DAZZLING GUITAR WORK AND FLAMENCO DANCING CAPTIVATE PARAMOUNT CROWD AT BENISE CONCERT

[Click any photo to enlarge]

By David Dow Bentley III

“The People’s Critic”

It was an electrifying way to start the Fall Season at Peekskill’s magnificent 1920’s movie palace, The Paramount. The main event would be the 20th Anniversary Tour of BENISE, the world renowned classical Spanish guitarist. The program opened to the resounding chimes of distant church bells. The first cast members made a spooky entrance amid explosive and fiery background music that was sadly over-amplified, but four lovely and graceful Spanish dancers quickly arrived onstage, dressed in traditional black flamenco dresses, each elegantly edged in gold. With foot-stomping high heels, and whirling velvet capes to add to the excitement, the ladies moved freely about the stage as the star arrived to join them, guitar in hand, weaving among them during the exciting opening number. Two talented percussionists would add to that excitement throughout the evening, with a traditional drum ensemble on the left of the stage, and a more exotic percussion set-up on the right of the stage, with conga drums, chimes, bongos etc. Colorful and whirling projections on the backstage wall would further accent the music, as Benise and two talented supporting guitarists offered up delights of Salsa from Cuba, Flamenco from Spain, and Samba from Brazil. And how timely it all was as the Paramount scheduled this event for the currently being celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15th-Oct 15th).

At this concert I was fortunate to be in the company of my younger brother, who, with ample justification, considers himself to be a considerable authority on the world’s finest guitarists. Just minutes into the program, while observing Benise’s extraordinary fingering on the instrument, he leaned over with a look of amazement, and whispered in my ear, “I’ve never seen anything like this!” Indeed, neither had I! The astonishing fluidity with which Benise literally flew across the instrument’s strings, would at times, leave many of us in the audience quite breathless, while at the same time, the rapidity and precision of the fingering had to be seen and heard to be believed!

The musical delights to follow included an exquisite performance of Beethoven’s beautiful MOONLIGHT SONATA, that was greatly enhanced by a graceful and delicate ballet from one of the companies four gifted dancers, all of whom energize the production in every number. Special effects of thunder and rain are done very well for such a traveling production.

BENISE’S “Monserrat”

Then it was on to Benise’s romantic and enchanting performance of his original piece, “Monserrat.” Readers might like to sample that online at https://youtu.be/zEMKoUEdAog. Then it was on to the Bullfight segment with all three guitarists joining forces for the fiery excitement of the flamenco dancing and whirling red cape of the toreador.

A beautiful guitar rendition of the “Ave Maria,” accompanied the Cathedral scene that followed. The dancer depicting the Madonna, with a rose in her hair and lavish long crimson gown, brought slow-motion grace and fluid arms as she seemed to float across the stage as though under water. During intermission I did overhear one audience member comment that the gown should have been white rather than red, in representing the purity of the Blessed Virgin.

Act II offered the hoped-for Spanish classic, “Malaguena,” featuring our four gorgeous dancing senoritas in magnificent ruby-satin dresses, black Spanish fans in hand. Then came the breezy, “Santa Barbara,” with the guitar threesome leading this salute to the group’s Southern California roots, as projected images of surf and seagulls floated across the stage. Speaking of “roots,” Benise also shared his affectionate, “To My Son Badhi,” a tribute he composed while on the road 6 years ago, in celebration of the birth of his child.

BENISE Greets Fans After the Show

 

Finally, it was time for the opulent full cast finale, “The Havana Club.” The shapely gals, now in tattoo-style body suits with glittering feathered headdresses and gold shoes, send us off with a colorful and dazzling Rockette-style dance line finale, as the enthusiastic audience supplied the hand-clapping standing ovation, before heading to the lobby to mingle with the stars.

THE PARAMOUNT HUDSON VALLEY is located at 1008 Brown St. in Peekskill, N.Y. 10566              COMING ATTRACTIONS

For tickets & Information visit http://www.paramounthudsonvalley.com

The columns of David Dow Bentley III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com    E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com

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Anderson Twins’ MANCINI CELEBRATION Sets the Stage for upcoming Benny Goodman, Irving Berlin & Duke Ellington events.

HENRY MANCINI Caricature: Courtesy of the Al Hirschfeld Foundation

[Click any photo to enlarge.]

A VERY WONDERFUL SEASON…

…of very wonderful American Jazz music, has recently gotten under way from New York’s renowned jazz virtuosos, Peter & Will Anderson. I had the pleasure of attending last month’s opening event at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater in the Symphony Space complex on Broadway (WWW.SYMPHONYSPACE.ORG). It was a wonderful celebration of the life and music of legendary composer, Henry Mancini, and it followed the pattern of the handsome lads’ many previous concerts honoring the American Songbook, along with the likes of George Gershwin, the Dorsey Brothers, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and countless others. Attending these events is always like auditing some exclusive graduate course at the Julliard School, from which, by the way, both talented gents are graduates. Their presentations are at once musical, visual, and highly educational, as they include historical narration, video clips, and “inside” stories that are often amusing as well as enlightening. (For details of my many related reports readers are invited to visit thepeoplescritic.com/?s=%22Anderson+twins%22).

The Mancini program was a joyous late-summer event, highlighting much of the composer’s vast body of work.  Joining the Andersons to enhance this musical journey were talented NYC drummer, Alex Raderman, and gifted trumpeter, Brandon Lee (another product of the Julliard School, where he was one of the youngest faculty members to ever teach there.

VINCE GIORDANO

They were joined by bass player and frequent musical sidekick of the twins, Vince Giordano, the famed leader of his own renowned big band, The Nighthawks. Rounding out this group of gifted musicians was the brilliant jazz pianist, Dalton Ridenhour, who has, himself, been frequently featured with Giordano’s Nighthawks. But make no mistake, it was the Anderson Twins, (with their dazzling talents on a variety of instruments in the woodwind and brass families) who were the engineers behind this important program celebrating one of Americas finest and most beloved composers.

MANCINI Film Scores

The show got off to a wonderful start with a terrific series of selections from Mancini’s musical scores for such films as “The Days of Wine & Roses.” Playing the Theme from 1960’s “Mr. Lucky,” the Saxophonic twins combined forces with Mr. Lee’s fine trumpet, the breezy and crisp piano from Ridenhour, the jazzy drum work of Raderman, and the gently pulsing bass from Giordano, playing his imposing and eye-catching silver Lamé instrument. The musicians then moved on to the Latin-flavored and spooky drum rhythms of the intoxicating Main Theme from 1958’s “Touch of Evil.” The musical delights were often punctuated with anecdotes or interesting video interview moments from the great composer. Fondly reflecting that, “When you’re young you soak up everything,” Mancini spoke of his early work with the Big Bands of the radio era, and his three years of military service as Musical Director of the Air Force Band. He shared how he composed the classic theme for the movie, “Charade,” in just 13 minutes! We learned how Mancini had scored 100 films in just six years, and 30 of the films were in collaboration with Blake Edwards. Of course, the latter group included the fun-filled “Pink Panther” series, which even led to scoring the spinoff TV cartoons. But perhaps Mancini’s television credits are best remembered by his music for the long-running Peter Gunn series, represented here by an elegant, soft and embracing performance of the restful song, “Dreamsville.” Before the group beautifully delivered the exciting thrills of the “Peter Gunn Theme,” (which spent years topping the Billboard music charts), the Andersons digressed just long enough to share their youthful adventure as sixth grade musicians, when they had years ago paired to performed that very number themselves.

“The artists went on to perform the Theme from 1967’s “Two for the Road,” with a seductive opening from trumpet and saxophone, leading on to delicate piano elements that ended in a gentle whisper. From Mancini’s unusual score for the movie, “Hatari!” there were infectious jazz and African elements in the hypnotic rhythms of the playful, Baby Elephant Walk.

AUDREY HEPBURN

The Oscar

But with all of that, it’s a good bet that most fans asked to name a Mancini hit, would very possibly suggest his Academy Award-winning, “Moon River,” sung so beautifully by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But the Andersons cautioned that thereby hangs an interesting tale. It seems the producers of that movie determined they intended drop the number from the film. Threatening to “walk,” Miss Hepburn sternly announced, “Over My Dead Body!” Happily, she prevailed. She even sent Mancini a sweet note that read: “Dear Hank— You are the hippest of cats, and the most sensitive of composers.” For his part, Mancini is on record having said of Miss Hepburn, “No one else has ever understood the song so completely.” He has also remarked, “I’d like to be remembered as a romantic guy.” That song alone, should be enough to ensure the fulfillment of his wish.

***********************************************************

FANS OF THE ANDERSONS, (WWW.PETERANDWILLANDERSON.COM), and the classic American jazz they embody, will have several opportunities to enjoy their music at these remaining upcoming celebrations:

BENNY GOODMAN – September 20th & 27th and IRVING BERLIN October 10th. All shows will be performed @ BIRDLAND THEATER at 5:30 PM. For tickets and information visit WWW.BIRDLANDJAZZ.COM or call (212) 581-3080, A N D, then in the New Year…

DUKE ELLINGTON – January 8th @ THE BLUE NOTE 12:30 & 2:30PM. For tickets and information visit WWW.BLUENOTEJAZZ.COM, or call (212) 475-8592.

The columns of David Dow Bentley III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com
E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com

 

 

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Andersons Bring GERSHWIN Celebration to Symphony Space

Peter and Will Anderson in performance at Symphony Space.

Vocalist MOLLY RYAN rounds out the fun at Symphony Space for the Anderson Twins celebration of George Gershwin.

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Stutzmann & ASO Offer Warm Tribute to Ukranian Struggles

Music Director designate, Nathalie Stutzmann, debuted last week during the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s performances of Mozart’s “Requiem.”
PHOTO: Raftermen

It was a concert long in the planning, but who could have known the added significance Mozart’s “REQUIEM” would take on amid the swirl of cataclysmic world events that would surround Sunday’s final performance in Atlanta’s Symphony Hall? But even that dramatic impact would be dwarfed when Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s conductor, newly appointed Music Director, Nathalie Stutzmann, stepped forward to the stage microphone to briefly address the audience regarding the inescapable poignancy of this Requiem, at this very somber moment in human history: “It seems timely to be performing a requiem now, both for those we have lost during the pandemic, and for those who are losing their lives in Ukraine.” Having said that, she opened the concert by first inviting the audience to stand as she took to the podium to conduct with great passion, what would be a stunning orchestral & choral performance of Ukraine’s national anthem.

Emory University Law Professor, Matthew Lawrence and wife, Mindy, felt fortunate to have been in the audience for Sunday afternoon’s final performance. Said Mr. Lawrence, “We were very lucky to have Nana watching both our kids today so we could visit the Atlanta Symphony for Mozart’s Requiem.”

Matt & Mindy Lawrence

He went on to describe what he called, “…the very powerful scene that emerged as the symphony dedicated the performance to Ukraine, and then invited the audience to rise during a moving and emotional rendition of the Ukraine national anthem.” Perhaps Mrs. Lawrence, a teacher of history at Pace Academy, summed it up best. “This was not a performance we will soon forget!” I invite readers to see if they don’t agree after viewing the link below, and hearing what in my humble opinion, could very well serve as a powerful musical soundtrack for the troubled age in which we now reside:

The columns of David Dow Bentley III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: http://www.ThePeoplesCritic.com
E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com

For tickets and information about future Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Events, visit the website:
https://www.aso.org/concerts-tickets

The People’s Critic | March 21, 2022 at 9:46 pm | Tags: Atlanta Symphony, Emory University, Mozart, Stutzmann, Ukraine, Pace Academy| Categories: American Theatre Critics Association, ATCA, BroadwayStars.com, Concert Reviews, Houston Community Newspapers online, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Club, The Lambs Inc., ThePeoplesCritic.com, Uncategorized | URL: https://wp.me/p11cGF-1NS

 

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Stephen Sondheim Remembered

Stephen Sondheim 1930-2021

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III “The People’s Critic

As the world mourns the recent loss of legendary musical genius, Stephen Sondheim, I was moved to look back over the many times in the last two decades that I have had the pleasure of reviewing his work on the stage. For readers who care to reflect on his work, I include the links to my reports below. Finally, in anticipation of next month’s debut of the much-anticipated new Steven Spielberg film of “West Side Story,” I include links to three productions of that show that I enjoyed reviewing through the years. Enjoy!
    —- DAVID DOW BENTLEY III

https://thepeoplescritic.com/2002/07/14/a-devilish-sweeney-todd-at-masquerade/

https://thepeoplescritic.com/2018/10/23/stage-rights-enchanting-journey-into-the-woods/

https://thepeoplescritic.com/2011/02/23/bravo-to-masquerade-for-%e2%80%9csunday-in-the-park%e2%80%9d/

https://thepeoplescritic.com/2007/11/17/flashes-of-brilliance-sustain-masquerade%e2%80%99s-gypsy/

https://thepeoplescritic.com/2006/04/07/company-cast-overcomes-illness-technical-difficulties/

https://thepeoplescritic.com/2003/11/23/a-courageous-night-music-from-montgomery-college/

https://thepeoplescritic.com/2001/07/21/montgomery-college-theater-serves-excellent-food-side-by-side-entertainment/

https://thepeoplescritic.com/2017/05/15/a-breathtaking-west-side-story-dances-into-the-owen-theatre/

https://thepeoplescritic.com/2003/03/06/class-acts-west-side-story-soars-with-w-s-o/

https://thepeoplescritic.com/2008/07/19/a-professional-west-side-story-from-class-act/

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.

 

Posted in American Theatre Critics Association, AMERICANTHEATRECRITICS.ORG, ATCA, Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, The Lambs Club, The Lambs Inc., ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Andersons Return to Symphony Space

Anderson Twins + Vince Giordano & Friends = Return of Musical Joy

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III     “The People’s Critic”

It had been nearly two Pandemic years since I had the pleasure of attending a performance of any kind in America’s entertainment capital, The Big Apple. I could not have had a more joyful return than my recent experience at Manhattan’s comfortable and intimate Symphony Space Theater, where the brilliant classical jazz musicians, The Anderson Twins (Pete & Will), celebrated The Dorsey Brothers, while being joined on stage by the legendary big band leader, Vince Giordano (The Nighthawks), the consummate authority on vintage jazz of the 20’s & 30’s. In addition to occasional fine vocals, Giordano dazzled the crowd with his skill on bass sax and tuba, as well as on the largest of string instruments when playing his deliciously slap-happy bass. But those gentlemen were not alone in presenting  this evening of musical bliss, as they were joined by the talents of Joe Boga on trumpet, Robert Edwards on Trombone, Joe Patton on piano and Alex Raderman on drums.

Accenting the many musical delights would be a scholarly and informative projected slide show (narrated by Will Anderson), as it presented a documentary-style overview of the interesting lives, careers, and big bands of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. The presentation was full of fascinating anecdotes about the Dorseys, and all of this was skillfully woven together by superb performances of their vast musical catalog. Right from the jazzy opening number with George Gershwin’s, “I Got Rhythm,” the audience could sense it was in the presence of a virtual masterclass of musicianship. The beautiful execution of the extraordinarily difficult Tommy Dorsey composition, “Oodles of Noodles /Contrasts,” made that abundantly clear, as the twins skillfully alternated for sections of the complex piece. Amazing! There were great Sy Oliver compositions like the smooth, “Loose Lid Special,” and a, “Well, Git It!” that featured terrific solo moments from each of the performers.  Countless other familiar selections from the Big Band era included, a rapturous, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” a mellow, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” (with Vince gently covering the Sinatra vocal), “Song of India,” “Sunny Side of the Street,” and “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.”

There were stories about how Tommy Dorsey brought the young Sinatra into his band, taught him proper breath control and phrasing, and then began to resent the singer when Sinatra’s popularity began to outshine his own. Rumor had it that angry Tommy had to be threatened by “the Mob” before he would release Sinatra from his contract. Another story told of Jimmy once being a roommate of Benny Goodman, and how they agreed that when a clarinet job offer came by phone, whichever of them got to the phone first could accept the job. We also learn how when Jimmy and Tommy were young boys their father was so determined they must become successful enough to escape the Pennsylvania coal mine country, he would hide the lad’s shoes to keep them in the house practicing their music. But the brothers went on to spectacular success, first jointly with their Dorsey Brothers Band, later separating for 18 years after disagreements, (with each then having his own successful band), and ultimately reuniting to work in films and television. This show shared many video clips of that period ranging from Elvis Presley’s appearance on their CBS-TV show, to Mickey Rooney’s astonishing piano performance of George Gershwin’s, “Fascinating Rhythm” in the 1947 film, The Fabulous Dorseys. These many short video segments were rescued from becoming overlong as the musicians went back to business for a wonderful, “Marie,” featuring great work from Mr. Edwards on trombone and Mr. Giordano on bass sax. There was a sweetly delicate, “How are Things in Glocca Mora?” elegantly decorated by the sensational virtuosity of Will Anderson on flute. The performers hit one out-of-the-park with Rimsky Korsakov’s challenging, “Flight of the Bumble Bee,” before Pete stepped into the spotlight beside Mr. Patton at the piano for a bluesy and calming sax rendition of Tommy Dorsey’s biggest hit single, “I’ll Never Smile Again.” Then it was on to the rousing finale of the Louis Armstrong/Horace Gerlach composition, “Swing That Music.” That could have been the title of this sensational show.

FOR THOSE WHO MISSED THIS ONE-NIGHT-ONLY CONCERT, DO NOT DISPAIR! THE ANDERSONS WILL RETURN TO SYMPHONY SPACE NEXT MONTH FOR “A JAZZY CHRISTMAS” WITH THE TWO PERFORMANCES INDICATED ABOVE ON SATURDAY DECEMBER 18, 2021. FOR TICKETS & INFORMATION SEE BELOW:

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.

Posted in American Theatre Critics Association, Anderson Twins, ATCA, Cole Porter, Dorsey Brothers, Frank Sinatra, George & Ira Gershwin, Jazz, Louis Armstrong, Symphony Space, The Lambs Club, The Lambs Inc., Those Fabulous Dorseys, Vince Giordano | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Texas Rep Celebrates Rosemary “TENDERLY”

ROSEMARY- Title

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III   “The People’s Critic”

They say that “timing is everything,” but after a pandemic year-and-a-half of being unable to fly back east from Texas to visit the bulk of my family, I am now having the chance to enjoy such a trip, just when a show I would love to have seen is about to open in the Houston area. The Texas Repertory Theatre that I have enjoyed reviewing so many times in the past,* is about to present its production of TENDERLY” The Rosemary Clooney Musical, by Janet Yates Vogt & Mark Friedman. What I wouldn’t give to be in town for that one! I say this because I have just enjoyed an irresistible hour-long preview podcast of the show (with photos), that is now available for all at the company’s website, www.TexasRepTheatre.com** The delightful hour-long conversation features co-stars Julia Laskowski (as Rosemary), her husband Mark Laskowski (in a one-man triumph as all the play’s other characters), Artistic Director, Steve Fenley, and host for the program, Bob Stevenson, popular Houston broadcaster for station KUHF, where he is often referred to as the “Voice of the Arts.” I have had several pleasant opportunities to see Mr. Stevenson’s elegant hosting skills in eloquent action when, on numerous occasions, he has emceed Montgomery County’s gala evening at Conroe’s Crighton Theatre, for the annual YOUNG TEXAS ARTISTS Concert of Finalists, showcasing the finest young collegiate classical musicians in that official Texas State Competition. His vast musical knowledge, and experience behind the microphone hosting Houston Public Radio’s “The Front Row,” made Stevenson the perfect choice to elicit this podcast’s fascinating cast interviews that bring to life the show’s many-facetted story of the late Miss Clooney.

Who among us can resist that annual temptation to settle in for the cheerful musical delights of yet another telecast of Paramount’s delightful musical, “White Christmas?” With its infectious tunes and lush Irving Berlin score, the dazzling dancing of Vera Ellen, and the hokey comedy from the pairing of Danny Kaye & crooner, Bing Crosby, that would all be enough to make it a perennial holiday treat. But the film’s warmest glow would emanate from the radiantly beautiful Miss Clooney, and her warm, embracing vocals that made her such a popular star of radio, television and film. Those joyful images remain with us from year to year, but in this production of TENDERLY we learn there was so much more to this complex woman whose ultimately triumphant life was not always as glamorous as it might at first appear. The many insights Miss Laskowski offers about her character during this captivating podcast suggests that hers will be a richly affectionate performance in the role. Better still, this sampler makes it clear that Laskowski’s lovely voice is perfect for Clooney hits like, “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Hey There!” “Come on a My House,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” and of course, the show’s title tune. Sight unseen I sense the show will be a hit.

We also learn of a life-changing and tragic moment for Clooney when she was present (with two of her children) at the time Robert Kennedy was assassinated. The event precipitated a major emotional breakdown that had her in therapy for years during her struggles with drugs and romantic relationships. Thus we have the interesting plot twist that emerges as Mr. Laskowski portrays the psychiatrist who hears Rosemary’s life story as she tells it during therapy. Intermittently he “becomes” the many characters that peopled her life, from Bing Crosby to her husband, Jose Ferrer and countless others, while Clooney’s many song hits sweetly thread it all together. Clooney has been aptly described as an “American musical legend of unparalleled talent and unbridled personality.” That is certainly true, but I urge readers to sample the podcast to get a sense of how much more there is to her story. Hopefully some of you will be more fortunate than I, and actually see the show. If so, please send me your review.

TENDERLY: The Rosemary Clooney Musical will be performed at Charles Bender Performing Arts Center (611 Higgins St, Humble, TX 77338) July 16th – July 25th. Performances will be at 8pm Fridays and Saturdays, with Sunday matinees at 3pm. Admission: $ 30. For reservations & information call the box office at 281-583-7575, or visit the website: http://www.texasreptheatre.com

* https://thepeoplescritic.com/?s=%22Texas+Repertory%22&submit=Search

**A direct YouTube link for the podcast can be found at https://youtu.be/d8_pkDmVNw8

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.

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Donny Edwards Gives a Royal “TRIBUTE TO THE KING”

DONNY EDWARDS

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III      “The People’s Critic”

Last weekend, after a year of repeated pandemic-related concert rescheduling, the Crighton Theatre’s much anticipated, and long-delayed opening night of “An Authentic Tribute to the King,” had finally arrived to the delight of Friday night’s sold-out crowd. The many eager ELVIS fans in attendance included plenty of devoted groupies of the show’s brilliant star, Donny Edwards, the only Elvis Tribute Artist who has ever been honored to perform his show at the Graceland home of the late Mr. Presley. Perhaps “sold-out” seemed like a strong phrase on this night, as theater manager, Jim Bingham, explained to the audience that Crighton officials had determined that considerable social distancing in-house was still in order during the continuing pandemic, as was the continued wearing of masks when moving about the theater and lobby areas.

But none of that seemed to matter as Mr. Edwards’ rocking, 7-piece band, FEVER, took to the stage, along with his power-house trio of back-up singers. Soon the audience would understand why Edwards has been widely acknowledged as “The Next Best Thing to the King!”

DONNY EDWARDS & “Fever”

With that as a musical backdrop, the star finally emerged on stage to a roar of approval as he launched into a sensational, “Shake Rattle & Roll,” that was highlighted by all the high energy, flexible gyrations and handsome good looks of the star he resembled so strikingly in both appearance and vocal talent. Moments later, without seeming to pause and catch his breath, Edwards would shift gears to offer a soaring, “Heartbreak Hotel.” He would joke with the audience about how they should only view him “from the waist up” as he performed the one-time censored gyrations of a “Don’t Be Cruel” that affirmed his early stardom on The Ed Sullivan Show. The rich tones of his warm and mellow, “Love Me Tender,” were only diminished by a guitar accompaniment that was too loud and harsh. A fierce, “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck,” led into a rockin’, “Jailhouse Rock.” There would be still more touching heartbreak with both, “She’s Not You,” and “One Broken Heart for Sale.” When closing out the first part of the concert, the vocal mastery seemed to reach still another level of excellence with a powerful and resounding, “It’s Now or Never,” that seemed to reveal a voice that could very well have moved in opera circles.

New Restrooms

Spacious Lobby

Intermission gave the audience the chance to visit sections of the theater’s recent renovations and expansion. The spacious new lobby and concession stand areas were a big hit, as were the glamorous new restrooms that even feature hot water at the attractive sinks.

As Intermission came to an end, the excitement would begin to build again while the band began to play the thrilling and mysterious opening strains of the “Sunrise” fanfare that begins Richard Strauss’ 1896 composition, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” a theme quite familiar to fans of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” With that, the star returned to the stage in a glamorously fringed white suit reminiscent of many worn by The King, and launched into a thrilling, “See See Rider,” that seemed to generate the kind of Las Vegas showroom excitement and electricity that many may associate with the “Neon Capital of the World.” The “Burning Love,” number that followed kept the excitement going. My only regret during this second act was that frequently the sound volumes seemed designed for huge Vegas showrooms, and sometimes buried fine vocals in unnecessary noise. But Edwards also lightened things up from time to time with bits of humor from the stage.  While performing a medley of Elvis hits from his concert years in the 1970’s, he cautioned the audience: “Those of you who remember the ‘70’s probably weren’t there.” Then, joking about pains associated with his strenuous and acrobatic gyrations during performance, he recalled, “I remember my Grandma used to smell like BENGAY, and now I know why.” Although the concert was not at all political, Edwards managed to slip in one anecdote from Mark Twain that I just loved: “Politicians are like diapers. They need to be changed often, and for the same reasons.”

But there was still more great music to follow, with, “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” “Twenty Days and Twenty Nights,” and—speaking of “great,”— a stunning rendition of Elvis’ Grammy-winning, “How Great Thou Art.” Other delights included, “Johnny Be Good,” “The Wonder of You,” and “Caught in a Trap.” Clearly, the star had put together such a stellar “Tribute to the King,” it seemed he had really earned the right to close with Paul Anka’s classic composition for Sinatra, “My Way.” As Ed Sullivan used to say, it was “a really big show.”

 The Crighton Theatre is located at 234 N. Main in downtown Conroe, Texas. For information on future productions, visit www.crightontheatre.org, or call 936-441-7469.

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com

Posted in American Theatre Critics Association, AMERICANTHEATRECRITICS.ORG, Concert Reviews, Crighton Theatre, Elvis Presley, The Lambs Club, The Lambs Inc. | Tagged | 2 Comments

“FOOTLOOSE” Brings Joyous Revival to the Owen Theatre

The cast of FOOTLOOSE at the Owen Theatre

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III    “The People’s Critic”

[All photos by Trevor Hall Photography. Click any photo to enlarge.]

It seems to be happening bit by bit. The pre-pandemic world we once knew is creeping its way back toward the hoped-for goal of “normal.” Last weekend’s opening of the 1998 musical, FOOTLOOSE, (based on the 1984 film of the same name), really brightened a rainy Sunday afternoon, and is now rocking the room for The Players Theatre Company at Conroe’s Owen Theater. The fan base was out in force for the matinee, and every member of the well-attended audience respectfully wore a mask throughout the performance. It was a small price to pay for the fun that awaited them in this joyous edition, beautifully directed by Adam Isbell, and stunningly choreographed by Jodie Schrier.

This Broadway production was originally adapted for the stage by Walter Bobbie & Dean Pitchford (Based on his original screenplay). It features Lyrics by Mr. Pitchford, and the music of Tom Snow. The cheerful plot begins when a boy named Ren McCormack (Carson Rapsilver), and his mother, Ethel (Courtney Berry), find themselves abandoned in Chicago by a runaway dad when Ren’s father disappears. This requires them to move in with a distant aunt and uncle in a small southern town amusingly called, “Bomont,” and sounding just like a certain Texas town more familiar to us all. We get our first look at the large ensemble cast as the action begins on one of the many simple and effective scenic/set designs of Michael & Jamie Glass. The sets are always nicely framed by a background design of the town’s river bridge and a large ranch country windmill, and this opening scene depicts a subway station and surrounding street scene as folks get out of work for the day during the title song, the lively and acrobatic opening number, “Footloose.” It is clear from the start that a talented cast is very ready for action.

(L-R) Willard (Kyle Clevenger) and new friend, Ren (Carson Rapsilver)

As often happens for a “new kid in town,” Ren runs up against a few mean classmates at his new high school, especially the ornery and abusive, Chuck Cranston (Jake Teal in an appropriately sinister performance). Chuck thinks of the Rev. Shaw Moore’s daughter, Ariel (Madison Mapes), as his own personal property, and he resents the arrival of cocky Ren, who in his black leather jacket, reminds one a bit of the old Fonzie character in the “Happy Days” series. But Ren does find one new pal, the amusingly shy and goofy, Willard (Kyle Clevenger).

Rev. Moore & Family

Meanwhile, Rev. Moore (Dallas Hiett) is still trying to come to terms with the death of his son Bobby five years earlier when, following a dance party, the car he was in with some teenage friends went off the town bridge, drowning them all in the river. Hence, the reverend is not fond of his party-loving daughter dating a delinquent like Chuck, and correspondingly, Ariel resents her over-protective dad for his restrictions on her personal life. Joan Hodges gives a sensitive performance as Ariel’s mother, Vi, as she tries to navigate the strained relationship of her daughter and husband. She beautifully performs the tender and reflective, “Learning to Be Silent,” which seemed reminiscent of Sondheim’s beautiful, “Children Will Listen,” from Into the Woods. (Hodges lands another winner in Act II with the lovely, “Can You Find It in Your Heart.”) The tragic bridge accident had resulted in the reverend and the town council passing a law forbidding dancing. Therein hangs our central conflict.

Madison Mapes as Ariel & Carson Rapsilver as Ren.

As it happens, young Ren is a terrific dancer, and wants there to be a big dance at the high school. Mr. Rapsilver, with his gymnastic and acrobatic dance skills impressively on display in the number, “I Can’t Stand Still,” is perfectly cast to lead this high-energy cast in the numerous blockbuster numbers so skillfully choreographed by Ms. Schrier.

At home with the Moore Family.

Simple set changes are barely noticed as they easily transport us from the well-designed church, to the school, to the soda shop, to the town bridge, and both the inside and outside of the Moore family home with just a simple rotation. Choral singing of the church choir was terrific, and decorated by some pleasing counterpoints from the ensemble. Ariel joins Chuck and his pals, Travis (John Paul Manluctao), and Lyle (Sid Wadley) for the sassy sensuality of, “The Girl Gets Around,” while Ariel’s girlfriends, Urleen (Parigrynne Zangara), Wendy Jo (Sadie Blair), and  Rusty (full-voiced Meredith Fisk), deliver a nice song of warning to their friends with, “Somebody’s Eyes.” Ms. Fisk, by the way, hits one out of the park in Act II with a rousing, “Let’s Hear It for the Boys,” that explodes across the stage with great dancing from the cast, much like the colorful, beautifully costumed (designer, Angelie De Los Santos), and eye-popping choreography ahead in the show’s finale reprise of “Footloose.”  In between, audiences can enjoy the gals’ sassy harmonies for the foot-stomping, “Holding out for a Hero,” and Rev. Moore’s poignant, “Heaven Help Me.” The first act ends with the ensemble’s dance athleticism in “I’m Free,” and the second act opens with more excitement as the kids gather in the nearby Barbeque Dance Palace for boot-scootin’, two-steppin’ fun as Cowboy Bob (Lucas Olivarez) & His Band inspire great western-style dancing from the cast during, “Still Rockin’.” The fun continues as Willard and his pals deliver a “Mama Says,” that features the guys in a high-kick line that could rival the Radio City Rockettes. Why not come and get your own kicks with a long-delayed return to the world of LIVE theatre? You’ll be glad you did.

FOOTLOOSE continues through March 28, 2021 at The Owen Theatre, 225 Metcalf St., Conroe, Texas, 77301, with performances Friday & Saturday @8pm, and matinees Saturday & Sunday @2pm. Prices range from $15 – $24, with discounts for children, youth, & seniors. For tickets and information call 936-539-4090, or visit the website at http://www.owentheatre.com

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.

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ODD COUPLE Offers Theatrical Light at the End of Pandemic Tunnel

(L-R) Robert Faber as Felix, Mandy Hall as Cecily, Sarah Wilkins as Gwendolyn, and John Barton as Oscar, in the Stage Right production of THE ODD COUPLE.

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III

“The People’s Critic”

[PHOTOS BY: Michael Pittman. Click any photo to enlarge.]

Perhaps William Shakespeare was not predicting our approaching Texas pandemic winter storm when he wrote the line, “…Now is the winter of our discontent…” for Richard III in 1594. But who among us has not heard the phrase, “We’ll get through this!” during the harrowing past twelve months? Well maybe it’s true.

Montez welcomes the audience.
PHOTO: ThePeoplesCritic.com

My friend Ruthellen and I just attended last weekend’s Opening Night of THE ODD COUPLE, at the hitherto long-darkened Crighton Theatre. Both the theater and this critic have been “out of business” for countless months, (along with the rest of the shuttered entertainment industry), while the nation and the world battled the insidious Covid19 virus. Haven’t we all now earned the right to a few laughs?

Social Distancing in theater.

Well relief is now on the way, thanks to Stage Right Productions director, Melody Montez, and her courageous cast and crew for this classic Neil Simon comedy. I say “courageous,” because it is widely believed, in the world of theater, that comedy is the most difficult of the theatrical arts to do well. Gifts like subtlety, timing, comedic body language & facial expressions are not skills possessed by every actor. So right out of the box our community owes this company of local actors sincere gratitude for bravely taking on the work of many weeks of rehearsal and preparation aimed at putting the smiles back on our long-masked pandemic faces. Yes, masks are required when moving through the theater lobby and restroom areas, but not while sitting in your widely socially-distanced seat, with every other row kept empty, along with the block-off of seats immediately surrounding you and your party. This makes ordering your tickets early essential. Though this beautiful theater is capable of seating several hundred, it now has greatly reduced capacity due to required socially distanced seating. In addition to supporting this much needed renaissance of live theater, audiences will also have an opportunity to glimpse the ongoing expansion of the lobby/restroom/box office & concession areas that will greatly enhance the theater when completed.

For those who might be unfamiliar with The Odd Couple from the hilarious and long-running television series, the popular 1968 film version, or the original and successful run of the 1965 Broadway play, the amusing plot revolves around two guys surviving failed marriages, who end up sharing a Manhattan apartment. The boisterous Oscar Madison is played with rowdy gusto by John Barton. The always loud Oscar enjoys being a slob, eating snacks and playing poker.

Felix (Robert Faber) loves to cook & clean for roommate, Oscar (John Barton)

But Oscar takes pity on his friend, Felix Unger, (Robert Faber), when the desolate fellow is tossed out of his home by a divorce-seeking wife. Though the now-homeless Felix is Oscar’s polar opposite, Oscar invites him to become his roommate in the smoky and disheveled apartment. (Pleasant set design by Barton & Ms. Montez). Timid and heart-broken over the failed marriage separating him from wife and children, Felix loves to cook, is a fastidious neat-freak who wants things tidy, and revels in cleaning up Oscar’s messes. The guys’ ensuing clashes propel much of the comedy, along with able assistance from Oscar’s rowdy group of weekly poker players: Vinnie (Frank Pursel), Speed (Jeffery Ott), Roy (Bob Galley), and the ever-wise Murray (nicely played by John Kaiser). The comedy rises to an even higher level when Felix and Oscar invite the adorable upstairs neighbors, the Pigeon sisters, to come to dinner. (Mandy Hall as Cecily, and Sarah Wilkins as Gwendolyn.) With their cheerful British accents, the perky, pretty, and giggling sisters bring great fun to the proceedings. They are a riot as they comfort the despairing Felix when the topic of his divorce brings him to tears. If you’ve found yourself despairing during this seemingly lost year of the pandemic, maybe this hard-working cast has just the comedic medicine you need. Ruthellen summed it up nicely as we left the theater: “Isn’t it nice to be getting back to normal?”

THE ODD COUPLE runs thru February 28th, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays, with one additional matinee on Saturday Feb. 27th. For tickets visit www.crightontheatre.org, or call 936-441-7469. The Crighton Theatre is located at 234 N. Main in downtown Conroe, Texas. [PLEASE NOTE: Seating will be extremely limited as the Crighton Theatre is observing all recommended COVID spacing / capacity restrictions, and patrons are requested to wear masks whenever not seated for the performance.]

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.

Posted in Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, Crighton Theatre, Houston Chronicle online, The Courier Columns, ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment