TUTS Delights from IN THE HEIGHTS

(L-R) Philippe Arroyo as Sonny, Anthony Lee Medina as Usnavi, Blaine Krauss as Benny & Isabel Santiago as Daniela. PHOTO by Os Galindo

(L-R) Philippe Arroyo as Sonny, Anthony Lee Medina as Usnavi, Blaine Krauss as Benny & Isabel Santiago as Daniela.
PHOTO by Os Galindo

[Click any photo to enlarge]

In 2008 a musical called IN THE HEIGHTS exploded on Broadway to begin what would become a three-year run on the Great White Way that has been followed with countless tours of the production that continue now with the latest offering from Theatre Under the Stars right here in Houston. Directed by Nick DeGruccio, with Musical Direction from Darryl Archibald, the show features music and lyrics by creative young composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, who now rules Broadway again with the reportedly sensational, “Hamilton,” a rap-flavored show known for the highest priced tickets in Broadway history.

Some readers may have seen various recent reports about the upcoming grand opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African History and Culture on the Washington Mall. The CBS This Morning program just featured a “Notes of Change” segment with extensive descriptions of the museum’s recognition of “Hip Hop” music’s impact on American culture as it has evolved from such earlier black musical forms as hymns, jazz, blues, soul and rock & roll, while dating the rap music evolution back to New York’s South Bronx neighborhoods of the late 1970’s. In one recent interview the famed rapper, Ice-T, declared: “We realized this beat was a vehicle for just straight street poetry.”

That concept is perfectly demonstrated here as Mr. Miranda’s In the Heights weaves its musical tale of three days in the world of the Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City. The attractive and appealing set (scenic designer, Anna Louizos) imparts a warm and embracing golden glow to the brick apartment buildings that tower over the assorted local shops surrounding the street below.

Rayanne Gonzales as Abuela Claudia  PHOTO by Os Galindo

Rayanne Gonzales as Abuela Claudia
PHOTO by Os Galindo

A bright blue sky and the east tower of the George Washington Bridge loom in the distance. The central character, Usnavi (Anthony Lee Medina) is our likable narrator throughout the story. He is a hard-working young man who owns a small bodega. He’s very much in love with beautiful Vanessa (Chelsea Zeno), and while his parents died years earlier, he has been much cared for since by the neighborhood’s honorary matriarch, the elderly and beloved, Abuela Claudia (Rayanne Gonzalez).

The Cast of In The Heights PHOTO by Os Galindo

The Cast of In The Heights PHOTO by Os Galindo

The lively and sensational title song opens the show with the sparkling and free-wheeling dancing of the ensemble that will punctuate scene after scene. (Choreographer, Jose Luis Lopez).

Michelle Beth Herman as Nina PHOTO by Os Galindo

Michelle Beth Herman as Nina
PHOTO by Os Galindo

We meet the lovely Nina Rosario (Michelle Beth Herman) a neighborhood hero because she has been a student at Stanford University. But her Mom and Dad (played by April Ortiz & Danny Bolero) are about to learn the college work load was too much for their daughter and she has dropped out.

April Ortiz as Camila Rosario and Danny Bolero as Kevin Rosario PHOTO by Os Galindo

April Ortiz as Camila Rosario and Danny Bolero as Kevin Rosario PHOTO by Os Galindo

Nina is in love with Benny (Blaine Krauss), a young man employed by her father in the family car and limousine service. But she is distraught at her scholastic failure, and soon her parents will clash dramatically over their daughter’s future, and her father will oppose her relationship with Benny. When Miss Herman sings songs like the pleasantly melodic, “Breathe,” and the Act Two duet with Mr. Krauss during the romantic warmth of “Sunrise,” we are in the presence of a wonderful voice. But there are so many fine voices in this cast. Mr. Bolero is sensational as Nina’s father sings, “Inutil,” describing his desperation at not being able to finance her education. Miss Ortiz brings explosive brilliance to the savage, “Enough,” as Nina’s mother demands an end to family squabbling about finances. Then there is perky fun at the neighborhood beauty salon as Vanessa joins shop owner, Daniela (Isabel Santiago) and their colleague, Carla (Alicia Taylor Tomasko), for the gossipy delights of “No Me Diga.” Then the full company delivers a dazzling “96,000,” as it is learned that Usnavi has sold someone a winning lottery ticket in that amount, but I refuse to disclose that winner here. Enter the feisty Abuela Claudia, and boy does Miss Gonzalez hit one out of the park with her impressive voice during the powerful, “Paciencia y Fey” (Patience and Faith).

The Cast of In The Heights PHOTO by Os Galindo

The Cast of In The Heights PHOTO by Os Galindo

Act One closes with an eye-popping nightclub scene with the dancing beautifully illuminated by gorgeous pastel lighting (designer, Steven Young). There are pleasant supporting performances from Philippe Arroyo as Usnavi’s cousin, Sonny, and Jonathan Arana as the singing Piragua Guy who sells flavored ices on hot days. Miss Santiago leads one of Act Two’s many highlights with a sexy, sassy and fun-filled “Carnaval Del Barrio” that evolves into what looks like a joyous conga line with the full cast on stage. There’s a poignant bit of bad news in Act Two as well, but to quote the immortal bard, “All’s well that ends well.” Why not come see for yourself? But keep in mind, unless you are a rapper yourself, it is unlikely you will be able to catch every word of song and dialogue from the amazing rapid-fire delivery of Mr. Medina and other members of the cast.

IN THE HEIGHTS continues through September 25th at Houston’s Hobby Center main stage with performances Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, & Sunday at 7:30 pm, Friday & Saturday evenings at 8pm, and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. For tickets visit the website at www.TUTS.com, or call (713) 558-8887 locally, and (888) 558-3882 (outside of Houston).

 

Posted in Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Smithsonian National Museum of African History and Culture, The Courier Columns, The Villager Columns, Theater Reviews, Theatre Under the Stars, ThePeoplesCritic.com, YourHoustonNews.com | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Crighton’s BLITHE SPIRIT is a Ghostly Affair

(L-R) Megan Nix, Leona Hoegsberg, Carolyn Corsano Wong, Ralph Biancalana, Reid Self PHOTO - Dave Clements/DWC Photography

(L-R) Megan Nix, Leona Hoegsberg, Carolyn Corsano Wong, Ralph Biancalana, Reid Self
PHOTO – Dave Clements/DWC Photography

[Click any photo to enlarge]

After a pleasant summer visiting family and friends in the generally cooler northeast regions of New York and New England, and despite the lingering summer heat and humidity of the Lone Star State, it was still delightful last weekend to join friends here for a return to the many charms of Conroe, Texas. Of course that would begin with some fine dining at Joe’s Italian Restaurant (I heartily recommend the Shrimp Palermo), and then it was on to the always welcoming arms of the Crighton Theatre. A friendly usher named Pat would show us to our seats, and when I commented on the beautifully enameled hummingbird necklace she wore, she proudly explained it was custom made for her by a cousin’s granddaughter. The evening’s offering from the Stage Right Players would be Noel Coward’s ghostly 1941 comedy classic, BLITHE SPIRIT. Having come a bit early we were able to view some of the show-related projections that were quietly screened on stage as the audience arrived. Then lovely director, Bonnie Hewett, took to the stage to give an enthusiastic introduction in which she appropriately reminded the audience that Stage Right is very much a community effort with about “five volunteers behind the scenes for every one performer on the stage.” She went on to say that new volunteers are always welcome.

Maria O. Sirgo as Madame Arcati PHOTO: Dave Clements/DWC Photography

Maria O. Sirgo as Madame Arcati
PHOTO: Dave Clements/DWC Photography

 

The merry substance of this comic plot revolves around an English author and socialite, Charles Condomine (suavely portrayed by Ralph Biancalana), who has a clever research idea to springboard his next novel by inviting a zany clairvoyant psychic named Madame Arcati (a humorous portrayal from Maria O. Sirgo) to conduct a séance in his elegant home. (The charming Victorian set design of Ms. Hewett looks as though it may have borrowed nicely from the local antique stores that border the theater).

Carolyn Corsano Wong, as the ghost of Elvira, terrorizes Edith the maid (Michel Brown Stevens) PHOTO: Dave Clements/DWC Photography

Carolyn Corsano Wong, as the ghost of Elvira, terrorizes Edith the maid (Michel Brown Stevens)
PHOTO: Dave Clements/DWC Photography

Those in attendance for this mysterious dinner party and comical journey into the occult include Charles’ wife, Ruth (a coolly elegant performance from Megan Nix), along with the couples’ curious friends, Doctor & Mrs. Bradman (Reid Self & Leona Hoegsberg). Adding to the mayhem is the Condomine’s ditzy housemaid, Edith (Michel Brown Stevens), who ironically reminds one of the flighty body language of yet another Edith—Edith Bunker of “All in the Family”—as she scurries dutifully in and out trying to attain a bit of elusive elegance as directed by her skeptical employers.

THE SÉANCE (L-R) Megan Nix, Reid Self, Maria O. Sirgo, Leona Hoegsberg, Ralph Biancalana PHOTO: Dave Clements/DWC Photography

THE SÉANCE (L-R) Megan Nix, Reid Self, Maria O. Sirgo, Leona Hoegsberg, Ralph Biancalana
PHOTO: Dave Clements/DWC Photography

The real fun begins when the often uproarious séance results in the manifestation of the ghost of Charles’ first wife, Elvira (a whimsical and fey performance from Carolyn Corsano Wong) who had died seven years earlier. Adding to the merriment is the fact that only Charles can see and hear the ghost. Chaos will of course ensue. The period costumes of Marissa Mascolo nicely complement the scenic design, and there must have been some clever work from Master Carpenter, Jonathan Van Eaton, because before the night is over the set literally begins to take on a spooky life of its own. No wonder Mr. Coward subtitled his original book for the piece, “An Improbable Farce in Three Acts.”

If there are drawbacks here, I would forewarn audiences that the piece is very long. It was closing in on 11 p.m. when the final bows were taken, and it was the first time I recall not one, but two freight trains passing audibly in the night not far from the theater during the performance.

(L-R) Front: Megan Nix, Ralph Biancalana, Carolyn Corsano Wong Back: Maria O. Sirgo, Leona Hoegsberg, Reid Self, Michel Brown Stevens PHOTO: Dave Clements/DWC Photography

(L-R) Front: Megan Nix, Ralph Biancalana, Carolyn Corsano Wong
Back: Maria O. Sirgo, Leona Hoegsberg, Reid Self, Michel Brown Stevens
PHOTO: Dave Clements/DWC Photography

It was interesting to read one historical note regarding the length of Coward’s original 3-act text:

“The playgoer, having seen a performance and turning now to the book, may discover that in the acting version some lines, and in certain cases short scenes, are missing. The explanation is simple: those lines were eliminated on the stage because the play ran far beyond the usual time allotted to a Broadway production and because the necessity of bringing the curtain down at a reasonable and convenient hour seemed essential to the producer.” [Editorial Note for the original edition]

In the opinion of this critic, additional editing would have been useful here, and it would also be helpful if the printed program indicated the run of the scenes and the timing of the much-needed intermission for those who find three hours a long time to sit.

BLITHE SPIRIT continues through September 18th, 2016 with Friday & Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., all at the beautiful Crighton Theatre, 234 N. Main St. in Conroe, Texas. For tickets ($15-$20) and information, call 936-441-7469 or visit the website at www.stage-right.org

The columns of David Dow Bentley III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com. E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic@earthlink.net.

Posted in Blithe Spirit, Broadway, Conroe Courier, Crighton Theatre, Noel Coward, Stage Right Players, Theater Reviews, ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Frothy Fun from Off-Broadway’s MARVELOUS WONDERETTES

Cast of THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES (Courtesy photo)

Cast of THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES
(Courtesy photo)

Wonderettes- Logo

When Christina Bianco (Missy), Diana Degarmo (Suzy), Jenna Leigh Green (Cindy Lou), and Sally Schwab (Betty Jean) come bouncing onto the stage of Off-Broadway’s intimate 100-seat Kirk Theatre at 42nd Street’s Theatre Row, their infectious and joyful energy quickly lights up the room as they begin a fun-filled musical romp through the hit pop tunes of the 1950’s & ‘60’s. Set in 1958, the Marvelous Wonderettes (written and created by Roger Bean/ Directed by Tom D’Angora & Michael D’Angora) focuses on four classmates who have been tapped to provide the entertainment for their Senior Prom at Springfield High School. The gals had already proved their talent as song cheerleaders for the Springfield Chipmunks teams at the school, and with direction from their teacher and squad sponsor, Mr. Lee, they had even proudly won Third Place in the state’s Song Leaders Competition. Now they are given the chance to shine again when Mr. Lee notifies them that the scheduled prom entertainers are unavailable and asks the girls to fill in for the Super Senior Prom with its theme of “Marvelous Dreams.” Thus begins this cheerful trip down a delightful memory lane of tunes from the era.

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

The attractive set design of William Davis sparkles in the lighting designs from Lois Catanzaro and has nicely captured the flavor of a decorated school gymnasiums that some of us might recall from Senior Proms of our own. The bright pastel dresses on the ladies (designer Bobby Pearce) had no shortage of crinoline petticoats, and they would have fit in nicely if this had been a show about square dancing. Throughout the show each of the characters has her own unique costume color: Missy – tangerine, Suzy – blue, Cindy Lou – pink, and Betty Jean – green. Adding to the fun are the deliciously outlandish beehive hairdos from wig designer, Jennifer Mooney Bullock. But on to the main event, the parade of innocent and memorable songs that ruled the airwaves and the music world at a time when loud drums and guitars had not yet combined with coarse language and political overtones to take the pop music scene in new directions.

Courtesy Photo (L-R) Jenna Leigh Green, Christina Bianco & Sally Schwab from the cast of The Marvelous Wonderettes

Courtesy Photo (L-R) Jenna Leigh Green, Christina Bianco & Sally Schwab from the cast of The Marvelous Wonderettes

The show’s virtual smorgasbord of hits (Musical Director, Benjamin Rauhala) opens with the smooth harmonies of, “Mr. Sandman,” and then some flamenco-flavored claps and taps for a very sweet, “Lollipop” that blends gently into, “Sugartime.” It is clear from the beginning that these performers have uniformly fine voices, and audio engineers would do well to avoid overwhelming those talents with excess volume from the recorded soundtrack. Miss Green has fine solo moments for, “Allegheny Moon,” and there is a dreamy quality when the ladies offer both, “All I Have to Do is Dream,” and “Dream Lover.” Miss Degarmo provides a peppy, “Stupid Cupid,” Miss Schwab a perky, “Lipstick on Your Collar,” and Miss Green delivers a rousing, “Lucky Lips.” The lightweight dialogue links these numbers together as the girls engage in some typical cat fighting about boys. There is a nice change of pace when Miss Bianco sings a soaring, “Secret Love,” that really delivers on the line, “Now I shout it from the highest hill.” A nice medley of, “Sincerely,” and “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight,” rounds out the first part of the program.Wonderettes= banner

The show’s printed program failed to include either a song list (which would be helpful to younger audience members unfamiliar with the songs), or any reference to a planned intermission. But there would be a break between the Act One prom scene and the Act Two class reunion scene that takes place ten years later. In that scene the gals are dressed in more disco-flavored costumes with colorful and high-topped patent leather boots and pant suits of shimmering metallic fabrics that looked like something one might see on Star Trek. Act Two numbers include such hits as “Heat Wave,” “You Don’t Own Me,” “I Only Want to Be With You,” “It’s My Party,” “Leader of the Pack,” “Rescue Me,” and “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” All of the action is punctuated by assorted silly rivalries among the girls, disputes about cheating boyfriends, voting for prom queen (with a zany talent competition), crushes on a teacher, etc. Speaking of teachers, one lucky audience member gets selected to come on stage in the role of Mr. Lee. He gets serenaded with the tunes, “Mr. Lee,” “Born Too Late,” and “Teacher’s Pet.” With lightweight choreography from designer, Alex Ringler, there is plenty of cutesy hand jive and assorted moments of movement like the gals alternately bouncing up and down to the beat like the pistons of an engine. Predictable and corny at times? Well yes, and that might have moved one woman seated near me to whisper to her friend, “This is like the Lawrence Welk Show.” Nevertheless, I will borrow a line from Rodgers & Hammerstein and tell you that, “June is busting out all over,” down at the Kirk Theatre. Why not head over there yourself and see why “marvelous” is the operative word?

MARVELOUS WONDERETTES continues at Theatre Row’s KIRK THEATRE, 410 West 42nd Street in Manhattan with performances Sundays at 3pm, Wednesdays at 2:30 & 8:15 pm, and Thursdays at 8:15pm.

Posted in BroadwayStars.com, Kirk Theatre, Marvelous Wonderettes, Off Broadway, Theater Reviews, Theatre Row, ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Music and Youthful Enthusiasm Take Flight on Crighton Stage

Victor Vasquez performing with the Lone Star College-Montgomery JAZZ ENSEMBLE at Crighton Theatre PHOTO: Brad Meyer

Victor Vasquez performing with the Lone Star College-Montgomery JAZZ ENSEMBLE at Crighton Theatre
PHOTO: Brad Meyer

On a pleasant Conroe Saturday night last weekend a parade of young area talent was spotlighted at the Crighton Theatre in a show aptly titled, “Come Fly with Me.” Hosting the program was popular local singer/actor, Victor Suarez, who had worked since last December on assembling and developing this one-night-only showcase of area performers. Anchoring the enjoyable night of music was the impressive 17-piece onstage orchestra of the Lone Star College-Montgomery Jazz Ensemble, directed by Christina Mendoza, Director of Bands at the college.

With a cast made up largely of young people in the early stages of their performing careers, there may have been some backstage jitters that delayed the opening curtain by fifteen minutes. But Crighton Theatre regular, Carolyn Corsano Wong, was at the ready to warm up the crowd with a bit of fun as she humorously reprised her role as gossip columnist, Dora Bailey, from last year’s Crighton production of “Singin’ in the Rain.” Then it was curtain up and things got off to a sensational start with the four experienced pros making up the wonderful barber shop quartet known as Double Infinity. Dressed in handsome formal attire they would bring deliciously smooth, mellow harmonies and elegant tempo shifts to acapella renditions of the songs, “Cabaret,” “Nevertheless,” and “Yesterday.” The audience roared its approval.

The Jazz Ensemble was next to show its polished skill with a performance of “Infernal Jamnation” that was as glittering as the shimmering silver tinsel of the backdrop behind the orchestra. Fine solo moments from various members of the group during the evening would demonstrate the impressive musicianship produced at Lone Star.

Come Fly With Me - publicity photoMr. Suarez was next as he offered “Beyond the Sea,” and a number of Sinatra standards that included, the requisite, “Come Fly With Me,” a “Fly Me to the Moon,” that had some great interludes from the orchestra, and a Spanish version of, “My Way,” (in the style of the Gypsy Kings), that featured fine flamenco flair from guitarists, Magdiel Zuniga and Morgan Van Rensselaer. Gregory Broughton would join Suarez on stage as the handsome gents offered an earnest and passionate rendition of the Sam Smith song, “Lay Me Down.” One additional song on the bill, “What Do I Need with Love?” from the show, Thoroughly Modern Millie, seemed like a number that could have been easily cut from the show.

As the ladies in the cast began to appear, Suarez was joined by Sara Preisler for a perky version of, “You’re the Top.” With talented Richard Kazindzhidi on the eighty-eight, the ensemble followed with a brassy rendition of the tune, “Shirley,” that had fine solo moments from guitar, bass and piano. It is worth noting that Mr. Suarez won 2nd Prize in the recent Montgomery County’s Got Talent Contest. 1st Prize went to Miss Hillary Moore, so it was appropriate that here, the duo would pleasantly team up for the song, “Blue Skies.” A highlight of the evening followed as Lauren Salazar lent her lovely voice in duet with Suarez for the beautiful, “One Hand, One Heart,” from West Side Story.

Double Infinity returned to supply solid back-up as Suarez delivered a fine, “Runaround Sue,” and then the host for the evening had a special Mother’s Day Eve dedication that must have made his Mom & Dad very proud as he sang a, “You Raise Me Up,” that featured nice violin solo moments from Alexa Garza. It was nice to hear Mr. Suarez hopes to organize “Come Fly With Me” as an annual event, and it will be wonderful to see the growth of these young performers. If there were a few nervous moments of too-rapid tempos, fidgety movements or occasional drifting off-key, that just comes with the territory of growing as a young performer. I predict these talented youngsters will continue to grow in skill and self-confidence until one day they will own the stage like the polished old-timers of Double Infinity.

Posted in BroadwayStars.com, Concert Reviews, Crighton Theatre, Frank Sinatra, Lone Star College-Montgomery, The Courier Columns, Theater Reviews, ThePeoplesCritic.com, YourHoustonNews.com | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Merry Mayhem from a “GENTLEMAN” at the Hobby Center

(L-R) Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella, Kevin Massey as Monty and Adrienne Eller as Phoebe. PHOTO: Joan Marcus.

(L-R) Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella, Kevin Massey as Monty and Adrienne Eller as Phoebe.
PHOTO: Joan Marcus.

[Click any photo to enlarge]

My recent trip to Houston’s Hobby Center to view the current national tour production of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” somehow reminded me of the advertising slogan from years ago, “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.” I think in this case we might paraphrase a bit to say, “This is not your father’s Broadway musical.” The show is, in a word, unusual. With Book & Lyrics by Robert L. Freedman, Music & Lyrics by Steven Lutvak, and crisp direction from Darko Tresnjak, it is based on a 1907 novel by Roy Horniman, and its black-humored plot begins in England in that very year. With the tongue-in-cheek mischief of its opening number, we see a spooky group of mourners who look as though they just popped out of some ancient black & white photograph as they sing the playfully ominous, “A Warning to the Audience.” It cautions all present that there may be trouble ahead.

Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro and Mary VanArsdel as Miss Shingle PHOTO: Joan Marcus.

Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro and Mary VanArsdel as Miss Shingle
PHOTO: Joan Marcus.

And trouble there will be as we learn the tale of a poor young man named Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey), whose widowed mother has just passed away. His sadness is pleasantly interrupted when an ancient washerwoman named Miss Shingle (Mary VanArsdel) arrives to pay her respects. In her cheerful and tongue-twisting song, “You’re a D’Ysquith,” she reveals that Monty’s mother was actually highborn of the aristocratic House of D’Ysquith, although the family had long ago disowned and disinherited her for her scandalous elopement with the mere Spanish musician who would be her late husband. Armed with this knowledge, Monty realizes he is ninth in the line of succession to inherit the earldom of Highhurst. His quest to move up that ladder and become the earl is the mischievous device that propels the following merriment and mayhem alluded to in my title. Numerous elements make this journey a pleasant one, beginning with the eye appeal of the unique staging that plays out in a kind of sub-proscenium arch with Greco-Roman accents. Surrounded with its crimson velvet curtain and appropriately blood-red lighting, it embraces the action in a smaller, center-stage space than the usual full staging. Thus, it focuses each colorful scene to look a bit like an antique postcard of the period. (Scenic Design by Alexander Dodge, Lighting Design by Philip S. Rosenberg). Adding to the attractive look of the piece are the colorful period costumes of designer, Linda Cho, especially the elegant dresses and gowns for the ladies.

In addition to the smooth-voiced Mr. Massey, the vocally talented cast has two marvelous and very beautiful sopranos as Monty’s competing love interests, Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams) and Phoebe D’Ysquith (Adrienne Eller). That trio brings abundant slapstick hilarity to the Act Two number, “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” and I agree with audience member, Rick Wessells, who remarked after the show that scenes like that were reminiscent of the zany and frenetic comedies of the silent film era.

John Rapson as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith PHOTO: Joan Marcus.

John Rapson as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith
PHOTO: Joan Marcus.

But we cannot speak of hilarity without turning our full attention to the uproarious and wide-ranging performance of John Rapson, who anchors all this charming nonsense by alternately portraying each and every D’Ysquith family heir (of both genders) throughout the amusingly murderous efforts of Monty to rub them all out and claim the earldom for himself.

(L-R) Lesley McKinnell as Miss Barley, Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro and John Rapson as Asquith D’Ysquith, Jr. PHOTO: Joan Marcus

(L-R) Lesley McKinnell as Miss Barley, Kevin Massey as Monty
Navarro and John Rapson as Asquith D’Ysquith, Jr.
PHOTO: Joan Marcus

Whether heirs “accidentally” fall to their death from a bell tower or slip through the ice while skating on a pond, the laughs keep coming, with the exception perhaps of a dining room scene near play’s end that seemed disorganized with its lack of focus. Meanwhile, the music is pleasant enough with a cast and ensemble that at times seem almost operatic in their skill. (Music Director, Lawrence Goldberg). Phoebe’s song, “Inside Out,” is lovely from Miss Eller, and Massey delivers a richly romantic and resounding, “Sibella.” Other tunes remind one of the rapid-fire patter songs of Gilbert & Sullivan, but some lyrics do get lost amid the speed.

National Tour cast of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder," with John Rapson (center) as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith PHOTO: Joan Marcus.

National Tour cast of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” with John Rapson (center) as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith
PHOTO: Joan Marcus.

When I say, “this is not your father’s Broadway musical,” it is because we are not talking the infectious melodies of Rodgers & Hammerstein here. Audiences are unlikely to go home humming any of these songs from memory, but the tunes work very well to accompany the lighthearted action, and occasional delightful choreography from designer, Peggy Hickey. If folks don’t go home humming, they may at least go home happy.

A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER continues through May 15th at Houston’s Hobby Center main stage with performances Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, & Sunday at 7:30 pm, Friday & Saturday evenings at 8pm, and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. For tickets visit the website at www.TUTS.com, or call (713) 558-8887 locally, and (888) 558-3882 (outside of Houston).

Posted in Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, Houston's Hobby Center, The Courier Columns, The Villager Columns, Theater Reviews, ThePeoplesCritic.com, YourHoustonNews.com | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Houston “…roads take me home…” to the Music Box

PHOTO: Courtesy of Music box Theater (L-R) Brad Scarborough, Rebekah Dahl, Kristina Sullivan, Luke Wrobel

PHOTO: Courtesy of Music box Theater
(L-R) Brad Scarborough, Rebekah Dahl, Kristina Sullivan, Luke Wrobel

Yes, John Denver’s old country classic, “Country Roads,” is still buzzing around in my brain after last weekend’s pleasant opportunity to reacquaint myself with the popular Houston venue of the Music Box Theater. Now fast approaching recognition in the city’s “Top 25” favorite destinations at the popular Trip Advisor website, the increasingly popular nightclub is currently ranked #26 as it prepares to celebrate the club’s continuing success with a “Five Year Anniversary Show,” scheduled to begin next month from May 13-June 18. But no need to wait until then during the current run of the delightful show, “Travelsty,” a fun-filled romp chock full of popular songs selected to salute the upcoming summer travel season as the troupe reprises their 2012 show with the same theme. It was fun then and it’s fun now, with the added bonus that these four talented performers (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Kristina Sullivan and Luke Wrobel) seem even more polished, in both comedy and song, each time I see them. All four of the performers honed their sensational vocal skills during years as members of the memorable Masquerade Theatre at the Hobby Center.

The audience is told early on that the show will describe, “…the places we’ve been and the paths we took to get here.” As the cast delivers a rowdy and solid version of Bruce Springsteen’s, “Born to Run,” the show takes off like a rocket with great support from music director, Glenn Sharp, and his fine band. With the aid of two chairs and two stools, the gang creates the illusion of a crowded car for this amusing, musical cross-country trip. Rebekah laments the high cost of petrol saying, “Gas prices are higher than I was in the mid-nineties,” but they arrive safely at the first stop in Georgia where we hear the delights of, “Midnight Train to Georgia,” and the obligatory, “Georgia on My Mind.” As we move on to The Big Apple there is gentle fun depicting some loud-mouthed New Yorkers. But all is forgiven when Kristina launches into a beautiful, “New York State of Mind,” while under smoky red lighting, Rebekah weaves a sensational counterpoint with “Empire State of Mind.” Soon we find ourselves in Las Vegas as Luke provides a big, bold, Elvis-style, “Viva Las Vegas,” while his cast mates don feather boas to make a shabbily amusing chorus line. (“Downton Abbey” fans may be interested to know that Mr. Wrobel just completed several years as the droll butler, Mr. Rodgers, on the popular weekly PBS follow-up talk show, “Manor of Speaking.”)

Next, there’s a visit to Tennessee as Kristina carves out a lovely, “Walking in Memphis,” with a wistful conclusion. Summer beach lovers will enjoy a visit to the Coney Island Boardwalk as the group delivers a smoothly acapella, “Under the Boardwalk,” with gentle percussion accents from drummer, John Gremmion. Mr. Scarborough again displays his wide vocal range with his falsetto opening for the group’s mystical rendition of the mysterious Eagles hit, “Hotel California,” punctuated with some spooky slow motion strobe lighting. Kristina returns to guide the group for a sweetly mellow quartet of John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High,” and a joyful version of the aforementioned, “Country Roads.”

Courtesy Photo: (L-R) Sullivan, Wrobel, Dahl & Scarborough

Courtesy Photo:
(L-R) Sullivan, Wrobel, Dahl & Scarborough

Wrobel opens Part Two of the program singing a, “Where the Streets Have No Name,” that is full of desperation. Then the devilishly good-looking Scarborough brings smooth naturalness and sassy country flavor to the tune, “Take it Easy,” before Kristina accompanies herself on harpsichord for a pleasant, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” featuring fine banjo work from Long Le in the band. As the action moves to New Orleans, Rebekah brings some snappy sparkle to, “Hey, Lord!” and her husband, Brad, follows with dazzling vocal transitions during, “House of the Rising Sun.” Kristina winds up that segment with a wonderful, “Basin Street Blues,” as Luke adds a bit of Satchmo-style scat singing. Then it’s off to San Francisco, Detroit and of course a final return to Houston. If you’re in town, why not come see for yourself?

TRAVELSTY continues at the Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt-Houston, Texas through May 7th with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm. Reserved seating 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, Music Box Theater, The Courier Columns, YourHoustonNews.com | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

“RUMORS” Leaves Farce Fans Laughing at Crighton

Cast of RUMORS Back (L-R) David Herman, Joey Hancock, Jonathan Rozas, Robert Faber, Allen Dorris, Stella Leland Front (L-R) Sherry Rozas, Melody Montez, Amy Sowers, Jen Watson

Cast of RUMORS
Back (L-R) David Herman, Joey Hancock, Jonathan Rozas, Robert Faber, Allen Dorris, Stella Leland
Front (L-R) Sherry Rozas, Melody Montez, Amy Sowers, Jen Watson

[Photos by David Clements-DWC Photography]

Followers of the comic genius of playwright, Neil Simon, have another chance to sample his oft-times hilarious repertoire with the current Stage Right production of the zany comedy, “Rumors,” now playing at Conroe’s historic Crighton Theatre. Those expecting to attend should plan on arriving early for an additional sampling of the work and wit of Mr. Simon. As has become the pleasant custom at Crighton, there is a cleverly assembled pre-show screening (during the half hour before curtain) of various videos, photos and sound bites related to the theatre’s current offering. In this case, there is a generous dose of movie trailers from Simon films such as “The Sunshine Boys,” and “Murder By Death,” along with hilarious outtakes from the TV series, “The Odd Couple,” and numerous interesting interview clips from Mr. Simon himself. Then, following a brief introduction by director, Travis Bryant, it was on with the show.

The plot of this very nutty farce involves the arrival, one by one, of four elegant couples (formal attire from costume designer, Sydney Elias), who are invited to the tenth wedding anniversary celebration of Charlie Brock and his wife Myra. The gathering is to be held at the Brock’s fashionable townhouse in New York City where Charlie serves as Deputy Mayor. The first couple to arrive, Chris & Ken Gorman (Jen Watson and Robert Faber), find the home apparently empty, but soon discover the host is upstairs recovering from an unexplained gunshot wound through his own earlobe, while his wife and the household servants are missing altogether. When Claire and Lenny Ganz are the next guests to arrive (Amy Sowers & Allen Doris), the Gormans try not to reveal what has happened for fear of a government scandal in the Mayor’s office. Attempts at secrecy get continually more complicated with the arrival of Ernie & Cookie Cusak (Joey Hancock and Melody Montez), and the final guests, Glenn and Cassie Cooper (portrayed by real life husband and wife, Jonathan & Sherry Rozas).

Deanie Harmon & Dennis O'Connor

Deanie Harmon & Dennis O’Connor

The ensuing hilarity involves everything from car accidents to marital spats, not to mention dinner guests having to figure out how to prepare their own dinner. With each silly twist and turn of the convoluted plot, everything is punctuated by a seemingly endless parade of comic entrances and exits, while the players come and go in rapid succession through the numerous doors of this attractive townhouse set that is a star in its own right. A collaborative effort from designer, Deanie Harmon, and Master Carpenter, Dennis O’Connor, the bi-level set is both attractively designed and functional for the action of the piece.

Dennis O'Connor proudly displays the attractive set.

Dennis O’Connor proudly displays the attractive set.

Now by way of way of full disclosure, as a matter of personal taste I sometimes find farce to be tedious. I most often react this way when actors seem intent on telegraphing (perhaps with rolling eyes or exaggerated body language and movement) what they think they must put across as funny. This can be a problem when a clever author like Neil Simon has already built “funny” into the script. It all works best when the characters seem almost unaware of the humor in the comical things they say and do, but we, the audience, can then have the pleasure of discovering what is ridiculous without having to be hit over the head with it. While we sometimes see these dangers played out in this production, it must be said that there was plenty of roaring laughter from the audience throughout the play, and much of it was my own. Happily the hilarity reached its most delicious levels as Act Two moved toward its hilarious conclusion. Special credit for that must go to the strong comic performance of David Herman as Police Officer Welch (with nice assistance from Stella Leland as Officer Pudney). Above all, the closing scene has a memorable and uproarious performance from Mr. Dorris who provides the play’s comic crescendo when he perfectly delivers one of the funniest (and longest) monologues in the comedy repertoire as his character, Lenny, tries to explain the nutty events of the evening to the police. Talk about “Leave ‘em laughing!” Bring along your laugh muscles for that one!

RUMORS posterRUMORS continues through May 1st, 2016 with Friday & Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., all at the beautiful Crighton Theatre, 234 N. Main St. in Conroe, Texas. For tickets ($15-$20) and information, call 936-441-7469 or visit the website at www.stage-right.org

The columns of David Dow Bentley III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com. E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic@earthlink.net.

Posted in "Rumors", Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, Crighton Theatre, Neil Simon, Stage Right Players, The Courier Columns, Theater Reviews, ThePeoplesCritic.com, YourHoustonNews.com | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment