Monday, September 28, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of I Could Go On Singing: Susan Hodgdon Sings The Songs Of Judy Garland at Don't Tell Mama by Nickolaus Hines

This review of I Could Go On Singing: Susan Hodgdon Sings The Songs Of Judy Garland at Don't Tell Mama was written by Nickolaus Hines and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

I Could Go On Singing: Susan Hodgdon Sings The Songs Of Judy Garland

Starring Susan Hodgdon
Musical Director: Daryl Kojak
Director by Tanya Moberly
Additional Musical Arrangements by Bill Zeffiro
Don't Tell Mama 
343 West 46th Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 7/24/15

Susan Hodgdon entered the cabaret room of Don't Tell Mama, sans microphone, sans inhibition. Hodgdon's voice filled the brick room over the live piano with ease as she brushed past the shoulders of the audience and didn't miss a note of If You Feel Like Singing, Sing. Hodgdon's CD Release Show for "I Could Go On Singing: Susan Hodgdon Sings The Songs Of Judy Garland" on September 24th was a tribute to passionate singing and performing. Something must have clicked amongst Hodgdon, musical director Daryl Kojak, director Tanya Moberly, and Bill Zeffiro, who contributed musical arrangements, because the entirely of Hodgdon's show was a runaway success. No tripping or toe-stubbing here.

Youthful notes define Hodgdon's voice as she has managed to maintain the voice of a young woman through lessons and practice without the addition of crackle and gravel added by life's normal wear and tear. That youth is most evident in Hodgdon's speaking voice, the volume transition of which she successfully manages to control whether or not using a microphone. Hodgdon's high notes are clear and on point and she also well managed the lower end of her range. What often separates a naturally good voice versus a trained voice is enunciation, and Hodgdon makes an unmistakable effort to ensure each word is understood.

Judy Garland and Hodgdon have a connection that artists look for when imitating another's work. In this case, Hodgdon's cousin wrote the lyrics to Over The Rainbow, and Hodgdon used to lock herself in her room as a shy kid and sing Garland songs while her father listened from outside. On Garland's father's deathbed, he asked the nurse to turn up the volume on the radio when a Garland song was broadcast. On Hodgdon's father's deathbed, he asked Hodgdon to record her songs for him and a nurse said he listened to the CD on repeat. That kind of personal story added a deeper and more intimate level onto Hodgdon's performance. 

Her narration and easy on the ears speaking voice glided in and out of her songs, telling a story. When it came to Garland's love affairs and dirty laundry, Hodgdon aired it all with the secrecy and the insider feeling of being let into the group of gossip girls in high school. However, despite all the joy of listening to Hodgdon, she is not Garland. Which, for everyone except the extreme die-hard Garland fans who want to hear a live replica, is perfectly alright.

Two different medley arrangements by Bill Zeffiro didn't hit as hard as the full songs if only because Hodgdon's beginning and ending of her songs were so well performed. Particular songs to look out for are Send My Baby Back To Me, I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues, and an original song by songwriter John Meyer called I'd Like To Hate Myself In The Morning. Meyer, who was in the audience, applauded amicably and said he couldn't have imagined it sung any other way. Hodgdon's chemistry with pianist Daryl Kojak helped the show succeed. Their understanding and blending of each of their musical styles for the performance sounded like two friends putting on a show rather than a rehearsed recital.

For Garland lovers and lovers of live performance alike, Hodgdon is a delight to see and hear. If you missed this show, you will have another chance to catch it on Saturday, November 7, 2015 at 3:00 p.m. at Don't Tell Mama. For reservations, call 212-757-0788 or visit 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Dina Martina: Flat & Lacking at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Nickolaus Hines

This review of Dina Martina: Flat & Lacking at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Nickolaus Hines and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Dina Martina: Flat & Lacking
Created by Grady West
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 9/20/15  

When going to The Laurie Beechman Theatre to see Dina Martina's show Flat & Lacking, she will tell you she is "going to be your hostess for just a little too long." At parts of the act, that statement drags true.

It's clear to see where the "flat" in Flat & Lacking comes from after the first song. The sold-out audience chanted "Di-na, Di-na," as she walked out into the audience and blasted a purposefully garish voice into the microphone. Exaggerated vocal fry piqued the interest of the audience as they watched Martina run around, grind on audience members, and interact with as many people as made eye contact with her, all the time trying to understand the lyrics. 

She sang three songs in total, but they all came across as a one-note joke, pardon the pun. Martina's true talent lies in her storytelling, although keeping track of the random for random's sake progression was challenging at times. If anything, Dina Martina's 20 years on stage have culminated into this experiment in random, trying to learn how many inane and nonsensical story lines can be put into one act.

The one-line zingers punctuated "the throw at the wall and see what sticks stories," and for many audience members, the one-liners appeared to save the act altogether. Much of the humor comes from self-deprecating jokes about herself, her family, her interests, and even her dreams. In one retelling of a mushroom trip of a dream, Martina babysits Jesus for Mary and Joseph because they went to see 50 Shades Of Grey. She nailed bizarre to the cross. The next thing that came out of her mouth was always the next craziest thing.

A long-standing trait of Martina is a mispronunciation of words and a lisp that turns "s" sounds into "sh" sounds, and "g" sounds into "j" sounds. It was a stainless steel crutch, but she didn't need it often because the friendly audience was completely engaged in her act. 

Martina used a tried and true style of comedy that can best be compared to verbal slap stick, but that doesn't mean she doesn't use physical humor as well. She reveals her unshaven back, plants a fat lipstick mark on the forehead of an audience member and, at one point, wears a Batman costume.

Flat & Lacking is filled with pop culture references to the past and the present. It doesn't feel old, but a couple of bits were almost an anachronism in today's world of YouTube, Vine, and viral activity.

The time between scene changes is filled with Martina's videos. Similar ones can be found with a quick YouTube search, and they all follow a similar format. A commercial or music video has Martina's face copied over the actual actor/singer's face, and the person talking/singing is her. It's the same concept as the dancing elves that swept Facebook the past couple of Christmas seasons, but with a full splash of Martina all over it.

Don't let the videos referencing the 1980s and 1990s give you the impression Martina doesn't know what is going on in today's society. The references are for a generation that grew up with MTV, but have also read American poetry and dipped their toes in the worst part of Comedy Central. She skillfully weaved together a single sentence that mentioned Maya Angelou, Katy Perry and Carrot Top without taking a breath in between their names.

Why this variety of comedy is entertaining can't be answered immediately. Then again, Martina has clearly built a loyal audience that made packing into The Laurie Beechman Theatre a tight affair.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Dina Martina: Flat & Lacking at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Dina Martina: Flat & Lacking at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Dina Martina: Flat & Lacking
Created by Grady West
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 9/20/15  

The creation of Seattle performance artist Grady West, Dina Martina (a tragic mess straight out of a John Waters' movie) appears to be half-raccoon and half-bear. Her over-applied make-up and hairy back are certain to scare small children, and more than a few adults as well. Appearing in a black gown with a black wig, Dina Martina opened the show wandering through the sold-out audience singing a few numbers into a large microphone held in place with a brace strapped to her head. She intentionally sang the songs in an affected manner (described by others as the sound of "screeching cats") and added to that some crazy dance moves, which were expected by her legions of devoted fans. Although it's supposed to be funny because she is such a bad singer (her own website describes her as "a tragic singer, horrible dancer, and surreal raconteur"),  I felt the novelty of her off-beat singing style got old real fast. Nevertheless, Dina Martina has a huge fan base specifically because she appears to be completely oblivious regarding her inability to carry a tune or for that matter, to find clothing that fits her. One might view her as a demented gal living out her delusion of being a star but with the quick wit and sharp timing that almost makes it work. I think you will either love her or hate her - she's that kind of performer! 

Ms. Martina asked who in the audience never saw her perform before. Perhaps a quarter of the house raised their hands and she observed, "Isolated Pockets of People" but "Hot Pockets nevertheless." For these newcomers, she gave a short bio of Dina Martina's earlier life. She said she was born in the Appalachian Mountains but "moved to Las Vegas with her mother, who wanted to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a compulsive gambler." She never knew her father, "who died in childbirth." She said she has a "swimmers build, hates GMOs and loves to cook," and that she was a fashion model for the braille community. Finally, she said she is still single "due to an unwritten agreement between herself and all men."

While charitable causes have always been an important part of her life, she admits that Dina Martina's Pink Eye Foundation has given up looking for a cure or vaccine to prevent pink eye. They simply reached a point where they no longer cared and placed the issue beyond the back burner, more like between the back of the stove and the wall. The good news is that she has a new cause, that of finding a cure for melanoma in dogs. Their planned fundraiser is "a 10k drive to IHOP in Bushwick." While there, they have decided to eat at IHOP because if they didn't, "it would be like traveling all the way to Europe and not visiting the Pyramids." She is working on a new CD entitled Dina Martina: If This Ever Goes To Trial and during costume changes, we saw two videos. The first was her hawking a fictitious video entitled Remakes From The 1980s where she takes bad song videos and remakes them with her in them. She encourages you to buy them and instead of offering a money back guarantee, she promises "if you don't like it, you don't have to watch it." The second video is about a product called PlentiDerm, a botox-style injectable product that adds volume to your cheeks. It is made from carrion, which is the decaying flesh of dead animals, and scares French women. Dina Martina also announced she was selling tee shirts after the show, which were made by "very small hands in foreign places."

Dina Martina appeared on stage in a batman outfit and in an elegant pink gown with the back completely open, showing off the bear side of this larger-than-life creature. She is an excellent storyteller, who relayed a fictitious encounter she had with Maya Angelou, who told her "that which doesn't make us stronger, kills us." She also told us about a dream she had of her "baby-shitting" Jesus while Mary & Joseph went out to see the movie 50 Shades of Grey. Jesus was wearing a monogrammed onesie with LBJ ("Little Baby Jesus") on it. I won't ruin the story for you, but all I will say is that it involved shaking the baby, alfredo sauce, and Lyndon Baines Johnson. Dina Martina got through the crisis remembering the following advice her mother gave her, "whenever you find yourself in trouble, pop out your left boob - it's a game changer!"

Dina Martina: Flat & Lacking may not be for everyone, but you will experience more than a few laughs and an enjoyable evening of entertainment. Dina Martina creates the illusion you are watching someone with no real talent. But this Demented Dame is fearless and whether or not she has talent, her jokes and insights are well-written and edgy with many excellent cultural references. Therefore, I recommend you "fly there on a goose" or "put a saddle on your favorite moose" so as not to miss her remaining shows at The Laurie Beechman Theatre. As Dina Martina tells her audience at the end of the show, "If you had a good time tonight, get a butter knife and spread the word." For more information and to purchase tickets, visit 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Godspell at The Gallery Players by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of “Godspell" at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Directed by Mark Harborth
Book by John Michael Tebelak
Music & New Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Pianist: Kyle Branzel
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Brooklyn, New York 11215
Reviewed 9/18/15 

Godspell originated in 1970 as John Michael Tebelak's master's thesis project, under the direction of Lawrence Carra, at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A version was performed at Carnegie Mellon in 1970, with several of the cast members from the CMU Music Department. Tebelak then directed the show, with much of the student cast, for a two-week, ten-performance run at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club (a/k/a Cafe La Mama), New York City opening February 24, 1971 as a non-musical play. It was brought to the attention of producers Edgar Lansbury (brother of Angela Lansbury), Joseph Beruh, and Stuart Duncan by Carnegie alumnus Charles Haid (Associate Producer), who wanted to open it Off-Broadway. The producers hired Stephen Schwartz, another alumnus of Carnegie Mellon's theatre department, to write a new song score. Godspell, the musical, opened at the Cherry Lane Theatre on May 17, 1971, transferred to the Promenade Theatre three months later, and closed on June 13, 1976, after 2,124 performances. The first Broadway production opened on June 22, 1976, at the Broadhurst Theatre. The musical transferred to the Plymouth Theatre and later to the Ambassador Theatre, where it closed on September 4, 1977, after 527 performances and five previews. There was a revival at the Lamb's Theatre that ran from June 12 to December 31, 1988, followed by an Off-Broadway revival at the York Theatre from August 2, 2000 to October 7, 2000. The first Broadway revival began performances on October 31, 2011 at the Circle In The Square Theatre and officially opened on November 7, 2011. The production closed on June 24, 2012.

The structure of the musical involves the acting out of a series of parables, mostly based on the Gospel of Matthew (three of the featured parables are recorded only in the Gospel of Luke), that are interspersed with musical numbers. Through these "lessons," we are supposed to believe that a devoted cult is formed around the charismatic personality of Jesus and that his followers stay together after he is executed to teach his message of salvation to others. Everything Jesus does is to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament and to set himself up as the Messiah. As Jesus says in the musical, "I did not come to abolish the prophets or the law but to complete them." But the truth may be that Jesus intended to overthrow the existing Jewish religious hierarchy and the Romans, with the goal of having each of his Twelve Apostles head up one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. It is this worldly goal that Judas may have reported to the Roman authorities in return for a reward. Once Jesus, the failed revolutionary, got crucified, all that was left was for his followers to say, "The King Is Dead. Long Live The King" and continue on promoting his message that the time of judgment was near.

In the "Tower of Babble" song, which was included as the opening number in this production of Godspell, cast members speak about the various philosophies they believe in before being baptized by John, Jesus's cousin, who speaks of the Chosen One who will be coming after him. It is highly unlikely that intelligent, self-actualized people who used their reason and logic to adopt a particular philosophy would so quickly abandon it in favor of what Jesus now told them God wanted them to do. The very controversial new "neo-Judaic" philosophy may have resonated with the poor and ignorant, but certainly not with the educated. Seriously, who, except the poor and uneducated would go along with the following messages taught through the telling of the parables: "If a man sues you for your shirt, give him your shirt and coat as well."; "No man can serve two masters - God and Money."; "Never turn your back on one who wishes to borrow."; "If a man hits you, do not hit him back but turn the other cheek."; "Don't worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself."; "Every man who humbles himself will be exalted."; and "Don't do good deeds just to get adoration before men. Your good deeds must be in secret." The old chestnut is that the rich and successful may have it better here on Earth, but the poor and humble will get their reward in Heaven. All that backs up this new "Christian" philosophy is the promise of eternal Salvation and threat of eternal Damnation, teachings Christians have had a hard time convincing descendants of the Enlightenment have any basis in fact. 

This production of Godspell lacked the positive, emotional impact and upbeat atmosphere you might expect to experience. There are many reasons for this, but the most evident is the performance of Sean O'Shea as Jesus. Sure, he looks the part, but the affected delivery of his lines was extremely distracting. Let me just say that if he slapped me in the face like he did Judas in the play, I would have slapped him back, just for being overbearing and annoying. In Act Two, when Jesus goes off to pray for an hour, his disciples fall asleep and he is very upset with them. Jesus is forced to wake them up, and along with them, a few audience members who were asleep and snoring during most of the show, one right in the front row. Diego Rios did a fine job as John The Baptist and Judas as did the remaining cast members, which included Elyse Beyer, Sarah Denight, Albert Jennings, Ashli Louis, Jacleen Olson, Aramie, and Geena Quintos. All had superior voices and acting abilities. The show's standout performer was Adrian Rifat, a charismatic, rising star who gave his all and did his best to arouse the audience to actively participate with what was happening on stage, especially when he sang "We Beseech Thee." Mr. Rifat, who is a 2012 graduate of the American Musical & Dramatic Academy, is a multi-talented actor with a great future in the theatre (if you are interested, he can also execute a Wookie call and crochet). Had Adrian Rifat been cast as Jesus in this production, the end result may have been very different than it turned out. 

Godspell at The Gallery Players was disappointing because the cast members failed to exhibit the rapport that was supposed to be built throughout the first act. With that missing, all you have are parables and some well-sung songs, which were not enough to hold this show together. There was one funny line inserted into the script. When a priest stepped over a man who had been beaten and robbed without helping him, the priest looked down and said "you're not an altar boy!" implying that if he was an altar boy, the priest would have helped him.

On a different issue relating to the audience's experience, I found the new, increased price of concession items to be very unfortunate and disturbing - $2.00 for a small cup of coffee/tea; $3.00 for a can of soda (which is 50% more than anyone charges in Times Square and was a price I refused to pay); and $6.00 as the suggested donation for a small plastic cup of wine. In my opinion, the Board of Directors of The Gallery Players should not view concessions as a way to milk the audience out of additional funds but as an amenity to make the theatre-going experience more enjoyable. That means reasonably priced home-baked or bakery bought goods, $1.00 coffees and teas, $2.00 soda (maximum price), and $4.00 suggested donation for wine; and all in bigger cups. 

For more information about the upcoming 2015-2016 season of The Gallery Players and for tickets to Godspell, visit 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of The Black Book in the Serene Sargent Theatre at the American Theatre Of Actors by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of “The Black Book" in the Serene Sargent Theatre at the American Theatre Of Actors was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Black Book
Written & Directed by Phil Blechman
Scenic Design by Ann Beyersdorfer
Costume Design by Jennifer O'Brien
Lighting Design by Susannah Baron
Sound Design by Christopher Marc
American Theatre Of Actors
Serene Sargent Theatre
314 West 54th Street
New York, New York 10019
Reviewed 9/12/15 

The Black Book was written in 2007 by Phil Blechman, who then further developed the script while a student at Syracuse University. It was first mounted as a Student Production by Syracuse University's Black Box Players in Fall, 2011. The play had its New York City debut Off-Off Broadway at The Chernuchin Theatre in 2012 and it has now returned for a limited engagement at the Serene Sargent Theatre through November 22, 2015. We are told the play was inspired by the suicide of one of Mr. Blechman's classmates in 2007 and that The Black Book "is an attempt to figure out why" someone in the 15-24 age group commits suicide every hour and forty-eight minutes. The programme note says, "Hopefully, at the end of this performance, you'll want to figure out why, too." After seeing this play, my interest in suicide was not piqued. All I desired to know was why Phil Blechman hadn't yet burned every copy of this convoluted, incomprehensible script that leaves audiences scratching their heads and wondering why they had to be subjected to such unfocused, ridiculous drivel. We are told for some inexplicable reason "to stay one move ahead" and if I hear "I am slowly going crazy. One, two, three, four, five, six, Switch" one more time, my head will explode!

The play takes place on a college campus. Some characters are teachers or employees of the college, some are students, and others may not exist at all. It is completely impossible to tell what is real and what is a dream, and whether the action is taking place today or ten years ago in flashbacks or memories? It also may very well be that half the characters in the play may be the same person existing out of time or in someone's subconscious. I am not perceptive enough to know exactly what the playwright had in mind when writing this story, but I can assure you it has nothing to do with suicide. Yes, there are at least two suicides in the play, one committed by Michael Andrews (Joe Reece), Collin Archer's best friend, and one committed by Nicole (Haley Dean), Michael's girlfriend who Collin Archer (David Siciliano) had a crush on but we clearly observe Collin fighting with Michael and telling him not to see Nicole anymore because he believes he is cheating on her with other women and doesn't deserve her. When he objects, Collin beats him unconscious and strings him up on a tree branch so as to make it appear he killed himself. Collin also confesses his love to Nicole who rejects him with the usual "I wouldn't want to screw up our friendship" speech. It is clear from a dream revealed to Nicole that Collin was the cause of her "suicide" as well. Riley Andrews (Catie Humphreys), Michael sister, now lectures on suicide and reveals that her brother left a suicide note wherein he wrote, "I hope I chose the right branch." 

So here we are, ten years after the "suicides" and Arthur Chase (Gabe Templin), a mild-mannered professor is concerned when one of his students, Collin Archer, misses two classes but leaves a poem on his desk, which Prof. Chase interprets as a possible suicide note. Concerned, Arthur Chase consults with Axel Cooper (Sean Borderes), another professor, who is really himself, as is Collin Archer, since we learn that Arthur Chase published a book based on the poems written in the black book by Collin. Clearly, or not so clearly, Collin took the black book back from Nicole after he killed her. Alex consults Julie Edwards (Margy Love), who he mistakes as being Nicole from ten years ago, and goes into a violent rage after he perceives she has been playing with his affections in the same manner Nicole did. C.C. (Lauren Testerman), the imaginary crazy girl wandering around the stage in a straight jacket, is supposed to be Collin Archer's sister, who was committed to a mental institution but who promised to come back to play chess with him on the tenth anniversary of the death of Nicole. For what reason is anyone's guess. Do you understand the plot now? No. Well, don't worry. No one else does either.

Just in case you might be under the misimpression that the poem left on Arthur Chase's desk by Collin Archer holds the key to understanding the story, I will reprint it here: "Complicated. Confused. Complex. Uncertain of what you'll do next. Tension. Pressure. Stress. Holding so many secrets yet to confess. As this burden crushes down...You find yourself asking questions. Why? When? When will that moment finally come? I've been holding out for so long but your feelings won't succumb. Only one answer. Time...defines us all. Whether we slow down or speed ahead...It's not long before I'm..." Didn't help? Maybe the answer lies in The Power that some of us have and others don't have quite as much of. That sexual appeal that keeps some people going back to the wrong partners, even when those partners are abusive or disrespectful. Or perhaps that is an issue of not having sufficient self-esteem. One theory floated in the play is that you hate people who love you for who you are because you know you have flaws and, therefore, don't believe the sincerity of those who can overlook your flaws or who even love you because of them. 

Enough already! This play is really about the Vulcan pon farr as exhibited in Humans. The pon farr is the state of being sexually aroused, where the person affected undergoes a blood fever and becomes violent and finally dies unless he mates with someone with whom he is empathically bonded or engages in the ritual battle known as kal-if-fee in Star Trek canon. This play is simple to understand when viewed from that perspective. Collin Archer was sexually aroused by Nicole. His blood fever caused him to become violent engaging in kal-if-fee with his best friend Michael over who would win the girl. Collin won, but Nicole rejected him so he killed her as well. The violence allowed him to overcome the blood fever for ten years, but it reignited when another woman started toying with his affections. All the emotions came flooding back fracturing and exposing the various aspects and dimensions of his personality. This only confirms my belief that romantic love is a serious mental illness that needs to be treated as such. Jealousy, possessiveness, irrational thinking are all side effects of this mental disease leading teenagers to commit suicide when their "one-and-only-love" rejects them. They lack the perspective of time and fail to understand the big picture. Namely, that their dysfunctional relationship patterns and randomly reinforced sexual fetishes will simply be repeated and reinforced over the remainder of their lives whether or not they seek or undergo therapy. In other words, they'll get over what now appears to be so emotionally devastating. So, in the end, I guess The Black Book may be about suicide after all, even if we got there in a round-a-about way.

On a positive note, all the actors in this production were top-notch professionals. I also loved the set, the costumes and the lighting. If you decide to take a shot trying to decipher this jigsaw puzzle, you can find additional information about The Black Book at

Monday, September 14, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Drop Dead Perfect at the Theatre At St. Clement's by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of “Drop Dead Perfect" at the Theatre At St. Clement's was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Drop Dead Perfect
Directed by Joe Brancato
Scenic Design by James J. Fenton
Costume Design by Charlotte Palmer-Lane
Lighting Design by Ed McCarthy
Sound Design by William Neal 
Choreography by Lorna Ventura
Theatre At St. Clement's
423 West 46th Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 9/10/15 

Drop Dead Perfect incubated and had its world premiere at the Penguin Rep Theatre in Stony Point, located in Rockland County, New York. Penguin's production was subsequently presented by The Peccadillo Theater Company at the Theatre At St. Clement's in Manhattan, where it now returns for an eight-week run with Everett Quinton in the lead role as Idris Seabright. We have no idea who wrote this play (Erasmus Fenn is a pen name), but Joe Brancato, the director, says this madcap melodrama set in a cottage in the Florida Keys in 1952 fits squarely in the art and tradition of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, headed by the late Charles Ludlam, who was Everett Quinton's partner in work and life. Their outrageous productions, similar to this one, tended to feature men in female roles, deliberate overacting, a campy queer sensibility, hilarious double entendres, and witty cultural references.   

Everett Quinton is brilliant in the lead role as Idris Seabright, a jealous, possessive, wealthy spinster who enjoys sketching and craves stillness and perfection (with the possible exception of watching the "Monster" move and swing in its full glory). We learn that Idris took "bubble baths" with her father (who died when his ship The Dancing Queen sunk) and has no problem sleeping with her nephew Ricardo, killing her dog, freezing her goldfish, poisoning her enemies and stealing her sister Lucy's second child (who she named Vivien). She told this child she was an orphan and a cripple. Idris has many of the best lines in the play such as when she laments the recent storm has "wreaked havoc on my African hibisus - and my poor bougainvillea." Being overweight and in her late 50s, it is also very funny when she admits, "I am not the featherweight I used to be" and "I know my looks are fading. I'm just about to turn 35." When Vivien threatens to leave to apply for a scholarship to study sculpture in New York City, Idris threatens to cut her out of her will. When Vivien, most impressively portrayed by Jason Edward Cook, learns she is not a cripple and can dance, she does a split and all Idris can say is, "Get up Vivien. You'll stain the carpet!" which, in my opinion, is the funniest line in the play. Vivien, who is also in love with Ricardo (who turns out to be her brother), is an aspiring ingenue with a phallic fixation. Her first sculpture (which Idris destroys with an axe) is of three erect penises of different sizes, which she calls "Life In Hard Times." Her second sculpture, which looks like a menorah but has miniature penises in place of the candles, is entitled "Man Aura."

The highly sexual Ricardo, played by Jason Cruz, dominates the stage with his charisma. He has escaped Cuba after being falsely charged with murder and has come to visit his aunt, who was in love with his father. We learn that Ricardo's father and mother, Ricky and Lucy, were not killed but instead escaped to Hollywood (he, a bongo player, and she, as aspiring actress) leaving poor Little Ricky behind. Ricardo has been nicknamed "Monster" ever since he was young due to the enormous size of his cock, which causes men and women alike to swoon and be seduced merely by being in its presence (the dominant Alpha Male gets to sleep with whoever he wants). As Ricardo often says, "A man's got to do what a man has to do, to do what has to be done." As a result, he seduces Idris, causes Vivien to fall in love with him, and even gets Phineas Fenn, Idris's pill-pushing lawyer (convincingly portrayed by Timothy C. Goodwin), to warm up to him in more than one way. Idris tries to lose weight by lifting cans of vegetables in each hand chanting, "One, Two, Three, Four, Make Me Young Just Like Before" and Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Give Ten Pounds To The Girl I Hate." But when things get out of hand and out of her control, she seeks increased stillness and perfection. She dips her fruit in wax so it stays perfect. She freezes her goldfish so they won't move. She kills and stuffs her dog so she can better sketch it. Where will this madness stop? Who will live? Who will die? For that exciting ending, you will need to see the show. All I will say is that it involves poison, gunshots, pills and a blazing fire. You would expect nothing less!

If you are looking for a cock-in-the-tail or just a fun evening of theater, I highly recommend you catch Drop Dead Perfect while you have a chance. It contains elements of pulp novels, 1940s and 1950s Hollywood melodramas, 1950s television, and cultural references that will keep you on the toes. The play both skewers and honors those genres to provide a hilarious, over-the-top evening of entertainment you will not soon forget. Tickets (Regular Price - $69.00; Premium Price - $99.00) can be purchased by visiting 

Applause! Applause! Review of Jimmie Bush Jr.'s Good Times Revue at The Metropolitan Room by Nickolaus Hines

This review of Jimmie Bush Jr.'s Good Times Revue at The Metropolitan Room was written by Nickolaus Hines and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Good Times Revue - Jimmie Bush Jr.
Introduced by George Bettinger
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 9/12/15  

George Bettinger took the stage at The Metropolitan Room in front of a thin audience. He was there, he mentioned after more than a few quips of his past voice impressions and radio show, to introduce his latest find in the singing world: Tampa native Jimmie Bush Jr.

The audience hardly needed the introduction. Jimmie's mother, Mary, appeared to know many of the seated patrons, and introduced herself to those she didn't in a blend of casual Southern charm and a Florida smile. Both Mary and Bettinger were quick to qualify Jimmie's voice. He has never had singing lessons, he was 24, and he recently graduated from the University of California (Merced), where he played football.

By the time Jimmie made it to the stage, I wasn't sure which side of his introduction to believe. Bettinger's praise and adoration of finding his newest singing sensation, or Bettinger's promises that his new talent was worth listening to despite a lack of formal training. Jimmie answered that question when he finally took the stage: both.

Bush's voice came out strong on his first two songs, but flat on the first couple bars. Bush only had a CD and a man pressing play backing him up and giving vocal cues, which somewhat explains the missed notes at the start of each song. He sounded caught up in the moment of being on a stage in New York with his vibrato coming off nearly as shaky. It wasn't until Bush's nerves had calmed that he showed his style. The Motown hit Stand By Me has natural wiggle room for personalization, and Bush took full advantage of that opportunity. The natural talent mentioned in the introduction became apparent with clearer notes as he crescendoed. At the peak of his songs, however, the microphone stayed too close to his mouth, causing ear-buzzing volume levels. Such a mistake can be easily remedied by a few lessons and a little practice, but as Mary said, they have been doing this for less than a year. In addition, Bush was fighting to be heard over the pre-recorded track that couldn't adjust naturally like live musicians could have.

Bush's song selection was stuck in the 1950s and 1960s. His one-liners weren't quite as tired, but slightly awkward. "If you have any tips to help me remember the lyrics," Bush said when mentioning how his mother forgot the lyric sheet, "write it on a 50 dollar bill and pass it forward."

He is an obvious David Ruffin (of The Temptations) fan. He also leaned towards cruise-ship classics like Dean Martin's Ain't That A Kick In The Head and Frank Sinatra's Fly Me To The Moon. With songs such as these, his raw singing voice overshadowed staging and singing techniques he needs to be taught. Even singers well into the performance track struggle with imitating the relaxed style of Martin and the definitive staccato of Sinatra, and Bush was no exception, but Bush was able to add his own twist that worked.

The period influence also led to songs by Elvis, a few old country songs and Quando Quando Quando. Bush, other than the first notes, which always started flat, hit the mark on most of the remaining notes. What was missing was the grit and emotion needed behind some of the wails and screams. 

The clear bias towards the songs of half a century ago helped in the sense that the close mix of family, friends and vigilant supporters knew the words to the songs. At times, I felt I was crashing a wedding reception and the wedding singer was the groom's best man. The bias didn't, however, necessarily best showcase Bush's voice.

In terms of natural style, think Josh Groban with crystal vibrato and extended notes. In terms of singing style, think Michael Buble's remastered jazz and big band classics.

The night ended with a pre-planned announcement that The Metropolitan Room is prepared to book Jimmie Bush Jr. for four additional dates next year. Bush told me he never thought about a cappella variations, and has never sung with a live band before, but the addition would surely help him. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Jonny Woo: Glitter In The Groove at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Jonny Woo: Glitter In The Groove at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Jonny Woo: Glitter In The Groove
Created by Jonathan Wooster
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 9/5/15 at 9:30 p.m. 

Jonny Woo, born Jonathan Wooster, trained at the University of Birmingham in Drama and Theatre Arts and at the London Contemporary Dance School. Despite his good-looking, statuesque demeanor and long legs, the doors of dance did not open for him. To survive, he took jobs in retail and telesales. Bored and frustrated, he moved from London to New York where he performed in the downtown club and burlesque scene (The Slipper Room & Dixon Place) from 2000-2003. After meeting Lavinia Co-op  (of the performance troupe Bloolips), he took his first tentative steps to performing in drag. After returning to London, he found a job DJing at The George and Dragon. From there it was a short hop to Bistrotheque, where he hosted the hugely popular "Tranny Talent" and "Tranny Lip Synching" competitions. He has been a resident at The Soho Theatre, having presented 8 shows there including Night Of A Thousand Jay Astons, Stark Dallas Naked, and International Woman Of Mr. E. He has had work commissioned by The Royal Opera House, The Institute of Contemporary Arts and The Royal Festival Hall. He is currently touring his project TRANS(former), a rock show based on the music from Lou Reed's album Transformer. In 2009, Jonny Woo wrote his first single "Faggot" with Jenny Fairfax, which he performed in this show. He is known for introducing alternative drag to mainstream audiences. Together with friends, Jonny Woo opened a bar in December 2014 called The Glory, which has been described as a "Queer haunt, nightlife spot, and performance mecca." 

Jonny Woo's outrageous looks on stage have included baby doll dresses, Mickey Mouse gloves, tar and feathers, and wigs of every color (including green). In this show, Glitter In The Groove, things were a bit more tame. All we got was a skit where he used boxing gloves to create the illusion of his having breasts. It is hard to know what to make of Jonny Woo. I was completely unfamiliar with his past achievements and was immediately turned off by his use of the word "fucking" in almost every sentence. He didn't do a good job of introducing himself (except to tell us he was not Chinese) and told no jokes worth recording or remembering. I would remind him that despite all he has accomplished, you are only as good as your last show. Still, after mixing tongue-twisters, rap and spoken word with original satirical and personal songs, and the occasional lip sync, I began to recognize I was in the presence of a very talented, charismatic performer with a unique style of his own. He put on a very eclectic show with one song about a gay boy coming on to an uninterested married man ("someone was flirting; was it him or was it me") and another in which he performed as many characters singing "At The End Of The Day" from Les Miserables. He also performed "Glitter In The Groove," a song celebrating his long involvement as a drag performer.

My two favorite numbers were "Faggot," which really hit the right notes with respect to anti-gay rhetoric and the homophobia that lies behind it, and "Don't Google Me Mother" ("because there are some things that a mother's not supposed to see"), which could become a new anthem for our modern age. The appreciative audience went wild and began singing along because they identified with the sentiment revealed in the all-too-true lyrics. In the end, the Pearly Queen Of Woo won over the audience and left us wanting to see more! Jonny Woo's performance art is seductive and sophisticated. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Jackie Beat: Songs I Can't Sing Anymore! at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Jackie Beat: Songs I Can't Sing Anymore! at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Jackie Beat: Songs I Can't Sing Anymore!
Written & Performed by Kent Fuher
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 9/5/15 at 7:00 p.m. 

Introduced as a performer "well past her expiration date," Jackie Beat took the stage at The Laurie Beechman Theatre looking young, vibrant and thin. She explained the name of the show does not refer to her ability to sing the songs she has selected but, instead, to the fact that the song parodies refer to issues that are no longer in the news and relevant to audiences. So what is Jackie Beat, the self-professed bastard child of "Weird" Al Yankovic and buxom Bette Midler, to do? Obviously, take all the irrelevant parody songs dealing with people like Jenny Jones, Tiger Woods, President George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Michael Jackson, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, and issues such as the SARS virus, the attack on the Twin Towers, the bombing of Iraq, the 2012 End-Of-The-World Mayan calendar, and put them all into one, new, entertaining show that provides the audience with a fierce and fabulous flashback of fun. She even added a new song parody she just wrote dealing with the allegations against Bill Cosby entitled, "Get Off Me Bill." 

Based on my observations of the sold-out, mixed gender, sexual orientation variant audience, I must conclude that Drag Queens are the new flavor of the day at the same time misguided, politically correct activists within the G.L.B.T. community move to ban drag queens from gay pride parades. Jackie Beat is a refreshing breath of fresh air. She calls them as she sees them and doesn't have a politically correct bone in her curvaceous body. At a recent show, she confronted a young woman texting during the show and told her it was unacceptable. The girl replied, "For your information, I am texting my friend about how fabulous you are!" to which Jackie responded, "Thanks. That's sort of like telling a kid, 'I'm only molesting you because you're adorable.'" One of Jackie's parody songs involved Frito-Lay's Fat-Free "Wow!" potato chips released in 1998 using Olean (the brand name of Olestra, Procter & Gamble's then ground-breaking artificial fat substitute). Consumers complained of cramps, gas and loose bowels. Warnings went out about the risk of "explosive diarrhea," and "anal leakage." Jackie went on to say, "most Puerto Rican guys I know should come with the same warning." She claims to have been texting Osama bin Laden when he was shot in the face and reported his breath smelled like "camel's cock" (I wonder how she would know what camel's cock smells like). Jackie Beat also repeated Sarah Silverman's joke about "having been raped by a doctor, which is a bittersweet experience for a Jewish girl." If you are easily offended, stay away from a Jackie Beat show. If you know how to laugh and have fun, get yourself down soon to see this self-described "World's Biggest Bitch."

Jackie Beat, the creation of artist and writer Kent Fuher, was born in Los Angeles way back in 1989. Over the past 26 years, Jackie has appeared in countless stage productions such as "Valley Of The Dolls" and "Whatever Happened To Busty Jane?" and many movies and television shows, including "Flawless" with Robert DeNiro and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, "Wigstock The Movie" and "Sex In The City." She also toured as the opening act for comic Roseanne Barr (including a seven-week run at the New York, New York casino in Las Vegas) and has written material for Rosie O'Donnell, Joan Rivers, Ross Matthews, Jennifer Coolidge, Kate Flannery, and more. Her one-woman show "Jackie Beat Is A Whole Lotta' Love" ran a record 18 months at New York City's premiere cabaret Fez (under Time Cafe). Kent Fuher, Jackie Beat's male alter ego is also a Writer's Guild member who has worked on The WB sketch comedy show Hype!, and the Sci-Fi Channel original series Tripping The Rift. Jackie Beat's stand-up has been featured in comedy clubs across the country and on Comedy Central, VH-1, and MTV. Her scathing song parodies have been featured on America's Top Forty with Ryan Seacrest, The Howard Stern Show, Much More TV, Yo on E! and Jackie's hilarious music videos on YouTube are huge fan hits that have been seen by millions of people. Especially in light of Caitlyn Jenner's recent sex-change operation, I suggest you check out Jackie Beat's Beaver! video at

Drag Superstar Jackie Beat has a strong and powerful stage presence and a voice with the range of the very best singers in the country. For decades, she has been entertaining audiences across the United States and Europe with her razor-sharp, biting song parodies. She is in a unique class of drag performers, namely, those who actually have talent! Jackie once said, "Vegas' idea of drag is a celebrity impersonator lip-synching one of their favorite hits." What she offers is more of a foul-mouthed, child scaring, crazy lady not in the mood to take anyone's crap. Speaking of crap and "anal leakage," Jackie Beat offers underwear for sale after the show imprinted with the image of her face. If you'd rather a pillow, a pocketbook, a coffee cup or one of her many CDs, visit the store on her website at