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

Beware of Missing THE DORY PREVIN STORY

Kate Dimbleby in BEWARE OF YOUNG GIRLS: KATE DIMBLEBY SINGS DORY PREVIN. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Kate Dimbleby in BEWARE OF YOUNG GIRLS: KATE DIMBLEBY SINGS DORY PREVIN. Photo by Carol Rosegg

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

RTC Casts a Theatrical Spell With Its Splendid GODSPELL

Cast of Rockaway Theatre Co. GODSPELL Photo: Norm Scott

Cast of Rockaway Theatre Co. GODSPELL
Photo: Norm Scott

In the last dozen years I have had the opportunity to review several productions of the ever-popular musical, Godspell, conceived by John-Michael Tebelak with music & lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Last Friday night I had the chance to sample a wealth of talent probably too little known here in Rockaway as I attended the Rockaway Theatre Company’s current fine production of that show at the Post Theatre. Presented in partnership with the Gateway National Recreation Area, the production validated a theory presented by the show’s director, Frank Caiati, when he wrote in his program notes: “…Godspell has never been done the same way twice.” I suspect that may even be true from performance to performance during the current run, which continues through this weekend. The director has entrusted his talented cast with an element of freewheeling creativity that is quite evident as the show unfolds in unexpected, yet delightful ways. Everything plays out on Caiati’s austere and rugged set design, looking much like an abandoned warehouse, and beautifully realized by Master Builder, Anthony Homsey and his talented crew of volunteers.

As readers may be aware, the musical is structured around the life and teachings of Jesus with a lighthearted, yet thought-provoking journey through the wisdom of many familiar parables from the New Testament. But fear not! It is not a proselytizing vehicle, but more a fun-filled reminder of values central to our common humanity without regard to any specific religion. If it does preach a bit, it is in a fashion that could probably fill our churches up in a way that some less interesting contemporary sermons are failing to do. Nevertheless, Godspell recognizes that religion is serious business, and that essentially divides the musical into the two very different parts of Act I and Act II. Let’s begin at the beginning.

Director, Frank Caiati PHOTO: Courtesy of Rockaway Theatre Co.

Director, Frank Caiati
PHOTO: Courtesy of Rockaway Theatre Co.

Act One is light, gay and endearingly nutty with the funky-clad cast (costume designs by Matthew Smilardi) looking a bit like the Woodstock generation. Audience smiles come in rapid succession and laughter is abundant. This seemed a reflection of creative director, Caiati, whose own youthful smile and radiant energy seemed to light up the room as he mingled cheerfully with audience members during the intermission. That first act was also a total delight thanks to the universally excellent singing voices of the fine cast. While the beautifully performed role of Jesus (Mr. Smilardi) is clearly central to the work, the piece is very much an ensemble effort owing its success to fine performers including, Karen Mascolo, Chazmond “Chaz” Peacock, Renee Steadman, Michelle Ricciardi, Matt Leonen, Nicole Mangano, Jackie Samaha and Stephen Ryan. Rounding out the cast is John Panepinto in the challenging dual role as both Judas & John the Baptist.

All things considered, I would rate the fine ensemble, with its joyous esprit de corps, as the real star of the show in crowning the success of the numerous show stopping numbers nicely complemented by Musical Director, Jeffrey Arzberger, leading the fine 6-member band. Examples of those songs would include the full company’s opener, “Tower of Babel,” and then with the dramatic sounding of the shofar horn, the beautifully staged “Prepare Ye” scene for John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus amid dramatically flowing water. Smilardi follows with tenderness as Jesus sings the warm and embracing, “Save the People,” while this joyous cast of flower children merrily surrounds him. Miss Samaha’s pure voice anchors the show’s biggest hit, “Day by Day,” as it explodes with whirling joy and gentle but effective choreography. (Choreographer, Gabrielle Mangano)

Cast of Rockaway Theatre Company's GODSPELL Photo: Norman Scott

Cast of Rockaway Theatre Company’s GODSPELL
Photo: Norman Scott

Musical numbers are interspersed with humorous sketches (some drawing in unsuspecting audience members) that are delightful reminders of such parable lessons as, “Love thy neighbor,” & “Give charity to those who ask of you,” and there is a clever spoof of “The Good Samaritan,” story that plays out like the winner of a beauty pageant with Miss Steadman showing riotous comic flair in accepting her award. A later Prodigal Son sketch was hilariously staged in mock slow motion to the theme from “Chariots of Fire.”

Amid soft pastel lighting and candle glow, (Lighting Designs, Andrew Woodbridge) Miss Mascolo leads the cast in a thrilling, “Learn Your Lessons Well,” that looked like a finale. Miss Mangano followed with a bright and perky, “Bless the Lord,” wrapped in more rich choral splendor from the ribbon dance whirling of the cast. Raising the bar of excellence even higher was the pairing of Panepinto and Smilardi for the brilliant counterpoints and snappy percussion of a glowing “All For the Best,” that looked like it had been staged by Bob Fosse. The rich voice of Mr. Peacock would soar for, “All Good Gifts,” and be enriched by the intimacy and gentle sweetness of the same ensemble that, moments later, would join Smilardi for the radiant, “Light of the World,” that brilliantly closes Act One.

Act Two would feature such highlights as the sensuous, “Turn Back Oh Man,” from Miss Steadman, the more somber and reflective, “By My Side,” from Miss Ricciardi, and a high energy, “We Beseech Thee,” from Mr. Ryan & company with dancing that seemed right out of ancient Egypt. It is worth noting however, that Act Two is overshadowed by the more serious approach of the crucifixion of Christ, with a corresponding drop-off of the merriment that pervades Act One. With that in mind, readers may want to try and obtain one of the few remaining tickets for the final performances listed below.

Rockaway Theatre Company’s GODSPELL continues through Sunday September 28th at The Post Theatre, Building T4, Fort Tilden, Rockaway, NY. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for Students & Seniors. Performances will be at 8 pm this Friday & Saturday with the final performance of a 2 pm matinee this Sunday. The Friday Performance will benefit the Alzheimers Association.

Posted in Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, Gateway National Recreation Area, GODSPELL, Post Theater, Rockaway Theatre Company, Theater Reviews, ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Guys, Dolls, and Fun-Filled “BULLETS OVER BROADWAY”

 BULLETS Cast

[ Ed. Note: Click all photos for full size. ]

The art deco charms of Broadway’s St. James theater surrounded the proscenium as the orchestra let loose with a jazzy musical Prologue that opened with strains of the old hit song, “Runnin’ Wild,” while an onstage mobster noisily writes out the show’s title in bright lights activated by repeated rounds from his machine gun. Then it is on to the considerable fun of this rollicking show, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY The Musical, written by Woody Allen (based on his 1994 film comedy, co-authored by Douglas McGrath), and skillfully directed and choreographed here by Susan Stroman. Combining nicely with the musical adaptations and additional lyrics for the show’s many familiar songs, Stroman’s crisply creative direction yields a very convincing look at the late Roaring Twenties.BULLETS Flappers

Curtain up, and we are transported to a prohibition era New York nightclub via a sassy welcome from the club’s Atta-Girls showgirls as they belt out a rousing, “Tiger Rag.” BULLETS Nick and OliveThe nightclub’s gravel-voiced owner is gangland mob boss, Nick Valenti (Vincent Pastore), and in this opening scene he is enjoying time with his ditzy girlfriend, Olive (Heléne Yorke), as they duet for a pleasant, “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You?” Miss Yorke gives us the epitome of the whiny-voiced “dumb blonde,” and we quickly learned that she wants to be more than just a stripper and wouldn’t mind again playing the role of Lady Macbeth, “… but this time not in pasties!”

The action moves to the cleverly sliding set (Scenic Designer, Santo Loquasto) depicting the rooftop of the apartment building where playwright, David Shayne (Zach Braff) lives with girlfriend, Ellen (Betsy Wolfe). David has finished his new play and gets the exciting news that Mr. Valenti is prepared to produce it (with the caveat that girlfriend Olive gets a featured role). Idealistic David explains to Ellen that though he wants his play produced, he won’t allow its content to be tampered with in order to “…pander to the commercial Broadway audience.” The lovely voices of these two talented actors quickly become evident as they duet for a, “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me,” that is nicely seasoned with appealing counterpoints.BULLETS Flappers

There’s more lively nightlife dancing back at the club from the Flapper girls draped in scanty mink costumes. Costume designer, William Ivey Long, has brought elegance and class to a wide assortment of flashy designs for the showgirls and leading ladies. BULLETS Gangster BalletMeanwhile, the men look gangland-ominous in their sharp dark suits as rival mob gangs join the gals for some fancy terpsichore in the whirling, “’Tain’t a Fit Night Out for Man or Beast,” a gangster ballet that is peppered with machine gun action and the brassy sounds of the orchestra (Musical Director/Conductor, Andy Einhorn). Zany comedy follows with the double entendres and costume hilarity of Olive’s outlandish and not-to-be-missed, “Hot Dog Song.”

BULLETS PenthouseNext, a stunning pop-up set brings us to the glamorous and skyline-surrounded penthouse apartment of actress, Helen Sinclair, (Marin Mazzie). We find her in one of the show’s most elegant costumes, a shimmering silver lounge robe that looks like it was hand crafted from Christmas tree tinsel. Helen is the sought after star that David wants for the lead in his play, and when the vain Miss Sinclair joins agent, Julian Marx (Lenny Wolpe), for “They Go Wild, Simply Wild, Over Me,” we are treated to our first taste of Miss Mazzie’s electrifying voice. Wow!

 

Like any gangland musical worthy of the name, there are assorted mob “hits.” Here they often terminate amusingly in the Gowanus Canal to the gently ironic strains of “Up the Lazy River,” as sung by a clear audience cast favorite, Nick Cordero, in the role of tough guy gangster, Cheech. Cheech is an aspiring writer himself, and provides plenty of laughs as he guides David toward numerous rewrites of his once-sacred script. But David is unperturbed as Mr. Braff delivers a sparkling, “I’m Sitting on Top of the World.” BULLETS Let's MisbehaveMeanwhile, Olive develops a crush on a fellow cast member, the amusingly haughty Warner (Brooks Ashmanskas), a fop who is almost always eating during rehearsals, and sounds a bit like Bert Lahr as The Cowardly Lion. The couple has a mischievous and delightful romp for the song, “Let’s Misbehave.”

 

Mazzie launches another winner with a thrilling performance of “There’s a Broken Heart for Every Light on Broadway,” that had me thinking what a perfect vehicle the number would have been for longtime Broadway performer, Sheila Smith (Mame, Company, Follies, Sugar etc.). Not to be outdone, the Atta Girls return with some fancy Charleston dancing and a timely tune for the crime world with, “(I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead) You Rascal You.” As for the fellas, gravel voiced, Cheech, leads the gangsters in the threatening, “Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do.” The song explodes with more of Stroman’s fine choreography as these oh-so-serious hoods bring military precision to their straight-faced tap dance fireworks.

BULLETS RedCapsAt the close of Act One, in a beautifully staged Grand Central Station, the dazzling full cast lets loose with the “Runnin’ Wild” number that had only been hinted at in the Prologue. Rehearsals are over, and everyone is boarding the onstage train for the trip to take David’s play to Boston for its out-of-town tryout. Of course the fun continues in a juicy Act Two that is full of such musical delights as the mellow and threatening, “They’ll Be a Change in the Weather,” from Cheech. BULLETS CheechIt is a prime example of the many cleverly adapted lyrics from Music Supervisor, Glen Kelly that enhance this witty production. Miss Mazzie’s diva credentials are solidly reestablished with, “I Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle,” and then the train arrives back from Boston with snazzy dancing from the Red Cap girls for a slinky, “Good Old New York.” There are some romantic twists and turns for Ellen as the very talented Miss Wolfe offers a joyous, “I’ve Found a New Baby,” that makes one wish this gal had more vocal numbers in the show. In the role of David, Mr. Braff shows off his fine voice as he pairs beautifully with Ellen for, “She’s Funny That Way,” but David’s song, “The Panic is On,” could well have been left on the cutting room floor. On the other hand, the full Company encore of, “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” was just one more reminder of what great fun this show has brought to Broadway. 

BULLETS PosterBULLETS OVER BROADWAY continues at the St. James Theater, 246 West 44th Street, Manhattan; 212-239-6200, telecharge.com. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

WITH: Brooks Ashmanskas (Warner Purcell), Zach Braff (David Shayne), Nick Cordero (Cheech), Marin Mazzie (Helen Sinclair), Vincent Pastore (Nick Valenti), Betsy Wolfe (Ellen), Lenny Wolpe (Julian Marx), Heléne Yorke (Olive Neal), Karen Ziemba (Eden Brent) and Jim Borstelmann (Vendor, Victim, Ensemble).

 

Posted in Betsy Wolfe, BroadwayStars.com, Bullets Over Broadway, Heléne Yorke, Nick Cordero, St. James Theater, ThePeoplesCritic.com, Uncategorized, Vincent Pastore, Woody Allen, Zach Braff | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Djokovic Uses Nadal Method to Defeat Federer at Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON, England  6 July 2014

Novak Djokovic PHOTO: By CarineO6

Novak Djokovic
PHOTO: By CarineO6

Neither my status as an amateur tennis player nor my record as a performing arts critic would qualify me to comment on the truly remarkable Men’s Final of the Championships Wimbledon, played here earlier today at the All England Club. But I cannot resist the temptation, after observing the elegance of the physical and mental determination displayed by two giants of the sport, Novak Djokovic, and 7-time winner of this very tournament, Roger Federer. Their performance was one for the ages.

Roger Federer PHOTO: By CarineO6

Roger Federer
PHOTO: By CarineO6

Mr. Djokovic would ultimately triumph over Federer with a 6-7(7), 6-4, 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-4 victory, but the mere scorecard in no way represents the drama that unfolded. The early play gave Djokovic a lead of two sets to one following Federer’s impressive tiebreaker win of the opening set. While those first three sets saw but one service break, the monumental battle of the fourth had all the crowd-pleasing excitement fans could hope for. Apparently losing the set at 5-2, Federer came roaring back to win five games straight and send the match to a deciding fifth set. His brilliant play included surviving one Championship Point by successfully challenging a service ace that had been called out.

But the determined Djokovic, after several falls on court and one medical time-out, would press on to victory for his second win (previously 2011) of the prestigious Wimbledon trophy. It almost seemed he had torn a page from the autobiography of the man he was unseating as #1 player in the world.

Cover Photo: Clive Brunskill

Cover Photo:
Clive Brunskill

In Rafael Nadal’s book, “RAFA – My Story,” (co-authored with John Carlin / Hyperion Books 2011), Mr. Nadal, winner of the legendary 2008 Wimbledon Championship over Mr. Federer, observes as follows:

“When Federer has these patches of utter brilliance, the only thing you can do is try and stay calm, wait for the storm to pass. There is not much you can do when the best player in history is seeing the ball as big as a football and hitting it with power, confidence and laser accuracy. It happens, and you have to be ready for it. You can’t let yourself be demoralized; you have to remember — or you have to convince yourself — that he cannot possibly sustain that level of play game after game, that …he is human too, that if you stay cool and stick to your game plan and keep trying to wear him down and make him uncomfortable, he’ll leave that zone sooner or later. His mental intensity will slacken, and you’ll have your chance.”

The People's Critic at Wimbledon Courtesy Photo

The People’s Critic
at Wimbledon
Courtesy Photo

So it was on a beautiful day at the All-England Club, when two champions played so brilliantly it seemed that both were winners.

Posted in All-England Club, Championships Wimbledon, Grand Slams, John Carlin, Novak Djokovic, RAFA - My Story, Rafael Nada, Roger Federer, tennis, Wimbledon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Royal “Affair” With Anger Management Through Song

Jessica Walker as Pat Kirkwood, with Joseph Atkins at the piano, in PAT KIRKWOOD IS ANGRY, part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Jessica Walker as Pat Kirkwood, with Joseph Atkins at the piano, in PAT KIRKWOOD IS ANGRY, part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

The terrorism of the British tabloids is well remembered from such events as the abdication of King Edward VIII (in favor of his marriage to American socialite, Wallis Simpson), or the divorce of Prince Charles and Lady Diana (and the tragic death of the Princess that followed). But few may recall the sensational 1948 scandal surrounding England’s Prince Philip, which followed his brief, and seemingly innocent night of association with popular British actress and singer, Pat Kirkwood. While there is much more to Jessica Walker’s lovely musical memoir of the star’s life and career, that brief episode is certainly at the core of Pat Kirkwood is Angry, now playing to packed houses at the 59E59 Theaters in Manhattan during the “Brits Off Broadway” series.

As the audience learns, Kirkwood would become a star in varying degrees of both cinema and the musical stage. She was soaring in popularity in 1939, and has been referred to as “Britain’s first wartime star.” A one-woman show (with Miss Walker as both author and star), this enlightening musical journey begins with Kirkwood’s birth in 1921. Dressed in a simple black dress that shimmered a bit like the sparkling bracelet and earrings that accompanied it, Walker skillfully takes on the dual task of both narrating this interesting life story and, alternately, stepping into the role of Miss Kirkwood as songstress to perform an abundance of great musical numbers, some more familiar than others. Skillfully directed here by Lee Blakeley, with Musical Direction (and onstage piano accompaniment) by Joseph Atkins, Miss Walker certainly has the vocal talent for this role, and that was no surprise to those of us lucky enough to have seen her tour de force performance in last season’s, The Girl I Left Behind Me.

As the story unfolds we learn of Kirkwood’s several marriages, some happier than others, her attendance at the sudden sad death of the father she hardly new, and the later tragic demise of her mother from Alzheimer’s disease after the many years they spent touring together. Those tours brought Kirkwood to not only such important London venues as The Palladium and The Hippodrome, but also “across the pond” to Hollywood. London successes included the show Top of the World (which carried on during the height of the German bombing), the Black Velvet revue (where she was a smash singing Cole Porter’s, “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,”), and West End productions of Lady Behave (1941), Let’s Face It (1942), and Goody Two Shoes (1944). There were British films as well, with appearances in Save a Little Sunshine, Me and My Pal, and the more successful English comedy, Band Waggon [sic].

By war’s end Hollywood called with a 7-year MGM film contract, and the star was soon rubbing elbows with the likes of Louis B. Mayer and Frank Sinatra. That chapter reminds one a bit of Judy Garland, with studio physicians guiding Kirkwood toward weight loss with drugs and diets in advance of her appearance in the ill-fated film, No Leave, No Love, with co-star Van Johnson. Despair upon box office failure of that film landed Kirkwood in a psychiatric hospital for eight months and ended the MGM contract.

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh PHOTO by Allan Warren

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
PHOTO by Allan Warren

But more London stage successes awaited Kirkwood’s return in the late 1940’s, and it was then, backstage at The Hippodrome, that her friend, Baron, (royal court photographer), introduced Kirkwood to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. The three dined together, danced a bit, and finished the long evening with breakfast at Baron’s apartment. Princess Elizabeth, the future queen, was eight months pregnant at the time, and the resulting tabloid furor regarding her husband, the Duke, though likely undeserved, would forever cast a shadow on “the prince and the showgirl.” An angry Miss Kirkwood would never really have the satisfaction of clearing her name of such an alleged one night stand.

Jessica Walker as Pat Kirkwood PHOTO by Carol Rosegg

Jessica Walker as Pat Kirkwood
PHOTO by Carol Rosegg

But enough about Miss Kirkwood, — let us turn to the immense talent of Miss Walker as she deftly guides us on this intriguing journey. Not only is her original script a carefully crafted and fascinating exploration of this little-known saga, but also, thanks to her beautiful singing voice, the show comprises a virtual smorgasbord of wonderful songs associated with Kirkwood, and skillfully inserted in this production to gently guide the advancing plot. A sampling of these delights includes upbeat tunes like, “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” “Goody Goody,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” and “Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!” along with a tenderly reflective, “Guess Who I Saw Today.” For fans of Rodgers & Hart there is a polished, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” while Irving Berlin is represented with a pleasant taste of, “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Noel Coward featured Kirkwood in his less-than-memorable musical, Ace of Clubs, but Walker tips her hat nicely to that show with a medley of, “Chase Me Charlie,” “Josephine,” and the plaintive longing of, “Sail Away.”

While the last years of the star’s life find her drifting away into Alzheimer’s like her mother before her, Walker’s touching closing number of, “For All We Know,” seems a fitting and reflective look back on this life we have just come to know. But for this critic, one song performed stood out above all the rest. Walker’s haunting rendition of Cole Porter’s, “Begin the Beguine,” was overflowing with magic and mystery that would have the appreciative audience applauding longer and louder than ever.

PAT KIRKWOOD IS ANGRY continues through Sunday, June 29th, at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, New York, N.Y. Performances are Tuesdays-Thursdays & Sundays at 7:30 pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:30 pm, with matinees at 2:30 pm on Saturdays and 3:30 pm on Sundays. Tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). For tickets and information call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit the website at http://www.59e59.org.

Posted in 59E59 Theaters, BroadwayStars.com, Cole Porter, Concert Reviews, London Theatre, Nightclubs, Noel Coward, Off Broadway, Pat Kirkwood, Pat Kirkwood is Angry, Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, Theater Reviews, ThePeoplesCritic.com, Van Johnson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fun Fling For Farce Fans in Texas Rep’s BOEING BOEING

Boeing Show LOGO

For you followers of farce it may be time to head over to Texas Repertory Theatre to take in the latest offering, the Marc Camoletti / Beverly Cross comedy, BOEING BOEING.If the recent audience of which I was a part was any indication, you may be in for plenty of laughs. Now I should offer one caution at the outset. I do not object to farce. As a student of theater at the University of Texas many years ago, I recall my delight on first reading Moliere’s The Miser. At one time I was also a member in good standing of The Sons of the Desert, the international comedy fraternity honoring the collected works of Laurel & Hardy. Having said that, I do have some difficulty when comedy plots such as this one seem so far-fetched that I cannot believe what I am seeing. That may just be a personal shortcoming, as part of enjoying farce requires surrendering to the nonsense. With able direction from Steven Fenley, rest assured there is plenty of nonsense in BOEING BOEING.

For those unfamiliar with the play’s plot (or that of the film starring Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis), the action takes place in the modest Paris flat (scenic design, Trey Otis) of a playboy named Bernard (Tom Long). Bernard has established intimate relationships with three different airline stewardesses, each of whom thinks she is his fiancée. As each of these gals visits the apartment, it falls to Bernard’s feisty and grumbling housekeeper, Bertha (Marcy Bannor), to try and juggle the meal menus and framed photographs on display to fit the current overnight guest. Meanwhile, it is Bernard’s task to maintain a careful timetable detailing the travel schedules for each flight attendant in order to avoid any embarrassing conflicts. Therein lies the lunacy that propels this show’s hilarity. In the process we meet TWA stewardess, Janet, (Christina Stroup), Air France stewardess, Jacqueline (Robin Van Zant), and Lufthansa stewardess, Judith (Lauren Dolk). Adding to the comic confusion is the unexpected arrival of Bernard’s old friend, Robert (David Walker). Robert is justifiably mystified by Bernard’s uncanny skill for carefully scheduling the visits of his assorted fiancées so that they never run into one another, —or do they?

(L-R) Lauren Dolk, Tom Long, Robin Van Zandt, and Christina Stroup in The Texas Repertory production of Boeing Boeing. Photo by Douglas Kreitz and Larry Lipton.

(L-R) Lauren Dolk, Tom Long, Robin Van Zandt, and Christina Stroup in The Texas Repertory production of Boeing Boeing. Photo by Douglas Kreitz and Larry Lipton.

The schemes of this scoundrel begin to unravel as people come and go through the seven slamming doors in this apartment, and the timing of these unmanageable entrances and exits is quite a test of Bernard’s ability to maintain the charade. When we first meet Janet she is relaxing in black lace loungewear while devouring extra helpings of Bertha’s pancakes. Bernard has to hurry her off to her flight lest she encounter the expected arrival of Jacqueline, fiancée #2. She bounces in with devilish glee sporting black patent leather platform boots. It isn’t long before fiancée #3, the German Judith, arrives wearing a crisp, gold colored airline suit that is almost as severe as the militaristic atmosphere that surrounds her. When the men excite her, she affects a laser-like gaze and a set of quasi-orgasmic and undulating gyrations. The robotic angularity of her body language brings many a laugh from the audience, although Miss Dolk’s wild-eyed intensity sometimes resulted in lines of dialogue being lost as she spoke too rapidly to be understood. It was, nevertheless, a uniquely nutty characterization for this uniquely nutty play.

If this all sounds a bit predictable, well yes, it is. But each of our costars brings a special brand of zaniness that helps sustain this comic romp until it comes in for a safe landing with some final relationships that may surprise you.

\BOEING BOEING continues thru April 13th at Texas Repertory Theatre in the Northwoods Plaza, 14243 Stuebner Airline Rd., Houston, Texas. Performances are  Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 3 pm. For tickets ($35) and information on Senior and Student discounts, call 281-583-7573 or visit the website at www.TexasRepTheatre.org.

Posted in Boeing Boeing, Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, HERE HOUSTON-Lifestyle & Entertainment, HereHouston.com, Houston Community Newspapers online, Texas Repertory Theatre, The Courier Columns, The Villager Columns, Theater Reviews, ThePeoplesCritic.com, YourHoustonNews.com | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments