Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Review: A CABARET to Chill You to the Bone

Alex Nee (center) and the cast of Cabaret

Kander & Ebb’s political musical Cabaret captures a horrific period in history. Set in 1929-1930 as the Nazis were coming into power, it is an unsparingly direct window into the deterioration of a country systematically brainwashed by the lunacy of a madman. It could never happen here, right? But history has a way of repeating itself, particularly when lessons have not been learned, and Celebration Theatre, director Michael Matthews, and the entire company of Celebration’s revival of Cabaret have one word for the audience – #Resist – or suffer the consequences.

The original source material is Charles Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical novel Goodbye to Berlin, which was later adapted for the stage by John Van Druten as the Broadway play I Am a Camera. But, unlike a camera that photographs what it sees without opinion or judgement, leaving it up the viewer to interpret, Matthews has constructed a pressure cooker of a show, using it as an allegory of our own American political journey. The way he ties Cabaret’s Emcee to the message is equal parts disturbing and beautiful. From the initial picture that opens the show to the final monstrous ending image, this one will chill you to the bone.

Alex Nee is the dirtiest Emcee in recent memory. He’s the kind of strung out character you don’t want to stand too close to, for a variety of reasons. A demonic presence given to frequent ferocious outbursts, he is the product of a frightening time, and Nee invades this world with all the harsh superiority of an animal ready to pounce. It is strong character work that delivers on the promise Matthews makes at the top of the show and doesn’t let up until the final curtain.

Into this lair comes a naïve writer (Christopher Maikish as Cliff) who experiences Berlin much like Isherwood did in the ‘30s. He’s passing through, drinking from a cup he has no idea will poison him in the end. A chance meeting with a businessman (John Colella as Ernst) on the train lands him at the Kat Kat Klub where another chance meeting with a neurotic nightclub singer, Sally Bowles (Talisa Friedman), and their subsequent romance, opens his eyes to the bitter realities he’s been oblivious to.

Alex Nee and the ensemble

One choice that is rarely made for Cabaret is to cast singers and dancers who don’t look and sound like typical musical theatre performers. Matthews’ ensemble has a degenerate edge and it works really well for his concept. The voices are rougher and pushier, the choreography more manically driven by inner angst than by a need for every move to be executed in perfect alignment.

Don’t get me wrong – the dancing is terrific but, this time, I believe that the girls are down-and-outs that Max, the club owner, found in back alleys and compromised rooms. I believe that he’s bedded them all and each is here because life has dealt them a bad hand with no hope of trading it in for something better. Choreographer Janet Roston gives the production a physical language through dance and movement that outwardly reflects the ensemble’s collective rage as well as their reckless abandon when it comes to scratching the itch of the flesh.

It fits remarkably well on Stephen Gifford’s extraordinary set, which feels like the kind of extravagantly appointed cabaret club you’d find within a dying bordello. The ingenious part is how much he packs into the space: a jewel box stage within a stage, surrounded by audience, designed upward to invoke high ceilings, balcony façades, an orchestra loft, a diorama-like cutout insert for exterior scenes that take place beyond the confines of the club – and all of it done with Gifford’s uncanny ability to make it look effortless…and in a space that should not humanly be able to contain it all.

It’s a bit like the optical illusion of an empty room that looks small but, when you move in and furnish the darn thing, it all of a sudden seems to have gotten bigger. Sometimes less is more but, in this case, more is everything, and the fabulous detail of what he has created thrusts you into the Weimar era the moment you walk into the theater.

Here’s how versatile it is – lighting designer Matthew Brian Denman adds a single light to the set in exactly the right place and now you have a train. He creates a perpetual haze that permeates the club like a smokescreen to deflect attention from the world outside, and there are times Denman makes the stage look as menacing and visually rich as a Fritz Lang film.

L-R: Christopher Maikish, John Colella, and Talisa Friedman

Musical director Anthony Zediker sets a crisper than normal pace with the band, which works to the show’s advantage in close quarters. It also plays against the heaviness of the story by lifting the humor, moving the action along, and allowing the big showstopper ballads to strike with more weight.

Still, the show isn’t without its blemishes. Dialects are inconsistent and some of the performances don’t quite land. Herr Schultz (Matthew Henerson) sounds more like a guy from the Bronx in Guys and Dolls than a German Jew and making Fraulein Kost (Katherine Tokarz through 7/15) pregnant weakens Sally’s big reveal. Cliff’s energy should be in direct contrast with the rest of the characters but a handsome Maikish leads with his earnest musical theatre presence rather than trusting it isn’t necessary. Colella portrays Ernst as neither outwardly threatening nor quietly sinister.

Casting Fraulein Schneider (June Carryl) as a woman of color however adds a wonderfully new layer to the character. Her moral dilemma becomes even more poignant when we see the extent of what it will cost her. It’s all in the eyes.

Now, more than ever, Cabaret serves as a call to action. The time for good people to do nothing is past and Celebration Theatre is sounding the alarm in as loud a voice as possible. #Resist  

May 25 – July 15, 2018
Celebration Theatre
6760 Lexington Avenue, Hollywood, CA  
Tickets: (323) 957-1884 or www.celebrationtheatre.com

Talisa Friedman (center) and the cast

Christopher Maikish and Talisa Friedman

Christopher Maikish and June Carryl

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Thursday, May 31, 2018

THE COLOR PURPLE Sounds the Clarion Call to Arms

Carrie Compere, Adrianna Hicks and the cast of The Color Purple
All photos by Matthew Murphy

That joyful noise you hear coming from the Hollywood Pantages Theatre this month is the thrilling sound of female empowerment, and it is reverberating like thunder from the heavens in the dynamically robust national tour of The Color Purple.

Director John Doyle’s Tony Award-winning reinvention of the musical - which took Broadway by storm in 2015 - rings like a clarion call to arms for every woman who’s ever been violated, abused, or otherwise kept down by a man, and, on opening night, the powerful women heading the cast proved themselves more than ready to lead the charge.

Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and the subsequent Steven Spielberg film starring Whoopi Goldberg are the basis for the musical, which takes on a renewed directive in the face of today’s #MeToo and “Time’s Up” movements. And while real change happens in fits and starts, women are collectively circling up to protect their own, putting on notice anyone who still thinks domination without consent is okay.

Carla R. Stewart (Shug Avery), Adrianna Hicks (Celie) and Carrie Compere (Sofia)
and the cast of The Color Purple

To her credit, Marsha Norman’s book doesn’t shy away from the hopeless resignation in Walker’s novel, or from the undercurrent of violence that ran through the Deep South during the first half of the twentieth century when the story takes place. To the credit of the rest of the musical’s creative team, neither do they.

What they have done is strip down the story to its essence, consciously exposing the emotional trauma of a life with few choices and a long road to hoe without padding the production with extraneous departures.

Celie (Adrianna Hicks) is forced to marry a man who thinks she is ugly by a father (J.D Webster) who has impregnated her twice and separated her from her babies. Her sister Nettie (N’Jameh Camara) runs away to escape sexual assault by both her father and Celie’s husband, Mister (Gavin Gregory). Sofia (Carrie Compere) suffers vicious consequences for merely speaking her mind within a society that demands she play by white rules meant to keep black people down. Shug Avery (Carla R. Stewart) knows her physical assets will fade in time so the singer drinks to keep the good times rolling and to postpone the inevitable a little while longer.

As each woman asserts herself within the context of her own set of circumstances, the audience urges her on with ardent applause and stirring callouts of unity. It is a wondrous night at the theater to witness the strength in such connection. Go, if you’ve never seen this musical and go if you have. Go, if you want to feel the power of theatre to move an audience. Bottom line - just go.

The cast of The Color Purple

The production is set on an almost bare stage, backed by three towering abstract wooden panels stacked with tear-away boards and rustic chairs used as props by the actors. The staging is often presentational, creating pictures that seem suspended in space, neither time-specific nor detail-driven. What resonates always is a powerful well of emotion underscored by some of the best musical theatre belting you’ll find in town right now.

The score by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray traverses the Blues/Pop/Gospel globe of the rural South, igniting a fire of defiance in songs like Compere’s ballsy “Hell, No!” and Hicks’ exhilarating ‘declaration of independence’ showstopper, “I’m Here.” Stewart lets it all hang out in a titillating gin joint performance of “Push da Button” and a trio of church ladies (Angela Birchett, Bianca Horn, and Brit West) will not be ignored. Every single woman in this cast is a powerhouse with something to prove and the amount of soul they put into their vocal work alone is a lesson in stepping up and standing out.

The cast of The Color Purple

Contrast that with the sudden cool breeze of the title song or the tenderness of “Too Beautiful for Words” and the emotional journey in this climb out of the shadows is as satisfying as it gets.

Following its run at the Hollywood Pantages, The Color Purple will move to Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, June 19 - 24.

May 29 - June 17, 2018
Hollywood Pantages Theatre
6233 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Tickets: 800-982-2787 or www.hollywoodpantages.com

June 19 - 24, 2018 
Segerstrom Center for the Arts
600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tickets: www.scfta.org
For more info about the tour visit www.ColorPurple.com

Adrianna Hicks

L-R: N’Jameh Camara, Bianca Horn, Angela Birchett, and Brit West 

Carla R. Stewart and Adrianna Hicks with the cast of The Color Purple

Gavin Gregory (Mister) and J. Daughtry (Harpo)

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Review: New Musical SOFT POWER Smashes Conventions

Conrad Ricamora and Alyse Alan Louis
All photos by Craig Schwartz Photography

Playwright David Henry Hwang and composer Jeanine Tesori are pushing buttons and challenging conventions with their new work, Soft Power, now in its world premiere at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre. Commissioned by CTG for its 50th anniversary season and produced in conjunction with East West Players and The Curran in San Francisco, it has been described as both a play with a musical and a musical within a play.

I see it a little differently, rather as a musical with two unconventional prologues – a 20-minute expository prologue at the top of the show and a 10-minute commentary that prefaces Act II.

The former starts in 2016 with a Hollywood meeting between Xue Xing (Conrad Ricamora), a Chinese producer, and DHH (Francis Jue) – standing in as the playwright in one of many meta twists – the most famous Chinese writer at the time. DHH has written a television pilot set in Shanghai that Xing wants to produce but, before he signs off, he wants a few changes.

Conrad Ricamora and Francis Jue

The big sticking point is in DHH’s depiction of Shanghai, which leads them to a discussion of the merits of soft power, a country’s method of exerting influence by attraction rather than force. DHH favors a realistic portrayal of the city but Xing prefers a more carefully constructed version of the truth that shows China in the most favorable light, much like he says the United States presents itself. Each makes his case but they are unable to come to an agreement until DHH suggests casting Xing’s girlfriend, Zoe (Alyse Alan Louis), in the show.

Cut to later that night, downtown Los Angeles at the Music Center after a performance of The King and I, where a Hillary Clinton fundraiser is taking place. Xing and Zoe debate the differences between, and benefits of, democracy vs. communism and Xing’s heady response to the musical they’ve just seen. Zoe is emphatically explaining that musical theatre is the best emotional delivery system ever when a Hillary sighting prompts an admiring Xing to rush to meet her.

Then it is election night and, in two harrowing twists, Mrs. Clinton loses, and DHH is stabbed in the neck while walking home, another plot twist born from a similar event that actually happened to the playwright. As one theatrical world gets ready to morph into another, we hear the first clashing warm-up notes of the orchestra. Suddenly, we are smack dab in the middle of a musical fever dream, and, while DHH is unconscious, everything that has taken place up until now becomes the basis of a Chinese musical fantasy. 

What happens during that first 20 minutes is pretty dense storytelling so be prepared to dive in and go with it rather than try to figure out how all the pieces are going to fit together. They do, but if you spend your time analyzing it against traditional musical theatre construction as it unfolds, instead of experiencing it for its own unique structure, you risk discounting its innovation without cause. 

From this point on, the writers and their ingenious director Leigh Silverman, begin to send up love and romance, politics, the United States’ opinion of itself, how our country is seen by others around the world, and a whole list of well-known musical theatre-isms those familiar with the genre will particularly enjoy.

Conrad Ricamora and Kendyl Ito

Miss Saigon has its helicopter. Soft Power has its airplane, and it descends from the rafters in all its massive glory as Xing, the star of this reverse King and I story, prepares to fly to Hollywood Airport, America.

There he’s greeted by all manner of American stereotypes from shoot-em-up cowboys straight from the O.K. Corral to West Side Story’d street kids twerking in hip hop hyper-drive. A bully named Tony Manero (Jon Hoche) bears a striking resemblance to Biff in Back to the Future and the Golden Arches of McDonald’s are glorified in a Broadway showstopper that introduces none other than a singing and dancing Hillary Clinton (also played with verve by Louis).

She makes her grand entrance atop a giant quarter pounder executing Sam Pinkleton’s showgirl choreography that includes disco, tap, karate kicks, a sexy Fosse-esque trio, a kick line, and a circus-style bit balancing French fries on her forehead. By the time she reaches her final costume reveal (there are a number of layers each one-upping the last) and finishes in a Wonder Woman superhero bodice, it’s clear that nothing is going to be sacred in this musical nightmare. The creative team’s work is sharp, on point, and set to stun. David Henry Hwang is on fire.

Alyse Alan Louis (center) with L-R: Francis Jue, Conrad Ricamora, Austin Ku, Raymond J. Lee,
Jaygee Macapugay, Billy Bustamante, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Geena Quintos, Paul HeeSang
Miller, Jon Hoche, Kristen Faith Oei, Daniel May and Kendyl Ito

Jeanine Tesori’s score is a marvelously layered concoction that draws from both east and west influences. I am in awe of the way she can create a 4-note melisma on the word “green” when Ricamora sings about the trees in “Fuxing Park” that instantly, and ever so delicately, transports the listener to Shanghai, and then tweak it later to alter its sensibility. The blistering book and lyrics by Hwang (with additional lyrics by Tesori) are filled with an enviable abundance of zingers that slap you upside the head at every turn.

Whether he is maneuvering the cast and orchestra through a big bombastic musical statement or a quiet intimate realization, musical director David O’s dexterity in bringing the score to life is vividly on display. The sound is lush and the expert vocal work leaves nothing wanting.

Ricamora, a favorite on the ABC television series How to Get Away with Murder, has a beautiful voice and is so grounded in his dual roles that it anchors this whirling dervish of a show and keeps it from spinning out of control. His is a richly detailed portrayal filled with subtlety and unwavering honesty. Jue narrates, leading the audience through this most unique story with an almost bewildered grace, and Louis is sensational in her politically-charged, outspoken roles delivered with non-stop Energizer Bunny gumption.

L-R: Raymond J. Lee, Jaygee Macapugay, Austin Ku, Kendyl Ito and Jon Hoche

The shorter prologue to Act II serves a dual purpose: to get audience members back in their seats and to reveal that the musical we have been watching is taking place fifty years in the future. Soft Power has become part of the enduring lexicon of musical theatre history and a panel is discussing the show’s cultural impact on its 50th anniversary. In yet another example of how Hwang is holding a mirror up to the audience to give context to how Asian culture has long been appropriated, a lone white panelist tries to set the record straight when the other Asian members reframe the American impact of the show to fit their preferred reality. It’s been happening in the reverse for years.

There are musical and lyric references to “Trouble” from The Music Man that Tesori and Hwang have turned into a “problems” sequence (hilarious), and Pippin moves that appears in the satirical “Good Guy with a Gun” number (performed with gusto by Raymond J. Lee and a first-rate ensemble). A La La Land Fred and Ginger duet set against the Hollywood night sky (yellow dress included), a big Rent finish à la “Seasons of Love”, and Anna and the King’s waltz in The King and I all get their moment. Even the eleven o’clock number is spoofed in Hillary’s eleven o’clock number, “Democracy.”

The visual contrast between worlds is heightened by scenic designer David Zinn’s use of bold color and brash oversized set pieces. The giant rolling burger, gold-encrusted statues with bright chandelier headpieces, that amazing plane, and the massive Budweiser cans that form the pillars of the White House are all whip-smart decisions meant to provoke an instant response from the audience. Costume designer Anita Yavich’s roller skating waiters in short burgundy rompers comically add to the lavish joke.

L-R: Conrad Ricamora, Austin Ku, Francis Jue, Geena Quintos, Billy Bustamante
and Raymond J. Lee 

It takes an incredible amount of work to create a new musical, and to dream up one that is different from any other musical already written is an even more complicated developmental process. The blood, sweat, tears, and years that go into it are not for the faint of heart. And if, by some chance, you do create something truly unique and it actually gets to opening night, there’s still no guarantee of success. That’s why it is especially exciting to see a new musical like Soft Power that fearlessly breaks the mold, smashes conventions, and sets out to turn the genre on its head. It dares to think beyond the content, form, structure, and politics of the past and envision something unique. For me, that is always a big deal.

From here, Soft Power will move to The Curran in San Francisco presumably with additional shaping, as it eyes a future run on Broadway. Catch it while it’s here in Los Angeles. It’s definitely one you won’t forget.

May 3 – June 10, 2018
Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center
135 N. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA  90012
Tickets: www.centertheatregroup.org

L-R: Maria-Christina Oliveras (obscured), Geena Quintos, Billy Bustamante, Conrad
Ricamora, Jaygee Macapugay, Jon Hoche and Daniel May

L-R: Kristen Faith Oei, Raymond J. Lee (obscured), Austin Ku, Daniel May, Geena
Quintos, Jon Hoche, Paul HeeSang Miller, Jaygee Macapugay, Billy Bustamante (obscured),
Maria-Christina Oliveras and Kendyl Ito

The cast of Soft Power in  the"Democracy" finale

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

Review: Three Cheers for the Talented Kids in SCHOOL OF ROCK

Rob Colletti and the cast of School of Rock. All photos by Matthew Murphy

As kid musicals go, School of Rock isn’t half bad. It falls somewhere between Annie and Matilda on the Richter scale of stories about downtrodden kids overcoming obstacles to win in the end. It’s got enough emotional oomph to tug on your heartstrings and it gives you plenty of reason to happily cheer the underdogs on. It’s also making stars out of its young cast members, right and left.

It should. These pint-sized phenoms are über-talented, both as actors and musicians. An announcement at the top of the show informs the audience that they are all playing their instruments live, which puts to rest what would have been the all-consuming question throughout the performance.

Rob Colletti and the cast

Instead of wondering whether Vincent Molden (Zack) is actually shredding that electric guitar himself, you can sit back and enjoy how well he’s doing it. A girl bass player? Yes, please, and Theodora Silverman has the chops to kill it, along with the rocker attitude. Lovable Theo Mitchell-Penner is a monster on the keyboard and, in his final hour, proves to be quite the showman as well, while Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton tears it up on the drum kit every chance he gets.

There are big, bright performances by Iara Nemirovsky as an annoying goody two-shoes turned band manager, Huxley Westemeier as a pre-teen costume designer destined to give Project Runway’s Michael Kors a run for his money, and Grier Burke, who blossoms from the shy new girl to a determined young lady who knows she’s lead singer material. Back-up girls Olivia Bucknor and Alyssa Emily Marvin have some surprisingly hip moves, and it keeps going right on down the line.

Hernando Umana and Rob Colletti

Their goal is to enter and win the Battle of the Bands contest, a secret school project led by their fake substitute teacher, Dewey Finn (Rob Colletti). They don’t know he’s really an out of work, wannabe rocker who’s been thrown out of the band he created and who happened to hijack a substitute teaching gig meant for his best friend, Ned (Matt Bittner). Dewey pretends to be Ned thinking it will be an easy way to make the rent money he’s behind on so Ned’s fiancée (Emily Borromeo) won’t throw him out.

But this is no gravy gig. He’ll need to pull out all the stops to keep up the charade in front of the militaristic principal, Rosalie (Lexie Dorsett Sharp), and the rest of the school. It’s a set-up for plenty of laughs as Dewey goes from being a loser to the kids’ champion, and everyone - kids, parents, teachers, and even Dewey - get an education they never expected.

The family-friendly musical is based on the 2003 beloved Jack Black comedy and while Colletti doesn’t have Black’s childlike charm, watching him improvise under cover is a lot of fun. The upbeat score consists of music from the film and new songs by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Glenn Slater. Two of the best are “You’re in the Band,” a rousing ensemble number built to reveal each student’s talent and “Stick It to the Man,” which becomes the kids’ show anthem. Julian Fellowes, of Downton Abbey fame, gives the book a youthful excitability.

The cast of School of Rock

The touring design has the electrified, amplified look of a traveling after school special and morphs nimbly from school to home to the concert hall.

Direction by Laurence Connor pushes everything to a feverish pitch, which can sometimes feel like an assault on your senses. Everyone speaks loudly in a high-pitched voice (where diction tends to suffer) and the adult performances have a harsh edge to them that isn’t always necessary. Regardless, there’s no denying that School of Rock is a hyper-energetic crowd-pleaser.

Take the kids, take the family, and go have fun!

May 3 - 27, 2018
Hollywood Pantages Theatre

6233 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Tickets: www.hollywoodpantages.com

Theodora Silverman and Rob Colletti

Theo Mitchell-Penner

Rob Colletti and Lexie Dorsett Sharp

Rob Colletti and the teachers of Horace Green

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Friday, May 4, 2018

Review: BLUES IN THE NIGHT, a Spectacular Showcase for Three Incredible Women

L-R: Paulette Ivory, Bryce Charles and Yvette Cason.
All photos by Lawrence K. Ho

Somewhere in a cheap hotel in Chicago, circa late 1930s, three women are singing the blues. Two have been around the block and seen it all. One is woefully wise beyond her years. All have been burned by the flames of desire and lovers who have done them wrong.

This is the set-up for Blues in the Night, the musical revue conceived and directed by Sheldon Epps, playing through May 20th in the Lovelace Studio Theater at The Wallis. Epps first directed it in 1980 at Playhouse 46 in New York where it was intended to be a late-night companion piece to a jazz play the theatre was producing. A brief run on Broadway followed in 1982, which scored it a Tony nomination for Best Musical.

Gregory Hines originally assisted with the choreography and for the Los Angeles production it is Jeffrey Polk who adds his unique flair to Epps’ sleek staging. It isn’t a dancy show but the two have found a simple yet extremely effective way of physically communicating humor and innuendo. And because Epps also starts the show quietly, it leaves the piece room to grow, both in volume and emotional intensity.

With no dialogue or plot to speak of, the show rests on the singers’ ability to sell a song. Lord know the blues ain’t easy. You need life experience and a voice that can deliver a universe of pain, passion, and pride in a single note. If you don’t feel it, you can’t sing it, and these three leading ladies have got the goods.

Yvette Cason

Each embodies a particular type. Yvette Cason is the aging Lady from the Road, a performer living on memories stashed in her steamer trunk along with old show costumes. She’s loaded with personality and is as adept at comedy (“Take Me For A Buggy Ride” and “Kitchen Man” will have you shaking your head) as she is in bringing out the sorrow in a song like Bessie Smith’s devastating “Wasted Life Blues.” Best single musical moment of the night, pianist Lanny Hartley’s one chord transition in “Lover Man that spins the song from wistful longing to sultry despair, which Cason uses to splinter her heart across the floor of her tiny room.

Paulette Ivorys stylish Woman of the World is a looker whose appetite for romance and liquor has left her constantly disappointed. She has a luscious, creamy voice, and she can bend a note and pull it back from the air like the sound is bridging worlds. The muted trumpet and upright bass intro to “Stompin At The Savoy” tells you everything you need to know about her character in only two bars. Her “Lush Life is a rich dish served elegantly steamy and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” is a vulnerable acknowledgment of the illusory life she’s created that could be a whole musical by itself.

Bryce Charles

Bryce Charles is the sweet, sad-eyed Girl with the Date, too young to already be so misused by love. She’s two parts sunshine, one part baby doll, with a sparkling voice that is delicate one moment and sassy the next. She’s young but her career will be one to watch.

When the three of them sing in harmony, it is divine. They’re backed by Hartley’s 6-piece jazz combo (Kevin O’Neal on bass, Randall Willis and Louis Van Taylor on reeds, Fernando Pullum on trumpet, Lance Lee on percussion, and Hartley on piano). Act Two opens with the group jamming and soloing on Wild Women Don’t Have The Blues, a theme that runs throughout the show. Music direction by Abdul Hamid Royal unites all musical elements - voice, instruments, tone, character, and emotion - to create one of the most luxurious musical experiences on a stage in Los Angeles. It may be the blues but there is as much joy, fun, and fortitude in Blues in the Night as there is suffering.

Attractive period costumes by Dana Rebecca Woods flatter each woman’s assets. If they never sang a word you’d know exactly who each one was by the garments she wears - a sensual satin peignoir for Ivory, a young girl’s day dress for Charles, and an endless array of theatrical accents for Cason to charm the audience with.

Chester Gregory and Paulette Ivory

The cast also includes one man (
Chester Gregory) who represents a tunnel-visioned male perspective on the trio’s love troubles, but he is negligible. Though he has a few smooth moves, this show belongs to the ladies.

Jared A. Sayeg floods the stage with jewel-toned lighting to intensify the emotional punch of each character’s inner life. John Iacovelli creates the “Four Walls (And One Dirty Window) Blues” setting as three distinct rooms fitting each woman’s present circumstances connected by a central memory world they step into to connect with the audience or to wander back into a dream. Since music is the lifeblood of the show, the band is always visible behind the women, as if to call them home.

Blues in the Night is a decadently rich musical experience built on some of the best early jazz and blues standards you’ll ever hear. Guaranteed to satisfy a lover of great songs, in my book, it’s two hours of musical heaven.

April 27 – May 27, 2018
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
Lovelace Studio Theater
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA, 90210
Tickets: www.thewallis.org

Bryce Charles and Paulette Ivory

Chester Gregory

Yvette Cason

Bryce Charles, Yvette Cason, Paulette Ivory
and Chester Gregory

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