As Bees in Honey Drown – “The Bitch is Back!”; Seth Eisen’s Revelatory Show – ‘Blackbird’; Arabian Nights – Sex Behind the Veil; Footlight Parade!

by Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave on November 21, 2008

ARABIAN NIGHTS – SHOCK AND AWE

What you see when you first enter the Theater is what looks like a basement with canvas strewn about hiding things. Are the actors under there? If not, where do they come onto the stage? There is a strange door that looks like its filled up with mortar and brick. Could they be behind that and come crashing through? Well, soon enough, we find out. Suddenly there is blackout, and the sound of stirring, fabulous Arabian sounds, that make you sit up and take notice of the actors entering the stage from all the entrances in the Theater.

The Actors dressed in beautiful Arabian costumes busily pull the canvas away to reveal a multitude of colorful carpets and pillows of all sizes. Then lamps descend from the ceiling to give the furnishings that romantic feeling of a night in Arabia. The actors and the percussion sounds along with group singing sure rev up your enthusiasm for the next thing. With this eye-opening extravaganza, there is no need for Viva Viagra, when you have Viva Arabia.

I would have to say, that this would probably not be a play for children of any age to see. This is not a family Arabian night. It’s more like “Sex” on the run. You know, get it when and where you can. The story, as you probably know is about a King, who looks for young Virgins to have sex with. After he satisfies himself, he slits their throat. Now, he may be a good-looking King, but not worth being a Queen one night and then lose your head. There is a lot of sexual innuendo in this show – and the audience on opening night just really got into it. There was lots of laughter, especially among the younger crowd.

Arabian Nights has many elements of “The Looking Glass” company production values in it. In fact the show was created with Looking Glass. There sure is the imagination and physicality of “Looking Glass”. As fabulous as the show is visually, it begins to wane somewhat as the stories told by the latest Virgin goes on and on. It began to feel like you have been sitting there for A Hundred and One Nights. The show ran on longer than it said it would.

After years of killing his Brides, King Shahryar finally keeps and marries Scheherazade, who apparently keeps telling him stories to save her lovely throat from being slit.

There are many amusing moments, but this one is really a hoot: The court Jester’s wife hides four lovers in her privy. Yep, she makes something rise in the Pastry Cooks pants, the Green Grocer holds a big cucumber in front him to titillate her, and the musician stroke’s his clarinet. I think you get the picture.

The visual feast of costumes of sheer veils, wrapped skirts and baggy pants along with all the colorful carpets, bring on an explosion of bright colors that add to the extreme theatricality of the play.

All in all this is a rewarding evening. I wish that they could pick up the pace a bit during all that story telling, but it wasn’t in my magic bag to make it happen. But, I will say that you will be glad that you got to see the most amazing cast in the world. They are: Ryan Artzberger, Allen Gilmore, Sofia Jean Gomez, Stacey Yen, Barzin Akhavan, Louis Tucci, Noshir Dalal, Pranidhi Varshney, Melina Kalomas, Evan Zes, Nicole Shalhoub, Jesse J. Perez, Alana Arenas, Ramiz Monsef, and Ari Brand. Absolutely, astounding work. They richly deserved the wild applause they got in this Mary Zimmerman Farce about The Arabian nights. Zimmerman’s take joins the other One thousand and one adaptations. This one is the sexiest.

AT THE BERKELEY REPERTORY THEATRE

RATING: THREE GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!! –trademarked-


David Burnham melted candles at Bay Area Cabaret. Photo: Courtesy REAF.

CABARET

Celine Dion with Andrea Bocelli originally recorded ‘The Prayer’, written by Carol Bayer Sager and David Foster.

David Burnham and Christine Andreas sang an exiting version at The Sir Francis Drake Hotel. Here are some of the lyrics:

I pray you’ll be our eyes, and watch us where we go.
And help us to be wise in times when we don’t know
Let this be our prayer, when we lose our way
Lead us to the place; guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe
(Duet sung in English (Andreas) and Italian (Burnham)
To a place where we’ll be safe
La luce che t hai
[I pray we’ll find your light]
Nel cuore restera
[And hold it in our hearts.]
A ricordarci che
[When stars go to each night,]
Eterna Stella sei
Nella mia preghiera
[Let this be our prayer]]
Quanta fede c’e
[When shadows fill our day]

Have your ever seen a collision in space? This Star duet was like a Super Nova. The two singers (Burnham/Andreas) voices melded together in a beautiful unforgettable rendering of this beautiful song. Their power sneaks up on you and floors you. To say that it was glorious is an understatement. I still get goose bumps when I think of it. This was MegaSinging heaven. Hopefully, it was recorded – I would hate to think that it was lost forever.

Bay Area Cabaret (a nonprofit org) brings in these ‘real treats’ that gives us unadulterated joy. And thanks to Marilyn Levinson (Executive Producer) for bringing these “Grade A!” shows to the Bay Area. I’ve never been disappointed. They are Glorious!

David Burnham (who looks like a matinee Idol) started the show with an upbeat and fun “Gypsy in my soul”. He also sang a wonderful new song (Runaway With Me) from a new Broadway Musical. And who in the audience wouldn’t take him up on the offer? Burnham was at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco in the fantastic “Light in the Piazza”. Naturally, he sang a song from that – and it was an experience that you need to see and savor. Burnham, who is a Tenor, sang “The Music in the Night” from the Phantom. He would be perfect in that show, as the lover. Why? Well, it would be a shame to put a mask on that face. This wasn’t just entertainment – it was a gift!

When he was Eight years old. Burnham asked his mother to write a letter to MGM – telling them that he was good enough to sing for them. She wrote down the words on paper, addressed the letter, put a stamp on it – and mailed it to MGM. At the mailbox she said “David— always do whatever you want to do in your life.” Burnham looked up from the stage, and said: “I am Mom.”

Christine Andreas (who was also in Light in the Piazza), followed Burnham with songs from her new CD called “Here’s to the Ladies.” Some of the singing Stars covered in this CD are Barbara Cook (“She Loves Me”), Songs by Angela Lansberry, (Mame) and Eydie Gorme (Did he Need). She also does homage to Helen Morgan, as she hopped on the Piano (ala Morgan) to sing the pensive “Bill.” Her version of Streisand’s “Don’t Rain on my Parade” was strong. She also sang a song from “The Scarlet Pimpernel” –“terrific” (it played San Francisco, at the Orpheum). Andreas is a great performer and is a soaring crowd pleaser. And it was nice to hear some oldies, but goodies. However, I think that the entire show would have had more ‘sizzle’ if she and Burnham would have sung more duets. They were stunning in the Encore, with “Our Prayer”.

Looking forward to Dec. 2, when the exhilarating singer Barbara Cook will be on stage at the Herbst Theatre in “Song and Conversation” w/Steven Winn, (moderator) San Francisco, Chronicle. The show will be presented in Association with City Arts & Lectures. Like this story? Send it off to millions of others at www.digg.com.
Read more Buzzin’ reviews at www.beyondchron.org.

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))


As Bees in Honey Drown. Photo: Lois Tema

AS BEES IN HONEY DROWN
A Dark Comedy About Someone You Know

BZZZZZZZZ! Bees do make that buzzing sound and if you’re not careful, they sting. At The New Conservatory Theatre they are ready to attack. The play begins with Evan, a young new writer that has finally got something published. Now he is the hot new thing on the circuit, and a magazine wants to do a photo shoot about this new talent. Of course, they want to put a little sex appeal into it – so the photog, tells him to take off his shirt. At first hesitant, Evan finally gives in, and lets them take a sexy picture. Hey, it can’t hurt, they more or less tell him. It will help sell books. Well, that’s true, Sex does sell. But, you have to be careful when you allow your picture to be seen in Magazines, cause you never know who is flipping through the pages.

One of those flippers is Alexa Vere d Vere, who happens to have plans for this young man. She calls him up and purrs over the phone about how she thinks he is a wonderful writer and that she is just the person who could write a book about her fabulous life and all the important people that she knows. “Lamb, I know all the big studios, and they will definitely want to make it into a movie.” The Lamb (Evan) is about to be slaughtered.

Alexa has now started Evan down a road that will drain him in more ways than one. You see, Alexa is like a Vampire – she drains everything out of you. And yes, she does it in such an amusing, confident, sexy way, that you hardly know what’s happening to you, especially if you fall in love with her. And Evan does just that. Never mind that he is “Queer” as he says about himself. Alexa has a way of building up peoples Ego’s. She convinces Evan that he is just the best thing since Ice Cream. Alexa tells him: “Evan, Lamb – You’re not the person who you were born. Who wonderful is?” If that isn’t the best line in the world – I don’t know what is. Now, I tell myself that every morning. It does help!

There is a cast of thousands in this play. Well, not really, but it does seem that way. There are only six performers, but they play several different characters – and like magic, you think that you have seen dozens of characters. This only tells me one thing. You have to be ‘A HELL-OF-AN ACTOR’ to pull it off. It’s another testament to the quality of acting at the New Conservatory Theatre. They just keep getting better and better.

Being the Busy Bee that Alexa Vere d Vere is — Evan gets sucked into some unbelievable situations. You might think of it as ‘sticky honey’. He goes to a publicity firm looking for Alexa. Where he is told by a typical nasty Hollywood type big firm secretary, “she doesn’t work here, Putz”. When Evan creates a stir the CEO comes out and says “What is it Putz?” What do you want?” “I’m going to call the police on the Putz – says the secretary.” “No don’t call the police, says the CEO. Who are you looking for? Evan tells him and he tells him, Oh, so you’ve met Alexa Vere d Vere?” Then the mystery begins to unfold. Unfortunetly for Evan — its not good news.

This is a brilliant story that is just chuck full of fun quips. It holds you spellbound. And the most juicy part is that you can’t wait to tell all your friends how much one or more of them remind you of Alexa Vere d Vere. You know phony to the bone. She’s slick, she’s sexy and she’s dangerous. And she’s not above dropping you after you are used, along with other names that she drops. The cast has provided unbelievable authentic vitality. Each actor sparkles like glittering snowflakes. Of course, the sharp direction by Andrew Nance keeps the pace going (which is fast) to deliver an absolutely fabulous evening, Lamb. In this economy, I would say that this show is the best laugh-to-dollar exchange that you’re going to find in the Bay Area.

Meet the terrific cast: Juliet Heller (Alexa Vere de Vere) is “hysterical and irresistible!” A wonderful performance! Jonathan Bock (Evan) is the perfect innocent prey, waiting to be plucked. “Bock is Superb!” Dene Larson (plays the Photog, Swen, Royalton clerk, and Kaden.” What a whirlwind of magic. And what an actor! “He’s certified Gold!” Melissa Jones Briggs (plays Amber, Back-up singer, Secretary, Bethany, Genny and Muse). How does she remember who she is next? Well she does, and “Wows the Audience, while she does it.” And to round-up the Cast of wonders, there is Stefanie Goldstein (who plays a Waiter, Back-up-singer, Carla, Newsstand Woman, Illya, Muse. “Her performances are transfixing!” Last, but not least it’s Ben Fisher, (who plays Ronald, Skunk, Mike.) He makes transitions like it’s an everyday affair. “When he’s on, he rules the stage!” There they are – the CAST OF THOUSANDS!

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked-
At the New Conservatory Theatre Center
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BLACKBIRD: A QUEER VOCAL HISTORY

This full-length, historical musical, depicts gay performers from the 1930’s to the present. Seth Eisen (the chameleon/trickster in Keith Hennessy’s Circo Zero productions) brings these brilliant maverick performers to life. Eisen takes us from a speakeasy to the Borscht Belt, to a Zen Priest.

Not only does Eisen sing, he also Dances during a Danny Kaye number that is just astonishing. While waiting for the show to start, we see Eisen behind a sheer curtain, putting on his makeup. The Theatre itself harks back to the 70’s, when long hair and beads were very in. At the opening, there were several people from that time in San Francisco. It brought back those wonderful memories before You Tube and computers.

On a bare brick wall at the back of the stage black & white movies flicker as Eisen performs in front. Eisen brings back the stars that paved the way for Gay Performers with puppetry, hybrid live performance, movement, music, dance, song and storytelling. Eisen gives voice again to these diverse characters. Eisen portrays (Danny Kaye) the questionably gay stage and film star of the 1940’s. Jean Malin led the movement of gay acts in speakeasies in the 1930’s. He initiated the cultural phenomenon called “The Pansy Craze.” Acting as Blackbird’s emcee, Malin (Eisen) serenades his audience into a falsetto spell, stitching together songs about politics, war, race, economics and gay love. Remember, this all took place in the 1930’s. There are many others that Eisen spotlights in this show. Issan Dorsey was a 1950’s drag queen phenomenon. Ney Matogroso was a flamboyant 1960’s Brazilian rock star. Sylvester* became a dazzling, international disco diva in the 1970’s at the time that political activist Harvey Milk reigned as the Mayor of Castro Street. Klaus Nomi stunned NYC & the world in the 80’s as a new wave operatic siren. Then there was Azis, an outrageous Bulgarian pop star that put on an. uproarious gender-bending act. This is a history lesson that is riveting. On a small stage, Eisen gives a brutally honest performance. It’s a freewheeling romp. Not only that – he turns that small stage into a Grand Epic that gives us great insight into the world of “Queers on the edge.” It was a fragile world. It’s a tribute that reminds of Jose, Charles Pierce and others that made a huge impression on what entertainment is today at the Fantasy Club and The Gold Club.

Along with Seth Eisen is the fantastic piano playing and singing by Sean Feit. Their duets are magical and seductive.

The Beatles song of the same name inspires the shows title.

*The disco diva Sylvester sang his gospel version of Blackbird in 1979 at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, encouraging all broken-winged birds to rise, break free and fly, despite their outsider status.

At Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory on Mission @ Van Ness. Tix: www.brownpapertickets.com.

RATING: THREE GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!! –trademarked-
[“A Sparkling show that will get you talking. It’s stirring and riveting.”]

AWARD:

HOT NEWS FROM COAST TO COAST AND ALL THE SHIPS AT SEA! Laurie Metcalf wins the award for best lead actress in a play, and Jane Anderson also wins for best playwriting for an original play. Both, for “The Quality of Life” that is playing at the American Conservatory Theatre on Geary Street through Nov. 23. The play is tense and sensational – so I’m not surprised that Metcalf won. The great news is that you can see Metcalf on the A.C.T. stage before it moves on, probably to New York. You really should see it – it has the feel of a classic. www.act-sf.org.

>>>Send your events or comments to: www.leehartgraveshow@yahoo.com.

For daily updates: Visit, forallevents.info/leehartgrave/


Spencer Day will sing at Phantom of The Opera evening at REAF Cabaret of Music and Comedy. Photo: Courtesy: REAF/Day

FOOTLIGHT PARADE

This you won’t want to miss. The Richmond/Ermet AIDS Fourndation (REAF) will present a special One Night Only Cabaret with the touring cast of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at Theatre 39, on Pier 39 in Sf. Featured along with the Phantom cast in this great evening of Music & Comedy for the Holidays, will be Broadway/Pop star Deborah Gibson & Recording star Spencer Day. www.helpisontheway.org. (The Phantom of the Opera Show opens at the Orpheum Theatre on Nov. 26. Get out your cape!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS! And you can make it a very happy one as Rainbow World fund presents “Tree Of Hope” Tree lighting Ceremony at City Hall in San Francisco. The Lighting Ceremoney is Tues. Dec. 9 – 5:30 pm. Thousand Worldwide have contributed wishes for the future of The World. The Tree will be on public view from Dec. 4. — Jan 2, 2009. There will be concert a 5:30 pm by the San Francisco Boys Chorus. Remarks are scheduled by 7 PM by Mayor Gavin Newsom. Donna Sachet will be the emcee. The Rev. Lea Brown of SF MCC will be there and the wild and wonderful Veronica Klaus will entertain at the party. Several Celebs beside Mayor Newsom have sent wishes on white Origami Cranes. They are Dame Jane Goodall, Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Frances Moore Lappe, Danielle Steel, and Stanley Gatti. The Event is free. The Rainbow World Fund does humanitarian work all year long. This is the 3rd Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony and it’s one that will get your Holiday in high gear.

AND THAT’S A WRAP!

The Photo of Lee Hartgrave Boy Reporter is by Jim Ferreira – Film Noir & Hollywood Glamour. www.lafterhall.com.

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Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave

Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave is a longtime theater critic in the San Francisco Bay Area. His reviews appear each Friday in Beyond Chron.

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