ForAllEvents - Lee Hartgrave reviews

June 30, 2009

CUCKOO'S NEST - THRILLING, HYPNOTIC


LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS
June 30,2009


CUCKOO’S NEST


SPINE TINGLING!

Cuckoo’s Nest mirrors society. There really isn’t a reason for walls anymore, because most of the people who used to be behind those walls are now out on the street. The play based on the best selling book takes place in a mental institution around the 1960’s.

The head nurse is Nurse Ratched who is the Nurse from hell. Either you do as she says – or you will face dire punishment that includes frontal lobotomy. A process, where they remove part of your brain. That’s right, she’s a sweetheart. She just wants to quite you down, so that she has complete control over you.

Ratched particularly, zero’s in on R.P. Mc Murphy who has a vibrant personality. Vibrancy is not what Nurse Ratched likes. Mc Murphy tries to organize a basketball team -- she snuffs that. He likes to play cards -- She snuffs that. But, she can’t seem to stop Mc Murphy’s boisterous antics. He even arranges for a party when he thinks all the staff is asleep. Of course, he gets busted by Nurse Ratched (Mc Murphy calls her Nurse Ratshit) – and with good reason. “She’s a Ball Cutter from way back” – sez Mc Murphy.

Ratched decides it’s time to give “shock treatment’ to the ‘vocal’ Mc Murphy. It doesn’t stop him – he still emerges as the leader of the pack. Of course this infuriates Ratched, who is trying to get the Doctor to do a Lobotomy on Mc Murphy. Ratched’s words will tingle your spine as she gives you that snarley smile with the devil behind it.

The stage play is more like an ensemble piece than a ‘Star Vehicle’ (as in the movie that starred Jack Nicholson.) It is this brilliant cast that brings this emotionally draining evening of drama (with a little comedy) to a crushing crescendo. This is one “Swift and Suspenseful Thriller that you won’t want to miss!” “Strong writing, excellent direction and Magnificent Acting keeps you on the edge of your chair. This is NOT a sugar coated story.”

THE IMPECCABLE CAST: Michael Torres, as Chief Bromden. – “Silence is Golden – he Rocks!” Susi Damilano, as Nurse Ratched. – “Amazing Performance!” Luis Parnell as Dale Harding – “Excellent!” Patrick Alparone as Billy Bibbit – “Deeply heart-warming performance.” Hansford Prince as Randle P. Mc Murphy – “A Raging Bull – Talent gushes out!” Other Dynamite performers are Yusef Lambert, Brian Raffi, Gilberto Esqueda, Joe Madero, David Sinaiko, Madeline H.D. Brown, Dwight Huntsman, Catz Forsman and Marissa Keltie. Not a wrong scene – not a wrong movement from anyone. “Pitch Perfect!”

EXTRAS: Another amazing set by Bill English. Steve Schoenbeck (Composer/Sound) amplified the tension. Michael Oesch – Great creative lighting. Valera Coble – Masterful costumes.

MESMERIZING DIRECTION BY: BILL ENGLISH.
At The San Francisco Playhouse (near Union Square).

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)))

www.twitter.com/famereporter

More reviews: www.beyondchron.org.

Tags: Susi Damilano, Bill English, SF Playhouse, Theater, Cuckoo's Nest, Mc Murphy, Hansford Prince, Patrick Alparone, Louis Parnell, Union Square, Novel - Ken Kesey, Dale Wasserman.

June 22, 2009

JACK GOES BOATING -- SOLID GOLD FUN!












Gabriel Marin teaches Danny Wolohan
how to swim in 'Jack Goes Boating'.
Photo: David Allen

LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS
JUNE 22, 2009

JACK GOES BOATING – SUPERB!


DEVILISH ACTING IN A HELLUVA PLAY

FINDING A FUNNIER FOURSOME ON STAGE WOULD SEEM TO BE AN IMPOSSIBLE TASK -- BUT NOT FOR THE AURORA THEATRE THAT HAS FOUND FOUR VETERAN ACTORS THAT ARE JUST BRILLIANT!

In “Jack Goes Boating” four souls find and lose themselves, as they agree to disagree in this romantic comedy. There is Jack, who hasn’t had a date in years, maybe because he has his hair in newly acquired dreadlocks. It doesn’t look like a professional job. Jack may be missing a few drawers in his head also, but he has a heart of gold. Yep, he’s a big lug, but a loveable one. Jack finally gets his first date with Connie who is a friend of Lucy who is the girlfriend of Jack’s friend. Jack will do anything to make this date work, even if it means learning how to cook. Connie is just as awkward and her dread locked wannabe boyfriend. He invites her to have dinner out; she would rather have dinner at home. “No one has ever cooked dinner for me”, she says. So Jack learns to cook from a guy who has questionable credentials. Jack is so loveable and klutzy that he forgets to take the price tags off of the oven cloves.

In many ways this play is like a ‘Seinfeld’ segment. The halted dialogue and the crazy meaningless situations are just hysterical. And like “Seinfeld’ – it is a play about something that is nothing. When Jack finally does get Lucy to go to bed with him – she announces: “I’m not ready.” He looks puzzled. –“I’m not ready for Penis penetration”, she blurts out. But that lasts only for a few minutes. She later changes her mind and decides, that indeed – she is ready.

The thing that keeps this boat from going under water, are the fine talents on the stage. It is this absolutely perfect cast that makes it the rollicking salute to love that it is. Also very funny is the addition of cell phones that ring at various inconvenient times. Yes, it’s a Cell phone world.

THE FOUR PHENOMENAL PERFORMERS WILL KEEP YOU MESMERIZED. THEY ARE: Gabriel Marin as Clyde: “Sensational!” Danny Wolohan as Jack: “Captivating and insanely funny!” Beth Wilmurt as Connie: “Terrific!” Amanda Duarte as Lucy: “Perfection!” WINNER! BEST ENSEMBLE CAST!

EXTRAS: Writer: Bob Glaudini. Set Designer --Melpomene Katakolos. “Amazing!’ Light Designer, Jim Cave. “As usual, top drawer!” Sound Design, Cathleen Edwards: “Tour de Force!’ The Director, Joy Carlin: “All Hail The Director!” AT THE AURORA THEATRE. RATING: FOR 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)))

More reviews: www.beyondchron.org

www.twitter.com/famereporter.

Filed under: Gabriel Marin, Danny Wolohan, Beth Wilmurt, Amanda Duarte, Joy Carlin, Aurora Theatre, Bob Glaudini, Jack, Boating, Plays, comedy, drama.

June 18, 2009

THRILPEDDLERS BRING BACK THE 70'S FUN


(to the right: Rumi Missabu/James Toczyl
in Pearls Over Shanghai)







LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS
June 18, 2009



THRILLPEDDLERS BRING BACK THE 70’S FUN

PEARLS OVER SHANGHAI IS MORE THAN FLAMBOYANT – IT’S A PSYCHEDELIC TRIP, SMOKE AND ALL

“PEARLS’ was originally produced as a Nocturnal Dream Show that performed at the old Palace Theatre in Chinatown. It turns out that it brought fame and probably not fortune to the “Cockettes” who made it big – but like all groups, they fizzled out and the magic never took to the stage again. Until now that is, with The Thrillpeddlers re-invention of “Pearls” at the Hippnodrome Theater on 10th Street in SF. How do they walk in them? I’m talking about the highest stilettos that I have ever seen. Towering is the word – and that word can also be used for the performances. This is the most perfect gender-bender show that I have ever seen. The makeup is unbelievable, and the music selections by Scrumbly Goldwyn are just terrific. This musical play is based loosely on John Colton’s 1926 Broadway play, The Shanghai Gesture and Josef von Sternberg’s 1941 film adaptation that starred Marlene Dietrich. Of course, we won’t mention Marlene and gender Bender in the same sentence.

This decadent tale is of white slavery and opium dens and sex for sale at every corner. Gee, sounds like San Francisco to me. Rumi Missabu (an original Cockette) plays the Evil Madame Gin Sling. For this production, original Cockettes Tahara and Billy Bowers have lent their great talents to resident costume mistress Kara Emry. And what imagination they have created. The designs are super fab. There are glitzy things everywhere, its 1930’s splendor. Living inside of “Tiffany’s” couldn’t be anymore campy.

The blurred sexual lines will keep you interested and intrigued, along with joy, fun and nostalgia. Hippie era never looked so good. It takes you back to the dawn of the 70’s and the Haight. Sure, it didn’t last, but thanks to the Thrillpeddlers they have brought it all back in living Technicolor. It’s all here on the stage…Tranny Floozies and Hippies on acid.

The Cockettes paved the way for John Waters and his flock of gender films. Then of course there was “The Rocky Horror Show.” Here’s the deal: If you want to relive the freewheeling spirit of the colorful era – it’s all there, on the stage, brought to you by the Thrillpeddlers. The Cockettes won many, many awards and recognition. In San Francisco the Bay Area Critics Circle gave them one of the highest awards.

They had fans everywhere, including Alice Cooper, Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin and Truman Capote. Of course, they were part of that glossy time. Isn’t time for this show to become a Broadway musical? I think so.
If you really want to be entertained in a huge wide screen sort of way – then you sure as hell won’t want to miss this rare glimpse of one of the most exciting times in history. Besides – sexual anarchy becomes you. And to make you more comfortable, there are wonderfully cushy sofas for you to lie down on. Just like an Opium den.

There is a cast of thousands in the musical play so I can’t fit them all in, even though everyone deserves the highest of praises. The wonderful stage direction is by Russell Blackwood (who is in the play). The Musical Director and pianist is Richard “Scrumbly’ Koldewyn who also is one of the cast. These girls alternate: Connie Champagne, Katya Smirnoff-Skyy and Leanne Borghesi, all take on the role of Petrushka (the role was first created by disco diva Sylvester) in the original productions.


GUARANTEED! IT WILL BLOW YOUR SOCKS OFF! – Or ‘blow’ something!
“It’s the Year’s Most Ambitious and Biggest Fantasy!”

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)

More reviews: www.beyondchron.org

www.twitter.com/famereporter

THE SHIRELLES - SPECTACULAR!

(Pictured on the Right. The Shirelles. Beverly Lee is in the middle.)





LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS

July 18,2009




THE SHIRELLES – TRULY SCRUMPTIOUS!


LIGHT UP THE LIGHTS GET OUT THE FLAGS –
CAUSE THE Rrazz Room IS JUMPING TO THE MUSIC OF THE SHIRELLES.

They were first. The Shirelles were the first American girl group in the 60’s. And they were the first to have a number one single on the Billboard Hot 100. Beverly Lee was one of the originals and she is the only original that is currently with the group. The group had many, many hits. Here are a few: “Dedicated to the One I Love”. “Welcome Home Baby”, “Blue Holiday”, “Baby It’s You” (written by Burt Bacharach/Hal David/Barney Williams), “Mama Said”, “Foolish Little Girl” and the #1 Pop hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (Gerry Goffin, Carole King) and of course the wonderfully touching “Soldier Boy” (written by Florence Greenburg/Luther Dixon). The song is still soul stirring today – and the Shirelles dedicated it to today’s Soldiers who are still fighting wars. You will remember “Sha La La” that became an international hit. It was so big that even the Beatles recorded it.

They started out with the rousing “Having A Party” – and that is exactly what it was, a great big party. Everyone was wiggling around, getting up on the stage and singing with the Shirelles (at their invitation). And even if you stay put on your plush chair, you won’t be able to stop you body from keeping time with the music. When they sang “Dedicated To the One I Love” it brought back a flood of memories. I said to a friend of mine” “Why can’t they write songs like that anymore? Where are the writers? Someday, they will write songs like that again – and I hope I am around to hear them.

Fall in love again with “Tomorrow”. The lyric: “But will you love me tomorrow?” Not good for you if you just broke up with someone. You can blame the Shirelles for that -- for their passionate delivery. There was a tribute to Etta James. And a tribute to Beverly Lee who has been with the Shirelles from the beginning (and still dances likes a teen-ager on American Bandstand). What a fun, exciting evening listening to such talent. I was kind-a down in the dumps when I got there – but they sure blew those clouds away. I left floating on air and feeling younger.

They end up the show with the most rousing rendition of “Love Train” that I have ever heard. I have to say that the band was “really boffo”. Oh My God, were they fantastic. The only one that I knew (I think it was him) was Kelly Park on the Piano. If I’m wrong, I’m sure that someone will correct me. Whoever that genius was – it was the most exciting piano playing that I have ever heard on a stage.

THE SHIRELLES ARE ADDICTIVE FUN AND DELICIOUSLY RIVETING. They updated the songs here and there to give a fresh new sound to these standards. I wouldn’t even call them old – because these girls skillfully show us again what masters of music they are. At the end they got a rapturous standing ovation. Yep – it’s a non-stop thrill ride. And one I hope you won’t miss.

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

AT THE RRAZZ ROOM IN THE NIKKO HOTEL

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

More Reviews: www.beyondchron.org

Twitter.com/famereporter

Filed under: Shirelles, music, pop, R&B, Celebrity, Rrazz Room, Beverly Lee, Soul, Rock and Roll.

June 8, 2009

ENZO LOMBARD IS 'WAY COOL' IN NEW SHOW

(To the right: Enzo Lombard on stage)

LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS
JUNE 8, 2009

LOVE HUMILIATION & KARAOKE


BRIGHT AND FASTMOVING ONE MAN SHOW

ENZO LOMBARD PLAYS ABOUT ELEVEN OR TWELVE VARIOUS CHARACTERS IN THIS SHOW AT STAGEWERX. The talented actor goes from Wendy, his psychic classmate to Shirley Bassey. Loved Enzo’s transvestite, karaoke-competitor neighbor. It was a hoot. There are many, many clever lines in the play and they bring many laughs. As psychic Cher -- “I’m getting my shit together tighter than a nuns ass!”

Also lots of fun for me was the songs from different timelines. There is Hollywood 1999 – and he sings” “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” From Amsterdam 1981-85, Enzo sings Shirley Bassey -- “I Want To Know What Love Is?”

It is really clever the way he weaves pertinent music into his story.
Although extremely amusing, there are some rough spots. The show is a little rough around the edges. But before it gets to New York, I’m sure that they will get that tighter than a Nuns Ass. Let’s hope so.

There is another show in town that is similar in intent. It’s the new Terrance McNally show about Gay Life as it progressed from before the Gay Revolution to present. Enzo’s show is somewhat like that. We watch Enzo travel through his life and loves. However, the big difference is that the McNally show has a bevy of actors on the stage, where as Enzo does all the characters. You know what? Enzo’s show is better. It has sharper writing than the McNally show and the material is fresher.

RATING: THREE GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!! – trademarked-

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

Twitter Lee: twitter.com/famereporter

TAGS: Enzo Lombard, Stage, Plays, Stagewerz, Shirley Bassey, Cher, Psychic

June 2, 2009

MR MARMALADE - COMPLETELY BEGUILING!


(To the right: Benjamin Pither the boy next door who plays a five-year-old in Mr. Marmalade)

LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS
June 1, 2009

MR. MARMALADE


LOOKING FOR REALITY IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES

There is this little four year old girl that has thoughts way beyond her years. You see-- her Mom is too busy dating and dragging men home late at night to spend a lot of time with Lucy (the 4-year old). So, Lucy of course gets bored and makes up her own life. She creates a handsome older man, Mr. Marmalade. At first he is sweet and kind, but that doesn’t last very long.

Mr. Marmalade is abusive; he snorts cocaine and constantly tells Lucy that he can’t stay very long, because he is too busy at the office. Lucy begins to lose patience with Mr. Marmalade and she begins to become disenchanted with him.

Her life brightens up a bit with Mr. Marmalade’s assistant (another handsome man) shows up. Lucy begins to like him a lot, especially when she notices that Mr. Marmalade has been using his assistant for a punching bag.
Imagine if you can, a four-year-old girl who blurts out some pretty strong shocking words. When the Baby Sitter comes by to sit with Lucy, the four-year-old asks: “Is your boyfriend coming over? Are you going to have Sex with him?” And the answers are yes and yes. Not from the Baby Sitter – we know the answer because we see him come over and they disappear into the upstairs bedroom.

Noah Halide, the author of the play has written a hilarious play. If it were real with a real four-year-old is would not be funny. But since it is all fantasy the dark comedy is just delicious. Lillian Askew at the 4-year old is just terrific. Even though she is not anywhere near four years old, she makes us feel that she is with her credible depiction. You actually can envision a little wiser than her age kid saying some of those things.

Lucy has quite a fantasy life. She marries Mr. Marmalade. Once married, Lucy starts to hate him. He turns into the "Get me a beer" type of husband.

She meets a neighbor boy who has a basket of problems that he brings into her house. He is Five years old, and Lucy takes a shine to him. Actually she wants to see what’s under his clothes and suggests that they play Doctor. Lucy begins by telling him to take off his shirt, then his trousers. Well, hey – don’t all kids play Doctor? Everyone in this play has unrequited Lust.

Gabriel Grilli (Mr. Marmalade) is at the “Top of his Game with his multilayered acting.” The Personal Assistant, Daniel Duque Estrada (Bradley) also gives “A High-Caliber performance.” Benjamin Pither plays Larry the five-year-old boy. I have seen Pither is several plays, and he is always consistently… “A total knockout! He’s a true gem of an Actor!” Juliet Heller plays Sookie (Mother)/Sunflower and is “Flawless!” Roselyn Hallett (Emily) keeps you “Hooked.” Arthur Keng Plays George/Cactus/Bob. He’s the kind of versatile actor that we need to see more of. “Irresistible fun!” And last by not least is Lillian Askew (Lillian). "She is nutso hilarious! And immensely likable. Her acting is sensational!"

EXTRA – EXTRA – EXTRA! The Director Daunielle Rasmussen made this Theater experience completely beguiling! “Loved It!” The Set Design and Lighting Design by Marci Ring really brought the audience into a fantasy world that is both fascinating and strange. And the Costume design is the crowning glory of Marmalade. It made the play “Decidedly Special!” Brian Katz’s Graphic/Sound Design paved the way for a flawless evening. IT’S ALL THAT WE CAN ASK OF A PLAY! IN A WORD – “FANTASTIC!”

EXTRA NO. 2 – The Custom made Theatre is moving to bigger and better digs. They will be playing their magic at the Next Stage, on the corner of Gough and Bush Streets in the fabulous Trinity Episcopal Church. It’s a great space. It all happens with their Sept. 2009 show.

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (Highest Rating) – trademarked-

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

AND THAT'S A WRAP!!!!

MORE REVIEWS: www.beyondchron.org

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*Filed under: Theater, Gabriel Grilli, Juliet Heller, Lillian Askey, Roselyn Hallett, Daniel Duque-Estrada, Arthur Keng, Benjamin Pither, Custom Made Theater, Beyond Chron, Marmalade, Noah Haidle. Plays.

VERDI REQUIEM - POWERFUL RUNNICLES TRIBUTE


(To the right: Photo of the Verdi Requiem with Donald Runnicles
at The Opera House)
Photo: Kristen Loken Anstey





LEE HARTGRAVE
REVIEWS

June 2, 2009

VERDI’S REQUIEM DIRECTED BY DONALD RUNNICLES WAS A STUNNING CLOSER TO HIS 17 YEARS AT THE SAN FRANCISCO OPERA.

The Verdi Requiem had its moments of greatness, especially when the Opera Chorus was the focus of attention. The Ian Robertson’s Chorus is always a mind blowingly beautiful thing. This particular evening they were enthralling. I just wish they could have been more upstage instead of in the back of the Orchestra. It would have had more impact to have them closer.

Runnicles brought Verdi’s music to a Heart-stopping beat with all the drama and excitement that you would expect from him. He seemed to be inspired and deserved this tribute for all of his years with the Opera.

Then there were the Opera Singers. Soprano, Heidi Melton, stepped in at the last minute for Patricia Racette, who was not feeling well. Melton’s powerful voice enthralled us. She has an astonishing and beautiful voice. Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blithe was refreshingly impressive and uniformly terrific.

The singing by tenor Stefano Secco was Grade A most of the time, but there could have been more energy. And bass Andrea Silvestrelli just didn’t seem to connect at all. I had hoped for more.

All in all, this was a stunning event. And though Donald Runnicles will not be with the SF Opera, he already has a new position where his performances will continue to thrill the World.

Next up at the San Francisco Opera House is "Tosca". You also can see "Tosca" on the Big Screen at AT&T park. More info: www.sfopera.com

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

MORE REVIEWS: www.beyondchron.org