Wednesday, July 30, 2014
What makes a great artist? That is the question in this amazing musical based on the true story of black abstract folk-artist JB Murray and the white doctor who brought his work to the art world. Murray was a poor tenant farmer in Georgia who found his inspiration through visitations from The Holy Spirit that were as real to him as the paper on which he drew. The effect his delusion had on his family, his minister, his neighbors and his doctor friend is explored deeply and sincerely. Yes, we sophisticates know there is no such holy spirit guiding anyone’s hands. Right?
Yet how do you explain this simple man’s genius? Even while we resist acknowledging the mystery, writer Mary Padgelek opens our hearts to this man’s simple faith and asks if he didn’t have visions how can we explain his work?
As Murray, Jimmer Bolden persuades us that faith has power beyond our understanding; Will North, as his doctor-friend (and our representative), is a doubting cynic yet captivated by Murray’s purity; Yorke Fryer is brilliant as Murray’s ambitious son who discovers there is more to his mad father than he can fathom; Jacquelin Schofield as Murray’s loyal daughter is a rock of strength;
Ernest Williams as his pastor is a man of integrity; while Sequoia Houston, Courtney Turner and Stephanie Martin are an hilarious trio of church ladies who squabble, mince and sashay their way through zany numbers. Caitlin Gallogly and Joshua Leduc are effective in numerous roles.
Director Tom Coleman, who co-wrote the book, saucily mixes spirit with spoof, well aided by Ali North’s clever choreography and Jeff Bonhiver’s eclectic musical direction. A Spirited Hands Production this world premiere musical was first staged as a reading in Athens, Georgia in 2004. Don’t miss it.
At The Hudson Mainstage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd. through August 31. Tickets: (323) 960-7787 or www.plays411.com/visionary.
Photos by Ed Krieger
Friday, July 25, 2014
Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, last weekend the Robey Theatre Company presented a two-day festival celebrating Paul Robeson, actor, activist, singer, athlete and star of stage and screen. On Saturday afternoon 13 one-act plays about Robeson, his inspirational life and activities premiered. Sadly, I was only able to cover the first four:
In The Agreement by Kurt D. Maxey, directed by Dylan Southard, a stern Shon Fuller (Robeson) confronts a troubled Anthony Pellegrino (President Truman) over his excuses for racism. In Plantin’ by George Corbin, directed by Robert Clements, three black grave-diggers (firebrand Julio Hanson, calming Alex Morris and grief-stricken Dorian Christian Baucum), in a post Civil War graveyard, discover that white bones can belong to any race.
In the hilarious Ionesco-inspired H.U.A.C. by Alicia Tyler, also directed by Southard, Robeson (Odell Ruffin) is dragged before a looney judge (Pellegrino), interrogated by a pompous ass (Ian Forester), and defended by a ditzy glamour gal (Lisa Renee). In Miss Pauline by Cornell Hubert Calhoun III, directed by Dwain A. Perry, Robeson’s teenage niece (Dashira George), over the protests of her concerned mother (Camille Lourde Wyatt), a cautious uncle (Marvin Gay) and fierce neighbor (Carl Crudup), fearlessly takes up the battle for civil rights.
There was a staged reading of a new full-length play, Paul Robeson in Berlin, written by Robert Coles and Bartley McSwine, and directed by Robey artistic director Ben Guillory. Also screenings of Paul Robeson films including The Emperor Jones. Exhibits pertaining to Robeson, as well as displays of memorabilia and a puppet show, were in the Grand Lobby. All performances were presented in the Tom Bradley Theatre at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles.
For information go to www.robeytheatrecompany.org
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Review by Brian Murphy
Improvisation is the ability to perform without preparation, about being in a moment of truth and bringing the audience with you. This connection creates a spontaneous reaction between performer and audience, resulting in anything from uproarious laughter to anguished tears - or any emotion in between. Anyone wishing to experience this sensation should get their butts to a performance of Without Annette.
Writers Hope Juber and Jeff Doucette’s show is set in an improv class that combines classic dramatic structure with random elements gleaned from the seats. Each show is a unique hybrid of scripted and improv performance, but basically it’s a blast! One thing improv teaches you is how to listen (to yourself, your partner, and the audience) and this cast heard us and put us all in the same place at the same time.
The company, culled from the Groundlings, Second City, Spolin Players, et al, all worked to take us on a journey: from Mark Beltzman’s those-who-can’t-do-teach teacher; to Joell Posey and Corinne Dekker’s roommates-without-wardrobe-boundaries; to Kyle Klein’s dark-brooding angst-filled goth; to Shea Scullin’s NFL-star-turned-insurance-salesman, and improv legend Donna Du Bain’s turn from insecure mom to head-lock-dealing biker-lesbian-bitch. While Christina Engelhardt, Bill Chott, Brice Williams, Willem Van der Vegt and Alex Ball all inhabit and own every character.
Juber Productions, in association with Green Door Productions, presents this world premiere comedy. At Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Thursdays only through Oct 2. Tickets: (323) 960-5773 or www.plays411.com. Photo credit: Michael Lamont.
Note: My nephew Brian first turned me on to improv years back when he was with the Groundlings in Hollywood. Then he joined me in New York where he did Stand-Up at all the famous spots, as well as musical theater Off Broadway. In more recent years we have both returned to the West Coast where he has taken me to sessions at Second City and I have taken him to more serious original plays. MMM
Friday, July 18, 2014
Take your favorite numbers from successful musicals, use them as the songs for a contemporary love story and voila! You’ll have a musical of your own. Wrong. It doesn’t work that way. The dynamic songs from Jekyll & Hyde, Cats, Les Miserables, Sunset Boulevard, and others, will drown out a tepid book with their passion and power. However, all the performers chosen to act out this modern love story are powerful singers and actors who are clearly ready and able to perform in these chosen musicals.
The love story by Randall Gray, who also directs, concerns a former Broadway star moving to Hollywood with her son, her meeting a famous film director with a daughter, the two love affairs that ensue and the question of what we sacrifice for a career. It’s a simple and familiar tale that requires songs to match not show stoppers such as these.
Forget the loose thread that tries to make sense of these marvelous songs. They stand alone, starting with Cynthia Caldwell’s beautiful rendition of Memory, through Jonathan Colunga’s dynamic Sunset Boulevard, and then his raging duet with Beth Goldberg in It’s A Dangerous Game. Then enjoy Courtney Daniels and Michael Marchak’s delicate love duet, The Last Night of the World, and be challenged fore and aft with the entire company dramatically facing us in full voice with the rousing Façade.
Presented by Stages of Gray Theatre Company, and produced by Mike Abramson, with superb musical direction by Denise Fuller. At Hudson Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles. Through August 24.
Tickets: (323) 960-7776 or online at www.plays411.com/HollywoodFacade
Thursday, July 17, 2014
In this world premiere romantic comedy a seemingly average American couple have divorced after 16 years, and one son, because the husband had two (2) extramarital flings. Well, maybe she over-reacted, but they had a nasty break up and now she has married a jolly fellow who she believes she can trust.
Meanwhile, her hunky husband has found a new love who turns out to be a rather unhandsome British man who likes to appear in public in drag. Little attempt is made to have this lover a sexual beast – in fact he looks like someone’s grandmother in a really bad wig.
Now, for some reason the ex-wife – who had turned nasty when her husband was schtupping females – now gets a passionate itch for her straying ex-mate and they start meeting in motels for truly fabulous sex. I recoiled at this, but hey, the audience really seemed to eat it up!
Plaudits to the actors who almost make the dynamics in this play plausible: Blake Silver is adorable as a Chorus who sets the action; Robin Riker is delicious as the bewildered wife; Robb Derringer a charmer as the bemused ex-husband; Sean Smith wonderfully arch as the cross-dressing inamorato, and John Marzilli is all energy as the bewildered cuckold.
The clever set by Celine Diano, and dances by Tracy Silver, light up the stage.This farcical play written by Peter Lefcourt is directed by Terri Hanauer and produced by Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners.
At the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles, thru Aug. 24. Tickets at (323) 960-7712 or www.plays411.com/tonight.
Photos by Ed Krieger.