‘The Nicest Kids in Town…’ in Act 1’s Hairspray

“Hairspray , the Musical,” comes to the stage at Theatre 68, presented by ACT-1; produced by Sierra Fisk and directed by Chera Marks. It is a paeon to the film cult classic, written and directed by John Waters. It dares to take on the once hot button taboo subject matter of civil rights and race integration in the 1960’s. The catchy, upbeat music is prevalent throughout each and every musical number, with some memorable highlights, including the opening piece, “Good Morning Baltimore,” (Tracy and Ensemble); and closing number, “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” (Tracy and company).
Benni Safchik delivers an impressive standout performance as Tracy Turnblad. She belts out her songs and dances her heart out, replete with authentic period hair ‘up-do’s’ and wardrobe, bringing the era to life onstage. This youth production definitely captures the decade portrayed, with the sensitive subject of race relations and tolerance all too timeless in today’s state of events. The uber talented ensemble breathes life into each and every character portrayed, with the unspoken tension in the air clearly palpable. This fine company, under the direction of Sierra Fisk, Graham Jackson, and Chera Marks, has done musical lyricist Marc Shaiman proud, enabling the audience to feel empathy and connection to each character on stage.

Through August 13th
Theatre 68 North Hollywood
http://www.act1LA.com

 

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Our Janis…forevermore

“My Janis,” recently playing to sold out crowds at the Hollywood Fringe Fest 2017, is the passionate one woman show of the iconic singer, who flamed out like a candle in the wind much like her counterparts in an entourage of the fated 27 club, including Jimmy  Hendrix, Ken Morrison and Amy Winehouse. Impeccably portrayed by her uncanny lookalike, Arianna Veronesi,  Janis Joplin was
considered golden with only 3 albums made.
Veronesi managed  to create an aura onstage that comes along very rarely and when it does, we all need to pay attention. She came from the tiny little town of Port Arthur, Texas but managed to become a supernova in almost a split second and in this show we see her evolve from an unsure unknown to a vibrant innate talent.
Her voice alone indicated such a unique powerful soul and the songs she wrote will be remembered forever,  with  multitudes of versions springing up like toadstools.
If you wanted to sum up Janis Joplin in a couple of words – she suffered artistically more than most humans do , on her brief visit here on Earth. One song , strongly resonating with me ,  “If  You Love  Somebody,” is basically about relationships between women and men; all the pining, expectations and mostly disappointment , echoes brilliantly .
The hippie life/culture she was immersed in was an intrinsic part of my daily existence, as well as many audience members in attendance, as evidenced by many a tye dye T shirt; flowers in hair; and Birkenstocks.
The fact that she overdosed on heroin at 27
proves that what she expressed in her songs was tragically too real.
She basically seemed like a small town girl but even with her humble, simplistic attitude and outlook on life one can sense the inner brilliance and talent and fire within.

http://www.hollywoodfringe.org

 

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A Royal Feast at Concern Foundation Block Party 2017

It was an evening fit for a king (or queen), set in the majestic backlot of Paramount Studios, all in the name of cancer research by the noble organization, the Concern Foundation.  Pulled brisket sliders and fried onion topping was one most exceptional of the offerings, from renowned caterers, “Someone’s in the Kitchen,” along with a memorable buffet of prime rib and horseradish dressing from none other than the knightly Lawry’s The Prime Rib. A line up to gather an abundant platter, yet worth its weight (wait) in gold! Another most popular booth was a Brazilian BBQ buffet by Samba! One of the many memorable desserts was a beautiful eye candy display by Provence Patisserie as well as Gluten free goddess, with cupcakes and brownies to one’s heart’s content, and Bertha Mae’s homemade brownies. Another standout was Dulen’s Soul Food, with a generous serving of collard greens, warm corn bread and fried chicken. And on such a hot midsummer ‘s eve, no block party would be complete without a bounty of libations, and Concern rose to the plate with sips and savors from Tito’s Vodka; Cuban mojitos, belle rose wine , and Reed’s Ginger Beer, among the many samplers.
Vegans/vegetarians need not worry, as there were soy and tofu options provided by Cornucopia caterers; and faux ahi tuna tartare made with compressed watermelon, courtesy of Ocean Prime.
No kingdom celebration/revelry of this caliber would be complete without its many loyal donors and supporters: 4000 people strong- one night-
Raising over $2 million to conquer cancer.

http://www.concernfoundation.org

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Shimmer and Shine: “Living on Soul”

 

This film is the amazing story of Sharon Jones, an extremely talented singer/songwriter, who like so many of her varied mentors, could turn any song into a veritable masterpiece.  This also  is the story of the musical groups that accompanied her.  Jeff Broadway, with his Valentine Street Productions, produced, directed, and wrote this brilliant documentary, a true paeon to all involved.  If you look at Sharon, she could easily be seen as a ‘real housewife from New Jersey,’ but as soon as she struts as confidently  as a peacock onstage, and starts her chatty, personable, humorous repartee with her audience, one suspects a possible surprise alternative ending.  When she belts out her songs, all bets are off, and you know you’re in the midst of a true vocal genius and legend.  Broadway dissects her life in a wonderful way, showing scenes of her growing up in poor sections of NYC, and his amazing soundtrack/score delineates her long battle against cancer, which tragically beats  her in the end.  This film is one of the gems of the LA film fest, which I regard as one of the best festivals in the So Cal arena. The audience, on numerous occasions, applauded this woman and her courage. The q&a following the film told of the arduous, fastidious process of making this film. Special kudos to Broadway’s tireless crew, editor, in my mind, Oscar worthy.

http://www.lafilmfest.com

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No Filters: Ronnie Marmo is Lenny Bruce

 

A one man show on the brilliant life (and tragic death, age 40 of an overdose); and legacy of the ‘god of comedy,’ Lenny Bruce just had to be made, and the perfect combination to do it are actor Ronnie Marmo and director Joe Mantegna. This show makes its premiere at Theatre 68 in Noho Arts district, written by Ronnie Marmo and Jason M. Burns; produced by Ronnie Marmo and Katy Jacoby. The show featured and highlighted the most significant, poignant, and bittersweet segments of his life, resulting in the audience’s awe at this groundbreaking icon.  He would have pushed boundaries to this day, as he stated succinctly in his show, “all I have are my words.”
Lenny Bruce’s vulgarities and obscenities in the comedy circuit in his time (think ‘Mad Men conservative’ era) led  him to court, conviction, and arrest, yet he forever remained passionate that his ‘words’ were funny, meaningful and misunderstood.
Lenny Bruce has evolved into a muse, blazing the trail for comedians the likes of Chris Rock and Louis CK, and HBO edgy programming whose material is much more outrageous and raunchy than Bruce’s, quite ironically.  Who woulda thought? Dreams deferred for decades later, where comedians of today look at Lenny Bruce as a mentor mastermind, a ghost of yesteryear, whose spirit is still alive and with us as a driving force. A condemning spirit, as if to say “the battle for freedom of speech must go on.”
Ronnie Marmo, born to play this role, is a natural in telling all his stories, more than occasionally bursting through with an amazing insight. “Big time religion is obscene. War is obscene.”
He reveals on stage once taboo subjects, such as masturbation, heroin addiction, pornography, yet in a tasteful respectful homage and love letter to Bruce’s genius. His courageousness in ‘pushing the envelope’ surely influenced so many individuals, almost as if he seemed to say, “I will not be forgotten.. defying the odds.” Lenny Bruce oft thought of himself as a ‘stand-up James Dean,’ and indeed he was truly a beatnik rebel, with a cause. His singular fight and day in court may not have been a victory for him, yet he has encouraged others, such as Ronnie Marmo, to impeccably write, tell, and portray his story.
Amidst difficult, challenging times in both his personal and professional life, Lenny Bruce’s story is a worthy subject, where the audience takeaway is a mixed bag of longing, love, respectability for his genius and brazenness.
Oh, that Lenny, an aura of inspiration.
Fade out. Thanks for the mentoring, for the pain and the purpose. His story lives on at Theatre 68, in “I’m not a comedian, I’m Lenny Bruce.”

through July 29  Fridays and Saturdays 8pm

Sundays 3pm   5112 Lankershim Blvd

for tickets: (323)9605068

http://www.theatre68.com

 

 

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A Lesson on Women…in “The Female Brain”

Such a mystique to understand the inner goings on of the female brain and neurology, and Whitney Cummings tackles it hands on in her new film, “The Female Brain,” premiering at the Los Angeles Film Festival 2017. In a q&a following film, she talks about the female’s thoughts and feelings, living alongside other human beings in complex relationships. Her film, based on the non fiction book of the same name, features various subplots in this funny, wildly inventive novel docu-drama. Starring Whitney Cummings herself, as the lead role, a budding neurologist in the throes of a clinical psychiatry study, she unexpectedly falls for her male subject (Toby Kebbell); alongside co stars Beanie Feldstein; Sofia Vergara; and Cecile Strong. This film focuses on an elaborate pseudo-scientific research project to differentiate how males and females look at and react to the world, and to experience the film without even reading the book as preparation, is quite an amazing, humbling journey. Cummings states, “people read non fiction and are hungry to learn…the takeaway from this movie is an illumination to learn new things to promote healthy relationships.” Various aspects of the female brain are illustrated in humorous scenes and vignettes, exploring the ‘fight or flight,’ instinct, nagging tendencies, insecurity; and emotional manipulation. The many stages of a relationship are explored… from initial dating and honeymoon phase… to slow disinterest of a marriage, potentially leading to divorce or running its course. Cummings’ voice and message is both intimate and general, sure to resonate with women no matter where they are in life’s precarious journey and where they will eventually end up. When asked if the film, (filled with hilarious, unpredictable moments of dialogue), was scripted or improv, she states, “for the most part, we stuck to the script.. I hired the best people and let them do what they do! Create a safe space and let them play!” With stories and scenarios as real as possible, funny and genuine results evolved naturally. “These actors came in and added some improv and their personal touch.”

http://www.lafilmfest.com

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Bewildered, Bedazzled, “Beguiled”

The Los Angeles Film Fest 2017 recently premiered the new film by esteemed Oscar winning director Sofia Coppola at the LACMA Bing Theatre.  “The Beguiled” is a remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 Civil war drama starring Clint Eastwood.  It is a story of an injured soldier (Colin Farrell) taken into a confederate Southern boarding school  run by Martha Farnsworth ( Nicole Kidman) and her students (Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, toplining an ensemble of unknowns).  Soon sexual tension leads to dangerous rivalry as they attend to his wounds.  In a q&a talkback, following the film, Coppola elaborated on her need for a change of scenery and period piece. “I knew I wanted to do something beautiful…” and beautiful, it was indeed, filled with Southern charm, corsets, and crinolines.  The stellar cast are all superb in their roles, including the male lead (Ferrell), as the overly coddled soldier who pays a heavy price.  Coppola expounded on how “the camera has always been an important part of her life.” In fact, during her studies in film school, she chose visual storytelling in the format of films rather than writing reports.  She attributes Helmut Newton as a huge artistic influence on creating this film, as well as her flair for a dramatic feminist approach. “That is basically how “The Beguiled” came to be.”  The result is an exquisite plot-driven production, filled with moss-draped oak trees, gothic Southern motif, a romance novel, with a tinge of horror genre.  On working with Nicole Kidman; Kirsten Dunst; and Elle Fanning, Coppola stated, “I thought of Nicole when I envisioned the role and wrote the part.  All of them brought so much of themselves to their characters.”  Coppola challenged herself in the project by staying “more naturalistic and close to the period piece, with minimal soundtrack and rather,  more emphasis on emotional tension.  She attributes her success as a filmmaker to her privileged  upbringing, as she was surrounded by “a lot of different people, on location with her dad, forcing herself to learn “how to fit in, and instinctively read the communication codes of a tribe.”  In so doing, “The Beguiled,” this time, written from a woman’s point of view, is a romance suspense novel brought to life onscreen, revealing women’s instinctively intuitive, nurturing nature.  In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Kirsten Dunst stated,  “when you see a Sofia movie, you know it’s a Sofia movie!”

As proven in her other films “The Virgin Suicides,” and “Lost in Translation,” (also shown at a later screening at the Bing that evening), Sofia Coppola is not just Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter, but a prominent director in her own right, with her own unique style.  This, in my opinion,  sets her apart as a budding icon.  Her care and attention to the film’s details, such as costumes, setting and music, are “integral and powerful, evocative elements to the overall aura,” she tells the audience.   Any subject she tackles, she clearly grabs the bull by its horns, and creates a verifiable masterpiece.  This simple story is timely and topical for today’s intense political and societal arena, as it’s told by a female point of view rather than by the male perspective of the soldier.  The film is clearly her successful attempt to specify the importance of women’s input in today’s world.  She’s a true role model for women and I believe she’ll equal or exceed her father’s legacy.

http://www.lafilmfest.com

 

 

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