A Glorious MY FAIR LADY at Crighton Theatre

Sara Preisler as Eliza PHOTO: Michael Pittman

Sara Preisler as Eliza
PHOTO: Michael Pittman

[ Click Any Photo to Enlarge ]

It’s literally “off to the races,” for another Stage Right blockbuster with the arrival of the current production of MY FAIR LADY at the Crighton Theatre. Director, Manny Cafeo, has done it again with another splashy Crighton success in the tradition of his earlier productions of “Lend Me a Tenor,” “The Producers,” and one of my own personal favorites, 2015’s, “Singin’ in the Rain.” That latter starred the gifted actress and talented songbird, Sara Preisler. How fortunate we are that Mr. Cafeo has chosen her for this portrayal of heroine, Eliza Doolittle, in the Frederick Loewe (Music) and Alan Jay Lerner (Book & Lyrics) musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s classic comedy “Pygmalion.” By way of full disclosure, I am proud to be a member of America’s oldest theatre club, The Lambs, and it was there in 1950’s New York that members Lerner & Loewe began development of this legendary musical that would break all existing box office records of the day.

Eliza with her father, Alfred Doolittle (Travis Bryant) PHOTO: Dave Clements

Eliza with her father, Alfred Doolittle (Travis Bryant)
PHOTO: Dave Clements

The familiar plot is the Cinderella-like tale of a poor girl who makes her way in the world by selling flowers on the streets of London, but later moves on to a life of wealth and glamour. Her journey begins on a rainy evening as the upper classes are departing the opera house. (The London fog is beautifully captured by Lighting Designer, Steven Wong).

Michael R. Martin as Professor Higgins PHOTO: Dave Clements

Michael R. Martin as Professor Higgins
PHOTO: Dave Clements

Just outside, there is a chance meeting on the street as Professor of Phonetics, Henry Higgins (Michael R. Martin), exits the building and overhears the distinctive Cockney dialect of Eliza (Miss Preisler) trying to sell her flowers to passersby.

Jim King as Col. Pickering PHOTO: Dave Clements

Jim King as Col. Pickering
PHOTO: Dave Clements

Higgins, in fascination, begins making notes on her speech peculiarities, infuriating the indignant Eliza. Overhearing this, coincidentally, is Colonel Pickering (an aristocratic performance from Jim King), a fellow linguist who specializes in Indian dialects. The gents quickly become friends, and Pickering takes up residence in Higgins’ lovely townhouse (One of the many elegant, charming, and easy-to-move set designs from Deanie Harmon Boy.)

Eliza meets the Queen (Deanie Harmon Boy) PHOTO: Dave Clements

Eliza meets the Queen (Deanie Harmon Boy)
PHOTO: Dave Clements

With dreams of one day owning her own flower shop, Eliza soon comes calling in search of speech lessons in hopes of learning “proper” English. When Higgins boasts that he could teach this girl to speak so beautifully he could pass her off in society as a duchess, Pickering quickly challenges him with a wager, and so the fun begins.

But enough about plot details and on to the acting talent, comic skill, musical excellence, choreographic mastery and overall artistry demonstrated by cast & crew under Cafeo’s fine leadership.

The Cast of MY FAIR LADY Photo: Dave Clements

The Cast of MY FAIR LADY
Photo: Dave Clements

Of course the familiar and beautiful songs sustain what could be an overlong theatre experience for a show ending just after 11 p.m. The very articulate Mr. Martin gave us a thoroughly believable professor of phonetics, and his vocal skill was best displayed in Act One with songs like “I’m an Ordinary Man,” and a “Why Can’t the English?” that was beautifully supported by the talented ensemble. (Music Director, Ana Guirola Ladd, Vocal Coach, Layne Roberts). With her wonderfully trained voice, the award-winning Miss Preisler was sensational with a dreamy, “Wouldn’t it be Loverly,” a fierce “Just You Wait,” and a triumphant, “I Could Have Danced All Night,” that had her performing with the grace of a swan and the voice of an angel.

Austin Colburn as Freddy PHOTO: Dave Clements

Austin Colburn as Freddy
PHOTO: Dave Clements

Austin Colburn plays Eliza’s eager young suitor, Freddy, and brings a resounding voice to the song, “On the Street Where You Live.”

Travis Bryant as Doolittle PHOTO: Dave Clements

Travis Bryant as Doolittle
PHOTO: Dave Clements

Travis Bryant brings uproarious fun to the role of Eliza’s father, Alfred Doolittle, bringing the house down when he joins the ensemble chorus for the cheerful tunes, “With a Little Bit of Luck,” and “I’m Getting married in the Morning.” There was more comic fun from Carolyn Wong as Henry’s mother, Mrs. Higgins. Carolyn and Stage Right Co-Producer, Steven Wong, her husband, are to be commended for so successfully handling the synchronized sound designs for a production featuring recorded orchestrations that could have been problematic, but happily were not.

The Dancers PHOTO: Michael Pittman

The Dancers
PHOTO: Michael Pittman

The Servants PHOTO: Dave Clements

The Servants
PHOTO: Dave Clements

Adding to the glow of this absolute gem was the imaginative choreography from designer, Dinah Mahlman, so beautifully executed by the talented cast of dancers and household servants. But perhaps the ultimate touch comes from the exquisite costume designs of Debbie Preisler. They were nothing short of stunning. If you don’t believe me, just check out the delightful Act 1, Scene 5 at the Ascot Racetrack. Didn’t I promise you that we were, “off to the races?”

Cast of MY FAIR LADY Photo: Dave Clements

Photo: Dave Clements

“My Fair Lady,” continues weekends thru Feb. 26th at Conroe’s Crighton Theatre, 234 N. Main. Performances are 8pm Fridays & Saturdays, with Sunday matinees at 2pm. For tickets and information call (936) 441-7469 or visit the website at www.stage-right.org/.

Posted in Alan Jay Lerner, Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, Crighton Theatre, Frederick Loewe, My Fair Lady, The Courier Columns, The TICKET, ThePeoplesCritic.com, YourHoustonNews.com | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

An Extra Special EXTRATERRESTRIAL from Houston Symphony’s “E.T.”

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

It was an extraordinary one-night-only event at Jones Hall last Thursday when the Houston Symphony took its place on stage below a large movie screen that was about to display a sensational film in a very sensational new way. Fans of classic American cinema and science fiction have no need of my recounting all the details of the legendary 1982 Steven Spielberg blockbuster, “E.T the Extraterrestrial.” A wondrous fantasy that broke even the colossal “Star Wars” box office records of the day, the captivating story weaves the tale of young ten year-old, Elliot (Henry Thomas), who lives in the suburbs of California close to the nearby forest where an extraterrestrial creature is left behind by a hastily departing alien spaceship. Along with his skeptical older brother, Michael (Robert MacNaughton), and little sister, Gertie (a precocious performance from young Drew Barrymore), Elliot befriends the creature, and the three undertake to keep the presence of this unusual guest in their home a secret from their mother, Mary (Dee Wallace). Enough cannot be said about the solidly convincing performances director, Spielberg, was able to draw from his gifted young actors. That was especially true of Mr. Thomas as the sensitive young, Elliot. His tender performance was nothing short of mystical. The glorious adventures that follow would have a power of their own. But on this occasion, the musical power and majesty of having one of the world’s finest orchestras accompanying the screening of the film in live performance of John William’s magnificent Oscar-winning score, would create a memorable evening for young and old.

This kind of cinematic concert is not entirely new to fans of Houston Symphony, and readers may have seen my earlier tributes to this orchestra for the several such symphonic cinema events linked below, and celebrating everything from Bugs Bunny, to Charlie Chaplin, and even last season’s “Singin’ in the Rain.”:




I mention these earlier concerts to make readers aware that such limited-performance cinematic concerts do take place from time to time, and music fans should be on the lookout for future opportunities to share in what is a truly unique musical experience.

Constantine Kitsopoulos PHOTO by Lisa Kohler

Constantine Kitsopoulos
PHOTO by Lisa Kohler

As for this E.T. performance, it is a splendid addition to that unusual and evermore popular art form. Conductor, Constantine Kitsopoulos, accomplished his twin tasks superbly as his baton perfectly guided the musicians through the entire score, while he was at the same time watching his own individual monitor displaying the progress of the film in order to perfectly synchronize the music with the screen. The skills required from all involved in order to accomplish the wonderment of this live miracle would seem to be beyond my wildest imagination.

Courtesy Photo [ Click to enlarge ]

Courtesy Photo
[ Click to enlarge ]

From the ghostly music of the opening credits, through the film’s countless moments of fear, friendship, secrets, danger, hope, and enchantment, conductor, Kitsopoulos and his gifted musicians captured every nuance and emotion as they guided us perfectly to the film’s ultimate destination of tenderness and love. There was tenderness and love as well in the appreciative outburst of the cheering audience that leapt to its feet with shouts of, “Bravo,” at the film’s conclusion.

Posted in Constantine Kitsopoulos, Drew Barrymore, E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Henry Thomas, Houston Symphony, John Williams, Jones Hall, Steven Spielberg | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The “Wonderful Life” of Donna Reed Remembered at Screening for The Lambs

its-a-wonderful-life-posterIt was a holiday season event that had been long in the planning by Shepherd of The Lambs, Marc Baron. As the titular leader of America’s oldest theatrical club, Baron wanted to share Frank Capra’s film classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with an eye to affectionately remembering the half dozen members of The Lambs who had roles in what the New York Times has called, “one of Hollywood’s most lastingly popular films.” Those actors included William Edmunds, Charles Williams, and H B Warner, with major roles for Lionel Barrymore as the sinister Mr. Potter, Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy Bailey, and Henry Travers portraying the beloved character of the guardian angel, Clarence Odbody. The evening would take on a special magic with the guest appearance of Mary Owen, daughter of actress Donna Reed, who co-starred in the film masterpiece with actor James Stewart. The highlight of the evening would be Miss Owen’s sharing of her personal memories and reflections surrounding her mother’s winningly tender, girl-next-door performance as Mary Hatch, opposite Mr. Stewart as the much-conflicted small town banker, George Bailey, who would soon become her husband in the little village of Bedford Falls.

MARY OWEN addresses holiday gathering of The Lambs PHOTO: ThePeoplesCritic.com

MARY OWEN addresses holiday gathering of The Lambs
PHOTO: ThePeoplesCritic.com

Miss Owen began her remarks by explaining that the 1946 movie (which she, herself, had never seen until the 1970’s), was the first return to film by both Stewart and Capra following their service for the war effort during WW II. Stewart enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941 and would rise to the rank of Colonel by war’s end. For his part, Capra served as director for most of the government’s “Why We Fight” propaganda film series during the war. Owen suggested that both men felt a bit of insecurity returning to the world of Hollywood after so long an absence. Regarding her first viewing of the film, Owen sweetly described how astonished she was by her mother’s youth, beauty and her exceptional dancing skill in the picture’s memorable Charleston dance sequence in the gymnasium. (Amazingly, that sliding gym floor and the hidden swimming pool below are reportedly still in use at Beverly Hills High School). Next, the audience learned that Mr. Stewart was apparently a bit hesitant when it came time to film the young couple’s first kiss, but ultimately director Capra was so impressed by the on-screen passion of that moment that he eliminated the dialogue that was to follow lest it diminish the impact.

Owen went on to explain that the film was very unsuccessful in its initial release, and lost money for the producers, but it was interesting to hear Owen’s impression that Mr. Stewart laid some of the blame for the box office failure at the door of her mother, a young ingénue lacking star power and less well known at the time. It was not until holiday telecasts of the film began in the 1970’s that its status as a classic evolved. Stewart must have reassessed his view as well, reportedly telling English broadcaster, Michael Parkinson, in a 1973 interview, that out of all the films he had made, It’s Wonderful Life was his favorite.

On a more intimate level, Owen told of the later discovery of a stash of some 352 letters from adoring servicemen who wrote fan mail to her mother during the war. Among the many messages written in 1944, one read, “It’s lonely here in the jungle. Your photo would help.” Another sent from the southwest Pacific said, “You always remind us of our girls we left behind.” A third, written from Anzio Beach, enthused, “You are a symbol of what we are fighting for…our personal dream girl.”

Jimmy Stewart figure revisits Bedford Falls, the setting of his role in the beloved Christmas movie "It's a Wonderful Life," at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California

Jimmy Stewart figure revisits Bedford Falls, the setting of his role in the beloved Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California

Still other letters surfaced from Reed’s longtime pen pal, Violet. They have been donated to the Donna Reed Heritage Museum & Foundation in her hometown of Denison, Iowa, where one can see the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award that Reed won in 1953 for her performance in From Here to Eternity. One of the letters Reed had written to Violet in 1946 was full of optimism as she spoke of what she hoped was her “big break” film role, and went on to describe her young husband Tony: “He is a wonderful guy, and it’s a wonderful life!”

As Miss Owen concluded her remarks and the screening began, the trademark Liberty Bells of this Liberty Films Production chimed resoundingly to begin the picture’s opening credits. This select audience was off to the world of Bedford Falls to pleasantly and proudly revisit this cinematic gem featuring so many fellow Lambs, while having become such a treasured and integral part of the Christmas season year after year.


Posted in BroadwayStars.com, Charles Williams, Donna Reed, Donna Reed Heritage Museum, Frank Capra, H B Warner, Henry Travers, It's a Wonderful Life, James Stewart, Lionel Barrymore, Marc Baron, Mary Owen, Movie Reviews, The Lambs Inc., TheLambsClub.org, ThePeoplesCritic.com, Thomas Mitchell, Willliam Edmunds | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

JERSEY BOYS Has Hobby Center Crowds Cheering

The Cast of JERSEY BOYS PHOTO BY: Jeremy Daniel

PHOTO BY: Jeremy Daniel

[ All Photos by Jeremy Daniel. Click any photo to enlarge. ]

It has been more than a decade now since I had the pleasure of seeing the Tony Award-winning Broadway hit, JERSEY BOYS, in the Big Apple. The fun has continued ever since with productions and tours around the world, and happily the latest edition has landed this week in Houston’s Hobby Center. Of course it was not the show’s first trip to the Big “H,” and it will doubtless not be the last. At Tuesday night’s opening, it was immediately clear that just about everyone in the sell-out crowd was well-acquainted with the music of Bob Guadio & lyrics of Bob Crew that have made this time honored gem such a perennial classic. Loosely based on the true story, the well-crafted book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice gives us a plot that broadly outlines the evolution of the renowned pop group, Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, during the 1950’s and beyond. It’s been nearly ten years since I reviewed that continuing tour for ThePeoplesCritic.com, and amazingly, as I write these lines, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons are performing a live concert at the Milwaukee Theatre in Wisconsin.

(L-R) Keith Hines, Aaron de Jesus, Cory Jeacoma & Matthew Dailey PHOTO: Jeremy Daniel

(L-R) Keith Hines, Aaron de Jesus, Cory Jeacoma & Matthew Dailey
PHOTO: Jeremy Daniel

With sparkling direction from Des McAnuff, Jersey Boys centers on young Frankie Castelluccio, his early New Jersey ventures into the music business, and his various relationships with fellow musicians that ultimately result in formation of the legendary group that would share his new last name: Valli. Some of the fast-paced scenes in the early going are a bit frantic and hard to follow, but it really doesn’t matter because it is the treasured pop songs that anchor the piece, and give it the energy that continues to thrill audiences after all these years. The solid cast is beautifully led by Cory Jeacoma as Bob Guadio, Keith Hines as Nick Massi, Matthew Dailey as Tommy DeVito, and the sensational Aaron de Jesus as Valli. (Miguel Jarquin Moreland plays that role at the matinee performances, and the soaring falsetto work required for the part makes it easy to imagine why two performances in one day would be a stretch for these talented vocalists). Drew Serkes, in the role of Tommy’s brother, Nick DeVito, lends his fine voice to some of the early numbers like “Silhouettes,” and, “You’re the Apple of My Eye.” Then this musical rocket ship really begins to take off as De Jesus sings a splendid, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and Mr. Dailey powerfully leads the full cast in the popular, “Sunday Kind of Love.”

Jersey mob complications arise from some loan shark arrangements that endanger the group, and Thomas Fiscella is convincing as the crime boss, Gyp DeCarlo, who has an amusing sentimental breakdown when Valli sings the poignant, “My Mother’s Eyes.” Speaking of amusing, Johnny Wexler does a comic turn as the recording studio engineer, and there is a terrific cast of supporting players that excel in multiple roles. The action moves smoothly with the attractive gliding sets (scenic designer, Klara Zieglerova) and colorful lighting (designer Howell Binkley).

Kristen Paulicelli as Mary & Aaron de Jesus as Frankie. PHOTO: Jeremy Daniel

Kristen Paulicelli as Mary & Aaron de Jesus as Frankie.
PHOTO: Jeremy Daniel

Of course there is romance as Frankie finds love and marriage with a real gum chewing Jersey girl who could give lessons on how to talk out of the side of your mouth. (Kristen Paulicelli in the role of Mary Delgado). The Four Seasons sound that the fans had really come to hear came into full focus as the polished team takes off in scarlet red guy group jackets (Costume designer, Jess Goldstein) for sensational performances of familiar hits like “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Dawn,” and a “Walk Like a Man,” that has the kind of crisp, marching band choreography that keeps things lively throughout the show (Choreographer, Sergio Trujillo).

 The Angels sing "My Boyfriend's Back" PHOTO: Jeremy Daniel

The Angels sing “My Boyfriend’s Back”
PHOTO: Jeremy Daniel

Life on the road puts fatal strains on the Valli’s marriage and family life with sad implications for their daughter Francine (Leslie Rochette). Before the curtain falls on Act One, Paulicelli and De Jesus deliver a heart-wrenching, “My Eyes Adored You,” as the Valli marriage crumbles.

But not to worry as Act Two delights abound. Consider such ever-popular hits as, “Stay,” “Let’s Hang On (To What We’ve Got), “Bye Bye Baby,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Working My Way Back to You,” and “Rag Doll.”

Cast of "Jersey Boys" PHOTO: Jeremy Daniel

Cast of “Jersey Boys”
PHOTO: Jeremy Daniel

If that’s not enough, stay around for the electrifying encore of “Oh, What a Night.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

PHOTO BY Jeremy Daniel

PHOTO BY Jeremy Daniel

JERSEY BOYS continues at Houston’s Hobby Center through Sunday, November 20, 2016 with performances Friday & Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7:30 p.m. and weekend matinees both Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets & Information visit www.hobby.centerhouston.net/ or call 844-854-1450.

Posted in Bob Crewe, Bob Gaudio, Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, Houston's Hobby Center, Jersey Boys, The Courier Columns, Theater Reviews, ThePeoplesCritic.com, YourHoustonNews.com | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Tony DeSare Dazzles Houston Pops Audience on the Ivories


Tony DeSare PHOTO BY Vincent Soyez

Tony DeSare
PHOTO BY Vincent Soyez

They say “seeing is believing,” but for those lucky enough to attend Opening Night of this weekend’s Houston Symphony Pops concert, “I Love a Piano,” the astonishing performance of pop vocalist & pianist, Tony DeSare, seemed to somehow defy belief. I came somewhat prepared having had the privilege of reviewing the handsome young artist’s stellar performance during the orchestra’s Sinatra Centennial” concert here just one year ago ( See SinatraCentennial ). Now he returns to literally explode across the keys in a mesmerizing celebration of the instrument he’s been passionately drawn to since early childhood.michael-krajewski-photo-by-michael-tammaro

In this, his final season leading the Houston Pops, conductor, Michael Krajewski, arrived onstage to much fanfare as the orchestra played the exciting opening strains from the classic theme of the motion picture, “ROCKY.” He then led his superb orchestra in Mr. DeSare’s arrangement of the “Evolution of Piano Pop Overture,” describing the comprehensive piece as, “a musical piano history from the 1730’s to the present in ten minutes.” It was all that and more, as its familiar musical tidbits ran the gamut from “Chopsticks” and Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” to DeSare’s rich piano sampling of countless musical moments from tunes like “The Entertainer,” “I Got Rhythm,” “As Time Goes By,” “Autumn Leaves,” Great Balls of Fire,” “Lady Madonna,” “Lean on Me,” and dozens more.

Tony DeSare Courtesy Photo www.TonyDeSare.com

Tony DeSare
Courtesy Photo

Then DeSare stepped forward to cheerfully address the audience with the playful and easy confidence of the concert pro he has become. Tall and slender, his boyish good looks might remind one of the young Ricky Nelson. Quickly back at the piano, his mellow voice seemed one with the piano as he delivered a thrilling rendition of Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah, I Love Her So.” The focus then shifted to the orchestra for the serenity of its smoothly intoxicating performance of Debussy’s lovely, “Clair de lune.” DeSare returned to the stage to perform his original composition, “New Orleans Tango.” With its immediate rhythmic enchantment, the richly romantic piano piece had impressively echoing support from the orchestra. It was a highlight of the program.

DeSare travels with his own trio that includes Ed Decker on guitar, Steve Doyle on bass, and Michael Klopp on drums. With his 7-string electric guitar, Decker joined the star to accompany Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman.” DeSare’s vocal was like a warm and intimate conversation, but the guitar settings seemed to compete unnecessarily here. Closing the first part of the program, DeSare brought solid keyboard attack, fierce focus, and more impressive skill to a smiling performance of the Elton John/Bernie Taupin composition, “Philadelphia Freedom.”

TONY DeSARE at work in his Peekskill, N.Y. recording studio.

TONY DeSARE at work in his Peekskill, N.Y. recording studio.

Following the intermission there was a haunting and dreamlike, “Imagine,” with DeSare’s arrangement of that John Lennon classic. Then his playful performance of Irving Berlin’s, “I Love a Piano,” had all the requisite joy and lighthearted fun, in addition to a commanding and high-speed finale. DeSare then performed the quiet reflection of his original song, “How Will I Say I Love You?” With its lovely orchestrations, that number reportedly got favorable notice from none other than Sir Paul McCartney when he was in DeSare’s audience at the chic supper club of New York’s Carlyle hotel. Returning to the music of Billy Joel, DeSare’s piano arrangements for “Root Beer Rag,” brought out all the merriment and colorful hoedown-flavors of the work’s bouncing rhythms. I found myself wondering if the Houston Ballet couldn’t develop a pleasing cakewalk suite based on this piece.

tony-desare-i-love-a-piano-publicityThe pièce de résistance for the evening would be DeSare’s dazzling performance of Gershwin’s pioneering classic, “Rhapsody in Blue.” He explained his boyhood fascination with that challenge from the time his father brought home a CD of the piece. Richly complemented by our magnificent Houston Symphony Pops Orchestra, this concert makes very clear that DeSare has mastered the endless complexities and varied moods of the work with his technical brilliance, focused energy, crisp attack, and the bounding, rapid-fire accuracy of his fluid runs up and down the keyboard. The star’s charming mother had come all the way from New York to see her son’s Houston triumph. I had the pleasure of chatting with her after the concert. I think she summed it up best: “Tony’s talent is a gift from God!”

The final Houston performance of I LOVE A PIANO will be Sunday, November 13, 2016 at 7:30 p.m. in Jones Hall. For tickets and information, please call (713) 224-7575 or visit www.houstonsymphony.org.

Posted in BroadwayStars.com, Concert Reviews, George Gershwin, Houston Symphony, Houston Symphony Pops, Jones Hall, Michael Krajewski, Peekskill New York, Rhapsody in Blue, The Courier Columns, ThePeoplesCritic.com, Tony DeSare, Uncategorized, YourHoustonNews.com | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments


CAST OF THE MUSIC BOX L-R Cay Taylor, Brad Scarborough, Rebekah Dahl, Luke Wrobel & Kristina Sullivan --Courtesy Photo

L-R Cay Taylor, Brad Scarborough, Rebekah Dahl, Luke Wrobel & Kristina Sullivan
–Courtesy Photo

Music fans who enjoy science fiction may be reminded of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” during their next visit to Houston’s popular Music Box Theatre. The company’s current production of The 80’s Mix Tape Diaries,” delivers a generous musical look back at the popular music of that era. To propel this journey, the regular cast (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Kristina Sullivan, Cay Taylor & Luke Wrobel) has invented five imagined characters who were impacted in various ways by the eruption of Mt. St. Helens volcano in 1980. Sullivan portrays a TV news reporter blinded by the eruption, Wrobel is the station weatherman who falls for her, and Dahl is the ditzy “Sally from the valley” who brags she “will go down in the ‘anals’ of history.” Miss Taylor plays a policewoman, and Scarborough brings a polished cockney accent to portraying British pop star, Andrew John Ridgeley, who co-starred with George Michael to comprise the 80’s rock duo, Wham. Now don’t get me wrong. Music is still king at this popular venue, and this is not a play about these lightly sketched characters. They simply provide a device to link the action from song-to-song with brief silly soliloquies, some funnier than others. Miss Dahl humorously introduced the format describing it as “The Vagina Monologues without the vagina.”

mix-tape-diariesBut let us move on to the extensive musical catalogue of the period that is displayed here. By way of full disclosure at the outset, I make no pretensions of holding up rock as my favorite musical genre. That is probably why I first became aware of these talented performers when they starred in the many wonderful Broadway musicals presented year after year by Houston’s late, great Masquerade Theatre. Happily, the skills they honed there are most often central to the musical styles generally offered at The Music Box. In such cases, the really beautiful voices these players possess can be properly showcased without my concern as a critic that any vocal chords (or eardrums) might be damaged by harsh or strident delivery of overly loud numbers from performers who appear to be attacking their microphones. Of course there was plenty of that in the 1980’s, so here we are.

Pleasant highlights in this show include a duet of “Love Lifts Us Up,” from Luke and Kristina that has rich power, notwithstanding a bit too much desperation. There is a pleasantly soft focus from Taylor during an “Eternal Flame,” that has fine back-up from the gang. Luke offers a seductive, “I’m On Fire,” and that warm journey is nicely accompanied on banjo by lead guitarist, Mark McCain, just one of the talents in the house G-Sharp Band led by Music Director, Glenn Sharp. Kristina, walking stick for the blind in hand, stumbles amusingly around the dance floor with Luke during the irony of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Our bemused sympathy for her handicapped character grows when she shares that, “Each morning I stand before my mirror and ask my mother, ‘Mom, am I in front of the mirror?’” But the group soon cheers her while giving the band a rest during their delightful, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” It is superbly done in wonderful acapella style that shows off their fine voices while being reminiscent of the Mills Brothers. The 80’s classic, “We Are the World,” showcased more of the group’s talent as they took turns during that number singing short impressions of such artists as Cyndi Lauper, Lionel Richie, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Diana Ross & Tina Turner.

There were more treats following intermission, including a smooth, mellow duet of “Wicked Games” from Brad and Luke, with the gals supplying the captivating refrain. Rebekah offers a breezy rendition of, “Faith,” with fine harmonies from her cast mates, while her husband, Brad, has a real winner amid mysterious shadowy lighting and subtle guitar while he delivers a “Roxanne” so full of haunting beauty and warmth that even the extraneous ribbon dance going on behind him could not diminish its power. And speaking of power, Kristina soars as well during her solo of “Power of Love.” There is so much more, but during the well-crafted finale pairing Whitney Houston’s, “One Moment in Time,” and the “Purple Rain,” of Prince, I found myself thinking what amazing skill for musical arranging Mr. Sharp must possess. “Sharp” is just the word I was looking for!

mix-tape-diaries-thumbnailTHE 80’s MIX TAPE DIARIES continues through November at the Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, Houston, Texas, with 7:30 pm performances on Fridays & Saturdays, and a final performance at 2 pm Sunday November 27th. Reserved seating for all shows is $37 and General Admission is $27. For tickets and information call (713) 522-7722 or visit the website at www.themusicboxtheater.com.

Posted in BroadwayStars.com, Concert Reviews, HERE Lifestyle & Entertainment, Music Box Theater, MUSIC OF THE 1980'S, The Courier Columns, The Villager Columns, ThePeoplesCritic.com, YourHoustonNews.com | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

HOW TO SUCCEED …With Broadway Fun!

Chris Dwan as J Pierrepont Finch PHOTO by Os Galindo

Chris Dwan as J Pierrepont Finch
PHOTO by Os Galindo

[Click any photo to enlarge. All photos by Os Galindo]

Ever since its opening on The Great White Way more than half a century ago in 1961, composer Frank Loesser’s witty musical satire on the corporate world of big business has been putting smiles on audience faces around the world. With a clever book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock & Willie Gilbert, and the lengthy title of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, the show succeeds in countless ways in this latest edition currently being presented by Theatre Under the Stars in the Sarofim Hall of Houston’s Hobby Center. I had the pleasure of attending with a friend who had worked many years for Chevron Corporation here in town. It amused me that she felt many of the delightfully silly characters and comically absurd situations that make this satirical show such fun, actually reminded her of real people and events from her experience with that noted firm.

The cast of HOW TO SUCCEED

The cast of HOW TO SUCCEED

Beautifully directed (and choreographed) by Dan Knechtges, there is a deliciously eye-popping overall look to the production, with its colorful and creative scenic design from Tom Sturge & David Sumner. The visual artistry seems to tip its hat to the Cubist art movement led by such painters as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in the early 2Ist century. The three-dimensionally layered proscenium is accented by the effective neon lighting designs of Steven Young, and vividly colorful costumes add to the glow (Designer, Rose Pederson). To top it off, musical director, Jeff Rizzo, smoothly guides the wonderful orchestra’s performance of the cheerful score. All of this serves to introduce us to The World Wide Wicket Company, where an ambitious young window washer named J. Pierpont Finch (Chris Dwan) is using every spare moment to read chapters in his little book titled (you guessed it), “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

Stuart Marland as Biggley, Clifton Samuels as Ovington, Arnie Burton as Bert Bratt, and Chris Dwan as J. Pierrepont Finch

Stuart Marland as Biggley, Clifton Samuels as Ovington, Arnie Burton as Bert Bratt, and Chris Dwan as J. Pierrepont Finch

The boyishly handsome Mr. Dwan has a devilish charm as Finch connives his way to success through various adventures and misadventures while swiftly climbing toward the top of the corporate ladder. Along the way he successfully cozies up to such important company executives as the President, J.B. Biggley (Stuart Marland), the personnel manager, Mr. Bratt (Arnie Burton), and the head of the company mailroom, Mr. Twimble, comically portrayed by Kevin Loomis (who also doubles as company CEO, Wally Womper, during Act Two). Loomis brings great fun to the catchy song, “The Company Way,” as Twimble amusingly educates young Finch on how to have a long and successful career with the firm.

Joshua Morgan as Bud Frump

Joshua Morgan as Bud Frump

Complicating matters is Mr. Biggley’s lazy, good-for-nothing nephew, Bud Frump (Joshua Morgan), who schemes to prevent Finch from ever advancing in the company at his expense.

Ryann Redmond as Smitty, Joshua Morgan as Bud Frump and the Cast of How To Succeed

Ryann Redmond as Smitty, Joshua Morgan as Bud Frump and the Cast of How To Succeed

Talented Ryann Redmond plays Rosemary’s friend and fellow secretary, Smitty. During the lively singing and dancing of the “Coffee Break” number, she and Mr. Morgan explode with vocal excitement in the frenzied office panic surrounding an unexpectedly empty coffee urn.

Allyson Kaye Daniel as Miss Jones and Chris Dwan as J Pierrepont Finch

Allyson Kaye Daniel as Miss Jones and Chris Dwan as J Pierrepont Finch

And speaking of explosions, Allyson Kaye Daniel lights up the stage as Executive Secretary, Miss Jones, during the full-cast showstopper, “Brotherhood of Man.” With her powerhouse voice, this talented gal must have anchored many a gospel choir in her time. Wow!

Ashley Blanchet as Rosemary Pilkington

Ashley Blanchet as Rosemary Pilkington

The romantic elements of the show come nicely into focus when Finch meets a lovely company secretary named Rosemary (Ashley Blanchet), who dreams of marrying Finch and having a happy life in the suburbs. The very pretty Miss Blanchet has an elegantly silken voice for winning numbers like, “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm,” and the tender, “I Believe in You.” In fact, it is worth mentioning that this entire cast demonstrates exceptional vocal talent, and that includes the very fine ensemble performances by the secretaries, executives and office staff in splashy numbers like, “A Secretary is Not a Toy,” “Paris Original,” and a Pirate Dance titled “The Yo Ho Ho,” performed as part of the hilarious and company-promoting game show that Finch brainstorms to endear himself to company executives. And speaking of the executives, don’t miss the cleverly staged washroom number, “I Believe in You,” complete with individual sinks and mirrors.

Felicia Finley as Hedy LaRue and the Cast of How To Succeed

Felicia Finley as Hedy LaRue and the Cast of How To Succeed

Of course what would a Broadway show be without a bit of sassy sex? That is amply provided by attractive Felicia Finley, in the role of Hedy LaRue, Mr. Biggley’s full-figured and empty-headed secretary, and secret mistress. Don’t miss their cheerful duet, “Love From a Heart of Gold,” looking a bit like an exaggerated old silent movie scene. Hedy could be aptly declared a “bombshell,” and don’t think the boys in the office haven’t noticed. There’s plenty more to notice in this fun-filled production. Why not pick up a ticket and see for yourself?

HOW TO SUCCEED… continues through November 6th at Houston’s Hobby Center main stage with performances Wednesday, Thursday, & Sunday at 7:30 pm, Friday & Saturday evenings at 8pm, and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. For tickets visit the website at www.TUTS.com, or call (713) 558-8887 locally, and (888) 558-3882 (outside of Houston).

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