Photo of Sterling and James:
Courtesy of C.A. Frances Photography
Asunta Fleming ... So Many Stars
Sterling’s Upstairs at The Federal
Reviewed October 6, 2019 by Andrew David James
She Came... We Saw... She Conquered! After a 12-year absence, musical theatre star Asunta Fleming returned to the LA cabaret concert scene at the ever-popular Sterling’s Upstairs at The Federal (a former 1926 Bank which, in 2012, became home to producer Michael Sterling’s award-winning supper club located in the heart of North Hollywood’s NoHo Arts District). Ms. Fleming brought with her an important part of her life’s work...namely... the auspiciously talented Amanda Ballinger, Eliya Frantz, Hayden Miller, and James Pepper... just four of the many gifted vocal students she coaches on the west coast.
From the moment Ms. Fleming opened the 75-minute, 16 song love-themed set with “Believe in Spring” coupled with “The Look of Love” and followed by the haunting “Where Do You Start”, it was clear that star power had entered the building.
Beautifully supported by coveted Musical Director/Arranger Gary Poirot on Piano, Fleming got down to business by showcasing her entourage beginning with the jazz-light, sensuous Eliya Frantz who knew exactly how to execute her vocal gymnastics to deliver the goods with “I’ve Got the World on a String”.
Tall, lanky, leading man James Pepper dazzled with “Take Me to the World” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Evening Primrose” met by a thunderous ovation from the sold-out crowd. Next up was Amanda Ballinger who scored more than well with Cole Porter’s “DeLovely” from the classic American musical “Anything Goes” with Ms. Fleming stepping back in to duet with Ballinger on two great American standards...“Falling in Love with Love" by Richard Rogers and George Gershwin's “The Man I Love”.
A gentle Hayden Miller took center spotlight to put his magic spell on a medley of “Misty”, "My Funny Valentine” and “All the Things You Are” which made the cozy audience of a hundred plus feel even more cozy in an evening of love-struck moments.
Other material the quintet of singers performed included “Fly Me to the Moon”, “Moonglow” and such all time favorites as “I Got Rhythm”, “I Wish You Love”, “Every Time We Say Goodbye” “Cry Me a River” and “Marry Me a Little”, leading into the home stretch of Ms. Fleming’s momentous closing ballad... Abba's “The Winner Takes it All” from Broadway’s “Mamma Mia!” in which she most recently starred at the distinguished Ojai Art Center just north of Los Angeles. The group closed with a yearning put-together of “Make Someone Happy” and “What the World Needs Now is Love”... both feeling particularly needed in the country's current climate.
Constructing a showcase that stands on solid ground in the genre of a cabaret, requires a special skill to avoid the feel and/or sense of a recital. Thus, kudos (and then some) to Ms. Fleming for fueling her stars-to-be with timeless material while navigating the emotional highway of love.
PETER AND THE WOLF / HOLLYWOOD BOWL:
Reviewed August 20, 2019 by Andrew David James****
The iconic Hollywood Bowl has long been known for extraordinary one-night events, and its breathtaking rendition of Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf is no exception. The precision, puppetry, and exquisite presentation of this well-known tale left the audience enthralled and social media buzzing.
Under the baton of guest conductor Ludovic Morlot, the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra presented a sublime offering of Prokofiev’s celebrated work. As the unmistakable instrumental motifs brought the story’s beloved characters to life, they were joined by the flawless narration of Oscar, Grammy, and Tony-nominated actor John C. Reilly as the voice of Peter. Under the guidance of Artistic Director Mark Down, puppeteers from Britain’s Blind Summit Theatre created an equally stunning visual interpretation of the Russian masterpiece.
The incomparable cast of Peter and the Wolf boasted the instrumental talents of Laura Caldow, Fiona Clift, and Sean Garratt (Peter); Patricia Langa (Bird); Sean Murray (Duck); Will Thompson (Cat); Ruben Brown (Wolf); Eleanor Perry (Grandpa); Sean Murray and Daniel Hay Gordon (Hunters). The presentation was produced for Blind Summit by Ina Wieczorek, work shopped with students at Fourth Monkey, and commissioned by Phillippa Cole for the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra. Designed by: Mark Down, Ruth Paton, Fiona Clift; Choreographed by: Daniel Hay Gordon.
Individually, each component was impressive, but the magnificence of the pantomime combined with puppetry made this age-old tale new and exciting. Above all, it cemented the Hollywood Bowl as a family-friendly venue with one foot reaching toward new ground while the other remains solidly planted in the classical disciplines. For more information on upcoming Hollywood Bowl events, visit Hollywood.
INTO THE WOODS / HOLLYWOOD BOWL: Reviewed July 27, 2019 by Michael Sterling *****
Surrounded by the hills in the Cahuenga Pass, the Hollywood Bowl's production of INTO THE WOODS met every expectation and then some at last night's 2nd of 3 weekend performances, A stunning production in the right place at the right time with the right cast directed by Robert Longbottom with Musical Direction by Kevin Stites. The star cast included Sklar Astin, Sierra Boggess, Chris Carmack, Anthony Crivello, Sutton Foster, Whoopie Goldberg (the voice of the Giant), Edward Hibbert, Gaten Matarazzo, Patina Miller, Rebecca Spencer, , Claire Adams, Richard Biglia, Tamyra Gray, Devinn Harris, Rees James, Stella Kim, Daniel Lopez, Gregory North, Edelyn Okano, Monica Ricketts, Karl Warden and Grace Yoo. Who could ask for anything more? Into the Woods was the first time that a Stephen Sondheim musical had ever been produced on the Hollywood Bowl Stage. July 26-28, 2019. hollywoodbowl.com;
Photo of Sklar Astin and Sutton Foster, courtesy of the Hollywood Bowl.
MISS SAIGON - PANTAGES THEATRE - U.S. NATIONAL TOUR:
Reviewed July 18, 2019 by Michael Sterling *****
Last night's grand opening of Miss Saigon at Hollywood's Pantages Theatre with the likes of extraordinary mega-stars Red (Engineer), Emily Bautista (Kim), Anthony Festa (Chris), Stacie Bono (Ellen) and J. Daughtry (John); along with an ensemble that worked their beautiful tails off... was EPIC to say the very least. Gloriously directed by Laurence Connor with Musical Staging by Bob Avian and Musical Direction by Geoffrey Garratt, the look and feel and power in every moment of performance from any and all cast members was overwhelmingly breathtaking, not to mention the high flying helicopter which shook the Pantages to its very core.
Brilliantly on stage now through August 11. Don't talk, don't walk, RUN... yes RUN to experience a 28-year-old theatrical masterpiece you've never seen it before! Continues at the Pantages Theatre through August 11. Photo of Anthony Festa and Emily Batista Courtesy of Matthew Murphy.
DISNEY THE LION KING / MOTION PICTURE Reviewed July 16, 2019 by Michael Sterling: *****
Disney's SFX action film The Lion King debuting July 18, 2019 lives up to any expectations while, at the same respectfully to its original animated source. it maintains its messages of right vs. wrong and good vs.evil, even loud and clear given the desperate ego-driven, broken in which we live today.
Steering the film forward, the voice of James Earl Jones who plays Simba’s Lion father Mufasa — majestically fille every inch of air in the theatre. The voice of JD McCrary, Simba is delightuflly Disneyesque, as is the voice of the cub's playmate Nala, voiced by Shahadi Wright Joseph. Additional voices such as Donald Glover as mature Simba, Beyonce Knowles-Carter as Nala, John Oliver as Zazu the royal consult and hornbill bird, Seth Rogan as Pumbaa the warthog along with Billy Eichner as Timon the meerkat delivered their VO's on point. Keegan Michael Kay as Kamari and Eric Andre as the chatterbox hyena also hit their mark. Others including John Kani as Rafiki, Florence Kasumba (Michonne of the Walking Dead) as Shenzi the lead hyena, and the ever-present Chiwetel Ejiofor as the ominous ill-willed Lion and Simba’s Uncle Scar were perfectly on point. Following suit was Alfre Woodard as Simba’s mother Sarabi. Perhaps one of the finest actresses of our time, Ms. Woodard brought just the right affection to her role.
The Lion King was directed by Jon Favreau and Produced by Jon Favreau, Jeffrey Silver and Karen Gilchrist with Hans Zimmer recreating his Oscar-winning original score from the 1994 animated Lion King. Jeff Nathanson wrote the screenplay. Zimmer supervised Beyonce and Glover's dueting on the Elton John / Tim Rice mega hit "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" (also a1994 Oscar winner). In theatres everywhere this summer. Check local listings for dates and times.
Photo: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios