January 30, 2012


Max tries to break it off with Becky. (Brian Robert Burns & Lauren English) Photo: Jessica Palopoli

BECKY SHAW "Effervescent Delight"   

THIS PLAY IS PLENTY FULL OF LIFE. It’s about a suave man who has a few bucks. He also has squeezed fives times as much fun in his life than a greedy banker. Yes, he is sexy and he knows it. We’re talking about Brian here. Brian (Max) is also a sharp talking suave Casanova. And you know what? – you’re gonna be attracted to him!

Then there is the spoiled-rotten Suzanna, who leans on Max (her adopted brother and money manager). Suzanna as always, leans on Max and cries until she gets her way. And her way was to suduce Max into her bed. Well, he is adopted – so it’s not exactly like having sex with a blood relative.

Max talks a lot: Here is one of his smart Alec quips -- "Prostitution, marriage…Same thing” – Max blurts out. And this is probably right…Max sez: “It’s two people coming together because each has something the other wants.” Now let that sink in. You know it’s true.

Suzanna has now married. Her husband, Andrew Porter fixes Max up with a date. Max realizes that Becky is a desperate person. She’s a hanger on. Determined to get rid of creepy Becky – Max dismisses her. He tells her in a coffee shop, that he doesn’t want to see her again. Gee – Max realized fast that Becky is a stalker. She seems to have him trapped.

This play is all about money, class and sex. And ‘hooking’ up is mild in this story. How will Max get out of this fix? Well, you’ll just have to find out near the juicy ending, won’t you?

In the first act Suzanna talks incessantly about her dead father. The opening scene seemed to go on so much about Suzanna – I began to think that we were trapped on a space ship to Mars.

Max’s wit carries this play along as he tries to keep up with Suzanna's vulnerable persona. It’s like she has a breakdown every 15-seconds. Is it because Max and Suzanna are constantly on the verge of an incestuous relationship. Just watching them together panting over each other is enough to set a hotel room on fire.

But here’s the deal. This is a brisk and entertaining dark comedy. Everyone in the play is on the edge of a cliff. You never know who is going to fall off next. Anyone care to Lap Dance?

THE FANTASTIC ACTORS ARE: Brian Robert Burns (Max Garrett) – “Great Acting that is full of depth and wit.” Lee Dolson (Andrew Porter) – he “inspires and delights.” Lauren English (Becky Shaw) – “Breathtaking stirring delight.” Lori Holt (plays Suzanna’s Mother Susan Slater) – She has the bucks and she rules the palace. “Stern, wise and as usual profound” think ‘Downton Abbey’ on PBS – that's Lori Holt.” Liz Sklar (Susanna Slater) - she is “Luminous and Brilliant!”



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

FOLLOW LEE:  Facebook/Lee Hartgrave 


SPARKLE PLENTY IS CAROL CHANNING.Courtesy Photo from Richard Skipper


Last year, when I met Channng for an interview she told me a story about how Jackie Kennedy and her children met the “Hello Dolly” star backstage. Were you surprised – I asked? – “Surprised? That’s not the word for it – I almost fell over. It was a complete secret, and one that I will always remember.” And for sure - that’s right – she forgets nothing.

Channing is amazing. She remembers
everything about Show Business -- right down to who the director was in past shows. In the documentary opening at Landmark Theatres this week we get see her is blazing color on the big screen. She’s still glamorous and still dancing around the stage with the help of the dancers in the cast.

In spite of the recent death of her husband Harry, she still has the spunk to keep entertaining. In the Documentary we get to see Channing in all her glory in bright brilliant color. What a joy to see her with all her friends.

Her story begins when she is a child in San Franciso – she fell in love with Harry in High School -- but a change of schools broke it up. Many, Many years later the lovebirds got back together (70 years later). When they started filming the Channing Documentary she was 90 years old. Now Channing at 91 is still performing. Broadway was, and still is her greatest love along with Harry. In the film, she takes a walk down Broadway and ran into a few members of the chorus from the Broadway Musical “Memphis.” Fans recognized her and everyone wanted to touch her.

Sure, Channing had a few films in Hollywood – but even though she was one of the biggest names on the map, Hollywood just didn’t fit for her. Yep, she was definitely a Broadway Babe. After all she starred in more than 5,000 performances of “Hello, Dolly!” – and never ever missed a single performance.

At least now, we have her on film to enjoy her big red-lips and her over the top raspy-voice.

Drag performers love her dearly. Many still dress up like “Dolly” – and wear the outrageous colorful boas. Like the Documentary says – “She is over the Top!” – and we love it.

It’s an extraordinary thrill to see this movie. Channing is Luminous and superb.  Clap your hands for the best Documentary this year.

Now Playing at Landmark Theatres

RATING: FOUR BOXES OF POPCORN (highest rating) – trademarked-




January 25, 2012


Nicholas Pelczar, James Carpenter, Patrick Jones, Dan Hiatt, Jackson Davis. Photo: Mark Kitaoka



In England, miners founded an amateur art group in 1934. Had they ever painted before? No! But, amazingly the art appreciation class, called the ‘Ashington Group’ took the miners to new heights.  History was made with the paintings of the Miners.  They were skeptical at first. Along comes Robert Lyon, who was a lecturer at Armstrong College in Newcastle upon Tyne. He had been asked to discuss the possibility of forming an art appreciation class with the miners. And so began a long a tedious road for men who worked under ground under harsh conditions, now they were also painting their impressions of working men that they were familiar with. Basically, these men painted impressions of their own lives. The outcome is quite fascinating.

The Pitmen Painters get inspired. Their success gives them the feeling that they can now do more than dig for coal. And it’s a good feeling.  With their amusing banter, they learn that to assert themselves with their paintings and the closeness with each other over the years, gave them the feeling that ‘Now’ they are someone to be noticed – not just someone who has dirty hands. However, paint does get on their hands also. This play is based on a true story, and that makes it doubly interesting. This West Coast premiere has some really funny wisecracking social commentary between the miners. The banter between the men goes through an amazing transition from coal dust to the art world.

There is a gorgeous, glamorous woman, who takes a special interest in one of the coal miners. He is a handsome lad and she really is taken by his artwork. However, as the story goes on – she offers him a job to just paint on canvas at her mansion. He decides not to leave his buddies who he has known all his life in the mines. Later he changes his mind – but the rich and gorgeous woman is no longer interested in his paintings. There is a feeling that she wanted something more from him than just some artwork. She comes down to see his latest work – and she bluntly tells him that it is not as good, and that she would not be buying anymore of his Art. To me, it’s clear that she had some Amore in the back of her head and not just Art. But English society does not give up on the miners-cum-artists. The professor encourages the men to put their thoughts on canvas. And boy – it is ever revealing.

This is Thrilling Theater. The play by Lee Hall is all the things it should be: emotional and political! And talk about extraordinary performances – this cast is “spellbinding!”

The Towering performers are: James Carpenter, Patrick Janes, Jackson Davis, Nicholas Pelczar, Dan Hiatt, Paul Whitworth, Kathryn Zdan, and Marcia Pizzo. This fantastic cast is “Unique and unforgettable!”

NOW PLAYING AT THEATRWORKS IN MOUNTAIN VIEW. (Just a couple of block away from Cal Train.)

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

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

Follow Lee: Facebook/Lee Hartgrave 

courtesy beyondchron 


January 20, 2012


Lorenzo Pisoni W/ Historical photo of him and his father. Photo Chris Bennion

The Cast of "Little Brother" Courtesy Photo

Humor Abuse – Huge Entertainment 
Little Brother – Life Changing! 


THE GAFFES KEEP COMING on purpose at A.C.T. And that’s exactly what Lorenzo Pisoni intends to do as he tumbles and stumbles, and lives to tell us all about his one-man show about growing up as the youngest member of the historic Pickle Family Circus.

Not only is he tremendously funny, he also is a great daredevil. He climbs a ladder with fishing fins. He takes more pratfalls than anyone can imagine. And Golly – I held my breath when he shows how to fall down fifteen or more stairs. Don’t try it at home. Even he admits that he has more broken bones than anyone else.

Pisoni also is a damned good actor. He was in Equus alongside Daniel Radcliffe on Broadway. At first you might think that he is just some kind of Clown in a Circus act, but as the show speeds along you see the talent, the training, the humor and more skills than you can imagine as a juggler, acrobat, clown and comedian. And he has biggest and brightest smile in the world. It’s like – Gee, this guy really loves us!

As he grew up it was “Hello, Beddy-Bye – now get out of bed and learn some tricks.” That’s kinda what his Dad infused in Lorenzo when he was a kid. Yeh, Dad made it rough for him, but Lorenzo stuck with it, and his Dad. Together they were hugely successful and now, on his own – he is a magical, fantastic talent. The stage has no life  – until Lorenzo comes out on that stage – then everything seems to come alive. That’s one of the many reasons that the Audience gave him three curtain calls.

There is no doubt about it. Lorenzo Pisoni and his father will always be on a stage. While we may not actually see the father, but his son who is so spellbinding and colorful, seems to bring him on the stage just by talking about his Dad. The level of craft here is something to behold. It’s spellbinding and wickedly funny. Expect the unexpected.

This is one of the most entertaining stage shows of the year. You’re gonna fall in love with this hysterical and heartwarming evening. It’s non-stop joy.

(****The show is co-created by Erica Schmidt.) “Astounding work!”


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


FIRST OFF – Let me make this very clear in non-hi tech. The Custom made Theatre has become the cutting edge Theatre to go to these days. Lately they have brought thrilling and exciting plays to their stage at Gough and Franklin. There latest is “Big Brother” and it is loaded with Teen Swagger. And like most Teens they meet on the streets and create bonds with other teens that mistrust their family. They wouldn’t understand the high tech world anyway – “The Teens would say.”

The head Teen (Marcus) seems to always be the one who ends up in peril. He takes dangerous and scary chances. This play (based on the Cory Doctorow Book) sizzles. It bubbles over with enthusiasm and danger that leads Marcus to end up getting “Water Boarded” by some mysterious Homeland Security Force. Marcus and his friends clash with the ill-defined government agencies in the supposed land-of-the-free. The young teen Marcus has the energy of twelve teens. He’s charming – yet he can be a little annoying. He never sits still for very long. Like a beautiful Butterfly he flits away in a moments notice.

The version of the play (from the book) brings us to a world of deceit and mistrust, even among friends. Who can you trust? No one! No matter what you think about Politics, and other people’s opinions – danger lurks. There are touches of the book 1984.

 Yes, these kids take chances. One of Marcus’s friends end-up in a secret prison, but that doesn’t stop Marcus from using an X-Box to hack into the government’s network on the Internet.

There is more excitement in this flawless production. The visuals are absolutely stunning. It takes perfect timing to pull off all of the high tech magic. Heck, these Teens even know how to hack your ‘Clipper’ card with a Radio Shack Radio. Just watching all of the various hues on the back wall is plenty of entertainment, but – it is the Actors that pull this play into another world. These Actors give searing and sizzling  performances. The actors give there all in this erotic and pulse beating play. Here they are: Daniel Petzold as Marcus is flat out magnificent! Marissa Keltie as Ange – can change her persona at anytime – she gives the play that emotional spark! Cory Censoprano plays Darryl and many other characters. Cory’s acting is both masterful and confident!


All in all, this play is hugely ambitious.  “Scary good in this case -- is riveting!” Here’s a line for you to remember. “People who date each other split up.” It’s in the play. Here’s another sentence that will shake you up – “Don’t you know about Bart in the Tube? They blew it up!” It’s in the play.

(Corner of Gough and Bush)

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

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

Follow Lee:  Facebook/Lee Hartgrave 
Twitter/Fame Reporter

Courtesy of beyondchron   


January 12, 2012


Is the Boyfriend of Jon Moscone a Ghost or is he real? Photo: Kevin Berne


This is a story loosely based on a father and son relationship. The father is the well-known and loved Mayor of San Francisco. As you might remember – Mayor Moscone was shot by Dan White, who also killed Harvey Milk. It was a numbing time for all of San Francisco and a terrible time for Moscone’s younger son. The boy is on the edge of insanity as he greaves his loss. Jon Moscone (as a young boy) seems to dodge around many questions about his father.

Jon Moscone wanted this as a tribute to his father. But the story is more about himself – and his troubled mind. The play within a play tries to unravel some of the mystery – but only succeeds in muddling our brains as we try to keep up with the neuroticism.

One moment the play is fascinating, and the next it becomes a muddled mess. You could say – too much and too little time. His best friend says to Jon (the boy) – “I’ve never seen you act like this before.” But, alas – she didn’t seem to stop him from popping pills and guzzling some kind of drink.

This is a memory play, that I am sure is very dear to Jon Moscone, but I do think that the play is a tad over bloated. But wait – heaven does wait, you know. His father appears near the end of the story in a touching return to the son. Was he really there? Was it a boy’s nightmare? Was he a Ghost? I’m not sure. I do know that people that they love appear again, before they finally leave our presence. This was tears are flowing time. 

There is also this: Even though a Mayor was killed – the popularity in San Francisco’s White palace seemed to swirl more around Harvey Milk, than the Mayor. That’s O.K. – if they want to idolize only one, but it was Mayor Moscone who opened his door to seniors and gays. This story does give some insights into that.

I lost count on how many ghosts were on the stage. They popped up all over the place – crawling out of a coffin, and even a bed where a boyfriend of Jon’s crawls out of the mattress (It’s a puzzle. Was Jon’s sexy boyfriend real – or was he another Ghost?) It is all too ethereal. We have to presume much. So, it’s your call. You may see some things that I didn’t. Perhaps I need to get it all straightened out at a psychiatrist’s office. I must get rid of Jon’s dreams.

Here’s the total deal: There are some wonderful moments. The acting is Top Drawer and some of the best that I have ever seen.  But the play is way too long – some nip and tucks would be helpful. Hamlet where are you when we need you? Oh, there you are. Teacher Jon, admonishes a student (a friend and former actor sitting next to me) about Hamlet. NOW that’s a Ghost Story! I really did get the shivers – at last! When did it end? Oh, about 11pm.

HERE ARE THE BRILLIANT ACTORS: Danforth Comins, Ted Deasy, Peter Frechette, Bill Geisslinger, Isaac Kosydar, Peter Macon, Christopher Liam Moore, Tyler James Myers, Saria Ocon and Robin Rodriquez. PUT YOUR HANDS TOGETHER FOR THEM.

Hooray for Tony Taccone (playwright) and Jonathan Moscone (Director).

Great Scenic Designer (Todd Rosenthal) – and the talented Meg Neville (Costume Designer.)

At the Berkeley Rep Thrust Stage 

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

 ****courtesy of beyondchron

Christine receives Tony Award in N.Y. Courtesy Photo



Without a doubt, Ebersole has the most glorious voice on Broadway. She seems to choose her roles carefully, that’s why she is a stellar star.

Ebersole was a huge hit in “Grey Gardens” – a haunting musical with amazing performances. She won a “Tony” – and I couldn’t have been happier.

Here’s the deal. Christine has marvelous versatility. Her fine-tuned voice has fabulous clarity and precision that is rare. Talk about an incredible range. I’ll bet if you opened your windows, you could hear her all over the City.

Yep, Christine can change from comic alto to lyric soprano. Now, how many singers can pull that off? But you will notice this: ‘She can be brassy and sassy and subdued on love songs. She's probably (in my opinion) the best show around, the clever arrangements goes from clever wink to sassy nightclub. And now here is the best part. For one night only (Sunday the 15th) at the famous Venetian Room at the Top of Nob Hill a song bird of vast fame will sing from -- from the Fairmont Hotel.You're gonna love it!

Part of the evenings glorious moments is the entrance to the Grand and opulent lobby. I like to get there early so I can let the atmosphere sink in. There is only one show this evening at 5pm. I think the show is sold out – but give it a try. Maybe they might be able to squeeze a couple of tickets out for you.



January 9, 2012

TWO CHARACTER PLAY - EXHILARATING! Plus Tonight Russ Lorenson at Rrazz Room

Ryan Tasker and Aexandra Creighton (Felice and Clare) Photo: Kent Taylor



WILLIAMS’s play is loosely based on Williams’ sister Rose, and the actor as the brother in this play is based on Williams himself.

It took the famous playwright over ten years to write “The Two-Character Play”. Years ago in the mid-eighties, I first saw the play at the now defunct One-Act Theatre on Mason. It now houses a nightclub of sorts. What a shame.

Tennessee came to town especially to overlook the play in San Francisco. We had lunch together at the Donetello Hotel nearby the Theatre. It was a pleasant experience as he told me about a new play that he was working on for A.C.T. That play just never made it very far. But, I will say that his “Two Character Play” is totally mesmerizing.

The Actors at the One-Act Theatre in SF did a fantastic job in The Two Character. I gave it a “Four Glasses of Champagne” then. Alas – the Williams play never did really take off the ground as much as he would have liked. Now, it has resurfaced at the Eureka Theater. And you know what? The Actors at this Revival (rarely performed) is all of this: – Charming, funny, irresistible, hypnotic, poignant and sad. The two characters Felice and Clare (brother and sister) crackle with magnetic force. You can’t get any better than this.

The play is a little confusing at times due to the double plot in the play within a play. Both of the characters are on the edge of insanity. What is reality and what is acting? The actors dip in and out of performance. It is sometimes hard to differentiate the actors from the characters and reality. But that is what is so exciting and intriguing about the play. Tennessee told me that he originally named the play “Out Cry” – but changed it later to “The Two-Character play.” Oh, and there is this: Incest between the brother and sister. Those Boots were definitely rocking.

Like a magician – this play is an illusion within an illusion. The panic and tension keeps you squirming in your seat. I would say that “Character” under the guidance of John Fisher, is a giant achievement.

Here’s an excerpt from the script: “ Clare: No press reception? Artists’ Management? Magnus personally promised, no opening without maximum press coverage on this fucking junket into the boondocks – Jesus, you know I’m wonderful with the press…(She laughs hoarsely). You’ll notice right off, the insanity going on here.

THE STARS: RYAN TAKSER (Felice) and Alexandra Creighton (Clare) are “DELIGHTFULLY STRANGE!”

DIRECTOR: JOHN FISHER gives an astonishingly accomplished evening. He gets everything right! Now playing the Eureka Theatre. http://www.therhino.org/

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

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



Lorenson highlights many of Darin’s songs with sensitivity and stunning musical arrangements. Every number that he sang in this show is so well done – that you will swear that Bobby Darin is up on that stage. Lorensen belts out those great standards like "Mack the Knife (Kurt Weill music/Bertolt Brecht (English Lyrics).
 Lorenson gives this show a great treatment of the pop classics. The strong vocals are put right in the spotlight where they belong. Songs "Beyond the Sea." The Band, who I will mention further on down along with  Russ gives a show with upbeat gusto that gives this show immense pleasure. Lorenson has that certain force that few entertainers can impart to their audiences. But this guys got it!

Russ chats a lot with the audience, many of them from other cities and countries. They really warmed up to the singing with the strong Horn Section. Kelly Park worked on the original musical arrangements to keep the show as close to Darin as possible. Of course, we know that Kelly Park is one of the best musicians in town, if not the best. What would San Francisco do without him?

Lorenson went into musical territory that I didn't know that his talents extended into that realm. He said: "If you don't like Country music -- It'll be over before you know it." But, gee gosh -- I not only liked it, I was mesmerized by it. I had to slap myself  from thinking that I was in Elvis's World. Will Russ make a move into Elvis's territory with a tribute to him?

There are lots of fun songs in the show like "If I Had My Druthers" - lyrics by Johnny Mercer and music by Richard Whiting. Getting back to the Country for a moment - in 1962 Darin wrote the Country style song (music and lyrics - Darin). The audience loved 'You're The Reason I'm Livin'.

Brendan Getzell (in the band) arranged the gorgeous "Eighteen Yellow Roses" - it is more fantastic than anything else I have ever heard. Then there is the tearjerker (music & lyrics: Darin). Darin wrote "Once Upon A Time" and Russ Lorenson delivered it to us in this magical evening. Here's a lyric: "Once upon a time - this world was sweeter than we knew!" All in all this was an enormously satisfying and astonishing evening of music and Darin History. Russ told very interesting stories about the famous singer that I didn't know about.

This is a huge evening of breathtaking songs with a bonus of non-stop sensational music. It was a magical experience.

Here are the excellent muscians: Kelly Park, piano/musical director - Daniel Fabricant, bass/guitar - Kent Bryson, drums - Brendan Getzell, guitar/vocals - Tony Malfatti, Sax/clarinet/flute - Max Perkoff, Trombone - Rich Armstrong, trumpet. Also -- to take us back to the 60's there are the backup singers: Jennifer Essex, Alyssa Stone and Sheelagh Murphy. With this show you get it all...Singing, a tremendous band and the lead Singer who put the show together -- Russ Lorenson.

If you're not exhilarated and rejuvenated at this show -- then you might want to check your pulse

Note: Almost sold out. Hurry to Goldstar or call the Rrazz Room for a reservation. http://www.therrazzroom.com/

Read more stories: "War Horse" and others. Just Scroll down.

January 4, 2012


Jeremy Irvine and Joey (his Horse) - Heartbreaking performance. Courtesy Photo
War Horse – “Dazzling, Emotional”


Not since ‘Gone With The Wind has there been a spectacular cinematic movie with exceptional storytelling flair like “War Horse. 

Steven Spielberg has said that he wanted War Horse to be a war movie that parents can take their children to. Actually, I mostly agree. However, this powerful tearjerker may be too much for very young kids.

This grand scale film has the best cinematography that I have seen in many years. I like everything about it…the Acting, editing, art direction and the breathtaking emotional scenes.

The stage play and book have already been massive hits. It’s difficult to get good seats for the stage version in New York. The play will be coming to the Orpheum Theatre soon – my advice, get tickets soon. The War Horse movie based on the book by Michael Morpurgo is a story about a poor, struggling family and their young son (Jeremy Irvine), who falls in love with a Horse that is being auctioned off. The love between the boy and the Horse is phenomenal.  I would keep a look out for Irvine, who I believe will become a major Hollywood Star and maybe even be nominated for an Oscar this year. Heck, while they are at it – why not nominate the Horse? He deserves an Oscar also. And if the Horse doesn’t want it – I’ll take it.

There are some gory war scenes in the film, but this exhilarating story will overtake any of the gory stuff. You’ll cry, you’ll cheer – and yes – at the end of the film you will stand up and cheer. Even I did…and you know how hard-hearted and self-centered I am!
Bonus: The John Williams musical score evokes openness of the countryside. The musical themes lift us to unexpected feelings from the Williams music while we look at the enchanting Red Skies in the distance. The exhilaration is powerful enough to keep you in your seat. Although, this thrilling ride might require that you fasten your seat belt. 

And then there is the unforgettable cinematography by Janusz Kaminski. It’s a remarkable, Gorgeous rarity.  If nothing else – see the film for his work.

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

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