April 26, 2012


VARLA JEAN MERMAN “The Book of Merman”

In Defense of the Slow, the long, the Boring -- there is no Defense. To escape the long and boring fare that is on most stages – you WILL rejoice when you discover Varla Jean’s show at the Rrazz.

Her show is filled with imagination. The comedy is fresh, and the sexual innuendos never seem to end. Take my word for it – this is not a “Bummer Summer - cheap show!” Varla Jean is marvelously inventive. She is fantastic…gorgeous…and yes, delirious! “Oh-Wow!” I’ve never laughed so hard – ever! She is pure brilliance. There are more gut-busting laughs than you’ll be able to count!

Not only is Varla a marvelous comedian – and also a really great singer. Heck, she sings everything from Pop, Broadway, Country and Opera.” Why doesn’t she have her own comedy show on a major Television Station? Will someone please tell those endlessly and uninteresting fat ass producers to get off of the casting couches, and hire some real talent.

I love this snide remark: “Children are like Sponges. They’re full of bacteria!” Here’s another original from Varla: - “Foreskins are just going to disappear, like a Sock in a Dryer!” Oh, Gee gosh – I hope not. About ‘Ambian’ -- Varla sez: “About Ambian. Now I only take two. I don’t swallow, I chew!”

This self-assured Smarty looks at the audience and says: - “I won’t remember you – you’ll remember me! After-all, I gave you the gift.” About ‘Fleet Enemas’ – “I’m their #2 Customer.” Seeing her live and to hear her comments in person, is a real joy. She knows how to really put the spin on every word.

You not only get a stage show – you also get two large screens on each side of the stage showing clips of sexually outrageous goings on. You’ll need some “Fleet” when she gets done with you. On the screen or on the stage – Varla knows how to weaken your knees.

This is a luscious piece of outrageous musical Theater. Varla is an indispensable ticket. It’s hard to imagine any hurricane on a stage like Varla. And, might I add -- dangerously immoral! I love it! Hey, if Bill Maher can get away with it on HBO – why can’t Varla Jean and her Book of Merman? Write to HBO and tell them that she should have her own obscene and obnoxious show -- just like Bill Maher.

Now at the Rrazz Room Thru April 29th.

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

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


April 25, 2012


Having Fun at the Hypnodrome Theatre. Closing soon. 

Also called "Rants and Raves!"



GAVIN NEWSOM, EX-MAYOR OF SANFRANCISCO and now Lieutenant governor is shooting for a weekly show on Current TV. And him being sort of a Hollywood type guy he will be the leading man on Current. Celebs wanna know --how much wax will it take to keep each hair in place? I guess being The Prince of Sacramento is just not enough for him.

So, here's the deal. 49er fans that bought expensive prime seats ñ will find themselves Seat-less -- when the team starts to kick the sh-t out of each other. To say nothing about, the loving fans. Or will they love the team as much, when they find out how much it will cost the fans to sit in the Palace of Santa Clara. Hey, here’s an Idea. At intermission -- they can put on a Ballet. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the balls?

ANOTHER CIRCUS, is the crazy leaders of the Muni system. It’s just not fun enough as it is. You know with all the non-payers and all the drug addicts, and smelly passengers that drag tons of empty cans on the buses is just not entertaining enough. No, it isn’t. So, now they have come up with an insane idea: Gee, lets give all the youngsters free rides so they can harass and stir up more sh-t on the Muni slow way. You know -- their motto is -- Lets go as slow as we can till all the old ladies and old men die on the buses. Oh, I get it -- this is a road show. I guess the Muni-Mgmt will turn the buses into a gross rolling stage. How about The Barber of Seville? Since the kids will be on the bus there will be double seating. The younger ones will sit on the laps of the older people. Sure it’s a little uncomfortable, but so much fun for the little tikes. Now all together, lets all sing an Aria from Aida. Enjoy the ride.

How many congressmen take bribes? Celebs wanna know? The answer: A lot! -- says one celeb. But then, money is better than pigeon droppings. Ooops -- some just dropped on a baldhead. That’s O.K. There’s nothing in it.


TERRANCE MCNALLEY (Playwright) has written many really great plays. Now, he or someone has come up with a documentary of his hit play Corpus Christi. It’s all about Jesus being gay. But, hey that’s not the first time that people have begun to think that. Nothing wrong with Jesus being Gay -- as long as he can heal everyone. He’s not picky. Anyway, back to the Documentary. I saw a brief little segment on the computer. From what I saw so far I was not terribly impressed. I loved McNally’s play on the stage -- but talking about how and why it was put together is more like listening to a furry faced Professor trying to tell us what it’s all about. Hey there Prof -- Watcha got cooking? Oh nothing? That’s what I thought. It will have a premiere showing at the Castro. I, the evil critic wasn’t invited. And, I do so love the Castro Theatre. Tsk-Tsk!



NOW HERE’S A START. SOMEONE NEEDS TO WRITE A PLAY ABOUT LADAMER PUTIN. Afterall, no one can find his wife. She has mysteriously vanished. On second thought maybe a play wouldn’t work. I think something stronger would be better like maybe La Boheme. I can hear Putin, singing his sad Arias right now. Oh, how glorious! Yes, I’m having a nightmare! And, I’m also crazy. But being a person of great charm and considerable spirit, I will continue to bring new plays into your world.

AT THE SAN FRANCISCO PLAYHOUSE is another fantastic play, (The Aliens) which you should see. The Annie Baker play is about a patio and some band-mates that hang out on a cafÈ patio. Here is my quote: “It’s a tightly constructed terrific play. You can find the complete reviews at beyondchron and also on “For All Events -Critics World.” Hurry closes on May 5th. Watch for the next fantastic play at the SF Playhouse. Always -- top-notch performers.

Last Chance to see the intriguing  ‘The Laramie Project -10 Years Later’ -- at the New Conservatory Theatre. The show is about murder, hope, anger and denial. Compelling!

HOT GREEKS! At the Hypnodrome. This newly restored version of the famed Cockettes 1972 musical comedy runs through May 19. Nudity, semi-nudity, buggering, and other wonderful delights await you at the Hypnodrome. This is a laugh a minute show in this exaggerated,  drop your Togas show. See it -- while you can. It’s a Blast!

When Rihanna was asked about her interest in playing the legendary singer in a possible biopic, she said. "I mean who wouldn't be...it's Whitney Houston!" Her breakout film "Battleship" already is making $100M overseas, saying. "Isn't that insane?!" The movie opens on May 18. - extratv.com 

Will Rihanna play Whitney Houston on the Big Screen?

OPENING TONIGHT AT THE RRAZZ ROOM: The hilarious Varla Jean Merman. You're gonna love this terrific performer. Varla has a great voice - fab humor and of course hundreds of costumes. It's a must see.

(((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))) 




April 20, 2012






NOW comes along TOMMY IGOE, who out shines even the Great Krupa. I know it’s hard to believe, but that was then, when Krupa formed the first real rhythm section in Count Basie’s Orchestra. And he was the original hi-hat artist. Just to let the young talents know how Krupa looked, I’m posting a picture of him.

Now we have a new Superman drumming god. And that is Tommy Igoe. He is totally mesmerizing. Igoe is also a great innovator. His taste in music swings way out – and the solos that he gives us are just the most joyful I’ve heard. He sure can make those drums sing. It’s amazing how he can turn a simple beat into mesmerizing mantra. Igoe has a thunderous technique that is playful and entertaining. It’s hard swinging magic. No doubt about it. He is a great musical technician.

With his marvelous band – Igoe’s boys bring some of the most incredible, smooth music to the Rrazz. And as far as Igoe goes – he seems to have more hands and feet than any musician I have ever seen.

Check this out. The Tommy Igoe band will be appearing every April - Monday Evenings -- at the Rrazz. Believe me – this is some of the most eloquent playing that I’ve heard in a long, long time. Impeccably presented. The sound is “One for the Ages!”

RATING: Four glasses of Champagne!!!! (highest rating) 

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



April 17, 2012




 Delia MacDougall breaks up with Anatol (Mike Ryan) as Tim Kniffin Looks on. Photo by David Allen 
Delia MacDougal breaks up with Anatol (Mike Ryan). Tim Giffin Looks on
photo: David Allen 

Of course it was a time when Gentlemen bowed and scraped to put a hit on a woman. Any woman will do – just so they’re breathing.

The direction by Barbara Oliver needs to speed things up. No, we don’t need a high-speed train to come through the stage, only some energy in the ponderous play. Occasionally there is some buffoonery and snide remarks that are quite amusing by Tim Kniffen, as Max. He is probably the most amusing, but his projection would not hit the ball out of the park. Hard to hear some of it – clever as he is.

Schnitzler’s qualifications as a playwright were not universally praised. Some thought he was brilliant, and others thought his stuff should be burned. I think I’d go along with “Burn, baby Burn!”

 Originally Schnitzler wrote nine little play-lets. Thank God, the Aurora decided to use only six of them. And thank God again, for having an intermission. Where else could you glean comments like this in the Gents Rest Room? Overheard:  “I saw a third of the audience asleep. But I didn’t want to say anything!” – said an Elder gent. 

Schnitzler’s “La Ronde” was a pretty big hit –and probably his only hit. In this play we get some relief during the second act. It rolled along a little faster and the barbs were much more bitchy. And bitchy in this kind of play is what I like. The only thing that Schnitzler and I have in common is that we were both born on May 15th. Of Course, I came around a little later…much later! Well maybe, not that much later.

To get to the point, I truly believe that this group of play-lets could work, if someone (like a Director maybe) would guide the actors on the art of moving around. Stuffy is one thing, but to be that stuffy on the stage makes them look like they have just been to the Taxidermist. I know -- that’s the way they dressed at that time. But, really – you must admit that they did take some clothing off, once in a while.

 The lovely set design worked perfectly. A little drawing room music might help revive the show – talk, talk; talk with no diversion does not help. But hooray – finally near the end, we did get a little music – but none in the Restaurant. Why does that matter? Well – it would drown out the eating sounds for one thing.

The Actors are Superb: The plot is too lazy. As Anatol, Mike Ryan does some damn good acting. Tim Kniffin (Anatol’s pal) has the taut upper lip Gent look – but he could project a little more. Delia MacDougall (as eight different woman) came through all this still breathing. How did she do it? I don't know - it was a miracle. Wiley Naman Strasser (Franz/ensemble) was the most entertaining while he waited on the snot nosed rich people.

Great Set Design is by Jon Lacovelli. Krista Smith’s lighting is Divine. The play, is directed by Barbara Oliver, and Translated by Margret Schaefer. Question: Is it to late to transfer it back?

Now Playing at the Aurora Theatre


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


April 13, 2012


Page one  "Applause" Incredible acting
Page Two:  "Any Given Day."  Vicarious Thrill       Page Three: "Rumors"  - "Best Play of Year"

Actress (Paprika Steen) tries to sober up in dressing room. Courtesy photo

APPLAUSE is one of those movies about a great actress that boozes too much. Sure she’s great on the stage. If it were you or I on the set – we would’ve been fired. I mean really, who in the hell would want to confront this psychotic bitch.

Watching her on the screen was like watching one of the Evil Dead movies. No wonder her husband left her. Who could live with someone that is completely out of control? He has the two boys – because she's  incapable, of taking care of the children. Who know’s what she might do? Sometimes, when she does get to see her boys – you almost feel like she is plotting something against her children, just to hope that she will get some sympathy from her ex-Hubby.

There are fun moments when she gets to take the boys out. She plays with them, buys them toys and they seem to be getting along well. It is when she drives them into the country near a big lake that makes me nervous. I began to shiver. Is she plotting to drive the car into the lake with the boys in it? You never know what a boozed up pitiful Actress will do to hurt others.

She claims that she is off the booze. Well, it may seem like that for a few hours – but then she is back to her nasty old self again. Sort of like 'Virginia Wolf 'who in that movie - threw empty bottles against the wall. Just don't get in the way. Same as this alcoholic.  As you know, this story has been told hundreds of times. Much of it is from real life actresses, that have f—cked up careers. This movie seems to get us thru the drunken nightly storm. And boy am I glad about that. This simple formula pays a lot of attention to the details. We watch her makeup process in the dressing room. She’s older now – and that is taking a toll on her. On the stage she is a complete firestorm.

That all good and fine – but when she gets off the stage she is a bitch and a half. She’s in a constant state of uneasiness as she puffs away at cigarettes.

This is a memorable and moving Danish film. Paprika Steen (The Actress) doesn’t know how to love herself and anyone else. She’s just a total wreck. Her ex-husband doesn’t trust her with the boys. And who would? Paprika’s performance is desperate, sad – but very natural. Steen surely will win awards with this film.


Rating: Four Boxes of Popcorn!!!! (highest rating) – trademarked – 

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

Christopher McHale and Amy Kossow. Photo: Janet Reilly


You’re too fat and clumsy. You need to go on a diet’ – sez  ‘Bill’ to Sadie!

There are basically two stories in ‘Any Given Day’. The first play is about Bill and Sadie who live in a community flat. Both are slightly mentally deficient.

Over and over, Sadie keeps asking – “Is Jackie coming?” Jackie is someone who checks on the welfare of Sadie and Bill. The couple argues over whether to make Tea or not. Sadie says ‘no’ too almost everything that Bill asks her for. But, all of a sudden after she says ‘no’ to Bill, she suddenly ask him “Do you want a cup of tea?” But, then she forgets for a while about the Tea. Later, she remembers to make the tea – but someone throws a small rock thru the window. They are startled and Sadie knocks over the Tea and she becomes crawls around the floor like a child.

Sadie forgets most everything. The phone rings – and she gets frightened. And, we find out later why she is afraid to answer the phone.

In the second act we leave Sadie and Bill for another location. It’s not a play. There is a connection between Sadie and Bill and Jackie.

Jackie works at a bar. She seems to be stressed. Dave (James Carpenter) the Bar Keeper and owner is kind of sweet on Jackie. She brings out some bold sexual statements. Dave is shocked by her comments. But obviously is smitten with the possibilities of what might happen next over a couple of drinks.

There is a connection of the two play lets. We never really get to know what happened to Sadie and Bill. We don’t see them again after the intimate Bar scene.

The last we see of Sadie is when a neighborhood boy bursts thru the door and starts ranting at Sadie. “You f—cking ugly cow. Moo Moo. I’m coming to get you. And when I’m done I’m gonny pee on you.” Of course – ‘Boy’ is cruel. And he frightens us with his marvelous Scottish accent.

Any Give Day is a remarkable rarity. It’s a play that adults can brawl over. It’s like being on a treadmill to hell. And it pretty much keeps you there. “It’s devastating and splendidly well made.

The spellbinding actors are: James Carpenter, Amy Kossow, Christopher McHale, Patrick Alparone and Stacy Ross.
“Best acting ensemble in years!”

Great directing - by Jon Tracy. The brilliant writing is by Linda McLean. 


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

The play is only 90 minutes long. 

*enhanced coverage @ beyondchron



April 9, 2012


Mark Anderson Phillips, Lynda DiVito, Mark Farrell 
Photo by Kevin Berne.com


“Rumors” is a farce that frolics in plot situation with high-flying, edgy slapstick. The cast delivers each situation with physical agility, hiding out, gunfire and running around frantically among all the rich furnishings. But even the trendy has their problems.

This is a home that was built for the ultra rich Doctors, Lawyers and wanna be Mayors. They must somehow get themselves out of a tangled web of money, servants, ditzy wife’s and husband’s follies.

In the posh suburban home, a party was supposed to be an event. But when the invited come in they find that the servants are missing, and they can’t seem to find the host. Then they hear a gunshot from an upstairs bedroom. It appears that the deputy mayor of New York – has shot himself through the earlobe. He was depressed, and took some Valium. Lucky for him, he missed his head and he only shot his ear. The guests all decided to keep the shooting secret from the local police.

There is more craziness. It involves car wrecks -- and an eccentric wife who has a cooking show. Her name naturally is “Cookie”. Love this line: “You’re running for State Senator. I wouldn’t run for you - for Chinese food!”

Things begin to settle down – after Lenny makes up a wild story to keep the cops off the track. But, ooops…there is one more thing. Something strange is going on in the basement. And guess what? I'm not going to give you the ending.

This production at Center Rep. Theatre in Walnut Creek is a “Perfect Gem!” In the play is the “Best Acting ensembles that I have seen in ages!” It’s an absolute can’t miss! The cast truly burns up the stage.

THE EXHILARATING ACTORS THAT SET A NEW GOLD STANDARD - ARE: Michael Butler (Ernie) “Gripping”, Amanda Denison (Officer) “One of the best”, Lynda Divito (Claire) “Engrossing”, Jennifer Erdmann (Chris) “Provocative”, Mark Farrell (Ken) “Compelling”, Dorian Lockett (Officer Welch) “Good Job”, Gabriel Marin (Glenn) “Always Enormous Talent”, Mark Anderson Phillips (Lenny) “Jaw Dropping Performer”, Sharon Rietkerk (Cassie) “Hilarious” and Kirri Shawn (Cookie) “Magnetic”. Everyone is fabulous in this play – especially the hard-working Lenny (Mark Anderson Phillips. His comic charm just didn’t quit. Well, that’s it. I’ve run out of praises!

Oh, there is one more praise – and that’s for Director Timothy Near. – She made it “Rock!” 

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

*enhanced coverage on beyondchron


April 6, 2012


Melissa and Lee. Courtesy Photo by Steven Underhill



Melissa really means it when she sings the Kenny Loginns song, “Whenever I Call You Friend.”  The thing about Manchester is that she really pours her heart out with “Midnight Blue” and “Rainbird” from a movie that starred Mary Steenburgen. “She’s a great actress, Manchester says: “You should see this movie – you can get it on DVD or on “You Tube”.

The Manilow Medley – was absolutely stunning. Although, Manilow was not there is person – she sang with him. He was on two big screens on each side of the stage, with Melissa in the middle singing soulful songs with Manilow. You can’t get any more perfect than that.

Manchester wowed us with “Come In From The Rain” and “You Should Hear How She Talks About You.” You will sing, you will dance and you will fall in love all over again with Melissa. It took my breath away. It was a magical evening. I know that it’s not Valentine’s Day – but Melissa brought one to the Rrazz Room for us all.

This show is the most musical effervescent delight I’ve had in years. So, “Don’t Cry Out Loud” – (Melissa’s song). You know what – she should play the lead in “Sunset Boulevard” – she would make a great ‘Norma Desmond”. Are you listening Broadway?

Melissa gave a glorious tribute to the Late and Fabulous Dusty Springfield with Dusty’s well-known “Son of A Preacher Man.”

Make no mistake about it – Manchester gives an evening of haunting and brilliant music. It’s locked in my brain – I can’t get those tunes out of my head. But I’ll leave you with the Carol Sager and Peter Allen song – “Don’t Cry Out Loud.” Quite simply – Melissa is brilliant!


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

*enhanced coverage @ beyondchron

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


April 3, 2012







Don’t worry -- you won’t have to wear a chastity belt. Heck no – “Greeks” is just a lot of fun with the boys from Lysistrata dressed in their revealing Togas, as they parade around and bugger everyone in sight -- men and women. Then of course there are the men who become women. Oh, don’t be frightened – they are just pretend penises but they sure as hell look real -- but way TOO big. After all – Lysistrata is out to save the gods – and Greece. Do you suppose it was originally called “Grease” – you know, cause it’s easier to slip it in. If you follow my Vaseline Trail.

There is singing and dancing among the Grecian ruins – and the Greeks are throwing the ‘balls’ around the robust cheerleaders for a big game between The Athens University football team, and Sparta State.

The Greek boys are scantily clad as are the colorful ladies. Things do kinda peak out once in a while they attempt to put back the family Jewels between their legs. It takes us back to the freewheeling days of vestal virgins. No need to bring any sweets, cause there is plenty of eye-candy on the stage. However there is some delicious popcorn as you come into the Theatre

The famous “Cockettes” started the show, -- and some have still survived. Especially the historic Scrumbly Koldewyn – and the ever talented and amusing Russell Blackwood who keeps the energy going. He is an amazing Chameleon.

Let yourself go! You’ll just have the greatest time at the Thrillpeddlers “Greeks.” The brilliant cast is mammoth. It’s sensationally hyperkinetic. I think that Busby Berkeley would really enjoy this show. What? – Who is Busby Berkeley? Oh, just one of the most talented Hollywood choreographers in the world. Yeh, Dead now – but there are still people like Russell Blackwood that keep the sensation going.

“Greeks” is delectably amusing – and irresistible! Truly Addictive!

THE DAZZLING CAST: Tom Orr, Noah Haydon, Rik Lopes, Annie Larson (Clitoristra), Birdie-Bob Watt, Steven Satyricon, Ste Fishell, Bobby Singer, James Toczyl, Russell Blackwood (Mata Dildoes), Joshua Devore and Lisa Appleyard (Mrs. Ova), Jan Adrienne Gilbert – and others that add to the “Glitz and Glamour!” Total of 23 Talented and sexy Actors frolic for your pleasure.

NOW PLAYING THROUGH MAY 23 AT THE HYPNODROME – 545 10th Street, San Francisco. BrownPaperTickets.com.

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

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

Greg Pierotti (Sal Mattos -actor) is serving two life sentences

The Larimie Project: Ten Years Later

Ten years ago (1998) Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie Wyoming. It was a homophobic crime – in a red neck town.

Some people in the town believe that it was a drug deal that went bad. No, it was the demented killers that went bad. The people in Laramie may have tried to deny that it was a homophobic episode.

The show starts out slowly. It seems static, yet mildly interesting in the first act, as the actors take a look back at what happened on that fateful day.

The set is very sparse. Just a few chairs and a desk adorn the stage. However, the simple moveable set for this show does what it wants to do – and that’s to keep the focus on what happened Ten Years ago.

In the second act – the principals travel to Wyoming to interview residents about the crime. Some, didn’t know much about it – others felt remorse, and claim that Laramie is a changed City. The two killers are still behind bars. One seems to be sorry – the other, is not sorry at all. As the interviewer talks to prisoner Aaron McKinney – you get the feeling that McKinney has no remorse. He talks about what he wants to do when he gets out of prison. This scene is extremely chilling. I got goose bumps.

We have come a long way since then – but still, there is hatred everywhere, even in San Francisco. There are crazies no matter where you look. Everyday, someone is killed for no reason. Yes - this is a ‘Dark pearl’ of an incident that should never have happened.

"This is a riveting High Wire Act of Storytelling. The Actors are firing on all Thespian cylinders!" 

Dynamite direction, by Sara Staley. Moises Kaufman, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti, Andy Paris, and Stephen Belber write the play.

The Vibrant and compelling cast play duel roles. Here they are: Patrick Barresi, Timothy Beagley, Diana Brown, Alex Hero, Sal Mattos, Natasha Noel, Chris Quintos, and Heidi Wolff.     

    Note: The play will be touring California 

Now Playing at the New Conservatory Theatre


*enhanced coverage @ beyondchron