Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: Immortalizing a Star in CAGNEY THE MUSICAL

The Cast of Cagney the Musical. Photos by Carol Rosegg from the NY production

When you think of James Cagney, one of two images comes to mind: the tough guy or the tapper. The public couldn’t get enough of his bad guy persona in films like The Public Enemy, G-Men, and White Heat but, for musical theatre lovers, nothing tops his performance as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. It was a match made in heaven when he was cast in the role. Both were Irish entertainers who came up through Vaudeville and were proud to be Americans. Both stood up for their principles and helped those in need, even when it wasn’t fashionable.

Now, Cagney’s life and career are immortalized in a dynamic new bio-musical directed by Bill Castellino playing at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood. The show has been in development for about the last 15 years and, in this current version, just concluded a successful 14-month run Off Broadway. It isn’t surprising. The painstaking work of writing and rewriting, and putting it up in front of different audiences in many places has resulted in a song-and-dance-packed traditional musical theatre production that is a fitting tribute to Cagney’s legacy.

In real life, Cagney was a man with a heart, and the tough guy image was not how he wanted to be remembered. Bookwriter Peter Colley gives us a surprising level of insight into his character as he chronicles Cagney’s (Robert Creighton) rise to fame, including his relationships with the tyrannical Jack Warner (an excellent Bruce Sabath), his brother Bill (Josh Walden), his mother (Danette Holden), and the woman who would eventually become his wife, Willie Vernon (Ellen Z. Wright). 

These scenes show us the heart of the man and they cover enough territory to give us an accurate picture but one in particular is a hard sell today. Shoving a grapefruit in a woman’s face for laughs in his breakout 1931 film The Public Enemy gave credence to the idea that it was okay for men to mistreat women, and it was a little disturbing to see it enacted in the musical given today’s prevalence of violence against women in the news. It is a pivotal part of Cagneys story and was handled as tastefully as it could be but I still cringed.

L-R: Robert Creighton and Jeremy Benton

The joy of the show, and where it really becomes something special, is in its dazzling production numbers. The stylish dance scenes and extended tap choreography by Joshua Bergasse (particularly in the Cohan numbers and a duet for Creighton and Jeremy Benton who plays Bob Hope) are the pièce de résistance. Creighton is as charming as he is fast on his feet, a ball of energy with a lovable smile and an earthy edge who has an endearing way of connecting with the audience. His supporting cast matches his energy every step-ball-change of the way.

The score consists of three different song styles. Those written by Cohan – “Grand Old Flag,” the “USO Medley” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy – are high energy patriotic tap extravaganzas. Those by Creighton take a more sentimental turn as Cagney finds himself “Crazy ‘Bout You,” “Falling in Love,” and pondering “How Will I Be Remembered.” And the rest, by Christopher McGovern, are constructed using creative and interesting devices that musical lovers will really get into.

“Black and White,” the opening number, is a take on the black and white movies of Cagney’s day that returns with a startling twist in the second act. In the writers’ room, he gives Bergasse the opportunity to choreograph a stellar pair of songs – “Warner at Work” and “Cagney at Work” that utilize seated tapping, intricately timed rhythms, and another twist that ties them together for a fantastic result.

Musical director Gerald Sternbach’s 5-piece band upstage of the action packs a lot of sound in their few instruments and also helps visually fill in the space that James Morgan’s traveling scenic design doesn’t. Michael A. Megliola’s lighting also effectively adds dimension in the studio sequences and realistic scenes but the overall look of the stage flattens out during dance numbers. Thats also where Martha Bromelmeiers costumes look cheap in comparison to the otherwise well-done collection of period looks.

If the show was to set its sights on Broadway, it would need to scale up the production design accordingly. As it is, the musical already succeeds in its loving tribute to a great entertainer and will put a smile on your face as you leave the theater.

Robert Creighton (center) and the cast

Bruce Sabath as Jack Warner

A final note to the out-of-town producer. When youre producing a show in LA, you might want to rethink saying LA isnt a theatre town while hitting up the audience for investors in an exceedingly long curtain speech that should have been done at the after party instead of on stage following the performance. Rather than being cute, all you accomplish is alienating your audience.

October 5 – 29, 2017
El Portal Theatre
5269 Lankershim Blvd
North Hollywood, CA 91601
For more about the show:

For more Musicals in LA news:
Become a Fan on Facebook
Follow Musicals in LA on Twitter
Click Here to return to home page


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Review: There's a Sucker Born Every Minute for CAPTAIN GREEDY'S CARNIVAL

Dora Kiss, Will Thomas McFadden, Adam Bennett, Bob Turton and Paulette Zubata.
All photos by Ashley Randall

The title of the show tells you everything you need to know about The Actors’ Gang’s latest production: Captain Greedy’s Carnival, A Musical Nightmare. From it, you expect to see a circus-style entertainment with a dishonest ringleader, musical numbers, and no happy ending. That’s exactly what you get.

Billed as a musical satire, it presents the glorification of greed and corruption in a twisted capitalist society where the rich get richer and the regular guy gets screwed (sound familiar?) through the lens of a carnival sideshow, which is itself the epitome of exploitation. In fact, the disclaimer at the bottom of the program even states, “Entry to Captain Greedy’s Carnival is at your own risk. The customer getting screwed is not our problem.” And the captain means it.

For the next two hours and twenty minutes, he shows us all the ways the little guy gets fleeced, often by his own stupidity. There is no subtle symbolism here. The troupe’s sharp point of view blasts from every pore in the Gang’s broad presentational style of storytelling.

Bob Turton and Will McFadden
Essentially, the show is a series of sketches loosely written around 23 songs and a reprise that tell the story of a family who gets played for suckers. The Wheel of Random Taxation, Home-buying Shell Game, Budget Cut Burlesque, and Foreclosure Arcade are a few of the mash-ups the cast tackles in what feels more like an enhanced musical revue than a book musical.

Program notes by the playwright (Jack Pinter) say the songs and concept came first with the book following, which explains the episodic nature of the piece. It isn’t always easy to create a compelling arc when you write a plot to connect existing songs and that’s the case here. It was workshopped with the company before this world premiere but, even after its developmental phase, it feels like a work in progress.

Missing is the precision that has made past Actors’ Gang productions so effective. Instead, scenes are sloppily executed, choreography is haphazard, and actors repeatedly mumble or flub their lines. The whole thing ends up feeling like a class exercise still finding its beats. The second time I saw the same ensemble member break character, grin, and roll her eyes at her own mistakes I realized the actors were either under-rehearsed, unfocused, or having an off night. Whichever the case, it didn’t serve the piece.

And while the show is topical and timely, it also beats its subject to death without offering the audience a way out. It isn’t required to, but the Gang is preaching to the choir here. We know we’re being taken advantage of by the government and big business so there is a level of satisfaction missing from the experience when it pokes fun at the expense of the very people watching it.

The musical is most successful in its satire and in well thought out characters like Bob Turton’s Pee-Wee Herman-esque big Talker and pontificating Professor Freemarket. Will McFadden, who also directs and is one of the Gang’s biggest assets, is on stage for almost the entirety of the show as the charismatic Captain Greedy, but a relatively quiet audience the night I attended seemed to thwart even his attempts to engage them.

Bob Turton, Paulette Zubata and the cast 

Roger Enos score consists mainly of song ditties sung in unison, although I could distinguish parts in the finale. None are particularly memorable after the final curtain however the ideas in them hit home. Lyrics with bad prosody (when the emphasis is on the wrong syllable) however, are inexcusable, and this show has a lot of them.

The writers could easily edit out 6-8 of the songs, trim the running time to under two hours and produce it in one act. Moving the intermission carnival fun and games in the lobby to before the show (even if you needed to delay the curtain) would help ramp up the energy of the audience, especially on a low energy night like this one.

But what Captain Greedy’s Carnival lacks in polish it makes up for in passion. McFadden’s closing speech is as blunt as they come, driving the message home that if you let yourself be distracted by the song and dance, you deserve what you get.

The threadbare trappings of the production design by McFadden, Pinter, and Jason Lovett give the production a salty air. Projections by Cihan Sahin are shown on the surrounding circus tent backdrop to punch up the shows point of view. Bosco Flanagans lighting gives the carnival the glaring edge it needs to feel just seedy enough, as do Christie Harms’ costumes.

Paulette Zubata and Dora Kiss

September 30 – Saturday, November 11, 2017
The Actors’ Gang
9070 Venice Blvd
Culver City, CA  90232
Thursday Evenings – “Pay What You Can” 
Tickets: 310-838-4264 or

Bob Turton

The cast of Captain Greedy's Carnival

Will Thomas McFadden and the cast

Mary Eileen O'Donnell

The cast of Captain Greedy's Carnival

For more Musicals in LA news:
Become a Fan on Facebook
Follow Musicals in LA on Twitter
Click Here to return to home page


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Review: MASTER CLASS, a Lesson in What Becomes a Legend Most

Carolyn Hennesy and Landon Shaw II. All photos by Chelsea Sutton

In 1970, Maria Callas posed for Blackglama’s iconic “What Becomes a Legend Most” ad campaign. The famous black and white Richard Avedon photographs shot against a simple gray background captured the glamour and allure of black mink featuring some of the most iconic faces in the world. It was indeed a look, and Callas knew it was for her.

Callas talks about the importance of having a look in Terrence McNally’s Tony Award-winning play, Master Class, based on a series of vocal master classes the opera singer gave at the Juilliard School of Music in 1971 and ‘72. Though it is written for a cast of six, it is essentially a one woman play centering on Callas, La Divina, as she was known during her incredible singing career. She may say, in the first few minutes of the play, that it’s not about her, but the audience knows it’s all about her.

She was a woman consumed by becoming a star and spent her life perfecting her voice and developing a catalog of roles that bridged the soprano repertoire in a way few have been able to do since. Callas could sing everything from Wagner to Verdi to Puccini to Bellini and adapt her voice to the requirements of each in turn. It isn’t any wonder singers still study her today in the hopes that a little bit of the Callas magic will rub off on them.

Roy Abramsohn, Maegan McConnell, and Carolyn Hennesy

Carolyn Hennesy takes on the role of Maria Callas in the first production at the new Garry Marshall Theatre, long known to its Toluca Lake neighbors as The Falcon. Rechristened, and sporting a redesigned lobby that could double as a sleek modern art gallery, it all but glistens with possibility. The choice, then, to begin the theatre’s first ticketed season with Master Class is a smart one. It’s definitely a way to make an entrance, another lesson offered by Callas in the pages of the play, and co-artistic directors Dimitri Toscas (who also directs the play) and Joseph Leo Bwarie have done themselves proud.

But the real question is Hennesy as La Divina? Small, but mighty, poised, prickly, opinionated, disdainful, luminous, and utterly enthralling. There are times she is as cool and still as a statue but you can feel the volcano itching to blow just beneath the surface. Her resemblance to Callas (impeccable costuming by Michèle Young and wig design by Laura Caponera) is uncanny and when the light catches her just right, all you can think of is the phrase, “A face that launched a thousand ships.”

Heartbreaking truths about the price Callas paid to become such a star are brilliantly delivered in flashback scenes and will surprise anyone not familiar with the details of her personal life. Nuanced and containing a world of colors, Hennesy reveals a sensitivity to the material that makes this one of the most striking performances of the 2017 theatre season. In perhaps the most devastating few seconds of the entire play, she attempts to sing. No matter how many times I have seen it, it is still always shocking in its vulnerability.

The three young singers who participate in the master class display enough operatic training to satisfy those looking for authenticity. Maegan McConnell is Sophie, the giggling ingénue who must perform Amina’s aria from La Sonnambula, “Ah! non credea mirarti” if Callas will only let her get started.

As Tony, Landon Shaw II proves he can shrug off his flirtatious tenor front and show that he’s serious about his career. When he finally sings Cavaradossi’s aria, “Dammi i colori” from Tosca and the last notes float away, we’re left with a haunting moment between he and Hennesy.

Roy Abramsohn, Aubrey Trujillo-Scarr , and Carolyn Hennesy 

Sharon Graham (Aubrey Trujillo-Scarr), the determined soprano who intends to sing the Letter aria and cabaletta from Verdi’s Macbeth is the fiercest challenger to Callas’ composure. As the two spar off with increasing intensity and decorum goes out the window - along with any remaining humor - she will match Hennesy sting for sting.

The gorgeous scenic design by Francois-Pierre Couture takes into account the acoustics necessary in a concert hall and uses beautifully polished wood panels, warmly lit by JM Montecalvo, to achieve its effect. It allows Hennesy to use her sotto voce and still be heard in the house.

Garry Marshall Theatre’s elegantly crafted production of Master Class is a gorgeous example of pairing the right actor with the right play at the right moment in a theatre’s evolution. Callas says one must know one’s assets in order to create art. Rest assured they do here.

September 22 – October 22, 2017
Garry Marshall Theatre
4252 Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
Tickets: (818) 955-8101 or

Carolyn Hennesy and Roy Abramsohn

Carolyn Hennesy and Landon Shaw II 

Maegan McConnell and Carolyn Hennesy

Roy Abramsohn, Carolyn Hennesy, and Maegan McConnell

For more Musicals in LA news:
Become a Fan on Facebook
Follow Musicals in LA on Twitter
Click Here to return to home page


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Review: BENNY AND JOON, A Breath of Fresh Air for your Musical Senses

Hannah Elless and Bryce Pinkham

The Old Globe has opened a window and let in a beautiful breath of fresh air in its latest world premiere musical, Benny and Joon, by bookwriter Kirsten Guenther, composer Nolan Gasser, and lyricist Mindi Dickstein. Based on the 1993 MGM film starring Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson and Aidan Quinn, it focuses on three characters, each insulated by their unique circumstances, and how they ultimately overcome their limitations to live the life they’ve always wanted. Love, family, compassion, and understanding are the foundation of the piece and, as they grow, so do we. 

Joon (Hannah Elles) suffers from a form of mental illness that means she hears voices when she’s off her meds. Order is the key to her world and when that order is interrupted, it prompts uncontrollable outbursts, making her a danger to herself and others. Benny (Andrew Samonsky) is the older brother who has taken care of her ever since their parents died in a car accident ten years earlier. A mechanic with plenty of guy friends, but no love life, he dutifully shoulders his responsibility because he loves his sister but he also uses it as a reason not to get close to people. Outside of poker nights with the guys, his world consists of managing interruptions from Joon and little else.

Enter Sam (Bryce Pinkham), the eccentric cousin of one of Benny’s poker buddies, and the catalyst who turns everything upside down. Sam’s unusual way of navigating through life helps Benny and Joon see that sometimes you have to look at the world a little differently in order to make it all work out. He uses humor and classic movie bits to diffuse tension in others and he does it so spontaneously that it works every time.

Bryce Pinkham

The musical’s task is accomplished with a fair amount of whimsy and a sensitive hand by the writers and director Jack Cummings III. They establish it from the get-go, with a paper origami bird, a miniature train, and the promise of a journey slightly askew. The beauty of the opening is that you know immediately what kind of musical you’re going to see and then it follows through and delivers on what it sets up.

All of the film’s best moments are here, several of them staged so sweetly and with such a light touch that they seem to dance, even when there is no musical accompaniment. Some – like Sam’s famous dancing roll scene in the diner and his method of cooking grilled cheese sandwiches with an iron – are set quite effectively to instrumental music. Others receive full-on song development and move the story forward at an accelerated clip while expressing the characters’ inner dialogue in a way not available to their film counterparts. So many of the songs are winners.

Dickstein’s lyrics are rich with insight and Gasser’s melodies capture the vastly different rhythms of each character, a complicated task in any musical but in this one it defines the characters on a whole other level. In “Safety First” we see why Joon feels compelled to stand in the middle of a busy intersection and direct traffic even though it makes her look crazy, and in “In My Head” we begin to understand the real reason Sam is obsessed with the movies. The driving rock inflections in the song express the pounding desperation inside Sam’s head and the escape that celluloid provided from a cruel world.

Hannah Elless and Bryce Pinkham

The choice to have Joon play the ukulele while singing “Happy” perfectly captures the gentle joy she feels in the moment (is there any friendlier sound than a ukulele?) and in the most unconventional of love songs, “It’s a Shame” sung by Joon and Sam, reveals just how perfect for each other these two unusual individuals really are.

On the outside, Joon often seems “normal” and Elless achieves an interesting dichotomy with the character. When she is not completely in control of her surroundings or is showing a softer, more childlike side, Elless still includes Joon’s internal durability, just as when she is exercising her strength of will she also retains her fragility. It is a wonderful play on personality that creates a complex character the audience roots for without hesitation. She is delicate, determined, and delightful.

As Sam, Pinkham takes the Johnny Depp role and reinvents the character into one audiences will talk about for years to come. For that reason alone you need to see the show. He sings beautifully, possesses the kind of comic and physical timing that can’t be taught, and does everything so effortlessly that you want him to repeat every scene again and again. Whether he’s rolling in on skates and pushing a kitchen cabinet or dancing with a mop, defending the rights of Baked Alaska or summoning up the courage to get a job, he is the imaginative link that fuels the show. Pinkham’s progression from insecure to confident in a single song (“I Can Help”) is a showstopper and his onstage chemistry with Elless is immediate. It is a darling performance, never precious, and so memorable there are sure to be award bells ringing in the future for the actor.

Jason SweetTooth Williams and Bryce Pinkham

In the category of things that need rethinking: Benny’s translation from film to stage doesn’t yet work. In the movie, it was always clear that Benny’s love for Joon was more important than anything else. Even at his most frustrated point, Aidan Quinn’s sincerity allowed the audience to remain sympathetic to him. Here, Benny turns into a phenomenal jerk when the conflict is highest and Samonsky hits the beat so viciously that he isn’t able to recover from alienating the audience, even with a song that explains his actions after the fact. Of course the frustrations he lets out in his tirade toward June are legitimate but it’s a fine line that still needs to be tuned.

That, coupled with a lack of chemistry between he and Ruthie (January LaVoy) and LaVoy’s lackluster performance, makes this couple fizzle out before they even begin. She is the weak vocal link in an otherwise strong vocal ensemble. Without a more believable attraction, this secondary romantic storyline falls flat. 

The supporting characters are also trying hard to make as much of their short stage time as possible but some of their performances come off as forced. Scenes with Dr. Cruz (Natalie Toro), in particular, could benefit from significant cutting. Her advice song “There Is No Secret” feels like it is inserted just to give her a solo and that’s not a good enough reason. Make the point in short dialogue and move on rather than turning it into a downer orchid sequence that may have looked good on paper but doesn’t translate well to the stage. The office scene and song “Wonder” is also too drawn out to hold our interest, and a reprise of the song sung by the doctor is an unnecessary comment.

Hannah Elless and Andrew Samonsky

The crux of the show is the relationship between Benny and Joon and Sam. When the focus stays on them the musical’s inherent sweetness blossoms and, when it doesn’t, it fades.

Dane Laffrey’s primary set piece – a Google Earth-inspired map of Benny and Joon’s neighborhood – is a sleek and dramatic way to represent how the orderly appearance of a thing may not tell the whole story. There are times the three dimensional backdrop even resembles a storybook pop-up or a board game with the players all advancing according to the roll of the dice – two steps forward, one step back. A rolling track in the floor allows for the smooth transition of furniture and other items that set the individual scenes. Once you accept the repetitive device, you see how effectively it solves the question of how to cut quickly between many different locations.

R. Lee Kennedy’s lighting lends intimacy as it creates the parameters of each space in the absence of actual walls. A breathtaking reveal late in the show takes the visual representation of freedom to a new level. The creative team’s thoughtful use of color, order, and function works for the kind of story being told. It should feel unexpected and it does.

Regardless of our circumstances, we're all in search of a happy ending. Benny and Joon is a quirky new musical that will make you believe a happy ending is possible no matter what stands in your way. Fresh, inventive, and full of charm, it's a feel-good musical that will warm your heart.  

September 7 – October 22, 2017
The Old Globe
1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park
San Diego, CA

L-R: Paolo Montalban, Jason SweetTooth Williams, Colin Hanlon, Andrew Samonsky,
Hannah Elless and Bryce Pinkham

Hannah Elless

January LaVoy, Andrew Samonsky, Bryce Pinkham and Hannah Elless

January LaVoy, Andrew Samonsky, Bryce Pinkham and Hannah Elless

For more Musicals in LA news:
Become a Fan on Facebook
Follow Musicals in LA on Twitter
Click Here to return to home page


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Photo Flash: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Norris Theatre

Ian Littleworth and the Company. All photos by Ed Krieger

The Palos Verdes Performing Arts production of Rachel Sheinkin and William Finn’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is directed by Richard Israel and features musical direction by Sean Alexander Bart and choreography by Daniel Smith. With a lovable cast of quirky characters and guest spellers from the audience during each performance, this hilarious musical instantly spells fun. Now through October 1st at Norris Theatre, 27570 Norris Center Drive on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Tickets:

Hajin Cho, Chris Bona, Jacob Nye, Gabriela Milo, Ian Littleworth and Tayler Mettra

Jacob Nye and the Company

The Company of 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Jacob Nye and the Company

Tayler Mettra, Jacob Nye and Gabriela Milo

Chris Bona and Company

Kelsey Venter, Tayler Mettra and Donovan Wright

Kelsey Venter, Erik Gratton and Jacob Nye

Jacob Nye and the Company

For more Musicals in LA news:
Become a Fan on Facebook
Follow Musicals in LA on Twitter
Click Here to return to home page

Labels: ,

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Review: The Pure Joy of MUSE-IQUE’s Summer of Sound: GLOW/TOWN

Savion Glover and Joshua Henry. All photos by Ben Gibbs

It’s official. I have a new favorite thing, and it is called Muse/ique. You would too if you’d been in the audience for GLOW/TOWN, the third in a 3-part series celebrating Motown and its roots Saturday night at Caltech. From the structure of the program to the sophistication of the environment, Artistic Director Rachael Worby and company have created a musical experience in a class by itself.

Staged outdoors in a completely made up space on the lawn of Beckman Auditorium, Muse/ique is the epitome of smart entertainment. It reaches the senses on multiple levels, appealing to the intellect as well as the heart, while engaging the audience in the pure joy of the music. In this setting, any preconceived notions or stodgy expectations get blown apart. The party is written in the music and it moves you from the inside out. All you have to do is show up.

This summer, Muse/ique’s series explored the road to Motown and what it represents in the fabric of America. The two earlier concerts looked at Motown’s connection to Latin rhythms and movement, and the evolution of Gospel music and its impact on Detroit in the sixties. In GLOW/TOWN, Worby connected all the dots by shining a breathtaking spotlight on the essential musical forms that ultimately manifested in Berry Gordy’s Motown Sound: jazz, blues, soul, and early rock ‘n roll, with a bit of pop thrown in for good measure.

Savion Glover (left) and Joshua Henry (right) with Rachael Worby
(center) and the Muse/ique Orchestra

She is incredibly effective as a guide, both conducting the orchestra and also sharing the music’s back story. Using well-chosen, often little-known, gems of information, Worby can unlock a piece and create an enticing context for the listener whether or not they have any prior knowledge of the music. It is one of Muse/ique’s most intriguing elements. She also knows how to stack the deck when it comes to special guests.

On this particular night, Hamilton fans had to make do with seeing his understudy on stage because Joshua Henry, currently starring as Aaron Burr at the Pantages, was one of two featured artists performing with Muse/ique. The other was tap phenom Savion Glover, considered the best tap dancer in the world by...well....everyone. And rightfully so. Sparks flew as these two remarkable musicians gave their heart and soul to the rhythm and the music, forging a bond between audience and artist that can only be achieved in a live performance setting.

Joshua Henry

It didn’t matter in which style he was singing, Henry burned up the mic in all of them. His version of Bricusse and Newley’s “Feeling Good” recalled the depth, danger, and defiance no one has been able to replicate since Nina Simone recorded it in 1965. He slipped into the soul shoes of Reverend Al Green for “Love and Happiness” and an infectious love groove culminating in a call and repeat with Glover that reverberated absolute joy with every pass back and forth. Please let a recording of the duo performing that song emerge because it was sensational.

They pulled off the same magic during the tribute section to Thelonious Monk (“Round Midnight” and “Misterioso”), Glover dueting first with the clarinet in a laid back rhythm, whisper soft, both musicians completely simpatico. Then the orchestra turned sexy, Glover hit on an acapella ripple effect in his footwork, and began a playful volley back and forth with Henry, who displayed some fierce scatting on Alan Steinberger’s arrangement. By the way, all of Steinberger’s arrangements are outstanding.

Henry continued to build the night’s momentum through Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” into the main Motown set, making it hard to imagine there is anything he can’t do vocally. He has a powerhouse set of pipes and the charisma of a comet. From the smooth groove of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy Me” to the wailing wonder he let loose on The Miracles’ “Please Don’t Leave Me Girl” to the joy he imbued in The Temptations’ extraordinary hit, “My Girl,” it was electric. By the time he reached Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in my Life,” the night had turned into one big dance party with audience members unable to sit still any longer. Yes, we were all in the aisles.

And always there was Glover, moving in and out of program, displaying the rapturous kinship between his body and the rhythm. Tapping in counterpoint with the upright bass during Duke Ellington’s “Giggling Rapids” from The River Suite was as thrilling a jazz expression as any purely instrumental version you’ve ever heard. Worby later surprised Glover with a video clip of a “tap off” he’d had with Jerry Lewis during Jerry’s MDA Telethon twenty years ago, adding an endearing wink to a night packed with brilliance.

Another highlight of the evening was the world premiere of Jed Feuer’s orchestral piece “Harambe” which means “all pull together” in Swahili. As prelude, Worby talked about how live music has the distinct power to pull us all together. Listening to his piece, you could feel Feuers vision. From the first poignant notes of the strings to the surging epic quality of its melodic themes, it was a gorgeous display of harmony in motion. The oboe solo, the violins, the way it made me think of living in Boulder and listening to Rifkin on Pearl Street so many years ago… if music can achieve peace in the world, this is the kind of composition to facilitate it.

Muse/ique packed so much sexy, civilized, and stimulating artistry into the night that the 90-minute program literally flew by. You know those times you check your watch during a lull in a performance to see how much is left? There was none of that going on here -- only a sea of people wrapped in the sheer joy of the music.

Muse/ique’s Summer of Sound may have ended but you can experience the unique style of Muse/ique this fall with their Uncorked Series (Tagline: A traveling party. Unconventional spaces. Fearless artists.)

The first concert takes place on October 15th and is called ROCK/ANTHEM featuring iconic songs and the FREEDOM of togetherness. On November 12th, it’s FANCY/FREE, a celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s 100th and the FREEDOM of music. Tickets will be available shortly on their website at After seeing what they did with Summer of Sound, you can bet my calendar is already set. 

Heres a taste of what you missed.

For more Musicals in LA news:
Become a Fan on Facebook
Follow Musicals in LA on Twitter
Click Here to return to home page

Labels: ,