Donny Edwards Gives a Royal “TRIBUTE TO THE KING”

DONNY EDWARDS

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

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

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

DONNY EDWARDS & “Fever”

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

New Restrooms

Spacious Lobby

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

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

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

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

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

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

“FOOTLOOSE” Brings Joyous Revival to the Owen Theatre

The cast of FOOTLOOSE at the Owen Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Moore & Family

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

Madison Mapes as Ariel & Carson Rapsilver as Ren.

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

At home with the Moore Family.

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

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

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

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ODD COUPLE Offers Theatrical Light at the End of Pandemic Tunnel

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

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III

“The People’s Critic”

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

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

Montez welcomes the audience.
PHOTO: ThePeoplesCritic.com

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

Social Distancing in theater.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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