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December 29, 2009

LEE HARTGRAVE REEL FILM TWITTER

LEE HARTGRAVE REEL FILM TWITTER

RAYMOND CHANDLER IS BACK IN STYLE IN 'THE MISSING PERSON' 

At least in the new movie “The Missing Person”. Filmed in deep Noir Shadow sometimes works in this film – but on the other hand, it was so dark that all I could see at the beginning were eyes shining in the dark. Creepy, yes – but that theme prevails throughout the movie.

There are many things that I liked about it however. I liked the Noir feel of the movie – loved the train ride and the tacky Motels that the Detective stayed at along the way. In some ways it has a feel of “No Country for Old Men”.

The quality of the film varies along the way. Sometimes it is pretty good, but most of the time is has a grimy, gritty look that gives it an old time patina look. Maybe that is what the director has in mind.

There is some tough talking Dialogue in the film (which harkens back to 40’s type lingo.) Especially intriguing is the conversation between a cab driver and the detective.

There were times that I almost gave up on this movie. However I stuck to it – and began to like it better. The film has a surprise ending that I would not have guessed. The story keeps you interested and the acting is superb. Now, if only there was just a little more illumination.

Film Noir was Dark and shadowy, but we were always able to see their faces. In this movie, you really have to strain to see anything.

Brilliant performances by Michael Shannon, Amy Ryan, Margaret Colin, Linda Emond, Yul Vazquez and John Ventimglia. Masterful Direction is by Noah Buschel

RATING: THREE BOXES OF POPCORN!!! –trademarked-

YOUNG VICTORIA IS A GORGEOUS FILM

I love Castles and Palaces. I never get enough of them. Watching Monarchs stiffly sitting in their palaces is endlessly entertaining.

And no one was more prim, proper and stiff than Queen Victoria. But, of course when she was just Princess she showed that she really did have some feelings. Was this a prison? Well, yes – when you are an heir to the throne, you can’t even walk down the stairs by yourself. Someone had to hold your hand as you walked down and up. But isn’t it worth all that bother to become a queen or a king? For that kind of adulation – I would gladly hold hands with anyone, as long as they didn’t push me down the stairs.

This is a beautiful movie that is kind of a docudrama. The interiors are sumptuous beyond belief. The palace intrigue is quite interesting. There is always the danger of being poisoned – that is why Victoria has a taster, before she could touch the food.

Victoria and her mother did not get along well. The mother wanted Victoria to give up the right to be Queen. She and her Palace Boyfriend tried to get the future Queen to sign away her rights and name her mother Regent until Victoria became of age. The sassy “V” would have none of it. It was then that we found out what a force the new Queen would be. No one was going to out smart her. However, she did have to give in on a few things, like giving her new husband Prince Albert more say in how the Palace is run. Actually, Albert was very smart and was very good for the Queen. Until he came into her life, everyone hated the new Queen. He more or less made her more human. And they did go on to have nine children. My, My – did they ever get out of bed?

The entire cast was really quite Royal and fascinating. They  made the entire thing seem quite real. Emily Blunt (the Devil Wears Prada) and Rupert Friend (Prince Albert) are perfectly suited as the Royal pair. They had the pomp and circumstance down to the bottom of their royal robes. You’ve never seen so much bowing and scraping in your life.

RATING: FOUR BOXES OF POPCORN!!!! (highest rating) – trademarked-

BROKEN EMBRACES – HOT BLOODED

PEDRO AMMODOVAR AS USUAL HAS DIRECTED A MOVIE THAT BURSTS WITH PASSION AND FIRE.

There are so many twists and turns to this movie that it almost makes you dizzy. There is a blind screenwriter. His secretary and her son help him write his screenplays. There is a beautiful woman, Penelope Cruz who will complicate his life. 

All of them seem to have many secrets that are just about to pop out at any time. One lives under a double identity and a past that soon comes out in the open.

But the thing about Almodovar’s movie is the realism that you feel. You care about these people. They become part of your life. It’s not like you’re looking and thinking “Oh, they are just actors.” Not in this case. You become involved with them and the story.

And the melodrama explodes on the screen. I guarantee that you will not be bored. Hey, I should know. I bore easily. My like it or not meter is when I start to nod off at the beginning of the film. I did not nod off in Broken Embraces.

This is a smooth, intriguing film that reminds at times of Fellini. Broken Embraces has some film-noir elements to it. And that is a good thing.

RATING: FOUR BOXES OF POPCORN!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked-

(((Lee Hartgrave has reviewed films for PBS KQED, California Voice, City Magazine and Los Angeles Nightlife Magazine)))

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LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS - KATYA GLITTERS AT NCTC




Dec. 28 2009

LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS 

TATYA IS EVERYTHING THAT HOLLYWOOD HAS FORGOTTON

LET THE SHOW BEGIN. The footlights light up the floor – Red Curtains hang tantalizingly and there is a picture on the wall in Front of the Drapes over the Queenly Chair – of Josef Stalin.

The overture begins just like a big Broadway Musical Production. Then, the Star appears from behind the Red Drapes wearing a Red glittery Red Sequined Gown. To complete the look – she even has a sequined Hood to match.

This time around Katya also has New Hair. Now, she is no longer just a Russian Duchess – but the ‘Hostess with the Mostest” She purrs; “Darling’s I am so thrilled to be back in NCTC’s lovely Basement.

This is a Christmas spectacular and Tatya belts out the Earth Kitt hit – “Santa Baby” with some surprising new startling lyrics.

She jokes with the Piano player. “Stand-Up. Oh, you are standing Daaaarling!” Of course, he should have smacked her – but he didn’t. And the Elves that flitter in and out of the stage? Well, Katya has a way to get them too. “The Elves come and go. But I tell you Daaarling – I might even know their names by the end of the run.”

To the audience when someone dares too say something. Katya says sweetly – “I did not pay to hear you perform.” She brings up many big names, Barry Manilow, Jerry Herman (my very, very old friend – almost dead friend). Remember – this show is a farce. You can’t believe anything that comes out of a spoiled Duchess’s mouth.

Katya wears one stunning dress after another. It’s almost like a fashion show. Maybe her next show could be about a Russian Model, who used to be a countess. Heaven knows she has the outfits. Tatya claims to be related somehow to Stalin. He was so good to me – she says. “He taught me how to look interested when people are talking to you.” – as she said this – it dawned on me – Oh, my God! It’s Leona Helmsly, the Hotel Heiress.

She sang a vibrant song from Dreamgirls called “One Night Only” – only she turned it into “Eight Nights Only.” Near the end of the set – she gave us a rousing “Proud Mary” in a Silver Glitter short Dress. Tina Turner would probably have loved it – or socked her in the face.

At the very end – Katya looks Angelic for the Xmas show in a Gossamer Green flowing dress. She looked fresh and sophisticated. Really, I couldn’t be more serious – she really did look great.

So, here’s my advice. If you lose urine when you laugh, gasp or slap your knee – then you better not see Katya. Or bring a pot to catch any residue.

AT THE NEW CONSERVATORY THEATER CENTER

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) – trademarked-

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Datebook and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))


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December 4, 2009

COTTON PATCH GOSPEL - JUBILEE. TWO ROUSING SHOWS

 LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS
Dec 4 2009



Cotton Patch Gospel – “Delirious fun!”
Jubilee – “Grade ‘A’ Tomfoolery!”
Patty Duke to Star in REAF Special



COTTON PATCH GOSPEL -

This rousing musical is still one of the most produced musicals in the USA because Harry Chapin’s score grabs you by the seat of your pants and won’t let go.

The musical paraphrases the New Testament. It takes place in modern Georgia -- and the story is based on Jesus and the New Testament. It’s thrilling to hear the Blue Grass musicians along with the fresh, young new talents on the stage.

How does the Gospel translate to the 21st Century? Quite well. It brings up many questions during the musical. The one that really resonates is – would people recognize Jesus if he showed up in Georgia. Not likely.

The S—t kickin’ music starts with a fantastic “Somethin’s Brewin’ in Gainesville. “Then there is great harmony in “I Did It”. The song “Jubilation” brings up memories of hair – but without the Broadway glitz. There are promises that if you follow the gospel you’ll get “A Gold AmexCard”.

Harrod in this play is the Governor of Georgia. It’s such a camp – but so-so true.  Absolutely loved “Dangerous Man”. Think Sweeney Todd.

These electronic evangelists of the airwaves will keep your toes a tapping. Well, gee gosh – you might even be tempted to go up on the stage and get saved.  This is one of my favorite lines: A preacher questions why Jesus is preaching and drawing such big crowds. He complains: “Why would he do it for nothing?” And, of course, that nails the Churches to the cross and their constant asking for ‘small change!” What the heck – biz is biz. You just can’t compete with the Free Jesus out in front of your Church.

What you’ll see and hear at the Custom Made Theatre production is an evening of talent that matches Broadway performances. It’s Chair Rockin' Baby. And as one sings: “If you’ve got a problem – you must flush it out!” Yes you do, and yes they did.

Oh, and get this: Pontius Pilate (Preacher) is complaining that Jesus is operating without a permit to run a fast-food-joint. He says in his imperial way ‘”He’s serving 5,000 people a day, without a permit.” He’s such a nice guy. But, kind-a-dumb, wouldn’t you say?

EXTRAS: THE STORYTELLER – EDWARD HIGHTOWER IS A DYNAMO. HE HAS SPIRIT THAT ABSOLUTELY SOARS. ALL HAIL A NEW ECECTRIFING STAR.

THE AMAZING COTTON PATCH TRIO STARS KATIE KIMBALL, ERICA RICHARDSON AND RONA SIDIQUI. “WONDERFUL FLAT-OUT SINGING!”

THE COTTON PICKERS: PAMELA BRANDON – BASS. JOHN CROIZAT/DAVID FINCH – FIDDLE/MANDOLIN. JEFF (UNCLE JAKE) KAPLAN -- BANJO/GUITAR.   AND MATT LAUER, ALSO ON GUITAR. THEY BRING OUT THE TIMELESS MUSIC (Bluegrass) WITH EVERY NUANCE AND EVERY CRAZY NOTE WITH PRECISION NOT OFTEN HEARD. “THE PICKERS ARE SPELLBINDING!”

DIRECTOR: MARILYN LANGBEHN HAS GIVEN US AN INVENTIVE FRESH NEW TAKE ON THE MUSICAL.

M USICAL DIRECTOR RONA SIDDIQUI WORKED MAGIC. THE SET/SCENIC DESIGN BY LEWIS CAMPBELL IS CRISP AND POWERFUL. THE LIGHTING DESIGNER KEDAR LAWRENCE HAS KEPT THE MOOD GOING WITH FASCINATING AND EVOCATIVE PLAYS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW.

“The show is a triumph!”

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) – trademarked-


JUBILEE  -- AN EXQUISITE PRODUCTION! 

The 42nd Moon production of Jubilee is really something to celebrate. The impeccable ensemble lands every laugh with perfect timing. Dyan McBride (Eva Standing) is truly one of the most fun performances that I have seen in a long time. She match’s brittleness with heart and showy gestures of faux affection.

Back in time: Cole Porter and Moss Hart took a long luxury cruise to tour the world. They wrote this musical during the cruise. They used inside jokes about their famous friends; there is Johnny Weissmuller, Elsa Maxwell, Ginger Rogers, playwrights, a King, Queen, Princess and the Prince.

 The Princess is wooed by playwright/composer/actor Eric Dare. A hostile uprising forces the Royal family to abandon the palace. They romped around with commoners, and loved the freedoms of being on their own.

The musical opened on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre and ran for 169 performances. Here are some of the great/clever songs: “The Kling-Kling Bird on the Divi-Divi Tree”, “My Most intimate Friend”, “A Picture of Me Without You”, “Begin The Beguine”, “Just One Of Those Things”, and “Everybodee Who’s Anybodee.”

This is a warm, funny and tender musical. It’s a very special evening.  A perfect mix of Royalty, humor and commoners make the Cole Porter musical wildly enjoyable!

C.J. Blankenship (Mowgli) is the icing on the cake. He reveals almost all to the audience (sexy outfit) – and his voice is strong, vibrant. He makes a strong, assertive and sexy statement.

Megan Cavanagh (The Queen) – couldn’t be more stately. I was almost convinced that it was Queen Elizabeth. Benjamin Pither is always a delight. He plays Prince Rudolph, among several other characters. In fact he changed clothes so often that he must have been naked back stage most of the time as he slipped into one character after another in seconds. Zack Thomas Wilde (Eric Dare) was born to play the snob Playwright. Andrew Willlis-Woodward (Prince James) reminds of Ashton Kutcher in looks. He has that cinematic charm. It’s hard to not focus on him. But, then he is a Prince.

EXTRA: So many great actors and so little time. Everyone in the cast is so brilliant – here is the rest of the cast of thousands:
Peter Budinger, Derek Travis Collard (Prime Minister), Alison Ewing, Sarah Kathleen Farrell, Michael Patrick Gaffney (King), Juliet Heller (Princess Diana), Alexis Papedo, Celeste Russi and Justin Torres and Giana De Geiso (Lady Zendl, and others)  “REMARKABLE TALENTS!”

The spectacular Direction is by Greg MacKelllan. Dave Dobrusky, Musical Director is always the genius at the piano. And brilliant Choreographer Tom Segal is mind-blowingly fantastic.  The Costumes by Louise Jamilowicz are just fabulous. Every scene looks like it jumped right off the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Visually stunning!

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!!  (highest rating) –trademarked-

WHERE: 42ND MOON THEATRE at THE EUREKA THEATRE.  FOLLOW 42ND MOON ON TWITTER.

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook section and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))

REAF PRESENTS A SPECIAL AT THE J’LaCHIC THEATRE 39

The one Night Event stars the terrific and fun Patty Duke is a star from the successful and wonderful “Wicked” at the Orpheum. Also you will love Lucie Arnaz, Broadway star and singer. Ron Abel will accompany Arnaz.

Then there is the American idol Star RJ Helton – he will make your socks roll up and down. Connie Champagne & Leanne Borghesi – Cabaret Stars will certain keep you guessing. You never know what they are up to. But whatever it is – is bound too be fun.

Another ‘Wicked’ star, Teal Wicks will also perform. And the wonderful Motown Singers Top Shelf. will bring down the walls. Well, not literally, I might be sitting next to one of them. But they will keep your toes tapping.

All the entertainers will ring in the Holidays with upbeat, high-energy music, dance and comedy. The One Night Only Cabaret raises funds to provide to direct them to services that help people with HIV/AIDS. To date, REAF has distributed over $2.25 million.

INFO: FOR TIX: 425-273-2620. Or online: http://www.helpisontheway/ 

Ask about the Dessert party with the cast following the show.

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November 24, 2009

JOHNNY MERCER TRIBUTE AT RRAZZ ROOM - GREAT!









Lee Hartgrave Reviews
Nov. 24, 2009


TOO MARVELOUS FOR WORDS
STARRING LINDA PURL AND LEE LEESACK


They come in from the back of the Rrazz Room – stunning the audience with Mercer’s “My Favorite Hour.” It was like I was listening to a 50,000-Watt Radio Station in the 50’s. What a great Duet. Mercer’s words and music touched (and still does) countless people with his sensitivity, playfulness and warmth.

Purl simply shines and shimmers. Can anyone really look that sincere? I think so – there were no phony notes up on that stage. Her “Skylark” was pure icing on the cake. The cake of course would be to Johnny Mercer who was born on this month. Mercer was and will remain one of the greatest musical geniuses in the world.

Leesack kept us spellbound with the amusing and funzie song “The Watcha-Ma-Call-it” and another hilarious song “Pineapple Pete” -- where Leesack introduced us to “The Fluke”. It’s a strange instrument that you strum. It was awesome. I loved it – and so did the audience.

During the evening – the duo kept us enchanted with over 30 songs. Some were done as a medley. If you want to mellow out over the greatest music in the world – well then you better trot down to the Rrazz Room to see Purl and Leesack.

And like one of Mercer’s songs sez: “Goody, Goody” – which by the way has always been one of my all-time favorites.

Where? THE RRAZZ ROOM AT THE NIKKO HOTEL IN THE MAIN LOBBY.

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))

http://www.therrazzroom.com/
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November 22, 2009

SHE STOOPS TO COMEDY - GREAT FUN!



Lee Hartgrave reviews


SHE STOOPS TO COMEDY

BEND OVER – YOU’RE NEXT! -- FOR LAUGHS THAT IS!

This play is a whirlwind of observations of Theater, Theater folk and links to comedies of the past like “As You Like it.” This is an exhausting play. Not for the audience – they were thrilled – but for the actors. It takes a really experienced bunch of actors to tackle this intricate play. And in this case – we are lucky, cause you could hardly wish for a better cast.

Here a little peek at the story. Alexandra Page (Liam Vincent – “Triumphant!”) is a Lesbian actress. Her career has careened and she is looking for a way to bring herself back into the spotlight. She decides to dress as a man and audition for the role of ‘Orlando’. Page also just broke up with her live-in girlfriend who he discovers is auditioning for the same play that he his. Did he plan this? You’ll find out.

This high-voltage play is more than challenging. The actress (Amy Resnick –Scintillating!”) plays two roles – one a Lighting Designer and the Other a vain, pretentious actress, who seems to be so fragile that she might faint at any moment. Her big scene is when she is on the edge of the bed, moving from one side of the bed to the other and changing her persona. One talking head is very ‘Butch’ – the other is the glamorous Diva who reminds of Vivian Leigh in “Streetcar Named Desire.” Or Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard.” As Alexandria says: “The world’s a f%*king Drag Show.”

Here’s another Alexandria spark: “Talk about chewing the scenery. I’ve seen her use a curtain rod for a toothpick!” Theater people are so kind to each other. At least to their face.
Alexandria gets ready to audition for the role of “Orlando” by pasting hairs on her/his arms. He quips “They once belonged to Laurence Olivier.” This is an intellectual Roller Coaster ride that is thought-provoking. There will be times that you will get lost. As the dialogue switches from auditioning, to real conversation, the lines between actors and characters blur. Are they on the stage or off the stage? What’s real and who’s gay or who is not? Stay tuned. You will figure it all out as you BEND over with laughter.

It’s nutty delirious fun! This is Theatre at its most vibrant!


Also fantastic and unforgettable are Sally Clawson, Cole Alexander Smith, Carly Cioffi and Scott Capurro (who does an amazing Monologue) it’s better than a stimulus package!


EXTRA: Another Great set from the Talented Mr. English. Kurt Landisman works those lights like a Grand Piano and the Costumes by Valera Coble were drag-a-lecious! And of course, without the incendiary directing by Mark Rucker this play would not be as compelling and faultless as it is.

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating!) –trademarked-

AT THE SF PLAYHOUSE

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Datebook Section and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))

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November 2, 2009

LEE HARTGRAVE FUNZTIME NIGHTLIFE - NOV. 2, 2009

LEE HARTGRAVE FUNZup! NIGHTLIFE
(places to be - and be seen)
Monday Nov. 2, 2009

AT THE RRAZZ ROOM there is a really unique act called “Wing”. It’s a one-night only show – so put on your glam and meet me at the Club at 8pm.

Tomorrow Night at the Rrazz is Ashford and Simpson adding a new dimension in entertainment. Just being at the Club is an entertainment experience as it is. In addition to the current acts on the stage – I really like to watch the T.V. Screens on each side of the stage to get previews of the Fab acts that are coming up. Like Joel Grey. He will be at the Rrazz soon. What a treat that will be. http://www.therrazzroom.com/

On Sunday, Nov. 29 will be “Candy & the Sweet Tooths Holiday Shows. Also you can see the show on Nov. 15, at the swanky Officer’s Club Upper Fort Mason @ Franklin. Can’t make those. Then shoot for Sun. Dec. 13th at the Preview Theatre, 582 Market Street. Info: http://www.candyandthesweettooths.com/

Right now at 42 nd Street Moon (Eureka Theatre) is a wonderful Hooty Tooty revival of “Destry Rides Ågain”. It’s just a-heck-off-a lot of fun. At the Eureka Theatre. Next up will be the blockbuster “Jubilee” Check it out: http://www.42ndmoon.org/

Get out those dancing shows – and dance right down to the Cowell Theatre at Fort Mason for Yaelisa & Caino Flamencos debut “Canciones 2”. Dec. 18, 29 – 8pm and Sun. Dec. 20 – 3pm. http://www.camionosflamencos.com/

BOXCAR Theater’s Next biggie is I SF on Dec. 3-19. The name says it all. Don’t know if they sing or if it’s just a play. Guess it’s too late to get Jeanette MacDonald to open the Golden Gate. http://www.boxcartheatre.org/
GET GLAMOROUS AT ‘STEEL MAGNOLIAS” You know you need it! On the Mainstage of the Hillbarn Theatre – they are having a Girl’s Night Out. Get more beautiful with May Kay, Lancome, Benefit Cosmetics and The Body Shop. Then see the show. But, you will look so fantastic that more eyes will be looking at you at not the play. So please try to down play the glitter. Steel Magnolias – the play is just wonderful. You’ll surely want to see it. Get details on Girls Night Our: http://www.hillbarntheatre.org/

Not at the Rrazz room, but under the scope of the Rrazz will be a special evening with Linda Eder, who will kick off the new “Rrazz Concert Series” at the Marines Memorial Theater. Eder has one of the greatest voices of our time. That is why she was selected to be in “Jekyll & Hyde.” She has been a Broadway favorite for years. This is a “Don’t Miss!” Tix: http://www.marinesmemorialtheatre.com/HARRY CHAPIN’S COTTON PATCH GOSPEL: A bluegrass Holiday Musical for every one of all faiths. Music and Lyrics by Harry Chapin, Book by Tom Key and Russell Treyz. Edward Hightower (Max Bialystock – Producers) stars in this one-man-with-a-band show. Sounds like it’s going to be soul stirring. http://www.custommade.org/

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced a long running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)

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October 28, 2009

BRONSON STARRING TOM HARDY - HIGH VOLTAGE FILM

LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS
October 28, 2009

Pictured on the right: Tom Hardy as
Bronson.

Courtesy: Magnolia pictures

October 27, 2009

BRONSON IS IN TOWN AND HE’S MEAN

BRONSON the movie that opens on Friday, Oct. 30 at the Lumiere Theater certainly will frighten, repel and fascinate.

BASED ON A TRUE STORY: It was 1974 when a hotheaded and crazy guy (Michael Peterson) wants to make a name for himself. He is a 19 year old at the time. To get the attention that he pines for, he takes a homemade sawn-off shotgun and robs a post office. He did make a name for himself and landed in prison for a 7-year term.

However the young man (played by Tom Hardy) keeps getting into trouble, even while he is in prison. He does terrible brutal things to other prisoners – even to people that work at the Prison, who try to help him. Without any indication, all of a sudden he will try torture or kill any living thing near him. He is known to be England’s most violent prisoner – and also England’s longest prisoner in continual custody. Most of the time in prison, 30 years were spent in solitary confinement. And much of that is in the nude. Yes – Michael Peterson was proud of his muscular body.

As sadistic as he is he seemed to revel in hurting people. He remembers the movie “Death Wish” that starred Charles Bronson. Someone tells him that he should change his name to Charles Bronson – since he has a Death Wish. And so he did. He became (in his mind) a superstar. He became Charles Bronson. The more hideous and outrageous things that he did only gave him more press and more notoriety.

Yep, he spent a total of 34 years in prison. Four of those he was more or less free to associate with other prisoners. But, he couldn’t wait to strangle, choke and stuff things in their mouth and confine them with duct tape – so that he could torture them. In Art Class, he did this to the instructor and even put white paint in the instructor’s eyes. The prison attendants couldn’t get to him, because he had locked the door from the inside.

Artistically, this is an extremely thrilling film. Also, it is very, very violent and may shock you beyond belief. In an way the film is beautiful to look at – even the violent scenes are artistic.

Denmark native Nicolas Winding Refn’s is known for pushing boundaries with over the edge grit. Well, they can’t get any grittier than “Bronson”. I would say – “It is shocking – but mesmerizing!”

Bronson is everything to keep you on the edge of your seat. It is Riveting - Gripping seismic drama! And exciting! The film photography is jaw dropping. Looking for High Voltage? Well, this is it. I may see it again with a friend – just so I can watch him squirm. Tom Hardy (Michael Person/Charles Bronson) will be in huge demand for other films. He gives one of the most engrossing powerful performances I’ve seen this year.

RATING: FOUR BOXES OF POPCORN!!!! (highest rating) – trademarked-

NOW PLAYING AT THE LUMIERE THEATRE AND OTHER LANDMARK THEATRES.

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))

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October 26, 2009

JAMES CARPENTER GIVES A GREAT PERFORMANCE IN 'CREATURE'



















PICTURED: JAMES CARPENTER

Photo by: Alessandra Mello

LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS
October 26, 2009

CREATURE IS ‘A TRIUMPH!’

BLACK BOX THEATRE PRESENT S TREVOR ALLEN’S “THE CREATURE”

WE ARE USED TO SEEING A DUMB, INARTICULATE BEAST AS THE FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER – but that is not what Mary Shelley had in mind. No, her vision was of a sensitive, but perhaps horrifying creation that tried to fit into the life of the humans around him. They rebuff the Monster and his loneliness turns to rage as he does some pretty bad things. Like snapping the head off of someone.

Young Dr. Frankenstein gets interested in the works of alchemists. He longs to discover the fabled elixir of life. Later he develops an interest in chemistry. In fact he becomes obsessed of the idea of creating life through artificial means.

So, he assembles a humanoid creature by stitching together pieces of human corpses. Frankenstein succeeds. He manages to create a person. But -- not the person that he had hoped for. It apparently is not handsome enough for him – so he abandons the creature. Other mishaps and cruelty happen to the creature, and he swears revenge.

He kills Frankenstein’s new bride, as well as his best friend, Henry Clerval. “The Creature” was a 1940’s radio play, and it was also done as a podcast in 2006 and 2007. What we get on Thick Theatre stage is a fascinating blend of Theatre and Orson Welles type Radio Drama.

What is unique about this Monster is that he is not really repulsive. He is intelligent. As Dr. Frankenstein says: “He speaks like a man. My God. It evens read Milton”. You notice the putdown. Frankenstein does not give him the courtesy of calling him a man. He refers to “The Creature” as IT throughout the play. No wonder he got upset. Would you like to be called “It” all the time? I’m on the side of the Monster. Get Frankenstein.

James Carpenter plays “The Monster”. And he gives one of the most deeply moving passionate characterizations that I have seen in many years. As he continues his rampage he takes us from one exhilarating scene to another. At times he is very threatening and other times, Carpenter is “Potently Erotic!” Somehow, Carpenter has even managed a new way to talk. Halting, yet fascinating. He is definitely irresistible. It’s a rush!

James Carpenter lights up the stage, just like Dr. Frankenstein gave him the electric spark right from the beginning it continues, never dying down. He dominates the evening.

Also giving Power House performances are Gabe Marin (Frankenstein) and Garth Petal (Captain Walton). Rob Melrose directed with extraordinary flair. And Trevor Allen has brought to the stage a new titanic view of “The Creature” – one that will remain on our minds for a long long time.

This World Premier plays thru November 7, 200 at The Thick House Theatre. 1695 18th Street. Info: 415-402-8081 or http://www.thickhouse.org/

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked-

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))

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October 23, 2009

TINY KUSHNER - SINGER ANNE KERRY FORD





LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS
October 23, 2009


TINY KUSHNER – Five short plays
SINGER ANNE KERRY FORD

TONY KUSHNER is the legendary playwright, who is best known for his “Angels in America” that started out in San Francisco at the Eureka Theatre and then went on to world fame.

He also wrote these amazing and wonderful hits: ‘Brundibar, ‘Homebody/Kabul’ and ‘Slavs’.
So, we know that he is a wonderful with words. However, I’m disappointed in the “Five” so-called short plays at the Berkeley Rep. It’s starts out with a little story about two people on the Moon. They are dead – one “The Queen of Albania” – doesn’t know that she is dead, but she does have one subject to rule – a young woman (Valeri Mudek). Cute concept, but not fleshed out very well. The possibilities vanished -- maybe because the U.S had bombed the Moon. I added that part – it’s not in the play.

The last two plays are probably the most entertaining. One is about former First Lady Laura Bush. It was fun and the actress Kate Eifrig, made it brilliant. Kushner’s humor and writing also shined brightly on this one.

Jim Lichtscheidl is an amazing actor. In one of the plays he gives a non-stop monologue that took longer than a side trip to the moon. He memorized an amazing bunch of words that went on for 35 minutes. Maybe that’s why they had an ambulance out in front of the Theater, just in case he drops dead. After all -- the plays are mostly based on the dead.

In one play there is a lot of talk about sex between same sex couples. J.C. Cutler (who plays various roles) is terrific as he tries to fend of sexual overtures from (Lichtscheidl). There is a lot of talk about S—T, back door entry, and other sexual proclivities. I think that after it was all over – we, in the audience were probably due for an enema.

Speaking of the audience – when I looked around, there were a lot of people that were fighting to keep awake. Of course, a big portion of the people there were elderly and it was past their bedtime. At the end, a few stood up and applauded. Most stayed in their seats – because they were catatonic.

Here’s my advice. If you have insomnia and can’t sleep – then this is the perfect evening out for you. Better than any pills. It won’t take long, so bring a comfy pillow.

Valeri Mudek is stunning to look at on the Moon, and she did what she could with Moon Dust. But, you know how the Moon is – it’s just dull. There aren’t any Starbucks.

I have an idea that these plays were laying around in a drawer at Kushner’s home. As I see it, he woke up one day and thought – I have those plays that I don’t know what to do with, so I’ll put them together to make an evening of it. In other words, I think they were throw-a-ways that all of a sudden became useful.

The evening is called “Tiny Kushner – 5 one-acts”. There is nothing “Tiny” about it. I felt like Gulliver, being tied down to an endless diatribe, with little Tiny trying to kill me with endless words. It went on for 2 and half hours.

I’m not saying that Kushner is not a gigantic talent. He is. That has been well established. But, this time, with this show, it didn’t work. You can do what you like. If you don’t believe me – go see for yourself. And then I can say, “I told you so.”

Here is my advice. In spite of the terrific acting – I say – MISS IT!


AT THE BERKELEY REP RATING: TWO GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!! -trademarked-

AIRWAVES EXCHANGE ANNE KERRY FORD

I’ve wanted to tell about Anne Kerry Ford for sometime, but so many shows have been opening at once – that I just couldn’t fit it in. But, now I can.

Kerry Ford is bringing her moving “Bilbao Moon” to Mill Valley on Oct. 30. This is a Kurt Weill Theatrical concert with pianist John Boswell. Ford is a passionate devotee of the music of Kurt Weill and has been applauded around the world as one of the best singers of Weil’s music. Broadway noticed, and she appeared in the Broadway production of Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. Sting was the star.

Ford has performed in Cologne (at Philharmonic Hall), Düsseldorf, Germany and Liege, Belgium. There is a C.D of this concert – and it has received high acclaim. Ford has a vision. And that would be to do a Theatrical tribute to Weill. And she found the perfect spot at the 142 Throckmorton, a 300-seat theater in Mill Valley. How heavenly is that? The theater is just north of San Francisco.

“This is the perfect setting for me on this stage where I’m not bound to the microphone. I can interpret the Weill songs in a more physical way.” – said Ford.

She will draw on her extensive theater and dance background. As you know Weill’s songs are dramatic, romantic, humorous and political and she wrings out all the potential in the lyrics.

I’ve heard her C.D. and she has an astounding voice. Her version of “Pirate Jenny” is extraordinary. What drama and passion. It sweeps you up in the pure mind bending perfect notes. There is no doubt about it. Ford is a dynamic singer.

Even if you are not a Cabaret fan – you’ll love this show. Every song is like a full-length story. She knows how to interpret Weill’s music. Ford has the depth and range. She has great style – not only with her voice, but her looks. She is stunning and her voice is gorgeous.
I know one thing – this is one of the most exhilarating shows that have come to the Bay Area in a long time. Anne Kerry Ford is “Impossible to forget.”

EXTRA: ANNE KERRY FORD IS ALSO ON ‘FACEBOOK’ WHERE YOU CAN HEAR A SAMPLE OF ‘ PIRATE JENNY’.

RECOMMENDATION: DON’T MISS IT!

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MORE REVIEWS: www.beyondchron.org

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October 16, 2009

SHOCKTOBERFEST - SANDRA BERNARD - WILL DURST




LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS

October 16, 2009


Schocktoberfest’s -‘Phantom Limb’
Oliver; Will Durst, Sandra Bernhard;
Goldfish at Magic


THE TORTURE GARDEN AND THE PHANTOM LIMB
THE PHANTOM LIMB IS SET IN A NEW ORLEANS BROTHEL following the American Civil War. A rag-tag parade of wounded and mutilated Confederate and union soldiers have come to this place with the promise that the madam will offer to ‘heal’ them. Keep in mind the Soldiers have lost a Leg or an Arm. The Madam Massages the jacket of an armless man and convinces him that she has restored the lost feeling in his missing arm.

This money hungry-madam is making quite a good living at taking advantage of these poor souls. Is this Torture and deception? Of course it is – and her cruelty gets her a payback that she would never, ever suspect. Perhaps you heard the scream from home. This play packs a wallop that orchestrates a stirring crescendo! Just sit back relax – Madam will see you next. Chilling thought for you my dear.

ACT ll -- THE TORTURE GARDEN, is based on the famous or infamous novel by Octave Mirbeau. The book was described as ‘the most sickening work of art of the 19th century.” This sensual and kinky story follows a young man’s journey as he seeks desire and depravity where torture is enjoyed in a grand Chinese Palace garden. And does he get it? Does he ever. Torture that is.

A mysterious woman the exciting Andeola Role, leads her prey to a cruise where her fine arts (her degree is from the Kink and Suffer Scientific College) comes in handy as she turns over her victims to the torturer T-Mao (Lanny Baugniet) who is so frightening that he doesn’t even have to touch you to make you shiver and shake. It’s those eyes, those Bette Davis Eyes – that can burn holes right through your brain. Think -- “Whatever happened to Baby Jane.”
Russell Blackwood plays the Captain of the ship with his usual fascinating stalwart stanch. The Actors play parts in both plays – and they are sensational in these tongue-in-cheek horror stories. It’s stunning, what ‘The Thrillpeddlers’ do with the sets and costumes is just amazing.

Can torture and sex be so beautiful and provocative? The answer is yes!
Oh, and if that is not enough – during the intermission they give audience members a chance to partake in a macabre demonstration of their full-size replica of an 18th Century guillotine. Do you dare to put your head in there? I didn’t – but many did -- and as far as I could see, they still had their heads on their shoulders.

AT THE HIPPNODROME THEATER ON 10th STREET.

INFO: http://www.thrillpeddlers.com/.

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked-

AT THE RRAZZ ROOM – SANDRA BERNHARD AND WILL DURST

SANDRA – SANDRA – SANDRA – YEA, YEA, YEA!

Bernhard has an Album called “Bad Girl ” and that is exactly what she is – A BAD GIRL. But, here is the big surprise – she is a fantastic singer also. She has a beautiful voice that goes easily from pop to opera soprano. She starts out with a fabulous version of “Beautiful People” and then zips into “It Is True” in Spanish.

Bernhard gives you the whole package during her show at the Rrazz Room. She has the goods on the politicians and rakes them over the coals – she also being an icon herself, tells delicious stories about show biz people, pop icons and celebrities. T.V. programs can’t even escape her sly and tricky venom.

You get misty when she sings – and you bend over with laughter when she talks. Bernard has more insight into what is going on the World than all the Politicians in D.C. Her choice of songs, are Rocket Fueled. The power, the emotion blew me out of the chair.

She has what it takes to make going out ‘so much fun’. Her routine is rich, scabrous and politically pertinent!
Her new C.D. is called “Whatever It Takes” – and in the show she lets us know. “It’s all on the C.D.” But, what could be better than to see and hear her live with a band.

Her great gift to us is her extraordinary perception of life. Extremely funny is: “Angelina Jolie – she still carries her son, even though he’s seventeen.”
There is something else about Bernhard – and this might sound like a stretch – but at times there are flickers of movie star “Rita Hayworth”. I don’t know what it is – but there is something visual about her stance. Maybe it’s the hair, and maybe she doesn’t even realize it herself. But whatever it is, it’s engaging and enticing. Bernhard is backed up with Mitch Kaplan, her musical Director, Miles Kennedy on the Drums and Dan Fabricant, Guitar/Bass. They helped make this a big-hearted celebration.

THIS IS AN IRRISTABLE SHOW. I say you should see it

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked-

GONE NOW FROM THE RRAZZ ROOM – BUT HE WILL BE BACK

WILL DURST WAS AT THE RRAZZ ROOM, AND THE PLACE WAS PACKED. He looks a little like W.C. Fields now-a-days – but not as old of course. He knocks those tin idols in D.C. right out of the ballpark. He doesn’t need to make up jokes – they ARE the jokes.

And boy, does he have fun with that.
I have listened to him on the Radio and seen him T.V. – but there is nothing like a live performance. Durst has some of the funniest, smartest and Laugh-Out-Loud material that I have heard in a long-long time. His material is fresh and up-to-date. And you know what? He doesn’t have a bevy of writers like Leno and Letterman – he writes all this great stuff himself. He’s an original wit genius. Who needs writers? Certainly -- not Durst.

You’ve got to see him the next time around. You’ll be glad you did.

INFO: http://www.therazzroom.com/

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook Section and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))

OLIVER AT THE LESHER THEATER CENTER IS THE BAY AREA THEATER GETTING BETTER? AND THE ANSWER IS YES.

Recently I have seen so many top-notch shows that are not ON Broadway, but in the Bay Area that are on a par with Broadway shows. There is ‘Call Me Madam’ at the Eureka Theatre – and “Goldfish” at the Magic Theatre – and now Oliver at the Contra Costa Musical Theatre.
Oliver! Based on the novel ‘Oliver Twist’ is the story of a young orphan boy – who is starved and ill treated by so-called do-gooders.

The musical opens with great gusto in a London workhouse. All the young boys are about to eat the one bowl of disgusting gruel they are allotted. Oliver asks for more gruel. Because of his boldness, he is sold to work for an undertaker who is just as evil. He escapes and runs away to London.
There he has a very colorful life based on stealing. He has no choice to take up the pick-pocketing trade by his “Employer’ Fagin.

With the great music and the wonderful endearing cast – what you see on the stage is a musical that will fill you up with a warm-heart. Who knows, you might even want to help someone who needs another bowl of gruel. Funny how Gruel, rhymes with Cruel.
Along with the main actors – CCMT has partnered with the World Renowned Pacific Boychoir. They are totally amazing – and for being so young, their choreography was just perfect.

I was entranced and astounded.
Your heart will break as Oliver sings (Ian Shoemaker). Cute as a button with a great voice. He’s bound to grow up to be a Heart-breaker on the stage.

Also outstanding are Patrick Michael Dukeman (Fagin), Jennifer Stark (Nancy) and Grant Lowenstein (The Artful Dodger). This is a huge cast and a big undertaking fpr CCMT. Thanks to all of the actors in the show who brought us this complex metamorphosis. It was thrilling to watch.

NOTE: ALSO INTEGRAL TO THE SHOW WAS THE OFF STAGE NARRATOR -- RICHARD LOUIS JAMES – HIS VOICE SPUN THE IMAGES THAT TIED THE SHOW TOGETHER. He should have been listed in the program.

AT THE LESHER THEATER CENTER IN WALNUT CREEK. RATING: FOUR GLASS OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked-

GOLDFISH AT THE MAGIC THEATRE FISH GOTTA SWIM – BUT, SOMETIMES THE WATERS ARE TURBULENT.

IN GOLDFISH, A PLAY AT THE MAGIC THEATRE we have a 19-year old boy who wishes that things could be better between him and his father. Dad, like so many dads around the world – sometimes mean well – but many of them either have drinking problems or gambling problems.

This is the story of Goldfish. The young boy saves money to go to college. His Dad screws that up – by spending the tuition for the next semester on gambling.
You like the Dad (Rod Knapp). You want to hug him and tell him that everything will be all right. But, like his son – even if you tell him that – he’ll still F—ck up! Some Dads will never change. They may love their children, but don’t know how to show it.

“Goldfish” does a tremendous job of fleshing all of this out. The play is high voltage. Sparks are constantly consistent. You and I in the audience are riveted to the two men on the stage – that are more than once ready to disintegrate. John Kolvenbach has written a play that brings to home a story that is played in households all over. Everyone probably has experienced some of the trials and tribulations.

Life is not easy – especially when you have dreams that are about to come true, but are grasped away from you. How many times can your heart take another break? It’s not easy to grow up. It never has been – and only a few are lucky to have it easy. This play is a psychological drama that is tightly constructed and beautifully acted. It’s one terrific play that mixes potent writing with images that will remain forever.

THE RIVITING ACTORS ARE: ANNA BULLARD, ROD GNAPP, PATRICIA HODGES AND ANDREW PASTIDES. ALL ARE DYNAMIC AND CAPTIVATING!

GOLDFISH IS UNMISSABLE! AT THE MAGIC THEATRE INFO:
http://www.magictheatre.org/


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October 10, 2009

CALL ME MADAM - RENT - HEIDI CHRONICLES

Pictured: Klea Blackhurst (Call Me Madam).
Photo Courtesy 42nd Moon



LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS October 10, 2009

CALL ME MADAM - A POLITICAL HOOT!
RENT MUSICAL STILL COMPELLING!
Heidi Chronicles

CALL ME MADAM – WISE HUMOR PACKS A WALLLOP!

50’S MUSICAL COMEDY SPOOFS AMERICA’S PENCHANT FOR LENDING BILLIONS TO NEEDY COUNTRIES. “Call Me Madam” the musical hit from the 50’s is so current that you would think that it was written today. Irving Berlin’s Music and Lyrics is just loaded with frothy satire about politicians. And the melodies are just terrific. Everyone of the songs are classic standards that you will instantly recognize.

Sally Adams (Klea Blackhurst) is a well-meaning Ambassador to the fictional European country of Lichtenburg. In the original 50’s production Ethel Merman was the star (Sally). Merman had a really big robust and brassy voice. And I’m happy, no thrilled to say that Blackhurst is every vocal chord as good. She delivers a confident performance on Berlin’s toe-tapping numbers. Blackhurst has all the ingredients for cult immortality!

And listen to the words – they are just delicious venom. Here’s one American official’s comment: - “The trouble with these European governments is that they’re all run by foreigners.” Yep, the timing for this musical couldn’t be better. The book from Howard Lindsay and Russel Crousse probably never dreamed that their words would be in style again. They still are provocative and persuasive. One of the most delicious moments that pops up in the show in many scenes is Congresswoman Wilkens, who likes to tell everyone – “I’m the Republican!” Another great line -- “What do they want with another crook over at the Internal Revenue Bureau?” Sometimes farce is truth. And I loved this: “I understand that you want to save the World. Well, save it for tomorrow.”

Sally Ådams, the Ambassador charms this tiny country that is too small to be a Country and too big to be a City. Adams is especially interested in the new Foreign Minister Cosmo Constantine (Rob Hatzenbeller gives a super-charged performance) -- and who wouldn’t be interested in him -- he’s tall, good-looking and has big hands. Oh, and yes he’s really a multi-talented singer and actor.

The love affairs continue when the Ambassador’s Press Attaché Kenneth Gibson falls in love with the Country’s young princess.
Here is a short list of some of the wonderful songs that you will hear: “It’s a Lovely Day Today”, “The Best Thing for You (Would Be Me)” and “You’re Just in Love”. You’ll probably want to get up and dance in the aisles to “Something to Dance About”. You will think you’re in Congress, as you listen to the terrific “Can You Use any Money today?”

This powerful musical in the hands of Director Dyan McBride has brought us a superbly staged production that holds us mesmerized!
And there is a live Orchestra that really makes the evening zip by. Thanks to the imagination of Dave Dobrusky.

The Choreographer Jayne Zaban kept those tapping feet going just like a Broadway production and just as good.
THIS CAST MAKE ‘MADAM’ A NON-STOP EVENING OF FUN! JUST TRY TO SIT STILL – I DARE YOU!

THANKS TO: Klea Blackhurst, DC Scarpetti, Scarlett Hepworth, John Elliot Kirk, Benjamin Knoll, Charlie Levy, Rob Hatzenbeller, Gabriel Grilli, Peter Budinger and Giana DeGeiso. Plus the amusing singing secretaries – Lillian Åskew, Allison Rich and Sarah Kathleen Farrell.
“MADAM IS WORTH SEEING AGAIN AND AGAIN!”

Presented by 42nd Moon Theatre (At the Eureka Theatre)

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked-

RENT – INSPIRING – GOES RIGHT TO THE SOUL

THE AUDIENCE COULDN’T WAIT FOR THE SHOW TO BEGIN -- THEY EVEN APPLAUED THE SET STAGERS. And when Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp came out on the stage – the whistles, cheers and clapping was thunderous. Yes, Rent has groupies and they must have come from all over the country.
The cast starts out with the title song “Rent” that describes the problems that young artists have paying rent and trying to get someone interested in their “Art.” Right from the beginning you know that this is a top-drawer cast. The music crashes and thunders – and almost makes your heart race. It does calm down, but you still get the hard guitar with the drums that made the beginning of the show somewhat like a fireworks demonstration.

You will notice, as I did – that this “Rent” is superbly staged and beautifully sung and acted. Sure, it’s a powerful piece that challenges – but isn’t that what Theater is supposed to do? Roger (Adam Pascal) and Mimi (Lexi Lawson) sing the touching and contemporary “Light My Candle” – the words have multiple meanings. Lighting one’s Candle can mean different things to people. This Candle lighting paves the way to a deep and moving romantic story that isn’t an easy ride. Seduction starts a rumble that continues to the end.

The Mimi character is based on the Mimi in La Boheme. In fact the entire show is loosely based on the famous Opera. But this Mimi is a seductress who knows how to get the boys into a frenzy. When Mimi sings “Out Tonight” – she owns the stage. She violently shakes her hair and silver slivers fall out of her hair onto the stage. Talk about ‘Sparkle plenty’ – her dance movements will melt the floorboards. Lexi Lawson is a ravishing, and passionate performer. Probably the best Mimi I’ve ever seen.

The show has undergone some alterations. They have added a little and deducted a little. There is one scene that seems very ‘Hair’ like when the cast gets under a big sheet. You see them only as shadows under the cloth. Unlike “Hair” they did not disrobe. There was also a little change made in some scenes – especially when one actress lowers her jeans a bit to show her bum. I could be wrong, but I don’t believe I have seen that in any of the previous “Rent” shows. It’s O.K. though. Bringing things up to what the youth of today accept -- is not shocking anymore. Just go to one of the outdoor festivals in the City – and you’ll see more than a ‘Tush’.

This story touches on many things. First of all it is multi-racial and the music conveys their openness for everyone that includes, Ethnics, Gays and Straights. And in this story – they all get along. Well, most of the time. They have other things to disagree with, like paying the rent and eating.

Angel, the Drag Queen is one of the pivotal things about “Rent”. Everyone knows he dresses as a woman and no one cares. In fact, Angel seems to be loved by everyone. Justin Johnson is terrific in this role. He doesn’t turn ‘Angel’ into a caricature. No, Angel is just who he is, and Johnson sweeps you up on waves of emotion.

There isn’t a less than perfect performance in this “Rent” – Everyone in the huge cast is just amazing. And that includes the Orchestra. I say: You should see this re-worked production. It has a wonder of freshness to it.

AT THE CURRAN THEATRE

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked-

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))

THE HEIDI CHRONICLES Lets start off with the good stuff. I’m happy to see that the “Custom Made Theatre” has a great new space to perform in. All along the years, they have brought back to the stage some wonderful plays for us to enjoy. Their new space will enhance that, I’m sure. Now, the Bad stuff. The Heidi Chronicles by Wendy Wasserstein was a big deal many years ago. It won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony. I don’t think it would happen now. The play is just too dated.

Some plays can be tinkered with, but there is not much you can do with something that rambles on and on. Also, there are many plays that can be ageless. This is not one of them. There are plays that are ageless. When they are brought back the subject matter is still fresh like the two plays reviewed above. They remain topical. The subject matter remains on the radar. That’s why they are not boring.

“Heidi”, which is about woman’s issues is not all that newsy now-a- days. Woman’s rights are not something you hear people talking about. In a nutshell – Heidi is “So Yesterday”. Heidi’s political moments are too old to dust off. I think the World is now conscious of Wasserstein’s feminist movement that had its ride from the 60’s to the 70’s. It’s out there. People are aware and attitudes have changed.
Even the play “Hair” has had to update itself to get people to go see it. What saves things like Hair and other dated musicals and plays are a simple ingredient – and that is Music. People WILL go to see stale stories – if there is good music in it. So, my summation of “Heidi” is that maybe someone can turn it into a musical. That might fly.

NOW BACK TO THE GOOD. The Custom Theatre Company did the best that they could with this stale play. The actors tried their best to bring it back to life – but even as good as the acting was, no matter who acts in this play, you can’t revive a dead horse.

The Actors are Leah S. Abrams, Rosely Hallett, Juliet Heller, Tavia Kammet, Fred Pitts, Kelly Rinehart, Jessica Rudholm and Dan Wilson.

RATING: TWO GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!! –trademarked-

COMING UP AT THE CUSTOMADE THEATRE IN NOV. “COTTON PATCH GOSPEL” WITH MUSIC AND LYRICS BY THE WONDERUL HARRY CHAPIN. Theatre is at 1620 Gough Street @ Bush. In the back of the Church. http://www.info@custommade.org/. For late breaking news: http://www.twitter.com/famereporter

MORE REVIEWS AT www.beyondchron.org

September 29, 2009

FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL - TEACHERS GONE WILD!

Pictured: The cast of "First Day of School." Photo: Zebrina Tipton.


Buzzin – Lee Hartgrave

FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL - LET'S HAVE SEX!

Well, at this school you would expect to see student activities for the first days of school. They are: Introduce yourself…seating chart…and energizers. You know -- the kind of activities that will energize your new friends. But in this stage play the Teachers take it to a new level.

They do introduce themselves by saying to a fellow Teacher. “Do you want to have Sex with me?” Instead of a seating chart, it turns out to be a bed. And for energizers – a little glass of wine or more will do the trick.
I can guarantee you lots of fun.

After one roll in the hay – one of the characters says after a session. “That lasted a lot longer than our reading group!” And I might add – “Breathless.”
Two teachers (husband and wife) – think they need to spice up their lives. How about this – “We could try having sex with other people.” She tells another teacher about the “Group” sex thing that they have planned. “My Husband is an amazing multi-tasker.” And, yes he is. Not that I personally was part of it – but it might be something to think over.

One actor gives a blow-by-blow description like a sportscaster. Yes, they do sort of throw Balls around but not footballs. And for those of you that are into it – there is also some nipple pinching. Some men like it and apparently go wild when you do it. This fantastically funny new comedy by Billy Aronson is really terrific. You may not actually have sex yourself – but you will be exhausted by osmosis. It’s like you did the deed along with the outrageous actors.

AND THEY ARE: ZEHRA BERKMAN (Susan), BILL ENGLISH (David), Jackson Davis (Peter), Marcia Pizzo (Kim), Stacy Ross (Alice), Torie Laher (Belinda) and Myles Landberg (Jonah). All together they are the best ensemble players I have seen this year.

It’s a real winner – everyone will enjoy! “A seductive comic touchdown. And I do mean touchdown!”


The fantastic directing is by Chris Smith.
AT THE SF PLAYHOUSE
www.sfplayhouse.org

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked-

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and has produced a long-running Årts Segment on PBS KQED)))

August 26, 2009

LORNA LUFT - A MAJOR TALENT


LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS
August 27. 2009

LORNA LUFT – SPARKLING NON-STOP PLEASURE

GUARANTEED! – THIS SHOW IS THE MOST EXHILARATING EVENING YOU’LL HAVE.
Lorna Luft (Judy Garland’s Daughter) came to the stage in a smart looking Tux and the highest stilettos I have ever seen. How does she manage to stay on them for so long? Luft starts the show off with a fabulous rendition of “You Don’t Know Me” – and it was a blast. You actually could feel the heat on your face.

The whole show is bursting at the seams with familiar songs like “Let’s do it” (she even sings the verse), “Who Will Buy” from the musical Olivier. Her talent has really blossomed. Luft shines like never before in this fantastic collection of songs that range from love, broken hearts and the hilarious. You’re gonna love the “Guys and Dolls” medley. It’s like listening to the entire show. By the way, Luft has appeared in the musical, and it’s easy to see and hear why.

The tribute to Bert Bacharach was beyond fantastic. It was a vocal roller coaster ride. She is the likeliest inheritor of her mothers talent. What an amazing range Luft has.

Luft also gave us a wonderful tribute to Peter Allen, who she says was her best friend since she was twelve. The Talented Allen died and Luft still thinks of him all the time. Allen was also married to Liza Minnelli. Really touching and soul wrenching is Luft singing Peter Allen’s “Don’t Cry Out Loud.” Wow! It almost blew the roof off of the Rrazz Room. I know --because my hair was standing on end. All four strands.

Look for a new C.D. featuring the songs of Peter Allen sung by Luft. Sony records asked her to do it. Can’t wait to hear it.

During the show Luft reveals little inside things about growing up in a house with celebrities who came and went constantly. “As you may have guessed” she said – “Our house was not like ‘Ozzie and Harriet!” Yeh, I think we kinda figured that.

Luft’s vocals are just terrific and they are nuanced enough not to be copies of any other singer including her mother. Oh, if you close your eyes, you can hear the influence of Judy, but make no mistake about it; Luft is not imitating her mother or her sister Liza. She makes the music her own.

EXTRA: IN THE AUDIENCE WAS DARLENE LOVE OF MOVIES/TV/STAGE AND 'THE BLOSSOMS FAME.' YOU MAY REMEMBER THE HIT "HE'S A REBEL".
Love Cheered and waved her hands to Luf't's singing -- obviously having a great time.

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! – (highest rating) -trademarked-

YOU CAN CATCH LORNA LUFT THROUGH THIS SUNDAY AT THE RRAZZ ROOM AT THE HOTEL NIKKO (At Mason and O’Farrell) It’s a gorgeous room and a grand Lobby shows you the way to the room) www.therrazzroom.com.

(((Lee Hartgrave contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced a long-running Art Segment on PBS KQED)))

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August 21, 2009

KIM NALLEY NAILS IT IN BILLY HOLIDAY TRIBUTE!


Lee Hartgrave reviews
August 21, 2009


KIM NALLEY TRIBUTE TO BILLIE HOLIDAY - Nalley makes her real – Pennies From Heaven, Them Their Eyes and My Man are just a few of the songs that are associated with Jazz Singer Billie Holiday. Nalley doesn’t imitate Holiday, but leaves a Ghostly presence of the famous, but troubled star.

“Mon Homme” the popular song known in the U.S. as “My Man” was originally composed by Jacques Charles, Channing Pollack, Albert Wilemetz and Maurice Yvain. The song was popularizied in the English speaking world in the 1920’s with the 1921 recording by Ziegfeld Follies singer Fanny Brice. The song was a huge hit for Brice and the record eventually earned a Grammy Hall of Fame Award for Brice. Brice’s version was the standard ballad. It was Billie Holliday, who introduced a jazz/blues record of “My Man.” Holliday’s version was also extremely successful and many thought that she was the first one to record it. In Europe the version of the song by Edith Piaf was the big hit of the same song in France.

Nalley not only sings the songs associated with Holliday, but she gives a running commentary on the Star (Holliday) who went from being a prostitue to becoming a popular recording star who also sang with the Count Basie band and the Artie Shaw band.

According to Nalley, Holliday didn’t care for the traveling part of the job with the Shaw band. She was a New Yorker and a Black singer in the south did not sit well with audiences. She couldn’t even use the bathrooms at the clubs – she had to relieve herself in the grass. Holliday was not happy and left the band to return to New York where she blossomed and began to write her own songs.

Her career was cut short as she played small dives around the country. I once was walking down a rundown area in Chicago and saw this dumpy bar with a sign on the Window that said Billie Holliday tonight. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it. And that is how it all ended for her. She was broke – she needed to eat and feed her biggest problem – Drugs. She died of Liver Failure.

Nalley gives us a great snapshot of this important Jazz Singer. Her descriptions of what happened during Holliday’s ups and downs is downright fascinating. And the her exciting renditions may not sound just like Holliday, but her versions have that underlying feeling that reminds of Holliday on “God Bless The Child”, Tain’t Nobodies Business”, “Them their Eyes’ and one of Hollidays biggest hits “Strange Fruit.” Nally’s easygoing style on the stage is infectious. You can’t help but like her and appreciate her varied talents. She even sang two versions of one of the songs, as Holliday would do it – and how Ella Fitzgerald would do it. It’s amazing. Same song, – yet so different.

All in All – Kim Nalley is Electrifying! The show is compelling, heartbreaking and amusing. Don’t even think of missing it at The Rrazz Room at the Nikko Hotel on the main beautiful lobby. Times Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm. Also there is a late show with Kim Nalley and Rhoda Scott at 10pm tomorrow (Sat) 10 pm.

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))

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August 19, 2009

BUDDY GRECO SWINGS AT THE RRAZZ ROOM

LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS
August 19, 2009

BUDDY GRECO -=- SURE FIRE ENTERTAINMENT!

THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME

George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin wrote the song in 1937. It was introduced by Fred Astaire in the 1937 film, “Shall We Dance.” Many others have recorded the song – Billy Holiday, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Anita O’Day, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Diana Krall. Others have also covered the song – but having heard them all, the best and most convincing version I’ve heard so far is by Buddy Greco.

Greco, who was a friend of Sinatra’s, makes the words really mean something: Here is a sample of the words that require great sincerity: With a swing beat – he beats all the rest. He doesn’t yawn his way through the lyrics.

“the way you wear your hat,
the way you sip your tea,
the way your hold your knife, the way we danced till three.”
(each line ends with “no, no they can’t take that away from me.)

The story is that even if lovers part – the memories can’t be forgotten.

With a Latin beat, Greco really turned the audiences heads into bobble heads. They were twisting and turning in their seats along with the music. Watch Out! Keeping up with Greco could give you whiplash. He may be 83 yrs old, but sure looks like he is in his 60’s and moves like he is still 35. He is also a master wizard at the piano. It’s an extra treat that never plays out. Especially on the ending, when he plays the music of the world wide hit “MacArthur Park.” Greco’s arrangement is absolutely beautiful and intricate. Oh, by the way he has a recording out of MacArthur Park (CD) with the London Symphony Orchestra. He and his Son (on the drums) go at each other with relish. What a fantastic finish to a superb evening that you hate to see end!

A big surprise was Lezlie Anders, a singer that was discovered by Sinatra. “He was so impressed with her singing, that he took me to a really small club on the outskirts of Las Vegas to see her. Now I want you to meet Mrs. Greco. She is gorgeous.” – he said.
And – so she is -- and Anders (wife #5) is a marvelous singer. Anders sang about seven songs. There was a couple of Peggy Lee songs, “Moments” and the classic “Fever”. Both renditions were sensational.

Greco ended with a swellagant rending of the Fab “The Lady is a Tramp”. It was a crackling star performance.

Greco will be at the Rrazz room tonight and tomorrow (Aug 18, 19) at 8Pm. At the Hotel Nikko.

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced a long-running Art Segment on PBS KQED)))

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More reviews: www.beyondchron.org