A Triumphant DROWSY CHAPERONE from Class Act

The cast of Class Act Productions’ THE DROWSY CHAPERONE

[All photos by SPRY ART PHOTOGRAPHY. Click any photo to enlarge.]

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III     “The People’s Critic

It was exactly one quarter-century ago when I had the first of what would be dozens of opportunities to review the splendid musical productions of CLASS ACT as you can see here:


Now, these 25 years later, the organization continues to amaze with the astonishing, Broadway-worthy musical productions it produces year after year. The latest such success story is its absolutely wonderful “The DROWSY CHAPERONE,” now playing for one last weekend at the Class Act Theater in The Woodlands, Texas.

The authors of this uniquely constructed 1998 Musical (Music & Lyrics by Lisa Lambert & Greg Morrison, Book by Bob Martin & Don McKellar), have conceived a show so unusual in its organization, it is simply fascinating to see it all play out on a stage.

Cyril Pajestka as “The Man in the Chair” in Class Act’s THE DROWSY CHAPERONE

We are guided along on this intriguing journey by the central character who is simply described as, “The Man in the Chair.” (Cyril Pajestka in a brilliantly understated performance as the young man who serves essentially as the show’s narrator.) As you might expect, the show opens on a darkened stage, with that narrator sitting in a chair beside his old-fashioned record player, along with his vast collection of 33 1/3 record albums of Broadway musicals. In what may be a longer soliloquy than any Shakespeare ever created, the narrator begins to informally address the audience as though they were a group of friends visiting his home. But Mr. Pajestka handles it with such ease and skill that it is totally believable as the narrator reverently relates his passion for listening to these musicals, while imagining everything that would be happening in a full production. He selects one of his albums titled, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and begins to play it for us. That is where the sheer genius of this show begins, because as he imagines what would have been happening in a Broadway staging of this imagined musical, the entire show begins to come to life right before our eyes. All of that is beautifully supported by the fine set design of Kevin Colburn, Lighting designs of Jonathan Shelledy, Sound designs of Meredith Alexander, and especially the countless beautiful period costumes from designer, Alyson Gerber.

The lightweight Roaring 20’s plot is fun from beginning to end, as we meet the entire large cast in the dazzling opening number, “Fancy Dress,” and even the household servants join in the fun reminding one of a scene in “My Fair Lady.” The setting is the elegant home of a wealthy widow, the absent-minded Mrs. Tottendale (amusingly played by Sarah Ryan).

Grace Schexnayder as Janet in Class Act’s THE DROWSY CHAPERONE

Everyone is preparing for the anticipated marriage of the adorable, young, (and soon-to-be retiring) starlet, Janet Van De Graaff (Grace Schexnayder). Her betrothed is the very good looking and endlessly cocky fiancee, the ever-beaming oil tycoon, Robert Martin (uproariously played by Beau Snortland.)He looks for all the world like one of those handsome men modeling Van Heusen shirts in fashion magazines of the day. Thanks to masterful leadership from Director/Choreographer, Heidi Kloes, and Musical Director, Kameryn Zetterstrom, the couple is perfectly cast, and like the rest of the actors here, in my opinion they all could have easily passed the test on any Broadway stage.

Brilliant choreography is a hallmark throughout the show, and explodes right away with “Cold Feets,” and the stunning tap dance acrobatics of Robert and his Best Man, George (Jack Wheeler). Mr. Wheeler brings still more fun to the delightful “Wedding Bells” number. And Janet, a natural born “ham” herself, insists she will leave show business to become a dutiful wife, but without the blessing of her Broadway producer, Mr. Feldzieg (Jadin Rivas). While performing the song titled, “Show Off,” she is unable to resist flamboyant gestures with every line of the tune, while repeatedly singing “I don’t want to show off no more.” It is a laugh riot. Another amusing aspect of the show is the way the narrator sometimes wanders through his imagined scenes while commenting to the audience, and there are even humorous moments when his needle gets stuck on the record and the full cast freezes in place until he adjusts it.

Natalie Monreal in the title role of Class Act’s THE DROWSY CHAPERONE

The comedy continues to escalate with the arrival of the mildly alcoholic Chaperone, (Natalie Monreal), who is charged with protecting the bride’s virtue until the wedding. Singing, “As we Stumble Along,” with the full cast joining her, cocktail glasses in hand, Monreal’s droll, dead pan characterization reminded me of Beatrice Arthur’s “Mame” performance as Vera Charles on Broadway. Then still another comic plateau is reached with the tango-flavored and deliciously outrageous performance of Latin lover, Adolfo (Henrik Zetterstrom). And what a voice this guy has! Wow! Then there is a delightful and delicate pairing of Robert and Janet for the sweet, “Accident Waiting to Happen.” And before the close of Act One we meet two gangsters disguised as bakers, (Ella Schexnayder & Amy Jackson), along with Mr. Feldzieg, his “dumb blonde” protegee, Kitty (Angela Pajestka in a sassy fringed flapper dress), and Mrs. Tottendale. They all join forces with the ensemble for the lively “Toledo Surprise” number. And all that fun takes place in just Act One. To sample the delights of what happens after Intermission, do yourself a favor and try to capture one of the last available tickets. You won’t be sorry. It is an absolute joy!

The DROWSY CHAPERONE will have final weekend performances this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and there will be matinees both Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm. For tickets and information visit http://www.classactproductions.org

Performances will be at the Class Act Theatre, 25275 Budde Rd. (Suite 27) The Woodlands, TX

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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A Sensational Opening for the New MUSIC BOX Theater

Courtesy Photo

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

[Click any photo to enlarge.]

The Music Box Theater

A brief transportation delay in reaching the new location may have caused me to miss the first moments of the Opening Show from the MUSIC BOX THEATER in its cozy and attractive new house located in the Queensbury Theatre complex of Houston’s chic and increasingly popular CITYCENTRE neighborhood.

Houston’s CityCentre District

Houston’s fashionable new shopping destination, the area has a growing reputation for offering, “Everything from global cuisine, to inviting patios and fine dining.” And now the area lays claim to the first Music Box production in its lovely new home. Happily, this long-running family of gifted performers remains intact, with married co-founders, Rebekah Dahl, and Brad Scarborough heading the Fab Five, rounded out by Cay Taylor, Luke Wrobel and his lovely wife, Kristina Sullivan.

Titled, “THE GREATEST HITS ALBUM—Side B,” this Grand Opening show took off like a rocket when Brad stepped onstage to deliver his absolutely thrilling rendition of the The Animals song classic, “House of the Rising Sun.” I have never heard it sung better. Then came another “never-better” performance from Luke Wrobel, who joked about the group now celebrating, “the 12th year of the never-ending storm of our insanity.” Elegantly framed by the lush drape of the crimson stage curtain, he went on to deliver a hauntingly mellow interpretation of Gordon Lightfoot’s classic, “If You Could Read My Mind.” The song was beautifully backed up with the perfect blending of Cay and Kristina. The group then reestablished their well-honed comedy chops with an uproarious spoof of the Bee Gees disco hit, “Stayin’ Alive.” It was packed with hilarious body language for the dancing, and some falsetto vocal fun from Brad. Guitar in hand, he then joined Rebekah for a “Defying Gravity,” that would start out gently, and then build to a breathtaking and exciting conclusion. Next, Kristina appears in a glittering black top to deliver an equally glittering performance of, “You Don’t Own Me.” With impressive vocal power, Brad and Cay then offer a pleasing pairing of, “Just Like Heaven,” and “Heaven is a Place on Earth.”

With his parents in the audience, Luke gave them a warm welcome singing a dreamlike and passionate, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The first half of the show would then conclude with a very cleverly constructed, “7-Minute Musical,” featuring the cast attempting to rapidly perform bits of every song from “The Sound of Music.” With a countdown clock displayed above the stage, and with rapid-fire costume changes that would even supply a group of singing nuns, the cast actually pulled that feat off to the delight of the audience while actually including every song from the show.

The Music Box Theater
(Courtesy Photo)

Following Intermission, the cast brought a cappella perfection and counterpoint mastery to every detail of an original and creative arrangement of, “Somebody to Love.”And speaking of perfection, the theater itself is beautifully designed with an elevated area off to the left of the stage where the brilliant band is on full display to become an intimate part of the show, and members can be periodically introduced to the audience. (Band Director, Austin Biel, on keyboards & guitar, Mark McCain on lead guitar, Long Le on bass guitar, and Arthur Gilligan on percussion. Technical Direction from Pat Southard and assistant, Michael Burka keeps everything from sound to lighting and beyond running smoothly.

Other second act delights include a soaring performance of Neil Diamond’s “Holly Holy,” and Ms. Taylor’s laser-like delivery of a magnificent, “Maybe This Time,” from Cabaret. Rebekah gives us a thoughtful and warm, “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” that evolves into a solid duet with Luke, while the band rounds it out with pulsing power. Another special treat was the 4-guitar fiesta of the Gipsy Kings’ hit, “Bamboleo,” as Brad joins the guitar playing band members for this romantic musical feast, lightened by some comical silhouette shadow dancing from Luke and Kristina in the background. The gals followed with a heartwarming, “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” before Luke and Brad have some fun moving around in the audience to teasingly serenade various ladies there with, “You’ve Lost that Lovin Feeling.” Then Rebekah did some mingling of her own among the band members during her sassy and powerful, “Dream On.” Continuing the excellence, Kristina delivered a brilliant, “Both Sides Now,” that featured beautiful accents from lead guitarist, Mark McCain. The relaxing cast finale nicely combined, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Of course, this cheering audience had gotten exactly what it wanted, and couldn’t have wished for anything better.

THE GREATEST HITS ALBUM—Side B,” continues through June 17th at the Music Box Theatre in Houston’s CityCentre district, 12777 Queensbury Lane. [The theater will validate parking tickets for patrons using the garage right next door.] Performances are Fridays and Saturdays thru the run, with one Sunday matinee June 11th at 2pm. Tickets for each show are $52 for reserved seating and $38 for general admission. For tickets or information, visit http://www.TheMusicBoxTheater.com, or call 713-522-7722

For tickets or information, visit http://www.TheMusicBoxTheater.com, or call 713-522-7722


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 ATCA, BroadwayStars.com, Cabaret, Concert Reviews, Conroe Courier, Houston Chronicle online, Nightclubs, The American Theatre Critics Association, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Club, ThePeoplesCritic.com, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Winning “RENT” Production for Some, But Not For All

Tomas Matos as Angel and The Cast of RENT. Photo by Melissa Taylor

[All Photos by Melissa Taylor. Click any photo to enlarge.]


“The People’s Critic”

It was bold. It was brassy. It was rowdy. It was brazen. It was “in-your-face.” And for much of the time, it was musically quite loud. Perhaps it was those collective elements that resulted in a substantial portion of the Theater Under the Stars audience frequently cheering enthusiastically during the current production of Jonathan Larson’s successful off-beat Broadway musical, “Rent.” Or perhaps it is the fact that there is often an underlying atmosphere of affectionate caring and sweetness that threads its way among this odd collection of youthful ne’er do wells, “hippies” and “free spirit” rebels living on Manhattan’s sleazy Lower East Side during the early days of the dawning HIV/AIDS epidemic in the last century. The play struck a close chord for me, as I had briefly lived in that same unsavory neighborhood when I first came to The Big Apple to study theatre at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts after graduating from the University of Texas ages ago. But enough about me.

This particular production could not have been more enthusiastically introduced than was the case when TUTS Artistic Director, Dan Knechtges, stepped forward to greet the audience, while himself visibly bursting with excited anticipation of the opening curtain. He concluded by giving the audience a short video treat screening a well-done promo for the TUTS Organization’s renowned Humphreys School of Musical Theatre. Since 1972 it has been Houston’s outstanding training ground for young people following a performing arts path. After that, it was on with the show!

Scott Redmond as Mark and Adrian Lopez as Roger in the TUTS production of “RENT.”

Loosely based on Puccini’s opera, “La Boheme,” the often-challenged characters in this sometimes-dizzying musical drama are a Bohemian group of struggling young artists. They are collectively furious at an unscrupulous local landlord who is locking tenants out of an apartment building. Their mood of protest is reinforced by the spirit of rebellion that was already widespread in a war-weary nation increasingly unhappy with the escalating conflict in Vietnam. The opening Christmas Eve scene gives us roommates, Mark (Scott Redmond as a would-be cinematographer), and rock guitarist, Roger (Adrian Lopez). Bad news begins to abound as we learn (via hard-to-hear answering machine messages), that Mark’s girlfriend, Maureen, has left him. Meanwhile the guys’ gay friend, Tom Collins (Will Mann), a very left-wing professor at NYU, announces he is coming to visit, but finds himself mugged enroute.  If that is not enough bad news, the guys’ landlord, Benny, (Jamal Houston) is shutting off their power and demanding the prior year’s back rent, which they had previously understood to be forgiven.

TUTS production of RENT with Will Mann as Tom Collins and Tomás Matos as Angel and the cast of RENT.

But injured Tom is discovered and helped by cheerfully flighty cross-dresser, Angel (Tomás Matos as a scene-stealing cutie who lights up the stage singing, “You Okay, Honey?”). The two hit it off, and soon learn they are both HIV positive. Oh, and Roger is also infected, having caught it from his last girlfriend who took her own life upon learning she was positive. Courageous director, Ty Defoe, had a mammoth task to weave together such a complex number of characters and plot lines. And that’s just the beginning of Act One.

So, by now you have probably figured out that this is not your grandma’s Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. But it is a profound recognition of a world health crisis, the gritty details of which may make it a no-go for some. I was reminded of this by a pleasant Father & Son pair that was seated near my guest and I in the theater’s Diana Restaurant before the show. The two were avid Broadway musical fans and had recently attended the Hobby Center’s production of “Moulin Rouge.” They were so captivated by it, they bought pricey tickets to return to see that show again the very next night. Alas, on this occasion we passed them during intermission as they apologized that they were unhappy with the production and were heading for the exits. They would not be alone, as there were certainly sprinklings of newly empty seats as Act Two began with a dreamlike full cast performance of one of the show’s loveliest tunes, “Seasons of Love.” But for the many who remained for the second act, this energetic young cast would offer numerous knock-out solo and Ensemble performances that would bring cheers and loud applause, notwithstanding the various depressing plot lines that follow.

Funky costumes from Colleen Grady, equally funky choreography from Monica Josette, back-wall video projections from designer Katherine Freer, and eye-catching lighting from Michelle Habeck, would all contribute to the impact. Sound Designer, Andrew Harper, managed the volume levels well for the several explosive, full cast numbers. Meanwhile, with Charlie Alterman’s Musical Direction, and the prize-winning history of the piece, (The Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Original Score), one can easily be reminded of Linda Loman’s legendary last line in “Death of a Salesman”:


With Book, Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson, RENT continues through this weekend at Houston’s Hobby Center main stage. Remaining performances are Friday & Saturday at 8pm, with 2pm matinee performances on both Saturday and Sunday. For tickets visit the website at www.tuts.com, or call (713) 558-8887 locally, and (888) 558-3882 (outside of Houston).

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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“ANYTHING GOES”: Another Class Act Success

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

[Photo by Spry Art Photography]

It was Thomas Wolfe who famously wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” But I’m thinking that maybe he was wrong, because after two of our nation’s Pandemic Years and assorted family matters that required my presence back in New York, I find myself blessed to finally be back in Texas reviewing a marvelous Class Act Production, as I have been able to so many times since back in the 1990’s. This time around it is the always delightful Cole Porter musical, “ANYTHING GOES,” which I last saw this group perform more than a decade ago back in 2012. It’s still as much fun as ever under the continued guidance of its seemingly ageless Founder/Director, Keith Brumfield. following the show, Mr. Brumfield, along with talented Lighting Designer, Jonathan Shelledy, would graciously give my guest and I a private tour of the mainstage, as well as a backstage tour of their building’s amazingly extensive theatrical spaces including storage space for enormous collections of costumes, props etc., music & rehearsal rooms, meeting rooms, office spaces, dressing rooms, restrooms, and intermission concession areas, all conveniently located at 25275 Budde Rd. in a sprawling commercial park right here in The Woodlands, Texas.

The cute Sailors Quartet (Emanuel Cruz, Colton Frye, Corbin Meredith & Samuel Nash) give us a zany, “They’ll Always Be a Lady Fair,” while swabbing the deck. We get more amusement from the comical pairing of Hope’s often hysterically wailing mother, Evangeline, (Amy Jackson), and the master of facial double-takes, the ship’s Captain (Jack Wheeler). There’s a perky pairing of Reno and gangster, Moonface Martin (Beau Snortland) for the tune, “Friendship,” but the heavy-handed broad comedy here becomes a bit tedious. Relief is quickly on the way, however, as Yarbrough arrives with graceful moves and a lovely soft green gown, to join Billy for the sweet waltz of “It’s De-Lovely.” Then the energetic cast joined Reno for the tap-dancing delight of the title song that would send the audience off to Intermission with smiles on every face.

In Act Two, saucy Reno sashays on stage to liven things up in a sexy, sparkling and ruby sequined gown as she launches into a seductive, “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” She is joined by her equally sexy back-up “Angels,” amusingly named Purity, Chastity, Charity, and Virtue ( Zoe Marlborough, Kenzie Dawn, Angela Pajestka, Blythe Bowman). With flashy red dresses of their own, boy, can these girls dance! With more great choreography, the number explodes across the stage like a rousing church revival meeting. Next, in a gorgeous, flowing coral gown, Hope delivers a stunning, “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye.” Moonface, the gangster, is captured and thrown into the brig below decks where he wishes he could have his freedom and “Be Like the Bluebird.” Billy follows leading off with a beautiful, “All Through the Night,” that really catches fire when Yarbrough joins in from high atop the ship, with her calming and lovely voice.

The fun continues with some more uproarious comic flair from Mr. Pajestka when Evelyn gives a very funny performance of, “The Gypsy in Me,” featuring hilarious, writhing, and slithering body language that had many in the audience howling with laughter. And there was still one more sensuous number from Erma (Paris Nguyen-Hatsushiba). Wearing polished red silk pajamas, she joined forces with the sailors as she pranced joyfully about, rambunctiously delivering an adorable dance routine. And then, as though we audience members hadn’t already realized this had been a lovely evening of musical theatre, we got one more pleasant reminder with a full cast reprise of the wonderful, “All Through the Night.”

ANYTHING GOES will have final weekend performances this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and this Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm. For tickets and information visit http://www.classactproductions.org

Performances will be at the Class Act Theatre, 25275 Budde Rd. (Suite 27) The Woodlands, TX

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.comE-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com

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OSCAR Nods Miss the Mark

Only rarely do I venture into the realm of film criticism, preferring as I do, reviewing live performances of all kinds, from theatre to symphony, ballet to opera, and assorted concerts as well. Here, I will depart from that pattern just long enough to alert my readers to what I believe will go down in history as a monumental oversight on the part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in presenting its nominations for this year’s Academy Awards for excellence in film. “A Man Called Otto,” is a movie overflowing with rich humanity, delightful humor, abundant subtleties, and a captivating story that slowly draws you in the way a fine novel would do. The Academy made a huge mistake earlier this year in overlooking this wonderful film. See it when you can.

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By David Dow Bentley III

“The People’s Critic”

  • [NOTE: This review was first published October 3, 2022, but temporarily disappeared due to a technical error].

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 had scheduled the event for presentation during national celebrations of Hispanic Heritage Month.

At this concert I was fortunate to be in the company of a family member, who, with ample justification, thought 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.

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 earlier, in celebration of the birth to his child. 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 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.comE-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com

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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.


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”


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”


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!”


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

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“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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