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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)))

FOR LATE BREAKING STORIES: http://www.twitter.com/famereporter

http://www.beyondchron.org/

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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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

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