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LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS • July, 2004 • Rivertown Repertory Theatre



'Little Shop' is big fun

Friday, July 16, 2004

By David Cuthbert

Theater writer  / The Times Picayune

If you could harness the energy and talent on display in "Little Shop of Horrors" at Rivertown Repertory Theatre, we'd have a major new power source. And if director Brandt Blocker could bottle the polish and effervescence he brings to the stage, it would sell like Vienna sausage during hurricane season.

In his first independent production, Blocker and a prodigiously gifted cast bring an exuberance to the Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical comedy, based on Roger Corman's 1961 movie, that makes you understand why audiences continue falling in love with this quirky show about a man-eating plant. Blocker's version is exhilarating, giving full value to the pop-rock-doo-wop score and jokey book, sporting first-rate talent with voices to match, faultless comic timing, sight and sound gags and flashy lighting effects.

It deserves to run all summer, but is scheduled for only four more performances.

As Seymour Krelborn, the Skid Row florist's assistant who discovers a strange new plant, we have a major new talent in Keith Claverie, an assured and appealing 20-year-old who brings real acting values to a cartoon role and comedic savvy that belies his years. He can sing, too, as he proves in "Grow for Me."

Emily Antrainer's Audrey, his sweetly dim blond co-worker with serious self-esteem problems, is visually and vocally stunning, unleashing a plaintive, powerhouse belt of a voice on "Somewhere That's Green" and "Suddenly, Seymour."

Luis Q. Barroso, as Skid Row florist Mr. Mushnik, enriches the proceedings every moment he's on stage. He gives us a multilayered Mushnik: grumbling, concerned, greedy and giddy as he throws himself into the number "Mushnik and Son" with Claverie, a klezmer tango that drew cheers.

The girl group Greek chorus -- Gabrielle Porter, Gina Porter and Kallie Miller -- are in perfect sync as an ensemble, create individual characters and sing like mini-Motown divas.

Kenneth Thompson, as Audrey's abusive, black leather-jacketed dentist beau Orin, is the young, "Jailhouse Rock" Elvis in his big number and projects an era-specific, androgynous sexuality.

Rendell DuBose is the commanding voice of ever-growing plant Audrey II, Bernie Prat its puppeteer. Also of note: Jeremy Reese as a pimp and Clare Booth Luce (!); Anna Toujas as Mrs. Chang and Eric Bond as an eager agent. Jaune Buisson's choreography -- particularly her girl group staging -- is amusingly and dependably on-the-money. The setting and sensational lighting are by Jonathan Foucheaux.

This is a "Shop" one never tires of visiting, especially when the merchandise is of this quality.

 

Little Shop of Horrors

July 2004

Patrick Shannon, III

Theatre Critic / Ambush Magazine

 

Little Shop of Horrors was presented by Brandt Blocker at Rivertown Repertory Theatre. Brandt Blocker has a tremendous talent for gathering around him young people with remarkable theatrical abilities. Not only were Brandt Blocker’s musical talents in evidence in this remarkable production of Little Shop of Horrors, but when one considers the youth of his actors and actresses one can only marvel at the high quality production performances of this show. This production was one of the best and most professional of many I’ve seen in many different venues. There is not a weak moment in the entire collaboration of Brandt Blocker and his talented cast.

 

Most of us know the plot of this little cult musical with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman - music by Alan Menken; and all inspired by the movie version based on the campy B film by Roger Corman whose screenplay writer was Charles Griffith.

 

It’s a black comedy with some really bright, and bouncy musical numbers in the styles of the girl group singers of the nineteen sixties and some Jamaican rhythms. This group of performers were all so good I can’t praise them enough. The musical is done with such a bright and zippy style that it brings out the lighter side of a possibly dark story. You can’t help but laugh and tap your way through the delightful and finely crafted production.

 

The brilliant non-stop well paced Stage and Musical Direction was done by Brandt Blocker. And what a wonderful talent he has for bringing out star quality in such young performers.

Among the gifted team that worked with Brandt Blocker was Choreographer, Juan‚ Buisson, who put these kids through their paces with some perfect dance movements that were in total keeping with the period and style of the show and its music. Lots of rock and roll type posing and lively staging and some very Fosse-esque dance routines. All done by this young cast with perfect timing and coordination. This was as good as it gets anywhere.

 

Let me acknowledged this astonishing cast in order of appearance:

 

Gina Porter was Crystal, Gabrille Porter was Ronnette, and Kallie Miller was Chiffon; a trio of singers that acts as a modern Greek chorus commenting on and keeping the plot running. They were a faultless group of performers and keep the tempi alive and moving. Their role names as street urchins borrow from the names of girl group singers we all remember so well.

 

Luis Q. Barroso, one of our town’s top 10 top greatest performers played Mr. Mushnik, the flower shop owner with a sweeter disposition than is usually associated with the role. Needless to say, he was charming and his years of theatrical experience was put to full use much to our pleasure.

 

Emily Antrainer was Audrey and what a great performer. Her singing was very Broadway style, her phrasing was perfect, and her performance was divine.

 

Keith Claverie was Seymour Krellbourn, Audrey’s secret admirer. He too has a plethora of talents. His singing voice was wonderful, clear and well used. He can dance and act with the best of the best.

 

Kenneth Thompson was Orin Scrivello, DDS. He played the role of the bike riding sadistic dental surgeon with an over the top relish and his singing voice, acting and dancing was up to the same high level of the rest of the cast.

 

Bernie Prat was a Customer (and was also responsible for the manipulation of Audrey II) and without him, we’d have had no show at all. He gave he monster man-eating plant a charm and character from its first appearance in its itsy-bitsy pot to its eventually giant adulthood as it eventually took stage center, fully grown and constantly demanding, "Feed me. Feed me!"

Rendell Debose was the voice of Audrey II, and he gave the plant it’s great singing style with a strong and sexy voice.

 

Anna Toujas was Mrs. Chang, Patrick Cragin was Bernstein, Jeremy Reese was Luce, Eric Bond was Snip, Shannon Corrigan was Patricia Martin; and they each performed their bit parts like real troupers, missing not a moment to shine nor a cue to work the audience.

Eric Bond, Shannon Corrigan, Patrick Cragin, Molly France, Allyse Gillen, Jennifer Marks, Gelise Porter, Jeremy Reese, Nick Otts, Leslie Taylor, and Kelsey Vogt were Skid Row Occupants.

 

Brandt Blocker added these singers contrary to the usual way the musical is cast. So many talented kids showed up, he felt he had to find some way to get them on the stage. And he did, and their appearance added a nice touch and made make the music written in the style of the nineteen sixties more interesting. The stage was never empty; and he did a fine job of staging, painting momentary pictures with his group performers.

 

The excellent Skid Row Band was consisted up of: Kevin Caparotta - Keyboards, Ted Hass - Guitars, Brandt Blocker - Bass, and Cliff Stromeyer -Drums and for once the sound control was perfect. No one left the theatre deaf or dizzy, a lesson in acoustics and vocal control with technical knowledge that should be learned by certain other local venues.

 

Linda Rigamer was the Musical Assistant, and no doubt has a great gift as evidence by the fine production values of the show.

 

Production Design was provided by Johnathan Foucheaux. He brought some of his magical expertise from his work at Six Flags. Johnathan Foucheaux was a very talented catch; and his knowledge of smoke, mirrors and lighting effects was put to good use. The show was aglow with his touch. As I commented earlier, Brandt Blocker seems to know how to attract the real young professionals which category Johnathan Foucheaux certainly filled.

 

Sound Design was done by Cliff Stromeyer with a good knowledge of how to work the technical sound board of the theatre. He kept every thing on an even schedule, a very pleasant surprise for those of us, as mentioned, who have attended other venues where they never seem to test the sound for the house and apparently forget the audience has ears sensitive to loud noises. His contribution to the show was an obvious good thing.

 

Puppet Design was created by Martin P. Robinson. It was his genius that allowed Audrey II the man and woman eating plant to grow from a cute little green thing in a tiny pot to a stage filling, talking, moving, singing blood thirsty alien - not to mention the main star of the show, at least in the non-human category. His Audrey II plant was a masterful job of puppetry and costume work.

 

Jennifer Collins was the Production Stage Manager and Lindsey Price was the Assistant to the Director. Their help kept things running as smoothly as a family of happy otters sliding down a snowbank with joyful playfulness.

 

The Costume designers were Juane Buisson, Jane Haas, Kerry Vogt, and Sarah Rosevalley. The costumes were bright, cheerful and perfect in effect from the big hair to the shoes. These were a sassy classy collection of attire. The fun big hair nineteen sixties-ish Wig Design was by Naomi and Kate Mann. Kerry Vogt was the able Properties Manager. The ever talented Chad Talkington and Johnathan Foucheaux were responsible for the set construction which was a wonderful version of a seedy little flower shop in a slummy neighborhood. It was as good as anything I’ve seen in New York city. Megan Terrebone, Earl Lenni, and David Rigamer were the Production Assistants; box Office staff were Tricia France and Jane Hass. While Jane Hass and Kerry Vogt were in charge of hospitality; and they all did a most cordial job. Media relations were provided by Gerber Porter and Mary Beth Haskins. Innovative Advertising did the program design. Most of this seems to be a direct copy of the original graphics. It was a beautiful poster, but not as inventive as the rest of the show which Brandt Blocker gave many an original and lovely new touches to in his concept of directing this highly polished cast. Thom Sikoski was the Business Manager and I’m sure he will be very busy.

 

Little Shop of Horrors in Brandt Blocker’s production ranks as one of the best, most professional and most enjoyable of musical shows ever done in our town. Give yourself a real treat and see it if you can get a ticket! It will blast you out of your seats with its youthful joyful high quality showmanship! Totally professional from top to bottom, from beginning to end.

 SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL • January, 2005 • Six Flags New Orleans


Spruce 'Seuss' is on the loose at Six Flags

Friday, January 14, 2005

By David Cuthbert

Theater writer / The Times Picayune

During World War II, there was a phrase as familiar as "Loose lips sink ships." It was "Is this trip really necessary?" Well, when it comes to family entertainment, and the jaunt is to Six Flags New Orleans to see "Seussical the Musical," the answer is a resounding "Yes!"

This bright, colorful entertainment, eagerly and expertly performed by a stageful of young people and several older "pros," sings joyously, dances with exuberant energy, and overflows with the whimsical, humane wisdom of Dr. Seuss.

The Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty 22-song "Seussical" musicalization weaves together "Horton Hears a Who," with the tiny people of Whoville, Horton hatching the egg of selfish gad-about Mayzie La Bird, the feather-tail folly of Gertrude McFuzz, the sideshow Circus McGurkus and the Jungle of Nool.

Taking us on this surreal (yet so-real) journey is our changeling host The Cat in the Hat, played with the vitality of a cartoon character by Bryan Wagar, who can do anything, from low comedy shenanigans to subtle humor, impressions, audience forays and singing some of the show's best songs ("Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!" "How Lucky You Are") in a strong, confident voice. His pint-sized pal, Jo-Jo, is the irresistible David Bologna, at 10 a true prodigy of a performer, vividly alive and completely at home onstage. When Wagar and Bologna fly, it seems a natural extension of their abilities.

Michael Larche is the warmest, most genial and best-sung Horton you can imagine. Sasha Masakowski is the glittering pink Mayzie La Bird and the Rima the Bird Girl Dancers (Ashleigh Hoppe, Dianna Duffy, Kallie Miller) cavort to Latin rhythms.

In Whoville, you have Mayor Randy Juneau's solid tenor, Laura D'Arcangel as his giddy Mayoress and Jimmy Murphy's General Genghis Kahn Schmitz, looking for a war while looking like John Cleese crossed with artist George Schmidt.

The Jungle folk are led by Gabrielle Porter's rafter-rattling soul sister Sour Kangaroo (with a cute baby kangaroo puppet), Mat Grau, Ade Herbert and Kenneth Thompson as the hip-hop "Monkeying Around" Wickersham Brothers and John Haas as Vlad Vladikoff. Also of note: Michelle Marcotte's woebegone Gertrude McFuzz, Keith Claverie as the Grinch, unicyclist Philip Bartell, tumblers Michael King and Justin Ganguly and fire-eater Andrew Gilchrist.

Jaune Buisson's choreography is a commotion of purposeful motion. Charlotte Lang's color-coordinated costumes (yellow for the Whos, hot pastels for the birds, dark colors and faux fur for the Noolians) have a playful, grab-bag look. Jonathan Foucheaux's production design employs Seuss-art set pieces, black-light effects, lights that sweep the audience and cascading bubbles, but the tech aspect of the show was not as secure as it should have been opening night. Brandt Blocker's staging is slick and creative, the pre-recorded music has a hurdy-gurdy circus sound and there is not a weak link in his cast.

For me, "Seussical" has always seemed too long for short attention spans, but the kids and adults cheered the house down and, on the way home, my 4-year-old granddaughter Tegan asked, "When are we going to see it again?"


SOME ENCHANTED EVENING • July, 2005 • Southern Repertory Theatre


'ENCHANTED,' INDEED
Rodgers & Hammerstein summery song revue captivates at S. Rep
Friday, July 22, 2005
By David Cuthbert
Theater writer / The Times Picayune

The thing about Rodgers & Hammerstein songs is that they often trigger thoughts about very specific, special moments in your life.

I will always associate "Some Enchanted Evening" with my father, who lived to embarrass his nearest and dearest. When I was 4, he would stand outside my Uncle Adolph's drug store in Nashville, Mich., holding out his hat, with sunglasses on, loudly singing "Some Enchanted Evening," interspersed with pleas to passersby, "Help a poor man." My uncle would be hissing to my mother, "Get him out of here!" but by that time my father would have my brother Michael and I dancing like Pork Chops and Kidney Stew on Bourbon Street.

At Southern Rep, "Some Enchanted Evening" summons somewhat more universal imagery. Production designer Jonathan Foucheaux has turned the stage into an Americana park pavilion with columns wound with ivy, low balustrades and two grand pianos. It's roomy enough for a cast of 20 to throw out their arms and declare "It's a Grand Night for Singing!"

They sing, to paraphrase Hammerstein, under "lighting too lovely for words," a misty, nostalgic vision in their cotton candy evening gowns and white tux jackets. Older Orleanians may be reminded of the Summer Pops, which brought in stars and featured local musical talent. Producer-director Brandt Blocker has implemented his own version, with the mature, substantial voices of Chris Carey, Terri Gervais, Flo E. Presti, Amy Alvarez, Janet Shea and Tywon Morgan sharing the stage with terrific young talent we've watched grow up on our stages: Gabrielle Porter, Jeremy Reese, Keith Claverie, Kenneth Thompson, John Haas, Lindsey Price, Katie Mann and more.

They sing at least 30 well-known and a few obscure songs by Dick and Oscar: stirring, uplifting, humorous, high-spirited music and lyrics. Blocker and choreographer Jaune Buisson have staged it all with great charm and imagination. The segues, amusing song groupings and outright jokes add pizzazz, such as Carey's repeatedly thwarted attempts to sing "Oklahoma." Pianists Shirlene Gill and Elizabeth Floyd are as tireless as they are talented.

The audience cheered Carey's "Soliloquy" from "Carousel" and "This Nearly Was Mine" from "South Pacific"; Flo Presti, seen too seldom on our stages, offered an exquisitely modulated "Something Wonderful" ("The King & I") and "Love, Look Away" ("Flower Drum Song"); Gabrielle Porter's "The Gentleman is a Dope" ("Allegro"), built to a bluesy belt, and she let loose deliciously with the hoydenish "I Cain't Say No" ("Oklahoma"); Amy Alvarez was fresh and beguiling with "It Might as Well Be Spring" ("State Fair"); while Lauren Bevis' sweet "Cinderella" song "In My Own Little Corner"; Katie Mann's swooningly romantic "Out of My Dreams" and Megan Dearie's soaring "You'll Never Walk Alone" provided one highlight after another.

In the comic department, Keith Claverie's "Don't Marry Me," with Lindsey Price ("Flower Drum Song"), was musical theater clowning at its best, meriting an encore, and Claverie and Tywon Morgan team up to great advantage on "A Fellow Needs a Girl" ("Allegro"). Shea, Presti and Dearie did "The Stepsisters' Lament" proud, but nothing could top Morgan and Shea's "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," which is inspired merriment. Gervais' stunning, heartfelt simplicity on "What's the Use of Wonderin?" is part of a moving three-song suite from "Carousel" and Gervais and Shea do ruefully well on "Hello, Young Lovers."

And there's lots more singers and songs where those came from. "Some Enchanted Evening" offers two hours of pure pleasure, beautifully sung and buoyantly staged.

A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD • January, 2006 • Solomon Theatre


A SHOW AGLOW
'Frog and Toad' delightful, insightful
Friday, January 20, 2006
By David Cuthbert
Theater writer / The Times Picayune

The two granddaughters we took to see "A Year with Frog and Toad" knew the Arnold Lobel stories on which the show is based. Annabel, who's 7, read one to 5-year-old Tegan on our way to the theater. Then I slipped in the CD of the show and turned to the song, "It's Spring," which musicalized the story they'd been reading, about Frog trying to rouse Toad from hibernation.

Lobel's whimsical tales are about these two good friends and their swamp buddies, Turtle, Snail, Mouse, Lizard and a trio of Birds. It's a seasonal, full-circle musical and the action consists of simple, everyday things like planting a garden, swimming, baking cookies, flying a kite, telling a scary story and the thrills and dangers of snow sledding.

You'd think that a stage version of this material might musically fall somewhere between "Sesame Street" and "Mr. Rogers," and in a couple of touching instances, it does. But mostly, the Robert and Willie Reale songs comprise a lively, razzmatazz musical score à la early and mid-career Irving Berlin. The show also possesses grace notes of theater magic and happy wonder that evoke "The Fantasticks." "Frog and Toad" has charm, delight and insight, reminding us that a true friend is one of life's great gifts.

The show is a major treat in its local premiere by savvy producer-director Brandt Blocker and a cast of five expert singing actors at the top of their game.

Jimmy Murphy, whose stage demeanor is friendliness itself, plays the patient, fastidious Frog as a polished song-and-dance man; one of nature's noblemen. "Uncle Wayne" Daigrepont is the more excitable, anxious Toad, "who's not so good at sports, and of course he's got those warts." Daigrepont is very funny and displays the controlled finesse of a great musical theater clown.

The chirpily harmonious Bird Trio, who migrate with suitcases in hand, are the luminous Liz Argus, energetic Scott Sauber and personality kid Lindsey Price.

Sauber also plays Snail, delivering the mail with Casey Leigh Thompson's revved-up choreography that gets him nowhere fast, as he sings, "I put the 'go' in escargot," which eventually leads to the exuberantly performed showstopper, "Coming Out of My Shell."

Memorable numbers include "Getta Loada Toad," where everyone (even Toad) agrees that "Toad looks funny in a bathing suit," "Cookies," which the many kids in the audience cheered since the characters make a crumbly mess of the stage, and the soft-shoe counterpoint "He'll Never Know."

The Solomon Theatre at St. Martin's Episcopal School is an attractive, comfortable 500-seat house, technically well-equipped, to judge from Gary Solomon Jr.'s dazzling lighting.

The pre-recorded musical accompaniment sounded great and posed no problem, although some second act mike static did.

"Frog and Toad" is a family show that positively glows. You couldn't ask for a better vehicle to introduce your child to live theater, and to share the experience while you're at it.    

A Year With Frog and Toad

Brian Sands

Theatre Critic / Ambush Magazine


It's a shame that that talentless Brandt Blocker keeps putting on shows.  You'd think he'd finally realize his shortcomings and go into something like mold removal.

Of course, the preceding paragraph is pure balderdash, put there in the hopes of distracting anyone who might give him a job out of state. Having originally evacuated to Texas, we in New Orleans are fortunate that Blocker has returned home to continue his string of illustrious productions.

The latest of these, A Year with Frog and Toad, was to have been presented at Six Flags but Katrina forced its relocation to the St. Martin's Episcopal School's Solomon Theatre in Metairie. And a fortuitous move it was. If the theater is a tad antiseptic, its 500 seats well suit the intimate nature of
this off-Broadway-originated show that failed to find an audience in the vast cavern of a Broadway home. Likewise, for a production that appeals to kids of all ages, what better place for it than on a school campus?

A Year With Frog and Toad was adapted from Arnold Lobel's "Frog and Toad" books. I admit being unfamiliar with them; I was more a Wind in the Willows and Winnie-the-Pooh kind of kid.
This particular group of anthropomorphic animals is a throwback to a kinder, gentler, pre-video games era. Episodic in nature, it concerns simple tales of gardening, swimming, raking leaves, telling a scary story and sleighing down a snowy hill. Yet filtered through Robert Reale's memorable music and Willie Reale's witty, but not self-consciously so, lyrics, Frog and Toad becomes an utterly charming depiction of and a paean to the joys and satisfying nature of pure friendship.

Making up for what I imagine to be a shoestring budget with galoshes-full of imagination, Blocker has fashioned a cute, in the best sense of the word, and thoroughly delightful evening, successfully negotiating the fine line between what could've been overly sentimental tripe or banal camp, either of
which would have been fatal. By keeping the emotional level of the show true and straightforward, Blocker banishes thoughts of interspecies homoerotic bestiality. Emanating warmth and never condescending, Frog and Toad captivated the kids in the audience at a recent performance while
enthralling the adults there as well.

As the ever sanguine Frog, Jimmy Murphy gave not a flashy performance but one of such solidity and decency, leveled with a dash of sly wit, as to achieve the illusion of not "acting" at all; thoughtful and caring, he's the friend we all wish we could have. Embarrassed to be seen in a bathing suit yet hilariously doing an "interpretive dance", "Uncle Wayne" Daigrepont made the "lazy, not brave" Toad thoroughly endearing; slightly neurotic and self-centered yet thoughtful in his own way, he's the friend we're realistically more likely to have. Together they make a winning odd couple.

Elizabeth Argus, Lindsey Price and Scott Sauber spiritedly portrayed a menagerie of other forest creatures. Though I don't believe the lizard Sauber enacted in one scene was a chameleon that would best describe his protean performance, wonderful in every incarnation especially as a "fast" moving snail.

Having headlined in many classic musicals, how cool it was to see the amply talented Argus giving just as noteworthy characterizations to a bird and a mouse. And star-of-tomorrow Price more than held her own against the seasoned pros she shared the stage with.

Judy Claverie's snazzy costumes and Casey Leigh Thompson's simple but effective choreography added to the high quality that we have come to expect from a Brandt Blocker production.

In A Year With Frog and Toad, hands and arms always seem to be moving whether signifying a snail's speediness, birds' flightiness or the aquatic nature of Frog and Toad. They shake when scared and exuberantly stuff food into mouths. I don't know what to make of this leitmotif but there was a pleasing consistency to Blocker & Co.'s rendition of the animal kingdom, an enchanting reflection of how we wish Nature to be, not, unfortunately, how it too often is.



THE ALL NIGHT STRUT • July, 2006 • Southern Repertory Theatre


STRUTTIN' THEIR STUFF

The fine art of performance excitement at Southern Rep

 

By David Cuthbert / The Times-Picayune

Theater writer

 

"The All Night Strut!" is a too-good-to-be-true, piping-hot musical revue at Southern Rep.


First, take 26 popular — and a couple of obscure — songs from the 1930s and '40s (plus several that pre-date those eras), representing some of our best composers and lyricists: George and Ira Gershwin, Duke Ellington,. Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser, Cab Calloway, Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields and Fats Waller, to name a few. Arrange them in to-die-for, four-part harmony, add a peppery, three-piece jazz band, four exciting performers you could listen to all night, then stage it all with a maximum of stylish, evocative, humorous movement.


The result is a damn near perfect show.


The man behind the curtain is Brandt Blocker, the young, Ziegfeldian producer-director who has musicals-in-the making all over town. He is also a meticulous musical director and displays savvy showmanship in the selection of talent that populates his productions onstage and backstage.


The performers are Ashley Lemmler, the epitome of a big-band glamour girl singer with a Rita Hayworth hairdo; Tywon Morgan, a bust-out baritone with liquid moves and a Hi-Dee-Ho exuberance; Christopher Bentivegena, a solid-sender of a tenor, whose voice dips into lyric baritone territory; and Gabrielle Porter, the beguiling young belter whose voice can modulate into pure velvet and whose look-alive drive is sassy and classy.


All are onstage together constantly, taking us on trips from Bessie Smith gin joints to Broadway, the Cotton Club, Hollywood and Harlem, encompassing the Big Band era, World War II patriotic paeans, novelty numbers and lush, seductive songs. You'll swoon to the tune of your choice, hopping aboard the "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" and getting off to Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing."


The Gershwins' "Fascinating Rhythm" is a good illustration of how "The All Night Strut!" works. A tricky rhythm to begin with, it's begun in its original fast jazz tempo, switches to a waltz, a cha-cha and back to jazz.


On the solo front, Morgan electrifies with "Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?" — the working man surrounded by oblivious aristocrats. Lemmler is infectiously persuasive as she gets us "In the Mood" and breaks your heart with "I'll Be Seeing You." Porter gets down with "Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer" and later sings a poignantly straight-forward "White Cliffs of Dover." Bentivegna does right by the beautiful "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" and a more full-bodied and forceful "As Time Goes By" than we're used to hearing. Morgan and Porter lead a smooth, slinky "Java Jive," and Bentivegna offers a stirring "Comin' In on a Wing and a Prayer."


The second act begins with a funny "stepping up to the mike" radio sequence with "Juke Box Saturday Night" and then jumps around, from Morgan leading what surely must be one of the slyest declarations of affection ever, "Ain't Misbehavin." You'll also hear "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar," "Operator,"  "A Fine Romance," "Hit That Jive, Jack". and "Billie's'Bounce." Alton Geno's clever, continuous choreography, movement and hand jive is a polished Andrews Sisters jitterbug jamboree: truckin' on down; peckin'; all manner of swing rhythms.


The show is smartly routined to give us a relaxing "Dover" or "Dream" in between the up-and-at-'em numbers. "Dream" has the performers reclining in chairs, hands in back of their heads, singing the reverie of a lyric in leisurely fashion.


The band cuts no slack, Jack, what with Dr. Henry Jones' keyboard charisma; Kevin "Q" Estoque's drum boogie and Becky Hicks' boss bass work coalescing in fantastic fashion. When they plays 'em, they slays 'em.


David Raphel's Deco bandstand panels, with continually changing, kaleidoscopic lighting by Gary Solomon Jr.; slides that enhance the wartime segment; and Scott and Carroll Sauber's casual and posh period costumes add additional layers of enjoyment. Tighten up a few stage waits, get more light on the players' faces and the show could move to off-Broadway.


Because what they're struttin' at Southern Rep is neat, sweet and all reet.


SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK LIVE • September, 2006 • Contemporary Arts Center

 

'Rock' knocks your socks off

Friday, September 29, 2006

By David Cuthbert / The Times-Picayune

Theater writer

New Orleans has a tradition of professional-quality children's theater going back decades. But none has quite the splash and flash of what producer-director Brandt Blocker manages to get onstage, from energetic singer-dancer-actors whose every word and lyric is understandable to production values that, if not Broadway, are at least Broadway and St. Charles.

"Schoolhouse Rock Live!" is a much-produced property on local stages, yet Blocker and Company make it seem newly minted in their slick staging, which concludes its short run this weekend at the Contemporary Arts Center. This is the show based on the catchy 1970s cartoon jingles from ABC that taught language, math, history, science and social studies basics in easy-to-remember form, from pop-rock to doo-wop to rhythm and blues.

Blocker's direction and Casey Leigh Thompson's choreography constitute showmanship-on-parade in 20 musical numbers, the rainbow-hued costumes endlessly accessorized, David Raphel's set a kids' book come to colorful life. Everywhere you turn there is something fun to see and hear: rock concert lighting, animation, stage smoke and bubbles.

The human component could not be bettered. Jimmy Murphy is the teacher with kids in his head who jump out of his TV to remind him how much fun "Schoolhouse Rock" was.

Murphy, Mat Grau and Lindsey Price are experienced young adults whose inner child has no trouble bubbling to the surface. Vibrant teens Alexis Ann Bruza and Jennifer Marks are both solid, expressive singers. And then there's Ethan Anderson, a mega-watt 15-year-old talent whose exuberance cannot be contained. He gets several numbers that would tax performers twice his age but which he sails through: "Ready or Not, Here I Come," a lickety-split multiples-of-five game and "Rufus Xavier Sarsparilla," a tongue-twisting Danny Kaye-type number.

I actually heard a tyke exiting this show ask plaintively, "When do they do it again?"


THE MUSICAL OF MUSICALS (The Musical!) • November, 2006 • Le Chat Noir

SMART 'MUSICAL' MART

One-stop entertainment shop at Le Chat

Saturday, November 11, 2006

DAVID CUTHBERT / The Times-Picayune

"The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!" is a well-stocked storehouse for all your musical theater needs. Sensational satirical merchandise spills off the shelves, and the personnel who sell it are as wonderful as their wares. In its New Orleans debut, this off-Broadway hit is handsomely, professionally upscale all the way.

Composer Eric Rockwell and lyricist Joanne Bogart, steeped in the melodies and wordplay of the Broadway musical, have brilliantly approximated the styles of its most popular practitioners. They have great fun with their five mock musicals, from the accessible war horses that elicit full-bodied laughter to cult favorites the cognoscenti can congratulate themselves on "getting."

The shows are all variations of the same plots and characters. In "Corn!," the Rodgers & Hammerstein take-off, it's Kansas in August and Big Willy and June sing contrapuntal love songs denying they love each other, a Hammerstein specialty. Jidder shows up demanding the rent, "Mother Abby" sings a soaring, obligatory R&H inspirational anthem and there's a "Carousel" "SoWillyquey." All ends happily.

 

"A Little Complex," in the style of Stephen Sondheim, takes place in a New York apartment complex called "The Woods" (as in "Into"), where we find "Irony, Ambiguity, Dissonance and Angst." The landlord demanding the rent is Jitter, a mad amalgam of "Sweeney Todd" and Georges Seurat. Jitter plans to have Jeune model for him, kill her and cover her in papier-mache. "What would be the matter of a murder of a model if the model were a moron in the middle of a muddle?" captures the essence of Sondheim. "Company" provides the template for the most memorable numbers. All ends unhappily.

The aggressive optimism of Jerry Herman is spoofed in "Dear Abby," in which the heroine is a glamorous "Big Lady" star, and also a man who plays one. Abby is a Miss Fix-It, deified by the chorus. "Take My Advice and Live!" is her theme song, her reflective ballad a rumination on whether her party spread was sufficient: "Did I Put Out Enough?" All ends happily for the star.

The wickedest of the bunch is "Aspects of Junita," in which Andrew Lloyd Webber is pilloried for his rock operas, mock operas, Puccini pilfering, themes reprised to death, over-reliance on spectacle and commercialization of everything he does, "Now and Forever." All ends happily for the composer.

The creators have a ball with their Kander & Ebb "Speakeasy," set in a cabaret in Chicago during Prohibition with a lewdly grinning emcee, Fosse-esque dances, leading lady Juny who keeps singing about how to pronounce her name, and Fraulein Abby, a Lenya-Dietrich diseuse. Variants of Kander's trademark vamps, Ebb's wit and songs going as far back as "My Coloring Book" are here, in "a great big world of Maybe -- this time." All ends darkly.

The four singing, dancing actors work purposefully as an ensemble and with considerable panache as individuals.

Craig Fols comes from the original off-Broadway cast and is a marvel. A big ol' galoot who looks like a local bartender-bouncer, he is all the heroes, singing in a ballsy baritone, anchoring the show with his conviction. His leaps in the "run of DeMille" ballet are those of a buffalo who thinks he's a gazelle, his Mandy Patinkin and "Dear Abby" "boy with the bagel," a riot.

Lovely Leslie Castay's Patti Lupone "Junita," Gwen Verdon Roxie and Liza-ish Juny are comic high points, while her Sondheim soprano solo is impressively, dizzily sung, her choreography knowingly humorous.

Christopher Bentivegna -- with his bald pate and handsome, Silly Putty face with wild child eyes -- is ideal as the villains. He's a strong singer, moves like a snake and slithers his way into your heart.

Liz Argus serves her characters funny-side-up, especially "Dear Abby!," beaming in- sanely as she sneaks glances at the other actors' dancing feet. She channels Elaine Stritch in the Sondheim showstopper "We're All Gonna Die!," makes a swell "Sunset Boulevard" demented diva and a deliciously deadpan "Fraulein Abby," whose succinct advice on how to pay the rent is that of a hard-boiled hure.

Jonne Dendinger is the talented, virtuoso pianist who narrates the show. Matthew Allamon's scenic design consists of illuminated cartoonish billboards. Su Gonczy's lighting design is a blend of color washes, suffused lighting and follow spots. Jason Knobloch's sound and the actors' enunciation combine so that words and lyrics are blessedly clear.

This is the first collaboration of co-director Brandt Blocker and musical theater wunderkind Gary Solomon Jr. It is superb entertainment in every respect, and I have just one word for them: "More."


 


 

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