Two productions to tell you about this week…

Miles apart in style and content. For me, one of the main joys of reviewing theatre is the varied worlds and lifestyles it allows me to visit.

Sweet Mama Stringbean (A Celebration of the Life of Ethyl Waters)

ValLimar Jansen in “Sweet Mama Stringbean.”

A musically magical, historically engrossing, joyously entertaining production… for blues lovers of all ages… this is a wonderful show! Factually written with heart and soul by ValLimar Jansen and William L. Slout, it follows the complex life of noted blues singer, Ethyl Waters, from her birth in 1896 through 1939 (she passed away in 1977). Creatively directed and staged by Barbara Masters, this “one woman” emotional and musical journey is captivating! Born into a racially prejudiced world in Philadelphia, she was the unwanted daughter of a 12 year old rape victim, and was raised by her loving grandmother. Appearing in sleazy Harlem nightclubs, where prejudice and deceitful men ruled her life, she eventually earned her way on to “white” Vaudevillian stages, and became a respected and well-paid “star.” Starring in 12 Broadway productions, she became the first female negro performer on radio, stage and T.V., and was nominated for both an Oscar® and an Emmy® award. This powerful and revealing musical play is the gritty story of her remarkable life. Jansen portrays Waters and gives a triumphant performance with multiple layers… not soon to be forgotten! Gut-wrenchingly sharing Waters’ life story in spoken words, and 14 familiar songs… this gal can really sing! Seamlessly changing outfits onstage, she is a showstopper! The mesmerized audience rewarded her with a thunderous standing ovation! Accompanied brilliantly by a tasty trio of fine musicians, sharing the stage with her husband and the show’s musical director Frank Jansen on the keyboards, Mark Davey on drums, and Ruben Ramos on bass guitar… these guys rocked the house! Sprinkled with laughter throughout, this involving tale of one woman’s rocky road to stardom is a heartwarming winner! Kudos to Dylan Elhai for lighting and appealing set design, and Shanyn Strub for sound. A rather short run… Thursdays through Sundays through December 19th, book your seats today! Or you could join them for their special New Year’s Gala performance… which will include dinner, wine, party favors, live music from the combo, dancing, and a champagne toast… all for $80 if you book by December 5th. The tickets cost $95 after that date. Sounds like a party to me! The Fremont Centre Theatre is located at 1000 Fremont Ave. in South Pasadena. For seats, call (866) 811-4111.

Inspecting Carol

From left, Klair Bybee and Larry Eisenberg in “Inspecting Carol.”

A zany, “off the wall” holiday farce, dealing with the inflated egos and issues of a financially threatened mid-Western regional theatre company, this is one whacky production! The script was written by Daniel Sullivan and The Seattle Repertory Co. I’m afraid it’s much too silly and manic for my taste… although much of the audience around me roared with laughter! Unready, and rehearsing for their annual version of “A Christmas Carol,” the troupe has been contacted by the National Endowment for the Arts, who threaten to pull their grant. Nervously awaiting a visit from an N.E.A. inspector who will control their funding fate, a case of mistaken identity during rehearsals has everyone freaked out! A satirical behind-the-scenes look at “live” theatre, and the confusion and stress it can evoke… is the main, though exaggerated, point of this story. Although this one was definitely not my “cup of eggnog” as written… there are some hilarious moments and worthy performances. Under the fast-paced, “tongue-in-cheek” direction of Chris Winfield… (who also designed the set), the cast worked hard in this comedy of absurdity. Larry Eisenberg was nutty perfection as Scrooge, and Doug Haverty was a goofy riot as an overly exuberant amateur actor seeking an audition with the troupe. Judith E. gave a feisty performance as the “no nonsense” stage manager, trying in vain to curb the insanity, and Michele Bernath was frenetic fun as the fiasco’s director. Patrick Burke was solid as their financial manager, and Linda Alznauer was commendably goofy playing multiple mini roles. The rest of the zany cast includes: Laureen Faye as the overly dramatic vocal coach; Klair Bybee as the befuddled Marley; Robert McCollum as the under-rehearsed “ghosts” of the past, present and future; Kent Butler as Cratchitt; and Steve Wasserman as Tiny Tim. Lighting by Jazmin Lopez, sound by Steve Shaw and kooky costumes by Cheryl Butler “hit their marks” with skill. My problem was mainly with the super-silly script… but if you like madcap madness, you may just get a kick out of this one! Running through January 2nd at The Lonny Chapman Theatre – 10900 Burbank Blvd. in NoHo. For seats, call (818) 700-4878.

Mark Your Calendar

A musical treat in the neighborhood! The first, third and fifth Monday night of the month from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Respected veteran pro-band, The Brombies, after traditional and original blue grass vocals and music, with special guest…This band is the “real deal!” George Doering (guitar and vocals) and his wife Jo Ellen (guitar and vocals), Patrick Sauber (banjo) Bill Bryson (stand-up bass) and frequent guest Rich Wedler (on the saw) keep the join jumpin’! Check them out at Viva Fresh at the Equestrian Center (in the backroom). There is no cover charge. See you there! 

Back next week with another duo of productions for your consideration…


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