A Holiday Appetizer from Lone Star Lyric at Ovations

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

[All photos by ThePeoplesCritic.com. Click any photo to enlarge]

KELLI ESTES takes center stage at Ovations Night Club

No, it wasn’t a Christmas show. Not yet. That treat is just around the corner for Houston’s popular Lone Star Lyric cabaret, and more about that later. This month’s offering, titled “‘Round Midnight,” was a lush showcase of classic standards from the American Songbook, paired with some of the finest vocal and instrumental talent ever to set foot on the stage at Houston’s chic and cozy nightclub, Ovations.

For this, the group’s 14th Anniversary year, company Artistic Director & Co-founder, Kelli Estes was in fine vocal form, and just as glittering as the stunning necklace she wore about her neck. But on this occasion she was not the lone golden voice on the stage, as she was joined by two Broadway-caliber gents, Lee Gregory and Stephonne Smith.

The LSL Band

But before sampling any of those talents, we first meet LSL’s gifted musicians as the instrumental trio took to the stage to offer the show’s jazzy title tune. Music Director, Rob Hunt, opened the number literally dancing across the keys with a crisp and delightful intro on piano. He was quickly joined by the simmering percussion of drummer, Ben Atkinson, and the solid bass work of Steve Martin. All of that played out under the ever evolving pastel lighting from designer, Jim Elliott.

Lee Gregory

Stephonne Smith

But on to the great musical selections that followed, opening with a unique (and very successful) arrangement for the guys, as Stephonne and Lee performed a most unusual counterpoint duet of, “One for My Baby.” Their deep and powerful baritone voices blended so smoothly I wondered if we should go home right then after such a “tough act to follow.” But not to worry as the band transitioned to seductive Latin rhythms for Kelli’s sparkling, “A Night Like This,” and then handsome Mr. Gregory’s resonant baritone produced a very solid, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” It really did make you want to head to the ballroom, and perhaps it could only have been improved if he had a steamer to smooth his rumpled white suit.

Estes has an intermission chat with The People’s Critic and Bob Pizzitola of LaPorte

Stephonne’s resounding, “All By Myself,” was peppered by playful and wide-eyed flirtations with audience members, but he wasn’t by himself for long as Kelli soon joined the number with a cheerful, “Can’t We Be Friends?”

A tender, “The Girl Next Door” from Mr. Gregory.

Lee returns with a true voice for musical theatre that reminded one of Howard Keel during the, “The Girl Next Door,” adaptation of the original, “Boy Next Door,” more familiar to Judy Garland fans.

Estes goes “blue” for MOOD INDIGO

With spotlights highlighting her lush crown of red hair, Kelli returned with bird-like vocal purity for a restful, “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” that featured a relaxing interlude from the trio. Stephonne shows his story-telling skill with a thoughtful, “Say It Isn’t So,” that ends in a soft vocal whisper, and Lee follows with a vocal laser beam for the fun of “Lulu’s Back in Town.” There’s a nice reflection on the Cotton Club era stars like Ellington, Armstrong & Fitzgerald, as Stephonne offers a memorable, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” The stars would close out Act One with a merry trio of Cole Porter’s, “Let’s Fall in Love.”

The fun would continue following Intermission as Ms. Estes called a talented friend to the stage.

Special Guest:
BROOKS CHRISTENSEN

Audience member, Brooks Christensen, was celebrating his birthday, and proceeded to cheerfully prove his worth as a ragtime pianist with a dazzling and joyous performance of the “Pickles & Peppers Rag.” The cheering audience jumped to its feet. Then it was on to the countless Act Two delights that included the band’s wonderful take on, “Green Dolphin Street,” Stephonne’s prancing, “Pennies From Heaven,” and his smooth as silk, “Satin Doll,” Lee’s sassy and playfully aggressive, “All of Me,” his powerful pairing of, “Impossible,” with “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance,” and his deliciously outlandish and flamboyant, “Just a Gigolo.” Kelli renewed her diva credentials with a feisty, scat-singing of, “My Man,” and a haunting, “In My Solitude,” that smoothly transitioned to a rich, “Mood Indigo” that was bathed in very blue lighting. Then she hit a stunning home run with a masterful, “If You Go Away” that even embraced some of the original French lyrics of “Ne me quitte pas.”

The threesome united for the joyful closing medley of “Why Can’t You Behave,” “Let’s Misbehave,” and “Always True to You.” But they plan more seasonal joy for the fans on December 14th with their upcoming show, HOLIDAY FRUITCAKE, described as a “…decadent dish of holiday hilarity…like any good fruitcake, sweet with plenty of nuts…a classy swingin’ affair full of holiday tunes.” The Ovations Night Club is located in Houston’s Rice Village neighborhood at 2536 Times Blvd. For LSL tickets or information call 917-414-9577, or visit the website at www.LoneStarLyric.org (Email: LoneStarLyric@gmail.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 ATCA, BroadwayStars.com, Concert Reviews, Houston Chronicle online, Houston Community Newspapers online, Ovations Night Club, The American Theatre Critics Association, The Courier Columns, TheLambsClub.org, ThePeoplesCritic.com | Leave a comment

YTA Event Brings Music and Elegance to THE GLADE

Grammy Award-Winning Soprano, JESSICA E. JONES, entertained YTA guests at The Glade.

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

[All Photos by ThePeoplesCritic.com. Click any photo to enlarge]

YTA President, Susie Pokorski, opened the program.

For the many Montgomery County supporters of the annual Young Texas Artists Music Competition (www.ytamc.com), the last Friday of October was a splendid opportunity for an elegant night out in celebration of some of the brilliant young talents the organization has encouraged. Under the skillful direction of YTA President and CEO, Susie Pokorski, the gala event was titled, CLASSICS AT THE GLADE, and featured a champagne reception, cocktail buffet, and renowned concert classics performed by three of YTA’s former winners.

Glade Cultural Center

The affair was held at The Woodlands’ stunning new arts venue, The Glade Cultural Center (www.gladeculturalcenter.com). The center is perfect for private events and receptions, and also provides a unique and accessible fine arts experience for visitors, with a hosted fine art gallery and antiquities.

Valet parking was provided, and as YTA guests stepped from their cars they were warmly greeted at the door by Mrs. Pokorski and her husband Jim. Once inside, visitors were surrounded by lovely artwork and photography on the many walls that surrounded the open bar, the numerous hot and cold buffet areas and a tasty dessert table.

Craig Stephan

The hot Shrimp & Grits station was a favorite of many, and all the while guests enjoyed fine dinner music from accompanist and pianist for the evening, Craig Stephan.

Jade Simmons

Then, once the visitors had time to eat, drink and tour around the art displays,

THE INTERVIEWS: (L-R) Jade Smmons, Zhi-Yuan Luo, Artem Kuznetsov, Jessica E. Jones

Pokorski welcomed the crowd to be seated for the featured performances as she introduced the host for the evening, familiar YTA favorite, Jade Simmons, the CEO of Jade Media Global, and also host of the hit American Public Media podcast, “Decomposed.”

The YTA Video

A talented performer herself, Simmons has entertained at both the White House and Supreme Court, and in recent years has also hosted many of the YTA Competitions of Finalists at Conroe’s Crighton Theatre. Before this evening would end she would share a short video about the YTA organization, and then again show her skill as an interviewer by calling the three featured soloists on stage for a delightful exchange about their lives as professional performers.

Zhi-Yuan Luo

Zhi-Yuan Luo

Simmons then introduced 25 year-old Zhi-Yuan Luo, who began playing clarinet at age 12. Currently studying for his master’s degree in Austin at The University of Texas, he was winner of both the Silver Medal and Audience Choice Award during the 2019 Young Texas Artists Music Competition last March. On this occasion, he would dazzle the audience with “Untitled Work for Clarinet and Electronics”, an unusual composition by S. Greene. Performed under smoky blue lighting, the piece involved accompaniment for his skillful clarinet performance from a small, neon bordered speaker system, synchronizing an unusual digital electronic score to the artist’s solo performance. Generous with his talent, when the regular program concluded, he stepped mid-room, clarinet in hand, and provided after-dinner music while guests mingled and enjoyed the artwork on display.

Artem Kuznetsov

Next up was gifted concert pianist, Artem Kuznetsov. Russian by birth, in 2004 he was featured in “Gifted Children of Russia.” A successful veteran of many music competitions, he was winner of both the Piano Division Gold Medal and the Grand Prize in this year’s aforementioned Young Texas Artists Music Competition. Currently studying at Rice University, he volunteers in musical outreach to under-served communities, has a debut album slated for release this fall, and will soon perform with the Allen Philharmonic and the Texas Medical Center Orchestra. On this occasion his superb piano skill was on full display as he performed Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”, brilliantly capturing all the subtle nuances and transitions of the complex work.

Jessica E. Jones

The final guest performer was soprano, Jessica E. Jones, a veteran of the 2012 Young Texas Artists competition. With a wide repertoire and a master’s degree in performance from the prestigious Moore’s School of Music at the University of Houston, she has gone on to perform with opera companies in Texas, Florida, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho and Montana. More recently she became a Grammy Award winner for her performance on the Best Opera Recording of 2019:            The(R)evolution of Steve Jobs. At this YTA gala she easily validated her stellar reputation with a joyous performance of Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro,” from Gianni Schicchi, and a wondrous rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, “Think of Me,” from Phantom of the Opera. The rousing audience reception precipitated her radiant and theatrical encore of Lerner & Lowe’s delightful, “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady. A more joyful conclusion could not have been hoped for.

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, ATCA, BroadwayStars.com, Concert Reviews, Houston Chronicle online, Houston Community Newspapers online, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Inc., ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Costumes and Sets Crown Crighton’s Joyful CINDERELLA

The Cast of Stage Right’s CINDERELLA –
All Photos: Dave W Clements & DWC Photography
[Click any photo to enlarge]

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

Kathleen Baker as CINDERELLA

Lucas Olivarez as the Prince

Conroe’s wonderful Crighton Theatre has, for many years, continued to send me personal invitations to the shows mounted by the much-loved STAGE RIGHT PRODUCTIONS Company. The group has as its longstanding motto: “A Community for the Entire Family.” That motto has perhaps never been more appropriate than for the very cute current offering of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical, CINDERELLA, cheerfully directed by Stage Right veteran, Sara Preisler.

(L-R) Alexandra Casey, Christina Sato, Madison Mapes

Rob Baker as King & Martha Davis as Queen

A show full of adorable, local young children, this is clearly a community gem that should bring out a crowd full of friends, neighbors and the families of all the children involved. Other folks, who have ever enjoyed a really well-done elementary school program full of creative sets and sweet kids dressed in beautifully designed costumes, may want to consider joining in the fun with upcoming audiences.

Fairy Godmother (Shananda Poulos) casts her magic spell.

The Magic Coach Arrives

These youngsters sing and dance beautifully while playing the parts Cinderella’s mice, her birds, and her mischievous black cat. They are scene stealers at every bend in the road. (Set design and choreography by director Preisler & Cricket Pepper, Costume designer, Debbie Preisler, and Musical Direction by Layne Roberts).

Cinderella’s Cat

Whether in throne rooms or royal ballrooms, the adults in this cast are regally costumed as well. They give it their all in performing the several charming R&H songs, that for more than half a century have made their way from the earliest TV version of the show (with Julie Andrews), and on to national tours, and even Broadway. And speaking of those charming songs, my only complaint would be the absence of a running song list in the printed program. I’m surprised that omission was permitted by the vendor, R&H Theatricals.

I assume there is no need to detail the familiar tale of pretty young Cinderella (Kathleen Baker), who is horribly abused by her vain and sinister Stepmother (Christina Sato), and her whining, cackling and uproariously annoying stepsisters, Grace (Madison Mapes), and Joy (Alexandra Casey). But of course, relief is on the way in the person of the handsome Prince Christopher (Lucas Olivarez). His parents (Rob Baker as the King, and Martha Davis as the Queen) have a plan to get their son married, but meanwhile, they keep a close eye on him with the help of Lionel, the Royal Steward (an amusingly droll performance from Todd Brady).

Miss Poulos lights up the stage.

Adding to the fun is the kooky and explosive performance of vocally talented Shananda Poulos in the role of of the Fairy Godmother. Poulos really ignites the stage with fine singing and a zany characterization that somehow reminded me of Queen Latifah. She brings magic to the stage in more ways than one, and I’m still wondering how Cinderella was instantly changed from her rags to her ball gown! Mapes and Casey bring jealous hilarity to their over-the-top “Stepsisters Lament,” while wondering, ”Why would a fellow want a girl like that?” as the Prince shows romantic interest in Cinderella.

Dancing at the Royal Ball

Other song delights include, “The Prince is Giving a Ball,” Cinderella’s very sweet, “In My Own Little Corner,” the exciting ensemble number,” The Prince is Giving a Ball,” and the equally exciting, “Impossible; It’s Possible,” duet from Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother. The elegant “Gavotte,” and charming “Waltz for a Ball,” were beautifully danced by the cast in the palace, and other melodic treats include, “Ten Minutes Ago,” “A Lovely Night,” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?”

Come and see if the shoe fits.

As you might imagine, after some difficulty Cinderella does get her Prince and the wedding scene climax is an opulent dandy that brought the cheering crowd to its feet. Audience member, Renée La Fleur, was a first-time visitor to the Crighton, and smiled widely as she told me, “This is really bringing me back to my childhood.” Why not come see for yourself this weekend?

CINDERELLA runs thru Nov. 3rd with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. Tickets range $17-$26, according to age, with discounts for groups. Reservations are available at www.stage-right.org, or call 936-441-7469 weekdays between 3 and 6 p.m. The Crighton Theatre is at 234 N. Main in downtown Conroe, Texas.

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 AMERICANTHEATRECRITICS.ORG, ATCA, BroadwayStars.com, Cinderella, Crighton Theatre, Houston Chronicle online, Houston Community Newspapers online, Stage Right Productions, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Inc., ThePeoplesCritic.com, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Symphonic Tour of Europe from Rick Steves & Houston Symphony

 

RICK STEVES
All photos courtesy of Rick Steves & Houston Symphony

It was like an exquisite fairytale tour of the continent for lucky audiences at last weekend’s Houston Symphony concert titled, “Rick Steves’ Europe: A Symphonic Journey.” A full house packed Jones Hall, and with top ticket prices above one hundred dollars it was not exactly a poor man’s trip to Europe.

MICHAEL KRAJEWSKI & The Houston Symphony

But what a fabulous trip it would be, especially with the return of the orchestra’s retired and much-loved Pops Conductor Emeritus, Michael Krajewski, who playfully referred to this appearance as his 4th Annual Farewell Concert. The European theme notwithstanding, Krajewski quickly had the audience in the palm of his hand beginning the program with a tour of America launched, of course, with a rousing “Star Spangled Banner.” The ensuing trip would open with the racing strings, thundering kettle drums, and thrilling brass during Jerome Moss’ vision of the American West in the Main Title music from “The Big Country.” That piece was a perfect lead-in to Grofé’s gently trotting “On the Trail” mule ride from the 3rd movement of his visual epic, “Grand Canyon Suite,” and featuring a stunning opening violin solo passage from Co-Concertmaster, Eric Halen. The sweetly delicate opening phrases of the R.A. Bass arrangement of, “Shenandoah,” would then set the stage for the symphonic grandeur that would follow from this masterwork. It was lightly decorated by soft chimes and bells from percussion, and featured a stunning trumpet solo. This first half of the program concluded beautifully with the clever R. Wendel arrangement, “From Sea to Shining Sea.” Opening with “America the Beautiful,” that piece took the audience on a musical cross-country tour from west to east, featuring such familiar tunes as, “San Francisco,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Chicago,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Georgia on My Mind,” “Carolina in the Morning,” and then closing with a joyful, “New York, New York.” But somewhere in between, it seemed the hand-clapping Houston audience favorite was clearly, “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”

Rick Steves in Germany

Beginning the featured Part Two of the concert, Maestro Krajewski, looking fit and trim as ever, stepped forward to introduce the man he called, “America’s foremost authority on European travel.” With that, the attention shifted to a gentleman well known to PBS viewers, the amiable and knowledgeable travel expert, Rick Steves, who explained that the musical organization of the project was designed to focus on the music of what he called the Romantic Era of the late 1800’s, a time when the seeds of freedom inspired by our own American Revolution across the sea, were then taking root in countries all across Europe as the common man sought liberty from the ruling class of the nobility. Steves then began a series of narrations that would accompany the splendid travelogue videos screened above the brilliant orchestra, while he guided one and all through countries and composers that included Austria (J. Strauss Jr.), Germany (Wagner), the Czech Republic (Smetana), Italy (Verdi), Great Britain (Elgar), Norway (Grieg), and France (Saint-Saëns).

Rick Steves in Norway

The orchestral delights that accompanied each nation spotlighted included “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” (Strauss), the “Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin,” (Wagner), “The Moldau” from Smetana’s “My Fatherland,” Verdi’s “Triumphal March from Aida,” Elgar’s familiar, “Pomp and Circumstance,” and Grieg’s “Morning Mood” from the “Suite No.1 of Peer Gynt.” As the splendid orchestra performed the works associated with each country, the audience was treated to sublime travelogue views across Europe that captured magnificent landscapes, rivers, streams, villages, churches, traditional costumes, castles, dancers, plazas, parks, mountain climbers, paintings, murals, frescos, statues, fountains, street scenes and cafes, exquisite architecture, Roman ruins and aqueducts, canals, vineyards, knights in armor, rainbows, misty fiords, traditional foods, and lush gardens at every turn.

Rick Steves in Switzerland

This memorable feast for the eye and ear was brought to a fine conclusion with a celebration of the present day European Union as the orchestra played the E.U.’s adopted “Anthem of Europe,” based on Beethoven’s final movement of the 9th Symphony, “Ode to Joy.” Not surprisingly, there appeared to be universal joy on the faces of the departing audience. BRAVO!

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, ATCA, Beethoven, BroadwayStars.com, Concert Reviews, Conroe Courier, Elgar, Houston Chronicle online, Houston Community Newspapers online, Houston Symphony Pops, Jones Hall, Michael Krajewski, The Courier Columns, ThePeoplesCritic.com, Travel, Uncategorized, Wagner | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Complex SPRING AWAKENING from TUTS

The Cast of TUTS “Spring Awakening”
PHOTO: Melissa Taylor

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

Let’s be clear right out of the box. The current offering from Houston’s Theater Under the Stars is NOT your grandma’s Broadway musical. For all of its theatrical dimensions and explorations of adolescent rebellion, SPRING AWAKENING is clearly a teenage journey of self-discovery through the angst and perils of pubescent sexuality. Based on the 19th century play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, this 2006 Broadway edition features the rock music of Duncan Sheik, and book by Steven Sater, whose lyrics often read like fine poetry. The show would go on to capture eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Direction, Book & Score.

The action takes place in the late 1800’s and focuses on the interactions of a group of teenaged boys and girls who are students in a small German town. Directed by Taibi Magar, this TUTS production benefits from a highly talented and radiantly energetic young cast that includes Sophia Introna as Wendla, Wonza Johnson as Melchior, Nathan Salstone as Moritz, Juliette Redden as Martha, Raven Justine Troup as Ilse, Blake Jackson as Hanschen, and Alex Vinh as Ernst. As the plot evolves, young Wendla is in a quest to learn more about where babies come from as she quizzes her hesitant Mama (Liz Mikel is convincing in this, and the several other minor roles for “Adult Women.”) Wendla presses her appeal as Ms. Introna sings a passionate, “Mama Who Bore Me,” that is beautifully reprised with her young girl friends joining in.

Meanwhile, at the local school for boys, young Moritz is troubled by erotic dreams he has been experiencing. He appeals to his more sophisticated and knowledgeable classmate, Melchior, for explanations. We first hear Mr. Johnson’s fine voice during the devilish, “All That’s Known,” as Melchior agrees to prepare a detailed facts-of-life essay for Moritz. The other lads in the class are experiencing similar growing pains, while at the same time feeling great frustration with the harsh discipline of the cruel teacher (Brian Mathis brings his booming voice to this first of his several small roles for the “Adult Men” in the piece). The boys soon erupt in rebellion for the ferocious song and fierce dancing of “The Bitch of Living.” (Choreographer, Marlana Doyle). The girls are not to be outdone when they explode with frustrations of their own during the excitement of “All Our Junk.”

Sophia Introna as “Wendla” and Wonza Johnson as “Melchior” in the Theatre Under The Stars production of Spring Awakening. Photo by Melissa Taylor

But there are calmer moments like the dreamlike staging and haunting vocal blending from the boys and girls during the richness of a, “Touch Me,” that is nicely sprinkled with several fine cast solos. Not surprisingly, a delicate duet of “The Word of Your Body,” from Wendla and Melchior soon results in an unexpected pregnancy. I will leave the details of that plot line for future audiences to discover. There would be moments in the latter part of Act One when the music turned harsh, and shrill with lyrics hard to hear amid the din. But I would note that in the number, “The Mirror-Blue Night,” Mr. Johnson had a focused intensity as Melchior that seemed to really suggest star quality in this young actor. He would shine again with his rich and soothing voice when Melchior joins Wendla and the solid Boys and Girls Chorus for “The Guilty Ones,” at the opening of Act Two.

The cast of Theater Under the Stars SPRING AWAKENING
Photo: Melissa Taylor

The fine orchestra (Music Director, Alex Navarro) is visibly in shadow to the back left of the stage, and occasional segments of the drama are effectively played out in an elevated scene box in the upper right corner of the proscenium. (Scenic designer, Ryan McGettigan, Lighting designer, Bradley King). As the emotionally troubled Moritz, Mr. Salstone brings compelling desperation to the song, “Don’t Do Sadness,” before Ms. Troup changes the mood in her role as Ilse, with a gentle and intoxicating, “Blue Wind.” The rich humanity of songs like “Those You’ve Known,” and “Whispering,” touch the heart. Of course there are some troubling outcomes in Act Two, and one of the most surprising comes when Melchior is called before the school’s headmaster and charged with having written the scandalous facts-of-life essay. Realizing he must now confess, Melchior launches into a song full of expletives with a title I never expected to see in a printed Broadway program. It’s an electrifying full-cast number with undulating choreography and sensational staging. And the song title? So I can get this past the censors, use your imagination to fill in the blanks: “Totally Fu-k-d!” Like I said, this is NOT your Grandma’s Broadway musical.

SPRING AWAKENING continues through October 20th at Houston’s Hobby Center main stage with performances Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday & Saturday at 8pm, and 2pm matinee performances on both Saturday and Sunday. For tickets visit the website at www.tuts.com, or call (713) 558-8887 locally, and (888) 558-3882 (outside of Houston).

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

Posted in American Theatre Critics Association, ATCA, Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, Houston Chronicle online, Houston Community Newspapers online, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Inc., Theater Reviews, Theater Under the Stars, ThePeoplesCritic.com, TUTS, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A “BRASSY” ENCORE FOR THE MUSIC BOX THEATER

Cast of THE MUSIC BOX THEATER

[All Photos by ThePeoplesCritic.com. Click any photo to enlarge]

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

If The Music Box Theater was revisiting some familiar territory during this third edition of its seemingly annual show, “KEEP IT BRASSY,” it really didn’t matter. The musical selections were updated, the often hilarious comedy bits and sketches were original, and the talented regular cast of five is singing better than ever. (L-R in above photo: Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Luke Wrobel, Cay Taylor & Kristina Sullivan). No wonder this ever-popular Houston cabaret continues to hold the #1 position in the city’s entertainment listings with TripAdvisor.com, even besting the Houston Symphony at #2 and the Alley Theater at #3. No wonder they even fill the house for a rare Sunday matinee.

The opening number was full of pulsing action with a glistening rendition of The Temptation’s hit, “Get Ready,” that quickly blended into some cute, hip-swinging choreography for its celebration of Wilson Pickett’s, ”Land of 1,000 Dances.” Brad then took center stage with comic flair and his amazing vocal range to weave a warm and lovely reminder of Frankie Valli during “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You.”

LUKE WROBEL

Sassy and sultry Ms. Taylor sparkles while delivering a “Diamonds Are Forever,” full of haunting mystery. The ladies combine forces with deep-voiced Luke for fine vocal blending during a fun-filled “All About That Bass,” that is nicely decorated by moments from the band’s bass guitarist, Long Lee. That G-Sharp Band is named for its longtime Musical Director, keyboardist, Glenn Sharp, and includes Lead Guitarist, Mark McCain, Technical Director, Pat Southard, and Arthur Gilligan on percussion.

Guest Musicians

And celebrating the “Brassy” theme of the production, this show features 3 guest brass musicians always on stage, with Louis Sanchez on trombone, Michael Adamcik on reeds, and Lonney Lalane (known for his work with B. B. King) featured on trumpet. The three would soon offer some great, bluesy back-up for Rebekah during the James Brown hit, “I Feel Good,” which slowly evolved into some snappy and prancing choreography from the cast during the exciting Bruno Mars number, “Uptown Funk.”

With comically outlandish wigs and amusing British accent banter, the guys take on the roles of Neil Diamond (Luke) and Tom Jones (Brad). Luke’s “Crackling Rosie” rocks the room, and Brad’s chest-revealing satin shirt helps keep the ladies attention during his solid, sexy and hip-shaking, “It’s Not Unusual.” Kristina moves us to a calmer segment with the gentle pace of her leisurely and thoughtful, “Dock of the Bay,” before it escalates with assorted fine moments from the guest musicians, and Mr. Gilligan on drums.

Don Payne

And speaking of drums, there was a poignant reflection from director, Sharp, as he spoke of the great affection felt by all for the group’s longtime drummer, Don Payne, who had passed away. It was also revealed that Sharp would be concluding his near decade-long service as Music Director as he moves on to Christian ministry to become a pastor. But that did not prevent him from moving on to a wonderful piano introduction for “New York State of Mind,” before Luke brought laser-like power to that vocal.

Bob Pizzitola

The “Make Me Smile” hit of the band, Chicago, would be the delicious explosion of joy to take us to intermission. La Porte, Texas native, Bob Pizzitola, was in the audience, and he had another reason to smile. During the break, he was the winner of the house raffle drawing for free guest passes to a future Music Box production.

Kristina Sullivan

Act Two has countless more delights like a bubbly full cast “Spinning Wheel,” a poignant Carpenters tribute with Kristina leading a melancholy “We’ve Only Just Begun,” that has mellow back-up from the cast. Brad sports a joyful grin for, “Feeling Stronger Everyday,” while Cay owns the stage with a fluent command of Spanish during her passionate, “Mi Tierra,” full of sensuous and intoxicating moves. There’s lots more with a knockout finale of Bruce Springsteen’s, “Born to Run,” and a dreamy and mysterious “Skyfall,” from Rebekah.

Cay Taylor (right) serenades “Garland and Sinatra”

But whatever you do, don’t miss the savagely funny talk show spoof with Luke as Sinatra, and Ms. Dahl absolutely hilarious capturing the contorted body language, rumpled hairdo, nervous mannerisms, and the hyper-chatter of a Judy Garland clearly under-the-influence. Just wait until you hear Judy’s sage advice about drinking water, but if that doesn’t interest you, remember the Music Box has a bar available for beer, wine and light snacks.

KEEP IT BRASSY 3 continues at the Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, Houston, Texas, through October 19th with performances at 7:30p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, and there will be one Sunday matinee at 2 pm on Oct. 13th. 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, BACK TO the 80’s Again.

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, ATCA, BroadwayStars.com, Cabaret, Houston Chronicle online, Music Box Theater, Nightclubs, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Inc., ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stage Right’s Comical WILD WOMEN Reveal Our Unspoken Dilemma

Cast of THE WILD WOMEN OF WINEDALE
Photo: Michael Pittman

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

Preparing to destroy a treasured family Hummel figurine. (L-R) Renée Poe, Lisa Schofield, Carolyn Corsano Wong.
PHOTO: Michael Pittman

Who among us has not noticed the explosion, in recent years, of the growing industry of storage facilities designed to relieve us of the clutter of all our accumulated “stuff?” In my own family we sometimes joke about it, while all the while knowing it is really no laughing matter.

Stars (L-R) Renée Poe, Lisa Schofield, & Carolyn Corsano Wong keep the laughs going on both sides of the footlights.
PHOTO: DWC Photography

That fact notwithstanding, there are plenty of laughs currently emanating from Conroe’s elegant Crighton Theatre. Before heading home to clean out those closets, why not drop by to enjoy this madcap comedy from Stage Right Productions, directed by Dinah Mahlman? If you do stop by for this latest play in the series of Jones/Hope/Wooten comedies by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope & Jamie Wooten, you will be meeting the three hilarious Wild Women of Winedale. There is a bit of a pun involved in that title as we meet these “wild” women who happen to be three sisters of a certain mature age. We meet the widowed Fanny Wild Cantrelle (Lisa Schofield), who is apprehensively preparing for her 60th birthday (“I thought getting older would take longer!”). She lives in a pleasant but cluttered house (set designer, Mandy Mershon), with feisty sister, Willa Wild, comically played by Carolyn Corsano Wong, whose zany antics never fail to amuse. There, they tend to their mysterious and ailing Aunt Hester, who is reportedly near death as she frequently rings her bedside bell to bring their attention from the other room. Adding to their domestic complications is the uproarious arrival of their semi-hysterical sister, Johnnie Fay “Jef” Wild (Renée Poe), who breaks the news that she is now homeless since her house and possessions have disappeared into a Florida sinkhole.

Lisa Schofield as the hyper-ventilating Fanny in a moment of hysteria.
Photo: DWC Photography

Now it so happens that Fanny is employed at the Museum of Virginia where she is involved in production of a documentary film aimed at “Defining Women,” and celebrating the lives and experiences of various Virginia women being interviewed on camera. This theatrical device allows for periodic breaks from the central story of the ensuing mayhem at the home of the sisters. These brief vignettes, sometimes poignant, sometimes amusing, are performed to the left of the stage by talented actresses that include Danielle Williams, Donna S. Warner, Kaye Thompson, Cheryl Campbell, Mandy Mershon, and Rhea Young. In the process we meet such characters as a pair of elderly friends who find delight in dressing as twins, and another woman who has discovered that “Having twins in your forties is God’s way of saying ‘You have slept enough.’”.

Cheryl Campbell as Nora, the candle maker.
Photo: DWC Photography

There is a sweet woman who works in the Candle Shop in Colonial Williamsburg, and has a cute period costume to match.

A touch of Shirley Temple from Renée Poe as Johnnie Fay.
Photo: DWC Photography

(Designers Leona Hoegsburg & Debbie Preisler, who also supply the uproarious Shirley Temple costume, with red satin trim and pantaloons, that is worn by Johnnie Fay during the show).

The sisters begin to realize it is time to separate themselves from attachment to “things,” and amid the yard sale chaos that follows, always there is humor. It is aimed at the older generation and should draw big crowds of senior citizens who appreciate finding the laughter in growing old. Lines like, “She’s had so many facelifts that the next one will be a Cesarean,” generate hilarity that brings the house down. Even bits of ironic wisdom like, “You can’t change the past, but you can dwell on it until you’re old and bitter,” add to the fun. Perhaps the more insightful concluding line, from optimistic Fanny, would inspire you to head over to see the show: “We get to choose our next adventures. There’s a whole world out there waiting for us.”

WILD WOMEN OF WINEDALE runs thru sept. 22nd with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday*. Tickets range $17-$26, according to age, with discounts for groups. Reservations are available at www.stage-right.org, or call 936-441-7469 weekdays between 3 and 6 p.m. The Crighton Theatre is at 234 N. Main in downtown Conroe, Texas.

*PLEASE NOTE: As an added bonus at all performances representative of Montgomery County’s Community Assistance Program will be on hand in the lobby with information on how the organization is “Serving Our Neighbors In Need.” For further details, visit the website at www.cac-mctx.org .

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 AMERICANTHEATRECRITICS.ORG, ATCA, BroadwayStars.com, Houston Chronicle online, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Inc., Theater Reviews, ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment