Category: Most Fabulous

Theatre Review: “Present Laughter”

Present LaughterSt. James Theatre

In aging matinee idol Garry Essendine, the central character in Present Laughter, playwright and gay sophisticate Noël Coward created one of the great comic monsters of the modern theater. All the greater because behind his arrogant, preening exterior, Garry is actually a compassionate, loving person, surprisingly devoted to the friends he so often bullies and insults. He just can’t help getting dazzled by his own brilliance (“I still maintain I should have been magnificent as Peer Gynt!”) — and who can’t identify with that?

It’s a truly luscious role, and Kevin Kline makes a full meal of it. He comically plays up Garry’s ego – he’s the most elaborately florid Garry, which is delicious. But he also takes Garry’s relationships with his tight-knit circle of friends totally to heart. This makes for a very textured Present Laughter. Even as you’re rolling your eyes at the excuses Garry makes for himself, you know he sincerely is trying to get it right. This is also the most precisely directed Present Laughter I’ve seen, thanks to Moritz von Stuelpnagel; every intention is crystal clear, and there’s plenty of truly inventive comic business.

While Garry struggles to plan his upcoming tour of Africa, his elegant London flat is invaded by all manner of vivid characters. Cobie Smulders, as femme fatale Joanna, positively slithers around the stage in costume designer Susan Hilferty’s gorgeous bias-cut gown. Kate Burton as Garry’s wife Liz is almost as plummy as Kline, and comedy treasure Kristine Nielsen is perfectly cast as his wry, indispensable secretary Monica. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Cabaret Review: Latrice Royale

Latrice-Royale 2017

I knew from her last cabaret act that Latrice Royale can sing, y’all! And she’s actually pretty damn good at it! There’s no attempt at giving you “girl singer,” but she clearly models her approach to song interpretation on the likes of Aretha Franklin. She may not have Aretha’s pristine vocal instrument, but she certainly understands her lessons in musicality and expression. And her take on jazz composer Diane Schuur’s bluesy meditation “Life Goes On” (also the name of the show) makes a very good case for this solid but obscure song.

Like her previous act (titled Here’s to Life) Life Goes On is solidly in the mold of traditional autobiographical cabarets. However, since the earlier act told the story of most of Latrice’s life, and this is more of an update, the balance is slightly off. Both acts are more talk than song, but with less life material, some of the patter gets repetitive. Latrice has such presence that it never becomes unwatchable, but this particular show could use more songs for sure. Because when she sings something like “Nobody Does It Like Me” or the suggestive “Hot Nuts” it is pure drag gold.

Latrice Royale is backed by a very able jazz trio led by her fiance Christopher Hamblin on the piano. Life Goes On feels more polished than the cabaret acts I’ve seen from other Drag Race alumni, full of humor, soulfulness and candor. Latrice is the real thing, and I want to hear much more from her as a singer. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Cabaret Review: Suzanne Vega

Suzanne Vega photo credit David Andrako

I’ve said before that New York-themed shows seem to make the best fit for the Café Carlyle. Suzanne Vega is one of those performers who is quintessentially New York without even trying, like David Johanson or Debbie Harry (both of whom have played the Carlyle). Her current show goes further: Its core is a bunch of songs from her new album and show called Lover, Beloved, which is about novelist Carson McCullers, a Southerner by birth, but a true New Yorker by choice. There’s even a song called “New York is My Destination.”

McCullers was disgusted by the intolerance she witnessed growing up in Georgia, arrived in New York in her early twenties and wrote with great compassion about outcasts. As far as I can tell Lover, Beloved alternates between monologue and song, all written in McCullers’s voice. The songs from this project are every bit as good as Vega’s older songs, which are among the sturdiest, most original and beautiful that the singer / songwriter tradition has produced.

Speaking of those older songs, she opens with “Fat Man and Dancing Girl” which has chillingly fresh resonance in the era of the El Cheeto. Vega later juxtaposes one of her classic misfit anthems “Left of Center” with an even more potent new one “I Never Wear White,” to great effect.

And when you come to her biggest hits, well, “Luka” is merely a good song – that became a massive hit – by someone who regularly wrote much better ones. It’s to Vega’s credit that she sings it simply and cleanly, without a hint of condescension to the song or the audience.

“Tom’s Diner,” by contrast, comes across as a real monster live, showing itself to be one of Vega’s very best. A big reason that this song comes across so well is Gerry Leonard, her musical director and guitarist. A self-professed “equipment geek” Leonard turns his electric guitar into a whole band, rhythm section included. Stunning, and highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

CD Review: “It’s About Time” – Karen Mason

CD Karen Mason

Broadway and cabaret star Karen Mason isn’t kidding around with her new CD It’s About Time! More than 50 percent of the songs on the album are showstoppers – including “Fifty Percent” itself, with composer Billy Goldenberg on the piano. Several are drawn from the greatest hits of Judy Garland, one of the most showstopping performers of all time. Mason sticks closer to the melody of these songs than many contemporary Broadway performers. However, the aim here seems to be less about creating definitive versions, and more about showing how gifted Mason is at knocking these big numbers out of the ballpark. Her big, expressive voice is one of Broadway’s most under-utilized treasures, and this CD puts it on more impressive display than ever before. Highly recommended.

To purchase, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Cabaret Review: Trixie Mattel

Trixie Mattel

The title of Drag Race fan favorite Trixie Mattel’s show, Ages 3 and Up, is clearly profoundly ironic. This stand-up act is filled to the gunnels with comedy that’s either perverse or dark, or sometimes both at once. Oh, and by the way this run is completely SOLD OUT, so keep a sharp eye on producer Spin Cycle’s website for her next engagement (and for that matter, a great variety of Drag Race-related entertainment).

This show is Trixie’s first full-length entry into stand-up, but she’s been honing it for a while, and she clearly has a natural aptitude for the form. Plus, either Trixie or her creative team is paying attention to how the best stand-up acts have been built for some time now – circling in from a highly topical and satirical beginning to a very personal and more thematically serious ending. Everybody from Alec Mapa to Colin Quinn does it like this, and there’s a good reason: it raises stand-up to a higher and much more satisfying plateau.

Trixie’s also very gifted at meta-comedy, getting a secondary laugh when she reads the room’s reaction – or freely admitting she loves a certain bit so she’s keeping it, audience reaction be damned! Though there’s a lot in the show that’s autobiographical, including an actually touching ballad she wrote about lost love, Trixie keeps Drag Race-related stories to a minimum. She plays off her being eliminated twice with a joking bitterness that feels more affected than real, and freely admits that the show profoundly changed her life. Recommended.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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