February 19, 2010


 THE CAST OF CURTAINS - Courtesy Photo


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


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.



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)))

Around Town and Beyond


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).



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?

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.

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! 


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)


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Lorraine Hansberry Theatre.


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