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:

MARY OWEN addresses holiday gathering of The Lambs

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, 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.,,, 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, 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 or call 844-854-1450.

Posted in Bob Crewe, Bob Gaudio, Broadway,, Houston's Hobby Center, Jersey Boys, The Courier Columns, Theater Reviews,, | 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

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

Posted in, Concert Reviews, George Gershwin, Houston Symphony, Houston Symphony Pops, Jones Hall, Michael Krajewski, Peekskill New York, Rhapsody in Blue, The Courier Columns,, Tony DeSare, Uncategorized, | 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

Posted in, Concert Reviews, HERE Lifestyle & Entertainment, Music Box Theater, MUSIC OF THE 1980'S, The Courier Columns, The Villager Columns,, | 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, or call (713) 558-8887 locally, and (888) 558-3882 (outside of Houston).

Posted in Broadway,, Frank Loesser, How to Succeed, The Courier Columns, Theater Reviews, Theater Under the Stars,, | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

ADDAMS FAMILY’s Spooky Hilarity Launches Halloween Season at Crighton

Cast of Crighton Theatre's Production of THE ADDAMS FAMILY

Cast of Crighton Theatre’s Production of THE ADDAMS FAMILY

I think it can be safely said that in my many pleasant years of reviewing productions at the Crighton Theatre, I have never laughed harder than I did last Saturday night when doubled up in hysterics while enjoying Stage Right’s current offering of the Broadway musical hit, “THE ADDAMS FAMILY.” Let me first confess I was never among the many fans of the popular Addams Family newspaper cartoons of Charles Addams, upon which this musical comedy is based, or the later television show of the same name. With its book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice, and Music & Lyrics by Andrew Lippa, this delightful edition, produced by Carolyn & Steven Wong, is cleverly directed by Brenda Storseth. If it is true that comedy is the most difficult of the dramatic arts, that warning did not frighten Ms. Storseth or her talented cast, as they took the audience on an uproarious ride through the black humor of this very amusing show. That cast, by the way, includes one real Adam in the person of young Adam O’Connor, who plays the ancestral soldier, John Lee Addams.

The silly, but macabre plot, surrounds the very strange Addams family that lives in a spooky, 10,000 square foot mansion which is somehow mysteriously set on two acres of land in New York’s Central Park. (Nicely realized here in grand style by set designer/scenic artist, Denise Debold and Master Carpenter, Jonathan Van Eaton). Stage Right veteran, Katt Gilcrease, suavely portrays the family father, Gomez Addams, a romantic and swashbuckling character with Spanish flair, who tries valiantly to please his unsmiling and very dour wife, Morticia (Jennifer Marshall). The amusingly tall and awkward butler, Lurch, (Bill Schafer) is hilarious as he brings mumbling and stumbling to the level of high art. The whole strange family has a somber, Gothic atmosphere about it, but their teenage daughter, Wednesday (Sara Preisler) is about to cause confusion as she has fallen in love with a normal boy named Lucas (Austin Colburn). Wednesday’s little brother, Pugsley (Ara Hollyday) is especially concerned, fearing his sister will now be too busy to torture him in the family dungeon. Such a relationship with a “normal” person is unheard of as we learn more about this weird family in the opening ensemble number, “When You’re an Addams.”

Audience member and Woodlands resident, Paulie McDade, came spookily dressed for the occasion.

Audience member and Woodlands resident, Paulie McDade, came spookily dressed for the occasion.

Theirs is a world that warmly embraces, “darkness, grief and unspeakable sorrow,” while knowing nothing of joy. The opening scene is a kind of weird gathering at the family cemetery where the ghostly ancestors come forth to join the living and frolic in the “intoxicating smell of the graveyard.” In a clever theatrical device, those ancestors become the talented singing and dancing ensemble that brings much of the fun to scene after scene. (Music Director, Layne Roberts, Choreographer & Make-up designer, Cricket Pepper). The spooky, varied and imaginative costumes (designer, Marieda Kilgore), and creative wigs from designer, Adam Isbell, all combine to bring a fun-filled atmosphere to the show in these weeks leading up to Halloween. But don’t be scared off! With skillful technical direction from Jim Bingham, ghostly aspects of the production (like eerie sounds and lighting) are all designed to amuse and not to frighten. And amuse they do, in this full-house theater that was often roaring with laughter. There were even a couple of timely jokes inserted to highlight this current Presidential election season.

In the role of Uncle Fester, James Colburn gives a larger than life performance lighting up the stage for “Fester’s Manifesto,” as he enlists the ancestors’ aid during Wednesday’s troubling flirtation with the dreaded normal boy. Her loving father, Gomez, is much conflicted as Mr. Gilcrease sings the poignant, “Wednesday’s Growing Up.” Miss Preisler delivers one winner as Wednesday sings of her own conflicts about being “Pulled” in new directions by her love for Lucas, and yet another when she dreams of having just, “One Normal Night.” There is a delightful and decidedly Latin flavor to the musical score as seen early on when Gomez and Morticia duet for the song, “Trapped.” The audience begins to sense a romantic tango is on the horizon, and they will get it during the “Tango De Amor” in Act Two. In between we meet Lucas’ straight-laced parents, his mom, Alice (Cristy Campobella) and his father, Mal (Todd Brady), along with the Addams family’s nutty Grandma (Marilyn Moore) who joins young Mr. Hollyday for the merry speculations of the song, “What If.” Act One ends with the show-stopping spectacle of the mysterious game, “Full Disclosure,” in a twin staircase number that looked like it was plucked from the Ziegfeld Follies. Pretty Ms. Campobella delivered fun with the racy “striptease” of the concluding song, “Waiting,” though not every word of that high speed lyric could be clearly heard.

addams-family-window-displayAct Two delights include the black humor of Morticia’s reminder that death is “Just Around the Corner,” and a glittering, “The Moon and Me,” number that ends with a dazzling and not-to-be-missed laser show encompassing the entire auditorium. There is a tender “Happy Sad” duet from Gilcrease and Preisler, and still another when Miss Marshall joins Gilcrease for the sweetly romantic, “Live Before We Die.” That would be good advice for readers thinking of attending. Get your tickets now before they sell out!

THE ADDAMS FAMILY continues through November 6th at the Crighton Theatre, 234 N. Main St. in Conroe, Texas, with performances Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. For tickets and information call 936-441-7469, or visit the website at

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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

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