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.

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Musical Joy Returns to the Crighton via “PETER PAN”

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

Peter Pan, the classic 1954 musical now playing at the historic Crighton Theatre in Conroe, Texas, is my first childhood memory of being fascinated by a Broadway show. Mom & Dad had been delighted at seeing it in an out-of-town preview in Philadelphia. I recall mom being additionally pleased because they had been seated in the theater near a famous actor. It was either George Montgomery or Robert Montgomery, but memory fades after sixty-six years. More importantly, our parents bought us the original cast album, and we five children just about wore that record out before our baby brother Greg arrived to join our sing-a-longs in 1958. The show is based on the 1904 play of the same name by Sir J.M. Barrie. Most of the delightful music is attributed to Moose Charlap, with Jule Styne supplying some additional music. The charming lyrics were written primarily by Carolyn Leigh, while there were additional lyrics from Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Starring Mary Martin as Peter, and Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook, the show would capture Tony Awards for them both. The magic of the production would reach into homes across the nation via several annual telecasts of the show.

While originally slated for performance here last summer, now, thanks to the persistence of Stage Right Productions, Montgomery County will be treated to all the fun. The company website (stage-right.org) describes the joys that await you:

Peter and his mischievous fairy sidekick, Tinkerbell, visit the nursery of the Darling
children late one night and, with a sprinkle of pixie dust, begin a magical
journey across the stars that none of them will ever forget. In the adventure
of a lifetime, the travelers come face to face with a ticking crocodile, a
fierce Indian tribe, a band of bungling pirates and, of course, the villainous
Captain Hook.

The cheerful melodies you will by humming on the way home include the memorable tunes, “I’m Flying,” “I’ve Gotta Crow,” “I Won’t Grow Up,” and “Never Never Land”

For a Facebook peek at a few of the talented cast’s auditions last summer, visit: https://m.facebook.com/stagerightoftexas/videos/245005626882372/ Madison Mapes continues in the lead role of Peter, but a few cast changes may have occurred since the filming. (See current cast listings below).

PETER PAN opens this weekend and runs thru December 20th, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. For tickets visit www.crightontheatre.org, or call 936-441-7469. Reservations are also available at www.stage-right.org. 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.]

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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WHO CAN HELP?

 WHO CAN HELP?As we are all aware the problem of hunger in the country is becoming extremely serious and this is a perfect time to take some steps to alleviate that. Below is a link to an easy site where you can type in your zip code and be directed to contribute what you wish to a food bank in your immediate area. I would suggest that we all celebrate Thanksgiving by doing so before our first mouthful of Turkey:
🦃🦃🦃🦃🦃🦃🦃🦃🦃🦃
U.S. Hunger Relief Organization | Feeding America https://www.feedingamerica.org/ 
🦃🦃🦃🦃🦃🦃🦃🦃🦃
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, — David Dow Bentley III
“The People’s Critic”
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Brilliant Minnelli Performance Seems a Song for Our Time

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III

“The People’s Critic”

It was back in another century and another world when I first became aware of a rising talent named LIZA MINNELLI. It was a simpler time in America and the world, and the coming nightmares of September 11th and the current pandemic were inconceivable. I first became aware of this gifted rising star in 1964 when my theater-loving sister, Sally, raved after seeing young Minnelli’s performance in the musical CARNIVAL at New York’s Yonkers Playhouse. Sally was completely charmed by Liza when she had the unexpected opportunity to meet the radiant young performer that very evening, as the two happened to dine in the same restaurant after the show.

As the years went by, Sally and I would have the pleasure of seeing the gifted musical actress co-star with Elliot Gould in THE FANTASTICKS at the Westport Country Playhouse, then on Broadway during Minnelli’s five-week stint in the show, CHICAGO (while standing in for that show’s star, Gwen Verdon), and again when she starred in another Broadway show called, THE ACT. We even had a later opportunity to meet Liza after enjoying one of her splendid concerts in a huge Atlantic City showroom. A security guard was kind enough to allow us to greet her after the performance as she glided out of her dressing room with her adorable little dog as escort. I was introduced, and Liza and Sally enjoyed reminiscing a bit about those early days in the musical, CARNIVAL.

Speaking of her concerts brings me to the point of my story on this Presidential Election Eve 2020, here in a very tense America ravaged by the Covid-19 virus. National divisions seem to have many feeling that “the wheels are coming off our wagon” here in America. But I recently came across a Minnelli concert performance that may have a message for us as we ponder our place in the long history of our beloved nation. The song reminds us all that we may have our ups and downs, “But the World Goes ‘Round.” The performance I share at the link below was recorded in Japan as part of the legendary 27-city, 1989 ULTIMATE EVENT World Tour, which co-starred Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Miss Minnelli. It was a time, in the opinion of this critic, when Liza was at the absolute peak of her powers. She was beautiful in a shimmering, light and airy pink dress, just short enough to accent her attractive slim legs as she moved gracefully about the stage while offering an unforgettable vocal performance exemplifying pure perfection. I hope you readers enjoy it as much as I do:

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CINDERELLA Event Supports the Actor’s Fund

My sources tell me that this YouTube video of the classic 1957 Rodgers and Hammerstein’s  “Cinderella,” will be available (in support of www.TheActorsFund.org/Cinderella), just today, Saturday, March 25th, and tomorrow Sunday, March 26th. One or both of the two links below should take you there to enjoy a very young Julie Andrews in the title role, along with such supporting actors as Kaye Ballard and Edith (Edie) Adams, all combining their talents to create this still charming, black & white antique of the early television era. Enjoy, and do consider a follow-up donation to The Actors Fund.
Best Regards, David Dow Bentley III 
    “The People’s Critic”
***************

” Rodgers & Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA starring Julie Andrews | July 25th-26th” on YouTube
https://youtu.be/yFdeA6Nfc1w

https://youtu.be/fKNskd_fKls

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Pandemic Relief from Houston’s MUSIC BOX THEATER

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

[Click Any Photo to Enlarge]

(L-R) Luke Wrobel, Kristina Sullivan, Cay Taylor, Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough
PHOTO: Courtesy of Music Box Theater
OTHER PHOTOS: ThePeoplesCritic.com

Is there musical theater after Covid-19? You betcha! And Houston’s MUSIC BOX THEATER is prepared to prove it to you. But before I get into that, let me briefly digress. I would like to first thank the countless readers of ThePeoplesCritic.com who have sent emails and messages of appreciation, encouragement and support during this very challenging time for both theater critics, and for us all.

Arriving audience awaits the cast.

Having said that, it is now my high honor to announce the winner of this year’s award for CLEVEREST TITLE OF A NEW MUSICAL! May I have the envelope please? … [Drum roll]… And the winner is… The Music Box Theater, for “QUARANTUNES Live!” Better still, the show itself is very clever as well. Sporting the usual talented cast of five, (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Cay Taylor, Kristina Sullivan, and Luke Wrobel), this timely new production is built around carefully selected songs, which, in various ways, can serve to comment on the months of pandemic confinement we are all still grappling with.

The Cast Takes the Stage

The opening medley captured that mood perfectly, beginning with a warm, inviting rendition of Neil Diamond’s, Hello Again from Mr. Wrobel, as he nicely accompanied himself on keyboard. The stress we have all endured was well-expressed as Luke joined Brad for the Queen hit, Under Pressure. Wearing a cool summer dress, Miss Taylor then turned up the heat with a sultry performance of the old Peggy Lee hit, “Fever.”

Kristina sings “The Show Must Go On”

At the mention of that now frightening word, some of her Covid-concious cast mates humorously burst forth wielding antiseptic spray. Kristina’s exciting performance of another Queen hit, The Show Must Go On, seemed to summarize what this whole experiment was all about. Miss Dahl’s several months away from the stage seemed to have only enhanced her talents as she delivered a powerful, “That’s Life” with a voice so thrilling that it could have etched fine crystal. She quickly brought that same power to the Melissa Etheridge hit, “Come to My Window,” nicely chosen in this age of being housebound.

The house band was appropriately masked.

Luke and wife, Kristina, honored recently deceased singer, Kenny Rogers, with a stellar duet of “Island in the Stream,” that they would do well to record. With lines like, “…if we rely on each other,” and “…sail away to another world,” that song’s lyrics made me feel we will all come through our current trials. Miss Taylor enhanced that feeling as she followed sweetly with, “What the World Needs Now is Love.” After a few respectable opening notes on his harmonica, Brad carves out another masterful performance with the Hollies’ hit, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” With Rebekah and Cay up front, and glorious harmonizing from the cast, a show highlight would have to be the stunning “Hey, Jude,” that climaxed with Rebekah’s spectacular voice soaring heavenward.

Back in the latter part of the last century I had the privilege of reviewing a New York performance of Crystal Gayle, which, of course, included her signature, “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” Here, dressed in a pretty flowered summer dress with puffed sleeves, we have an absolutely wonderful rendition of that song from Kristina.

A “Hold On” trio from the ladies.

The three gals then combined forces with great vocal blending for a lively trio of, “Hold On.” That was followed by the full cast beautifully delivering a brilliant a cappella arrangement of, “Somebody to Love.” Luke moved on to a fine performance of, “Long December,” and speaking of “long,” he was nicely accompanied by one of the house band’s talented members, guitarist, Long Lee. Miss Taylor’s, “Higher Love,” seemed timely with its references to “facing our fears,” and was enhanced by two of the bands fine guitarists. Reminding one again of Crystal Gayle, Kristina brings silken voice to the Cat Stevens tune, “Wild World,” nicely decorated by Mr. Lee on electric bass. Some playful nonsense arrived as Frank Sinatra (Wrobel), and Judy Garland (Miss Dahl) stumbled on to the stage, cocktails in hand. Rebekah’s hilarious tousled wig, and the stool-sitting angularity of her Garland impression are worth the price of admission as Judy announces, “Drink up! What doesn’t kill you, makes you older!”

A calming voice and guitar from Brad.

Brad calms the mood with a relaxing and beautifully sung, “Take it Easy,” and then, as we all continue to make our way through this Pandemic War, it seemed most appropriate for the ensemble to wind things down with the touching World War II tune, “We’ll Meet Again.” Let’s hope so!

QUARANTUNES Live continues at the Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, Houston, Texas, through July 25th, with performances at 7:30p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, (Except July 4th). For this show only, due to required social distancing & limited seating requirements (Click sidebar at right), all tickets will be $60. There will be one Sunday matinee at 2 pm on July 12th. For tickets and information call 713-522-7722 or visit the website at www.themusicboxtheater.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.

Posted in American Theatre Critics Association, AMERICANTHEATRECRITICS.ORG, ATCA, BroadwayStars.com, Houston Chronicle online, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Inc., ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Spite of the Crisis, Broadway Bows to “The King” Once More

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

On this National Day of Prayer, please allow me to answer one prayer of my own, that this pandemic crisis currently circling the globe would not forever silence ThePeoplesCritic.com. Let me first express my thanks to all of my readers who have so kindly sent messages of concern and appreciation for the more than two decades of service to the performing arts that this column has provided to readers across our nation, and beyond. For those finding themselves homebound with a shortage of reading material, the many hundreds of TPC columns can be readily accessed at www.ThePeoplesCritic.com by simply scrolling down the main page, or perhaps occasionally clicking on the “forward”  or “back” arrows that may be indicated at the close of individual stories. But now, on to the good news.

Tomorrow night (May 8, 2020), and throughout the upcoming weekend, Lincoln Center Theatre will combine forces with www.BroadwayHD.com to stream LCT’s Tony Award-winning 2015 production of Rogers & Hammerstein’s THE KING & I. The show will be presented without cost to viewers, as the usual subscription fees will be waived on those three days. Why not take a Corona-break and gather the family (six feet apart), to enjoy one of Broadway’s most loved and legendary musicals. Together, WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS!

[Readers wishing more information on the production may visit]: https://www.lct.org/shows/king-and-i/?utm_source=delivra&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Lights%2C%20Camera%2C%20Theater%20-%20THE%20KING%20AND%20I%20050620&utm_id=39558390&utm_term=THE+KING+AND+I

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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An Icy and Magical Wonderland in Class Act’s FROZEN

 

Cast members of the Class Act Production of FROZEN JR.

[Special Thanks to Class Act’s  Kristi Tabor for the photo above, and for the six additional new cast photos we now include at the end of this report. Click any photo to enlarge.]

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

I’m sure I am not alone in recalling the childhood wonder of curling up with a beautifully illustrated book of Grimm’s Fairytales and the like. There was a special enchantment in being transported to magical kingdoms in the far-off lands of our imagination. So it was that last weekend was the perfect opportunity to revisit such mysterious and wondrous places, right on the stage of the Nancy Bock Center for the Performing Arts here in The Woodlands, Texas. And it was no surprise that such magic would be created by producer, Keith Brumfield’s legendary Class Act Productions youth theatre company, now in its 23rd season of making musical theatre magic several times each year. The vehicle for this latest success is the already very popular story of Disney’s FROZEN, presented here in the “JR.” edition designed especially for young performers. The enormous and talented cast of fifty-five singing and dancing youngsters was beautifully directed by Stacy Jones, with outstanding Musical Direction from Debra Moses, and sensational dance designs from Choreographer, Mieka Phillips. The elegant and very magical costumes of designer, Romy McCloskey were the “icing on the cake” of this beautiful production.

With the Music and Lyrics of Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez, and a Book by Jennifer Lee, the story of FROZEN takes place in the kingdom of Arendelle, ruled by Queen Iduna (Arden Blake) and King Agnarr (Henry McCloskey). The show opens splendidly with the beautifully staged, “Let the Sun Shine On,” and we see the first of many scenes in no need of extensive scenic design because the Disney package includes amazing and colorful projections of the scene on a full back wall the equal of a theater movie screen. That gloriously costumed opening number was full of lovely singing and charming ribbon dancing. Based on the 2013 Disney film of the same name, the real magic here enters the picture when we meet the royal couple’s two daughters, Young Elsa (Fiona Monreal), and Young Anna (Tori Rouswell). It is with their appearance that dangerous magical powers begin to complicate the plot, because the older princess, Elsa, has the frightening ability to freeze anything or anyone that comes under her magic spell. A sweet duet of, “A Little Bit of You,” offers a delicate snowflake ballet with Featured Dancers including Tiffany Twellman (Captain), Arden Blake, Shea McLeod, Addyson Phillips, and Lindsey Twellman. Mischievous Anna coaxes her sister into making snow, and they create a very animated snowman named Olaf (spryly played by Peyton Jones). But the magic backfires as Anna is seriously injured and the sisters are separated in the palace. Events move so quickly that the girls age right before us, as Grace Ann Jones plays “Middle Elsa,” and Cassidy Buday plays “Middle Anna.” The king and queen are tragically lost in a shipwreck at sea before we finally meet the grown Anna (Coral Petillo), and the grown Elsa (Mady Tozer), now reaching her 21st birthday when she can be crowned as queen. Coronation Day is celebrated with “For the First Time in Forever.” The cheerful singing and dancing of the palace staff, and more stunning projection magic creates the convincing illusion of the ceremonial chapel. Anna is smitten with the arrival of handsome Prince Hans (Oliver Tipler), and their sweet song, “Love is an Open Door,” is perfected by the gorgeous surrounding dancing of the ensemble. Before the first act concludes, a bright-eyed and beaming young actor named Matthew Hernandez arrived looking very at home in the amusing role of Kristoff, an ice merchant with a friendly reindeer named Sven. (Delightfully played by Luke Tabor). The pair’s charming duet is a silly delight, followed by a sudden transition from the frozen world as Olaf, the snowman, imagines a tropical world “In Summer.” That world explodes with colorful costumes, gay parasols, and splendid singing from Miss Jones and the great Show Chorus Singers anchoring the production, and nicely closing out Act One on a high note.

Act Two would immediately be full of pleasures of its own, beginning with the Germanic folk dance flavors of the merry and dazzling opening number, “Hygge,” deliciously led by Oliver Tipler in the role of Oaken, the owner of Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post & Sauna. The catchy tune featuring the complex choreography of the dancers whirling concentric circles, and an emerging high-kick line calling to mind the Rockettes, was simply a pure joy to witness. If that was not enough happiness, it was quickly followed by Miss Tozer’s splendid delivery of the show’s iconic and best-know tune, “Let It Go,” which was beautifully embraced by stardust, snow showers, Northern Lights and the graceful ballet dancing of the cast. With that in mind I would like to dedicate this review to my favorite dreamy and beautiful little ballerina, my soon-to-be five year-old niece, “A.J.” As I thought back to the Act One song, “Dangerous to Dream,” I realized  how that notion has never been a problem for Class Act founder, Keith Brumfield. He’s clearly in his 23rd year of fearlessly making dreams come true. BRAVO!

[Click any photo to enlarge.]

King Agnarr (Henry McCloskey) and Queen Iduna (Arden Blake) watch over the young princesses and thee Royal Court.

Members of Class Act’s production of FROZEN JR.

Mady Tozer in the role of Elsa

Prince Hans (Oliver Tipler) proposes to Anna (Coral Petillo)

Elsa (Mady Tozer) delivers the show’s hit song, “Let It Go”

The Reindeer (Luke Tabor) looks on as Peyton Jones animates Olaf, the snowman when greeting Anna (Coral Petillo) and Kristoff (Matthew Hernandez)

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, Class Act Productions, Houston Chronicle online, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Club, The Lambs Inc., ThePeoplesCritic.com, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Swing Into Spring with BROADWAY AT THE BOX!

THE MUSIC BOX CAST
(L-R) Kristina Sullivan, Luke Wrobel, Cay Taylor, Brad Scarborough, Rebekah Dahl

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

It seems that each year at this time I am confronted with the daunting task of trying to summarize the countless delights of the MUSIC BOX THEATER’S latest creative tribute to Broadway musical theatre. This year’s edition, “BROADWAY AT THE BOX 2020,” is perhaps even more difficult to capture in words because the vocal prowess and comedic skill displayed during the two hours of numerous clever sketches seems better than ever. For years I have wondered when this talented little troupe would run out of brilliant ideas, but that just hasn’t happened. Of course the usual suspects are once again on hand with company founders, Rebekah Dahl & Brad Scarborough, ably assisted by Kristina Sullivan, Luke Wrobel and Cay Taylor. They combine forces for two hours of great music and great fun, (nicely supported by the four-member house band), and the result has been the group’s continued dominance in the TripAdvisor.com listings of Concerts & Shows for Houston.

Brad Scarborough

Rebekah Dahl

With Brad and Rebekah presiding, the lively and fun-filled opening number, “Road to Hell,” from the Broadway hit, HADESTOWN, featured the prancing and merry gyrations of the cast, and the infectious melody of the instantly likable tune. Next, from the show, DEAR EVAN HANSEN, Mr. Scarborough brought fierce vocal focus to the song, “Waving Through a Window,” as he skillfully carved out the varied complexities of the powerful number. With a bluesy, gliding and silken voice, Kristina followed with a warm and thoughtful, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” from SHOWBOAT, that was full of tender longing.

Kristina Sullivan

Cay Taylor

Rebekah pairs with Luke for the hilarious, “Sue Me,” from GUYS & DOLLS, and she hits a real homerun beautifully delivering Miss Adelaide’s rapid-fire and tongue-twisting vocal. Miss Taylor was next, offering a beautiful story of dreams not realized with the lovely, “Stars and the Moon,” from SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD. Rebekah then livens up the room entering from the rear of the theater making a slinky, sensuous and seductive trip through the audience singing a raucous, “Turn Back O Man” from GODSPELL, and then joining Brad’s calming Jesus on the stage for the number’s full-cast finale.

Luke Wrobel

Luke Wrobel (left) and Mark McCain

Next, Luke is joined on stage by gifted lead guitarist and band member, Mark McCain, as the two combine forces for the haunting delicacy of Cole Porter’s, “So in Love,” from KISS ME KATE.

Now dear readers I must ask you to trust me on this. Act One concludes with an annual event the Music Box has aptly titled the 7-MINUTE MUSICAL. This year’s offering of the “complete” WEST SIDE STORY is so totally brilliant and so endlessly clever, (for exactly seven minutes anyway), that the racing hilarity of its joys must really be seen to be believed. If you survive all of that, stop by the refreshment bar for beer, wine, cheese, snacks, or “Bottomless Mimosas” during intermission. Then settle down for the jam-packed second half of the show featuring a joyful medley of Jerry Herman songs, and numerous other hits from such shows as ANNIE, WICKED, BOOK OF MORMON, COMPANY, and many others. You are bound to come away realizing that old adage is true, “There’s no business like show business!”

BROADWAY AT THE BOX 2020 continues at the Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, Houston, Texas, through APRIL 18th with performances at 7:30p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, (Except March 20th & 21st), and there will be two Sunday matinees at 2 pm on March 29th and April 5th. Reserved seating for all shows is $41, and General Admission is $31. 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, MOTOWN 2020 AND BEYOND.

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, Houston Chronicle online, Music Box Theater, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Club, The Lambs Inc., TheLambsClub.org, ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unforgettable Celebration of a “KING,” from Houston Symphony

Steven Reineke with the Houston Symphony Orchestra

By David Dow Bentley III   “The People’s Critic”

Of the countless hit recordings left to us by legendary vocalist, NAT KING COLE, the song “Unforgettable” would certainly rank high on that list. The concert is aptly titled, “UNFORGETTABLE: Celebrating the Nat King Cole Centennial,” and it beautifully describes this weekend’s triumphant performance of the late, great singer’s astonishing body of work, that got under way with Friday’s sensational opening night at Jones Hall. Presiding on the podium was the Houston Symphony’s popular and very high-energy Pops conductor, Steven Reineke, the always enthusiastic and animated maestro, who seems to endlessly appear as the person having the most fun of anyone in the hall. That fact was quickly evident as the tall and handsome conductor sprang into action leading his musicians in a lively arrangement of the explosive big band classic, “One O’clock Jump,” that was notable for the finely woven counterpoints from different sections of the orchestra.

Ryan Shaw

Then it was time to introduce the first special guest performer of the evening with the arrival on stage of sensational vocalist, Ryan Shaw, who immediately captured the flair and easy cool of Mr. Cole with his smooth performance of “Straighten Up and fly Right.” His black jacket and black bowtie combined with an artsy golden shirt that looked a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, and it all seemed to complement his black and gold dreadlocks tied neatly in a bun. (In addition to three Grammy nominations, Shaw has countless stage and concert credits, including starring as Stevie Wonder in the original Broadway production of Motown the Musical). Next, he demonstrated his richly resonant voice and skill as a storyteller, while beautifully capturing the haunting mystery of the Eden Ahbez song, “Nature Boy.”

Then conductor Reineke introduced the second featured performer, Josette Newsam. A native New Yorker, some may have recognized her from her appearances as solo and background vocalist on Today, Live! With Regis and Kelly, or Live! With Kelly and Michael.

Josette Newsam

In a smooth black gown with flared sleeves edged in silver, and beaming with a joyful countenance, she opened with a fierce and feisty, “Orange Colored Sky,” that rocked the room. There was mention of Nat King Cole having been the first black entertainer to have both his own radio and television programs, and it was there that the brilliant Ella Fitzgerald had performed Gershwin’s beautiful, “Embraceable You.” With a voice that could etch fine crystal, Miss Newsam then performed the song herself, and with all due respect to Ella, I have never heard a better performance of that song. It was, indeed, a warm embrace, a tender balm for the soul. With equally marvelous interludes from the orchestra, the result was simply sensational! Then under the warm glow of red-orange lighting, the orchestra would follow with Nelson Riddle’s infectious, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” nicely decorated with seductive accents from both brassy trombone and sax. Following intermission the orchestra would again excel during a multi-layered and ever escalating performance of the “Theme from Route 66.” Shaw followed that with the “Route 66” song, as he demonstrated his extraordinary ability to shift gears while soaring into upper vocal ranges. Other delights in the second half of the program would include a lushly beautiful, “Smile,” and a chic, nightclub-worthy, “Tangerine,” from the orchestra’s fine rhythm section quartet. Josette returned in a stunning cardinal red gown and glittering golden slippers for a poignant and whimsical, “What’ll I Do?” and she would glide through a rendition of Natalie Cole’s hit, “Avalon.” Shaw would provide a sparkling, “Just One of Those Things,” that he may have over-stylized a bit, and then the conductor challenged the audience to identify five King Cole tunes in a lovely medley. (I got 4 out of 5, but couldn’t name the familiar, “Ramblin’ Rose”). There would be several encores, but of course the standout would have our co-stars pairing for “Unforgettable,” lest we forget what a memorable evening it was.

Unforgettable: Celebrating the Nat King Cole Centennial takes place at Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, 615 Louisiana Street, in Houston’s Theater District. For tickets and information, please call 713.224.7575 or visit houstonsymphony.org. Final performance is today at 2:30 p.m.

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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