June 30, 2011



J.P. Viernes (Billy Elliott) is Remarkable

Billy Elliott the musical brings to the stage a captivating story that is a non-stop thrill ride. It’s unlike anything you’ve seen before.  And that’s a good thing. Although there is humor (sometimes wicked), the show is also deeply moving.

The classic performers delight in the magic of each scene. You got it…this is a spellbinder of a show that will keep you thinking about it, for many, many years. I found myself enraptured.

The action starts out in a small England mining town. The only industry in the town is the “Goal Mines.” They hate it – but they have to work. They are not singing “That Old Black Magic” – but they could be thinking “I’ve got you under my Nails” – (Coal). Hey, but “What a difference a Day Makes” when Billy Elliot goes from Boxing lessons to Ballet shoes. His Dad thinks he might turn into a “Poof” – and firmly disapproves of dancing on toes. Billy literally might be singing in his head “Fly me to the Moon”. And, he actually fly’s way above the stage, in a miraculous, sumptuous dance (with a male partner).

The musical score by Elton John brings in memories of “Les Miz” and “A Chorus Line” (Police line up— like they are at an audition.) But it’s the “Les Miz” type music that stirs up deep emotions.

A fun time between Billy and a friend is when Billy discovers that his little Buddy is a cross-dresser. Billy asks: “Are you a poof?”

Some of the powerful musical pieces that I really enjoyed are: “The Stars Look Down” is an amazing opening. I also found “He Could Be a Star” – could and will touch your heart. “The Letter” as Billy reads, and his dead mother sings it – breaks the heart that you just touched. “Electricity”, is well – ELECTRIC.

J.P. Viernes is a local young man (Half Moon Bay). In one scene he does daredevil hi wire dancing in the air. If that doesn’t take your breath away, then nothing will. This musical is certainly a compelling and riveting show that has an authentic atmosphere with fascinating characters.

This true Gem is bound to sell out. Not only is the cast compelling and extraordinary – the show is technically impressive.


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

Review Courtesy of www.beyondchron.org.

June 28, 2011

TIGERS BE STILL by Kim Rosenstock

Melissa Quine gives Zack Art Therapy Lessions. Her sister is zonked out. Photo by Jessica Palopoli


“Tigers” is a funny look at how people act when they are under stress. And, there is a lot of stress in this comedy drama. Yes, it’s very amusing, there is an underlying theme of ‘everyone in this play’ needs therapy. And there is the therapist (Sherry), that teaches at the school where the principal was once the King of the Prom – and her Mom was the Queen. 

Which brings me to this. We never see the Therapists Mom. Seems that she is just too obese, to get out of bed these days. She won’t even let her two daughters see her, even though one of her daughters portends to be a Therapist.

Fascinating is the Teen-age boy who is taking Art Therapy from 24-year old Sherry. These people are a bunch of nut cases. Funny ones, indeed. The young man (Zack) really pulls off being a not very happy Teen. But are there ever any happy teens? No! – Would be the answer. He has Ghosts that swirl around in his mind. His Mom (Died), his Dad now confronts him with taking Therapy. During one of the sessions with Sherry, the Therapist says to Zack: - “I need you!” Zack says to her: “You need me? The last thing I need is a needy therapist!” As it turns out, he ends up needing her, and wants to up the ante. Some sweet moments follow.

The Gross out moments swirl around the blubbery sister of the Therapist. She is a total train wreck. She drinks and drops all kinds of junk on the floor and calls up her boyfriend several times a day.  He dumped her for someone else. All she ever gets from the Ex, is a message. In other words – he’s not interested. If anyone needs therapy, it would be her. She’s a boozehound – and a messy one at that. She kidnaps her ex-boyfriends dogs and locks them in the basement, hoping that he will come by to retrieve them. In her drunken stupor, she forgets to feed them. Funny maybe for a few minutes, but not for long.

“Tigers” is often hilarious. There’s infectious humor going on, wrapped up in pathos and intensity. You wouldn’t want to invite friends over for a party. Too much Angst in this household.

THE ACTORS: Jeremy Kahn (Zack) – Best Male Lead. You’ll fall in love with his innocence. Melissa Quine (Sherry) is “Rapturous and Remarkable.” Remi Sandri as Principal Joseph is marvelous. Rebecca Schweitzer as the Booze swilling Sister is explosively good. And the Direction by Amy Glazer gives us something to savor. As usual “Bill English blesses us with another wiz bang set.  Total summation is – “It’s funny…sexy…and surprisingly sweet!”

One more thing. The escaped “Tiger” – It was never found.



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

Courtesy -- beyondchron

June 24, 2011


PICTURED: Alexander Crowther (center) makes family and guest nervous.  Photo: David Allen


METAMORPHOSIS in the hands of the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley is as beautiful to look at, as it is chilling to watch. First off, the challenging set starts you off on a strange journey. And, believe me – the experience is something that you will never forget.

There is the overly sweet, always smiling family. And there is a handsome son that is the workhorse in the house. He brings in the bread, so to speak. But, something goes wrong. One day the young man does not come out of his room to go to work. The overly sweet Mom and Dad and Daughter become distraught. They need the money. But the boy won’t come out of his room. And when he does – what they see is not a handsome lad – but a big insect. Yes, the Son has morphed into an ugly insect. Of course, the family is horrified. The pasted on smiles no longer are there. What to do? They can’t ask him to sit at the table and have dinner with them. They tried that – and it just didn’t work.

The play (based on the Novella by Franz Kafka) could maybe be based on Kafka’s own life. In the novella, the insect dies of starvation. Kafka also died of starvation. The Aurora production is so amazing. One minute you are laughing and the next moment you recoil in fear. All of this, is accompanied by a unique sound Design by Matthew Stines.

What starts out as an ordinary family – turns into a horror story with underlying humor. There is also the feeling throughout of chilling eroticism. The young man, before he becomes the insect evokes sex as he romps around in his boxer shorts (which he almost lost). His sister – try’s to seduce a very Germanic man, as she dances around him, in her ballerina outfit. Yep, this is a cartful of nuts on the verge of everyone turning into an insect.

The production is very powerful with the guidance of Director Mark Jackson, who made this an exceptional visual, masterpiece marvel. His imagination is indisputable!


Alexander Crowther is the young man that turns into an insect. He not only gives us a bone-chilling performance – but he also is a physical actor. Plus, he acts the hell out of the part – but he must also do a high wire act. Crowther is absolutely mesmerizing. Megan Trout (the sister) dances for house guest Patrick Jones (Mr. Fischer). Trout is an odd blend of grace, grit and sensuality. “Ground breaking” acting! The Mother (Madeline H.D. Brown) is very goody -- two shoes. She wears a smile like a mask. The mask gives way to sourness as their world begins to fall apart (Magnificent). The Father -- is a typical hard-nosed Dad. Like most Dads are. He’s a good and wonderful stage actor. And last, but not least is the marvelous performance by Patrick Jones (Stietl, Fischer). His German accent is right on target as he struts around like Hitler has already called him up. You know what? If it were up to me – each and every one of the Actors would get Academy Awards. They are that good. No, make that GREAT!

At The Aurora Theatre – Berkeley stage 

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)))



June 10, 2011


Rrazz Room Photo by Pat Johnson



Pia Zadora has probably picked herself up and started all over again as many times as her namesake Piaf. Now, after a 15- year gap she is back to prove that her 15 minutes of fame was not just a flash in the pan.

Zadora bounds onto the stage dressed in show biz chic. Her outfit – a sparkly white jacket and black pants give her that movie star look. She is petite and trim. With her blond bob and bangs – she sure lights up the stage.

Whatever-ish she is – she doesn’t look it. The peppy
Star coyly admits to being 50’ish. But, she doesn’t look it. Her personality is definitely thirty some-thing.

Zadora launches into a program of strong show stopping standards like: When Or Where; Maybe This Time and a Sinatra Medley.  She does a fun Duet with her Daughter Kady ("Happy Days") – and everyone was happy with that. Kady also sang “Angels” and a very special “Over The Rainbow. C’est Si Bon is always a fun song to hear – and Zadora takes it to the hilt with a passionate punch.

On Thursday night, she had this wonderful band: Vincent Falcone, Musical director/piano – Jose A Rodriquez, Trumpet – Dean Hubbard, Trombone – Charlie McCarthy, sax -- Larry Dunlap, synthesizer -- Al Obidinski, bass -- Tom Duckworth, drums – Steve Erquiaga and Joe Lano, guitar.

Kady, Pia’s daughter is a big, beautiful brunette. Their duet – “Happy” raises the roof. Kady has had her up and downs in show biz also. Previously cast as a Munchkin and a Wicked Witch, she now soars effortlessly “Over the Rainbow” with the lush eight-piece Orchestra.

Pia comes back on stage in a beautiful slinky black Bob Mackie original. Coveted by several audience members including a guy. The evening’s set continues to go from strength to strength with versions of “City Lights and “The Man That Got Away.” And yes, there were standing ovations.

To those who used to think that Pia Zadora was a joke. Well, the jke’s on them. You still have a few days to see this spectacular exciting musical treat starring Zadora, her daughter and a passionate Band.

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

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

June 7, 2011



Pia Zadora has been in films (as a young Martian girl). She won a Golden Globe as 1982’s “Most promising New Star”. She also won the Golden Globe for “New Star” for the film Butterfly. The singer/actress gained even more fame in a memorable role in John Waters’ Hairspray – she played the role of a beatnik. It is said that Waters admired her work. Later, he interviewed Zadora.

Then Zadora captured a whole new audience with a successful singing career. No stranger to San Francisco – she played the San Francisco Symphony Hall in a sold out performance. She has received Five Stars ***** for her best selling CD “I Am What I Am”.  If you haven’t heard it before, I’m sure that you will appreciate the wonderful quality of her musical stylings. Pia is all about the great standards. If you like quality, time tested music – then you will really enjoy the wonderful quality and vocal interpretations of the really ‘Golden Age’ of music.

Zadora draws on the immortal music of Gershwin, Styne, Cahn, Ellington, Herman and Rodgers and Hart. She brings to the stage fresh new ways to these fabulous classic tunes.

As I recall from her Symphony Hall performance she delivered deft, affectionate intonations to the Great American Songbook. I'm looking forward to seeing her on the Rrazz Room Stage at the Hotel Nikko. Oh, and did I mention? She has considerable charm.

www.therrazzroom.com. Tonight at 8pm. (June 8th - June 12th)

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

June 6, 2011





This Sondheim musical (book by John Weidman) explores a presidential  assassination in America over the decades. The ‘Ray of Light’ production is more compelling and evocative than any Assassins that I’ve ever seen. The singing creates the right authentic atmosphere that excites and energizes the audience. And that’s what you get with talent that is pitch perfect. You’ll meet Squeaky Fromme and Sara Jane Moore as they plot to shoot Ford. Hinckley practices shooting Reagan. ‘The Ballad of Booth’ is haunting.  ‘Hail to the Chief’ is sung, as Lincoln arrives. Booth, the shooter, shoots Lincoln. Then Booth is shot – and begs to make sure he will be put down in the history books as he dies.

There were many Assassins who shot presidents in the history of the USA.  Some succeed, like Oswald did, but others missed and were then rounded up and shot. They were all angry men who did not agree about anything. Some just wanted to become famous for shooting someone. And you know what – we are still talking about them, so I guess it worked. They did go down in history.

The Ray of Light production is Opera and politics along with a tinge of religion. I can’t get over how perfect the singing and acting is in this amazing presentation of Sondheim’s show. Please sir – may I come to see the show again?  I have seen Assassins before – but never one as cosmic and cinematic as the show at the Eureka Theatre. This is a serious ‘Jewell’ that should not be missed.

Ray of Light is bound to win many “Critics Awards” for Assassins. It not only lights up the Theater – Hell, it lit up the whole block. It’s truly exciting, magnificent and beautifully staged. The best I’ve seen this year. Hey, here’s my take. This is candy for your brain. You’re gonna want to listen to the music again and again. Sure it’s loaded with hypocrisy and injustice – but it brought Sondheim’s great language to the stage, and it’s something that you will want to listen to again, and again.

THE SUPERBLY TALENTED CAST: Derrick Silva, Michael Scott Wells, Steven Hess, Eliza Leoni, Lisa-Marie Newton, Gregory Sottolano, Danny Cozart, Joel Roster, Alex Rodriguez, Charles Woodson-Parker, Deucalion Martin, Anna Smith, Michael Doppe, Tom Orr and Marisa Cozart. Here’s to the Conductor: David Moschler. He brings marvelous musical richness to the show. Orchestrations by Michael Starobin are lush and lovingly constructed. 

Near the Embarcadero

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

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

Note: A similar review of the above will also be published on beyondchron.org. 

June 2, 2011



Tales of The City – “Marvelous moments!”


This musical (Tales) is skillfully wrought entertainment. The performers deliver performances that are more than amazing. Where do they get all this vitality?  Trimming down the story would help to keep the flow going. Now, I’m not complaining. I did not get bored and the time – for me, just flowed along. However, I think to keep the audience intrigued, some pruning would help.

It all takes place in the wild and free 70’s in San Francisco. The principal location is on Barbary Lane where the landlady of a rental complex eventually ‘comes out’ and reveals that she is a transsexual. Oddly enough, one of her tenants does not know that the landlady is really her father. Yes, this is confusing – but the 70’s were a freewheeling time when Bell Bottom pants and paisley scarfs were adorning almost every head.

This was the time of the Disco and drugs and lots of marijuana. Picking up dates in the neighborhood and on Polk Street was a cinch. All you had to do was walk down the street and someone would pull over and ask: -- “Would you like a ride?” And, of course – everyone did want that ride.

Yes, there were times of heartbreak—but it was a hell-of-a-lot safer in those days than it is now. So, if you want to relive those days, this surely would be the musical to see. And, about the music? It’s good, but not great. In other words, it’s not hum able enough to remember, but you will hear glimpses of influence from other musicals like “Hair”. Also there are these songs that stood out: “The Next Time You See Me” (Anna Madrigal sings) this touching song…” Homosexual Convalescent Center” (is lots of fun)…and -- “No Apologies” – sung by Anna and Company is one of the best.

 The set is a little disappointing. I was hoping to see some semblance of “Barbary Lane.” What I saw was the back of a three story Tenement. However with clever lighting and movable sets they do capture some of the 70’s magic. There is even shades of the musical “Sunset Blvd.”

Landmarks are mentioned throughout the musical – “Endup Bar” (which can mean a couple of things) and the very popular “Savoy Tivoli” in North Beach, plus the soon to be torn down Jack Tar Hotel on Van Ness. A straight guy is asked by a Biker type – “Are you a bottom or a top?” – Straight guy sez: “Bottom!”  -- Biker leaves, and the straight guy sighs: “Oh, my god – it totally worked.” In other words he got rid of the guy.

Other 70’s Jargon: “The Pissy Queen from Sea Cliff.” Here’s another fun line: “What sign are you?” – Answer – “Do not disturb!” Like this comment a lot. – “We have boring people here” – “Have you tried Marin?”

The show is a dazzling look at San Francisco cultural history. Yes, it should be shorter and tighter and a really, really big memorable hit song, would help a lot. They may make changes along the way. And it may be bigger and brash as time goes on.

Near the end of the show “Anna Madrigal (Judy Kaye) visibly crumbles before us, as she is about to out herself.  And my eyes did get teary. Hard to fight it.

HOORAY TO THE CAST: Thanks to: Mary Birdsong, Josh Breckenridge, Manoel Felciano, Diane J. Findlay, Judy Kaye, Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone, Richard Poe, Julie Reiber, Patrick Lane, Andrew Samonsky, Wesley Taylor and Betsy Wolfe.

Libretto by: Jeff Whitty. Music and Lyrics by Jake Shears and John Garden. Directed by Jason Moore. Based on Armistead Maupin’s books.



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