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September 25, 2012

THE NORMAL HEART - ANGRY!




Photo: Kevin Berne  Cast list below




THE NORMAL HEART

CAN YOU HEAR THIS? I’m talking about the angry emotional stage play at A.C.T. The play sweeps through the Theater like a whirlwind. ÅIDS is the problem – or at least it was a horrendous problem. Now a day -- it is under control. Therefore, more people are surviving. And thank God for that!

Yes, this play is strident and annoying. And the histrionics can be heard beyond the Theater into the Lobby. Some may be turned off by the noise. And there were moments when I almost got up and left my seat. However, I stuck it out. And as we watch gay men die in front of our eyes – we realize how important this revived play opens our hearts to a fascinating look at those sad times.

“The Normal Heart” is based on the book and play-- by Larry Kramer – who gives us a loud, but fascinating detailed powerful story.
My only objection to the play is that the screaming at each other is way over the top. A little bit of hysteria is O.K – but really – do they need to yell consistently? One man says to the other “I hear you’ve got a big mouth!” Yes, that’s for sure.

To be honest – this is not a great play. The actors save the moment. There is too much speechifying going on. It’s exhausting! However, the ending brings us to another look at this serious play.

 THE ASTOUDING ACTORS ARE A DREAM TEAM. THEY WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE. HERE THEY ARE: Tom Berklund – Michael Berresse- Patrick Breen – Patrick Alparone – Jordan Baker – Nick Mennell – Matt McGrath – Bruce Altman – Sean Dugan and Jon Levenson. “Electrifying!” 

NOW PLAYING AT A.C.T.

RATING: Three Glasses of Champagne!!!

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

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September 21, 2012

THE OTHER PLACE -A VOLATILE COCKTAIL!



Donald Sage Mackay and Henny Russell. Photo: Jennifer Reiley





THE OTHER PLACE CAN GET A LITTLE SCARY

Juliana is a woman who is charming – but alarming. She has a dry humor. But it is hard to tell if she is a compassionate person deep inside or just someone who is on the edge of a cliff. I’ll say that she is probably more on the wacky side.

Juliana is going to visit a Doctor, one that she never met before. Right off the Bat, she takes over the room. Juliana does not like to be questioned. No, she is more of the talker – and she wants you to listen.

Dr. Teller wants to know more about Juliana. The Dr. asks her patient about the divorce. “That’s a recent development isn’t it?” Juliana glares at the Doc and says: “is this a personal question?” Well, yes and no – Juliana is like a slippery snake that can wiggle around anything.

Throughout this treacherous conversation with the Doctor – Juliana drags her ex-husband into the fray. The dramatic moments are explosive. It is beginning to bring out what is really wrong with Juliana. Now, if I were a Doctor – I would say that she definitely has signs of dementia.

She wanders into a former home on the Ocean. Sure, she lived there once, but Juliana thinks that it is still her home. Of course, the girl that now owns the house has to go along with the pretense until Juliana’s ex-husband finds out where she is – and what can be done with her mental condition.

Juliana is bombastic. One minute she is as sweet as pumpkin pie – the next moment she would just as soon, slap your face over and over again.

In this amazing story Juliana goes from being a bright scientist to a total nut case. We, the audience might as well be on the edge of Niagara Falls. This story is like watching an Egyptian paradise falling into rubble.

This is not a charming story that is hard to resist. And, it’s not sweet and intimate. No, that it is not. However, it is a strong story that brings out tragedy in life’s daily chemistry between an ex-husband and his wife. He knows that his wife’s head is in turmoil. And he also knows that there is a gusher coming to ‘The Other Place’, and it is very soon. 

I’ll tell you this – “You won’t feel like you’re on vacation!” No, No, No - that is not going to happen!

HERE’S THE EXCEPTIONAL CAST: Ian – Donald Sage Mackay* The Woman - Carrie Paff* Juliana – Henny Russell* The Man – Patrick Russell*

Written by the amazing Sharr White. Directed by the fantastic Loretta Greco.

RATING: Four Glasses of Champagne!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked-

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

NOW PLAYING THE MAGIC THEATRE IN FORT MASON



September 15, 2012

KAREN AKERS SINGS THE MOST ROMANTIC EVENING OF THE YEAR

SCROLL DOWN FOR 'THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY' AT CUSTOM MADE THEATRE. "VERBAL FIREWORKS - and "WICKEDLY FUNNY!" EDWARD ALBEE'S BEST PLAY!



Karen Akers and Lee Hartgrave are captured in the lobby

KAREN SHARES THE MAGIC WITH THE AUDIENCE




Yes - Hartgrave is short and Akers is Tall. She asked me if I wanted her to remove her heels. I said no. Everyone knows that I'm short." Hey- it's all in fun. Photo by Great photographer "Des". 

AKERS sings with delight a rainbow of classics for the audience at the Rrazz Room. She sings Sondheim songs with fervent genuine poignancy – not to mention the humor.

From “Gypsy” she brings the Cabaret to life with “Let Me Entertain You.” Then there is “Broadway Baby” from the wonderful Follies.  And - this will surely GetYa from “Gypsy” – “Gotta Get A Gimmick”. 

One of my all time favorites of Sondheim’s music is “Did a Prince Kiss Me?” from the musical “Into the Woods”. Now, let me think – did anyone kiss me? Nope – guess not. But I loved hearing about it.

Also from the famed Follies – Akers sings the Gold Standard from Follies “Losing My Mind”. You’ll find out how things are done properly, when you hear this song. And Karen Akers knows how to bring those lyrics to life with her take on “Losing My Mind.” It’s an inspiring and uplifting melody. I loved it – and quite frankly you’ll shiver quite a bit. It really gets to your emotions. 

Sondheim has so many wonderful songs – but Akers, takes this lyric – and stuns the hell out me. You’ll remember this: “ Could I Leave you? – The answer is “Yes!” Why can’t I get up the nerve to tell someone that I’m involved with, the same thing?

As AKERS sings this song: “Make The Moment” – it makes me want to ‘Make that Moment for me” – but then of course, it will never happen.

I definitely LOVE this tune: “Live alone and Like it!” Sad words, good music, impossible words, feel good lyrics, happy days and believe in the impossible. Karen Akers makes the evening a shining feel-good time all the time, for the audience.

AKERS has brought to the Rrazz Room one the best, most powerful and passionate evening of music that this “Bright Star” (Akers) has masterfully put together.

NOW PLAYING AT THE RRAZZ ROOM

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

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

SCROLL DOWN TO READ THE MARVELOUS “ALBEE’S ‘The Play About the Baby” @Custom Made Theatre))) You’re gonna love it!


September 12, 2012

ALBEE'S THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY. COMPELLING!

THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY
 
 
 
Pictured: Linda Ayres-Frederick & Richard Aiello



 

On the stage -- appears a couple named Boy and Girl. They are young, good looking and run around on the stage naked and half-naked, and what clothes they do wear are very scanty. Now that should enthrall you. 

They are in love. Think about Adam and Eve without the apple. They love to talk about each other’s rather curvy bodies. They want a baby. They have a baby (maybe) – it’s birth is offstage, so how do we know if that is a baby in that blanket? We never see it.

Then approaches an older Man and Woman. They kinda take over the stage. Well, not kinda they literally take over the stage. They both are funny, engaging and a little bit scary. The Boy and Girl at first are bemused -- by the older couple. The older woman even tries to seduce the young man. But, then there is the baby thing. The older couple -- have come to get the baby. Is there really a baby? Why does the older couple want the Baby? Who knows? But in the Theatre of the Absurd (Albee) – the audience is enthralled, but very puzzled. Who wouldn’t be? Lots of questions need to be answered here.

 Comparisons are frowned upon but one can’t help noticing recycled elements from other Albee plays. A Mature couple show up & disrupt a household as in “A Delicate Balance.” A young couple interacts, with an older couple. A Baby may be imaginary, As in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

If the baby is imaginary, how did the father witness the birth and how does the audience hear it crying? But then suddenly --the Baby has vanished – or it seems to vanish. No one ever presents the Baby.

Yes, it’s a puzzle, but the sparkling language (very witty) keeps the light in the darkness. You will just have to listen intently to Albee’s blackly comic text.

The set design is dazzling. There is even a Tiny little Chair for the Baby to sit on, that we never really see. We do see the chair, but not the Baby. However, the atmosphere gives us a distinct passionate chill. As always – it’s Albee creepy.

Everything depends on the Actors, the lighting design, plus dramatic entrances and exits. You may blush about the nudity – but be brave, you will get used to flesh…it’s Pinkish.

HERE’S WHAT I THINK: The Actors are “Awesome!” They are Anya Kazmierski (Girl), Shane Rhoades (Boy), Richard Aiello (Man) and Linda Ayres-Frederick*. Especially good are Aiello and Ayres-Frederick. What a team. They deserve a couple of Oscars - if I had them. But then, I could just be caught up in Albee’s vision. Yes, I am a little on the crazy side.

ALSO SUPERB IS – Director, Brian Katz, Stage Manager, Colin Johnson, Scenic Design, Sarah Phykitt, Lighting Design, Dena Burd, Costumes/Props – Maxx Kurzunski, Original Composition – Liz Ryder and Fight Choreography – Jon Bailey. “What a show! – “Wonderful and imaginative!” 

NOW PLAYING AT THE GOUGH STREET PLAYHOUSE (Custom Made Theatre)

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

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

 

 

September 9, 2012

LYPSINKA AS CRAWFORD + LUCKY STIFF




LYPSINKA COURTESY PHOTO






 ‘The Passion of the Crawford’

“Lucky Stiff” – Go! You can have a blast!

John Epperson is famed as ‘Lypsinka’. And he is in perfect Crawford Drag in this hilarious and amazing performance at The Rrazz Room. Epperson cleverly edits interview clips, with her co-star and another Actor play out interviews and speeches given by Crawford. .  Lypsinka (Crawford) in one fantastic loud ringing telephone sequence, becomes annoying – but the fun tight conversations take over your mind. Crawford (Lypsinka) talks back and forth with two phones that really ring loud. How crazy is that?

Lypsinka puts on her Crawford look as she glances around the room. She says: “I never knew there was so much love.” Is it love or self love? Well we know the answer to that - don’t we?

Lypsinka uses recordings of Joan Crawford (John Epperson) and another terrific actor) - banter back and forth with interviews and speeches by Crawford. Fame of course is an addiction – and no one is more famous in famous Hollywood than Crawford.

This show at the Rrazz room is a “Master-Class” of entertainment. Lypsinka’s timing is a great accomplishment. He is one of the Great Actors of his Generation. Perfection!
Here is a Crawford quote: “I’ve sold Joan Crawford for so long -- all I have to do now is sell Pepsi Cola!” Love it! 

NOW PLAYING AT THE MAGICAL RRAZZ ROOM

RATING: Four Glasses of Champagne!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked-

LUCKY STIFF
A Musical Murder Mystery Farce!

This musical was first produced at the Olney Theatre in Maryland (May 1989). It starred Evan Papas and the show won the Helen Hayes Award for Best Musical and Pappas won as Best Actor in a Musical.

There is a studio cast recording (1994). The musical had its British debut at the Theatre royal in Lincoln. And that prompted more premieres.

Now, we come to the extraordinary Center Repertory Company of Walnut Creek that is headed by Michael Butler - Artistic Director and Scott Denison - Managing Director.

How would you like to find out that you stand to inherit $6,000.000 from an Uncle? But there is a catch. The unassuming English shoe salesman is overwhelmed with his inheritance – but there is a catch. Harry only gets the dough if he takes his dead Uncles’ corpse on a trip to Monte Carlo. It’s either that or all the money will go to the uncle’s favorite Charity, the Universal Dog Home. Those Attorneys think of everything – don’t they? 

Poor Harry. This Satire takes Harry on a trip like none you’ve ever seen before. He literally drags the dead Uncles Wheel Chair to fulfill his Uncles wishes. But, that’s not all. Harry meets a bunch of really, goofy characters that are also in hot pursuit of the Uncle’s money.

By the way – there is a Movie in the Works. If I were you, I would see the play first. Then you can tell the Movie fans that you saw the play first. From the play: Here are a couple of quotes – A Woman is pointing a Gun:  “Nobody move. And nobody better not say a thing about these Glasses!” I love this one: “You don’t think I’m the kind of girl who goes out and has fun – do you?”

HERE ARE THE REMARKABLE STARS

Tielle Baker, Evan Boomer, Lynda DiVito, Taylor Jones, Marcus Clinger, Dani Marcus, Keith Pinto, Benjamin Pither, Joel Roster and Colin Thomson. – “Filled with Sterling performances!”

Directed and Choreographed by Robert Barry Fleming. Musical Direction by Brandon Adams. GREAT JOB!

RATING: Three Glasses of Champagne!!! –trademarked- 

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

September 8, 2012

AMANDA McBROOM - HER STAR IS 'A ROSE'








AMANDA McBROOM courtesy photo


AMANDA McBROOM AT THE RRAZZ

SINGS TIMELESS CLASSICS

If you love movies, then surely you will be delighted with the tunes that McBroom has brought to the Rrazz Room. They are a true range of magic. Amanda gives us Sassy, sexy and Wicked Fun that’s all connected to the movies. And talk about heart breaking romance – it’s all in McBroom’s charm on stage. She loves music and you’re going to be enchanted with what she sings. Amanda kidded around with her age: “I was born in 1952 – don’t try to do the numbers!” Hey, I’m already trying.

Here are a few of the outstanding numbers that Amanda sang. She sang a marvelous “Let Yourself Go” from a Fred Astaire movie. And then there was a really fantastic “Hooray for Hollywood.” The wonderful Hoagy Carmichael, always gave other artists an opportunity to sing one of his Gems and  McBroom is a perfect fit with Carmichael's music.  Then McBroom blew me out the Chair with Jerome Kerns "The Way You Look Tonight." Terrific! I Loved it! Oh, by the way the lyrics are by the fabulous Dorothy Fields. 

McBroom also dusted off Sammy Kahn’s “Tender Trap”.  But, I’ll bet you did not remember that Harold Arlen wrote the amazingly “The Man Who Got Away” sung by Judy Garland in the movie. But, I have to say – I liked Amanda McBroom’s take on the song a lot better.

Amanda says to the audience near the end of the show – “I’m going to sing to you the first song that I ever learned – it was ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ from the movie Pinocchio. I think a few tears fell on my face with Amanda’s sweet version.

Everyone is probably aware that from the Movie that the song (The Rose) was written by McBroom. It was Bette Midler that insisted it be in the movie “The Rose”. The producers did not want the song to be in the film – but Bette Midler, being the star of the movie – Bette got her way and Amanda McBroom became an overnight sensation. This show is all about movies and Hollywood. Hooray for Hollywood and Hooray for McBroom.

NOW PLAYING AT THE RRAZZ ROOM

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

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

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September 6, 2012

NICOLE HENRY - POWERFUL/EXPRESSIVE!




NICOLE HENRY - COURTESY PHOTO


NICOLE HENRY: AWESOME VOCALS

Nicole Henry has a rare voice that brings life to words. And her phrasing is so perfect that anyone that loves Jazz will fall in love with Nicole Henry for decades.

Nicole takes the marvelous standards and gives them more power on any song. Pop, Jazz or Brazilian. Not only that – she surprises everyone with her special renditions.

Yes, Nicole can caress a ballad like no other, plus she really gets the beat going with Latin Music. She’s confident, terrific looking – and most of all, she knows the music. She’s seasoned enough to appear anywhere. Everyone will love her.

The only flaw is that the orchestra has a little too much sameness about it. But, that doesn’t take away the fantastic “breathiness” of her music. Reminds me of Whitney Houston in her hey-day.

Henry is known more all over New York. New Yorkers like the mellow sounds of Cabaret. Now – we have the Rrazz Room where Henry just ended up a dazzling evening. I was astounded at how she does not sound like other singers. Yep, Nicole is a rare gem. I think you’ll find her in the category of pure diamond.

Nicole grew up in a musical family. That’s where she studied the arts early on. Singing in school and church, got her started. She graduated from the University of Miami. Her degree was in communications and of course, Theatre. She Acts, has appeared in commercials and many, many voice over assignments. She was named by the Miami New Times, ‘Best Solo Musician in 2002’. Plus she has been very high up on the Billboard Jazz Chart. Nicole reached to #7.

For Jazz, the American Songbook, and Contemporary styles…this is for you! Look for Nicole in the future to make another appearance at the famed Rrazz Room in San Francisco.

RATING: Three Glasses of Champagne!!! –trademarked-

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

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September 4, 2012

MARK NADLER IS SIZZLING AT THE RRAZZ!


Mr. Personality - Mark Nadler at the Piano. Courtesy Photo - Nadler





MARK NADLER IS SIZZLING!



WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT ENTERTAINER MARK NADLER? Well, for one thing he lights up the Rrazz Room like it’s never been before.

He also dazzles your eyes, and engages your brain with musical prowess. Nadler performs vocal miracles with wonderful lyrics, and haunting music. Get ready for a mini-musical biography. Here are some facts: The evening is all about 1961. Obama was born in 1961. The Mattachine Society was formed in 61. Nadler started performing at the age of five in straight white Clubs like the Kiwanis. He sang, “Life is Simple”, “Ordinary People” and “A Song in French.”

Nadler was born the day that the famed Patsy Kline released “Crazy”. The musical “How To Succeed” opened on Broadway. At the Rrazz Room, he sang a marvelous version of “Crazy”.

Nadler sat mostly at the piano and told us that he was born Oct. 14th because his mother crossed her legs so he wouldn’t be born Fri. the 13th. He laughs – as he tells the audience “I think that’s why i'm gay!"

Another treat for us was the song “I Believe In You” from the wildly successful “How To Succeed.” He continued to keep us on an energy hotline with a medley of 50 hits from “61 holding up numbered cards.

Nadler’s stunning energy gave the room one of the best presentation of “Moon River” that I have ever heard. Everything on the stage involving Nadler is a non-stop adventure with a non-stop sly, delightful and engaging evening.

As a bonus – Nadler brought all his musicians from NY – to SF. He left us with this: “Thought it was nice to hear some real music instead of all that Jazz!” And – indeed he did!

Send a message to the RRazz Room to ask them to bring Nadler back! I will. The show sure does cast a magical spell! 

RATING: Four Glasses of Champagne!!!! (highest rating) – trademarked- 

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

COMING UP! "LUCKY STIFF" - THE MUSICAL MURDER MYSTERY FARCE! PRESS OPENING IS ON SEPT. 4TH AT LESHER CENTER IN DOWNTOWN WALNUT CREEK. 

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