February 27, 2012


David Strathairn and BabakTafti. Photo: Kevin Berne


A NOTARY PUBLIC is taking care of a mother’s last will and testament and the Notary has you guessing till the end. There is a twist at the Legal office. The Mother’s twins, Simon and Janine journey to a war-torn ravaged country in pursuit of their origins – but they must do a lot of searching, before they can open their mother’s will.

The play at A.C.T. is a little long, but it does keep you from falling asleep. This stage production just might be the most intriguing Theatre this season.

Seasoned actor David Strathairn is the only light moments in this heavy-duty play. He’s a Notary Public (some states or countries) have different rules. In this case The Notary (David Strathairn) in this role (he plays other characters) – is just the most amusing Notary that you will ever see and hear. Strathairn talks in “New Version English” – his mixed up sentences will certainly keep you interested throughout the play. Here’s one of his new versions that he has changed: Notary: The real saying: “The Light in the Tunnel.” His version is: “Train at the End of the Tunnel.”  Hilarious! Much like I write.

This play is loaded with secrets and silence. A woman tells this strange and mystifying story. And she takes us on an adventure like you’ve never seen before. This shocking, complex story is a little difficult to follow. There is so much going on as the locations shift from one country to another. Place and time plays with your mind – but you will not stray from the hypnotic stories about war-torn countries. Prepare for cruelty, death, love, hate, and some kindness. Not a lot of kindness – but some.

The story is about a teenager who is pregnant out of wedlock. She is forced to give up her baby boy. She practically crawls across a burned village landscape to find her son. This is an explosive Greek tragedy that brings to mind present day in Syria, Libya and other, middle-eastern countries.

The Direction by Carey Perloff,  is fantastic.  She brings us right into Middle Eastern classic violence. You’ll gasp – you’ll get involved and most of all you will be mesmerized with this suspenseful story.

There are two twins (Annie Purcell and Babak Tafti) that will fascinate you as they  stare at the strange and humorous Notary Public. But the Twins just fix their eyes on the perplexed Notary Public. He talks – they just look like they are in shock. Can they believe him? Here’s the deal. This is a play that feels both timeless and up-to-the-minute. It’s an exhilarating production. The sets alone are a marvel to watch. It will keep you guessing to the end. And there were some surprising wonderful surprising musical moments.

NOW PLAYING AT A.C.T. (Geary Theatre)

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)))

Look for enhanced coverage on beyondchron




February 25, 2012



John Pizzarelli – Acclaimed Jazz;
Mama Mia – Turns up the music;
Legally Blonde – Lesher Center

And Jessica Molaskey

The Grammy-nominated John Pizzarelli is one of the prime interpreters of the American Songbook. He’s been called “Hip’, ‘genius’ and madly creative. Look he is all of those things just mentioned – but I would like to tell you about the legends that he has performed with. Ready? Here is the stunning line-up – Benny Goodman, Les Paul, Zoot Sims, Clark Terry, Slam Stewart, Dave Brubeck, Ramsey Lewis, Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra.

In the first show on the 26th, Pizzarelli and his wife Jessica Molaskey will be on the stage with John. She is a veteran of many Broadway shows like ‘Tommy’, Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George’ Crazy For You’, Les Miserables, Chess, Cats, Oklahoma and City of Angels. Molaskey also has appeared at the Lincoln Center. Along with her husband her husband the two are a double sensation when they get together. They are not just a team – No…they are a bunch of firecrackers that make you feel like every day is a grand parade.

Pizzarelli and his music is something to remember something that sticks in your mind. The variety of styles of wise intriguing arrangements takes you from ‘Blues’ to the wonderful Duke Ellington songbook. The Pizzarelli and Molaskey team will not only bring us great music at the Fairmont – but they will treat us to some amusing insights into their lives. The 2:30 pm show is called “When Worlds Collide.” “Perhaps they are both the greatest of our time!” That’s what I think. Just don’t stick your finger is an outlet – cause this show is ELECTRIYING!

There are two shows – the 2.30 show stars both of them. The 5pm show will star solo John Pizzarelli and band in a Tribute to Duke Ellington on Feb. 26.  

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



O.K. here’s the Slam Dunk. On the Lesher Stage in Walnut Creek, you’ll get snappy songs, sensational choreography and outrageous visions of pink. What you won’t get is good sound. At the matinee that I attended, the sound was tinny and several sound glitches made it impossible to even hear what they were saying or singing. The leading man was very hard to hear -- and it’s too bad – because the story about a self-centered Malibu girl who has a great body, and a ditzy personality needed a microphone to give her a boost. Her self-centered boyfriend sings to her “Let’s Be Serious.” Blondie thinks that he is talking ‘proposal’, but what he is really saying is that he’s done Marilyn, and now needs to switch to someone more like a Jackie Kennedy. After all, he is going to Harvard Law School and a blond ditz is not exactly the image that he wants to be seen with. Yes, she’s a sexy beauty – but right now-- his career is more important.

With encouragement from her entourage of Sorority girls and a Greek Chorus – Blondie decides to stalk the upscale guy at Harvard Law School. Horrors – she arrives in the class   dressed n her signature pink and her flowing blonde hair. Of course – she becomes the joke of the semester. There are a lot of messages in this frothy pink stew. On one hand there is the misogynist thing, and on the other hand ‘the feminist’ cause boils over in the pot. But the blonde pink bundle is determined to show that she can do anything the boys can do (being a Lawyer). She even tones down her pink look to something less bright. Or as she calls it: “The New Pink.”

This very funny musical would be so much better if the sound were better. I hate to keep mentioning it – but it is a musical, and that means that the audience has to hear what they are singing and saying to know what’s going on.

The musical play has some jazzy upbeat tunes in this well produced musical. The staging is wonderful and the choreography(by Solari and Renee DeWeese.) couldn’t be better.

The ACTORS are superb: Tom Reardon plays a Lawyer who teaches a tight ship – except when he strays and tries to put the make on his student Ellie (the Pink one). Lynda DiVito is Paulette, the beauty salon owner. She has a great strong voice that gives us reason to celebrate. And everyone’s favorite is the self assured UPS driver – that drives Paulette wild with comments like this: In his little brown shorts he assuredly bursts through the door and announces strongly in the Beauty shop: “I have a PACKAGE for you!” Yes, YOU DO – Yes you do Mr. UPS.   He looks down at his short, short brown shorts, as he makes his bold and assured statement. Yep, I Looked – its all there.

Plays Through March 3, 2012 – the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.


(((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)))


Well there is one thing that I can say with no reservations. There is really - really loud sound on the Orpheum Theatre Stage. My God – I could have opened the windows at my Condo and heard the show. Well, what do you expect with 25-foot sound towers on each side of the stage.

Oh, Mama Mia – how can you not love the musical about a tropical Island that has a constant disco beat from the songs of the 70’s group ABBA? Does it have a story? Of course – there is a young bride-to-be who doesn’t know who her real father is. She knows that her mother had several suitors in her younger days, but which one is her father?

The mystery unveils with dancing boys that dance to the Abba Song “Dancing Queens.” Try to sit still through that. Every song in this bright, happy musical is a hit and the fantastic cast gives us a rainbow of exotic Island sets, colorful costumes and sweaty, sexy dancing. The only downside that I heard during intermission was from a straight guy complaining to his girlfriend. He said: – “ The original cast was more hunky.” I don’t know if he was referring to the girls or boys.

Most people around me just couldn’t stay in their chair. Those that did were doing sort of a lap dance without the benefit of a partner. Some just had to get up and dance in the aisles. The Abba music is that infectious. It’s a great fun-time evening to bring your best buddy, or your best gal to this show. And you’ll be the lucky guy or gal to say that you have seen the show. Just like an ABBA song says: “The Winner Takes it All.” It’s a grand Greek Island Adventure. Catch the breeze! Get down with Love!

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





February 24, 2012




VONDA SHEPARD WAS BORN IN NEW YORK, BUT ENDED UP IN CALIFORNIA WITH HER PARENTS. Before she was 20, Shepard did some backing up singing for Jackson Browne and Rickie Lee Jones. Later she worked with Al Jarreau, Julia Fordham and Chaka Khan. That’s all a good career start.

It was in 1987 that Reprise Records made a record deal with Shepard, but it was a short-lived deal. However, she got a great break when Michelle Pfeiffer spotted Shepard singing at an L.A. Night Club. Pfeiffer’s husband David E. Kelley was developing the TV series “Ally McBeal.” Kelly cast Shepard as the resident singer in the local bar, frequented by the star of the show. “Searchin’ my Soul” -- reached over one and a half million copies. That put Shepard in lofty heights.

Shepard brings fresh life to many standards like “Someday we’ll Be Together” and Don McLean’s “Vincent” are a couple of the standouts. Shepard is still riding the crest of her popularity. She may not sing it tonight at the Rrazz Room – but a favorite of mine is “To Sir With Love.” Yummy – it’s just outstanding. “Crying” is also one of the famed song versions that I hope you get to hear.

Shepard is one of the most soulful singers to come around. She’s not a weak singer – she belts those songs right out of the club. To sum it up – Shepard has -- “that Wowing Talent!”
And do try to persuade her to sing, “What becomes of the broken Hearted.” I’m looking forward to this exhilarating evening tonight (Feb. 24) and Saturday night the 25th at the Glorious Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko. It will be a reason to celebrate.

(((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))) 



February 21, 2012


Theo Black and Joe Jordan. Courtesy Photo


MESMER THEORISED THAT THERE WAS A NATURAL ENERGETIC TRANSFERENCE that he named (animal magnetism). In his crackpot way he somehow thought that his spiritual forces could drive the demons out of someone by using his mesmerism technique. Mesmer’s name is the root of the English very “mesmerize.” And he was born in my birth month (May). Thank God it wasn’t in the same year (1734).

This Two Character play MESMERIC REVELATION, is loosely based on short story that Edgar Allen Poe wrote. The Actors -- Theo Black and Joe Jordan are stunningly great as two scientists throw barbs at each other. But here’s the deal. As mesmerizing as it can be – the play also seemed to put me into a catatonic state. Even the fascinating costumes by Tammy Berlin, and the fantastic lighting by Gary Graves couldn’t un-mesmerize me. No - even the super sound effects by Gregory Scharpen couldn’t bring me back from the mesmerized state of insanity.

Yes – I know that Edgar Allen Poe was scandalously clever and bizarre – but this play takes us way beyond that. As much as I wanted to be rid of the demons inside me, it just didn’t work. As I looked around the room – I noticed that the audience was also mesmerized. I guess that Franz Anton Mesmer was just a little too heavy duty. I was hoping for something more like “The Wizard of Oz” – not “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

Here’s the deal. Central Works always gives us reasons to celebrate. Especially, in the acting and stage presence. The actors are some of the best that I have ever seen. The staging, lighting – everything was very top drawer. That’s the good. Here’s the not so good mesmerizing part. The play was very repetitive. Way too many scientific terms were thrown about like loose marbles. The Sun and the Moon just did me in. I thought, looking around – “Oh, my God – maybe the audience needs oxygen.” The too many words were messing with our heads. Please, may I have a cold towel? Yes, I do know that it is a method play – but surgery should not take that long. But for those who love trying to figure out the animated and inanimate – then you will probably be frothing at the mouth over this play.  Sorry, but human bodies were not meant to think about going insane.

Central Works has presented a tantalizing play – even though it is heavily burdened with
Technical methods.



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

  Beyond Lady Gaga

The wild and crazy show “Hold Me Closer, Tiny Dionysus” is about society as the way it is now, says director Ben Randle. O.K. that sounds pretty nice – but I more or less got the feel that I was in the 70’s where everyone wore a flower in their hair. Sure there was some political turmoil referenced -- however, I saw a play that was a lot of fun with half nude boys and girls romping around like they were in a bathhouse.

What’s going on here? Well, it shows that young actors can be free spirited and very talented. The energy was strong enough to make the High Speed rail dream come true. They had that youthful power and a very large 7-foot festival-style Minotaur puppet. “It’s not about gender, class or religion” – says trixxie carr. Let me think that one over.

Well, even though I don’t think that any political changes were made by watching the show -- it sure was a hell of a good time. A drag queen performer (in the image of Lady Gaga) sings and wears outrageous costumes and frolics around the equally sexy boys. S&M drag is back in favor. They are desperately trying to make it in show business in this play within a play. The Lusty movements are exciting and sensational, and of course, who could resist the sexy undulating rear ends. 

The whole idea of gee kids  -- let’s put on a play so that we can make a little money during this depression didn't seem to work for them. And ‘trixxie carr’ (she prefers all lower case) – the faux queen, actress, chanteuse, playwright and San Francisco native, performed her original music as theatrical pieces. And they ARE really very good. You can find her on itunes and cdbaby.com. Actually, she is more attractive than Lady Gaga and more outrageous.  

This was A Return Special Engagement by trixxie carr. Trixxie and Ben Randle conceived the show. The Story is about a god banished from Mount Olympus. The God teaches them how to survive The Great Recession. Gee, I didn't know that the fantastic production numbers of classic rock and pop song, drag and puppetry was going to break down that recession. Well, actually - it didn't - but you guys did give it a hell of a try.

Here’s the thing…this is a fun nostalgic show. Everything old is now new today. The audience was ecstatic. I gotta tell the truth – I was into it also.

Last performance was at the Counter Pulse Theatre @ 9th and Mission Streets. I suspect that there will be another encore in the future. 


trixxie carr in a scene from "Hold Me Closer



February 14, 2012



BOY WHAT A TEAM! When Chico and Rita come out in this movie – it’s like a super Nova has taken over the nightclub. Maybe it’s that “krill” oil I’ve been urging them to take. Naa – I’m just joking. 

BE CAREFUL THOUGH--this unusual animation is so sexy, that you may have to re-adjust your trousers. Some scenes are in the nude. Not offensive – but nude. I think you know what I mean.

 I sure hope Chico and Rita get that Oscar for best animation. Everyone looks so real – so human. It looks almost like 3-D. The eyes are totally amazing for an animated movie. It’s a visual feast that I won’t ever forget -- and you won’t either. 

Bebo Valdes supplies the Latin music along with others like Tito Puente. Together they keep you in a sensual mood. I say: “Give us more movies like this!” It definitely is from the heart. Did I say it’s beautiful? Well, if I didn’t, take my word for it. The movie is over the top gorgeous.

Oscar winning director Fernando Trueba is beyond masterful – he has put together a rainbow of Las Vegas, Hollywood and New York. The thrill of discovering the deep affecting music is really high level. Not once did I nod off. Oh no – not at all. NEVER in this enthralling and clever beautiful rainbow do you get bored.

Oh, by the way – the Soundtrack is really a must have. It’s now available on Calle 54 records (Sony Music – US/Latin).

CHICO AND RITA is playing at Landmark Theatres.

(highest rating) - trademarked)

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

FA-LASH!!!!! The 'Hailed' The Book of Mormon, winner of nine Tony Awards Best Musical will play a strictly limited 5-week engagement at the SHN Curran Theatre beginning in November 2012. Always look to these pages for the BEST Broadway shows. 



February 13, 2012


Courtesy Photo: Paramount Presents


Martin Scorsese has done it again. His movie Hugo is an epic motion picture beyond belief. In this charming, visual masterpiece, we follow a young man who is fascinated by mechanical wonders. The boy’s father teaches his son how to make moving things from clocks to a mechanical man.

A terrible accident kills his father. The boy is left with his drunken Uncle who takes care of running all the clocks at a enormous Parisian train station. The boy has nowhere to stay – so he hides out in the inner depths of the fascinating building. He has to eat, so he grabs what he can from the vendors in the cavernous lobby. He keeps the clocks moving – and no one  even knows that the Uncle is dead. Hugo is one of the most ravishing, exciting film stories that you will experience in the moment. It’s a breathless thriller that is based on the novel “The invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick.

THE HYPNOTIC CAST: Ben Kingsley (George Mêlées) – Jude Law (Hugo’s Father) and Sacha Baron Cohen (station inspector) - Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Mortez. 

The sound and visual aspects on this magnetic show will keep you on the edge of your seat. I was so wrapped up in “Hugo” that I thought the entire film, was just for me.
It’s now showing at Theaters everywhere in High Definition and 3-D. I would just skip the 3-D version – it’s not necessary.


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


February 8, 2012


Courtesy Photo: A.C.T.



The Chase is on. Two talented Architects are having a love affair. But love has nothing to do with telling each other that they have a project going on in Israel. They are shocked to find out that they are competing with each other over a memorial. Plus there is another problem. A young Jewish man falls in love with the ambitious female Architect. The Young Israeli boy inspires her to design a beautiful Memorial to his father. He tells her what he would like for his father’s memorial. She gets a little to cozy with the Boy.

Perloff’s writing is absolutely fascinating. Everything works perfectly – the sets make the mood. The love story sizzles and the young Israeli’s heart is broken.

The play keeps you guessing. It’s mysterious, beautiful and elegant. And -- “Higher” takes off by delivering enticing destinations worldwide.

HERE ARE THE BREATHTAKING ACTORS: Rene Augesen (Elena) “Poignant, and deliciously self-assured!” Isaac Friedman (Ben Kahre) – “Powerful – self assured!” Michael Friedman (Andrew Polk) is Isaac’s son. The son is Gay. “His passionate punch will never leave your mind.” Valerie Rifkind (Concetta Tomei) – what a tough babe she is as she pits the two architects against each other. Tomei is priceless!”


  NOW PLAYING AT The Theater at Children’s      Creativity Museum. (Formerly known as “Zeum.” 

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) – trademarked-
Scroll down for more stories

Jeri Lynn Cohen prepares for photo session with Howard Swain. Photo: David Allen


The play involves four characters. They all have their issues. But, a funny thing happens on the way to the dining room table, they disagree with each other most of the time, but somehow they seem to bond.

It’s a crazy and nutty dysfunctional household that gets more humorous as the clock goes by. The boy, Jared is suspected of having Asperger’s syndrome. It has something to do with lack of empathy. His startling blow-ups don’t last long. 

The entire family of three tries to confront these issues, but runs into roadblocks.  They are also joined by a photographer who is in town for a “Body Awareness program” at a local college. His contribution is that he takes photos of nude women. This kind of shocks the presenter, who is one of the household members. She just wasn’t prepared for this. The photo guy certainly has a certain swarmy charm about him. He talks his hosts into lighting ‘shabbos’ candles at the dinner table. One of the women, Phyllis thinks that Frank is using his art for perverted purposes. Frank shockingly says: “What if Michelangelo masturbated to the statue of David? Does that make him a bad sculptor?” I’ll let you answer that. 

There is lots of sex talk in this play. The disturbed young man talks about masturbation. He showed his penis to a girl in school. The boy thought that the penis bit would get him a date. Wrong!

 There is a surprising lot of salty language. And what is really amazing, is that at the performance that I attended most of the audience were seniors. Of course, it was a Sunday Matinee. Who would guess that they would have that much fun? But they did – and laughed all the way thru the play.

The actors are “Flat out magnificent.” They are: Howard Swain (photographer famous for his nude portraits of women). Swain can charm birds off the trees. He sure has magic stage presence. Jeri Lynn Cohen and Amy Resnick as a Lesbian couple bring “sizzle” to the stage. Patrick Russell (the son) is the kid (21) who shouts out obscenities – “wickedly funny!” This is a good one! Totally “Extraordinary performances."


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



February 4, 2012


Young Jesus (Damon Daunno) has a new way to convert. Photo: Jennifer Reiley


O.K. here’s the deal. Jesus is a young man in this play. He travels to India and rides around on a Camel. This Jesus is really handsome and he is also talented. Jesus can play many instruments dude. Yes, Jesus is now in the new age!

It’s hard to tell what this Jesus is up to, other than having a great time picking up girls. Oh yes, Jesus does have sex. So, I guess it’s safe to say – that this Jesus has found new ways to save souls. The religion is in the rock music. But, of course you have to be stoned to really get into it.

There are drifts of the Old Testament - but this time the words are supported by a rock band. And what would Jesus be without his groupies. He still has them. This is a fascinating new look at religion and Jesus. I’m not quite sure what it is all about, except for the sex. That I understand. On one hand they look like a bunch of Occupiers on bikes. And of course, young people have learned that every other word has to have some dirty words. Shocking? Well, not to me. I’m used to it. But I wouldn’t bring a Nun to see the play.

I will say that the writing by the playwright is highly intriguing. Insane maybe – but that’s what makes this peek at this different Jesus very interesting. Especially when he takes his tee shirt off.

It is a comedy for grown ups – it’s strange. What is this world coming to? Well I’ll answer that – it will most likely sell out every evening. Jesus leaves this impression on us: - “Girl, we’ve got a camel – we’re good looking!” – and they ride the hump off into the desert. And I might ad: "Dude - you're going to Hollywood!"

THE DREAM CAST: Damon Daunno-Jesus. (Powerful acting) – Jessica Lynn Carroll (Passionate). Bobak Bakhtian (Gopal) is remarkable. Mahira Kakar (Mary) is brilliant. And Jomar Tagatac (Sushil) – Is Terrific!

Written by: Lloyd Suh with superb direction by Daniella Topol. 


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

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 directed a long running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))