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REVIEWS *****

Sterling (Left) James (Right)

Photo Courtesy of CA. Frances Photography

Photo By: Gregory Zabilski



GAY MEN’S CHORUS 

           OF LOS ANGELES *****

Reviewed December 22, 2019

Alex Theatre – Glendale, CA

Reviewed by Michael Sterling

For State of the Arts LA


The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles celebrated not only their annual yearend Holiday Spectacular concert, but their 41st season of singing and sharing the wealth of their extraordinary talents... including over 300 members...of which 100 plus in the Chorus were neatly organized on the Alex Theatre stage for what was beyond its title. 


Assisting the Chorus was multiple award-winning interim Music Director & Conductor Jenny Wong who, by her very nature, brought a significant sense of self in humor and elegance to the sold-out event. Ms. Wong was joined by Principal Accompanist Cassie Nickols Gonzalez playing at the Grand Piano on stage, the only musical instrument in use at this year’s Spectacular and righteously so for the simplicity and thrill of hearing those oh-so-glorious voices in perfect harmony.


Act 1: Opening with Paul Williams’ “More Sleep ‘Til Christmas” followed by “It’s the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” written by Eddie Pola & George Wyle, “Sleigh Ride” written by Leroy Anderson and Mitchell Parish which spotlighted Soloist Todd Lien who, in turn, revved up the cool warmth of the unfolding song set highlighted by “Hine Ma Tov”... a Hebrew Folk Song, and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” with numerous soloists. Other stand out numbers included “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? Written by Frank Loesser and featuring Sean Cruz, Maurice Daniel, Matt DeLeva, Shawn Ingram, Trent Keel and Michael Kelly, Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”, and the incomparable Jerry Herman’s rousing “We Need a Little Christmas” from the Broadway musical “Mame”.


A much anticipated Act 2 led off with Lili Fuller’s wonderfully staged “12 Days of Christmas” written by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick for the Broadway musical “She Loves Me” which made way for such all-time classics as Robert Wells & Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song”, featuring Eric Ramos and Thomas Welker; a medley of songs from the motion picture “Love Actually” with soloists Maurice Daniel, Jeffrey Gale, Danny Moreno, Bobby Tipton. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas from Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane with soloist Zachary Krasman. “Beautiful Music and Powerful Community” was evident throughout. 


GMCLA Executive Director & Producer Lou Spisto’s Staff, including Ernest H. Harrison (Music Director & Conductor), Tim Bowman (Office Manager) Christian Tucci (Patron Services Associate, Lee Stickler (Program Book Editor), Ed Carlos Arafiles (Education Programs Coordinator), Patty Onagan (Marketing Consultant), Jamie Channel Guzman (Program Book Graphics), James Geiger (I.T. Media Development), and Dave Volpe (Artistic Administrator). 

Barry Pearl

Jim Beaver

Photo Credit: Doug Engalla

Jim Beaver

Kay Cole

Photo Credit: Doug Engalla



THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER * * * * *

Group Repertory Theatre – N. Hollywood

Reviewed December 21, 2019

By Michael Sterling – State of the Arts LA

www.msapr.net

*****

Through the ages of live theatre, the development of live production is more often than not judged by the success of its contribution to longevity. That said, this then leads to the possibility of the art form being revived throughout future decades. There are revivals and then there are REVIVALS of which, in more modern times, should (perhaps) never taken place in order to retain the integrity of the original production. However, that is not at all the case with the Group Repertory Theatre’s current production of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s 1939 Broadway offering The Man Who Came to Dinner on stage now through January 12, 2020 at North Hollywood’s Lonny Chapman Theatre.

Directed by the inimitable Bruce Kimmel, one of the most studied and engaging creative minds in the Los Angeles theatre scene, this hilarious, three act circus-of-a-show is set in winter at the Ohio home of Ernest and Daisy Stanley portrayed by Doug Haverty and Laura Wolfe...both perfectly on point as the piteously patriarch and matriarch of a middle-class family who become entangled in the wildly egotistical ways of the story’s central character...one Mr. Sheridan Whiteside, a witty, and nationally beloved radio personality. Whiteside (wonderfully and bombastically played by Jim Beaver) accepts the Stanley’s invitation to dinner during his tour of the mid-west and their little town of Mesalia. However, when Whiteside injures himself by slipping on a piece of ice glazing the Stanley’s doorstep, and is confined to their home for the better part of December, the Stanley’s are not so pleased with the change in their household. Witty and beloved he may be, but Whiteside’s behavior is that of a mischievous, self-absorbed pompous Prince who “does not suffer fools.” Demanding control of the entire household, on top of the $150,000 for which he is suing Mr. Stanley in recompense for his injury, Whiteside commandeers the telephone, fills the library with penguins and cockroaches, and invites a band of paroled convicts over for lunch. For his part, he finds his small-town confinement to be incredibly irritating, and is bewildered and annoyed by his encounters with the Stanley’s persistent, Dr. Bradley (Fox Carney), who has written a book; as well as Stanley’s kooky, if not adorably spooky sister Harriet, (Michele Bernath), who bestows a holly branch on him as a token of regard.

Bert Jefferson (played by the personable Mark Stancato)...a well-mannered young reporter with ambitions to be a playwright...seems to be the only local worthy of respect, but when Whiteside’s secretary Maggie Cutler (stridently essayed by Hartley Powers) falls in love with Bert and declares that she will leave her job to marry him, Whiteside descends into a panic, for he relies on Cutler’s sharp intelligence and endless patience. He calls on glamorous vamp Lorraine Sheldon (sumptuously performed by Susan Priver)...an actress with a loose offstage reputation...to lure Bert away from Maggie under the guise of pursuing his brilliant play. Maggie counters with a trick of her own, aided by the vocal impressions of sophisticated British performer Beverly Carlton (Chris Winfield). However, her plan to send Lorraine on a wild goose chase is discovered, and the venomous Miss Sheldon prepares to take great pleasure in destroying Maggie’s heart, and ultimately Whiteside’s peace of mind. With Maggie preparing to leave his service, married or not; and Mr. Stanley preparing to throw him out into the snow, a newly contrite Sheridan Whiteside must save the day armed only with his knowledge of famous murderers, his celebrity friend Banjo’s airplane to Nova Scotia, and his newly acquired mummy case, sent as a Christmas present from the Khedive of Egypt.


The Man Who Came to Dinner fulfills its goals as a madcap romp which manages to combine the sophistication of great comedic literature, the frenetic energy of the silliest farce, and a genuinely sweet heart. Filled with fascinating character roles and winking homage to the intellectual and popular culture of the 1930s, this timeless play is theatrical magic.


Other featured actors having a rollicking good time on the Lonny Chapman stage include Broadway and Motion Picture star Barry Pearl who, in the role of Banjo, expertly elevates low-ball comedy to a new high; as does the very presence of Broadway’s Kay Cole (Miss Preen). Her deadpan facial expressions as Whiteside’s nurse coupled with Pearl’s shenanigans are worth the price of admission. Popular SoCal social media theatre critic Steven Stanley earns a well-deserved “Wow” of his own as the frantically fast-talking Professor Adolph Metz.


To watch a company of actors navigate and negotiate this play’s treacherous dialogue with such self-assurance is an unexpected delight of the evening.


Set Design is by actor Chris Winfield (who deliciously doubles as Beverly Carlton). Costume Designs: Michael Mullen, Lighting Design: Douglas Gabrielle. Sound Design: Steve Shaw (who doubles as Prof. Metz at various performances.) Properties: Leslie Young. Stage Management: Jody Bardin. Assistant Director is Brianna Saranchock.


For tickets and further information about upcoming performances through January 12, visit: thegrouprep.com.


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Caroline Bowman (Front) 

Caroline Innerbichler (Back)

Photo Credit: Deen van Meer

Hollywood's Pantages Theatre



Frozen North American Tour / Los Angeles

Reviewed by Michael Sterling December 6, 2019

*****

There’s an old saying that “Love” (with all its feelings, formats and complex configurations) makes the world go ‘round”... but does it really? I put it to the test on Friday evening December 6th at Hollywood’s stunning Pantages Theatre and the much-anticipated official North American National Tour Premiere of Broadway’s Frozen. Two and a half hours later, I can tell you that my love of this stupendous spectacle, did indeed make my world go ‘round and most likely the rest of the audience as we walked out of the theatre with love-struck expressions on our slap-happy faces, grinning with gratitude for the world of Disney and another example of film magic transferring to the stage “In (as Mary Poppins would say)... a most delightful way.”


For the sake of the live performing arts and all of us who love and support them, the important thing here is that Broadway (in particular) is alive and (for the most part) well artistically and financially. As of this past weekend an overall $140,000,000 in New York tickets sales was estimated for Frozen since its opening there at the St. James Theatre on March 22, 2018.


The wonderment of Frozen’s story is beautifully tender but not without unintentional turmoil rooted between Royal siblings “Elsa” and “Anna” whose parents leave them to embark on a faraway nautical voyage of Nobile duty.... but mysteriously never return, thus leaving the sisters (Elsa possessing a potentially dangerous magical inner power; and an innocent young Anna who lovingly reveres her sister’s strength and position in line to become Queen of the Kingdom of Arendelle). Both mature by themselves and begin their own journeys of personal happiness with not a dull moment on the way until all is rectified between them.


The exquisite star casting of vocally and robustly gifted Caroline Bowman as Elsa and the gloriously talented Caroline Innerbichler as Anna, accelerate highly charged audience reactions throughout this effervescent, intricately crafted musical loaded with a treasure chest of surprises including a dozen new songs by Oscar and Grammy Award winner Kristen Anderson-Lopez and EGOT winner Robert Lopez, supported by Stephen Oremus (Music Supervision and Arrangements), not to mention fascinatingly hard-to-distinguish man-made sets from video designed and projected sets (by Finn Ross) Scenic and Costume Design (Christopher Orem).

Other principal cast members Include the Princely handsome Austin Colby (Bowman’s real life husband) as Hans, the brilliance that is F. Michael Haynie as Olaf, the charming Mason Reeves as Kristoff, Jeremy Morse as Weselton; Visually precise moves scored well by *Collin Baja as Reindeer Sven (*Evan Strand alternates as Sven at certain performances).


Scene-stealer *Stella R. Cobb (Young Anna) had the capacity filled audience in the palm of her hand. *Alyssa Kim (Young Elsa), *Jaiden Klein (Young Elsa), and *Arwen Monzon-Sanders (Young Anna). complete the adolescent actors who alternate at certain performances.

   

Frozen’s Book is by Oscar winner Jennifer Lee.     Tony, and Olivier Award winner Michael             Grandage serves as Director with Tony and           Emmy Award winner Rob Ashford as Choreographer.


Frozen is produced by Disney Theatrical Productions under the direction of Thomas Schumacher.

Dates: DECEMBER 4, 2019 – FEBRUARY 2, 2020

Theatre: HOLLYWOOD PANTAGES THEATRE

6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028

Performance Schedule:

Tuesday - Friday at 8pm

Saturday at 2pm & 8pm

Sunday at 1pm & 6:30pm


Pantages website for Holiday performance schedule. 

Tickets: Online

BroadwayInHollywood.com or Ticketmaster.com

Phone: 1-800-982-2787


In Person: Hollywood Pantages Box Office

For further information regarding Frozen’s 

      North American Tour Schedule: 

                      frozenthemusical.com/tour/     

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FRANKIE AVALON in CONCERT  

Soraya  Grand Hall Theatre

Cal State Northridge



FRANKIE AVALON in  CONCERT November 21, 2019 *****

Reviewed by Michael Sterling
Photo Courtesy of  Luis Luque


Last night’s remarkable sold-out Frankie Avalon concert at the spectacular 1700 seat Soraya Grand Hall at Cal State Northridge was a well-constructed, immersive solo offering though not necessarily unexpected, given the nature of a pop recording artist who humbly has sustained his place in the world of yesteryear’s cavalcade of chart-topping hits. Still crooning on stages worldwide at 79 years old, there’s no shortage of smooth moves, engaging patter and a vocal prowess which would challenge (if not put) other such era-centric singers on the back burner. Suffice it to say that Frankie Avalon is nothing less than pop royalty at the top of his game. 
Opening with a mid-tempo, tailor-made arrangement of Rodgers & Hart’s “Where or When” set the tone for what was to come in a 90-minute set backed by a brilliant 10 piece orchestra in which two of his sons play (Frankie Jr./drums; and Tony/Guitar); along with lead guitarist Edan Everly (son of Don Everly of famed recording artists The Everly Brothers). 
In addition to singing several of his hits from the 50’s and 60s, including “DeDe Dinah”, “Ginger Bread”, “Bobby Sox to Stockings” “Beauty School Drop Out” (from Grease the Movie), and “Venus” which topped the Billboard charts in 1959 to become an anthem of true love for a multitude of starry-eyed teenagers whose dreams at night were undoubtedly of one Francis Thomas Avallone). The evening was further heightened by select video clips from his many film and television appearances; as well as the creation of an Avalon Dynasty with wife Kathryn and the births of their 8 children (4 boys and 4 girls).

Mr. Avalon is not only an icon, but a gentleman who has worked diligently the last six decades at creating and protecting his brand and perfecting his craft. That type of energy and dedication has resulted in a life of consummate showmanship and superior class and dignity...always remembering where he came from, who he was, who he is, and where he’s going. Blessed with such assets he performs 30-40 concerts a year with no signs of slowing down..

For further information about Frankie Avalon, visit frankieavalon.com.

For further information about 

The Soraya Grand Hall and 

their schedule of events.

 thesoraya.org

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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 love-themed song 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, Ms. 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”. 

   

Met by a thunderous ovation from the sold-out crowd... tall, lanky, leading man James Pepper dazzled with “Take Me to the World” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Evening Primrose”. 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 genteel Hayden Miller took center stage to put his 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 cozier 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.

Photo: John C. Reilly (Left) 

Ruben Brown (Wolf-Center)

with the LA Philharmonic

Courtesy of the Hollywood Bowl


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 like 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 delightfully. 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