Brilliant Minnelli Performance Seems a Song for Our Time


“The People’s Critic”

It was back in another century and another world when I first became aware of a rising talent named LIZA MINNELLI. It was a simpler time in America and the world, and the coming nightmares of September 11th and the current pandemic were inconceivable. I first became aware of this gifted rising star in 1964 when my theater-loving sister, Sally, raved after seeing young Minnelli’s performance in the musical CARNIVAL at New York’s Yonkers Playhouse. Sally was completely charmed by Liza when she had the unexpected opportunity to meet the radiant young performer that very evening, as the two happened to dine in the same restaurant after the show.

As the years went by, Sally and I would have the pleasure of seeing the gifted musical actress co-star with Elliot Gould in THE FANTASTICKS at the Westport Country Playhouse, then on Broadway during Minnelli’s five-week stint in the show, CHICAGO (while standing in for that show’s star, Gwen Verdon), and again when she starred in another Broadway show called, THE ACT. We even had a later opportunity to meet Liza after enjoying one of her splendid concerts in a huge Atlantic City showroom. A security guard was kind enough to allow us to greet her after the performance as she glided out of her dressing room with her adorable little dog as escort. I was introduced, and Liza and Sally enjoyed reminiscing a bit about those early days in the musical, CARNIVAL.

Speaking of her concerts brings me to the point of my story on this Presidential Election Eve 2020, here in a very tense America ravaged by the Covid-19 virus. National divisions seem to have many feeling that “the wheels are coming off our wagon” here in America. But I recently came across a Minnelli concert performance that may have a message for us as we ponder our place in the long history of our beloved nation. The song reminds us all that we may have our ups and downs, “But the World Goes ‘Round.” The performance I share at the link below was recorded in Japan as part of the legendary 27-city, 1989 ULTIMATE EVENT World Tour, which co-starred Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Miss Minnelli. It was a time, in the opinion of this critic, when Liza was at the absolute peak of her powers. She was beautiful in a shimmering, light and airy pink dress, just short enough to accent her attractive slim legs as she moved gracefully about the stage while offering an unforgettable vocal performance exemplifying pure perfection. I hope you readers enjoy it as much as I do:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

CINDERELLA Event Supports the Actor’s Fund

My sources tell me that this YouTube video of the classic 1957 Rodgers and Hammerstein’s  “Cinderella,” will be available (in support of, just today, Saturday, March 25th, and tomorrow Sunday, March 26th. One or both of the two links below should take you there to enjoy a very young Julie Andrews in the title role, along with such supporting actors as Kaye Ballard and Edith (Edie) Adams, all combining their talents to create this still charming, black & white antique of the early television era. Enjoy, and do consider a follow-up donation to The Actors Fund.
Best Regards, David Dow Bentley III 
    “The People’s Critic”

” Rodgers & Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA starring Julie Andrews | July 25th-26th” on YouTube

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pandemic Relief from Houston’s MUSIC BOX THEATER

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III     “The People’s Critic”

[Click Any Photo to Enlarge]

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

Is there musical theater after Covid-19? You betcha! And Houston’s MUSIC BOX THEATER is prepared to prove it to you. But before I get into that, let me briefly digress. I would like to first thank the countless readers of who have sent emails and messages of appreciation, encouragement and support during this very challenging time for both theater critics, and for us all.

Arriving audience awaits the cast.

Having said that, it is now my high honor to announce the winner of this year’s award for CLEVEREST TITLE OF A NEW MUSICAL! May I have the envelope please? … [Drum roll]… And the winner is… The Music Box Theater, for “QUARANTUNES Live!” Better still, the show itself is very clever as well. Sporting the usual talented cast of five, (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Cay Taylor, Kristina Sullivan, and Luke Wrobel), this timely new production is built around carefully selected songs, which, in various ways, can serve to comment on the months of pandemic confinement we are all still grappling with.

The Cast Takes the Stage

The opening medley captured that mood perfectly, beginning with a warm, inviting rendition of Neil Diamond’s, Hello Again from Mr. Wrobel, as he nicely accompanied himself on keyboard. The stress we have all endured was well-expressed as Luke joined Brad for the Queen hit, Under Pressure. Wearing a cool summer dress, Miss Taylor then turned up the heat with a sultry performance of the old Peggy Lee hit, “Fever.”

Kristina sings “The Show Must Go On”

At the mention of that now frightening word, some of her Covid-concious cast mates humorously burst forth wielding antiseptic spray. Kristina’s exciting performance of another Queen hit, The Show Must Go On, seemed to summarize what this whole experiment was all about. Miss Dahl’s several months away from the stage seemed to have only enhanced her talents as she delivered a powerful, “That’s Life” with a voice so thrilling that it could have etched fine crystal. She quickly brought that same power to the Melissa Etheridge hit, “Come to My Window,” nicely chosen in this age of being housebound.

The house band was appropriately masked.

Luke and wife, Kristina, honored recently deceased singer, Kenny Rogers, with a stellar duet of “Island in the Stream,” that they would do well to record. With lines like, “…if we rely on each other,” and “…sail away to another world,” that song’s lyrics made me feel we will all come through our current trials. Miss Taylor enhanced that feeling as she followed sweetly with, “What the World Needs Now is Love.” After a few respectable opening notes on his harmonica, Brad carves out another masterful performance with the Hollies’ hit, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” With Rebekah and Cay up front, and glorious harmonizing from the cast, a show highlight would have to be the stunning “Hey, Jude,” that climaxed with Rebekah’s spectacular voice soaring heavenward.

Back in the latter part of the last century I had the privilege of reviewing a New York performance of Crystal Gayle, which, of course, included her signature, “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” Here, dressed in a pretty flowered summer dress with puffed sleeves, we have an absolutely wonderful rendition of that song from Kristina.

A “Hold On” trio from the ladies.

The three gals then combined forces with great vocal blending for a lively trio of, “Hold On.” That was followed by the full cast beautifully delivering a brilliant a cappella arrangement of, “Somebody to Love.” Luke moved on to a fine performance of, “Long December,” and speaking of “long,” he was nicely accompanied by one of the house band’s talented members, guitarist, Long Lee. Miss Taylor’s, “Higher Love,” seemed timely with its references to “facing our fears,” and was enhanced by two of the bands fine guitarists. Reminding one again of Crystal Gayle, Kristina brings silken voice to the Cat Stevens tune, “Wild World,” nicely decorated by Mr. Lee on electric bass. Some playful nonsense arrived as Frank Sinatra (Wrobel), and Judy Garland (Miss Dahl) stumbled on to the stage, cocktails in hand. Rebekah’s hilarious tousled wig, and the stool-sitting angularity of her Garland impression are worth the price of admission as Judy announces, “Drink up! What doesn’t kill you, makes you older!”

A calming voice and guitar from Brad.

Brad calms the mood with a relaxing and beautifully sung, “Take it Easy,” and then, as we all continue to make our way through this Pandemic War, it seemed most appropriate for the ensemble to wind things down with the touching World War II tune, “We’ll Meet Again.” Let’s hope so!

QUARANTUNES Live continues at the Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, Houston, Texas, through July 25th, with performances at 7:30p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, (Except July 4th). For this show only, due to required social distancing & limited seating requirements (Click sidebar at right), all tickets will be $60. There will be one Sunday matinee at 2 pm on July 12th. For tickets and information call 713-522-7722 or visit the website at,

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), 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: . E-mail may be directed to

Posted in American Theatre Critics Association, AMERICANTHEATRECRITICS.ORG, ATCA,, Houston Chronicle online, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Inc., | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Spite of the Crisis, Broadway Bows to “The King” Once More

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III     “The People’s Critic”

On this National Day of Prayer, please allow me to answer one prayer of my own, that this pandemic crisis currently circling the globe would not forever silence Let me first express my thanks to all of my readers who have so kindly sent messages of concern and appreciation for the more than two decades of service to the performing arts that this column has provided to readers across our nation, and beyond. For those finding themselves homebound with a shortage of reading material, the many hundreds of TPC columns can be readily accessed at by simply scrolling down the main page, or perhaps occasionally clicking on the “forward”  or “back” arrows that may be indicated at the close of individual stories. But now, on to the good news.

Tomorrow night (May 8, 2020), and throughout the upcoming weekend, Lincoln Center Theatre will combine forces with to stream LCT’s Tony Award-winning 2015 production of Rogers & Hammerstein’s THE KING & I. The show will be presented without cost to viewers, as the usual subscription fees will be waived on those three days. Why not take a Corona-break and gather the family (six feet apart), to enjoy one of Broadway’s most loved and legendary musicals. Together, WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS!

[Readers wishing more information on the production may visit]:

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), 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: . E-mail may be directed to

Posted in Broadway,, | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

An Icy and Magical Wonderland in Class Act’s FROZEN


Cast members of the Class Act Production of FROZEN JR.

[Special Thanks to Class Act’s  Kristi Tabor for the photo above, and for the six additional new cast photos we now include at the end of this report. Click any photo to enlarge.]

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III     “The People’s Critic”

I’m sure I am not alone in recalling the childhood wonder of curling up with a beautifully illustrated book of Grimm’s Fairytales and the like. There was a special enchantment in being transported to magical kingdoms in the far-off lands of our imagination. So it was that last weekend was the perfect opportunity to revisit such mysterious and wondrous places, right on the stage of the Nancy Bock Center for the Performing Arts here in The Woodlands, Texas. And it was no surprise that such magic would be created by producer, Keith Brumfield’s legendary Class Act Productions youth theatre company, now in its 23rd season of making musical theatre magic several times each year. The vehicle for this latest success is the already very popular story of Disney’s FROZEN, presented here in the “JR.” edition designed especially for young performers. The enormous and talented cast of fifty-five singing and dancing youngsters was beautifully directed by Stacy Jones, with outstanding Musical Direction from Debra Moses, and sensational dance designs from Choreographer, Mieka Phillips. The elegant and very magical costumes of designer, Romy McCloskey were the “icing on the cake” of this beautiful production.

With the Music and Lyrics of Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez, and a Book by Jennifer Lee, the story of FROZEN takes place in the kingdom of Arendelle, ruled by Queen Iduna (Arden Blake) and King Agnarr (Henry McCloskey). The show opens splendidly with the beautifully staged, “Let the Sun Shine On,” and we see the first of many scenes in no need of extensive scenic design because the Disney package includes amazing and colorful projections of the scene on a full back wall the equal of a theater movie screen. That gloriously costumed opening number was full of lovely singing and charming ribbon dancing. Based on the 2013 Disney film of the same name, the real magic here enters the picture when we meet the royal couple’s two daughters, Young Elsa (Fiona Monreal), and Young Anna (Tori Rouswell). It is with their appearance that dangerous magical powers begin to complicate the plot, because the older princess, Elsa, has the frightening ability to freeze anything or anyone that comes under her magic spell. A sweet duet of, “A Little Bit of You,” offers a delicate snowflake ballet with Featured Dancers including Tiffany Twellman (Captain), Arden Blake, Shea McLeod, Addyson Phillips, and Lindsey Twellman. Mischievous Anna coaxes her sister into making snow, and they create a very animated snowman named Olaf (spryly played by Peyton Jones). But the magic backfires as Anna is seriously injured and the sisters are separated in the palace. Events move so quickly that the girls age right before us, as Grace Ann Jones plays “Middle Elsa,” and Cassidy Buday plays “Middle Anna.” The king and queen are tragically lost in a shipwreck at sea before we finally meet the grown Anna (Coral Petillo), and the grown Elsa (Mady Tozer), now reaching her 21st birthday when she can be crowned as queen. Coronation Day is celebrated with “For the First Time in Forever.” The cheerful singing and dancing of the palace staff, and more stunning projection magic creates the convincing illusion of the ceremonial chapel. Anna is smitten with the arrival of handsome Prince Hans (Oliver Tipler), and their sweet song, “Love is an Open Door,” is perfected by the gorgeous surrounding dancing of the ensemble. Before the first act concludes, a bright-eyed and beaming young actor named Matthew Hernandez arrived looking very at home in the amusing role of Kristoff, an ice merchant with a friendly reindeer named Sven. (Delightfully played by Luke Tabor). The pair’s charming duet is a silly delight, followed by a sudden transition from the frozen world as Olaf, the snowman, imagines a tropical world “In Summer.” That world explodes with colorful costumes, gay parasols, and splendid singing from Miss Jones and the great Show Chorus Singers anchoring the production, and nicely closing out Act One on a high note.

Act Two would immediately be full of pleasures of its own, beginning with the Germanic folk dance flavors of the merry and dazzling opening number, “Hygge,” deliciously led by Oliver Tipler in the role of Oaken, the owner of Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post & Sauna. The catchy tune featuring the complex choreography of the dancers whirling concentric circles, and an emerging high-kick line calling to mind the Rockettes, was simply a pure joy to witness. If that was not enough happiness, it was quickly followed by Miss Tozer’s splendid delivery of the show’s iconic and best-know tune, “Let It Go,” which was beautifully embraced by stardust, snow showers, Northern Lights and the graceful ballet dancing of the cast. With that in mind I would like to dedicate this review to my favorite dreamy and beautiful little ballerina, my soon-to-be five year-old niece, “A.J.” As I thought back to the Act One song, “Dangerous to Dream,” I realized  how that notion has never been a problem for Class Act founder, Keith Brumfield. He’s clearly in his 23rd year of fearlessly making dreams come true. BRAVO!

[Click any photo to enlarge.]

King Agnarr (Henry McCloskey) and Queen Iduna (Arden Blake) watch over the young princesses and thee Royal Court.

Members of Class Act’s production of FROZEN JR.

Mady Tozer in the role of Elsa

Prince Hans (Oliver Tipler) proposes to Anna (Coral Petillo)

Elsa (Mady Tozer) delivers the show’s hit song, “Let It Go”

The Reindeer (Luke Tabor) looks on as Peyton Jones animates Olaf, the snowman when greeting Anna (Coral Petillo) and Kristoff (Matthew Hernandez)

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), 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: . E-mail may be directed to

Posted in American Theatre Critics Association, AMERICANTHEATRECRITICS.ORG, ATCA, Broadway,, Class Act Productions, Houston Chronicle online, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Club, The Lambs Inc.,, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Swing Into Spring with BROADWAY AT THE BOX!

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

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III   “The People’s Critic”

It seems that each year at this time I am confronted with the daunting task of trying to summarize the countless delights of the MUSIC BOX THEATER’S latest creative tribute to Broadway musical theatre. This year’s edition, “BROADWAY AT THE BOX 2020,” is perhaps even more difficult to capture in words because the vocal prowess and comedic skill displayed during the two hours of numerous clever sketches seems better than ever. For years I have wondered when this talented little troupe would run out of brilliant ideas, but that just hasn’t happened. Of course the usual suspects are once again on hand with company founders, Rebekah Dahl & Brad Scarborough, ably assisted by Kristina Sullivan, Luke Wrobel and Cay Taylor. They combine forces for two hours of great music and great fun, (nicely supported by the four-member house band), and the result has been the group’s continued dominance in the listings of Concerts & Shows for Houston.

Brad Scarborough

Rebekah Dahl

With Brad and Rebekah presiding, the lively and fun-filled opening number, “Road to Hell,” from the Broadway hit, HADESTOWN, featured the prancing and merry gyrations of the cast, and the infectious melody of the instantly likable tune. Next, from the show, DEAR EVAN HANSEN, Mr. Scarborough brought fierce vocal focus to the song, “Waving Through a Window,” as he skillfully carved out the varied complexities of the powerful number. With a bluesy, gliding and silken voice, Kristina followed with a warm and thoughtful, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” from SHOWBOAT, that was full of tender longing.

Kristina Sullivan

Cay Taylor

Rebekah pairs with Luke for the hilarious, “Sue Me,” from GUYS & DOLLS, and she hits a real homerun beautifully delivering Miss Adelaide’s rapid-fire and tongue-twisting vocal. Miss Taylor was next, offering a beautiful story of dreams not realized with the lovely, “Stars and the Moon,” from SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD. Rebekah then livens up the room entering from the rear of the theater making a slinky, sensuous and seductive trip through the audience singing a raucous, “Turn Back O Man” from GODSPELL, and then joining Brad’s calming Jesus on the stage for the number’s full-cast finale.

Luke Wrobel

Luke Wrobel (left) and Mark McCain

Next, Luke is joined on stage by gifted lead guitarist and band member, Mark McCain, as the two combine forces for the haunting delicacy of Cole Porter’s, “So in Love,” from KISS ME KATE.

Now dear readers I must ask you to trust me on this. Act One concludes with an annual event the Music Box has aptly titled the 7-MINUTE MUSICAL. This year’s offering of the “complete” WEST SIDE STORY is so totally brilliant and so endlessly clever, (for exactly seven minutes anyway), that the racing hilarity of its joys must really be seen to be believed. If you survive all of that, stop by the refreshment bar for beer, wine, cheese, snacks, or “Bottomless Mimosas” during intermission. Then settle down for the jam-packed second half of the show featuring a joyful medley of Jerry Herman songs, and numerous other hits from such shows as ANNIE, WICKED, BOOK OF MORMON, COMPANY, and many others. You are bound to come away realizing that old adage is true, “There’s no business like show business!”

BROADWAY AT THE BOX 2020 continues at the Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, Houston, Texas, through APRIL 18th with performances at 7:30p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, (Except March 20th & 21st), and there will be two Sunday matinees at 2 pm on March 29th and April 5th. Reserved seating for all shows is $41, and General Admission is $31. For tickets and information call 713-522-7722 or visit the website at, where you can also find information about the upcoming show, MOTOWN 2020 AND BEYOND.

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), 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: . E-mail may be directed to

Posted in American Theatre Critics Association, AMERICANTHEATRECRITICS.ORG, ATCA, Broadway,, Houston Chronicle online, Music Box Theater, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Club, The Lambs Inc.,, | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unforgettable Celebration of a “KING,” from Houston Symphony

Steven Reineke with the Houston Symphony Orchestra

By David Dow Bentley III   “The People’s Critic”

Of the countless hit recordings left to us by legendary vocalist, NAT KING COLE, the song “Unforgettable” would certainly rank high on that list. The concert is aptly titled, “UNFORGETTABLE: Celebrating the Nat King Cole Centennial,” and it beautifully describes this weekend’s triumphant performance of the late, great singer’s astonishing body of work, that got under way with Friday’s sensational opening night at Jones Hall. Presiding on the podium was the Houston Symphony’s popular and very high-energy Pops conductor, Steven Reineke, the always enthusiastic and animated maestro, who seems to endlessly appear as the person having the most fun of anyone in the hall. That fact was quickly evident as the tall and handsome conductor sprang into action leading his musicians in a lively arrangement of the explosive big band classic, “One O’clock Jump,” that was notable for the finely woven counterpoints from different sections of the orchestra.

Ryan Shaw

Then it was time to introduce the first special guest performer of the evening with the arrival on stage of sensational vocalist, Ryan Shaw, who immediately captured the flair and easy cool of Mr. Cole with his smooth performance of “Straighten Up and fly Right.” His black jacket and black bowtie combined with an artsy golden shirt that looked a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, and it all seemed to complement his black and gold dreadlocks tied neatly in a bun. (In addition to three Grammy nominations, Shaw has countless stage and concert credits, including starring as Stevie Wonder in the original Broadway production of Motown the Musical). Next, he demonstrated his richly resonant voice and skill as a storyteller, while beautifully capturing the haunting mystery of the Eden Ahbez song, “Nature Boy.”

Then conductor Reineke introduced the second featured performer, Josette Newsam. A native New Yorker, some may have recognized her from her appearances as solo and background vocalist on Today, Live! With Regis and Kelly, or Live! With Kelly and Michael.

Josette Newsam

In a smooth black gown with flared sleeves edged in silver, and beaming with a joyful countenance, she opened with a fierce and feisty, “Orange Colored Sky,” that rocked the room. There was mention of Nat King Cole having been the first black entertainer to have both his own radio and television programs, and it was there that the brilliant Ella Fitzgerald had performed Gershwin’s beautiful, “Embraceable You.” With a voice that could etch fine crystal, Miss Newsam then performed the song herself, and with all due respect to Ella, I have never heard a better performance of that song. It was, indeed, a warm embrace, a tender balm for the soul. With equally marvelous interludes from the orchestra, the result was simply sensational! Then under the warm glow of red-orange lighting, the orchestra would follow with Nelson Riddle’s infectious, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” nicely decorated with seductive accents from both brassy trombone and sax. Following intermission the orchestra would again excel during a multi-layered and ever escalating performance of the “Theme from Route 66.” Shaw followed that with the “Route 66” song, as he demonstrated his extraordinary ability to shift gears while soaring into upper vocal ranges. Other delights in the second half of the program would include a lushly beautiful, “Smile,” and a chic, nightclub-worthy, “Tangerine,” from the orchestra’s fine rhythm section quartet. Josette returned in a stunning cardinal red gown and glittering golden slippers for a poignant and whimsical, “What’ll I Do?” and she would glide through a rendition of Natalie Cole’s hit, “Avalon.” Shaw would provide a sparkling, “Just One of Those Things,” that he may have over-stylized a bit, and then the conductor challenged the audience to identify five King Cole tunes in a lovely medley. (I got 4 out of 5, but couldn’t name the familiar, “Ramblin’ Rose”). There would be several encores, but of course the standout would have our co-stars pairing for “Unforgettable,” lest we forget what a memorable evening it was.

Unforgettable: Celebrating the Nat King Cole Centennial takes place at Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, 615 Louisiana Street, in Houston’s Theater District. For tickets and information, please call 713.224.7575 or visit Final performance is today at 2:30 p.m.

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), 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: . E-mail may be directed to

Posted in American Theatre Critics Association, ATCA,, Concert Reviews, Houston Chronicle online, Houston Symphony, Houston Symphony Pops, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Club, The Lambs Inc., | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TUTS Offers an Unusual Trip with Its Tropical “ISLAND”

The company of the North American tour of “Once on This Island” PHOTO: Joan Marcus

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III     “The People’s Critic”

[Click any photo to enlarge]

I don’t usually assign my readers “homework” in advance of seeing a show, but it seems appropriate in connection with Theater Under the Stars’ current offering of the 1990 Broadway musical, “Once on This Island.” Directed by Michael Arden and featuring the music of Stephen Flaherty, with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, I would suggest that prospective audience members prepare a bit before attending this somewhat unusual, one-act production. (No intermission). I make this recommendation because there is quite a lot going on during this compact and complex 90 minutes on a very crowded stage, and depicting the modest beach-hut world of the lower class on an island in the French Antilles. (Scenic designer, Dane Laffrey). It is a world where the fair-skinned and wealthier descendants of earlier aristocratic French settlers (known as the Grand Hommes) live separately from the island’s darker native peasants.

Mariama Diop as “Little Girl” PHOTO: Joan Marcus

As the play opens, a little girl (Mimi Crossland & Mariama Diop alternate in the role) is terrified by a well-staged and frightening storm that crosses the island. The action that follows is musically guided by a chorus of local Storytellers portrayed by McKynleigh Alden Abraham, Briana Brooks, George L. Brown, Michael Ivan Carrier, Jay Donnell, Alex Joseph Grayson, Phyre Hawkins, Savy Jackson, Tatiana Lofton and Robert Zelaya. They undertake to calm the frightened child by singing the mythical tale of another young island girl named Ti Moune (Courtnee Carter), who according to legend was once caught in a similar storm brought about by Agwe, the god of the sea (Jahmaul Bakare). The raging storm left Ti Moune clinging to a tree to survive the flooding. Because much of this tale is sung rapidly and with distinct island accents, some of the lyrics were not clearly audible for the audience, as was the case in the vibrant and undulating full-company opening number, “We Dance.”

Cassondra James as ‘Erzulie,’ Tamyra Gray as ‘Papa Ge,’ Jahmaul Bakare as ‘Agwe,’ Kyle Ramar Freeman as ‘Asaka,’ & cast of Once on this Island. PHOTO: Joan Marcus

(Choreographer, Camille A. Brown, Music Director, Steven Cuevas). For these reasons I suggest serious readers go online in advance of attendance to become familiar with the plot structure, and perhaps some of the music itself.

That being said, there is a certain mystery and enchantment surrounding this musical folktale that plays out under the glow of dreamlike lighting (designers, Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer). Orphaned Ti Moune is adopted by Mama Euralie (Danielle Lee Greaves) and Tonton Julian (Phillip Boykin), and their haunting song, “One Small Girl,” celebrates Ti Moune’s rescue. Soon she has grown to be a lovely young woman. It is then that we first hear the beautiful voice of Miss Carter, with her lashing vocal power for the prayerful song, “Waiting for Life.” Ti Moune imagines what it would be like to mingle with the wealthy and fast-driving grand hommes who crisscross the island in their fine cars.

Kyle Ramar Freeman as Asaka & Courtnee Carter as Ti Moune PHOTO: Joan Marcus

The gods hear her prayer, and Erzulie, the Goddess of Love (Cassondra James), wishes to give Ti Moune the gift of love, while the sinister Demon of Death called Papa Ge (Tamyra Gray) proposes a challenge to see which is more powerful, love or death. Asaka, the Goddess of Mother Earth (Kyle Ramar Freeman) joins the other gods for the torch-lit and whirling excitement of “And the Gods Heard Her Prayer.” Agwe then creates a storm that causes the car crash of a handsome young grand hommes gentleman named Daniel Beauxhommes (Tyler Hardwick). Ti Moune witnesses the accident and runs to his aid singing the beautiful and haunting, “Finding Daniel.” Miss Carter joins forces with Mr. Boykin and Miss Greaves as Ti Moune and her adoptive parents sing both the tender, “Pray,” and the song titled, “Ti Moune,” which cautions us to, “…choose your dreams with care.” There is also a fascinating shadow play as we hear, “The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes,” but there is great fun ahead as gaily dressed Mr. Freeman (with a fruit-laden headdress that would be the envy of Carmen Miranda), literally lights up the stage as the explosive Mother Earth. Singing, “Mama Will Provide,” he is surrounded by the joyous and whirling chorus of the ensemble.

The company of Once on this Island. PHOTO: Joan Marcus

Unaware that since childhood Daniel has been betrothed to Andrea (Briana Brooks) among his people on the other side of the island, Ti Moune falls in love him. She has saved his life by making a kind of deal with the devil in the person of evil Papa Ge. But for the complicated details of those final chapters you will need to buy a ticket. Don’t forget to do your homework.

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND* continues through Sunday March 1st at Houston’s Hobby Center main stage with performances Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday & Saturday at 8pm, and 2pm matinee performances on both Saturday and Sunday. For tickets visit the website at, or call (713) 558-8887 locally, and (888) 558-3882 (outside of Houston).

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), 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: . E-mail may be directed to

*For a Production preview visit:

Posted in American Theatre Critics Association, AMERICANTHEATRECRITICS.ORG, ATCA, Broadway,, Houston Chronicle online, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Club, The Lambs Inc., Theater Under the Stars,, TUTS | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Crighton’s Pleasant “MILLIE” Avoids Near Calamity

Cast of Crighton Theater’s THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE

                      By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III     “The People’s Critic”

[Click any photo to enlarge]

Lizzie Camp as Millie & Cain Hamilton as Jimmy

It was not your normal Saturday night at the beautiful Crighton Theater last weekend in downtown Conroe, Texas. As might be expected, the current Broadway musical revival of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” from the resident Stage Right Productions Company, was full of many charms from the eager cast of local talent, with lively direction from Manny Cafeo.

Millie leads the flappers

That’s the good news, so let me be more specific. The cheerful musical has Music by Jeanine Tesori & Lyrics by Dick Scanlan (and the latter also collaborated with Richard Morris on the Book). The Roaring Twenties period plotline surrounds the arrival in New York City of young Millie Dillmount (Lizzie Camp) from her native Kansas.

The Priscilla Hotel Girls

She is eager to conquer the Big Apple with her secretarial skills while hopefully finding the well-to-do man of her dreams.

Millie (Left) welcomes new friend, Dorothy (Madison Mapes)

Her bright optimism is quickly challenged as she is robbed on the street, and then suddenly bumps into (literally) a young man named Jimmy (Cain Hamilton), who abruptly advises that she first spend the night at the cheesy Hotel Priscilla that caters to struggling young career girls, and then head back to Kansas where she came from.

Chinese fun from (L-R) Ara Hollyday, Carolyn Wong and Steven Wong

The hotel owner is the conniving and sinister, Mrs. Meers (coyly played for plenty of laughs by Carolyn Corsano Wong). Meers likes nothing better than to capture young girls with no family and ship them off to the Chinese white slavery trade. She has two bumbling Chinese laundry boys (amusingly played by Ara Hollyday and Steven Wong) who want nothing more than to bring their aging mother to America from Hong Kong. (Don’t miss their uproarious Chinese rendition of the song “Mammy,” and the sur titles projecting English translations of their silly banter above the stage).

Millie’s secretarial speed test with Mr. Graydon (Michael Martin).

Meanwhile, during a terrific and tongue-twisting duet of “The Speed Test,” Millie lands a job as personal secretary to the man she hopes to marry, wealthy Trevor Graydon III (Michael Martin), the boss of Sincere Trust Co. Millie’s marriage plan is complicated with the arrival at the hotel of a classy ingénue named Dorothy (Madison Mapes).

Love at first sight for Mr. Graydon & Miss Dorothy

Dorothy soon catches the eye of Mr. Graydon herself during their hilarious first-meeting duet spoofing the style of Nelson Eddy & Jeanette Mac Donald with a medley of “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life”/”I’m Falling in Love with Someone.” It must be mentioned that the secretarial pool of talented young gals in this cast is clearly one of the stars of the show as they bring absolutely wonderful singing and tap dancing to the show, even when rolling around on their office chairs.

The tapping secretaries

Similarly, the many-talented ensemble cast of characters from the hotel light up the show repeatedly with great song and dance for the production’s many lovely tunes. (Choreographer, Dinah Mahlman, Musical Director, Ana Guirola-Ladd).

White tie & tails at the elegant home of Muzzy Van Hossmere (Chrisina Sato)

Also stars of the production were the fabulous costume designs from Abby Cleverly and Denise Schmidt-Debold, giving us a virtual fashion show of Roaring Twenties designs, including sensational fringed flapper dresses for the great Charleston dances, and fabulous evening gowns for chic party scenes at the elegant home of socialite, Muzzy Van Hossmere (Chrisina Sato). Scenic design was sometimes modest with a near-bare stage, excepting the painted backdrop of Manhattan’s skyline.

Another show stopping number and glamorous gown for Muzzy

But on the other hand, Set Designer, Ms. Schmidt-Debold, and her team, have created a very fine, two-tiered Hotel Priscilla, complete with functioning elevator at center stage. Both Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Martin deliver solid vocals, as do Miss Mapes, Miss Sato, and of course, Miss Camp in the title role. Having said that, I would caution that there were some moments when vocalists seemed to come on too strong with lovely lyrics that could be enhanced by the singers simply relaxing a bit to let the song do the work without unnecessary antics.

Now for the promised bad news that could have been much worse. Toward the end of Act One there was a sudden flash of light with a frightening and thunderous crash from somewhere in the theater, and at that same moment a solid object fell from the balcony, landing directly on the head of Woodlands resident, Debbie Little, one of my guests, who was seated right beside me.

Crighton front-house manager, Phil Clarke, took quick action during intermission to re-secure the balcony spotlight.

We soon discovered it was a sizable and solid screw knob that had failed in securing to an upstairs tripod, the enormous long spotlight that was at the edge of the balcony directly above the seats where I and my friends were sitting. By the grace of God we would soon learn that the crash we all heard was the collapse of that heavy spotlight which thankfully fell sideways against the balcony wall and not over the edge of the balcony where it could very well have killed one or more of us below. The show continued, along with a buzz of alarm that circulated among the audience. As Act One ended, two teen-aged youngsters who had been associated with the operation of that spotlight came downstairs in search of the missing screw knob that had struck Miss Little on the head. She was stunned and frightened, but thankfully not seriously injured. Front house manager, Phil Clarke, member of Stage Right’s Board of Directors, quickly came to assist us, and then went upstairs to stabilize that dangerous spotlight situation. Needless to say, we changed our seats for Act Two, and as I write these lines I have just received profuse apologies from Stage Right founder, Carolyn Wong, with the good news that the newly installed balcony spotlights have been repositioned for safety to the rear of the balcony. Perhaps Shakespeare said it best: ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL!

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), 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: . E-mail may be directed to

Posted in American Theatre Critics Association, AMERICANTHEATRECRITICS.ORG, ATCA, Broadway,, Crighton Theatre, Houston Chronicle online, The Courier Columns,, | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Holiday Appetizer from Lone Star Lyric at Ovations

By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III   “The People’s Critic”

[All photos by Click any photo to enlarge]

KELLI ESTES takes center stage at Ovations Night Club

No, it wasn’t a Christmas show. Not yet. That treat is just around the corner for Houston’s popular Lone Star Lyric cabaret, and more about that later. This month’s offering, titled “‘Round Midnight,” was a lush showcase of classic standards from the American Songbook, paired with some of the finest vocal and instrumental talent ever to set foot on the stage at Houston’s chic and cozy nightclub, Ovations.

For this, the group’s 14th Anniversary year, company Artistic Director & Co-founder, Kelli Estes was in fine vocal form, and just as glittering as the stunning necklace she wore about her neck. But on this occasion she was not the lone golden voice on the stage, as she was joined by two Broadway-caliber gents, Lee Gregory and Stephonne Smith.

The LSL Band

But before sampling any of those talents, we first meet LSL’s gifted musicians as the instrumental trio took to the stage to offer the show’s jazzy title tune. Music Director, Rob Hunt, opened the number literally dancing across the keys with a crisp and delightful intro on piano. He was quickly joined by the simmering percussion of drummer, Ben Atkinson, and the solid bass work of Steve Martin. All of that played out under the ever evolving pastel lighting from designer, Jim Elliott.

Lee Gregory

Stephonne Smith

But on to the great musical selections that followed, opening with a unique (and very successful) arrangement for the guys, as Stephonne and Lee performed a most unusual counterpoint duet of, “One for My Baby.” Their deep and powerful baritone voices blended so smoothly I wondered if we should go home right then after such a “tough act to follow.” But not to worry as the band transitioned to seductive Latin rhythms for Kelli’s sparkling, “A Night Like This,” and then handsome Mr. Gregory’s resonant baritone produced a very solid, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” It really did make you want to head to the ballroom, and perhaps it could only have been improved if he had a steamer to smooth his rumpled white suit.

Estes has an intermission chat with The People’s Critic and Bob Pizzitola of LaPorte

Stephonne’s resounding, “All By Myself,” was peppered by playful and wide-eyed flirtations with audience members, but he wasn’t by himself for long as Kelli soon joined the number with a cheerful, “Can’t We Be Friends?”

A tender, “The Girl Next Door” from Mr. Gregory.

Lee returns with a true voice for musical theatre that reminded one of Howard Keel during the, “The Girl Next Door,” adaptation of the original, “Boy Next Door,” more familiar to Judy Garland fans.

Estes goes “blue” for MOOD INDIGO

With spotlights highlighting her lush crown of red hair, Kelli returned with bird-like vocal purity for a restful, “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” that featured a relaxing interlude from the trio. Stephonne shows his story-telling skill with a thoughtful, “Say It Isn’t So,” that ends in a soft vocal whisper, and Lee follows with a vocal laser beam for the fun of “Lulu’s Back in Town.” There’s a nice reflection on the Cotton Club era stars like Ellington, Armstrong & Fitzgerald, as Stephonne offers a memorable, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” The stars would close out Act One with a merry trio of Cole Porter’s, “Let’s Fall in Love.”

The fun would continue following Intermission as Ms. Estes called a talented friend to the stage.

Special Guest:

Audience member, Brooks Christensen, was celebrating his birthday, and proceeded to cheerfully prove his worth as a ragtime pianist with a dazzling and joyous performance of the “Pickles & Peppers Rag.” The cheering audience jumped to its feet. Then it was on to the countless Act Two delights that included the band’s wonderful take on, “Green Dolphin Street,” Stephonne’s prancing, “Pennies From Heaven,” and his smooth as silk, “Satin Doll,” Lee’s sassy and playfully aggressive, “All of Me,” his powerful pairing of, “Impossible,” with “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance,” and his deliciously outlandish and flamboyant, “Just a Gigolo.” Kelli renewed her diva credentials with a feisty, scat-singing of, “My Man,” and a haunting, “In My Solitude,” that smoothly transitioned to a rich, “Mood Indigo” that was bathed in very blue lighting. Then she hit a stunning home run with a masterful, “If You Go Away” that even embraced some of the original French lyrics of “Ne me quitte pas.”

The threesome united for the joyful closing medley of “Why Can’t You Behave,” “Let’s Misbehave,” and “Always True to You.” But they plan more seasonal joy for the fans on December 14th with their upcoming show, HOLIDAY FRUITCAKE, described as a “…decadent dish of holiday hilarity…like any good fruitcake, sweet with plenty of nuts…a classy swingin’ affair full of holiday tunes.” The Ovations Night Club is located in Houston’s Rice Village neighborhood at 2536 Times Blvd. For LSL tickets or information call 917-414-9577, or visit the website at (Email:

A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), 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: . E-mail may be directed to

Posted in ATCA,, Concert Reviews, Houston Chronicle online, Houston Community Newspapers online, Ovations Night Club, The American Theatre Critics Association, The Courier Columns,, | 2 Comments