I remember the weekend when Whitney Houston passed away. It was the night before the Grammy Awards, and I, like the rest of her legion of fans was just stunned by the loss. I reflected back on her catalog of hits that were the soundtrack to almost every high school relationship or breakup I could recall. Often referred to as “The Voice” by industry insiders, Houston was a one of a kind talent who left an indelible mark on popular music and pop culture throughout the 1980’s. Beginning as a model and quickly morphing into a Grammy Award-winning titan of entertainment, her evolution into film was inevitable. The camera adored her. So did November 1992 audiences, to the tune of over $400 million box office dollars. The Bodyguard was an impressive debut. Then there was the original soundtrack, which to date is the best-selling soundtrack of all time. Global sales are in excess of 45 million copies. Fast forward 25 years and The Bodyguard is back, reimagined as a live, staged musical, now playing at the Oriental Theatre.
Stepping in to fill the designer boots of Whitney Houston’s character, international superstar Rachel Marron, R&B diva Deborah Cox and filling Kevin Costner’s gun holster, Judson Mills. For those unfamiliar with Cox’s work, this Grammy nominee and A Lady of Soul Award winner has played the leads in Elton John and Tim Rice’s musical Aida, fronted the tour of Jekyll & Hyde and was featured as Josephine Baker in Josephine, before embarking on this role. A friend and ally of the LGBTQ community, Cox has headlined both Pride and Halstead Market Days concert events right here in Chicago over the last few years. In a serendipitous twist, Cox was also brought in to re-record many of Houston’s biggest hits for the 2015 Angela Bassett directed Lifetime Television movie, I Will Always Love You: The Whitney Houston Story, when securing the rights to Houston’s original recordings was not possible. When it comes to the pipes required to belt Houston’s impressive song list, Cox proved herself more than up to the challenge. With her Impossibly long legs and robust vocal prowess, Cox has the aesthetic and talent to knock this part out of the ballpark. When she sang, she certainly did. It is just the script here that needs finessing.
Director Thea Sharrock has assembled a troupe of talented and vibrant dancers to bring Houston’s work to life. Modifying “How Will I Know” into a charming duet between mother and son, Fletcher (Douglas Baldeo and Kevelin B. Jones III alternate the role) will leave a smile on any audience member’s face. Karen Bruce’s choreography also delighted. The problem on hand, the book by Alexander Dinelaris, is painted with alarmingly broad strokes. Former Secret Service agent turned personal protector, Frank Farmer (Judson Mills) is such a serious character, he never smiles until the overtly festive curtain call. He has far more chemistry on stage with the remarkable Jasmin Richardson who played Nicki Marron, Rachel Marron’s sister. Jasmin may not get the guy or the glory, but she certainly won over the audience the night I attended. Her rendition of “All At Once” proved mesmerizing, if not slightly rushed by a set continually moving around her. This one note script does craft some solid moments of tension and suspense built around the Stalker, Jorge Paniagua, a more than menacing villain. However no one is going to see The Bodyguard for the Villain. They want romance and titillation, but sadly the sparks between Cox and Mills never truly ignited until she began to sing. All the emotion, passion, and character cadence occurred during Houston’s globally recognizable songbook. No where else.
Speaking of songbook, the smartest move on the part of the producers involved were to secure the rights to not only the Houston hits from the Bodyguard movie’s soundtrack, but also an additional half dozen hits from her career catalog. Ranging from the passionate ballads including “ All The Man That I Need”, “I Have Nothing” and “Run To You” to the up-tempo “So Emotional” and a Latin flavored “I’m Every Woman” the audience will discover the “Greatest Love of All” here is the music. The story followed the film’s theme of superstar being stalked at the height of award season, when Rachel has been nominated for an Oscar. Here, adorned in a golden gown, Cox belts out a moving “One Moment in Time” although the climax of the song interrupted by a showdown between Bodyguard and Pursuer. Let’s face it, more than half the audience was there to hear the Dolly Parton scribed love ballad “I Will Always Love You” and that moment, adorned in a dark beaded gown with feathered mermaid train was worth the price of admission alone. During that 4 minutes, we all felt we were the “Queen of the Night.”
The creative team behind the scenes also included suspenseful lighting design from Mark Henderson, elegant orchestrations by Chris Egan and impressive hair, wigs and makeup by Campbell Young Associates. Set and costume designer Tim Hatley may have been stretched a little thin here, credited with pulling double duty. While the final three costume changes on Cox will dazzle, the 2 hours leading up to that were an unsatisfying collection of earth tone, asymmetrical cut sweaters and skinny jeans. When Cox as Marron walked out on stage in Ugg boots, I whispered to my companion, are we at the rehearsal or the opening? Rachel is supposed to be a modern day glamazon. Contemporaries Beyoncé or Lady Gaga would never be photographed dressed so pedestrian. This is theatrical musical fantasy. If this show ever does make it to Broadway, please garb her more to the role she is supposed to be playing. This show should be a fashion designer’s dream. As it is, the women in the front row had on better shoes than the star. That will never do for the tough and fashion forward crowds of NYC!
Somewhat better than other recent film to stage productions that have played the Windy City, including musicals based on the films The First Wives Club and Beaches, The Bodyguard The Musical doesn’t establish much new ground independent of the film, which is always a problem crafting a live stage show from an iconic film. What this show does have going for it is two dynamite leading ladies who pay remarkable vocal homage to all of Houston’s hits. The sibling rivalry is all staged, but the vocal acrobatics from Deborah Cox and Jasmin Richardson are a uniting force to be reckoned with. The final curtain call set to the tune “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” brought out the full cast, cartwheeling, dancing, laughing and belting their way along with an audience encouraged to get up and participate as well. The “Greatest Love” on display here, all aptly aimed at firmly at Houston’s legacy.
The Bodyguard The Musical is now playing through February 12, 2017 at the Oriental Theatre
Out of Town
A Dancing Dolly
Hello, Dolly! is a 1964 musical with lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart, based on Thornton Wilder’s 1938 farce The Merchant of Yonkers, which Wilder revised and retitled The Matchmaker in 1955. The musical follows the story of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a strong-willed matchmaker, as she travels to Yonkers, New York, to find a match for the miserly “well-known unmarried half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder. The show, directed and choreographed by Gower Champion and produced by David Merrick, moved to Broadway in 1964, winning 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. These awards set a record which the play held for 37 years. The show album Hello, Dolly! An Original Cast Recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002. There is no denying that Jerry Herman never wrote a bad song and that you will go home singing at least one if not several of these wonderfully tuneful songs.
In this neck of the woods, Stephen Casey is well-known for his high- stepping choreography and in the Act II production of Hello, Dolly!, he does not disappoint. Everyone in this show dances. The dance numbers are many and lengthy. And The Waiters Gallop number at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant is especially applause worthy. The pared down chorus is just as proficient at singing as they are at dancing. And the small stage at Act II is ingeniously used to give an appearance of a much bigger space. Jenny Eisehower is a very lively and likeable Dolly Levi, in contrast to Scott Langdon’s delightfully cantankerous Mr. Vandergelder. Ms. Eisenhower’s statuesque height plays well off the shorter Mr. Langdon.We know she is a woman who is always in control. Elyse Langley displays a mature soprano rendering of “Ribbons Down my Back” as Irene Malloy. Lee Slobotkin is quite endearing as Barnaby Tucker and Jeremy Konopka is a young Tommy Tune with his longer than you can believe it legs.
The costumes by Millie Hiibel were bright and playful and worked in tandem with the simple set design by Dirk Durossette. The score is fully orchestrated though, unfortunately it’s in the “can” which for me takes away from the excitement you get from a live musical.
Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the show as much as I would have had the minor characters not been instructed or simply encouraged to mug to the audience. Every time this happened it brought me right out of the show. In 1812’s producton of The Play That Goes Wrong many of the actors were mugging their pants off and playing it over the top — but they were forgiven because they were supposed to be a terrible community theatre company.
And yet, if you like Jerry Herman and a lot of dancing you will enjoy this show and understand why it’s been revived so many times.
Tickets are available online at act2.org, by calling the Act II Box Office at 215-654-0200, or in-person at the Box Office at 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler, PA. The Box Office is open Mon-Sat, 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. Student tickets are $15 and group discounts are available.
Hello, Dolly! Directed and Choreographed by Stephen Casey. Running now through June 18, 2023 at Act II Playhouse 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler, PA 19002
Out of Town
The Sound Of Music Celebrates Opening Night at The John W. Engeman Theater
The John W. Engeman Theater’s production of The Sound Of Music opened last night, Saturday, May 20th. The final collaboration between Rodgers & Hammerstein was destined to become the world’s most beloved musical. Featuring a trove of cherished songs, including “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” “My Favorite Things,” “Do Re Mi,” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” and the title number, “The Sound of Music” has won the hearts of audiences worldwide.
The cast features Caitlin Burke as Mother Abbess(National Tour: The Sound of Music; Regional: Paper Mill Playhouse, McCarter Theater Center, North Shore Music Theatre, Meadow Brook Theatre, New York City Center)
Matthew Bryan Feld as Max Detweiler (Engeman: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; National Tours: Vocalosity; Regional: DCPA, Portland Center Stage, West VA Public Theatre, Derby Dinner Playhouse; TV/Film: “Manifest,” “Power,” “Fashionista”);
Angel Reda as Elsa Schraeder (Broadway: The Cher Show, War Paint, Chicago; National Tours: Chicago, Sweet Charity; Regional: Oriental Theatre/, Goodman Theatre, Goodspeed, Pasadena Playhouse; TV/Film: “Ghost,” “The Undoing,” “Sami,” “Isn’t It Romantic”, “Stepford Wives”)
Tim Rogan as Captain Von Trapp (Engeman: Thoroughly Modern Millie; National Tours: Camelot, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast; Regional: Alliance Theatre, The Muny, Arena Stage, Cape Playhouse; TV/Film: “Physical”, “Blue Bloods”, “The Other Two”, “The Flight Attendant”)
Kayleen Seidl as Maria Rainer (Off-Broadway: Harmony: A New Musical, Fiddler on the Roof; National Tour: Guys and Dolls; Regional: Westchester Broadway Theatre, Paper Mill Playhouse, Actors’ Playhouse at Miracle Theatre, Heartland Opera Theatre).
The Sound Of Music is directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey (Engeman Theater: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Oklahoma, Mary Poppins, A Chorus Line, Singin’ in The Rain, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Guys and Dolls, 42nd Street, and Gypsy)
and choreographed by Mandy Modic (Engeman Theater: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; National Tours: 42nd Street; Regional: The Marriott Theater, Drury Lane Theater, Chicago Shakespeare, Paramount Theater, The Wick, Mill Mountain Theater).
Tom Vendafreddo (Musical Director)
Out of Town
The Rage of Narcissus Rages On at Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto
The music pulls us into the looking glass, just like Narcissus was drawn to the reflective image of himself that would end up being his downfall. It’s a compelling and robust formulation, layering in Greek mythology around a sex-fueled obsession, gifted into a hotel room, not by the goddess of revenge, Nemesis, an aspect of Aphrodite, but by the app called Grindr. In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter, known for his beauty, and somewhere, in The Rage of Narcissus, a one-person show written by Sergio Blanco (Darwin’s Leap; Slaughter), the hunter becomes the hunted, or at least that is what we are supposed to initially find ourselves believing.
“I is an other,” we are reminded in neon, as the one-man show starts off casually, with Matthew Romantini (Ghostlight’s The Boys in the Band) entering and speaking directly to us. He’s going to tell us a tale, a narrative, that mixes reality and fiction. He isn’t the person standing before us, at least not for the majority of the monologue that isn’t one. He, the actor, is about to transform himself into Sergio, the playwright who is going to, inside his compelling and sometimes difficult text, weave an autofiction around one particular terrifying and disturbing week in Toronto. Sergio, the character who may (or most likely is not) be the same who wrote the script, has arrived at his hotel so that he can give a lecture later that week at the University, all around the idea of Narcissus and the artist. He’s quite a proud creature, rattling off his intellectual successes, well, like a narcissist treating us to a long list of his grand accomplishments. It’s somewhat distancing, yet it is a blurring of self and the other, and once Romantini finally unzips himself and slips into the reflective pool of Sergio, he digs in and meanders around a formulation that is part autobiography and some pretty forceful and harrowing fiction. It’s Greek mythology with blood stains, and a whole lot of graphic sex tales to either engage or distract. Depending on your tolerance.
It’s a somewhat compelling dynamic, and Romantini delivers an appealing and engaging presence, even when the tale falls victim to far too many banal exchanges, grand gesturing, and circular twisted reflections. Unfolding on a set designed by Renato Baldin (Caminos Festival’s Rocking Futures), alongside art director Marcelo Moura Leite with strong, sometimes overwhelming lighting choices by Brandon Gonçalves (Nightjan’s Back and Forth The Musical) and a clear sound design by Julián Henao, the textual thriller inches forward through a sex-fueled obsession, splattered with mystery and abstractionisms, cut with intellectual curiosities and fabrications.
Looking into the mythology of its namesake, the structuring starts to engage and layer in on its paralleling, just like the myth’s ideas around falling in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, staring at it until one dies. Yet in Blanco’s rendering the central figure and the other start to seem less real and more hypnotically wrapped up in one another, fantasy, and form. There’s a blending and a blurring of lines and boundaries, playing with the idea of reality and fantasy, and sometimes extreme delirious nightmares. The character of Sergio is enamored, fixated on the utterly handsome and sexy Grindr hookup that takes place that first afternoon, and even though he tries to reject the sexual advances, he can’t seem to shake the hypersexual images and urges that surround and envelop him as the week runs forward. But the blurring compromises the situation, and we are left rolling around in the eroticism and wondering if is it really just a mirroring of a need, foreseeing the obvious outcome, that starts to form like blood stains on the carpet and walls? Or is it a death sentence waiting to be delivered by oneself fulfilling prophecy.
Playing out with a teasing sense of urgency by director Marcio Beauclair (Producer, Director/Adaptation), The Rage of Narcissus finds shared terror in its dismemberment, hinting at darkness while playing with the disorder that sliced with horrific, highly sexualized poetry. It’s super smart and entangling, this formulation, playing with truth and fiction in a way that we get tricked into not seeing the autofiction as it is being played out. It’s disturbing in its rawness and overt narcissism, yet we get caught up in the unraveling and the hypertension of the moment. It digs into the mystery and makes us forget our sense of place and time. He tricks us with his vision of his own sexual sense of self, the character, and the story. It pushes us away, at points, lulling us into not caring, but then forces us back in, playing with the tale within another, and wrapping itself in shifts of light and dark that make us see the distortion rather than the true reflection. It reflects back a vision, one we might not fully enjoy seeing, but it delivers the goods dramatically, almost traumatically, sending you out into the streets wondering and thinking about Greek mythology and the narcissistic world we live in. Take that as a cautionary tale, a story dismembered of truth and packed up in a duffle bag ready to teach by counter-example.
Out of Town
The Sound Inside Captivates at Toronto’s Coal Mine Theatre
Bella slips in quietly, tasking us to keep up and give in. She paints a solid visual standing center stage and speaking directly to us, revealing layers of dynamics that are just “so good, it enrages me“ We can’t help staying tuned in, thinking and listening to The Sound Inside, as Moya O’Connell (Shaw’s Middletown) digs into her portrayal of Bella, the writer and teacher at the center of Coal Mine Theatre‘s impressively deep and profound production. Spinning the chair hypnotically, she expands our vantage point outward and inward all at the same time. Freeing up the velocity of thought inside the inevitable, this is what is on hold and delivered out within Adam Rapp’s (Nocturne, Noble Gases) delicious play, and as directed with sure-footed wisdom and expertise by Leora Morris (Coal Mine’s Knives in Hens), the piece expertly floats forward in segments, delicately ushering in the ideas of encapsulated loneliness and the acceptance of praise that resides within, ever so quietly. O’Connell gives us an intense complication that grabs hold brilliantly, even as she exists alone scribbling words of inspired wisdom when they overtake her. It makes us wonder, is this a tale manufactured under the trees late at night, or a reckoning of deep desperation, tasking us to weigh in and lay down with her in the snowy drifts.
The dynamic elegance of the ever-shifting piece, designed with an impeccable eye for distant focus by the dynamic Wes Babcock (Matchstick’s The Woodcutter), with detailed costuming by Laura Delchiaro (Shaw’s Gem of the Ocean), incredibly subtle, yet intense lighting also by Babcock, and engaging music and sound design by Chris Ross-Ewart (Stratford’s Hamlet-911), draws us in without pushing or prodding. “You can ask me something else“, states the defended and uncomfortable, as the performative nature of an intimate conversation told in a narrative structure keeps us guessing where we truly are standing and where we are going. It never gives anything away, nor holds our outreached hand as we move forward into the unknown, and it is all done with such strange intimate power by an expert cast that breathes it all in poetically.
It’s truly captivating in its desperate loneliness, and you can’t take your eyes or ears off her for a moment, that is until the diabolically designed Christopher, beautifully embodied by the devilishly talented Aidan Correia (Touchstone’s’s Yaga) makes his appearance, without an appointment. He’s blown in wildly, as if from a cold snowy field to shift the life of a professor who didn’t know she needed the jolt. They both leans in, giving us more illumination in their stance than most can give in a soliloquy. Correia dynamically rises to her unspoken challenge, giving us a character of undeniable boyishly handsome complications that unsettles and intrigues. His ‘Old Yeller’ reduction and his storytelling of a young man’s train ride journey into internal discovery stop us in our tracks, just as it does to the unexpected complicated Bella. We can’t help but want to look deeper into that painting, or sneak a quick peek at the next paragraph, desperately wanting to understand, while enjoying the unknown and the unexplained.
Basking in the hallowed spotlight, the perfect formulations slowly fill in the tense details of what lies in The Sound Inside. Is she writing her new novel, speaking it out loud to the tree gods for approval, or is she telling us her tale so we may understand or maybe even collude with her? Or is it something more obscure? It’s hard to tell. In some ways, you don’t want to know is the only possible response that one can truly give. That’s the quandary where we find ourselves. Balancing on one of the most beautiful wrought entanglements, we navigate a thin line of understanding hidden in the layers that exist most definitively in and upon more layers. Is it all just creation, or a story of truth and confession? Are there footprints in the snow leading us somewhere? Suffice to say that there is nothing clumsy about The Sound Inside, as the two come together in a way that will haunt your imagination as you try to make sense of the imagined and what’s written. “Count to 30“, and tell me. I do have my own conclusion, but it doesn’t have to be the right or only one. Which is just so much more perfect than an obvious idea told loudly or energetically…
Out of Town
The Chinese Lady on Dynamic Display at Crow’s Theatre, Toronto
She sits, silent and still, full of hope, staring out as we file in to music that doesn’t quite fit the frame. We take in the visual like a crowd observing a caged peacock, delighted and intrigued, as a man sweeps the ground around her. She is newly arrived, this Chinese young woman tells us, sold for service to be displayed like a rare creature in a gilded cage. She performs with precision for the entitled colonial crowds who gasp and gaze at the exotically crafted foreigner so unusual that they gladly pay for this kind of overt exhibition. She is Afong Moy, perfectly and dynamically portrayed by Rosie Simon (Factory Theatre/ fu-GeN’s acquiesce), playing a role within a frame, presenting an ethnicity for the sole sake of cultural curiosity, hoping it will make a difference. But the air doesn’t feel right within the square, as it becomes more disturbing with each timely rotation. The years tick by as we watch with a growing sense of discomfort The Chinese Lady diving deeper and deeper into the muck of America at its worst.
Written with an expert force by Lloyd Suh (The Far Country), The Chinese Lady, now playing at Crow’s Theatre in Toronto by Studio 180 Theatre and fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company, finds power and force in the unraveling of this distinct form of scientific racism over years of confinement. It engulfs it most delicately inside a sideshow format that emphasizes the barbaric structure that has basically imprisoned the first Chinese woman to set foot on U.S. soil. And if that doesn’t bring forth discomfort, I’m not quite sure what would. Afong Moy is just 14 years old when we first are introduced to her with the help of her irrelevant manservant and guard, Atung, played with a deep sense of purpose by John Ng 伍健琪 (fu-GEN Theatre’s CHING CHONG CHINAMAN). She is alone and basically enslaved within this artifice, delivered from her now-faraway family in Guangzhou Province in 1834, and indebted to her ’employers’, although she is never paid nor is her debt ever fulfilled. She has been put on display within these four impenetrable, yet barless walls so that crowds of European Americans (a fine and brilliant distinction from Indigenous Americans) as “The Chinese Lady” to be gawked at and exploited for twenty-five cents per adult, ten cents per child.
Events4 days ago
Happy Memorial Day From T2C
Events5 days ago
Tovah Feldshuh Joins The American Popular Song Society In Celebration of Marilyn Maye
Cabaret5 days ago
Cabaret, Talks and Concerts For June
Art5 days ago
Events in June
Food and Drink2 days ago
Start You Up This Morning with The Rolling Stones and Keurig
Broadway1 day ago
And The Winners of The 2023 Drama Desk Awards Are ………
Events2 days ago
Sean Hayes, Eric McCormack, Kim Cattrall Scheduled for Tribeca Festival 2023 Audio Storytelling
Broadway2 days ago
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Remembering Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd