angels and Devils.”

KATE DIMBLEBY Photo by Carol Rosegg

KATE DIMBLEBY Photo by Carol Rosegg

Throughout the performance, related slide projections appear high on the back wall, and before  the show ends there are more songs and biographical details for those lucky enough to attend remaining performances. Dory settles in the Hudson Valley with final husband, artist Joby Baker. But the frantic pace of her life has one last hurrah as the audience finds itself joining the hand-clapping reprise of, “Twenty Mile Zone.” Speed your way to the theater for this fascinating gem.

BEWARE OF YOUNG GIRLS: KATE DIMBLEBY SINGS THE DORY PREVIN STORY continues this limited engagement through January 4, 2015 at the 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues). The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 5:15 PM & 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM & 7:15 PM. Please note, there is no performance on December 25; the performances on December 24 and December 31 are at 6:15 PM. Tickets are $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org.

Posted in 59E59 Theaters, Andre Previn, BEWARE OF YOUNG GIRLS, BroadwayStars.com, Concert Reviews, Dory Previn, Kate Dimbleby, Mia Farrow, Off Broadway, Theater Reviews, ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments