Friday, June 26, 2009

Atlanta Icon Performs Musical Review

Please see my review of Libby Whittemore at Actor's Express at my new blogging site,, and sign up there to receive my latest posts delivered directly to your Inbox or to your news feed.

I have had such good feedback from this blog that I have moved it to another format that works much better.

Thank you for your support!

-Susan Asher

Thursday, June 25, 2009

LIbby Whittemore Performs at Actor's Express

Please see my interview with cabaret singer Libby Whittemore at my new blogging site,, and sign up there to receive my latest posts. Libby will be performing at Actor’s Express this Thursday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

I have had such good feedback from this blog that I have moved it to another format that works much better.

Please visit me often at You can go there and sign up to get new updates on the arts delivered directly to your Inbox.

Thank you for your support!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

Please see my review of Georgia Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," at my new blogging site,, and sign up there to receive my latest posts.

I have had such good feedback from this blog that I have moved it to another format that works much better.

Please visit me often at You can go there and sign up to get new updates on the arts delivered directly to your Inbox.

Thank you for your support!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

'End Days' Brings Rapture

Review by guest blogger: Karin Koser

Horizon Theatre Company’s smart and sassy production of “End Days,” a play that revolves around Armageddon, blends hilarity with one character’s certainty that the world is ending.

Fresh-voiced playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer brings a zany, entertaining twist to the prediction of the world's impending doom. Having recently found Jesus, Sylvia Stein (Stacy Melich) a former reformed Jew, enters her kitchen carrying a load of Bibles. Jesus Christ, dressed in a robe and sandals, follows closely behind. With Sylvia's expectation that Armageddon is coming soon, Sylvia—with Jesus’ help—tries to save as many souls as she can. Her toughest sells are in her own household: her husband, Arthur (Robin Bloodworth), and her whiny, foul-mouthed, goth daughter, Rachel (Maia Knispel).

Jesus (Adam Fristoe) takes turns visiting Sylvia, while astrophysicist and atheist Stephen Hawking (also played by Fristoe) visits Rachel, an atheist. Fristoe uses physical comedy masterfully and subtly throughout the play. I’m not sure whether I liked him better as the cardboard Jesus or as the realistic Hawking, whose funniest bit is when he smokes pot with Rachel.

The play has many high points, starting with the opening scene featuring an Elvis-clad, guitarist and singer Nelson Steinburg, who has a crush on his new neighbor, Rachel. Nick Arapoglou is believable, lovable and adorable in his role as the bumbling, nerdy, misfit Nelson. He brings the crumbling Stein family closer and brings Arthur out of a depression he’s suffered since losing his job due to 9/11. With all the over-the-top scenes he has, Nelson never overacts, unlike Knispel, who is a bit hard to take at times with her emoting. Hearing Sylvia say, “Thank you, Jesus!” with the zeal of a Pentecostal televangelist never gets old, although Biblical literals may find it offensive.

Laufer’s dialogue is smart, thought-provoking and easy to relate to. Her writing is full of humor, comparing evangelical Christianity to Orthodox Judaism, and professing, “You can’t be Jewish on Saturday and evangelical on Sunday to cover all your bases.”

Expertly directed by Heidi Cline, “End Days” is a joy to watch. Bloodworth is terrific—except for his inconsistencies with his character’s Boston accent. His “comeback” scene moved me to tears. Melich is outstanding as the overly zealous, anxious convert, and Arapoglou is an up-and-comer to keep your eye on. Knispel is annoying at times, but redeems herself when she stops "acting" to make me want to see her in a softer part. And Fristoe nearly steals the show.

"End Days" at Horizon Theatre Company runs through June 28.

Reviewer Karin Koser is a writer, producer, publicist and sometime actress, who still regrets not taking a gap year in New York after high school to pursue acting as a career.

Susan Asher adds: Karin, I'm with you on much of this. But I think no one comes close to stealing the show from Stacy Melich, a master actor who passionately plays each moment as if she were truthfully the character Sylvia. And what a character she is!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Performers Revive Vaudeville at Actor’s Express

Pining for the theatrics of the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, and Buster Keaton? Vincenzo Tortorici is, so he’s bringing Vaudeville to Atlanta.

Although no one can compare to “the inimitable Groucho,” Tortorici is doing his best to bring back the feeling of the era with a one-night-only show that will include the highest caliber of variety acts in Georgia. He will present “HAVE VAUDE, VILLE TRAVEL” this Friday, June 12 at 11 p.m. at Actor’s Express.

“We have amazing performers who are at the tops at what they do,” Tortorici said. They include a juggler, musicians, comics, a mime, and a magician.

Juggler and comic Todd Key, who is known for his precarious feats of standing on two-legged ladders while juggling knives and hatchets, will do his famous hand-shadow routine and his “exploding poodle trick,” which involves balancing a wine glass on a mouth-stick while creating an explosion. He said he also will “juggle the eight most dangerous objects that can be juggled throughout history.” Key has performed at corporate shows for Coca-Cola, IBM, and 3M, and has toured four times overseas for the USO. In his 30 years of performing, Key said one of his greatest compliments came from a U.S. soldier, who said his show was “Better than the Hooter’s Girls.”

The Dukes of Uke, a quartet featuring singers and ukulele players, will sing classic Hawaiian tunes, as well as music by The Beatles and political satirist Tom Lehrer. Known for its comedy relief, the band features Tim Settimi who has played comedy clubs, festivals and colleges for more than 20 years. He was voted “Performing Artist of the Year” six times by the National Association for Campus Activities. He has appeared in feature films with Tim Conway and Goldie Hawn, and on TV for A&E’s “Comedy Tonight” and “Comedy on the Road,” and for Showtime's “Atlanta Laff-Off.” Additionally, he’s been the opening act for numerous entertainers, including Little Richard, Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine and Steve Martin.

Renowned throughout the country as a teacher and a performer, Tom Pierce blends improvisation, slapstick, and pantomime to fascinate audiences with his physical comedy. In addition to working with The Big Apple Circus and Cirque Du Soleil, he has performed for nearly 30 years in schools, theaters, and festivals in 40 states, as well as in Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Hong Kong, England, Mexico and Cuba.

Internationally known magician Baffle-o Bill can make ripped up newspapers whole again and people disappear. When describing his Wild West act, Tortorici said imagine “David Copperfield meets Davey Crocket.”

Impersonator Dean Crownover will reincarnate Elvis Presley. Crownover has performed in numerous films, commercials and in corporate theater. He played Elvis at Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s 50th Birthday Bash.

Sarah Onsager, an actor in theaters around Atlanta, will sing classic tunes from Vaudeville’s heyday.

A 20-year theater veteran who will serve as master of ceremonies, Tortorici has performed commedia del 'arte around the world. He said, “We are the finest variety performers in the United States at this price.”

Tickets at Actor’s Express are $15 each.

Pictured in photo: Todd Key

Monday, June 8, 2009

Grammy Nominee Trumpeter Dave Douglas Releases New Album

Two-time Grammy Award nominee Dave Douglas will release “Spirit Moves” next week with his quintet Brass Ecstasy.

A prolific composer and trumpeter with 28 albums under his belt, Douglas has performed with the biggest names in jazz, including Don Byron, Don Cherry, Horace Silver and John Zorn. He has been named “Trumpet Player of the Year,” “Composer of the Year,” and “Jazz Artist of the Year” by such organizations as the New York Jazz Awards, Down Beat, Jazz Times, Jazziz, and the Italian Jazz Critics' Society. Appreciating a diversity of musical genres and artists, Douglas has made recordings with Tom Waits, Sean Lennon, Suzanne Vega, and Cibo Matto, and he has recorded versions of cover tunes by numerous pop artists, including Mary J. Blige and Bjork.

Brass Ecstasy’s first recording, “Spirit Moves,” includes eight original tunes and three cover tunes by dissimilar artists. On Ottis Redding’s soulful “Mr. Pitiful,” Douglas's addition of funk and brass flavors reminiscent of Lester Bowie and Herb Alpert practically rips you out of your seat onto the dance floor. The trumpeter turns Rufus Wainwright’s “This Love Affair” into a sultry seduction that could render Viagara obsolete, and he creates a beautiful slow, lugubrious, mellow wail out of Hank Williams’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” “Bowie,” a tribute to the late Lester Bowie, mixes New Orleans jazz with sounds of Bowie’s fun antics with the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Brass Fantasy. Brass Ecstasy members Vincent Chancey, French horn; and Luis Bonilla, trombone; were part of the latter band. Other Brass Ecstasy members include Marcus Rojas, tuba; Nasheet Waits, drums; and Dave Douglas, trumpet.

While Douglas plays with various artists and leads a couple of bands, he’s been leading Brass Ecstasy since 2005, playing at jazz festivals and clubs around the U.S. and Europe. “Spirit Moves” is available on CD, MP3 and FLAC on Douglas’s own label, Greenleaf Music. The company is offering an in-studio video recording of Brass Ecstasy, shot by Jem Cohen (REM, Patti Smith) and Christoph Green (Wilco, Burn to Shine) on DVD. Those who order the Spirit Moves preorder package by June 16 will receive an additional recording of a live set from the band’s upcoming show at the Jazz Standard in New York.

In addition to running his own record label and touring, Douglas is the cofounder of the Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT). Now in its seventh year, FONT will be holding trumpet workshops and performances in New York June 26-28.

To hear sample tunes from “Spirit Moves,” visit Greenleaf Music. You can also hear Douglas on Pandora Internet Radio.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

'Jersey Boys' Shines

The national touring company of “Jersey Boys,” now playing at The Fox Theatre, is one of the best shows I’ve seen in years.

Now I know a lot of musicals are corny—"Mama Mia!" comes to mind—but this isn’t one of them. This is a story about a dream to bust out of a poor neighborhood and rise to the top in the music business.

“Jersey Boys,” winner of four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, lets you peer into the lives of a few hoodlums from a tough neighborhood in New Jersey in the 1960s. Along the way, we meet Joe Pesci—yes, that Joe Pesci—who helps the roughnecks put a band together and names it the Four Seasons. We watch as the group plays dives around New Jersey, until it finally meets its match when it partners with songwriter Bob Guadio, then a one-hit wonder for Who Wears Short Shorts? For Frankie Valli, the nearly four-octave singer who sometimes sounds like a woman, he writes Sherry, which catapults the band to Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” launching the song to the No. 1 spot on the charts. While many other Top-40 hits follow and many millions of records are sold, the band members struggle through personal and professional ups and downs, including stints in prison, divorces, the loss of their fortunes, the death of a child, and for some, a fall back to the blue-collar life.

The script, written by Woody Allen collaborator Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, a former advertising man, is scintillating and witty. The music is so spectacular that I was sure part of it had been a recording of the original band. I checked and it’s not. Joseph Leo Bwarie, who plays Frankie and played him in the original Las Vegas cast, has a voice range that extends from tenor to soprano, and when he sings the sound stems straight from his heart. He sang the most beautiful rendition of the jazz standard “There I Go Again” I’ve ever heard. If Frankie Valli ever looked and sounded as good as Bwarie, I know why ladies swooned.

"Jersey Boys" plays through June 21 at The Fox.