Musical Artistry Prevails on Night of YTA Gala and Concert of Finalists

Young Texas Artists Competition Finalists 2017
PHOTO: Dave Clements
DWC Photography

[Click Any Photo to Enlarge] 

Jim and Susie Pokorski, founder, and chair and executive director of Young Texas Artists Inc., respectively, with Grand Prize winner violinist Douglas Kwon, who took home Gold in the Strings Division.
PHOTO: Brad Meyer

There was an atmosphere of celebration last weekend here in Texas. As folks looked forward to the end of winter’s dark days and the arrival of Daylight Savings Time, students and families prepared to welcome the holiday respite of this week’s Spring Break. If an Overture for this happy time were required, we certainly had it in last Saturday night’s Concert of Finalists, the culmination of this year’s exciting 33rd Annual YOUNG TEXAS ARTISTS Classical Music Competition. With the endlessly energetic Susie Pokorski once again serving as Chair for the event, there was great support from Co-Chairs, Geraldine & Emmett Kelly, and Mimi & Alan “Barb” Sadler.

Performing Arts columnist, Peggie Miller (second from right) joins fellow revelers at the Gala.
COURTESY PHOTO

The evening began once more with the popular Bach, Beethoven and Barbecue Dinner Dance Gala, held this year at Conroe’s beautiful Martin’s Hall, where beer, wine and champagne flowed freely, and guests enjoyed a traditional Texas-style barbecue dinner, along with the popular country sounds of Bill Mock & the Highway 105 Band.

Gala guest, Paulie McDade, joins David Dow Bentley to admire the Martin’s Hall mural of Musical Legends.
COURTESY PHOTO

Emmett Kelly served as Gala Emcee, and guests had the opportunity to bid on assorted gifts, vacation getaways and gourmet dinners, during a live auction conducted by Lady Lyn Howard. That success would raise over six-thousand dollars for YTA. After the formal music competition at the Crighton Theatre across the street, guests would return to the hall to mingle with the contestants while enjoying coffee, dessert, champagne and dancing.

The competition itself was impressive as always, with St. John Flynn serving beautifully as Master of Ceremonies, and Emelyne Bingham again serving as YTA Artistic Director. From around the nation, the esteemed panel of music world luminaries serving as judges included Elizabeth Buccheri, Miyoko Lotto, Maria Schleuning, William Florescu, and Cynthia Estill.

Always a crowd favorite, best-selling author and concert pianist, Jade Simmons, returned to the competition to interview the finalists on stage.
PHOTO: Brad Meyer

Another highlight of the evening would be the revealing on-stage interviews of the contestants by renowned concert pianist and motivational speaker, Jade Simmons. Performing first in the Voice division was soprano, Hanna Lee. Dressed in a soft and flowing charcoal gown topped in shimmering silver, she brought well-controlled and soaring vocal purity to Handel’s “Tornami a vagheggiar” from Alcina. That performance would win her the silver medal 2nd Prize of $1,000. Taking the gold medal 1st Prize of $3,000 in that same division would be mezzo soprano, Brennan Blankenship. Adorned in a rich, cranberry gown with lace shoulders, she connected well with the audience during an amusing and theatrical performance of the pleasantly melodic, “Noble seigneurs, salut!” from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots. She skillfully demonstrated both her wide vocal range and her flair for comedy.

Saxophonist, Harrison Clarke, would win the silver medal 2nd Prize of $1000 in the Winds category, for the jazzy elegance and crisp performance of Lars-Erik Larsson’s “Allegro molto moderato,” from the Concerto for Saxophone and String Orchestra. While navigating the many unexpected twists and turns of the perky and playful piece with smooth transitions, Clarke created moments of distinct intimacy and touched on some of the highest notes ever heard from that instrument. Also in the Winds category, flutist, Charles Gibb, beautifully performed Jacques Ibert’s “Pièce pour flute seule.” Opening with the enchantment of a Pied Piper, the calmly focused Gibb captured all the dreamily whimsical, and melodically wistful qualities of the haunting piece, demonstrating great technical skill during fluid runs across the instrument. That skill would win him the gold medal 1st Prize of $3000 in that division.

Contestants in the Piano division would share some impressive honors. Cascading up and down the keys, Lizhen Wu dazzled the audience during the rapturous opening of the third movement (Allegro Scherzo) from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. The work may have sounded familiar to fans of the film, “The Seven Year Itch,” wherein Tom Ewell plays the Concerto while hilariously fantasizing about seducing Marilyn Monroe. With his crisp and fluid performance, Mr. Wu wove a delicate musical tapestry of romantic excitement that must have seduced his audience, for he would win not only the silver medal 2nd Prize of $1000 in the Piano division, but also the additional $1000 Audience Choice Award. Not to be outdone, pianist, Kyle Orth, delivered a thunderous and thrilling performance of Franz Liszt’s “Totentanz for Piano and Orchestra,” which rippled with prancing excitement, raging passion and violent attack. It would deservedly win him the Piano division’s gold medal 1st Prize of $3000.

In the Strings division, competition was fierce. Violinist, Likai He, brought seductive gypsy flair to Maurice Ravel’s, “Tzigane,” a warmly romantic work that slowly draws us in with increasing intensity. Mr. He’s fine performance captured thrilling frenzy one minute, and quiet delicacy the next, but perhaps it was the galloping passages displaying his mesmerizing skill that brought him the silver medal 2nd Prize of $1000. Meanwhile violinist, Douglas Kwon, bravely tackled Bela Bartok’s “Allegro Molto” from the Violin Concerto No. 2. With savage skill that was immediately apparent, the artist displayed a visibly warm affection for the instrument he plays so well. He brought high-speed virtuosity to a piece that seemed to always turn in unexpected directions before landing Mr. Kwon both the gold medal 1st Prize of $3000 and the evening’s Grand Prize of an additional $3000, capping yet another successful year for YTA.

Posted in Bela Bartok, BroadwayStars.com, Concert Reviews, Franz Liszt, George Frideric Handel, Jacques Ibert, Jade Simmons, Jim Pokorski, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Rachmaninoff, St. John Flynn, Susie Pokorski, The Courier Columns, The TICKET, ThePeoplesCritic.com, Young Texas Artists | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A “DREAMCOAT” Dream Come True from Class Act

Cast members of Class Act’s JOSEPH & the AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT
Photo: By Len Bates

[Click any photo to enlarge.]

It’s that time again. Now entering its 20th season with this 60th production, it seems that every six or seven years Class Act Productions mounts another brilliant staging of the Andrew Lloyd Webber (Music) & Tim Rice (Lyrics) classic musical, JOSEPH and the AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT. The lead role has brought good fortune to stars of the earlier Class Act editions. Lance Kramer starred in 2003 and headed to Hollywood to pursue both theatre and the culinary arts. As a chef known for his Texas-style barbeque (@ChefLanceKramer), Lance paired with his wife to win Runner-Up Champions on television’s “Great Food Truck Race,” in 2014. Meanwhile, Aaron Boudreaux, star of the 2009 edition, went on to New York, gained his Actor’s Equity card, and is now performing in a South Korea production of “Phantom of the Opera.”

Peter McPoland (center) stars as Joseph
PHOTO: by Len Bates

With his warm and soothing voice and stage presence, it would not surprise me if the current production’s star, Peter McPoland, should find future adventures in professional theatre for himself. The handsome lad is every inch the All-American Boy, and in last weekend’s performance at the Nancy Bock Center for the Performing Arts, beams of light seemed to radiate from his joyful performance as the biblical Joseph, a young man greatly loved by his father, Jacob (Collin Rue), but envied by his jealous brothers who cart him off and sell him into slavery. Skillfully directed by Keith Brumfield, the delightful musical adventures that follow find Joseph ultimately becoming ruler of Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh himself.

With lovely voices, both Maddie Bergeron and Payton Russell beautifully guided the unfolding story. They headed what Hollywood used to call, “a cast of thousands,” or so it seemed, with well over a hundred young actors filling the stage in scene after opulent scene. (Set Designer, Jonathan Shelledy, Scenic Designers, Jamie Bautista, Heather Brown & Madison Crisp). A first taste of the pleasant melodies to follow was nicely captured by the “Joseph Orchestra,” beautifully conducted by Music Director, Rae Moses, from the bandstand cleverly mounted high atop the stunning Egyptian palace set.

The Children’s Choir
PHOTO: Len Bates

The opening “Prologue/Any Dream Will Do,” featured not only vocally talented Mr. Poland, but also a superb 22-voice children’s chorus (Director, Debra Moses), that was as thrilling as the exquisite period costumes of designer, Laurie Lewis, that would dazzle the audience throughout the show. Topping that costume list would be the magnificent and colorful coat Jacob gives his son, and proud Joseph eagerly flaunts it during the whirling and joyful song, “Joseph’s Coat.”

Cast of JOSEPH & the AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT
Photo: By Len Bates

With the dancing and singing of the talented Ensemble, that number was so spectacular it could have been a grand finale. Next came the multi-talented cast of Joseph’s eleven rowdy and rebellious brothers during the fine dancing of both the “Joseph’s Dreams” number, and the “Poor, Poor Joseph” that again included the gifted Ensemble and Children’s Chorus. The dance fun then exploded with foot-stomping excitement when the brothers join their wives for the country-style hoedown of “One More Angel in Heaven.” (Choreographer, Mieka Phillips). With the jazzy song, “Potiphar,” the cast brings campy hilarity to celebrating the zoot-suit adorned arrival of Potiphar, the captain of the palace guard (Nidal Wadi). Taylor Parsley plays Potiphar’s wife, as the amusingly unsuccessful seductress of young Joseph, who then finds himself imprisoned during the haunting, “Close Every Door.” The stage is filled with wonder as Act One closes with the colorful splendor and go-go dancing of “Go, Go, Go Joseph,” featuring Joseph and his fellow prisoners, the Butler (Mercer Sadlier) and the Baker (Bill Nowlin).

Peter McPoland as Joseph & Garrett Newlun as Pharaoh.
PHOTO by Len Bates

In spite of a few body-mike audio failures, Act Two was delightful as well. Amid the mystical, ruby-colored lighting of the splendid royal palace and the authentic ancient Egyptian costume designs for the cast, we meet the Pharaoh, played by Garrett Newlun. He delivers a regal and hip-swiveling performance of “Song of the King,” that hilariously echoes the Las Vegas persona of another well-known king named Elvis, while causing Pharaoh’s pretty, dancing followers to faint in their enthusiasm. Joseph gains release from prison when his gift for discerning the meaning of dreams finds favor with the Pharaoh, who rewards him with appointment as second in command of the kingdom.

A Full Cast Rehearsal
PHOTO: Len Bates

Before all ends well with family unity, the brothers light up the stage with the infectious melodies of, “Those Canaan Days,” (led by Brandon Brown), and “Benjamin Calypso” (led by Brandon Brumfield). There was so much more from this enormous and talented cast, but what lingers is the finale reprise of “Any Dream Will Do.” For director Brumfield, however, only dreams of musical theatre excellence will suffice. That dream has clearly come true.

CLASS ACT’s next production will be THE WIZARD OF OZ on July 8, 9, 14, 15 & 16. For details visit the website at http://www.ClassActProductions.org.

Posted in Andrew Lloyd Webber, Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, Class Act Productions, Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Keith Brumfield, The Courier Columns, ThePeoplesCritic.com, Tim Rice | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

BROADWAY returns to Houston via The Music Box Theatre

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

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

I was just beginning to experience withdrawal symptoms after my recent out-of-town travels, but all is well now following my recent return to The Music Box Theatre for the current delightful production of The Music Box Does Broadway. As soon as I entered the cozy club for a Sunday matinee, I overheard one woman saying to another, “You’re gonna love it here! This place is like a party. It feels like a family!” This is one critic who couldn’t agree more. With the popular nightclub now in its sixth successful season, its five talented stars are a family indeed. Founders, Brad Scarborough and Rebekah Dahl are husband and wife, co-stars Luke Wrobel and Katrina Sullivan are married as well. Meanwhile, the group has fun teasing their talented “fifth wheel,” Cay Taylor, about perhaps tying-the-knot with one of the members of the club’s fine G-Sharp Band, under the able direction of Glenn Sharp.

The cast always links their fine vocal numbers with bits of humor and nonsense, and I have to say this edition does that better than ever. I’d say they must have top-notch comedy writers, but I’m sure they do it all themselves. Encouraging visits to the house wine bar, Miss Dahl cautioned first-timers in the audience that, “We’re better when you’re drinking!” (I recommend the tasty available cheese & cracker plate.) Next, with Mr. Wrobel leading the way, the fearless performers brilliantly took on the opening number of Broadway’s challenging blockbuster, HAMILTON, before joking at song’s end, “We are probably the whitest performers that ever sang that song!” Dahl then moved to center stage for a joyful and thrilling rendition of “Defying Gravity” from WICKED. From the show ONE TOUCH OF VENUS, Miss Taylor offered a fragile and delicate, “Speak Low” that was nicely enhanced by the seductive rhythms of the band. Returning to HAMILTON, Wrobel began the gentle wanderings of “Wait for It,” that soon evolved into the song’s exciting and explosive core, with solid back-up from the ensemble. He then joined Scarborough for the raucous fun of a lusty and fun filled “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” from SOUTH PACIFIC.

From the currently running Broadway show, WAITRESS, Miss Sullivan delivered a poignant, “She Used to Be Mine,” that was at once dreamy, visual and wrenching. Scarborough’s “Bring Him Home,” from LES MISÉRABLES was the perfect showcase for an elegant display of the actor’s awesome vocal range and sense of theatre. The cast closed Act One with an uproarious 7-Minute version of the entire musical, GREASE. With clever construction, goofy fun and nicely choreographed antics, it would have worked well as a sketch on the old Carol Burnett Show. Hilarious!

music-box-does-broadway-posterThe band followed intermission with a solid “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and the cast opened Act Two with counterpoint skill for the mellow harmonies of “Skid Row (Downtown)” from the show, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. From The Carol King Musical, BEAUTIFUL, Dahl offers a wistful, “So Far Away,” that is full of loneliness and longing. Her husband followed with an exciting, “Keeping the Faith,” from Billy Joel’s, MOVIN’ OUT, and Miss Taylor seemed to take flight while bringing bird-like sweetness to the song, “Meadowlark,” from THE BAKER’S WIFE. She would have another Act Two winner with her, “ ’Til There Was You,” from THE MUSIC MAN. Wrobel’s title song from CAMELOT was resounding, as was his thrilling, “What Kind of Fool Am I,” from STOP THE WORLD I WANT TO GET OFF. Miss Dahl’s “I Got the Sun in the Morning” from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN was sassy. Sullivan could have etched fine crystal with her joyous, “I Could Have Danced All Night,” from MY FAIR LADY, and Scarborough was suitably brash and cocky delivering, “Gaston,” from BEAUTY & THE BEAST. Of course there would be a feel-good finale, and then it was easy to see the audience had realized the truth of those immortal words: “This place is like a party. It feels like a family.”

THE MUSIC BOX DOES BROADWAY continues through April 1st at the Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, Houston, Texas, with 7:30 p.m. performances on Fridays & Saturdays. There will be 2 p.m. matinees on Sundays March 12th and 26th. 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 Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, Concert Reviews, HERE Lifestyle & Entertainment, Music Box Theater, The Villager Columns, Theater Reviews, ThePeoplesCritic.com, Uncategorized, YourHoustonNews.com | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Splendid Music & Dance Highlight “AN AMERICAN IN PARIS” at TUTS

AMERICAN IN PARIS Touring Company PHOTO by Matthew Murphy

AMERICAN IN PARIS Touring Company
PHOTO by Matthew Murphy

[CLICK ANY PHOTO TO ENLARGE]

It comes as no surprise that the treasured music and lyrics of George & Ira Gershwin can still produce a winner for Broadway. That fact is made abundantly clear in the Broadway national tour of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, now being presented by Theatre Under the Stars at Houston’s Hobby Center. The musical is based on the classic 1951 MGM film of the same name, and if the show’s somewhat wandering book (author, Craig Lucas) is a shortcoming, it really doesn’t matter. The Gershwin’s sublime score combines with the dazzling dancing to nicely rescue any weaknesses in the plot (Director and Choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon). Adding to the glow are the lighting designs of Natasha Katz, which pair creatively with the imaginative projection designs from 59 Productions.

The lightweight plot finds us in 1940’s Paris at the end of World War II. Jerry Mulligan is an American soldier and aspiring artist who decides to remain in the post-war City of Light to hone his craft. In the performance I attended, that part was played by Ryan Steele, who alternates in the role with Garen Scribner.

Neil Spangler, Garen Scribner and Etai Benson with the An American in Paris touring company. PHOTO by Matthew Murphy

Neil Spangler, Garen Scribner and Etai Benson with the An American in Paris touring company.
PHOTO by Matthew Murphy

Before long Jerry is palling around Paree with new chums, Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson) and Frenchman, Henri Baurel (Nick Spangler). Adam is a composer and fellow veteran, while Henri is the son of wealthy industrialists, M. & Mme. Baurel (Don Noble and Gayton Scott). The parents, generous patrons of the arts, expect their son to take his place in the family business. Henri’s domineering mother is determined her son will marry a promising young ballerina named Lise Dassin (Sara Esty). Henri prefers to envision a life as a song-and-dance man. Conflicts arise when Jerry encounters Lise and quickly falls in love with her, not realizing Henri’s mother has already engineered her son’s reluctant engagement to the ballerina. It complicates the love triangle a bit more when pretty American philanthropist, Milo Davenport (Emily Ferranti), encounters handsome Jerry and is struck by his talent as a painter. Soon she has him doing scenic designs for the ballet that Adam is composing, and in which Lise will star. Of course all will end well, but enough about the often far-fetched story line, and on to the main course, the music, which is beautifully performed throughout by the vocally talented cast and ensemble, and with the fine orchestra conducted by Music Director, David Andrews Rogers.

This jazzy Parisian world is first revealed to us in the full company’s shadowy opening ballet set to George Gershwin’s lovely “Concerto in F.” Traditional set designers must be panicking as scenes like this one, looking like an antique postcard with its soft, sepia tones, consist of fleeting phantom images created almost wholly by the increasingly popular projection technology. The enchanting dancing of the cast beautifully fills the scene. Next, our buddy threesome and the ensemble light up the stage with a breezy and infectious, “I Got Rhythm.” We have our first look at the graceful elegance of the petite Miss Esty during the delicacy of the lovely “Second Prelude” ballet.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS Touring Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS Touring Company.
Photo by Matthew Murphy

A few easily mobile set pieces (from Set/Costume Designer, Bob Crowley), quickly transport us to the perfume shop where Lise works. Mr. Steele is an athletic whirling dervish as the smitten Jerry woos her there while dancing, “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck.” Crowley’s lovely pleated pastel dresses for the ladies brighten the scene. There is a lush, warm, “The Man I Love” from the velvet-voiced Esty, and then a joyfully simple and romantic dance duet from her and Steele. He sings the cheerful, “Liza,” and is shortly joined by Benson and Spangler as they blend their voices for a delightfully mellow, “’S Wonderful.” Two more treats close out Act One as Milo flirts with Jerry. Dressed in smashing emerald green satin, Miss Ferranti delivers a vocally excellent, “Shall We Dance,” while the graceful twosome does just that. The full company’s “Second Rhapsody/Cuban Overture” number begins with dreamy sensuousness under an Eiffel Tower skyline, and then becomes a crimson explosion with eye-popping excitement in the fire and smoke of the erotic and richly colorful dancing at the Beaux Arts Ball.

As Act Two gets underway the excitement is building for completion of Adam’s ballet score, set to feature Jerry’s scenic art designs with Lise in the production’s starring role. Henri and his family host them all at a Ballet Board of Director’s meeting in their palatial home. A rather droll entertainment is provided the guests, with the unintended comedy of the clumsy Eclipse of Uranus ballet, which might remind one of the Grecian Urns scene in The Music Man. Jerry is so bored by it that he gets “Fidgety Feet,” that soon have the entire room on its feet and abandoning the classics to embrace the jazzy contemporary dance style Adam is planning for the new production. Ferranti and Spangler offer a haunting, “Who Cares,” and are quickly joined by Steele and Esty in a wonderful counterpoint quartet of, “For You, For Me, For Evermore.” The poignant, “But Not For Me,” from Ferranti and Benson is a whimsical calm before the storm of the two sensational full-company showstoppers that follow. Spangler and Benson lead an “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” that’s a knockout, with glittering showgirls and the top hat/tap dance triumph of its Radio City Music Hall-style chorus line.

Sara Esty & Garen Scribner in An American in Paris PHOTO by Matthew Murphy

Sara Esty & Garen Scribner in An American in Paris
PHOTO by Matthew Murphy

Then we finally see the finished product of the ballet these characters have all been working toward: “An American in Paris.” Brilliantly staged to create the illusion we are watching the production from backstage, it is an epic and lengthy dance piece full of colorful, unexpected and avant garde dance sequences, all beautifully performed by this amazing cast, and by handsome Barton Cowperthwaite as Lise’s partner in the new ballet. After all of that happiness, there was still one more delightful song I won’t reveal, but will pleasantly remember. Let me just say they can’t take that away from me.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS continues through March 5th 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 http://www.thehobbycenter.org, or call (713) 558-8887 locally, and (888) 558-3882 (outside of Houston).

 

Posted in An American in Paris, Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, George & Ira Gershwin, Houston's Hobby Center, Jones Hall, The Villager Columns, Theater Under the Stars, ThePeoplesCritic.com, YourHoustonNews.com | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Glorious MY FAIR LADY at Crighton Theatre

Sara Preisler as Eliza PHOTO: Michael Pittman

Sara Preisler as Eliza
PHOTO: Michael Pittman

[ Click Any Photo to Enlarge ]

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

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

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

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

Michael R. Martin as Professor Higgins PHOTO: Dave Clements

Michael R. Martin as Professor Higgins
PHOTO: Dave Clements

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

Jim King as Col. Pickering PHOTO: Dave Clements

Jim King as Col. Pickering
PHOTO: Dave Clements

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

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

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

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

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

The Cast of MY FAIR LADY Photo: Dave Clements

The Cast of MY FAIR LADY
Photo: Dave Clements

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

Austin Colburn as Freddy PHOTO: Dave Clements

Austin Colburn as Freddy
PHOTO: Dave Clements

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

Travis Bryant as Doolittle PHOTO: Dave Clements

Travis Bryant as Doolittle
PHOTO: Dave Clements

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

The Dancers PHOTO: Michael Pittman

The Dancers
PHOTO: Michael Pittman

The Servants PHOTO: Dave Clements

The Servants
PHOTO: Dave Clements

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

Cast of MY FAIR LADY Photo: Dave Clements

Cast of MY FAIR LADY
Photo: Dave Clements

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

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

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

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

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

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

www.thepeoplescritic.com/2012/08/02/a-midsummer-nights-bunny-for-hso-at-pavilion

www.thepeoplescritic.com/2001/07/22/chaplin-gold-rush-on-friday-the-13th

www.thepeoplescritic.com/2016/02/06/a-symphonic-singin-in-the-rain

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

Constantine Kitsopoulos PHOTO by Lisa Kohler

Constantine Kitsopoulos
PHOTO by Lisa Kohler

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

Courtesy Photo [ Click to enlarge ]

Courtesy Photo
[ Click to enlarge ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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