Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of Kitt Holiday & Michael Michelle in Two Black Divas & A Band at Billie's Black by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Kitt Holiday & Michael Michelle in Two Black Divas & A Band at Billie's Black was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Two Black Divas & A Band - Kitt Holiday & Michael Michelle
Billie's Black (271 West 119th Street, NYC)
Reviewed 12/6/14 at 7:30 p.m.

Two Black Divas & A Band was advertised as "A Drag Cabaret That's Not A Drag" due to the fact that the show's stars, Kitt Holiday (Edward Walrond) and Michael Michelle (Michael Lynch), have been singing in drag live for over five decades! To a standing room only crowd, they each alternated sets of three to four songs and then finished singing Stormy Monday and It Don't Mean A Thing as duets. They were backed by a live jazz trio (Germono Toussaint - Music Director/Arranger/Keys; Doug Henrichs - Percussion; Kenji Tokunaga - Bass).

Kitt Holiday announced she was returning to the stage after a 5-year hiatus, encouraged by her friend Michael Johnson, who asked her to sing at two recent events - a memorial service and a wedding. Dressed in a gorgeous gown, Kitt confessed "it takes a lot to get yourself together for one of these affairs" before segueing  into a rousing rendition of I Feel Pretty and Hey Look Me Over. Kitt Holiday, who has been a member of the Beaux Arts Society, Inc. since 1996 and serves on its Advisory Board, went on to perform From This Moment On, Just In Time, You Go To My Head/I Get A Kick Out Of You, Let Me Love You and finished off with the popular audience favorites, My Life and I Am What I Am. Kitt is elegant, talented and a crowd-pleasing performer!

Michael Michelle, who starred in the critically acclaimed underground gay-urban film Chocolate Babies and appeared in Cindy Lauper's all-drag remake of the hit song Girls Just Want To Have Fun, is also an author, having written two plays: About Face - Gay, Black and from the Bronx and No Fats, No Fems - A World of Exclusion. Upon taking the stage, Michael Michelle observed, "I see a lot of hot, handsome men in here tonight, but I'm tired, so one of you is going to have to go home!" On the way over, she claimed her cab driver kept asking if she was a man or a woman, and she kept responding "half and half" before finally revealing her measurements as "42-36-9 1/2." Michael Michelle opened with the controversial I Want A Little Boy and finished her second set with I Hope You Dance. In between, she took us on a journey to North Carolina and sang Gimme A Pigfoot & A Bottle Of Beer, The Lady Is A Tramp, Feeling Good, One Night and Them There Eyes. On the way back to New York, she said she wanted to be taken "like Grant took Virginia - fast and in a hurry!" Michael Michelle has an extraordinarily powerful voice and a very strong stage presence. She is a high-energy performer with a great sense of humor. You will not soon forget her!

Two Black Divas & A Band is a hit! I fully expect you will soon see Kitt Holiday and Michael Michelle gracing the stage of a theater near you. Don't miss the next opportunity you have to catch these Delightfully Divine Divas!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of Riba Theater Company's production of Forgot Cranberries at Bellmore Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of the Riba Theater Company production of "Forgot Cranberries" at Bellmore Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Forgot Cranberries
"Another Christmas Story"
A Riba Theater Company Original
Bellmore Theater (222 Pettit Avenue, Bellmore, NY)
Reviewed 12/14/14 

The Riba Theater Company describes itself as "a small, home-based group" that meets "2-4 times a week" and for a "monthly fee" its members (mostly teenagers) "have dinner together, camp outs, field trips, souvenir shirts, and even spa days on opening day." Its members "work on vocals, acting, agent classes, and resumes" and in its productions, of which Forgot Cranberries is the second, The Riba Theater Company promises "everyone gets to shine" and that "no matter what your talent is, it will be featured in our show." Having now seen Forgot Cranberries, which links together eighteen Christmas songs with a book that could fit on an index card, I can confirm that the six members of the cast were each given their moment in the spotlight, regardless of the talent they possessed. 

You have to keep in mind that The Riba Theater Company is charging a General Admission Fee of $18.00 (20% of which is to be donated to St. Brigid's Pantry), which is comparable to what other theater companies charge on Long Island. This critic was invited to attend and therefore this production and its cast must be held to the same standards of critique I would use for any other show. With that thought in mind, I would advertise this Holiday Special as Chaos Productions presenting A Walsh Family Christmas. Let me explain. First, no one appears to be in charge of the Riba Theater Company. I was told the young actors put the show together themselves and critique each other along the way. There is no Director listed in the program and no one appeared to be responsible for making decisions, such as when to open the house and when to get the actors out on stage. The Sound Engineer should be replaced immediately because the microphones continually failed throughout the production. A planned video presentation that was to kick off Forgot Cranberries failed minutes before the show began, which was at 7:50 p.m. instead of the announced 7:30 p.m. start time. Chaos truly reigned supreme!

As I watched Forgot Cranberries, I got the impression I was watching a show planned and presented by all the children attending a home holiday party, where every child got to participate and perform even if that child possessed little to no talent. In the mix, of course, just given the odds, are a number of very talented children. It was as if the Walsh Family hired four professional musicians (Rebecca Kapica - Piano; Kevin Kapica - Bass; Melanie Fink - Drums; and Brian Watala - Guitar) and told them to work with the children for an hour or two to put together a show they could present to all the adults later in the evening. Since Bailey Walsh played the Daughter and Riley Walsh was the Father in Forgot Cranberries, with their mother, Colleen Walsh, acting as Head Cheerleader in the audience, it just makes more sense to me that this show should have been called A Walsh Family Christmas. If you look at Forgot Cranberries from that perspective, you will understand in advance what you're in for.

That all having been said, there were a number of standout performances in this show. I was particularly impressed with Erin Carlin, who as the Mother sang Blue Christmas. Bailey Walsh hit a home run singing Believe and Riley Walsh, who sang I'll Be Home For Christmas, is a very talented actor with great potential, but someone needs to reel him in when he feels the need to fling himself too far out on that ledge. Jackie Lau, who played a Jewish Corporal, is an excellent dancer, who performed with grace and elegance. Ashley Fusco, who was Grandmother, and Will Kratina, who was Grandfather, had some very funny scenes together. I particularly enjoyed Mr. Kratina's feigned or natural uncomfortableness when his wife started stripping him out of his Santa Claus suit while singing Santa Baby

The Riba Theater Company needs to get its act together if it is to survive. As a show for friends and families of cast members, Forgot Cranberries achieved its purpose. As legitimate theater, it failed miserably.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of Everything Is Forever by Andrew P. Clunn

This review of the documentary Everything Is Forever was written by Andrew P. Clunn and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Everything Is Forever
A Victor Zimet Film
Reviewed 12/2/14

Everything Is Forever is the title of Victor Zimet and Stephanie Silber's documentary about the musician Nenad Bach. It's also the title of one of Nenad's songs, which is featured in a music video on the documentary's DVD. Born in Croatia, Nenad came to the United States in the mid-eighties and gained some attention during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s with his collaboration with other musicians in calling for peace and an end to the war. He was brought into the limelight as a Croatian national to give the "big and loud Peace Concert" of the international superstars some legitimacy and authenticity. The film follows Nenad's career after this momentary spotlight fades and he returns to being a struggling artist, selling CDs in local shops and signing a deal with a record label that failed a few months later. His story is that of an immigrant artist keenly aware of the suffering and struggle of his countrymen, and accepting the difficulties of trying to make it as an artist. He travels back to Croatia and records a collection of songs from his homeland, and brings a vocal group to the United States to perform in concerts celebrating Croatian music and heritage. There's a lot of potential and the makings of an emotional story but the film falls flat for reasons having entirely to do with execution.

Pacing is the biggest downfall of Everything Is Forever in that everything takes forever to understand. We're given no context, no summary of the source or meaning of the various clips thrown together. The film lingers on mundane events and then speeds past important moments, or avoids answering questions it built up. At one point, a member of the visiting Croatian choral group collapses and has to be taken to the hospital. The film shows his fall in slow motion, and then confusion ensues. The viewer is left thinking that this is an important moment, a tragic event that will shape Nenad' wait...he's O.K.. So what happened? No explanation given. The film then moves on to the next plot point. Why this detail was left in at all is bewildering. Why it's given a slow motion close up in a documentary so otherwise devoid of any narration or post-production editing is completely beyond me.

There's the potential for real conflict in this story such as the financial issues and existential doubts Nenad faces. Yet the documentary's makers instead chose to focus on the band taking too long with their sound check as the main source of tension. There's a focus on insignificant details and a glossing over of questions that beg to be asked that gives the film the feeling of a collection of footage taken haphazardly and then forced into something resembling a narrative after the fact. The few bright spots are when the camera simply allows Nenad or his son to speak, giving some much needed humanity to an otherwise distant documentary. At one point the words "Seven Years Later" appear out of nowhere, and we're reintroduced to Nenad as he changes his approach to composition so that he can continue to play his own music as he struggles with Parkinson's disease. Then we go to a concert and over. Sudden, jarring, but still clearly edited to try and force some vaguely emotional narrative. Just failing miserably.

The transitions largely to feature shots of Nenad with famous musicians, actors, or world leaders, which are obviously just him as a member of a crowd getting a friendly handshake or greeting is the video equivalent of name dropping to the extreme. There's even a one-minute conversation between Nenad and Bono as a DVD extra (as if to say, "Hey, he actually did collaborate with Bono once!") I say "he"because Nenad is bluntly honest about his own lack of fame and recognition and clearly expresses his own self-doubts regarding the challenges he faces as an artist trying to reach people through his music. It really doesn't come off as Nenad Bach self-promoting but rather the filmmakers attempting to drum up his importance for the sake of the documentary. There is one moment where Nenad states he always receives so much encouragement but that he can't know how genuine it really is. After all, if his music is so good, why is he struggling so much? It's the kind of sincere introspection and fear that makes him so endearing throughout the film.

The plus side of the transitions is that they frequently feature segments of Nenad's songs, many of which are quite good. In fact, the best thing about this documentary is the soundtrack, though that shouldn't be too surprising considering the subject matter is a musician. From "I Will Follow You" playing during the DVD menu, to the concert at the end, the music is the glue that holds the otherwise off-pace and disjointed film together. Nenad's music has the feel of the late eighties and early 1990s, with acoustic guitars mixed freely with synthesizers. And his lyrics have the ring of protest songs and an immigrant's idealistic love of the American dream. They're the kind of purely idealistic and melody rich tunes that are uplifting in the sort of way that would be unbearably sappy if it weren't so genuine. Had I perhaps listened to this documentary, closing my eyes and enjoying the sounds, I might have come away with a much more positive impression. 

The jarring seven year jump forward towards the end of the film could not be salvaged in any fashion. It's as if the documentary was in need of a conclusion, so wrapping it up with Nenad's struggle with Parkinson's disease was a cheap out. Then again, if the goal of the film was to humanize Nenad Bach and allow him to reach a wider audience, then it was a smart decision, even if crass. It simultaneously promotes Nenad while making me feel as though he's being exploited. Is it a good documentary if it makes us care about the subject, even if partially because of how blatantly the film attempts to see him as a means to an end? No, it isn't. But it did introduce me to a genuinely interesting artist, and for that I am grateful.