February 20, 2009


To the left is a scene from "A Delicate Balance"

Pictured (above:) Vassily (Jack Willis) tries to
reach out to his two children. (Patrick Russell) and Natalie Hegg. Lodger (Liz Sklar) gives moral support. Photo: David Wilson

Pictured: Judy Kaye in Souvenir (left)
Photo by: www.ashleyforrette.com

Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave
Feb. 20, 2009

Souvenir – “A laugh-a-minute!”
‘Philistines’ – “Provocative!”
Edward Albee’s worst play
Oscar predictions 2009



Florence Foster Jenkins may not be the great singer that she thinks she was – but even being tone deaf to music – she is effortlessly entertaining. Judy Kaye plays the off-tune Diva in a deliciously twisted way. The look on her face when she sings to the audience is something that You Tube watchers would just revel over. Of course they didn’t have You Tube then – but now would be a good time to put her record up there.

Jenkins was a rich widow, who was convinced that she was one of the world’s great sopranos. However, whatever she heard in her head – is not what the audience heard. For quite a while, she gave small recitals at the Ritz Carlton Ballroom, where she also lived. The word spread around about this eccentric rich woman who wore fantastic costumes and couldn’t sing her way out of a paper bag. Soon, proposals came around to Jenkins to appear in bigger Venues. One offer was to sing at “Town Hall”, but her piano-playing accompanist talked her out of it. He was afraid that if the Media attended – they would destroy her in print. You see, Jenkins had no idea that people came to see her because she was such a bad singer, that it was pure enjoyment to hear her bark out famous Arias. They were doubled up with laughter. Just like the audience did on opening night at A.C.T. Jenkins elevated Opera to a whole new level, even though she was not aware of it. Jenkins didn’t see or hear the laughter. All she knew is that they applauded her wildly.

Her breakout performance came when she was asked to appear at Carnegie Hall. Just the thought of it sent shivers down the spine of Cosme (Donald Corren). He was afraid that the Media would destroy her and him. He was a serious composer and musician and was afraid that he would never be able to work again. He gives in – and the Carnegie Hall appearance was a huge success. It was sold out wall-to-wall. She became New York’s Super Opera Diva. Everyone was imitating her. She made a record (an Album) of her songs and played them over endlessly in her Posh New York apartment at The Ritz Carlton. Not knowing much about a Gramophone, she frequently scratched the surface of the ‘record’ by scraping the needle over the surface. She had not idea what she was doing.

This musical story is a wonderful treat. I have never really seen anything like it. And, if you want to get yourself into a good mood – then I would recommend this moving and hilarious play.

Judy Kaye is just charming and hilarious. Her Foster Jenkins is a stunning masterpiece.
Cosme (Donald Corren) is marvelous as he narrates the Jenkins story from his Piano. Corren, who is a great pianist and singer is fantastical as he cringes at the sounds that come out of Foster Jenkins. He is funny and poignant at the same time. Remarkable!

You’ll leave the Theater with good vibes and perhaps a new appreciation for the “Tin Ear.”


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



Now I know where Tennessee Williams got his inspiration. He got it from ‘Philistines’ the Maxim Gorky comedy (1902), adapted by Andrew Upton. Although the story takes place in Russia – it could have just as well been on a plantation as in “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.” The similarities are quite stunning. Jack Willis as the head of the household of a troubled family gives an equal parts performance that is nuanced with lots of bluster. And like “Cat” everyone in the family has problems with him -- and with other members of the family. However, that is not to say that this is not exciting theater. I would call it riveting.

The truly amazing set takes us to the time of the 1900’s with old family photos hanging from a wire grid that serves as a room divider. The musical interludes (background mostly) move this engaging play along at a fast clip. You hardly notice that over two hours have gone by. The bossy patriarch Vassily Bessemenov (Willis) has a hate/love relationship with his rebel son, and his daughter that is always looking for love. Sharon Lockwood (his wife) flutters around him (Vassily) to try to sooth things over. Still sounds a lot like “Cat” to me.

To spice things up – a boarder that stays in this volatile house is considered to be of ‘loose morals’. Which of course displeases “Daddy” because she takes up with one of his sons. Well, you know how kids are – they always want to do the opposite of what you want them to do. But that doesn’t stop the Lion (Daddy) from roaring. Of course it’s the complex relationships that keep you clued to the chair. This tangled tale is wonderfully inventive and superbly directed by Richard E.T. White.

You don’t need a second opinion. Just take my word for it: The cast in ‘Philistines’ is terrific. Jack Willis is a ‘knockout’! Sharon Lockwood excels again! Philip Martinson is unbelievably good! Robert Ernst is brilliant! Liz Sklar (who is called a “slut” in the play by Lockwood) – is a luminous spark! Briannie Bond (the Servant) is humorous and moving at the same time! Patrick Russell – intense! Also great is Rondrell McCormick and Philip Martinson. This is a strong and vivid play with powerful actors.

Presented by The A.C.T. Master of fine Arts Program performing at the Zeum Theater.

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

FUN FACT: OTHERS HAVE RE-WRITTEN PLAYS OR STORIES: ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS IS ‘PEYTON PLACE’. IT WOULD SEEM TO THE READER THAT IT IS ALMOST THE SAME STORY AS ‘KINGS ROW’ (Ronald Reagan) starred in the movie version. The Author even took the name of the one of the Characters from Kings Row (Mr. Peyton) and used it as the title of her best selling book. Can you guess who that author was?



ALBEE’S WORST PLAY (my opinion)

It seems to me that Albee does some recycling of his own. “A Delicate Balance” is just recycled from Virginia Woolf (a huge success). It appears that Albee wrote Virginia Woolf first and wrote “Balance” afterward. He is not the only one who re-writes their own plays and musicals and calls them something else. It is done all the time. Jerry Herman borrowed music from one show to put into another. In some cases all this taking from themselves has created some very interesting entertainment. But in this case “Balance” uses a somewhat same plot as ‘Virginia’ and turns out a badly written play. Both plays have all the same elements. There is the incessant drinking and arguing. A love between a couple that became boring a long time ago and a neighbor couple that comes over to join in the misery. Plus the main character is very professorial – just like in “Woolf.” The screaming at each other is tempered in ‘Balance’.

The second act gets even more dull and ridiculous. After having too many drinks the husband of the unhappy married couple gets on his hands and knees and begs the neighbor to stay in their house with him and his wife (drinking does that to you.) This he does after telling his neighbors to get out of the house. You see, the couple down the street (best friends) asked to stay with the unhappy couple after they had to leave their house, because something or someone frightened them. We never find out what. But after staying with these two nut cakes, they decided that they would go back home. Hey, one night would have done it for me.

Albee was honored as “America’s greatest playwright.” They should take that award back. Tennesse Williams was a great playwright – but not Albee. To me, he was just a one hit wonder, with his success with Woolf (dragged out every few years in a revised edition). Some newspapers are now refusing to review ‘Plays’ unless it is new material. They no longer want to use up their ink on plays that have been reviewed a zillion times. New stuff is the rage these days.

So, lets just call “A Delicate Balance” Virginia Woolf Light. The Custom Made Theatre Company did all they could to squeeze something fantastic out of this play. But they wasted their considerable talents to put it on.

I love little Theater productions, especially for the intimacy of it. However even with terrific actors in a play – there must be a compelling story. ‘Balance’ is stale and went nowhere. I heard it all before in the bombastic Virginia Woolf. But, I did enjoy the thoroughly engaging and compelling cast: They are: Jean Forsman, Dennis McIntyre, Shelley Lynn Johnson, Stuart Elwyn Hall, AJ Davenport and Leah S. Abrams. They pulled out all the stops and made this play better than it really is.



Taraji P. Henson (Best Supporting Actress) for “Benjamin Button”. Henson is good – but the winner should be Penelope Cruz for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”. Supporting Actor will be a landslide for Heath Ledger in ‘The Dark Knight”. Hollywood always has had an infinity for death. Best Actor: It will be Mickey Rourke for “The Wrestler”. Some think it will be Sean Penn for “Milk” – but Penn has already won an award. Hollywood likes to gives awards to actors that have had a hard life. Kate Winslet will win Best Actress for “The Reader”. Previously I had said that the Best Picture Award would go to “Benjamin Button” – a film that I consider the Best this year. But, the winner will be “Slumdog Millionaire.” Hollywood also likes “Cinderella Stories” Now I will put away my magic pick up sticks that told me the winners.

>>>Follow Lee Hartgrave – just Google him.


February 13, 2009


Rita Moreno - Courtesy Photo... Burn the Floor

Picture: A scene from "Tennessee in the Summer"



In this look at the life of the great playwright Tennessee Williams, Playwright Joe Besecker has crafted a taut tale about the life of a troubled and famous man. The darkly droll dialogue brings up visions of Maggie (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer and the Glass Menagerie.) After seeing this play I’m convinced that Williams saw in himself, Maggie the Cat, and Elizabeth Taylor from “Suddenly.”

Tennessee in the Summer takes place more than a decade before Williams died. Besecker’s play was also written before the Death of Williams. Like Guare’s “Landscape of the Body” this play uses flashbacks. Also sometimes confusing is the use of another person (a woman) who plays the feminine side of Williams. It was no secret that T.W. liked the company young male actors. Of course, they all claimed to adore him (thinking that he might just be their ticket to fame.) Although, in the play Williams did say that age did not make any difference. All he wanted was the sexual experience and he didn’t care what their age was. Never the less, his long time Lover was very young. The non-linear plot is a little difficult to follow. But, after awhile – you get into the rhythm of it and the powerful and propulsive acting takes you through the complex mind of what might have gone on in T.W’s mind.

William’s life was torrid. Sure he was famous, but what we see in the play is a man who is tormented by his life, his family, his mother and his sister. The sister even had him committed to a mental hospital at one point. Drinking played a major part in the Demons that ran rampant through his mind.

The show overflows with powerful and explosive prose. It’s a compelling study of one of America’s greatest talents. The cast has remarkable chemistry. The volatile and erotic chemistry between the two actors that play Tennessee (Dale Albright) and his partner Jeremy Forbing) is extremely emotional. The sister who had TW locked up (Annamarie MacLeod) is heartfelt – like she just walked out of “Glass Menagerie.

And to top it all off, the set with it’s peeling Wallpaper on the walls gives this interesting story the claustrophobic feeling that really will undo any cheerfulness you might be inclined to feel. If you are a fan of Tennessee Williams – then you’re gonna love this play. Even if you don’t care much for TW, it’s chock-full of surprises.



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


IT WAS A RARE GIFT THE AUDIENCE RECEIVED AT THE POST STREET THEATRE (a benefit for Lyon-Martin Health Services, Maitri and Sunburst Projects).
The evening of song, Dance and comedy was a Valentine Benefit that was this winter’s most pleasing surprises!”

The “Burn the Floor” set was just fantastic, and made a perfect backdrop for the talent on the stage. The lighting was divine and the talent was “%#&*ing thrilling. The comedy was hilarious, the singing was moving and the dancing by the “Burn the Floor” cast sent sparks out to the audience. Wow! What a marvelous dance show it is! You’ve got to see these guys and gals. I’m surprised the paint on the walls didn’t melt.

Jo Anne Worley sang a couple of naughty songs and one with Wilson Cruz &* Danny Gurwin. (Laughing Matters from the musical “When Pigs Fly,” It was a hoot and the comedy highlight of the night. Like a Ghost singer Tim Hockenberry sang the best version of “Somewhere” (West Side Story) that I have ever heard. I say like a Ghost, because he appeared on stage in foggy lights, the matches his foggy style of singing. He also has a new look. His hair is different, he slim trim and still handsome. TH played his own accompaniment on the piano. To a rousing applause and cheers from the audience. He left in even more clouded lighting and disappeared. No bows, no waves. He came and went as mysteriously as he appeared. Like a Ghost. Well, Frank Sinatra told me once in an interview when I was a cub reporter: “Always leave them wanting more Kid.” He always did, and so did Hockenberry.

Just Devine was Loretta Devine when she sang “I Believe in You and Me” from ‘The Preachers Wife’. And now I believe more than ever in her. It reminded me why I always loved to listen to her. And “Tuck Andress & Patti Cathcart” sang the complex, but intriguing “Let’s Bring Heaven Down here”. It was a magnificently moving performance.

“Doing Matador – Paso Doble”…the Cast of Burn The Floor really heat things up with potent, and sexy dance moves. Starring Damian Whitewood, Peta Morgatroyd, Robin Windson, Katarina Stumpfova. Later on, more of the Cast did a heated “Tanguera” – starring Damon & Rebecca Sugden, Kiron Kulik, Jeremy Garner, Kevin Clifton and Henry Byalikov.

The undeniably cool and beautifully voiced Rita Moreno was in top form. She wore a gorgeous white gown, looking just great as she gave a ‘blow-you-away’ version of “I Won’t Send Roses” from “Mack & Mabel”. The audience went berserk.

I thought to myself – now how can anyone match or top that? Well, K.T. Sullivan answered that question with a powerhouse version of “Colored Lights” from “The Rink”.
With Jon Weber at the Piano – K.T.s “Lights” became pure perfection. It was huge and impressive. Again – the audience went wild with breathless applause.

There were so many impressive talents on the stage: Here are the others: Sony Holland, Shawn Ryan (did a wonderful song (comic) called I kissed a girl), Meg MacKay and Billy Philadelphia. Then Spencer Day sang a song that he wrote – “A Better Way”, and Sharon McNight did a spin on Marlena Dietrich (Lily’s Song.) Terese Genecco came through with an Arlen and Mercer song. RJ Helton did a great ‘Canto de Amor’ and the once in a lifetime evening ended with the cast of “Burn” with their “hot” version of “Proud Mary”. And…when I say HOT – it was extremely HOT! Catch their show at the Post Theatre and support REAF that puts on these marvelous evenings of entertainment to support non-profits. The next one up with be in the summer at Club Fuguzi with the cast of ‘Wicked” and the Cast of “Grease”. You won’t want to miss that one.

Thanks to: Producers Joe Seiler and Ken Henderson, Producer, who as usual produced another Landmark evening of entertainment. Thanks guys -- for all your work.

(((Follow Lee on “Twitter”, beyondchron.org or just Google him.)))

TAGS: Joe Seiler, Ken Henderson, REAF, Grease, Wicked, Club Fuguzi, Proud Mary, Post Street Theatre, Tuck and Patti, Musical, Music, Celebs, Tennesse Williams, Joe Besecker, New Conservatory Theatre, Spencer Day, Rita Moreno, K.T. Sullivan, Burn the Floor, Tim Hockenberry, Jo Anne Worley, Marlena Dietrich.



February 10, 2009


WICKED – 2009 San Francisco


By Lee Hartgrave
February, 2009


ELPHABA (THE GREEN WITCH): -- “You’re the only friend I’ve ever had.” GLINDA (THE GOOD WITCH): – “And I’ve had SO many friends…but only one that mattered.” Of course that ONE would be Glinda.

SHE’S POPULAR (GLINDA) AND ONE IS GREEN (ELPHABA). Glinda is perky and pink and she sings to the Green Witch about how to be pop-u-lar. The galindafied version of being popular is to put on some lipstick, -- and fluff your hair every time you enter a room. Hey, it works for me.

This is the story of Elphaba, a girl from a prominent family that is born with Green skin because her mother drank a green liquid. The family immediately took a dislike to her. No one wanted to be around her, so she grew up without friends. Then at school, she has to room with Miss Personality – Galinda the Good Witch of the North, who later becomes Glinda because no one pronounces Galinda correctly. The fact that these two odd-balls shared a room is really bi-polar. They have nothing in common, however as time goes on Glinda, who has this entitlement personality, begins to really like the poor Green girl. It’s a relationship that does not last for long.

The show begins with the ending. “Is the Witch of the West really dead” ” – the town folks ask as Glinda the good witch descends from the heavens in a glass bubble. She is all sparkle and glitter with a flashy Tiara. And yes, she does have a magic wand.

This is a story that has captured the imagination of the entire world. Composer Stephen Schwartz and the writer of the book, Winnie Holtzman has created a world of mythic dimensions. This fabulous tongue-in-cheek story is based on Gregory Macquire’s book that shows us a prequel to the famous “Wizard of Oz.” In this musical play we find out that the wicked witch of the West, wasn’t always mean and vindictive. To the contrary – Elphaba was actually a very sweet girl when she was young. It was the people that taunted her green-ness that turned her against everyone. The two Witches (Good and Bad) do have one thing in common. There is a certain good-looking young man at school that they both are in love with.

There are wonderful moments with Carol Kane as Head Teacher Madame Morrible. She is just a hoot and funny as hell. And turning things into Hell is what her specialty is. Everyone loves her, even though she does turn against the Green Witch. The set is really a knockout, and the costumes are marvelously bizarre. They are a big part of making this story creepy in a uniquely colorful town.

Every now and then, there is a story that invites you into a bizarre and imagined world. And once you step into that story – you will be held captive forever by the passion and spectacle. Wicked – IS that story!

This is pure unadulterated singing and acting by: Kendra Kassebaum (Glinda), Teal Wicks (Elphaba, Green Witch), Carol Kane (Madame Morrible), Tom Flynn (Doctor Dillamond) Nicolas Dromard (Fiyero – who loves the Green Witch), David Garrison (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – and the first ever Ponzi schemer). Everyone in the cast -- Monkeys, Students, people of the Emerald City and Palace Guards are so great that you’ll want to line up and see it again, the minute it ends!


RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked-
(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicles Sunday Datebook Section and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))

TAGS: Orpheum Theatre, Witches, Green, musicals, music, Theatre, Wizard of Oz, Wicked, Arts, San Francisco, Salem, Twister, beyondchron, Buzzin, Lee Hartgrave, KQED, PBS.


February 2, 2009


(Pictured: Rana Kangas-Kent as Rosalie in 'Landscape' Photo by Zabrina Tipton)

Buzzin’ – Lee Hartgrave February 2, 2009



The John Guare play “Landscape of the Body” didn’t even run a month when it first opened in New York’s Public Theater in the Fall of 07.

To many, the play will seem like a jigsaw puzzle, there is a lot going on here. Betty leaves Maine and comes to New York to stay with her sister, Rosalie. Betty is just getting ready to settle in with her 14-year old son, when her sister is killed in a hit and run. Then Betty gets a job with a man, who likes to wear a Rita Hayworth kind of frock. Betty is just beginning to make a little money working for her very odd, but interesting employer (Gabe Marin). But poor Betty – her employer is shot by mistake at a Bank. And that’s not all. Her 14-year old, who has been pals with some juvenile no goodniks was in a-round-about way, the reason that her employer gets shot in the bank. He later is decapitated by one of his hoodlum friends.

Meanwhile, even though Betty’s glamorous sister Rosalie is dead - she's not out of sight. She pops up every now and then, looking like a Cabaret Star who sings soul-searching songs. What may confuse people are the multiple flashbacks. The action starts with Betty writing notes on the deck of a Ferry. She stuffs the notes in small bottles and throws them overboard into the water. Reminds me of the movie 'Ship of Fools' with Vivian Leigh.

Betty goes from hope and despair. One day there is promise, and the next day disaster. Along the way comes a rich man Durwood Peach. He was an old boyfriend of Betty’s, who has become a Millionaire. He says that he wants to marry her and he gives her a thousand dollars for her to travel to North Carolina. He declares that he would give up his Mansion for her, because the only landscape that is cares about is the ‘landscape of the body.” And that would be Betty’s. Betty is floating on air for a time. When she gets there, the family would not let her into the house. They inform her that Durwood was in a mental hospital, the same one that he escaped from. They give her $50 bucks to catch a bus back to where she came from. Another of Betty’s dreams fall apart.

Guare’s play is certainly witty and gritty. The exhilarating intense and disturbing acting keeps you on the edge of your seat. Here’s the deal. The play is not all doom and gloom. There are many elements that very comedic. I know that everyone expects perfection in a theatrical piece. Well, let me tell you…YOU GET IT IN THIS PLAY! Let’s just say that it’s insanely brilliant.

Maybe the reason it ran less than a month in New York is because they didn’t have the cast that is in San Francisco. THEY ARE: Susi Damilano (Betty) who is unwaveringly astonishing. Rana Kangas-Kent (Rosalie) literally sets the stage on fire. Gabriel Marin (Raulito, Durwood Peach), has again slammed the pedal to the metal, showing us again, what a great actor he is. Alexander Szotak (Bert) could be Benjamin Button, he is that good. (Hey Hollywood, looking for a believable kid actor?) Andrew Hurteau (Captain Marvin Holahan) gives new meaning to a love hate relationship with as a good cop, bad cop)… remarkable acting. Also hugely impressive…Julie Belanoff, Haley Reicher, Otto Pippenger, Anthony Miller, Sofie Christensen and Gideon Lazarus. What I liked most about this play is that the great direction by Bill English allowed me to come to my own conclusions. And these people added to the thrill. Bill English’s set…Justin Dodd, Sound…Krista Smith, Lights…Valera Coble, Intriguing Costumes…Seren Helday, Properties…Kimberly Richards, Choreography and Tania Johnson Pianist.

AT THE SF PLAYHOUSE (Sutter near Powell Street)

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

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