Mystical Manifestation of SINATRA at Woodlands Pavilion

BOB ANDERSON as Frank Sinatra at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
COURTESY PHOTO

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

They say that “seeing is believing,” but there are magical times when that old saying seems dramatically challenged. Such was the case last Saturday night when a unique concert titled “FRANK. The Man. The Music” was presented at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands, Texas. Houston area fans of “Old Blue Eyes” were out in force, and although the beautiful venue was not at full capacity on that pleasantly warm spring evening, those fortunate enough to be in the audience would see and hear an event that few would soon forget. In a word, the performance of Bob Anderson* so thoroughly embodied the sound and spirit of the late, great, Frank Sinatra, that it was simply remarkable. To illustrate that, I harken back to some forty years ago when I had the pleasure of escorting my late mother to Radio City Music Hall to see Sinatra in concert. It was a more mature voice than that of the Capitol Records era years before, but it was very wonderful nonetheless. The point I would like to make is this. If, on that occasion four decades ago, Mr. Bob Anderson could have magically walked out on that Music Hall stage in place of Frank Sinatra, I venture to say he could have sung the entire concert and fooled the majority of the audience in the process.

Woodlands Pavilion Courtesy photo

Sporting an elegant black tuxedo at Saturday’s performance, Anderson’s physical appearance, voice, gestures, mannerisms, and overall attitude of “cool,” made it appear he was spiritually “channeling” the Great One. It was breathtaking to see, and an utter joy to hear, accompanied by the 32-piece Vincent Falcone Orchestra that included many talented Houston-area musicians borrowed for the occasion. All of this would be skillfully guided by renowned pianist and Musical Director, Joey Singer.

That brings us to the essence of Sinatra, the seemingly endless catalogue of his immense repertoire. It seemed appropriate that Anderson began the program by giving the audience the musical invitation of a soaring, “Come Fly With Me.” The crowd roared its approval and was rewarded with a warm, embracing, “For Once in My Life.” A jazzy and elegant rendition of Cole Porter’s, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” would feature one of the many legendary Nelson Riddle arrangements to be heard throughout the evening. The lively Anderson would bounce freely about the stage, and then, between numbers, he would punctuate the proceedings by playfully addressing the audience and sharing humorous banter with the band. There would be a visually shimmering, “Moonlight in Vermont,’ and a “My Heart Stood Still,” full of passion. During his delightful, “The Lady is a Tramp,” his smooth gestures seemed to be drawing pictures in mid-air. Delivering a smooth and super-cool, “The Best is Yet to Come,” he then joked with the audience, “I hope you all live to be 100, but I mean no offense to those that are 99.”

Pavilion Staff had the opportunity to meet backstage with Mr. Anderson. (Center)COURTESY PHOTO

Then came a joyful celebration of Chicago with the Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen tune, “My Kind of Town.” Gently tinkling on the ivories with “In the Wee Small Hours,” conductor Singer led into Anderson’s shadowy, well-crafted and melancholy saloon song medley featuring, “Here’s That Rainy Day,” and then, with drink in hand, Johnny Mercer’s classic, “One for My Baby.” Then, with thoughtful instincts for every phrase, Anderson delivered a captivating, “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me.” The snazzy “Luck Be a Lady,” that followed was full of all the energy, power and Vegas pizazz that we associate with Sinatra. A hauntingly beautiful, “It Was a Very Good Year,” proved Anderson’s skill as a master story-teller.

It may have been a bit over-long, but there was an amusing re-enactment of a recording studio session to perfect the final cut of, “I’ve Got the World on a String.” Then came the romantic and rhythmic sounds of Brazilian composer, Antônio Carlos Jobim, as Anderson offered a smooth and relaxed, “In My Loneliness,” and the visually seductive, “Girl from Ipanema.” A brassy, “Here’s to the Band,” celebrated the musicians backing up the star, and then the obligatory, “New York, New York,” had all the dazzling excitement we expect from that Sinatra standard. An absolutely stunning, “Old Man River,” was followed by a sensational, “All the Way,” that seemed it must be the grand finale. But the indefatigable Anderson kept right on rolling with a medley of touches from, ”Witchcraft,” “Strangers in the Night,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Night and Day,” “The Summer Wind,” “That’s Life,” and, of course, the Paul Anka classic, “My Way.” Amid the long and continuing cheers of the standing ovation that followed, many patrons started to head for the exits. After two hours without an intermission, imagine their surprise when the star launched into yet another gem with one of the richest jewels of the evening as he beautifully sang the lovely, “Send in the Clowns.” Here’s hoping the rumors are true that this show may be heading for Broadway. New York, New York will be ready!

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: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.

* For interesting background on Bob Anderson, visit the Peggie Miller column linked below:

https://www.yourconroenews.com/neighborhood/moco/events/article/Peggie-Miller-Sinatra-experience-opens-13703665.php

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BOSTON POPS is the Crown Jewel in Pavilion’s 30th Anniversary Celebration

Conductor KEITH LOCKHART with the Boston Pops Orchestra PHOTO: Courtesy of CWM Pavilion

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

The Orchestra tunes up before ShowTime.

[Click any photo to enlarge]

Arriving Boston Pops fans eagerly await the arrival of Maestro Lockhart.

Longtime readers of this column may recall my report of the last visit of conductor, Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Orchestra to the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.* That performance was seventeen years ago in August of 2002, but last week’s return engagement, with Lockhart again conducting, was every bit as splendid. It was indeed the perfect opener for the Pavilion’s 30th Anniversary Season. Titled LIGHTS, CAMERA…MUSIC! SIX DECADES OF JOHN WILLIAMS, this tribute to the prolific composer of music for cinema got off to a lushly beautiful start with the “Main Title & Overture,” from Heidi. The majestic sweep of the music and the echoing call of the Alphorn seem to transport us to the hillsides of the Swiss Alps. Then, under smoky, sea-blue lighting amid the relentless pounding of the kettle drums, there came a sudden shift toward nerve-wracking tension, with the always thrilling “Theme” from Jaws. That tension would escalate further with the pulsing rhythms of the “Main Title” from The Towering Inferno.

Mr. Lockhart met with a group of children in the Pavilion’s MINI MAESTROS Program designed to encourage new audiences by making appreciation of the arts fun, as well as accessible for youngsters of all ages. PHOTO: Courtesy of CWM Pavilion

 

The next segment, titled Around the World with John Williams, began with the mystical and oriental flavors of “Sayuri’s Theme” from Memoirs of a Geisha, featuring a magnificent solo performance from principal cellist, Ronald Lowry. That was elegantly followed by the “Suite” from Far and Away, opening with its high-stepping flair and joyous accents of an Irish jig. The final segment of this first half of the concert was titled, The Magic of John Williams, and began quite appropriately with the whirling and tinkling mystery of “Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Its sudden surges of passion were guided by the sweeping embrace of the strings and punctuated by the orchestra’s fiery brass. During “Stargazers,” from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, principal harpist, Ina Zdorovetchi would continue the enchantment casting a hypnotic spell with the haunting delicacy of her performance on such a perfect night for a concert under the stars. The orchestra would then supply the perfect finale for part one of the program with a soaring and sparkling trip heavenward via the majestic power of the “Flying Theme,” from E.T. the Extra Terrestrial.

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion Board of Directors (from left: Carol Garner; Chairman Jonathan Homeyer; Estelle P. McLaughlin; Andrew E. Steinberg; and, Pavilion President and CEO Jerry MacDonald) welcomed renowned Maestro Lockhart at a special reception in The Woodforest Bank Club prior to the concert.
PHOTO: Courtesy CWM Pavilion.

Following Intermission the audience was quickly called to attention with the thrilling “Raider’s March” from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Then the final two sections of the program began with John Williams: Facing History and Ourselves, which opened with the poignant, Theme from JFK, featuring a stirring performance from Terry Everson on trumpet. In yet another stunning solo performance, concertmaster, Charles Dimmick beautifully captured all the heart-wrenching reverence of the haunting Theme from Schindler’s List. As the orchestra moved on to the stately, warm elements of early American music in the Theme from The Patriot, I was reminded of so many warm summer Sunday nights when my family enjoyed the U.S. Military Band’s concerts on the banks of the Hudson River at West Point where patriotism was on full display. Then, in a selection that might fit well into next October’s annual Hocus Pocus Pops concert from the Houston Symphony, the orchestra provided the suitably spooky twists and turns of the “Devil’s Dance” from the Witches of Eastwick.

The first 2000 arriving guests received the Pavilion’s 30th Anniversary Poster by artist Carlos Hernandez.

The exciting final portion of the program, May the Force Be With You, began with the thunderous “Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back, which served as a perfect reminder there is nothing like hearing such monumental music from a live orchestra. Closing out the program would be a performance of “Rey’s Theme” from The Force Awakens, and then the inevitable and thrilling Main Title from Star Wars. That film would also supply the playful and delightful, “Cantina Band” song, the first of several encores to calm the cheering crowd. After a long and strenuous evening of his ever-graceful conducting from the podium, maestro Lockhart was not too tired to wow the audience with a couple of hand-clapping favorites: “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” and “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Who wouldn’t love him after that?

* https://thepeoplescritic.com/2002/08/29/boston-pops-caps-symphonic-week-at-pavilion/

COMING SOON to the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on April 6, 2019: FRANK The Man, The Music, starring the number one singing impressionist in the world, Bob Anderson, performing the music of Frank Sinatra with a 32-piece orchestra. For tickets call LIVE NATION at 800-745-3000. For information call 281-364-3010 or visit the website at www.woodlandscenter.org.

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: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.

Posted in BroadwayStars.com, Concert Reviews, Houston Chronicle online, Houston Community Newspapers online, The Courier Columns, ThePeoplesCritic.com, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A 35th Anniversary Triumph for YOUNG TEXAS ARTISTS

Steinway CEO, Ron Losby (center), with the 2019 Young Texas Artists competition finalists.
PHOTO: Brad Meyer

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

[Click any photo to enlarge]

In the book of Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV), scripture reminds us, “To every thing there is a season…” and what a joyful season of the year we have now as spring warmth replaces winter’s chill, clock changes bring us longer days, and better still, The Young Texas Artists Competition brings us the much anticipated Concert of Finalists. The event, now celebrating its 35th year (with the continuing brilliant leadership of the organization’s President, Susie Pokorski, and Artistic director, Emelyne Bingham), is dedicated to recognizing the finest young classical musicians from the great state of Texas. The week-long competition (www.YoungTexasArtists.org), culminates with the annual Bach, Beethoven & Barbecue Dinner Dance & Auction, with its ultimate goal of raising scholarship funds for many of the talented young contestants. That Gala party, superbly co-chaired by Terry Husbands Giles and Allyson Ayton, was held last Saturday evening in a grand pavilion set up just around the corner from Conroe’s Crighton Theatre.

Gala diners enjoyed a performance by the Kilgore Rangerettes.
PHOTO: Courtesy of ThePeoplesCritic.com

It set a musical mood of its own as the guests enjoyed the wonderful country sounds of the Highway 105 Band, and a high-kicking performance by the famed Kilgore College Rangerettes, all while dining on the finest Texas barbecue imaginable. My guest and I had the added pleasure of dining with Annette Spikes, the very enthusiastic representative of the Greater Conroe Arts Alliance, (www.greaterConroeArtsAlliance.com) who provided the crowd with information about the group’s Rising Stars & Legends of Texas event schedule for this past week.

Mistress of Ceremonies, Jade Simmons speaks with finalist, Artem Kuznetsov, during the onstage interviews.
PHOTO: Brad Meyer

But soon we all found ourselves across the street in the elegant Crighton to enjoy the thrilling performances of the eight finalists in four categories, skillfully hosted by beautiful Jade Simmons, noted concert pianist, motivational speaker, and charming broadcast personality with American Public Media, and NYC’s leading classical radio station, WQXR. Competing in the first category of WINDS, BRASS, PERCUSSION, HARP & GUITAR, would be Won Lee, with his performance of Mozart’s “Allegro aperto,” from the Concerto for Flute and Orchestra in D Major. He brought brisk perfection and a bird-like fluency full of gaiety to the piece, proving himself a joyous Pied Piper of the first order. The effort would win him the gold medal and $3000 First Prize in that category, but his competitor, Zhi-Yuan Luo, was dazzling as well, with his performance of Luigi Bassi’s, Rigoletto Fantasia for Clarinet and Piano. The handsome young man with shining black hair, had equally shining skill on clarinet, casting a hypnotic spell as he ably navigated the dramatic variations of the complex and challenging work. The fluid and delicate movements of his physicality seemed to reflect the every twist and turn of this long, but very delightful piece. The audience was not unaware of this, so in addition to his Silver Medal and $1000 Second Prize, he would also win the vote for the additional $1000 Audience Choice Award.

In the STRINGS category two gifted gentlemen would compete on violoncello. First up was John Belk performing two movements from Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Violoncello & Orchestra. The somber and rich opening strains of the “Andante sostenuto,” soon moved to the vibrant excitement of the “Molto allegro e appassionato,” a work that was sometimes thoughtful and brooding, and sometimes fierce and authoritative. The performance would win him the Silver Medal and $1000 Second Prize. Meanwhile, Lukas Goodman would take home the Gold Medal and $3000 First Prize for his performance of the “Allegro,” from Dvorak’s Concerto in B Minor for Cello & Orchestra. He brought evident dexterity to this piece of many moods, displaying gypsy-like flair as his tousled hair bounced freely across his forehead during each exciting phrase of his mellow performance.

Soprano, Bronwyn White
PHOTO: David W. Clements / DWC Photography

In a sleek, dark gown, soprano Bronwyn White began the VOICE competition as she brought romantic flair to the exquisite opening notes of “Quel guardo…So anch’io la virtù magica,” from Don Pasquale. Her coy and delightfully theatrical performance was at once playful and delightful, while being marked by graceful movement, superb vocal control and soaring high notes. Her reward would be the $1000 Second Prize and Silver Medal.

Mezzo-Soprano, Brennan Blankenship
PHOTO: David W. Clements / DWC Photography

Winning the Gold Medal and $3000 First Prize would be mezzo-soprano, Brennan Blankenship, whose powerful and elegant voice would match her elegant black satin gown and shimmering necklace during her brief, but very impressive performance of “Sein wir wieder gut,” from Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos.

In the PIANO category, Vincent Ip brought immediate and ferocious attack to the prancing opening passages of “Allegro, ma non troppo” from Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.3 in C major. There was rapid precision and thunderous excitement before the sudden shift to the rapturous romanticism of the composition’s more delicate passages; and then, ultimately, the fabulous and exciting conclusion that certainly earned Mr. Ip his Silver Medal and $1000 Second Prize. Finally, perhaps saving the best for last, pianist, Artem Kuznetsov, would capture the Gold Medal and $3000 First Prize with his performance of the thrilling, “Allegro con fuoco,” from Tchaikovsky’s familiar classic, Concerto No.1 in B-flat minor. Perhaps it was the exacting precision he brought to the rippling and pulsing grandeur of the piece that seemed to totally captivate the cheering audience. It was then that the esteemed panel of distinguished judges (Eric Mitchko, Diane Schultz, Kay Stern, Kirk Trevor and William Wellborn) named Kuznetsov as the winner of the night’s GRAND PRIZE, an additional $3000 and a Texas State Flag that had been flown over the capitol in Austin. That put everyone in just the right mood for the closing audience sing-a-long of “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”

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: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.

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MUSIC BOX Offers Another Lullaby to Old Broadway

Cast of the MUSIC BOX THEATRE (L-R) Kristina Sullivan, Luke Wrobel, Cay Taylor, Brad Scarborough, and Rebekah Dahl.

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

The Texas-sized excitement of our city’s annual Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo was just minutes away, but over at the nearby Music Box Theatre, the chic cabaret’s popular cast of five is serving up annual excitement of its own with this year’s edition of The Best of Broadway. In the near-decade of this company’s success, that tight-knit and talented troupe of entertainers (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Luke Wrobel, Kristina Sullivan and Cay Taylor) have continued to keep the club’s popularity at the top of Houston-area entertainment listings with their numerous creative productions each year. This yearly Broadway celebration is a favorite among them.

In the current show, Music Director, Glenn Sharp, continues to preside over his talented G-Sharp Band. While many Music Box productions are scripted with varied themes to frame the music, in this case the audience is forewarned that there would be a more free-wheeling and spontaneous format for this salute to The Great White Way. Making a surprise entrance through the audience from the rear of the theater, Miss Dahl opened with a fierce and exciting “Downtown,” from Little Shop of Horrors, that was nicely decorated by the solid bass voice of Mr. Wrobel, while Scarborough joins in rounding out some terrific harmonies and counterpoints. In the next number, the rich resonance of Brad’s voice would be a vocal laser beam for the thrilling, “Corner of the Sky,” from Pippin. A trio from the gals followed with no shortage of energy during Funny Girl’s, “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” That number seemed a bit frantic at times, and might have benefited from a slightly slower and more thoughtful tempo. Luke then joked a bit about being, at age 14, the youngest cast member of his high school’s Guys & Dolls production, but it was easy to see how he was chosen. He led the wonderful “Luck Be A Lady,” number, backed by the smooth blending of a great quartet from his cast mates. Miss Taylor then stepped forward to tease the audience with, “Now we’re gonna have some fun miserably.” She then proved her worth as a vocal storyteller, bringing dreamlike and piercing focus to, “I Dreamed a Dream,” from Les Miserables, during a performance that was enhanced by elegant touches from Mark McCain on lead guitar. There would be a web of mystery for the explosive performance of the title song from Flashdance, before Luke and Brad followed with some silly fun as a couple of dudes in oversized cowboy hats, during their robust, “They Call the Wind Maria,” (aka Mariah) from Paint Your Wagon. Kristina then turned things a bit more serious with an agonizing look at life’s changes during her melancholy, “She Used to be Mine,” from Waitress. Rounding out Act One was the group’s traditional and challenging,”Seven Minute Musical,” actually performed under a ticking clock for exactly that long. This year’s winner, The Sound of Music, has lots of frenzied merriment that included some zany nuns for “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” some laughable and leaping choreography for, ”Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” with a perky and whirling, “The Lonely Goatherd.”

Act Two is no less fun, and begins with Brad leading his compatriots in the excitement of the title song from Hamilton, as they brilliantly conquer the amazing rapid-fire and tongue-twisting lyrics of that song. Cay then calms things a bit with her sultry and seductive, “Whatever Lola Wants,” from Damn Yankees. The ladies then combine forces for the thrilling, “As if We Never said Goodbye,” from Sunset Boulevard. From the show, Forever Plaid, Brad provides a lush, warm rendition of the old Johnny Ray hit, “Cry.” Rebekah followed that with a visual and embracing, “Memory,” from Cats, that was full of passionate desperation.

With a thrilling “Old Man River” from SHOWBOAT, Luke Wrobel won a standing ovation.

A cheerful change of pace then arrived as the guys offered “Nowadays,” and “Hot Honey Rag,” with their hilarious version of the Bob Fosse choreography from Chicago. As we say in Texas, “It was a hoot!” Miss Sullivan brought lashing power to the title song from, “Man of La Mancha,” and soon it was time for a major standing ovation as Luke applied his sensational bass voice to a song he must have been born to sing: “Old Man River,” from Showboat. The audience leapt to its feet. For a perfect finale, the joyful and gyrating cast offered a medley from Hair, with “Aquarius” & “Let the Sunshine In.” One suspects they could give Undulating Lessons on their days off. Come see for yourself.

BEST OF BROADWAY performances continue at the Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, Houston, Texas, through April 20th at 7:30p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, and there will be Sunday matinees at 2 pm on March 24th and April 14th. 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 www.themusicboxtheater.com, where you can also find information about the upcoming show, Songs of the SILVER SCREEN.

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: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com

Posted in Broadway, BroadwayStars.com, Houston Community Newspapers online, Music Box Theater, The American Theatre Critics Association, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Club, The Lambs Inc., ThePeoplesCritic.com | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hobby Center’s Latest “MAMMA MIA!” tops them all!

The Cast of MAMMA MIA!

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

[All Photos by Melissa Taylor. Click any photo to enlarge.]

Regular readers of this column may recall that when it comes to reviewing productions of the longtime Broadway hit musical, MAMMA MIA!, “this is not my first rodeo.” (To borrow a timely phrase during this current special three weeks in Houston.) In fact, I think I have figured out the every-four-years frequency formula that Houston’s Hobby Center may be using to schedule repeat productions of this ever-popular musical. During this decade alone I have reviewed the show there in 2011, 2015, and now, 2019, with sell-out crowds continuing to fill the colossal house for each performance at Sarofim Hall. Before I start raving about this wonderful Theatre Under the Stars production, allow me one complaint. The printed program was a peculiar one as it did not have the usual chronological listing of the scenes including associated songs and singers for each. That mistake should not be repeated.

Cast of MAMMA MIA!

On a happier note, even if the show is not a theatrical masterpiece it doesn’t matter, since the fans keep flocking back because of its infectious music, and because it is just so much colorful fun. That is especially true in this sharply directed production from Dan Knechtges. The warm, coastal Mediterranean villa set design from Tim Mackabee has a three-dimensional look with even moving windmills and wind-blown laundry visible on the background hilltops.

Christopher Tipps as Pepper and Felicia Finley as Tonya with cast of MAMMA MIA!

Electrifying and colorful costumes from Leon Dobkowski are the perfect match for the excitement of the splendid choreography from Jessica Hartman, which features not only the wonderful dancing of the talented ensemble, but also a sensational “Teen Ensemble” of local youngsters, who have the dance energy and athleticism that might one day land them on Broadway.

With its breezy book by Catherine Johnson, the plot is designed around the popular songs of the band, ABBA, with Music & Lyrics composed by two former members of that group, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. (With additional material and arrangements by Martin Koch). The music is in good hands here, with Steven W. Jones as Musical Director, and the fine orchestra in a subterranean world hidden beneath the stage. Ensemble singing from the cast is top notch.

Sally Wilfert as Donna and Berklea Going as Sophie.

The unlikely, but fun-filled plot revolves around a single mother named Donna (Sally Wilfert), and her daughter, Sophie (Berklea Going), who live on the lovely Greek Island of Calicos where Donna operates a taverna guest house. Miss Wilfert and Miss Going both have beautiful voices, and their tender bedroom scene on the morning of the wedding is beautifully played.

Karl Josef Co as Sky and Berklea Going as Sophie

Twenty year-old Sophie opens the show with a mystical, “I Have a Dream,” as she is about to be married to her beloved Sky (Karl Josef Co), and longs to know which of the three men that her mother had brief romances with years before could, in fact, be her real father. In hopes of solving that mystery she has secretly invited all three to the wedding.

Matthew Scott as Sam

When the guys arrive (Mark Price as Harry, Steven Bogard as Bill, and Matthew Scott as Sam), the real fun begins, and these fellas all have great voices, especially Mr. Scott. Adding to the merriment is the arrival of Donna’s feisty old girlfriends, Tanya (Felicia Finley), and Rosie (Carla Woods).

Christopher Tipps as Pepper and Felicia Finley as Tonya with cast of MAMMA MIA!

Both Finley and Woods have some super-sexy numbers, and the guys in the cast do their part to turn up that heat, particularly the very buff Christopher Tipps, who sports a physique that seems to fully justify his being shirtless much of the time. In addition to “Mamma Mia,” the hit parade of ever popular songs that stitch this all together seems to be endless with tunes like, “Chiquitita,” “Dancing Queen,” “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” “Honey, Honey,” “I Do, I Do, I Do,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “Money, Money, Money,” “S.O.S.,” “Souper Trouper,” and countless others.

Carla Woods as Rosie, Sally Wilfert as Donna, and Felicia Finley as Tonya

And at show’s end, don’t you dare make a move toward the exits before Donna and the Dynamos hit the stage for a full-cast, multi-encore finale that has the whole audience on its feet. But maybe two other songs should be mentioned in closing: “Thank You for the Music,” and “The Winner Takes It All.” Clearly, this show is a winner!

MAMMA MIA! Continues through March 3rd at Houston’s Hobby Center main stage with performances Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday & Saturday at 8pm, and 2pm matinee performances on both Saturday and Sunday. For tickets visit the website at http://www.thehobbycenter.org, 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: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.

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Houston Symphony Celebrates ELLA FITZGERALD

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

ELLA FITZGERALD
Photo; Courtesy of Library of Congress

I don’t remember the exact details of the performance, but sometime in the late 1970’s or early 80’s, I recall viewing one of the early PBS telecasts of Live from the Metropolitan Opera. The series featured full live productions direct from the stage of The Met, with interesting backstage interviews of key members of the company, also presented live during the intermissions. I cannot recall who was being thus interviewed, but I remember the moderator asking, “Have you ever encountered a singer with perfect pitch?” The respondent hesitated, at first replying, “Perfect pitch? No…but oh, yes… Ella Fitzgerald.” It is not surprising then, that this past weekend the Houston Symphony saw fit to present a splendid tribute concert titled “The Ella Fitzgerald Songbook,” honoring the late great legendary singer. On the surface such an undertaking might seem doomed to failure, for who could hope to find a singer that could successfully replicate the brilliant song styling of such a vocal genius? Leave it to the Houston Symphony to find not one, but three such blazing talents, and the result was a concert of such sheer magnificence that one could only hope Miss Fitzgerald was enjoying it from some heavenly balcony above.

Under the skillful and very animated baton of conductor, Steven Reineke, the orchestra got things off to a snazzy start with the rousing big band classic, “Take the A Train.” Then it was time for the first of the talented ladies to take center stage.

CAPATHIA JENKINS
Photo: Courtesy of Houston Symphony

With her wide smile, and dressed in a sparkling sea-green gown, a beaming Capathia Jenkins launched into a joyful, “Strike Up the Band.” She followed with the pleasing Gershwin/Nelson Riddle arrangement of “Clap Yo’ Hands,” but her microphone seemed briefly out of balance with the powerful orchestra for that number. Next up was the arrival of vocalist, N’Kenge, wearing an absolutely sensational gown of flowing red-orange chiffon, with gleaming rhinestone belt, and a dramatic full-split design. She offered a sassy, perky audience sing-a-long of a Cab Calloway nonsense song titled “Zah, Zuh, Zaz,” and brought it to a fierce and soaring conclusion. She then made a surprisingly mellow shift to the passion and desperation of her wrenching, “Stormy Weather.”

MONTEGO GLOVER
Photo: Courtesy of Houston Symphony

Continuing what at times seemed like an elegant fashion show, the third performer, Montego Glover, arrived on stage in a creamy, form-fitting gown that sparkled from top to bottom as she took off like a vocal rocket with a solid and authoritative, “You Go to My Head,” and then moving on with her smooth phrasing (and occasional scat singing) for a gentle and embracing, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love (Baby).” Then, while the ladies took a breather, the orchestra delivered a sexy, “The Lady is a Tramp,” with terrific sax and trumpet solo moments, and a fine arrangement that seemed to have the various sections of the orchestra talking to one another. In the next segment Jenkins returned to the stage bringing whisper-like tenderness and delicacy to, “Our Love is Here to Stay,” and N’Kenge arrived in a soft, pink layered wedding cake gown for her sultry and seductive, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” Miss Glover then closed out the first half of the program bringing a sense of theatrical drama to a “Come Rain or Come Shine,” that had a thrilling conclusion.

Following the intermission, while conducting the orchestra in the musical excitement of “One O’Clock Jump,” the visibly enthusiastic maestro Reineke appeared to be doing some jumping of his own on the podium.

N’KENGE
Photo: Courtesy of Houston Symphony

Back now in a sleek and fascinating gown, N’Kenge performed a sensational, “Fascinating Rhythm.” Jenkins followed with a merry and explosive, “Something’s Gotta Give,” and Glover warned us of musical delights ahead with an enticing, “The Best Is Yet to Come.” A joyous and prancing, “Mack the Knife,” from the orchestra had a pulsing and thrilling finale. N’Kenge reappears in a smashing feathered gown and calms the room, as a tinkling piano leads her into the classic barroom tale of, “One For My Baby (And One More For the Road).” It captured the appropriate melancholy at the outset, but seemed to wander into excess showy vocal embellishments toward the end. Glover’s “God Bless the Child,” was a warm and touching rendition of the Billie Holiday hit, and Jenkins glows as she sings a haunting, “Summertime,” that lifts the audience heavenward even before she sings the line, “Spread your wings and take to the sky.” The three divas combined forces at the end bringing a silken blend to “Blues in the Night.” The cheering and appreciative audience leapt to its feet in ovation, and was rewarded with an encore of “C’mon Get Happy.” But it was too late. We were already there!

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: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com

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A Dazzling “42nd STREET” Thunders on to Crighton’s Stage

Sara Preisler plays rising star, Peggy Sawyer, in Stage Right’s “42nd STREET” at Crighton Theatre.

[All Photos by David W. Clements / DWC Photography. Click any photo to enlarge]

(L-R) Cain Hamilton, Sara Preisler, and Michael Martin lead the cast in “Lullaby of Broadway.”

Even if you have not yet been a lucky audience member for Stage Right’s new production of the legendary Broadway musical, 42nd STREET, perhaps you have heard the cheers and tap shoes now blowing the roof off the Crighton Theatre in downtown Conroe. Better hurry if you want to get tickets for this one.

Manny Cafeo

Director, Manny Cafeo, has spared nothing in creating this sensational musical blockbuster, and choreographer, Dinah Mahlman,

Adam Isbell (left) and Ms. Preisler lead another showstopper.

must have magic powers of her own as evidenced by the stunning performance of her talented dancers. Even before the opening curtain rises, the arriving audience is made ready for tap dance glory via an onscreen projection of the “Tap Dance in America” video from renowned hoofer, Gregory  Hines.

Michael Martin as director, Julian Marsh

Then it was time to enter the 1930’s world of this musical creation featuring music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin, and book by Michael Stewart & Mark Bramble. Structured as a “play within a play,” the cheerful plot surrounds the backstage story of the rehearsals for a new musical titled, “Pretty Lady.” Michael Martin gives a convincing performance as that show’s authoritative and demanding director, Julian Marsh.

Layne Roberts as Dorothy Brock

Layne Roberts, with her powerful voice and flair for comedy, provides plenty of campy fun with her diva-like portrayal of the show’s temperamental and fading star, Dorothy Brock. Though she is past her prime, Marsh tolerates Miss Brock as star of the show in order to secure the financial backing of her wealthy boyfriend, Abner Dillon (J. David LaRue).

Carolyn Wong as Maggie and John Kaiser as Bert

Speaking of comic flair, it is no surprise that Carolyn Corsano Wong brings plenty of that to her role as Maggie, one of the show’s two writer/producers.

Cain Hamilton and Sara Preisler

Cain Hamilton plays the show’s handsome lead tenor, Billy Lawlor, and he is quickly smitten by the belated arrival of a pretty would-be chorus girl named Peggy Sawyer (Sara Preisler). The twosome duet beautifully for the cheerful, “Young & Healthy,” but when Peggy is abruptly dismissed by the choreographer, (Adam Isbell), for arriving late to the audition, she collides with the director while scurrying off stage. Thus, we have the makings of the “small town girl makes it big on Broadway” storyline that propels the plot.

The Cast of 42nd STREET

What follows is an absolutely splendid parade of great songs and dances, all decorated with the elegant and eye-popping costumes from designer, Debbie Preisler. They bring a seemingly endless and multi-colored world of shimmering glitz and glamour that keeps surprising us from scene to scene amid the pleasant scenic designs of Kara Kowalik. Sound Designer, Ms. Wong, and Musical Director, Ana Guirola-Ladd, have so skillfully incorporated and synchronized the show’s recorded musical soundtrack that one would almost swear there was a full orchestra in the pit. Meanwhile, with huge and hilarious feather boa sleeves on her over-the-top white gown, Miss Roberts (above) leads the talented ensemble for the well-staged “Shadow Waltz” ballet.

Maggie (Carolyn Wong) rides the on-screen train to
Shuffle Off to Buffalo.

The ever-perky Ms. Wong delightfully lights up the stage as she leads the whirling chorus girls in an unusual, seated tap number titled, “Go Into Your Dance.” Then Roberts returns, adorned in lush royal purple chiffon, to sing, “You’re Getting to be a Habit With Me.” It is not long before she is back in a glittering gray gown to offer a solid, “I Only Have Eyes for You.” As the cast heads off to-out-of-town tryouts, technical director, Jim Bingham, cleverly takes us all along on the train ride with skillfully added on-screen projections that would also enhance the “Shuffle off to Buffalo” number in Act Two.

Fashions galore during DAMES.

The soundtrack volume was a bit too loud as the appealing Mr. Hamilton (looking sharp in top hat, black tie and tails) nicely delivered the tune, “Dames,”

Dinah Mahlman hams it up nicely during DAMES

while the ladies strutted on stage in a virtual fashion show of stunning art-deco inspired gowns  worthy of Hollywood.

Showgirls are soaring during “We’re in the Money.”

To top it off, Act One concludes as the full cast brings us the show stopping, one-two punch of a dazzling extravaganza that features not only a title song finale, but also a “We’re in the Money” number that features both sensational tap dancing and sparkling emerald green costumes that look to be from the Land of Oz. They should be auctioned off for St. Patrick’s Day!

Of course Act Two is full of more delights as Peggy finds herself suddenly drafted to replace the lead when the star, Miss Brock, is injured in a fall. An enormous and gifted cast too large to itemize here will send you happily home humming tunes like, “Lullaby of Broadway,” “About a Quarter to Nine,” and “There’s a Sunny Side to Every Situation.” In closing, allow me to make a suggestion while stealing a line from the lyric of the show’s title song:

“COME AND MEET THOSE DANCING FEET…” You won’t be sorry!

42nd Street runs thru February 24th with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets cost $24, $20, $15, according to age, with discounts for groups. Reservations are available at www.stage-right.org, or call 936-441-7469 weekdays between 3 and 6 p.m. The Crighton Theatre is at 234 N. Main in downtown Conroe, Texas.

 

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: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.

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