ForAllEvents - Lee Hartgrave reviews

October 10, 2009

CALL ME MADAM - RENT - HEIDI CHRONICLES

Pictured: Klea Blackhurst (Call Me Madam).
Photo Courtesy 42nd Moon



LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS October 10, 2009

CALL ME MADAM - A POLITICAL HOOT!
RENT MUSICAL STILL COMPELLING!
Heidi Chronicles

CALL ME MADAM – WISE HUMOR PACKS A WALLLOP!

50’S MUSICAL COMEDY SPOOFS AMERICA’S PENCHANT FOR LENDING BILLIONS TO NEEDY COUNTRIES. “Call Me Madam” the musical hit from the 50’s is so current that you would think that it was written today. Irving Berlin’s Music and Lyrics is just loaded with frothy satire about politicians. And the melodies are just terrific. Everyone of the songs are classic standards that you will instantly recognize.

Sally Adams (Klea Blackhurst) is a well-meaning Ambassador to the fictional European country of Lichtenburg. In the original 50’s production Ethel Merman was the star (Sally). Merman had a really big robust and brassy voice. And I’m happy, no thrilled to say that Blackhurst is every vocal chord as good. She delivers a confident performance on Berlin’s toe-tapping numbers. Blackhurst has all the ingredients for cult immortality!

And listen to the words – they are just delicious venom. Here’s one American official’s comment: - “The trouble with these European governments is that they’re all run by foreigners.” Yep, the timing for this musical couldn’t be better. The book from Howard Lindsay and Russel Crousse probably never dreamed that their words would be in style again. They still are provocative and persuasive. One of the most delicious moments that pops up in the show in many scenes is Congresswoman Wilkens, who likes to tell everyone – “I’m the Republican!” Another great line -- “What do they want with another crook over at the Internal Revenue Bureau?” Sometimes farce is truth. And I loved this: “I understand that you want to save the World. Well, save it for tomorrow.”

Sally Ådams, the Ambassador charms this tiny country that is too small to be a Country and too big to be a City. Adams is especially interested in the new Foreign Minister Cosmo Constantine (Rob Hatzenbeller gives a super-charged performance) -- and who wouldn’t be interested in him -- he’s tall, good-looking and has big hands. Oh, and yes he’s really a multi-talented singer and actor.

The love affairs continue when the Ambassador’s Press Attaché Kenneth Gibson falls in love with the Country’s young princess.
Here is a short list of some of the wonderful songs that you will hear: “It’s a Lovely Day Today”, “The Best Thing for You (Would Be Me)” and “You’re Just in Love”. You’ll probably want to get up and dance in the aisles to “Something to Dance About”. You will think you’re in Congress, as you listen to the terrific “Can You Use any Money today?”

This powerful musical in the hands of Director Dyan McBride has brought us a superbly staged production that holds us mesmerized!
And there is a live Orchestra that really makes the evening zip by. Thanks to the imagination of Dave Dobrusky.

The Choreographer Jayne Zaban kept those tapping feet going just like a Broadway production and just as good.
THIS CAST MAKE ‘MADAM’ A NON-STOP EVENING OF FUN! JUST TRY TO SIT STILL – I DARE YOU!

THANKS TO: Klea Blackhurst, DC Scarpetti, Scarlett Hepworth, John Elliot Kirk, Benjamin Knoll, Charlie Levy, Rob Hatzenbeller, Gabriel Grilli, Peter Budinger and Giana DeGeiso. Plus the amusing singing secretaries – Lillian Åskew, Allison Rich and Sarah Kathleen Farrell.
“MADAM IS WORTH SEEING AGAIN AND AGAIN!”

Presented by 42nd Moon Theatre (At the Eureka Theatre)

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

RENT – INSPIRING – GOES RIGHT TO THE SOUL

THE AUDIENCE COULDN’T WAIT FOR THE SHOW TO BEGIN -- THEY EVEN APPLAUED THE SET STAGERS. And when Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp came out on the stage – the whistles, cheers and clapping was thunderous. Yes, Rent has groupies and they must have come from all over the country.
The cast starts out with the title song “Rent” that describes the problems that young artists have paying rent and trying to get someone interested in their “Art.” Right from the beginning you know that this is a top-drawer cast. The music crashes and thunders – and almost makes your heart race. It does calm down, but you still get the hard guitar with the drums that made the beginning of the show somewhat like a fireworks demonstration.

You will notice, as I did – that this “Rent” is superbly staged and beautifully sung and acted. Sure, it’s a powerful piece that challenges – but isn’t that what Theater is supposed to do? Roger (Adam Pascal) and Mimi (Lexi Lawson) sing the touching and contemporary “Light My Candle” – the words have multiple meanings. Lighting one’s Candle can mean different things to people. This Candle lighting paves the way to a deep and moving romantic story that isn’t an easy ride. Seduction starts a rumble that continues to the end.

The Mimi character is based on the Mimi in La Boheme. In fact the entire show is loosely based on the famous Opera. But this Mimi is a seductress who knows how to get the boys into a frenzy. When Mimi sings “Out Tonight” – she owns the stage. She violently shakes her hair and silver slivers fall out of her hair onto the stage. Talk about ‘Sparkle plenty’ – her dance movements will melt the floorboards. Lexi Lawson is a ravishing, and passionate performer. Probably the best Mimi I’ve ever seen.

The show has undergone some alterations. They have added a little and deducted a little. There is one scene that seems very ‘Hair’ like when the cast gets under a big sheet. You see them only as shadows under the cloth. Unlike “Hair” they did not disrobe. There was also a little change made in some scenes – especially when one actress lowers her jeans a bit to show her bum. I could be wrong, but I don’t believe I have seen that in any of the previous “Rent” shows. It’s O.K. though. Bringing things up to what the youth of today accept -- is not shocking anymore. Just go to one of the outdoor festivals in the City – and you’ll see more than a ‘Tush’.

This story touches on many things. First of all it is multi-racial and the music conveys their openness for everyone that includes, Ethnics, Gays and Straights. And in this story – they all get along. Well, most of the time. They have other things to disagree with, like paying the rent and eating.

Angel, the Drag Queen is one of the pivotal things about “Rent”. Everyone knows he dresses as a woman and no one cares. In fact, Angel seems to be loved by everyone. Justin Johnson is terrific in this role. He doesn’t turn ‘Angel’ into a caricature. No, Angel is just who he is, and Johnson sweeps you up on waves of emotion.

There isn’t a less than perfect performance in this “Rent” – Everyone in the huge cast is just amazing. And that includes the Orchestra. I say: You should see this re-worked production. It has a wonder of freshness to it.

AT THE CURRAN THEATRE

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

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

THE HEIDI CHRONICLES Lets start off with the good stuff. I’m happy to see that the “Custom Made Theatre” has a great new space to perform in. All along the years, they have brought back to the stage some wonderful plays for us to enjoy. Their new space will enhance that, I’m sure. Now, the Bad stuff. The Heidi Chronicles by Wendy Wasserstein was a big deal many years ago. It won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony. I don’t think it would happen now. The play is just too dated.

Some plays can be tinkered with, but there is not much you can do with something that rambles on and on. Also, there are many plays that can be ageless. This is not one of them. There are plays that are ageless. When they are brought back the subject matter is still fresh like the two plays reviewed above. They remain topical. The subject matter remains on the radar. That’s why they are not boring.

“Heidi”, which is about woman’s issues is not all that newsy now-a- days. Woman’s rights are not something you hear people talking about. In a nutshell – Heidi is “So Yesterday”. Heidi’s political moments are too old to dust off. I think the World is now conscious of Wasserstein’s feminist movement that had its ride from the 60’s to the 70’s. It’s out there. People are aware and attitudes have changed.
Even the play “Hair” has had to update itself to get people to go see it. What saves things like Hair and other dated musicals and plays are a simple ingredient – and that is Music. People WILL go to see stale stories – if there is good music in it. So, my summation of “Heidi” is that maybe someone can turn it into a musical. That might fly.

NOW BACK TO THE GOOD. The Custom Theatre Company did the best that they could with this stale play. The actors tried their best to bring it back to life – but even as good as the acting was, no matter who acts in this play, you can’t revive a dead horse.

The Actors are Leah S. Abrams, Rosely Hallett, Juliet Heller, Tavia Kammet, Fred Pitts, Kelly Rinehart, Jessica Rudholm and Dan Wilson.

RATING: TWO GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!! –trademarked-

COMING UP AT THE CUSTOMADE THEATRE IN NOV. “COTTON PATCH GOSPEL” WITH MUSIC AND LYRICS BY THE WONDERUL HARRY CHAPIN. Theatre is at 1620 Gough Street @ Bush. In the back of the Church. http://www.info@custommade.org/. For late breaking news: http://www.twitter.com/famereporter

MORE REVIEWS AT www.beyondchron.org

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