Costumes and Sets Crown Crighton’s Joyful CINDERELLA

The Cast of Stage Right’s CINDERELLA –
All Photos: Dave W Clements & DWC Photography
[Click any photo to enlarge]

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

Kathleen Baker as CINDERELLA

Lucas Olivarez as the Prince

Conroe’s wonderful Crighton Theatre has, for many years, continued to send me personal invitations to the shows mounted by the much-loved STAGE RIGHT PRODUCTIONS Company. The group has as its longstanding motto: “A Community for the Entire Family.” That motto has perhaps never been more appropriate than for the very cute current offering of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical, CINDERELLA, cheerfully directed by Stage Right veteran, Sara Preisler.

(L-R) Alexandra Casey, Christina Sato, Madison Mapes

Rob Baker as King & Martha Davis as Queen

A show full of adorable, local young children, this is clearly a community gem that should bring out a crowd full of friends, neighbors and the families of all the children involved. Other folks, who have ever enjoyed a really well-done elementary school program full of creative sets and sweet kids dressed in beautifully designed costumes, may want to consider joining in the fun with upcoming audiences.

Fairy Godmother (Shananda Poulos) casts her magic spell.

The Magic Coach Arrives

These youngsters sing and dance beautifully while playing the parts Cinderella’s mice, her birds, and her mischievous black cat. They are scene stealers at every bend in the road. (Set design and choreography by director Preisler & Cricket Pepper, Costume designer, Debbie Preisler, and Musical Direction by Layne Roberts).

Cinderella’s Cat

Whether in throne rooms or royal ballrooms, the adults in this cast are regally costumed as well. They give it their all in performing the several charming R&H songs, that for more than half a century have made their way from the earliest TV version of the show (with Julie Andrews), and on to national tours, and even Broadway. And speaking of those charming songs, my only complaint would be the absence of a running song list in the printed program. I’m surprised that omission was permitted by the vendor, R&H Theatricals.

I assume there is no need to detail the familiar tale of pretty young Cinderella (Kathleen Baker), who is horribly abused by her vain and sinister Stepmother (Christina Sato), and her whining, cackling and uproariously annoying stepsisters, Grace (Madison Mapes), and Joy (Alexandra Casey). But of course, relief is on the way in the person of the handsome Prince Christopher (Lucas Olivarez). His parents (Rob Baker as the King, and Martha Davis as the Queen) have a plan to get their son married, but meanwhile, they keep a close eye on him with the help of Lionel, the Royal Steward (an amusingly droll performance from Todd Brady).

Miss Poulos lights up the stage.

Adding to the fun is the kooky and explosive performance of vocally talented Shananda Poulos in the role of of the Fairy Godmother. Poulos really ignites the stage with fine singing and a zany characterization that somehow reminded me of Queen Latifah. She brings magic to the stage in more ways than one, and I’m still wondering how Cinderella was instantly changed from her rags to her ball gown! Mapes and Casey bring jealous hilarity to their over-the-top “Stepsisters Lament,” while wondering, ”Why would a fellow want a girl like that?” as the Prince shows romantic interest in Cinderella.

Dancing at the Royal Ball

Other song delights include, “The Prince is Giving a Ball,” Cinderella’s very sweet, “In My Own Little Corner,” the exciting ensemble number,” The Prince is Giving a Ball,” and the equally exciting, “Impossible; It’s Possible,” duet from Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother. The elegant “Gavotte,” and charming “Waltz for a Ball,” were beautifully danced by the cast in the palace, and other melodic treats include, “Ten Minutes Ago,” “A Lovely Night,” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?”

Come and see if the shoe fits.

As you might imagine, after some difficulty Cinderella does get her Prince and the wedding scene climax is an opulent dandy that brought the cheering crowd to its feet. Audience member, Renée La Fleur, was a first-time visitor to the Crighton, and smiled widely as she told me, “This is really bringing me back to my childhood.” Why not come see for yourself this weekend?

CINDERELLA runs thru Nov. 3rd with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. Tickets range $17-$26, according to age, with discounts for groups. Reservations are available at, 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: . E-mail may be directed to

Posted in AMERICANTHEATRECRITICS.ORG, ATCA,, Cinderella, Crighton Theatre, Houston Chronicle online, Houston Community Newspapers online, Stage Right Productions, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Inc.,, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Symphonic Tour of Europe from Rick Steves & Houston Symphony


All photos courtesy of Rick Steves & Houston Symphony

It was like an exquisite fairytale tour of the continent for lucky audiences at last weekend’s Houston Symphony concert titled, “Rick Steves’ Europe: A Symphonic Journey.” A full house packed Jones Hall, and with top ticket prices above one hundred dollars it was not exactly a poor man’s trip to Europe.

MICHAEL KRAJEWSKI & The Houston Symphony

But what a fabulous trip it would be, especially with the return of the orchestra’s retired and much-loved Pops Conductor Emeritus, Michael Krajewski, who playfully referred to this appearance as his 4th Annual Farewell Concert. The European theme notwithstanding, Krajewski quickly had the audience in the palm of his hand beginning the program with a tour of America launched, of course, with a rousing “Star Spangled Banner.” The ensuing trip would open with the racing strings, thundering kettle drums, and thrilling brass during Jerome Moss’ vision of the American West in the Main Title music from “The Big Country.” That piece was a perfect lead-in to Grofé’s gently trotting “On the Trail” mule ride from the 3rd movement of his visual epic, “Grand Canyon Suite,” and featuring a stunning opening violin solo passage from Co-Concertmaster, Eric Halen. The sweetly delicate opening phrases of the R.A. Bass arrangement of, “Shenandoah,” would then set the stage for the symphonic grandeur that would follow from this masterwork. It was lightly decorated by soft chimes and bells from percussion, and featured a stunning trumpet solo. This first half of the program concluded beautifully with the clever R. Wendel arrangement, “From Sea to Shining Sea.” Opening with “America the Beautiful,” that piece took the audience on a musical cross-country tour from west to east, featuring such familiar tunes as, “San Francisco,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Chicago,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Georgia on My Mind,” “Carolina in the Morning,” and then closing with a joyful, “New York, New York.” But somewhere in between, it seemed the hand-clapping Houston audience favorite was clearly, “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”

Rick Steves in Germany

Beginning the featured Part Two of the concert, Maestro Krajewski, looking fit and trim as ever, stepped forward to introduce the man he called, “America’s foremost authority on European travel.” With that, the attention shifted to a gentleman well known to PBS viewers, the amiable and knowledgeable travel expert, Rick Steves, who explained that the musical organization of the project was designed to focus on the music of what he called the Romantic Era of the late 1800’s, a time when the seeds of freedom inspired by our own American Revolution across the sea, were then taking root in countries all across Europe as the common man sought liberty from the ruling class of the nobility. Steves then began a series of narrations that would accompany the splendid travelogue videos screened above the brilliant orchestra, while he guided one and all through countries and composers that included Austria (J. Strauss Jr.), Germany (Wagner), the Czech Republic (Smetana), Italy (Verdi), Great Britain (Elgar), Norway (Grieg), and France (Saint-Saëns).

Rick Steves in Norway

The orchestral delights that accompanied each nation spotlighted included “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” (Strauss), the “Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin,” (Wagner), “The Moldau” from Smetana’s “My Fatherland,” Verdi’s “Triumphal March from Aida,” Elgar’s familiar, “Pomp and Circumstance,” and Grieg’s “Morning Mood” from the “Suite No.1 of Peer Gynt.” As the splendid orchestra performed the works associated with each country, the audience was treated to sublime travelogue views across Europe that captured magnificent landscapes, rivers, streams, villages, churches, traditional costumes, castles, dancers, plazas, parks, mountain climbers, paintings, murals, frescos, statues, fountains, street scenes and cafes, exquisite architecture, Roman ruins and aqueducts, canals, vineyards, knights in armor, rainbows, misty fiords, traditional foods, and lush gardens at every turn.

Rick Steves in Switzerland

This memorable feast for the eye and ear was brought to a fine conclusion with a celebration of the present day European Union as the orchestra played the E.U.’s adopted “Anthem of Europe,” based on Beethoven’s final movement of the 9th Symphony, “Ode to Joy.” Not surprisingly, there appeared to be universal joy on the faces of the departing audience. BRAVO!

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, Beethoven,, Concert Reviews, Conroe Courier, Elgar, Houston Chronicle online, Houston Community Newspapers online, Houston Symphony Pops, Jones Hall, Michael Krajewski, The Courier Columns,, Travel, Uncategorized, Wagner | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


The Cast of TUTS “Spring Awakening”
PHOTO: Melissa Taylor

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

Let’s be clear right out of the box. The current offering from Houston’s Theater Under the Stars is NOT your grandma’s Broadway musical. For all of its theatrical dimensions and explorations of adolescent rebellion, SPRING AWAKENING is clearly a teenage journey of self-discovery through the angst and perils of pubescent sexuality. Based on the 19th century play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, this 2006 Broadway edition features the rock music of Duncan Sheik, and book by Steven Sater, whose lyrics often read like fine poetry. The show would go on to capture eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Direction, Book & Score.

The action takes place in the late 1800’s and focuses on the interactions of a group of teenaged boys and girls who are students in a small German town. Directed by Taibi Magar, this TUTS production benefits from a highly talented and radiantly energetic young cast that includes Sophia Introna as Wendla, Wonza Johnson as Melchior, Nathan Salstone as Moritz, Juliette Redden as Martha, Raven Justine Troup as Ilse, Blake Jackson as Hanschen, and Alex Vinh as Ernst. As the plot evolves, young Wendla is in a quest to learn more about where babies come from as she quizzes her hesitant Mama (Liz Mikel is convincing in this, and the several other minor roles for “Adult Women.”) Wendla presses her appeal as Ms. Introna sings a passionate, “Mama Who Bore Me,” that is beautifully reprised with her young girl friends joining in.

Meanwhile, at the local school for boys, young Moritz is troubled by erotic dreams he has been experiencing. He appeals to his more sophisticated and knowledgeable classmate, Melchior, for explanations. We first hear Mr. Johnson’s fine voice during the devilish, “All That’s Known,” as Melchior agrees to prepare a detailed facts-of-life essay for Moritz. The other lads in the class are experiencing similar growing pains, while at the same time feeling great frustration with the harsh discipline of the cruel teacher (Brian Mathis brings his booming voice to this first of his several small roles for the “Adult Men” in the piece). The boys soon erupt in rebellion for the ferocious song and fierce dancing of “The Bitch of Living.” (Choreographer, Marlana Doyle). The girls are not to be outdone when they explode with frustrations of their own during the excitement of “All Our Junk.”

Sophia Introna as “Wendla” and Wonza Johnson as “Melchior” in the Theatre Under The Stars production of Spring Awakening. Photo by Melissa Taylor

But there are calmer moments like the dreamlike staging and haunting vocal blending from the boys and girls during the richness of a, “Touch Me,” that is nicely sprinkled with several fine cast solos. Not surprisingly, a delicate duet of “The Word of Your Body,” from Wendla and Melchior soon results in an unexpected pregnancy. I will leave the details of that plot line for future audiences to discover. There would be moments in the latter part of Act One when the music turned harsh, and shrill with lyrics hard to hear amid the din. But I would note that in the number, “The Mirror-Blue Night,” Mr. Johnson had a focused intensity as Melchior that seemed to really suggest star quality in this young actor. He would shine again with his rich and soothing voice when Melchior joins Wendla and the solid Boys and Girls Chorus for “The Guilty Ones,” at the opening of Act Two.

The cast of Theater Under the Stars SPRING AWAKENING
Photo: Melissa Taylor

The fine orchestra (Music Director, Alex Navarro) is visibly in shadow to the back left of the stage, and occasional segments of the drama are effectively played out in an elevated scene box in the upper right corner of the proscenium. (Scenic designer, Ryan McGettigan, Lighting designer, Bradley King). As the emotionally troubled Moritz, Mr. Salstone brings compelling desperation to the song, “Don’t Do Sadness,” before Ms. Troup changes the mood in her role as Ilse, with a gentle and intoxicating, “Blue Wind.” The rich humanity of songs like “Those You’ve Known,” and “Whispering,” touch the heart. Of course there are some troubling outcomes in Act Two, and one of the most surprising comes when Melchior is called before the school’s headmaster and charged with having written the scandalous facts-of-life essay. Realizing he must now confess, Melchior launches into a song full of expletives with a title I never expected to see in a printed Broadway program. It’s an electrifying full-cast number with undulating choreography and sensational staging. And the song title? So I can get this past the censors, use your imagination to fill in the blanks: “Totally Fu-k-d!” Like I said, this is NOT your Grandma’s Broadway musical.

SPRING AWAKENING continues through October 20th 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

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



[All Photos by Click any photo to enlarge]

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

If The Music Box Theater was revisiting some familiar territory during this third edition of its seemingly annual show, “KEEP IT BRASSY,” it really didn’t matter. The musical selections were updated, the often hilarious comedy bits and sketches were original, and the talented regular cast of five is singing better than ever. (L-R in above photo: Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Luke Wrobel, Cay Taylor & Kristina Sullivan). No wonder this ever-popular Houston cabaret continues to hold the #1 position in the city’s entertainment listings with, even besting the Houston Symphony at #2 and the Alley Theater at #3. No wonder they even fill the house for a rare Sunday matinee.

The opening number was full of pulsing action with a glistening rendition of The Temptation’s hit, “Get Ready,” that quickly blended into some cute, hip-swinging choreography for its celebration of Wilson Pickett’s, ”Land of 1,000 Dances.” Brad then took center stage with comic flair and his amazing vocal range to weave a warm and lovely reminder of Frankie Valli during “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You.”


Sassy and sultry Ms. Taylor sparkles while delivering a “Diamonds Are Forever,” full of haunting mystery. The ladies combine forces with deep-voiced Luke for fine vocal blending during a fun-filled “All About That Bass,” that is nicely decorated by moments from the band’s bass guitarist, Long Lee. That G-Sharp Band is named for its longtime Musical Director, keyboardist, Glenn Sharp, and includes Lead Guitarist, Mark McCain, Technical Director, Pat Southard, and Arthur Gilligan on percussion.

Guest Musicians

And celebrating the “Brassy” theme of the production, this show features 3 guest brass musicians always on stage, with Louis Sanchez on trombone, Michael Adamcik on reeds, and Lonney Lalane (known for his work with B. B. King) featured on trumpet. The three would soon offer some great, bluesy back-up for Rebekah during the James Brown hit, “I Feel Good,” which slowly evolved into some snappy and prancing choreography from the cast during the exciting Bruno Mars number, “Uptown Funk.”

With comically outlandish wigs and amusing British accent banter, the guys take on the roles of Neil Diamond (Luke) and Tom Jones (Brad). Luke’s “Crackling Rosie” rocks the room, and Brad’s chest-revealing satin shirt helps keep the ladies attention during his solid, sexy and hip-shaking, “It’s Not Unusual.” Kristina moves us to a calmer segment with the gentle pace of her leisurely and thoughtful, “Dock of the Bay,” before it escalates with assorted fine moments from the guest musicians, and Mr. Gilligan on drums.

Don Payne

And speaking of drums, there was a poignant reflection from director, Sharp, as he spoke of the great affection felt by all for the group’s longtime drummer, Don Payne, who had passed away. It was also revealed that Sharp would be concluding his near decade-long service as Music Director as he moves on to Christian ministry to become a pastor. But that did not prevent him from moving on to a wonderful piano introduction for “New York State of Mind,” before Luke brought laser-like power to that vocal.

Bob Pizzitola

The “Make Me Smile” hit of the band, Chicago, would be the delicious explosion of joy to take us to intermission. La Porte, Texas native, Bob Pizzitola, was in the audience, and he had another reason to smile. During the break, he was the winner of the house raffle drawing for free guest passes to a future Music Box production.

Kristina Sullivan

Act Two has countless more delights like a bubbly full cast “Spinning Wheel,” a poignant Carpenters tribute with Kristina leading a melancholy “We’ve Only Just Begun,” that has mellow back-up from the cast. Brad sports a joyful grin for, “Feeling Stronger Everyday,” while Cay owns the stage with a fluent command of Spanish during her passionate, “Mi Tierra,” full of sensuous and intoxicating moves. There’s lots more with a knockout finale of Bruce Springsteen’s, “Born to Run,” and a dreamy and mysterious “Skyfall,” from Rebekah.

Cay Taylor (right) serenades “Garland and Sinatra”

But whatever you do, don’t miss the savagely funny talk show spoof with Luke as Sinatra, and Ms. Dahl absolutely hilarious capturing the contorted body language, rumpled hairdo, nervous mannerisms, and the hyper-chatter of a Judy Garland clearly under-the-influence. Just wait until you hear Judy’s sage advice about drinking water, but if that doesn’t interest you, remember the Music Box has a bar available for beer, wine and light snacks.

KEEP IT BRASSY 3 continues at the Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, Houston, Texas, through October 19th with performances at 7:30p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, and there will be one Sunday matinee at 2 pm on Oct. 13th. 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, BACK TO the 80’s Again.

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,, Cabaret, Houston Chronicle online, Music Box Theater, Nightclubs, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Inc., | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stage Right’s Comical WILD WOMEN Reveal Our Unspoken Dilemma

Photo: Michael Pittman

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

Preparing to destroy a treasured family Hummel figurine. (L-R) Renée Poe, Lisa Schofield, Carolyn Corsano Wong.
PHOTO: Michael Pittman

Who among us has not noticed the explosion, in recent years, of the growing industry of storage facilities designed to relieve us of the clutter of all our accumulated “stuff?” In my own family we sometimes joke about it, while all the while knowing it is really no laughing matter.

Stars (L-R) Renée Poe, Lisa Schofield, & Carolyn Corsano Wong keep the laughs going on both sides of the footlights.
PHOTO: DWC Photography

That fact notwithstanding, there are plenty of laughs currently emanating from Conroe’s elegant Crighton Theatre. Before heading home to clean out those closets, why not drop by to enjoy this madcap comedy from Stage Right Productions, directed by Dinah Mahlman? If you do stop by for this latest play in the series of Jones/Hope/Wooten comedies by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope & Jamie Wooten, you will be meeting the three hilarious Wild Women of Winedale. There is a bit of a pun involved in that title as we meet these “wild” women who happen to be three sisters of a certain mature age. We meet the widowed Fanny Wild Cantrelle (Lisa Schofield), who is apprehensively preparing for her 60th birthday (“I thought getting older would take longer!”). She lives in a pleasant but cluttered house (set designer, Mandy Mershon), with feisty sister, Willa Wild, comically played by Carolyn Corsano Wong, whose zany antics never fail to amuse. There, they tend to their mysterious and ailing Aunt Hester, who is reportedly near death as she frequently rings her bedside bell to bring their attention from the other room. Adding to their domestic complications is the uproarious arrival of their semi-hysterical sister, Johnnie Fay “Jef” Wild (Renée Poe), who breaks the news that she is now homeless since her house and possessions have disappeared into a Florida sinkhole.

Lisa Schofield as the hyper-ventilating Fanny in a moment of hysteria.
Photo: DWC Photography

Now it so happens that Fanny is employed at the Museum of Virginia where she is involved in production of a documentary film aimed at “Defining Women,” and celebrating the lives and experiences of various Virginia women being interviewed on camera. This theatrical device allows for periodic breaks from the central story of the ensuing mayhem at the home of the sisters. These brief vignettes, sometimes poignant, sometimes amusing, are performed to the left of the stage by talented actresses that include Danielle Williams, Donna S. Warner, Kaye Thompson, Cheryl Campbell, Mandy Mershon, and Rhea Young. In the process we meet such characters as a pair of elderly friends who find delight in dressing as twins, and another woman who has discovered that “Having twins in your forties is God’s way of saying ‘You have slept enough.’”.

Cheryl Campbell as Nora, the candle maker.
Photo: DWC Photography

There is a sweet woman who works in the Candle Shop in Colonial Williamsburg, and has a cute period costume to match.

A touch of Shirley Temple from Renée Poe as Johnnie Fay.
Photo: DWC Photography

(Designers Leona Hoegsburg & Debbie Preisler, who also supply the uproarious Shirley Temple costume, with red satin trim and pantaloons, that is worn by Johnnie Fay during the show).

The sisters begin to realize it is time to separate themselves from attachment to “things,” and amid the yard sale chaos that follows, always there is humor. It is aimed at the older generation and should draw big crowds of senior citizens who appreciate finding the laughter in growing old. Lines like, “She’s had so many facelifts that the next one will be a Cesarean,” generate hilarity that brings the house down. Even bits of ironic wisdom like, “You can’t change the past, but you can dwell on it until you’re old and bitter,” add to the fun. Perhaps the more insightful concluding line, from optimistic Fanny, would inspire you to head over to see the show: “We get to choose our next adventures. There’s a whole world out there waiting for us.”

WILD WOMEN OF WINEDALE runs thru sept. 22nd with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday*. Tickets range $17-$26, according to age, with discounts for groups. Reservations are available at, or call 936-441-7469 weekdays between 3 and 6 p.m. The Crighton Theatre is at 234 N. Main in downtown Conroe, Texas.

*PLEASE NOTE: As an added bonus at all performances representative of Montgomery County’s Community Assistance Program will be on hand in the lobby with information on how the organization is “Serving Our Neighbors In Need.” For further details, 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 AMERICANTHEATRECRITICS.ORG, ATCA,, Houston Chronicle online, The Courier Columns, The Lambs Inc., Theater Reviews, | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Electrifying CHORUS LINE Rocks the Room at TUTS


Cast of the current TUTS production of A CHORUS LINE
Photo: Melissa Taylor


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

[All photos of this current TUTS production of A Chorus Line by MELISSA TAYOR]

***Click Any Photo to Enlarge***

By way of full disclosure, let me first declare that the legendary Tony Award-winning musical, A CHORUS LINE has been a longtime favorite of mine since the brilliant Michael Bennett directed and choreographed its record-breaking initial run on Broadway years ago. During that period I had several joyful opportunities to see the show on The Great White Way. It is a stunning theatre piece in every way, from the miraculous musical score (Music: Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics: Edward Kleban), its poignant book (James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante), and the stunning and ever-present dancing conceived by the aforementioned Mr. Bennett. The result was a monumental musical of such intimacy that by evening’s end we feel that we know, and very much care, about each of these young dancers struggling to “make it” on Broadway. All of these elements are respected, and once again brought to full fruition, in this extraordinary edition skillfully mounted by the Theatre Under the Stars organization here at Houston’s Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. TUTS Artistic Director, Dan Knechtges, is fully justified in bursting with enthusiasm as he introduces the production in a brief video screened just before the curtain rises.


His pride should certainly be shared here by the Director (Julie Kramer), Choreographer (Jessica Hartman), Dance Captain (Josh Walden), Musical Director (Michael Horsley), the all-equity cast of brilliant dancers, and the superb TUTS orchestra. Add to that a cast of ten gifted young dancers that make up the Teen Ensemble you will not be able to distinguish from the professionals in the cast.

For the uninitiated, except for the stunningly beautiful finale, all the action takes place in an empty Broadway theatre rehearsal space, decorated only by a stage-wide mirror. There, seventeen young dancers full of dreams are auditioning for the eight slots in a major Broadway musical. Clifton Samuels plays the show’s demanding director, Zach, whose intensely probing interviews of each candidate reveal the human stories that give this show its universal appeal, as they combine with the beautiful music and astonishing dancing. Those elements all explode right out of the gate in the thrilling opening number as the dancers sing the optimistic, “I Hope I Get It” in their quest for this job. Next we meet Mike (Alex Joseph Stewart), an Italian guy with a slightly goofy personality. He brings lively animation to telling the story of his learning to dance during the cheerful, “I Can Do That.” In an intricate number titled “And,” Logan Keslar brings comic flair and amusing body language to the role of flamboyant Bobby.

Sharrod Williams as RICHIE

That song cleverly intertwines the stories of Judy (Madison Turner), feisty Val (Celia Mei Rubin), and athletic Richie (Sharrod Williams, who delivers the acrobatic, “Gimme the Ball,” segment). Troubled childhoods come to the fore during the hauntingly beautiful, “At the Ballet,”

Veronica Fiaoni as “Maggie,” Paige Faure as “Sheila,” and Gabi Stapula as “Bebe”

as we hear the stories of Maggie (Veronica Fiaoni), Bebe (clear-voiced Gabi Stapula), and Sheila (Paige Faure). A somewhat ditzy, Kristine (Brooke Aver), explains she is no vocalist in the amusing, “Sing,” accompanied by her patient husband Al (Sean Ewing).

Mark (Brian Corkum) opens the dynamic full cast tribute to adolescence, “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love,” with the hilarious saga of his youthful confusion about gonorrhea.

Samantha Marisol Gershman as “Diana”

In her role as Diana, Samantha Marisol Gershman brings lashing power and desperation to the song “Nothing,” describing the struggle of a young dancer unsure of how to tap into feelings as an actress.

Celia Mei Rubin as “Val” 2019

A performer’s endless quest for attractive physical appearance is nicely captured as Val sings “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.” Miss Rubin lights up the stage from one end to the other.

Sarah Bowden as “Cassie”

Sarah Bowden as “Cassie”

Then comes perhaps the most stunning moment in the show as Sarah Bowden, in the role of sassy, sexy Cassie, (who just happens to be Zach’s former lover), performs the epic number, “The Music and the Mirror.” Her astonishing and memorable dancing was nothing short of brilliant.

Eddie Gutierrez as “Paul”

In the role of the emotionally fragile Paul San Marco, Eddie Gutierrez delivers a poignant, center stage soliloquy with its powerful and heartbreaking tale of a young gay man’s struggle to find his identity. But our spirits soon rise again as Diana and the full company enchant us with perhaps the show’s most beautiful and enduring song, “What I did for Love.”


And just when we think there is nowhere to go from such bliss, the stage explodes with the sensational, “ONE,” the glitzy and golden finale that would perfectly showcase the incredible talents that TUTS had assembled for this unforgettable production.

A Chorus Line continues through September 22nd 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


Posted in Broadway,, Houston Chronicle online, The Courier Columns, Theater Reviews, Theater Under the Stars,, TUTS | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Houston Symphony Commemorates the Heroes of 9/11 and Beyond

Arriving youngsters mingled with superheroes at the CONCERT FOR HEROES

[All photos courtesy of Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. Click any photo to enlarge.]

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

Aptly titled A SYMPHONY OF HEROES, the Houston Symphony’s recent concert at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on the solemn anniversary of September 11th, was at once both reverent and optimistic. A free concert sponsored by HUNTSMAN, the stated theme was wonderfully supported by the orchestra’s selection of music from classic film scores celebrating such cinematic heroes as Superman, Robin Hood, Wonder Woman, Batman and Spiderman.

Free books for the children.

Some of those iconic figures even prowled the pavilion plaza delighting arriving children prior to showtime. Kids even had the chance to select free books from plaza reading tables.

The Houston Symphony

On the pleasantly warm late-summer evening there were even some welcome breezy crosswinds circulating in the pavilion, while soft pastel lighting embraced the shirt-sleeved orchestra on the stage.

Stuart Chafetz, Conductor

Presiding over the musical excitement, and more formally dressed in a crisp white dinner jacket and black tie, was the cheerfully good-humored conductor, Stuart Chafetz, who brought lots of fun to the proceedings, even when not one, but two microphones failed him while addressing the eager crowd.

Area fire fighters were some of the heroic first responders on hand to greet the crowd.

The thrilling opening selection made it clear this was an important occasion with the shimmering and ever-rising crescendos of John Williams’ powerful Summon the Heroes, featuring an impressive trumpet solo from Mark Hughes. Then, before the blaring excitement of Music from The Incredibles, Chafetz amused the old-timers in the crowd by singing a few bars of the old Mighty Mouse theme, “Here I Come to Save the Day.”

Kids could dress as super heroes.

Next came whirling excitement and sweeping grandeur from the musical pairing of Main Theme from The Avengers and Suite from X-Men: The Last Stand. Soon the enthusiastic crowd would be clapping along at a galloping pace for the Lone Ranger excitement of Rossini’s familiar William Tell Overture. What followed was what I consider to be one of the finest film scores of all time: Korngold’s majestic and Oscar-winning “Symphonic Suite” from 1939’s classic, The Adventures of Robin Hood.

MOMS are super heroes too!

The Music from Wonder Woman began with a spooky and ominous atmosphere and moved on to pounding rhythms. There would be more rousing excitement from the Theme from Batman, just at the time the conductor’s microphones were failing him as he bravely shouted to the crowd in the dark and cavernous arena. That problem was resolved just in time for maestro Chafetz to invite all emergency responders and military service members to stand and be recognized by the appreciative audience.

The intermission-free program moved on to the mysterious Spiderman Theme, and then to the somber, yet richly beautiful tribute of the elegant Hymn to the Fallen from Saving Private Ryan. Then the delicate transitions and gentle sweetness of John Williams’ Love Theme from Superman seemed an appropriate recognition of the real superheroes being honored by this very special concert from our own heroic Houston Symphony. Bravo!

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

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Swinging SATCHMO Celebration from Anderson Twins & Friends

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

It seems to be becoming an annual musical celebration of the end summer as brilliant jazz musicians, Peter and Will Anderson, hold forth at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre in Manhattan’s Symphony Space on Broadway for yet another sensational concert in their increasingly popular SONGBOOK SUMMIT series. Last season’s sophisticated offerings featured musical tributes to Jerome Kern, Hoagy Carmichael, Jimmy VanHeusen, and Irving Berlin. This year fans were treated first to the music of Duke Ellington, and then I had the good fortune to attend Opening Night of their final offering, a concert celebrating the musical legacy of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. I use the term concert rather loosely here, because in reality, the programs put together by these gifted identical twins are really educational musical seminars of the first order.

While Will may be best known for his dazzling skill on clarinet, and Peter for equally brilliant work on saxophone, the multi-talented lads move freely between various instruments during the performance.

Vince Giordano greets fans at Club Iguana

On this occasion they were handsomely supported by guest star, Vince Giordano, performing on string bass, saxophone, bass, and tuba, with solid vocals on the side. Real New Yorkers are familiar with Giordano and his fabulous Nighthawks Big Band performing regularly at the Iguana Nightclub. Another special guest for this concert was sensational trumpet player, Mike Davis, substituting for the scheduled Jon-Erik Kellso at the performance I attended. Rounding out this solid cast of fine musicians were Rosanno Sportiello on piano and Paul Wells on drums. The talented ensemble quickly had the party well underway before the twins joined them onstage to display astonishing dexterity on sax and clarinet for the lively fun of Muskrat Ramble. Carefully planned and researched projections of related photographs, quotations and video clips nicely accented the musical performances. There was even a sprinkling of the witty theatrical drawings of Al Hirschfeld (like the one of Armstrong above), made available by special permission of the Hirschfeld Foundation. As the musical history lesson unfolds, the audience is taken back to Armstrong’s jail time as a young man, his early work with the Riverboat Band when being mentored by King Oliver in 1918, and then on to the Roaring Twenties days of Armstrong’s Hot Five Band. New Orleans flavors abound as we are treated to the delicious funereal seriousness of the tune, Saint James Infirmary. Vince seems almost airborne as he bounces with his tuba, Rosanno sparkles on the eighty-eight and the twins pair perfectly, as Mr. Wells nicely decorates every number on the drums. Armstrong quotes like, “If it hadn’t been for jazz there would be no Rock-n-Roll,” and “What is jazz? If you have to ask you’ll never know,” punctuate the projections. And speaking of jazz, Armstrong’s affinity for occasional scat singing was traced back to the famed 1930’s trio, the Boswell Sisters. There was more fun with an assortment of amusing vintage TV advertisements that featured Armstrong touting everything from Schaefer Beer to Suzy Cute baby dolls. Antique clips of Armstrong appearances at the Hollywood Bowl and on What’s My Line added to the merriment. There was a poignant story of how, as a young boy, Armstrong was nurtured and encouraged by the Karnofsky’s, a family of Jewish immigrants. They reportedly loaned him five dollars for his first coronet, and for all their kindness, Armstrong wore a Jewish star around his neck for the rest of his life.

Will and Peter Anderson

But back to the fine music, Mr. Davis then came onstage, trumpet in hand, to blow the roof off the room for Struttin’ with Some Barbeque. That tune was written by Armstrong and his wife Lil Hardin, and here it becomes a tour-de-force from the ensemble with bright piano accents, and a sassy vocal from Giordano. Next, the West End Blues has the audience longing to get up and dance, with Davis hotter than ever on trumpet as the twins blend in perfectly with sax and clarinet, while Giordano continues to shine on tuba. Soon the Andersons would have their fingers dancing across their instruments for Fats Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin’, during another cheerful vocal from Vince. This historical and wide-ranging musical saga continued as it touched on Armstrong’s more than 30 film appearances, his navigation of the troubled waters of the Civil Rights Movement, and amusing anecdotes like the time President Nixon helped Armstrong at an airport as he unwittingly carried Satchmo’s luggage (containing 3 pounds of marijuana) through customs. The great tunes rolled on one after another with such gems as the rousing Someday (You’ll Be Sorry), a lazy and intoxicating When It’s Sleepy Time Down South, and of course Armstrong’s Grammy-winning hit, “Hello Dolly,” that drove The Beatles out of Billboard’s #1 slot. Through all of this, and the abundant music that followed, the Anderson Twins had the special glow of two gentlemen enjoying the fun of fulfilling their special destiny in just the way God must have attended. How fortunate for those of us in attendance.

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

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A Brilliant Bublé Wows New York Fans at The Garden

Michael Bublé at Madison Square Garden

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

[All photos property of  Click any photo to enlarge]

Eager fans await the star

The flags aloft

As the full-house crowd at Madison Square Garden eagerly awaited last Wednesday evening’s arrival of the star, the American flag hung proudly from the ceiling right beside the banner of Michael Bublé’s Canadian homeland. During the non-stop, two-plus hours that would follow, Mr. Bublé would abundantly prove why his astonishing talent has made him every inch a citizen of the world.

The superb orchestra surrounds the star.

His sensational vocal artistry would combine with the brilliance of the three-tiered onstage orchestra featuring some three dozen of the world’s finest musicians, all elegantly dressed in formal attire. Technical wizardry would enhance the evening throughout, with eye-popping visual excitement that would feature multi-colored lighting, ever-changing kaleidoscopic effects, and multi-screen projections from every angle that would constantly surround the star. It would all frame a delightful night of music to linger long in memory.

Joining the fans in-the-round

From the outset the collective mood in the massive arena was a reflection of the day’s relief, following the long-awaited arrival of simply beautiful summer weather in Manhattan after what had been a brutal recent heatwave across the nation. While the main staging area was at one end of the arena, that stage was connected right out into the middle of the audience via a long ramp reminiscent of Miss America Pageants in days of yore. That enabled Bublé to move freely from the main stage into the middle of the audience, and to even do some jazzy segments at center stage surrounded by his fans and a core group of his finest musicians. If the crowd was in an upbeat mood, so was the star as he opened the show with a thunderous and pulsing rendition of one of his signature tunes, “Feeling Good.” Then it was on to the snazzy and optimistic hit, “Haven’t Met You Yet,” with the star prancing about the stage like a dancer and exploding with infectious joy. With comic flair he joked with the audience about the high cost of the show tickets required to accommodate his growing family, quipping, “Who knows how much bribes will cost getting my three kids into college?”

Bublé in a bubble above the stage

Without skipping a beat he brought the piercing power of his voice to an absolutely thrilling, “My Funny Valentine,” with the orchestra glowing amid rosy pastel lighting as the entire stage was embraced by a neon rainbow. Just as suddenly came the bright transition to a sensational and finger-snapping, “I Only Have Eyes for You,” that seemed a perfect demonstration of vocal control. Then came a beautiful performance of an early personal Bublé favorite of my own with the seductive Latin rhythms of the haunting, “Sway.”

During a momentary respite, Bublé shared stories of the beloved grandfather he always credits with having inspired his love for music of the Great American Songbook. But then, with seemingly endless energy, he was soon whirling across the mid-audience ramp with the bouncing delights of, “Such a Night,” and moving on to still more perpetual motion during a jazzy and hot, “Up the Lazy River.” There was old-style, brassy big band fun, as the guys in the orchestra echoed each line of Bublé’s lush delivery of, “When You’re Smiling.” There would be a spontaneous moment as Bublé coaxed a young man in the audience to sample “stardom” by singing a very respectable, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” There was also a brilliant trumpet solo that blew the roof off the room for, “You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You.” The love theme continued with a tender and magnificent, “When I Fall in Love,” and reached a poignant and touching zenith with Bublé’s original composition, “Forever Now.” A devoted family man, the song was his intimate reflection on a parent’s enduring love for a child, and was movingly depicted here in accompanying slides of an evolving nursery where empty crib and room furnishings slowly appear, and then finally vanish while symbolizing the cherished life of a child. For many years Bublé had been unable to perform the song because it was much too personal in its meaning. Thank goodness it is now included. Continuing this show so full of love and humanity, he then offered another touching performance with the song, “Home,” dedicating it to the brave soldiers and first responders protecting us around the world.

A Lively Lavender Conclusion

Then, avoiding the risk of having melancholy set in, a fun-filled trio of Louis Prima hits followed as “Buona Sera Signorina,” “I Ain’t Got Nobody,”and “Just a Gigolo,” put the room back in full-party mode as the audience cheerfully joined in the singing. There would be breathtaking artistry for an explosive and flashy, “Cry Me a River,” before the star left the stage giving the impression the show was over. But no! Soon he was back for a soft, warm “Where or When?” before solidifying the affectionate bond between audience and star with the beautiful, “You Were Always on My Mind.” Bublé was once quoted as saying, “It’s my job as an artist to make people feel.” Job well done, Michael!

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


In a happy discovery, my guest and I enjoyed a fine dinner before the show (and dessert afterward) in the lively NILES restaurant just across the street. Consider giving it a try.


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Cinematic Fun at the Music Box Theater

Cast at The Music Box Theatre (L-R) Luke Wrobel, Cay Taylor, Rebecca Dahl & Brad Scarborough


“The People’s Critic”

It’s that time again. Time to get out and enjoy the nightlife in Houston. The cheerful delights continue as the familiar troupe at the Music Box Theater takes on their latest subject: “Songs of the Silver Screen.” To steal a line from the movie Casablanca, the cast has been able to round up “the usual suspects,” minus one, as cast regular, Kristina Sullivan, was granted a much-deserved vacation during this production. But all the regulars remain, including Brad Scarborough and Rebecca Dahl, the company’s founders, along with Luke Wrobel and Cay Taylor adding to the fun. The merry atmosphere was quickly established with the cute and childlike performance of “The Rainbow Connection.” It featured great harmonies and solos and was a joyous opener that was topped by projections of Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. A pleasant parade of film parodies and memorably famous quotations would follow. A clever spoof of the James Bond films was titled, “Tomorrow Never Says Never, and Also Never Dies.” It featured a fine performance of the song, “Nobody Does it Better” by Luke, as the cast performed a shadowy, slow-motion background mime of the action-packed shootouts reminiscent of the 007 films. Adding to that action were a few staticky malfunctions of the house microphones that were regrettable. A Luau Beach sketch was somewhat rescued by a nice duet of “Endless Love,” from Cay and Luke, which might have been improved with less fussy “business” and desperation during that beautiful song. A much more satisfying segment followed with a parody of The Godfather that was hilarious. Luke was marvelous in the title role, presiding over the wedding of his daughter, amusingly played by Cay in the role of the bride, hilariously named Mary Nara (with all due respect to my favorite spaghetti sauce). Brad was every inch their equal in his wimpy role as the slapped-around younger brother, Fredo. It was a comic high point as the Godfather lashes out, slapping Fredo around and scolding him for “…touching my daughter on her wedding day!” Of course Fredo is rewarded with the traditional horse’s head as the Godfather proclaims, “I knew it was you Fredo.” Brad then moved on to a sensational and growling performance of “Pretty Woman,” while seducing a Pom-Pom girl in the person of Rebecca. His was a resonant, smooth, rich performance, with such a fine transition to “Unchained Melody” that it made me think, “This guy could be filling stadiums with that fine voice if he wasn’t here delighting audiences in this intimate venue.” Before intermission arrived, Rebecca would deliver a fierce, “Holding Out for a Hero,” and then there was a calming, “I Say a Little Prayer,” quartet to close out the act.

There was plenty of excitement to begin Act Two during the “Eye of the Tiger,” from the film ROCKY III . With Brad’s laser beam voice, the cast joined in behind him as he mimicked the boxer’s jump rope and punching bag workouts. Here and there we hear a few ghostly but forgettable telephone conversations spoofing the movie Scream. On a higher plane, we have an uproarious death scene from Terms of Endearment, with Rebecca in full diva mode for a fine duet with Brad of the A Star is Born hit, “Shallow.” It is delightfully and simply accompanied by guitar (Mark McCain), along with the constant beep-beep of the bedside hospital monitor. It adds to the merriment until one of the exasperated hospital attendants finds it necessary to finish Rebecca’s lengthy and amusing death scene with a smothering pillow. But don’t despair. Soon we have a cheerful trio of, “Always look on the Bright Side of Life,” that even features some ghostly dancing with the corpse. Black humor to say the least, but the audience loved it. Cay then provides a powerful performance of the song “Tightrope” from The Greatest Showman, and brings it to a light and airy conclusion. Rebecca hits a solid vocal homerun with a, “The Man That Got Away,” that would have made Judy Garland proud. Meanwhile, science fiction fans won’t want to miss Cay’s performance as a tiny but hilarious E.T. Then Brad and Luke then give us two fierce and wild guys from Top Gun, with “Danger Zone.” Another parody titled, “When Harry Met Seattle,” featured Cay with a wistful, dreamy and poignant, “Moon River.” Luke brings solid country flair that is perfect for Houston, when he sings the wonderful “Everybody’s Talkin,” before moving on to a radiant, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” which blended in perfectly. Echoing that theme, we suddenly see Brad waking up like the sleepy Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, as he announces in wonder, “It wasn’t a dream! All I wanted was to get back to our theater.” That launched the cast into a sensational quartet of, “I’ve Had the Time of My Life.” The cheering audience seemed in total agreement.

Next Up at The Music Box

SONGS FROM THE SILVER SCREEN continues at the Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, Houston, Texas, through June 2nd with performances at 7:30p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, and there will be Sunday matinees at 2 pm on May 19th and June 2nd. 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, FEELING GROOVY.

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

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