Dancing is the star of Class Act’s THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE

Portia Durant and the Cast of Class Act Productions’ THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III     www.ThePeoplesCritic.com

[All photos by Tracy Robinson/spryART. Click any photo to enlarge.]

It would be another terrific musical offering from Montgomery County’s treasured youth theatre group, Class Act Productions. Last weekend in the Nancy Bock Performing Arts Center of The Woodlands, Texas, the show was the lively Broadway musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie, with book by Richard Morris & Dick Scanlan, new music by Jeanine Tesori and new lyrics by Dick Scanlan.

Keith Brumfield

Taking the helm as director for this latest effort was the troupe’s renowned Founder and Artistic Director, Keith Brumfield. He had wonderful support from Music Director, Rae Moses, and his fine orchestra, and the snappy Overture quickly captured the excitement and fast-paced mood of NYC. With all due respect to those two talented gentlemen, I can’t conclude this first paragraph without declaring that Choreographer, Lindsay English, and her astonishingly gifted young cast of dancers, have collectively put their best foot forward in more ways than one. Dance would rule the day for this knock-out production!

The arriving audience was greeted by the attractive set design of Jonathan Shelledy depicting a dark Manhattan skyline silhouetted against an inky blue night sky. (Scenic artists, Heather Brown & Becky Steele).

Seamus Doyle as Jimmy Smith

The time is the early 1920’s, and an eager and starry-eyed young woman from Kansas, named Millie Dillmount (pretty Portia Durant), has just arrived on the early morning streets of the Big Apple. With innocent appeal and suitcase in hand, she plans to take the town by storm in her quest for a good job and a rich husband. However, a sudden mugging leaves her without money or options. Ignoring the suggestion that she head back to Kansas from a young man she encounters (Seamus Doyle in the role of Jimmy), she summons up her true grit and soon finds herself in the suspicious Hotel Priscilla.

(L-R) Sarah Yeates as Dorothy, Portia Durant as Millie, and Daniela Garrett as Mrs. Meers

It is there that young ladies suffering hard times sometimes disappeared at the hands of the conniving owner (Daniela Garrett as the zany Mrs. Meers).

Beau Snortland as Ching Ho, and Luke Tabor as Bun Foo

With the help of the two hapless Chinese immigrant brothers in her employ (Beau Snortland as Ching Ho, and Luke Tabor as Bun Foo), Meers happily kidnaps unsuspecting girls who are shipped off to the white slavery trade in Hong Kong. Tabor and Snortland provide plenty of laughs chattering away in Chinese that is hilariously translated for the audience via captions projected above the proscenium. Miss Garrett’s devilish performance as Meers was capped by her sinister number, “They Don’t Know.” Meanwhile, Sarah Yeates explodes on stage giving a scene-stealing and comic performance as Millie’s newfound friend at the hotel, Miss Dorothy Brown, a wealthy and glamorous femme fatale. She is slumming a bit in the shoddy hotel in order to learn, “How the Other Half Lives,” as the gals deliver that prancing and adorable duet.

Evan Carlson as Graydon and Portia Durant as Millie

Millie finally lands a job as stenographer to the boss of the Sincere Trust Insurance Co., Mr. Trevor Graydon III (Evan Carlson). Millie takes Grayson’s shorthand examination under the watchful eye of the cranky secretarial pool supervisor, Miss Flannery (Skylar Doescher, in a comical performance that suggests she would be well-cast as Miss Hannigan in a future production of ANNIE). The tongue-twisting rapidity of the Millie/Grayson duet of “The Speed Test,” is a number remarkably well done by Durant and Carlson, while sensationally accompanied by the tap dancing of the colorfully costumed ensemble of office secretaries.

Miss Flannery (Skylar Doescher) leads her tap-dancing office workers.

Of course Millie has hopes of capturing Graydon as a husband, but Dorothy suddenly shows up to seduce him herself. That would be just one of the show’s many on-again, off-again romantic relationships that add to the fun.

In addition to the aforementioned Durant, Garrett, Yeates, Doescher, and Carlson, the show’s many pleasant song numbers also feature fine vocals from Doyle as Millie’s ultimate love interest, Jimmy, and Megha Sengupta as the wealthy singer/socialite, Muzzy Van Hossmere.

MILLIE and her “flappers’ dance the Charleston.

Yet another mesmerizing tap-dance sequence from the ensemble that had to be seen to be believed, was the dazzling Speakeasy scene for the cleverly titled, “Nutty Cracker Suite.” That Charleston-style number displayed more breathtaking tap dancing and colorful period costumes (designer, Kim Freeman), all beautifully showcased by the fine lighting designs of Blake Minor. If the dancing was the star of this show, I would have to say the costumes were the co-star. It would all pass for professional on Broadway, and don’t be surprised if one day some of these talented youngsters end up there.

CLASS ACT will perform the Christmastime favorite, It’s A Wonderful Life, on December 14, 15, & 16. For tickets and information visit http://www.classactproductions.org/ .

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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The Wondrous Blend of Houston Symphony, ABBA, and RAJATON

RAJATON a cappella ensemble

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III   www.ThePeoplesCritic.com

It was a night of music that I dare say will not be soon forgotten by those of us blessed to be in the Jones Hall audience for the Houston Symphony’s celebration of what was simply titled, THE MUSIC OF ABBA. Of course, thanks to the world-wide popularity of the Broadway musical, MAMA MIA, much of the program would be familiar to last weekend’s sellout crowds with such tunes as “Dancing Queen,” “Chiquitita,” “Money, Money, Money,” “One of Us,” “Voulez Vous,” “Does Your Mother Know?” “Head Over Heels,” “Mama Mia,” “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” “The Winner Takes It All,” “Thank You For The Music,” “Fernando,” and “Waterloo.” The varied selections would all combine to create an atmosphere of utter and complete joy in the house before the night was over, and it was that latter tune, the group’s first big hit, that launched them into the stratosphere of pop music in 1974.

Steven Reineke, conductor

Presiding over this splendid concert was the youthful, slim, and endlessly animated conductor, Steven Reineke, looking equally splendid in a meticulously tailored charcoal suit, with gleaming patent leather dress shoes of black and glittering silver. He displayed the grace of a ballet dancer as he guided his gifted musicians through the lush “ABBA MEDLEY” overture that opened the program, while touching beautifully on many of the tunes mentioned above. But that was just the beginning.

The featured guest performers would be the six talented members of the extraordinary RAJATON a cappella vocal ensemble from Finland. They strutted proudly on stage, beaming with joy that would quickly spread to an appreciative audience. While their Finnish names (Jussi Chydenius, Essi Wuorela, Soila Sariola-Lehtinen, Hannu Sepola, Ahti Paunu, & Aili Toivonen) might be difficult for us to spell or pronounce, their musical magic spoke a universal language that needed no translation. Whether performing with the orchestra, or in the strictly a cappella style for which they are best known, the handsome group of three men and three women, would blissfully captivate Jones Hall throughout the performance. That would be true right from their opening trifecta medley with a gentle and gliding, “Dancing Queen,” a fun-filled, “Money, Money, Money,” that featured a terrific, pulsing beat, and then the story-telling beauty and gorgeous vocal blending of, “One of Us.” Below the overhead spin of a sparkling disco ball at the ceiling, there was pleasing light choreography silhouetted against a hot-pink backdrop during the a cappella wonders and clever counterpoints of “Head Over Heels,” with its rhythmic and intoxicating blend of mouth-popping and microphone-tapping sound effects.

RAJATON a cappella ensemble

With the orchestra accompanying once again, the ensemble delivered an “S.O.S.” that nicely reflected on the “emergency” desperation that sometimes accompanies love. But the bright mood quickly returned with the perky and upbeat, “Take a Chance on Me,” as the hand-clapping audience joined in. Enhancing the staging, the bubbly singers, dressed in eclectic yet elegant attire, would have fit in well at any wedding, and were always in motion, changing positions or dancing lightly. All of that was evident as the singers beautifully concluded Act One with the twin delights of the tongue-twisting, “Chiquitita,” and the ever-popular, “Mama Mia.”

Following the intermission, the orchestra againtook center stage performing, “People Need Love — An ABBA Symphonic Medley,” a choice collection of ABBA tunes of many moods, that was beautifully peppered with sparkling percussion and the richness of the strings, all under the baton of the merry and graceful conductor Reineke.

Steven Reineke conducting the Houston Symphony

When Rajaton returned to the stage there would be a soaring, “When All Is Said and Done,” resounding choral richness for, “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” and then the fully a cappella joys of the mystical and entrancing, “Fernando.” Amid some gently undulating choreography, the group essentially became its own orchestra in a way that might remind old-timers of the Mills Brothers. There was so much more before the audience would be literally dancing in the aisles to a reprise of, “Dancing Queen,” but it seems safe to say that the one song that best described the feelings of the appreciative audience would have to be, “Thank You for the Music.”

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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K. D. Lang Captivates Adoring Fans at Houston’s Jones Hall

By David Dow Bentley III   http://www.ThePeoplesCritic.com

With a one-night performance in Houston Symphony’s Jones Hall, it was more than a concert. It was truly a blockbuster event when the k. d. lang INGÉNUE Redux Tour honored Houston this week, as the final stop on the group’s 2018 North American Fall Tour that had included such cities as Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Jacksonville, Birmingham, Nashville, Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas. One suspects they had saved the best for last, and the seven talented musicians and back-up singers who accompanied Lang seemed to be in a particularly festive and playful closing-night mood that made the night more fun than ever.

Mak Grgić
PHOTO: http://www.makgrgic.com

But even before the curtain would go up on the main event, there was an astounding warm-up performer who deserved as much as anyone to be on the stage of our symphony hall. Classical guitarist, Mak Grgić, stepped forward to sit before the curtain and proceeded to absolutely dazzle the audience with his astonishing skill and virtuosity as he performed a variety of traditional pieces from the Balkan Peninsula area of his native land (the former Yugoslavia). The remarkable speed, dexterity, rapid-fire fingering and emotional passion this master musician brought to the musical selections, had the audience practicing its standing ovations even before Ms. Lang arrived on stage following intermission.

Then it was on to the main event as the full-house audience rose to its feet in frenzied greeting at the first appearance of the diminutive diva. That ovation would last several minutes before a single note was sung. I knew we were in for a night of fine music as I had already had the pleasure of reviewing Lang’s talent just one month before the calamities of 9/11 when she shared the Houston spotlight with Tony Bennett in a 2001 concert at The Woodlands Pavilion:

https://thepeoplescritic.com/2001/08/09/bennett-celebrates-birthday-at-pavilion/

Lang fan, Debbie Little, of The Woodlands, Texas, eagerly arrives for the concert.

As this latest show’s title would suggest, the concert was largely structured as a Celebration of the 25th anniversary of her GRAMMY®-award winning, platinum album, “Ingénue,” and the recent release of its re-mastered Anniversary Edition, released by Nonesuch last year. Thus, this concert was essentially a full performance of that popular recording, and the groupies and fans who knew it well were out in force. There was no shortage of proud and animated gays in the audience, and the sense of collective adoration that shot across the footlights was reminiscent of the electrifying love that used to join Judy Garland with her devoted concert fans. Lang playfully tipped her hat to that group for attending, as she quipped, “Thanks for coming out. And if you did ‘come out,’ congratulations!” Like Garland before her, the power and passion in Lang’s voice was at once mysterious and captivating. But even more hypnotic here was the effect of the gorgeous and ever-changing lighting that embraced the stage with one of the most beautiful lighting designs I have ever enjoyed. The proscenium was softly draped with lush curtains, as hanging light globes above the stage and gleaming lantern lights at the rear completed a vision with the same warmth as the star’s voice. Rich, soft colors of crimson, gold, emerald, silver, sapphire and more would gently overtake the scene in a subtle rotation that visually enhanced every number. Those numbers would of course include the star’s classic, “Constant Craving,” and there were also selections from Lang’s 2016 recording, “case/lang/veirs,” produced in collaboration with Neko Case and Laura Veirs. And throughout the concert Lang would feature her talented cast in exceptional solo instrumental moments. It was very much a team effort, and in every way it was a winning team.

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 BroadwayStars.com, Concert Reviews, Houston Symphony, Jones Hall, The Courier Columns, ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Music Box Fulfills its Promise to KEEP IT BRASSY

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III       www.ThePeoplesCritic.com

The talented cast on stage at Houston’s popular nightclub, THE MUSIC BOX THEATRE, included most of “the usual suspects,” minus cast regular, Cay Taylor, who was out of town. Joining performers Brad Scarborough, Rebecca Dahl, Kristina Sullivan & Luke Wrobel, gifted trumpet player, Vaughan Pedersen, and equally talented trombonist, Louis Sanchez, would share the stage spotlight throughout the evening in keeping with the show’s title promise to KEEP IT BRASSY. This was actually the second edition of last year’s success with the same title, a show that helped cheer weary Houstonians through the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. As usual, gifted Music Director, Glenn Sharp, would preside over his talented G-Sharp Band that includes Mark McCain on lead guitar, Long Le on bass guitar, James Metcalfe on percussion and Michael Adamcik on reeds, with Pat Southard as Technical Director.

Launched by the rich, resonant voice of Mr. Wrobel, the group’s powerful opening sequence paid rousing tribute to the music of the band, Chicago. Next, Wrobel was vocally ferocious when he lashed out with the song, “Vehicle” by Ides of March. There would be the usual playful cast banter between numbers, and then it was on to Kristina’s tribute to women about to lose their partners to the football season as she sang the Etta James number, “I’d Rather Be Blind.” Then it was on to the hand-clapping fun of the Amy Winehouse tune, “Rehab,” in the capable hands of wide-eyed Rebecca, as her sensuous moves were amusingly echoed by the grinding gyrations of the guys clowning behind her. Brad was then more serious as he had an irresistible homerun with the confident command of his piercing version of Billy Joel’s 1983 hit, “Tell Her About It.”

LUKE WROBEL recalls Sinatra with, “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me.”
PHOTO: Courtesy of The People’s Critic

For a real change of pace, Wrobel offered a warm, seductive embrace with his tender rendition (Skillfully sung in French) of Edith Piaf’s, “La Vie En Rose.” Mr. Pederson complemented the number with a fabulous trumpet tribute to the immortal, Louis Armstrong, calling to mind a night long ago when I had a front row seat for a Satchmo performance as a student at the University of Texas. The musical merriment continued when Rebecca delivered the Louis Prima hit of, “Just a Gigolo,” amid some echoing refrains from the gang and a terrific saxophone solo from Mr. Adamcik. The jolly accompanying cast high-kick dance line will win no one a position with the Radio City Rockettes. Then Brad leads Billy Joel’s mini musical drama with, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” featuring some atmospheric touches on accordion from Luke. With its little carnival parade, it was a perfect follow-up to the nice meal across the street at Carrabba’s that my friends and I had just enjoyed before the show.

Intermission offered available beer, wine & snacks, and then the band called things back into session with the very brassy Herbie Hancock tune, “Chameleon.” There would be more Act Two delights with Brad’s Ray Charles’ hit, “Hallelujah, I Love Her So,” and a nice pairing of Kristina’s bird-like vocal sweetness and her husband, Luke’s, raspy and convincing Satchmo impression, during Ella Fitzgerald’s memorable, “Dream a Little Dream.” Rebecca and Kristina would bring feisty fun to Patti LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” and Brad would again bring his solid vocal power to Blood, Sweat & Tears’, “You Made Me So Very Happy.” There was plenty more, but somehow those last six words seem to sum up my feelings about The Music Box.

KEEP IT BRASSY 2 continues through October 13th at the Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, Houston, Texas, with 7:30 p.m. performances on Fridays & Saturdays. There will be 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, October 7th. Reserved seating for all shows is $39 + tax, and General Admission is $29 + tax. For tickets and information call 713-522-7722 or visit the website at www.themusicboxtheater.com, where you can also find information about the upcoming show, BACK TO THE 80’S beginning on October 20th, 2018.

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 BroadwayStars.com, Conroe Courier, Houston Chronicle online, Music Box Theater, Nightclubs, ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SAVANNAH Laughter Rocks the Crighton

Cast of THE SAVANNAH SIPPING SOCIETY
(L-R Carolyn Corsano Wong, Martha Davis, Lisa Schofield, & Cheryl Campbell)
PHOTO: All photos by David Clements & DWC Photography.
[Click any photo to enlarge]

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III

www.ThePeoplesCritic.com

It’s hard to believe that STAGE RIGHT PRODUCTIONS has just completed its first decade as the resident company in Montgomery County’s crown jewel, the historic and beautiful Crighton Theatre. But if the current production opening the 11th season is any indication, the next ten years look to be a rollicking good time. The play in question is the uproarious comedy, “The Savannah Sipping Society”, by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, & Jamie Wooten.

DIRECTOR Dinah Mahlman

I confess to a bit of suspicion when Director, Dinah Mahlman, stepped on stage before the curtain with a few words of introduction that promised “a laugh a minute.” Let me tell you, she was not kidding. This show is both adorable and HILARIOUS right out of the gate! I was originally scheduled to review it on its opening weekend, but my flight from New York made that impossible, so I attended last Saturday night. Since this gentle comedy for just four players was not one of Stage Right’s blockbuster musicals with a cast of thousands, I anticipated a moderate-sized audience. WRONG! The house was packed from wall to wall, and without benefit of the kind words I will share with you here. After seeing the show, I realized the crowd must have resulted from not only local media coverage, but perhaps moreover, from an explosive word-of-mouth campaign from delighted audience members who laughed themselves silly the week before. I don’t ever remember laughing that hard for that long at the Crighton, and on the way home in the car afterward, my guest was calling all her girlfriends to urge their future attendance.

What makes all this fun possible? To begin with, we have a cute plot revolving around three mid-life crisis gals who happen to meet at a yoga class that will have you howling. Each has personal issues she is trying to work through, but don’t be frightened off guys. The men in the audience were laughing just as hard as the ladies.

Role Playing to combat stress

First we have Randa (a beaming Carolyn Corsano Wong, who brightens any stage). Company downsizing has found Randa abruptly fired from a job she loved in the business world, and replaced by a “3o year-old twit who wears bow ties!” Then there’s Dot (Martha Davis), who’s still struggling to come to grips with the death of the husband she had been planning a happy retirement with. She takes some consolation in the fact that, “He has now reached his ideal weight. 4 pounds including the urn!” She goes a step further cautioning the other girls that, “The shivering feeling you get when falling in love is just common sense leaving your body.” Finally we have the bitter, sassy and rowdy, Marlafaye (Lisa Shofield), who’s in a vengeful mood since her husband ran off with a twenty-something dental assistant. Marlafaye’s been suspicious ever since her husband began flossing between meals, and she contemptibly refers to her challenger as, “Little Miss Rinse and Spit.” Tying these characters all together is the arrival of a feisty new gal in town named Jinx (Cheryl Campbell). The real fun gets going when Randa has them all over to her home for cocktails on her lovely patio. (Set Designer, Melissa Cummins, — and if you like the wicker porch furniture you may have the chance to win it by buying a raffle ticket at Intermission). Jinx seems to sense the personal struggles revealed by the others as the wine flows and the very witty script gets rolling. She offers her services as a Life Coach to help her new friends move forward with life. Of course Jinx has had some issues of her own and shares that, “One guy I dated said I never listened to him. At least I think that’s what he said.”

Mojitos after Salsa Dancing

In addition to the abundant crackling wit, the show sports an eclectic and pleasing costume collection ranging from flamenco dresses to hilarious medieval Renaissance Festival garb. (Designer, Debbie LaRue). There is also use of an effective theatrical device supplying more laughs, when during each scene break, one of the characters steps forward into the spotlight and addresses the audience directly.

The Fun-filled Renaissance Adventure

Summing up, these four actresses give remarkable performances that speak very well of the crisp direction from Ms. Mahlman. If there’s one minor problem worth mentioning, the audience laughter is sometimes so uproarious it may drown out the next joke. But in addition to the wit, the play offers occasional bits of wisdom. A couple I recall: “The older you are, the harder it is to jump start a new life,” and how about this one? “It’s been said that the more you complain, the longer you live.” I’m reasonably certain no one will be complaining after attending this show.

THE SAVANNAH SIPPING SOCIETY continues thru September 23rd at Conroe’s Crighton Theatre, 234 N. Main. Performances are 8pm Friday & Saturday, with a Sunday matinee at 2pm. For tickets and information call (936) 441-7469 or visit the website at www.stage-right.org/.

Posted in BroadwayStars.com, Comedies, Crighton Theatre, The Courier Columns, ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Twin Pleasures Illuminate TUTS Production of OKLAHOMA!

The Cast of Theatre Under the Stars production of OKLAHOMA!

[ All Photos by MELISSA TAYLOR.  Click any photo to enlarge ]

There is bittersweet irony in the fact that the supremely joyful current OKLAHOMA! production from Theatre Under the Stars began its run at Houston’s Hobby Center on this past week’s September 11th anniversary of one of the most tragic events in American history. Skillfully directed here by Kevin Moriarty, what better way to lift the spirits on such a somber occasion than to present this magnificent edition of the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, now celebrating its own 75th anniversary? And what better way to celebrate the beginning of the TUTS 50th Anniversary Season?

Laurey in the OUT OF MY DREAMS ballet sequence.

TUTS Artistic Director, Dan Knechtges, is to be specially commended for initiating, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s tremendous destruction to the Houston Ballet’s home at the Wortham Center, a new collaboration with that company and its renowned Artistic Director/Choreographer, Stanton Welch. That new partnership now culminates in this glorious production, featuring more than twenty of the company’s brilliant dancers (that at various performances will include such established stars as Jessica Collado, Melody Mennite, Ian Casady, Charles-Louis Yoshiyama, Christopher Coomer, and Brian Waldrep), during the exquisite, “Out of My Dreams,” ballet sequence featuring the original choreography of the legendary Agnes de Mille.

Olivia Hernandez as Laurey and Sam Simahk as Curly

Set in the farm and cattle country of early 19th century Oklahoma, the story centers on the flirtations and budding romance between handsome cowboy, Curly (Sam Simahk), and a sweet farm girl named Laurey (Olivia Hernandez).

Sam Simahk as Curly and Priscilla Lopez as Aunt Eller

She lives with her Aunt Eller (Priscilla Lopez), in a rustic farmhouse, and Laurey coyly enjoys resisting Curly’s advances, though he is not easily dissuaded.

Eric Ulloa as Jud and Hassan Nazari-Robati as Ali Hakim

Meanwhile, the sinister farmhand, Judd (Eric Ulloa) creates plenty of tension as he has eyes for Laurey as well.

Hassan Nazari-Robati as Ali Hakim, Olivia Hernandez as Laurey and Madeline Hamlet as Ado Annie

On the lighter side is the flighty and amusing romance between young Ado Annie (Madeline Hamlet) and her presumed fiancée, Will (Christopher Campbell), with her additional suitor, the traveling peddler, Ali Hakim (Hassan Nazari-Robati) adding to the fun. Of course, as with all R&H musicals, the marvelous music is king. With some twenty fine musicians in the pit, Musical Director, Kimberly Grigsby, was more than up to the task as he first took baton in hand to conduct the sublime opening “Overture.” Countless other delights would follow showcasing the gifted actors, dancers, singers and ballet stars assembled for this memorable production.

Right from the crimson morning sky of Curly’s sensational opening number, “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” the warm lighting from designer, Jason Lyons, and authentic country costumes of designer Karen Perry, would beautifully illuminate the scenes.

Cast of TUTS “Oklahoma”

Mr. Simahk’s solid and beautiful voice, combined with his rugged good looks, made me quickly think of the young Howard Keel. He would bring that same brilliance to numbers like the cheerful, “Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” and the magnificent love duet of “People Will Say We’re in Love,” with the vocally gifted Ms. Hernandez. Her bright and perky characterization of young Laurey peaks in the lovely, “Many a New Day,” when she is sweetly joined by the girls in the ensemble.

Cast of TUTS “Oklahoma”

There are knockout numbers like “Kansas City,” led by the energetic talent of Mr. Campbell, and the Act Two opener of, “The Farmer and the Cowman,” highlighting the feisty talents of Ms. Lopez. Both songs feature the dazzling singing and dancing of the full company, and the brilliant stars of Houston Ballet.

Along with the overall joy of the piece, as often typifies R&H musicals, there is an underlying touch of serious drama as we see here in the storyline surrounding the ominous character of Judd. Mr. Ulloa brings such passion to that role that I found myself wishing Judd would have a better outcome than the one I knew was coming. Nevertheless, there is abundant witty fun when Curly sings the hilarious funeral spoof, “Pore Jud is Daid.” And speaking of wit, there is plenty of that throughout the book of this very amusing show that will leave you with a special glow when the full cast of more than sixty artists comes on stage for the finale of the title song.

OKLAHOMA continues through September 23rd at Houston’s Hobby Center main stage with performances Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, & Sunday at 7:30 pm, Friday & Saturday evenings at 8pm, and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. The September 23rd matinee will be the final performance. For tickets visit the website at http://www.thehobbycenter.org, or call (713) 558-8887 locally, and (888) 558-3882 (outside of Houston).

The columns of David Dow Bentley III may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com. Email may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com .

Posted in Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, Hobby Center Houston, Houston Ballet, Rodgers & Hammerstein, The Courier Columns, ThePeoplesCritic.com, TUTS | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Anderson Twins’ “SUMMIT” Celebrates Luminaries of the American Songbook

Cast of SONGBOOK SUMMIT
Photo by Geri Reichgut

[Click any photo to enlarge]

For the ever-growing Big Apple fan base of the musically gifted young Anderson Twins (Peter & Will), it will come as no surprise that they are now in the midst of another New York triumph with their current, month-long celebration of four of America’s legendary composers. Becoming an annual event, this 2018 edition of their SONGBOOK SUMMIT (being presented in the intimate Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater of SymphonySpace), is currently showcasing the music of Jerome Kern (thru AUG. 19th with performances today at 4 & 7pm, tomorrow at 2 & 5 pm), Hoagy Carmichael (AUG 21-26), Jimmy VanHeusen (AUG 28-Sep 2), and, just completed, Irving Berlin (AUG 7-12). To whet New York musical appetites for what is to come, it is that recent latter concert that I report on here.

A colorful and amusing Al Hirschfeld drawing of Irving Berlin at the piano greeted the arriving audience, and would be the first of many on-screen projections of video clips, photographs, and even additional drawings made possible with the permission of the Hirschfeld Foundation.

Drummer, Phil Stewart, backs up Will & Peter Anderson
PHOTO: Geri Reichgut

The joyful 90-minutes (no intermission) got underway as the talented back-up trio took to the stage with Clovis Nicholas on bass, Phil Stewart on Drums, and Tardo Hammer on piano. (Some performances feature Steve Ash on piano & Neal Miner on bass). They were quickly joined by the multi-talented and identical twins, Julliard graduates who would bounce freely between assorted instruments throughout the program. Known for their extraordinary interpretations of classic jazz compositions, both gents are virtuosos on clarinet, while Peter would dazzle on both tenor and soprano sax, and brother Will is a master of flute and alto sax.

The Anderson Twins
PHOTO: Geri Reichgut

Those collective skills were quickly on display for the opener of Berlin’s first major song hit, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” featuring a dazzling clarinet solo. Then it was quickly on to the joys of “Cheek to Cheek” with shining moments for clarinet, sax and piano, while many of us in the audience were wishing we were up dancing with the Fred & Ginger projected on the screen from the 1935 film, “Top Hat.”

The program format continued to follow the successful style of previous Anderson concerts I have reviewed at Manhattan’s 59E59 Theatre complex in midtown.

Peter & Will Anderson perform as Irving Berlin looks on.
PHOTO: Geri Reichgut

Reflecting on Berlin’s long life (1888-1989), and his some 1500 song compositions, an informative historical narration punctuates the show’s musical numbers, as do the assorted visuals. One amusing montage flashed brief clips including Edith Bunker sweetly singing, “Won’t You Play a Simple Melody,” a Star Trek scene featuring, “Blue Skies,” a rare childhood home movie of future stars, Eli and Peyton Manning tossing a football around to the tune, “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better),” and Ethel Merman joining the Muppets for a rendition of that same song.

Vocalist, MOLLY RYAN
Photo: Geri Reichgut

Next, the concert moved up to an even higher level as lovely featured vocalist, Molly Ryan, came to the stage to deliver a fresh and lilting interpretation of, “Blue Skies,” accented by a solid jazz duet from the twins, and peppered by crisp piano from Mr. Hammer on the keys. The beautiful Miss Ryan, golden tresses tumbling down her back, shows a smooth and gentle vocal side just as endearing as her glowing smile while singing, “Isn’t it a Lovely Day.” The purity of her voice could have been etching fine crystal during a sublime, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” that featured more great spots from the twins, great pacing on drums, and pulsing bass that guides Ryan to a rousing vocal conclusion. As Will Anderson continues the informative narration, we learn that Berlin could neither read nor write music, and could play piano only in the key of F#, but a specially designed piano allowed him to change keys by simply shifting a lever below the keyboard. But Berlin’s long life was not without its tragedies, as his first wife died just 6 months after their marriage, and in 1929 he would lose his fortune in the stock market crash. His second marriage produced a front page 1926 scandal in the New York Times when the Jewish Berlin married the love of his life, Catholic, Ellin MacKay. It was the beginning of a happy union that would last for 60 years, though their first child would sadly die in infancy. Sad moments notwithstanding, Berlin’s body of work is a joy to behold, and the Andersons really know how to put it across. Musical delights seemed to tumble one upon another as the show continued with such classics as a “What’ll I Do?” that had a richly tender pairing of piano and clarinet that was dreamy, warm and reflective. With sax and clarinet the brothers joined for a fast paced, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” highlighted by jazzy moments from the trio. Berlin’s Hollywood musical years are nicely sampled with fascinating video clips of Astaire, Garland, Jolson, Harpo, Crosby, and even Donald O’Connor and Marilyn Monroe. Then Miss Ryan returned to bring her remarkable vocal purity to a bubbling rendition of the song, “Always,” the musical wedding gift Berlin gave his bride in 1926. For the tune, “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” the twins brought dueling saxophones to their rapid-fire launch of the song that shot Ethel Merman to fame in the 1946 hit, Annie Get Your Gun. But the song soared to an even higher level when Ryan joined in on the vocal and knocked it out of the park like it was her own personal anthem. Next, we were treated to yet another set of great video clips, this time from countless musical TV appearances by stars like Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Bobby Darin, and Count Basie.

The show offered more education as we learned of the patriotism, heart and generosity of Irving Berlin with the support he gave the Red Cross, the Girl and Boy Scouts, not to mention the three World War II years he toured selling war bonds with his 1942 musical, This is the Army, which soon became a hit film of the same name. His perennial classic, “White Christmas,” won Berlin the Academy Award for Best Song of 1943. When our cast returned to the stage for the musical complexities of the tune, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” it was clear they were up to the task, and Mr. Hammer followed with a lush piano solo of “How Deep is the Ocean?” Finally, with Ryan anchoring the sensational company finale of, “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,” I realized it was the perfect finish for this stellar group of musical talents. Nobody could have done it better!

“SONGBOOK SUMMIT: The Andersons Play Berlin, Kern, Carmichael, Van Heusen

Continues through September 2nd at Symphony Space’s Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater

2537 Broadway (at 95th St), New York, NY 10025

PerformancesTues, Wed, Thurs, Fri 7pm; Sat 4&7pm; Sun 2&5pm

Running Time: 90 minutes (no intermission) Tickets: $35

WATCH PROMO VIDEO

Box Office: (212) 864-5400 (Tues-Sun 1-6pm)
Online Link: https://www.symphonyspace.org/events/month/08/2018

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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