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February 22, 2010

LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS - MAHALIA - A GOSPEL MUSICAL

 


Photo: Marc Paquette


























LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS

MAHALIA – A GOSPEL MUSICAL 

GOD COULDN’T SAVE THIS MUSICAL

As a concert, this Mahalia musical has all the right ingredients. Great singing by the two main characters. Missing however is a large backup Chorus that would have enhanced the Mahalia experience.

Many of the songs that Mahalia sings were written by T.A. Dorsey – and they ‘shout out to the Lord’ -- and get you in a happy, jumpy mood. Song’s like “I’m Gonna Walk All Over God’s Heaven” is one of those songs. And Jeanie Tracy delivers on most of the music – but on some, she seems to hold back. For instance the traditional Spiritual “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” – could be so much better with a rousing chorus in the background. Then -- “The Walls really would tumble down”.

The segment where Mahalia performs at Carnegie Hall is weak. You get no feeling of the excitement or the atmosphere of being in Carnegie Hall. Tracy shows what she can do with her wonderful voice – and brings the show to life with a vibrant “We Shall Overcome”.  Listen, Tracy has a lot on her plate in this show. She has to sing over 26 songs -- remember lines (she narrates) the Mahalia story. She has to walk up and down stairs, which looked like it was uncomfortable. Tracy is a full figure gal.

Here’s what I think that would save this musical. Get more people on the stage to increase the excitement. The sound system is great as is – but more interest would be created with better staging. Also – I really believe that another actor to the side of the stage should tell the story. Let Tracy Sing – and she will have less to remember. As is – it is a burden for any actress or singer to remember two hours of dialogue plus sing 26 songs.

Her cohort John “Jambi” (Jam-B) Borens plays many roles (Cousin Fred, Pastor Lawrence, Blues Man, Chicago, Thomas Dorsey, Francis and Martin Luther King Jr.)  And – you know what?  He is spectacular. His soaring voice takes us to new heights. Also, his speaking voice is loud and clear. He would make the perfect narrator. Then Tracy could concentrate on the music.

So – here’s Lee’s Formula to save this show: John “Jambi” Borens becomes Narrator of the story. Add more singers to bring out the true Gospel feeling. Let Tracy concentrate on delivering the magnificent songs – and let her get down and dirty with them. Shorten the musical by at least one-half hour. That will tighten the show and make it even more exciting. Do something with the Carnegie Hall part – to make it glitter. Like have Mahalia enter from stage (right or left) to Klieg lights that search the sky. Hey, you can rent them.

This could be such a wonderful happy evening of entertainment with some pruning, speed it up, add more people. Throw it all in a “BandBox” -- and hooray – you will have a hit.

Others in the cast were Yvonne Cobb-Bey who plays Aunt Duke, and Mildred. She also becomes part of he chorus at times. More of her singing would also help. Charlene Moore is the talented accompanist. And John “Jambi” also plays the Organ – or at least it looked like he was playing it.

AT THE LORRAINE HANSBERRY THEATRE

RATING: TWO GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!! –trademarked-

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

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February 19, 2010

LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS - CURTAINS AT LESHER CENTER

 THE CAST OF CURTAINS - Courtesy Photo

LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS 


Curtains at Lesher Center;
Mahalia Jackson musical tribute;
Cool stuff Coming Up Dude!

 
CURTAINS UNFOLDS AT THE LESHER

Curtains the musical, is based on an original book and concept by Peter Stone. It’s a comic look at what goes on backstage. Some of what goes on is a murder. It keeps you guessing about who killed an untalented star of the musical ‘Robbin Hood of the Old West’. With a title like that -- it is a musical that is doomed to failure.

In comes a police detective who also moonlights as a musical theater buff. Along the way, he finds the killer and also love. Curtains has lyrics by Fred Ebb and music by John Kander – with additional lyrics by Kander and Holmes. Ebb died before the musical was completed. Ebb and Kander are known for some great hits over their career, but I have to say that this musical will never go down as one of their best.

And that is where the DiabloTheatre Company comes in. They took this musical and gave it their all. Just like in the story on the play. If you’ve got a bad musical  -- no matter what you do, it’s not going to be great. Pleasing perhaps, but never great.

“Curtains” had a short run on Broadway and it was only because of the main star “David Hyde Pierce” who is so clever and talented that it lasted as long as it did. The musical did get eight Tony Award nominations and Hyde Pierce did win the award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. However, that did no save it from closing on Broadway.

There are some fun moments in the play that remind of shows like “Noises Off” and others of similar style. Keep in mind that the purpose of these kind of shows is to keep you guessing about who is doing the murders. Since there is not A Butler, you’ll have to figure out who it is. And, it IS a surprise. That is one of the highlights in ‘Curtains’.

The musical highlight is the song (Show People) also reprised in the second act. The Detective finally solves the case: And the murderer is…? We won’t tell.

Detective Gioffi tells everyone that he could be Fred (like Astaire) to Niki’s Ginger (as in Rogers) that sequences into the elaborate fantasy sequence where the Detective becomes a dancing Fred. The fantasy scene is fun.

The show closes with a kind off limp ending. The problem with the script is that it is all over the block. It’s hard to know when they are just rehearsing or actually putting on the real show. There is just too much going on in this convoluted show.

There are some great lines that are delivered smartly by members of the cast: About Critics: “Critics are people who want to make a living killing other peoples dreams!” Can’t disagree with that. Here’s more: “What kind of genius has a mind?” Love this one: Talking about an actress – “Would you help her?” – “Why not, I’ve been carrying her all night!” Critic says: “I try not to fraternize with the people I review” – unlike a Critic I know (R.C). Another critic comment: “I tried to say something nice about your production!”

THE CAST: Tom Reardon (Lt. Frank Coiffi) is unfailingly entertaining. The entire members of the cast (which are numerous) are “nimble, likable and unexpectedly enjoyable!”
(Emily Garcia, Derrick Silva, Alyssa Bond, Amy Nielson, Anthony Finley, Tom Reardon, Lia Metz, Sharon Reiterkirk, G. Scott Phillips, Renee DeWeesse, Dustin Riggs and Hilary Mc Quaide.)

CURTAINS IS A LIKEABLE MUSICAL THAT SOMETIMES GETS TANGLED UP IN THE CURTAINS. But, the Diablo Theatre Company pulled out all the stops. Really, I doubt that anyone could do any better.

A FINAL NOTE: WHY IS THE THEATRE SO COLD?

RATING: THREE GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!! –trademarked-

At the Lesher Performing Arts Center in Walnut Creek

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

COOL STUFF DUDE!
Around Town and Beyond


MAHALIA JACKSON MUSICAL OPENS THIS SATURDAY AT THE LORRAINE HANSBERRY THEATRE (Post Street Theatre).

Boy, what a way to inaugurate their new Theater space with the music that I never get tired of hearing. Jackson’s powerful distinct voice has been one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and rightly could be called the “Queen of gospel Music”. Jackson recorded over 35 albums during her career, and many 45-rpm records that included a dozen Gold records.

People who knew her intimately called her “Halie”.  In 1950 she became the first gospel singer to perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Her last album was “What the World Needs Now” in 1969.

I was very familiar with Jackson’s music. I was a Disc Jockey in Gary Indiana in the Mid-fifties (WRGY and WWCA). Gary has a large African American population and her music was wildly popular. When I moved over from working at Radio Stations in Chicago, I took a job as a PR Person at Decca Records Corp – Jackson’s music was a constant seller. At Decca I took the recording stars around to Radio Stations in Chicago to meet the DJ’s.  Jackson was very likeable and charming and never put on the Diva stuff. The D.J.’s (I knew them all) loved her. Those were the glory days of PR.

Fortunately – we are lucky in San Francisco that we will have Jeanni Tracy singing the title role in “Mahalia  -- A Gospel Musical” on the stage at Lorraine Hansberry Theatre (now their permanent home).

http://www.lhtsf.org/

MORE OPENINGS

A WORLD PREMIERE new production of Bertolt Brecht’s amazing “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” is opening at A.C.T. on Wed. Feb. 24, 2010 at 8pm. This fresh look is directed and designed by John Doyle and a new translation by A.C.T. Associate Artist Domenique Lozano. The original music is by acclaimed San Francisco composer Nathaniel Stookey.  Will I see you in the Circle?
http://www.act-sf.org/

FOR A REALLY FUN TIME – YOU CAN’T BEAT A GERSWIN MUSICAL. And…42nd Street Moon is bringing back “Lady Be Good”. “The show was a sensation in New York in 1925 – it ushered the Jazz Age onto the Broadway Stage” – sez Artistic Director Greg MacKellan. And here’s more good news – Chris Smith, the former artistic director of the Magic theatre will direct this production. You surely won’t want to miss this madcap story.  You’ll be dancing down the street.
http://www.42ndstmoon.org/

SAVE THIS DATE!  The San Francisco Playhouse on Sutter/near Powell has been upending the Theater World with its outstanding plays and actors from around the world. Now, they are bringing another Stephen Adley Gurgis play “Den of thieves” to their stage. Gurgis, you may remember wrote the stunning “Jesus took The ‘A’ Train.” Now comes Den of Thieves. Brace yourself for a world of unorganized crime with kleptomaniacs, an ultra-fabulous topless dancer called Boochie. What are they all doing – going to pull off the perfect crime. And maybe a few other things.  Opens Sat. Mar. 13. And—I can’t wait! 

http://www.sfplayhouse.org/

MARILYN LEVINSON – San Francisco’s pre-imminent Cabaret Impresario has come up with another winning season. Levinson is quoted: “We are happy to get to present our final shows this season at the Drake” – said Levinson. Its location right off Union Square, its beautiful and historic art deco lobby, magnificent restaurants, and service-minded staff make the Empire Ballroom a perfect venue for our shows.”

And she is right. The gorgeous Empire Ballroom is just the most glorious place in town to hear performers like Karen Mason, Amanda McBroom and Christine Ebersole. All singers will be appearing starting on March 28. Check times and dates at  www.bayareacabaret.org.  (Showtimes vary)

AND THAT’S A WRAP!!!!

Follow Lee: http://www.twitter.com/famereporter 


 JEANNI TRACY IN "MAHALIA - A GOSPEL MUSICAL" AT 
Lorraine Hansberry Theatre.

http://www.facebook.com/leehartgrave

February 9, 2010

LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS - OEDIPUS EL REY - A KNOCKOUT!

 
Joshua Torrez - Oedipus. At Magic Theatre



LEE HARTGRAVE = THE COLUMNIST
Feb. 9 2010


OEDIPUS el REY:  – FLASHING TA-TA’S AND VIVID TATTOO’S. WOW! WOW!

O.K. HERE’S MY ADVICE. JUST ROUGH RIDE THIS ONE.  Cause, this is not Boy Scout stuff. You know the story of Oedipus. His father practically throws him away after damaging the boy’s feet – however, the boy grows up and becomes a streetwise kid, who angles to be a King.

Along the way there is a lot of bloodletting, Breast Baring and total nudity. The would be King (he is 17) meets an older woman. He has a hankering for her.  He seduces her -- not aware that he was mounting his own mother. She may suspect that he is her son, but she doesn’t try to stop him. Sizzle! Sizzle!

In the background is the most interesting Guitar music and variations that you will ever hear. The throbbing of the music almost drives you to incitement. Check them out at (http://www.verybecareful.com/)

In this whirlwind of a play the temperature rises along with writhing limbs and heaving breasts (female and male. Fans anyone? This re-imagined Greek Classic (now Latino) is not for the easily shocked. No, this is hard hitting stuff that is knarly and macho. Would be Kings jangle ‘their’ things between their legs to get to be the top man.

I have to say that this is the most realistic play that I have ever seen in my long Career of reviewing. Lewis Alfaro, the playwright has just made hip-hop mainstream. The streets have never felt so threatening as the struggle for supremacy makes veins in arms almost ready to pop out.

Shirts are thrown on the ground. No, it’s not Laundry Time. It’s show-off time. And, they have plenty to show. Hey, even great actors have to give the people what they want. This cast of Actors are “Absolutely the most terrific actors in the world. "That is fact and not fiction!”

Now, you might think – “It couldn’t be that good.” Sorry to disappoint you. It is THAT F%*#%ng good. No – better than good. Let’s see, what’s the word: It’s F- -ng “Brilliant!!!!

THE PLAYERS ARE: JOSHUA TORREZ (Oedipus) is the best actor of the year – he’s Riveting! ROMI DIAS (Jocasta) Oedipus’s Mom is unforgettable! Carlos Aguirre, Eric Aviles, Marc David Pinate and Armando Rodriquez -- are all in the (Coro) – The Chorus. But, they are so much more. They act, they threaten, the set the tone of the play. And they certainly make it the dazzling spectacular triumph that it is.

Loretta Greco’s Direction is fabulous. She brings out the Raw and Riveting performances “that make this an experience you won’t soon forget!”

I plan to see it again!

AT THE MAGIC THEATRE www.leehartgrave.net

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

http://www.magictheatre.org/
(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook Section and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))

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http://www.beyondchron.org/.

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February 5, 2010

LEE HARTGRAVE = THE COLUMNIST "First Day of School" is Hilarious!"

 THE CAST OF "THE FIRST GRADE" Photo David Allen 


LEE HARTGRAVE = THE COLUMNIST

AROUND TOWN AND BEYOND
THE FIRST GRADE AT THE AURORA THEATRE IS FIRST RATE

Here’s a woman in her 50’s. She’s teaching First Grade. And she has a sharp tongue. Some of it may go over the student’s head, but I think some get the sarcasm. You know how kids are today

This play is utterly hilarious. Julia Brother’s character is smart alecky and quick witted. But, of course as good as the acting is in this play is - and, it is very, very good – nothing would work if it were not for the immensely quick witted dialogue that playwright Joel Drake Johnson has brought to the Aurora. The direction by Tom Ross is so good that he should be directing some of Hollywood’s movie comedies.

In this play – everyone talks a lot, but no one actually listens to what the other person says.  Brothers has been quoted as saying, that “she considers this the best role she has had to date.”  And no one could do it better.

Brothers, who is tormented by a lot of demons in her mind says in the play: “I go to sleep in a fools paradise – but wake up in Dante’s inferno!”

When they have an unexpected person come by the house, she and her husband are having a discussion about his thoughts that he might be gay. When the person outside knocks on the door – the husband doesn’t want to let the guest in. His wife (Brothers) sez: “If you were a true Gay Man you would welcome her in!” Another hysterical line: Brothers says to her husband. “Where’s your little phone?” He says: “Oh, you mean my Blackberry?” Brothers is quick on the uptake: “I knew it was a fruit!”

The entire family is F#%*d up. The daughter is going to have a baby that she doesn’t want. Brothers therapist turns out to be dangerous, her husband has identity problems. And those are only the good days were talking about.

With “The First Grade” the Berkeley Theatre District has never been brighter. This is a dynamic production with vigorous sparring throughout. It’s really effortlessly funny, tart, sweet and perfect!  Believe me – it’s easy to love this play.

THE SUBERB CAST: TINA SANCHEZ, JULIA BROTHER, WARREN DAVID KEITH, REBECCA SCHWEITZER, ADRIAN ANCHONDO, AND PAUL SANTIAGO. ÅLL IRRESISTIBLE!

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

COMING UP! FEB. 8 AT THE MARINES MEMORIAL WILL BE ANOTHER SUPER-STARDOM ARRAY OF TALENT

YOU WANT TO SEE STARS? Well, here is the place to be at the Marines Memorial Theatre on Feb. 8. Here is a sample of what you see: Rita Moreno, Comic Leslie Jordan, Singer Maureen McGovern, Star Sharon Gless, Maria Muldaur, Singing sensation La Toya London, Nick Lazzarini, David Burnham, Teal Wicks (Wicked), Tim Hockenberry, Kim Nalley, Carly Ozard, Jeanie Tracy.

More have just been added. Ken Henderson just let me know that these have just confirmed also. Ishaara Dance Troup who created a sensation of “America’s Got Talent” last season as well as Terrance Spencer & Grey Haney, two dancers for the cast of “Wicked”. Ken says: This is going to be one of our biggest and most amazing shows ever. The Beneficiaries of this year’s concert are “Stop Aids Project, and Aguilas. More info and tix: http://www.helpisontheway.org/.  or call: 415-273-1620.

AT BERKELEY REP – COMING HOME. Athol Fugard’s play in Two Acts at the Rep is, at time’s enchanting. Especially the first act. The story about a mother and her son who return home (South Africa) is touching with some really strong acting. The second act is another matter. As the Mother gets sicker with a dreadful virus – the play also gets infected. The ending is one of those plays where it just drifts away. You expect more than planting some pieces of words in a Garden. Well, that is the ending. I guess Fugard just ran out of ideas.  Really Sensational are Roslyn Ruff, Thomas Silcott and Kohle T. Bolton.

RATING: THREE GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!! –trademarked-

http://www.berkeleyrep.org/

AT THEATRE WORKS – “DADDY LONG LEGS”. O.K, maybe I’m missing something here. This musical take of the often-told “Daddy Long Legs” (it’s started as a novella, then a movie, then an English musical and now a new musical at Theatre Works) – the story is sweet and touching.  It takes place in the 1900’s in New England. The story is about an Orphan who someone thinks is talented. She is discovered by an anonymous benefactor (who is a trustee at the College). The benefactor’s only request is that she writes him monthly letters. She writes – he finds them witty, and amusing. She thinks that he is an old man, but he is not – as she finds out later. It all ends up being all fuzzy and cozy and leads to marriage.

The story is not the problem. It’s charming. But, the music leaves a lot to be desired. This is a one-tune musical. Every song sounds just like the one before it. It is Recitative style (also known by its Italian name ‘Recitativo’) – a style of delivery that is used in operas, oratorios, and cantatas. It is “sing-speak.”  First of all, the girl has a weak voice. Not strong enough for a musical. The Benefactor has a much better voice – but for some reason he is not allowed to really belt out anything like you would expect from time to time in a musical. That’s it. There are two people in the cast. When it was a musical in England with real musical numbers they had a full cast. You did not have to imagine everyone. The set was great looking and the director did what he could with little. There was not much to direct. The Cast: Megan McGinnis and Robert Adelman Hancock. But, don’t take my word for it. See it for yourself – if you think I’m wrong – let me know. You have plenty of time to see it. The musical has been extended until Feb. 21. At The Mountain View Performing Arts Center.

http://www.theatreworks.org/

"A NUMBER" AT THE LESHER CENTER IN WALNUT CREEK

THIS NUMBER IS A MYSTERY. The story is fascinating and the cast of two: James Carpenter and Gabe Marin, who are two of the most sought after actors in town give it there all. Who needs electric cars with these two guys on the stage? You don’t even have to plug them in. They are self-propelled.

As the play unwinds – it tells the tale of a father (Carpenter) who has had his son cloned. Not only did he have one clone made, but also he used the genetic material of his first son, who died to create many clones. What a scary thought. Would you want several dozen of yourself running around?

You have to pay a lot of attention to what is going on. Marin, for instance plays at least 3 different clones. So, the play can be a little confusing. I have seen this play a few times. And have enjoyed it. At the Lesher smaller Theatre (more of a Cabaret type setting) – I didn’t get the full impact of the drama. A play like this really doesn’t work as well in the round as it does on a regular stage.

But still, Caryl Churchill’s play is fascinating. Even if at times you might need a fortuneteller to sit next to you to tell you what is going on.

Summing up: Great Acting! See it! It’s only about an hour long.

RATING: THREE GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!! –trademarked- 


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

FOLLOW LEE: www.twitter.com/famereporter.
 twitter/famereporter 

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February 3, 2010

LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS - PAULA WEST "MAGNIFICENT!"

Photo : Pat Johnson 
Feb. 3, 2009

LEE HARTGRAVE = 
THE COLUMNIST 

PAULA WEST 'WOWS' AT RRAZZ ROOM



PAULA WEST is a Master at musical control. Make no mistake on this. This singer is monumentally gifted. She has terrific insight to great standards – making them sound fresh and new.

West starts the evening with Darktown Strutters Ball (Sheldon Brooks) – Lyric: “I’ll Dance off my shoes when they play those Jelly role Blues!” With the support of the great band behind her “George, Mesterhazy, Pianist & Arranger, Barak Mori, Bassist, Jerome Jennings, Drummer and Ed Cherry, Guitarist – together really revved up the audience. I’ve never heard so many Whoops and hollers. The audience was definitely ‘’buzzed’. 

Really, Really fabulous was a Bob Dylan song “All I Really Want To Do” put the zap into this song with a Reggae beat. I was hooked. It got huge applause from the audience.

A Hoagy Carmichael song “Bread and Gravy” that West found on an old Ethel Waters record  --brings steaming humidity of the old South. I can just vision sitting on a porch swing on a warm night. See, this is what is so great about West. She not only sings to us, but also paints visual pictures as she goes along. It’s probably Voodoo magic – but she does take you to another time and place.

All you have to do is just sit back in this beautiful NiteClub and listen as Paula West molds every word and phrase. She doesn’t just toss them out to you. She brands them on your forehead with songs like “I’m In Love Again.”  This is what real singing is all about. You can’t help being swept away in the lyrics as West takes us from one dimension to another with songs like: “My Romance” (Roger/Hart), “Everything But You” – (Ellington/James/George). And the wonderful “Nobody’s Chasing Me” – (Cole Porter). Lyric: “The Bull is chasing the Heifer, but nobody is chasing me!” West does little talking between the songs. Which is good – she spends all her time focusing on the music. She does toss out a few words in-between like: “Scream, Holler, Yell all you want. In Time!”

Another great thing about her new show at the Rrazz Room is the absolutely remarkable Band, led by George Mesterhazy. His talent can’t be surpassed. The arrangements are absolutely stunning. And it is really refreshing to hear a singer give so much credit to the band. Many times the names of the band are said so fast that you don’t hear their names. This is not the case with West.  West repeats their names many times. She lets them have their well-deserved day in the Sun.

The opening night sported a lot of Celebrities. There was Wilkes Bashford and Willie Brown sitting in a booth with friends.  The two former owners of the original Gramaphone Records were there, and Naomi of Naomi Antiques was cheering West on. Singer ClairDee was in the audience – looking great and there were several other singers in the audience including Denise Perrier, who will have a stint at the Rrazz soon.  Famed publicist Lawrence Helman was flitting from table to table (he knows everyone) and always has a fun time. Trevor, the former manager (the best) of the now defunct Plush Room was also in the room enjoying the show.

In a few words: “PAULA WEST IS UTTERLY SUPERB!”

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

http://www.therrazzroom.com/


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


Follow Lee: Twitter/Famereporter 

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www.beyondchron.org