A True “MADE IN TEXAS” Family Affair at Music Box

Cast of THE  MUSIC BOX Front (L-R) Cay Taylor, Rebekah Dahl, Kristina Sullivan Back (L-R) Brad Scarborough, Luke Wrobel

Front (L-R) Cay Taylor, Rebekah Dahl, Kristina Sullivan
Back (L-R) Brad Scarborough, Luke Wrobel

It was a night to showcase the singers & songwriters of the Lone Star State, and the stars of Houston’s Music Box Theater were certainly up to the challenge with their latest production, MADE IN TEXAS. Rebekah Dahl, the company’s co-founder (along with husband and fellow Masquerade Theatre veteran, Brad Scarborough) gave a Texas-sized welcome to the crowd, and then it was on to a sample of Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey River” that offered just a brief strident moment of excess volume concern until the talented cast members gave an eye-roll to the sound board operator who quickly had the audio back on track. Cast regular, Cay Taylor, followed with a gentle rendition of Buddy Holly’s “Every Day,” and opening performances from Brad and company member, Luke Wrobel made it clear that, like the gals, these boys just keep getting better. A rich, warm and inviting version of Waylon Jennings’ “Luckenbach, Texas” was a special treat. Then the fifth member of this gifted troupe, Kristina Sullivan, offered a tender, delicate and thoughtful rendition of another Willie Nelson hit, “Always on My Mind.” Miss Taylor accompanied herself on guitar for a whimsical version of Kelly Clarkson’s, “Heartbeat Song,” and handled the song’s exciting escalations well.

When it came to the seductive rhythms of the Brooks & Dunn tune, “Neon Moon,” the gifted Mr. Scarborough drove that infectious melody across the finish line like it was some expensive sports car. With his easy and appealing George Strait vocal style, this guy should be picked up for a few nights performing at the Houston Rodeo. (That would again be evident in Act Two when he nails Strait’s “You Look So Good in Love.”) Next, Luke maintained the high standards with the fun of Lyle Lovett’s, “If I had a Boat,” and then rolled right into an appropriately raspy-voiced turn for Kenny Rogers’ “Coward of the County,” that featured nice solos from the gang. Rebekah would close out the first set with a loud and lashing version of Beyoncé’s, “Daddy’s Lessons.”

Following Intermission things got underway with the introduction of gifted fiddler, Alisa Pederson, the talented new member of Music Director, Glenn Sharp’s fine house band. She warmed up the crowd with a medley of “Orange Blossom Special,” “You Are My Sunshine,” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” Next came some rowdy and silly fun as Luke roamed the audience during, Barry White’s “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything.” The “spontaneous” group choreography for the Meat Loaf tune, “’Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” reminds one of a beginner’s exercise class. Recognizing the talents of BJ Thomas, Brad delivers a lilting, layback and delightful, “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” and Cay follows with an “Another Somebody Done Me Wrong Song,” featuring vocal clarity that could etch fine crystal. Kristina gives us a smooth and elegant, “Arthur’s Theme,” by Christopher Cross. Other Act Two treats include “Delta Dawn” (Cay), “He Stopped Loving Her Today” (Luke), “You’ve Got It”, (Kristina), and “Build Me Up From Bones” (Cay). And for those who may have missed the memorable 2011 Music Box production of Damaged Divas, Rebekah reprised her savagely brilliant interpretation of Janis Joplin’s “Me & Bobby McGee.”

BECKETT at The Music Box (Courtesy Photo)

BECKETT at The Music Box
(Courtesy Photo)

My headline hints at the “Family Affair,” of this quintet of players who all met as performers during the golden age of Houston’s famed Masquerade Theatre. Brad and Rebekah became man & wife as did Luke and Kristina. Cay gets teased that she should marry a member of the band. But one more member of the family made his stage debut the night I attended. It was handsome young Beckett Scarborough, and the toddler quickly won the audience over as he sang along with gusto for the group finale of Johnny Nash’s, “I Can See Clearly Now.” It was a night to remember.

MADE IN TEXAS continues at the Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt-Houston, Texas, with 7:30 pm performances on Fridays October 14th & 21st, and a final performance on Saturday October 22nd. Their next production, THE 80’s MIXED TAPE DIARIES, opens on October 29th. 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, Music Box Theater, The Courier Columns, The Villager Columns, ThePeoplesCritic.com, YourConroeNews.com, YourHoustonNews.com | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“MURDER” With Extra Mayhem from TWHS Theatre

Cast of The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 (L-R) Gabi Martinez, Will Prior, Vincent Szutenbach, Lauren Witt, Chance Bryant, Gabrielle Shuttee, Emily Hammer, Kat Meyer, Mike Candy, Anthony Shortt, Nolan Heermann PHOTO: Mallory Holt.

Cast of The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 (L-R) Gabi Martinez, Will Prior, Vincent Szutenbach, Lauren Witt, Chance Bryant, Gabrielle Shuttee, Emily Hammer, Kat Meyer, Mike Candy, Anthony Shortt, Nolan Heermann
PHOTO: Mallory Holt.

There is a certain buzz of energy, excitement and enthusiasm before the curtain goes up on a high school theatrical production. I remember it well from my schooldays as a young actor in New York, and it was everywhere in evidence when I walked into the auditorium lobby last Saturday night for the closing performance of the Woodlands High School’s production of John Bishop’s amusing 1987 Broadway black comedy, “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.” And 1940 it would be, thanks to the attractive mansion interior set design of Rafa Monardez & Cammie Chauffe, along with the lovely period costume designs of Madeline Gernhard. The two-dozen young “tech heads” collaborating on the production for such elements as sound, props, lighting, hair design, makeup, carpentry, stage management and electrical work, all combined to effectively create this mysterious and often hilarious world of multiple murders at a country estate isolated by a major snowstorm. (Good special effects there every time the French doors opened.)

The talented cast of eager young actors included Gabi Lechtig-Martinez, Gabrielle Shuttee, Anthony Shortt, Mike Candy, Nolan Heermann, Lauren Witt, Chance Bryant, Katerina Meyer, Vincent Szutenbach, Emily Hammer, and Will Prior. The busy two acts that followed would find murder victims hanging in closets, collapsing in chairs and buried in snowbanks. Of course the phrase “Who dun it?” would loom large throughout with fun-filled performances from the cast.

But in an odd twist, not all the action commanding my attention was on the stage. My guest and I had arrived early enough to secure nice seats in the front of the auditorium’s rear section. A short time later, two heavyset and elderly ladies sauntered in carrying hefty tote or handbags as they proceeded to sit directly behind us. When the play began these two ladies began a loud and non-stop crinkling of cellophane that was incredibly distracting and unmistakably rude toward fellow members of the audience, not to mention the two poor souls sitting right in front of them. It crossed my mind that they might be part of the show attempting to precipitate yet another murder in the audience. What they were eating I am not certain of, but the noise continued even when my guest and I took turns looking back to glare of our dissatisfaction. These old gals could not have been more oblivious. Finally, since I did not wish to create a scene while “working” in a theater, we had no alternative but to get up and climb up to available seats in the next-to-last row at the top. That worked pretty well until Act Two when several students climbed up to sit in the row behind us and proceeded to audibly gab non-stop for the duration of the performance. The school may want to introduce a course in Theatre Etiquette. On a happier note, most of the largely student audience behaved appropriately and enjoyed the show.

Posted in Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, John Bishop, Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, The Courier Columns, The TICKET, The Woodlands High School, ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment


Sir Ben Kingsley (left) with Houston Symphony conductor, Andrés Orozco-Estrada (right). PHOTO: Anthony Rathburn

Sir Ben Kingsley (left) with Houston Symphony conductor, Andrés Orozco-Estrada (right).
PHOTO: Anthony Rathburn


It would be a day full of exquisite music. In the afternoon I had the pleasure of viewing a telecast of the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award, a presentation honoring brilliant film composer, John Williams, earlier this summer. The program included a lush sampling of the vast music of this great cinematic genius, and many clips of the related motion picture scenes. It all left me feeling I should revisit so many of the classic films scored by the legendary composer. If that was not enough happiness, a few hours later I would have the thrill of attending last Saturday evening’s elegant Opening Night performance of the Houston Symphony’s new season, and it would mark the 30th anniversary of ConocoPhillips support as the Opening Night Sponsor. And elegant it would be, with the musicians and many of the orchestra’s benefactors and season subscribers arriving on the Jones Hall red carpet dressed beautifully in formal attire in anticipation of the Opening Night Gala that would follow the concert.

Making his debut with the symphony, and adding to the grandeur of the evening, would be the splendid appearance of Oscar-winning actor, Sir Ben Kingsley, in the role of narrator for Prokofiev’s classic masterpiece, Peter and the Wolf, Opus 67. The additional music selected for this concert would come from the opera repertoire, and pleasantly reminded me of a time years ago when I enjoyed season subscriptions for a box at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

The program opened with the orchestra’s thrilling performance of the National Anthem, and the audience joined in singing along with the kind of unusual gusto that may be reserved for a year filled with Presidential election suspense and patriotism. The concert’s first offering was Gioachino Rossini’s Overture to La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie). It opens with an atmosphere of joyous pomp and circumstance that seemed most appropriate to the important occasion that was underway. The pulsing richness of the strings would give way as the conductor, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, momentarily turned toward the audience to conduct the exciting echoing snare drum secreted somewhere in the upper balconies. The work’s tender delicacies and whirling delights would alternate with thunderous percussion that gave the conductor ample opportunity to display his graceful and athletic skill on the podium. As the ever-rising excitement of the piece moved toward the thrilling conclusion, I wondered again (as I did in a review one year ago when Mr. Orozco-Estrada had just taken over as the orchestra’s 15th music director) if the conductor may have been a brilliant ballet dancer in some previous existence.

The second selection from the world of opera would be the Suite from Der Rosenkavalier, Op. 59, by Richard Strauss. Resounding French horns led the way in opening passages as rich and soaring as any climax. Shimmering sections glittered like the countless evening gowns throughout the hall, while others offered a lush, warm embrace so gentle they could be used for stress therapy. There would be moments of unexpected ferocity, soothing sections of waltz, and ultimately a dramatic conclusion that wraps its arms around us and sweeps us away with its power.

Sir Ben Kingsley PHOTO:Jeff Vespa/Contour by GettyImages

Sir Ben Kingsley
PHOTO:Jeff Vespa/Contour by GettyImages

Returning now to the superb narration of Sir Ben Kingsley for Peter & the Wolf, it was a delight from the moment he introduced the related characters and sections of the orchestra: Peter (the strings), Bird (the flute), Duck (the oboe), Cat (the clarinet), Grandpa (the bassoon), Wolf (French horns), and The Hunters (timpani and bass drums). Then it was on to the musical delights of the charming story as Kingsley, looking fit and trim in a handsome tuxedo, brought his rich voice, perfect timing and commanding presence to the task of sharing the classic tale. Just as intended, it was a highlight of the evening.

Posted in American Film Institute, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, BroadwayStars.com, Concert Reviews, Der Rosenkavalier, Gioachino Rossini, Houston Symphony, John Williams, La gazza ladra, Peter and the Wolf, Sergei Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sir Ben Kingsley, The Villager Columns, ThePeoplesCritic.com, Uncategorized, YourHoustonNews.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


(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)

(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.

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