Friday, November 25, 2016

WHEN JAZZ HAD THE BLUES …West Hollywood








William Thomas “Billy" Strayhorn was an American jazz composer, pianist, lyricist and arranger, best known for a nearly three decades collaboration with bandleader Duke Ellington. In this biographical musical, with numerous jazz favorites, book writer Carole Eglash-Kosoff shows us the emotional life of a true American genius. We see how, at the age of 23, he met and impressed Ellington with an impromptu backstage audition and, a few months later, was writing arrangements for Ellington's orchestra.

The author also reveals his long and close relationship with Lena Horne, who always said if he had been heterosexual she would have married him. He lived openly as a gay man, and we experience the toll his work took on the man who was the one great love in his life.

All beautifully realized by a superb cast, led by Frank Lawson as Strayhorn, Boise Holmes as Ellington, Michole Briana White as Lena Horne, and Gilbert Glenn Brown as Aaron Bridgers. Notable in multiple roles are Katherine Washington, Brad C. Light, Michael Covert, Keverlie Herron, Darian Archie, and dance captain Chris Smith.

John Henry Davis’ direction carries us smoothly through the great jazz years, showing how dynamic performances often mask haunted inner lives. Choreographer Cassie Crump and musical director Rahn Coleman almost bring down the house with the musical numbers. 

Six dynamic musicians frame the action: Coleman (keyboard), Quentin Dennard (drums), Michael Saucier (bass), Rickey Woodard (awesome on saxophone), Nolan Shaheed (trumpet) and Stephan Terry (keyboard II).

At the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave. West Hollywood, through December 18.  Tickets: 323-960-7776 or www.plays411.com/jazzblues.

Photos by Ed Krieger.

Friday, November 18, 2016

THE CONSUL, THE TRAMP AND AMERICA’S SWEETHEART …in Beverly Hills



 
In late 1939, the Nazi German Consul in Los Angeles blackmailed Hollywood studios from making pictures critical of Hitler by threats of banning their films in the German and Austrian markets. In this engrossing new play, he visits United Artists head Mary Pickford to demand they stop filming Charles Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. 

Capturing the style and private personalities of the famous is a challenge and author John Morogiello does it brilliantly.

He truncates a month’s long event down to a gripping and ultimately satisfying 90 minutes, illuminating the ever ongoing right of an artist to speak truth to power.  Chaplin himself goes nose to nose with this fascist bully in scenes that are as delightful as alarming. No need to describe the parallels to our own era, it's all there.

Brian Stanton is a marvel as Chaplin, a mercurial but shrewd delight as he confronts this enemy of freedom and decency; Melanie Chartoff as Mary Pickford, transcends the meek onscreen sweetheart role to show the strength of an astute dynamic woman; Shawn Savage is the epitome of an arrogant Nazi official with a caustic sense of humor, and Laura Lee Walsh is bold and delightful as the fly-on-the-wall secretary who shares her story with us.
Directed with panache by Jules Aaron, aided by Michele Bernath’s rambunctious choreography. The sublime old-Hollywood set by Jeff G. Rack is lit by Ric Zimmerman. Produced for Theatre 40 by David Hunt Stafford.

At the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Dr. BH, through Dec 18. Tickets: 310-364-0535 or www.theatre40.org  
Photos by John Morogiello.
Also reviewed in the December issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN NOVEMBER ON THE BANKS OF THE GREATEST OF THE GREAT LAKES … in Hollywood





 
We all have our horror stories about celebrating Thanksgiving with our crazy relatives, but this one takes the cake. Ah, the rituals! The table setting, the family-heirloom tablecloth, the browning of the turkey, the perfect gravy, who to invite, and who you hope doesn’t show. 

It’s all there in this amusing play by Kate Benson (winner of an Obie Award) with maniacally precise performances by all the relatives and a sweetly tragic view of the family misfit in action.

There are even two lively sports announcers to keep us posted on the significant goings-on. But, don’t be charmed into nostalgia, because there is method to Benson’s madness. This will be the most memorable Thanksgiving for all concerned, and perhaps even for the audience.

 
Nicole Gabriella Scipione manages to actually be emotionally moving as the often mocked family fool; Christopher Neiman and Kjai Block are truly funny as the warring announcers; Judith Ann Levitt and John MacKane are the oldsters who, in spite of handicaps, have their say; Sarah Lilly, Tegan Ashton Cohan and Debbie Jaffe are the possessed sister hostesses, while David Bickford and Rebecca Light fill in admirably as numerous other family guests.
 
Light-hearted direction by Laramie Dennis. The deliberately bleak set is by Morgan Lindsey Price, with lighting by Karyn Lawrence, and costumes by Jenny Foldenauer.

At Theatre Of Note, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd, Hollywood, through Dec 10. For tickets: (323) 856-8611 or www.theatreofnote.com

Photos by Troy Blendell.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A NICE FAMILY CHRISTMAS …North Hollywood





This delightful play finds us celebrating Christmas in Minnesota with an emotionally reserved Norwegian household where hugs are verboten and emotions blocked by jokes. (My heritage is Irish but the dynamic in these relationships was familiar.) 

A son comes home to find his widowed mother cooking in the kitchen; garrulous grandma visiting from Florida; his doctor brother grieving over his bad marriage; his sister explaining how she’s a gay mom; his sister-in-law demonstrating all the signs of a nervous breakdown, and Uncle Bob wooing the lady of the house with flowers and mushy demonstrations of affection. 

Greg D. Barnett is the journalist son who decides to write an article on his wacky family; Marcia Rodd is a scene-stealer as the grandmother whose wicked sense of humor takes the mickey out of everyone; Belinda Howell is the mother who tries to calm every situation with the production of food, while Fox Carney is her shy lothario joining the party uninvited.

Patrick Burke is the son reeling from a marriage break-up and family secrets while Rebecca Dunn is his hysterical but loving wife. Truett Jean Butler is the daughter who has a problem explaining the origin of her child to people who don’t get that she’s gay.

Author Phil Olson’s latest family comedy was a well-deserved recent winner of The McLaren Comedy Festival in Midland, Texas. Doug Engalla directs with flair and the set by Chris Winfield is superbly inviting.

At Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd, NoHo, through December 18. Tickets: 818-763-5990 or www.thegrouprep.com
Photos by Doug Engalla.
 Also reviewed in the December issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.

Monday, October 17, 2016

VONNEGUT, USA …at Atwater Village




  
I met Kurt Vonnegut in the 1980’s when I was Assistant to the Publisher at Dell. He was one of our authors and lived up the block, but never came into the office. He was very private. The only time we talked was at an Academy of Arts & Sciences event to install new members, where he wryly noted that the Academy President had kissed the women but didn't kiss the men. At a party to celebrate his newest book, when the room fell silent for his speech, he said, "Goodnight everyone!" and left. 

Loved his books, especially Slaughterhouse-Five.

In the 1950s he wrote short stories for Colliers and Saturday Evening Post about life in small-town America that were light and fun, but with flashes of his unique ‘dark’ humor. Director Scott Rognlien has adapted five that highlight the pitfalls of Progress as it storms across the country during the Post-WWII Industrial Boom. 

Filled with unique, hilarious, and touching characters, these stories flow in and out of each other and yet still maintain their integrity. Says Rognlien, "Vonnegut mentioned in his writings that he always felt adaptations were missing one key character – him! With this adaptation, his voice and persona is integral to the stories."

The cast includes Rob Beddall, Keith Blaney, Jason Frost, Marjorie LeWit, Carryl Lynn, Darren Mangler Paul Nieman, Eric Normington, Maia Peters, Paul Plunkett, JR Reed, Rob Smith and Matt Taylor.

A Next Arena production at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Avenue, LA, through Nov 20. Tickets: 323-805-9355 or vonnegutusa.bpt.me. Pay-what-you can at Sunday Matinees.

Photos by Maia Peters.

Also in the November issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.