Thursday, March 24, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Paul Sheesley's Cowboy Choral: Paul Evans & The Coyotes at The Duplex Cabaret Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Paul Sheesley's Cowboy Choral: Paul Evans & The Coyotes at The Duplex Cabaret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Cowboy Choral: Paul Evans & The Coyotes

Starring Paul Sheesley 
Steel Pedal Guitar: Justin Gaynor
Bass: Ian Kenselaar
Vocals & Guitar: Beth Callen
The Duplex Cabaret Theatre
61 Christopher Street
New York, New York 10014
Reviewed 3/22/16

This cabaret show is a parody of a 1950s local television show airing on KTTN-TV serving the Abilene/Sweetwater (46 miles apart) broadcasting community in Texas. The show is entitled Cowboy Choral and it stars Paul Evans & The Coyotes, who sing a number of country songs without introduction and with very little enthusiasm. The show is hosted by Paul Sheesley, who portrays Paul Evans as a relatively wooden man expressing few emotions and little personality. His voice is not particularly good, and his only joke, which was uncomfortably inappropriate in the context of the show's theme, was that a wooden man who lost his wooden woman (the love of his life who he never kissed) at least "always had morning wood." Cowboy Choral was said to be sponsored by Pinky's Feed & Seed. Paul Evans does a commercial for the sponsor saying, "Pinky's Feed & Seed located on Highway 84 in Buffalo Gap. Featuring Purina Puppy Chow. So complete, all you add is love. Remember, if it clucks, quacks, squawks or squeals, you gotta a pinky in there!" 

I imagine the back story of Paul Evans to be as follows. For years, he and his third-rate coyote band have played gigs in the local country music bar or barbecue restaurants where they performed in the background while patrons ate and spoke. The local television station had an hour of dead time to fill in the 3-4 a.m. time slot and approached Paul Evans. Seeing this as the opportunity of a lifetime, Paul decides to hire professional musicians to come in from Dallas to accompany him. He spares no expense and brings in the best: Justin Gaynor, who is absolutely amazing on pedal steel guitar; Ian Kenselaar, whose superior talents were exhibited on bass; and the perky, charismatic Beth Callen, who contributed to the show on vocals and guitar. Together they sang such standards as "Settin' The Woods On Fire" (made famous by Hank Williams); "Running Bear" (made famous by Johnny Preston); "Mama Tried" (made famous by Merle Haggard); "Rawhide" (made famous by Frankie Laine); and Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" (made famous by Waylon Jennings). Many other numbers were presented as well. The problem is that Paul Evans, as played by Paul Sheesley, is no showman. He doesn't exhibit a warm or pleasant personality. Despite his hope for a big breakthrough, anyone watching the television show realizes he will be back singing in a local country music bar very soon, and probably for the rest of his life.

I give Paul Sheesley credit for trying to introduce classic country music to New York audiences and for doing so with the added twist of presenting it as a parody of a bad, 1950s local television show. Cowboy Choral: Paul Evans & The Coyotes was well worth the price of admission, if for nothing else, then to hear Justin Gaynor play steel pedal guitar, Ian Kenselaar perform on bass, and Beth Callen sing. There are worse ways to spend an evening!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Latrice Royale: Here's To Life at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Latrice Royale's Here's To Life at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Latrice Royale: Here's To Life
Written & Performed by Latrice Royale (Timothy K. Wilcots)
Directed by Braden Chapman (a/k/a Mimi Imfurst)
Musical Director: Christopher Hamblin
Bass: Leif Lewis
Drums: Arthur Vent
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 3/18/16  

Latrice Royale is big, black, bold and beautiful! She is a powerhouse performer who will impress you with her deep voice (think Barry White in drag - "it's all about that bass!") and impressively designed chocolate bejeweled gowns and outfits. Born Timothy K. Wilcots in Compton, California, he was the youngest of five boys who lived with their mom in a government supplied single family home. His mother worked three jobs and "although they didn't have all the things they wanted, they always had the things they needed." Timothy K. Wilcots was tormented and bullied by an older homophobic brother nine years his senior (who told him "I don't want a fag for a brother. I will kill you if I find out you're a fag!"). To escape the beatings and the violence, at age 18, he left his home and bought a one-way ticket to Eau Claire, Wisconsin (a place known for snow, cows & cheese) to work with the Color Guard. Not exactly "Straight" Outta Compton (the movie of the same name that starred his entire neighborhood), Timothy K. Wilcots was finally free to be himself. 

The lily-white, Midwestern clientele of Scooters, the only gay bar in Eau Claire, convinced Timothy K. Wilcots to wait until he became "a Miami bitch" before fully coming out. After all, he was "the only piece of chocolate in the place." However, he did dress in drag for Halloween and started dressing up as Wanda from In Living Color to amuse both himself and his friends. He tried dressing in drag in Miami during an amateur competition but they sent her home "with a fashion citation and a few drink tickets." Determined not to be rejected again, the newly minted Latrice Royale won the next drag competition she entered. She was now a Color Guard Professional during the day and a popular Drag Queen at night. Latrice tried ecstasy and before long she was taking up to 13 pills a night, in addition to smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol. She explains in detail how she was busted, blew off the meetings of a program that would have enabled her to avoid prison and have her arrest record expunged, how she technically violated the terms of her probation, and ultimately, how she went on the lam for five years until she was arrested in Indiana and extradited to Broward County, Florida, where, after hearing from character witnesses, she was sentenced to only 18 months in prison. During this time, her mother died and she committed herself to turning her life around. Latrice says that by sentencing her to prison, Judy Justice saved her that day. She decided to embrace the future and made the decision that "As long as I am in the game, I want to play."

Recognizing that Drag Performing on stage was her passion, she tried out for RuPaul's Drag Race Season 4, was accepted, and competed against twelve other queens. Latrice made it into the top four but was eliminated. During the Season 4 finale, it was announced Royale would appear on RuPaul's Drag U. Also during the finale, she was crowned Miss Congeniality by the voters. Latrice Royale went on tour across the United States and was later given the opportunity to appear on RuPaul's Drag Race All-Stars. In January 2014, Royale released her single "Weight" and in September 2014, she introduced and then performed with Jennifer Hudson at the CBS Fashion Rocks charity fundraiser event. Now at The Laurie Beechman Theatre playing to sold-out crowds with additional dates already having been added for May, Latrice Royale is bringing her moving and inspirational life-story to New York City, where she urges everyone to learn from the lessons life reveals to you, to be on point, and to sell something, even if it ends up being yourself as a brand.

Latrice Royale admitted, "I need all my energy because this bitch is getting old!". But she absolutely gave her all to every song she sang from "When You're Good To Mama" from Chicago ("Let's all stroke together. Like the Princeton Crew.") to "If I Can't Sell It, I'll Keep Sittin' On It" by Ruth Brown. When a Drag Queen has talent, I usually don't see the need for her to lip-sync. However, Latrice Royale took the song "Encourage Yourself" and turned it into an anthem for all those who want to make their future circumstances better, especially if you're a person who's "got a little sugar in his tank - sweet as can be!" While the constantly running instrumental background music during Latrice Royale's monologues became especially distracting once you noticed it, the good news is that most of the audience members were so drawn into the stories of her life that it didn't seem to matter. However, I highly recommend the instrumental music be toned down during future shows. Give it a break and let Latrice be free to capture the audience on the strength of her own truth. 

The show ends with a message of hope that it is never too late. Last Christmas Eve, she received a call from her abusive, bullying brother who said he would like to begin to repair their broken relationship. As long as you are alive, there are possibilities! Before leaving the stage, Latrice Royale said, "I hope you enjoyed the show. I hope you are inspired to be the best you can be. If you don't like something about yourself, then go change it Bitch! I love you and there ain't nothing you can do about it, but smile!"

I strongly recommend you see Latrice Royale: Here's To Life when it comes back to The Laurie Beechman Theatre May 12-15, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $22.00, with a $20.00 food/drink minimum. This is a show you do not want to miss! Every cabaret performer should catch this show to see what is possible and to get beyond the old stale, superficial twelve-song, light-patter format prevalent in most cabaret rooms today. Latrice Royale is a gem shining bright and welcoming you into the warmth of her bosom. To purchase tickets, call 212-352-3101 or go to For more information about Latrice Royale, visit her website at 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of David Meulemans' Lucky To Be Me at The Metropolitan Room by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of David Meulemans' Lucky To Be Me at The Metropolitan Room was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Lucky To Be Me
Starring David Meulemans
Conceived & Directed by Sally Mayes
Musical Director: Hubert "Tex" Arnold
Bass: Bob Renino
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 3/19/16  

Fresh from the Condo Circuit in South Florida, David Meulemans is spreading his wings by bringing some sunshine into the cabaret rooms of New York City. This Dade County Dandy is a finely polished, classically trained singer born in Appleton, one of the Fox Cities of Northeast Wisconsin built along the Fox River that flows from Lake Winnebago northward into Green Bay. David earned a Bachelor's degree from Lawrence Conservatory of Music in Appleton, where he began his performing career in stage plays, concert work, recordings and solo cabaret shows. The timeline and the details of  the life of Appleton's Pride are unclear, but the bullet points of his life include the fact he was married to a woman, came out of the closet, got divorced, had a child, became an alcoholic, had brushes with the law, fell in love with a psycho killer, rebuilt his life, and finally met the love of his life, a man he married five years ago in Central Park. Along the way, he delivered singing telegrams dressed in a pink gorilla suit and took a job as a naked houseboy for a gay couple living in The Pines section of Fire Island. As the latest Fire Island Firecracker, he was often photographed and came to enjoy performing in the spotlight. 

David Meulemans participated in The International Cabaret Conference at Yale University, "Cabaret Stars Of Tomorrow Yale Summer Cabaret Series," and had his New York City cabaret debut performing "Hello, New Yawk" at Don't Tell Mama. "Lucky To Be Me" debuted at The Metropolitan Room in 2015, and now, having been named an "Artist In Residence" at that prestigious cabaret club, he will be bringing "Lucky To Be Me" back to the stage for two additional performances on June 11th and September 16th, and on December 10th, he will introduce New York audiences to the premiere of a new holiday show. David is a consummate entertainer with infectious charm. You will be hard-put not to thoroughly enjoy his show, which includes such standards as "Pennies From Heaven" (Burke/Johnson), "Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries" (Brown/Henderson), "Extraordinary" (David Kent), "Nothin' But The Radio On" (Winkler/Markham), "Rhode Island Is Famous For You" (Dietz/Schwartz), "Since You Stayed Here" (Rubins/Larson), "Tchaikovsky (and other Russian) (Gershwin/Weill), "You Mustn't Feel Discouraged (Comden/Green/Styne), "Picking Up The Pieces" (Skip Kennon), "Little Things Medley" (Sondheim/Hall), "Count Your Blessings/Dream" (Irving Berlin), a medley of "Lucky" songs (my favorite line from "Luck Be A Lady" - "A lady doesn't wander around the room blowing on some other guy's dice.") and "Grateful" (John Bucchino), the encore song. 

The word that best describes this cabaret show conceived and directed by Tony-nominated actor/singer/director/teacher Sally Mayes is 'perfect" and I mean that in the sense that the show is "technically perfect" in every way. It hits all the bases and is scripted down to the last word, with no room for improvisation or adjustment. The show is a straight-jacket or a bullet train heading down the track at 100 miles per hour and you are forewarned not to try to slow it down, or speed it up for that matter. As an example, audience members encouraged David to sing "Tchaikovsky (and other Russians)" at a faster pace, but since this was not called for in the script, he simply said "No!". At another point, he asks the audience to sing along and after one line, yells "That's enough," which in some one's mind was supposed to be funny. It wasn't. Similarly, the script called for David Meulemans to come out to perform an encore, whether or not the audience demanded it. 

The patter was not very revealing and also seemed forced. For example, David explained how he needed to sing songs in 8 different languages in order to graduate from Lawrence Conservatory of Music. Those eight languages included, among others, Swahili, Mukluk (highly doubtful) and Russian. The audience was then eager to hear him sing a song in Russian. Instead, that inane introduction was simply the lead in to his singing "Tchaikovsky (and other Russians)" in English. That disconnect between patter, song introduction and the lyrics of the songs themselves was a problem that repeated itself many times.

As a cabaret show, "Lucky To Be Me" lacked substance, intimacy, and heart. It is true that songs are supposed to illustrate your life story but without more, the superficial highlights are meaningless. Specific stories and the lessons he learned from them must be told within the context of a recognizable storyline. Why did he marry a woman? Why did he have a child? How did he discover his lover was a psycho killer? What involvement did he have with the law when he was an alcoholic? Why did he give up drugs and alcohol? Did he ever live on the streets? Besides being a naked maid, was he ever available for rent? Who is the real David Meulemans? You will not get that answer seeing his current cabaret show. However, you will learn that David Meulemans is an accomplished performer who instantly wins over his audience with his bright smile and warm personality. It will be clear to you that he brings joy to the stage and lifts your spirits with his flawless singing and remarkable vocal talents. "Lucky To Be Me" is a celebration of gratitude for his having reached a point in his life when he is finally happy despite the trials and tribulations of his suspected turbulent life. 

David Meulemans will next appear in "Lucky To Be Me" on Saturday, June 11, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. at The Metropolitan Room. Ticket Price: $25.00. Two Drink Minimum Required. As a special treat, all attendees will receive a free, autographed, personalized CD of the show, which was recorded live in 2015. For reservations, visit www.metropolitanroom or call 212-206-0440. For more information about David Meulemans, go to his website at 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Fyvush Finkel Live at The Metropolitan Room by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Fyvush Finkel Live at The Metropolitan Room was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Fyvush Finkel Live
Starring Philip "Fyvush" Finkel together with  
Ian Finkel on Xylophone & Elliot Finkel on Piano
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 3/8/16  

Yes, Fyvush Finkel is still alive! This legendary vaudevillian, Yiddish Theatre star, and television icon is 93 years old. It is true, as he says, "half my life is over but looking at this audience, it's no big deal." When he entered the room, he received a great reception to which he responded: "Now I'm glad I'm getting old." Born Philip Finkel (he took on Fyvush as a stage name) in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn in 1922, he was the third of four sons of Jewish immigrant tailor Harry Finkel (from Warsaw) and housewife Mary (from Minsk). He first appeared on stage at age 9, and acted for almost 35 years in the thriving Yiddish theaters of Manhattan's Lower East Side, as well as performing as a stand-up comic in the Catskill's Borsch Belt. He made his Broadway debut in the original 1964 production of Fiddler On The Roof, joining the cast as Mordechai, the innkeeper, in 1965. Finkel then played Lazar Wolf, the butcher, in the limited run 1981 Broadway revival, and eventually played the lead role of Tevye for over 12 years in the national touring company. Finkel appeared as Mr. Mushnik in the Off-Broadway musical Little Shop Of Horrors. for five years. Then in 1988, Finkel's work in Cafe Crown earned him an Obie Award. He was cast as public defender Douglas Wambaugh in the television series Picket Fences (CBS, 1992-1996). For the role, Finkel earned a 1994 Emmy Award exclaiming at the televised ceremonies he had "waited 51 years for that moment." He played history teacher Harvey Lipschultz on Boston Public (Fox, 2000-2004) and made a splash in the bizarre 9-minute opening scene of A Serious Man, the Coen Brothers' Oscar-nominated movie. 

Fyvush Finkel remained married to Trudi Lieberman March 1947 until her death in 2008. They had two sons, Ian and Elliot, both who appeared on stage with their father. They were joined by Jay Berliner on guitar, Ed Sterbin on bass, and Martin Fisher on drums. Ian Finkel bills himself as the "World's Greatest Xylophonist" (which he very well might be) and Elliot Finkel performed on piano. The sons appeared alone on stage, with the band, during the first half of the show, exhibiting their substantial talent during this Finkel Family Funfest! Ian's proficiency on xylophone was front and center as the boys and the band opened with a rousing, upbeat overture before launching into a Gershwin medley and a humorous take on "Mambo Jambo." Fyvush Finkel finally appeared on stage slightly perturbed that his boys intended him to "sing for his supper." But sing, he did! Fyvush's voice is as powerful and impressive as it always has been. He charmed the audience with his renditions of "S'Wonderful" (Gershwins) and "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore" (Lerner & Loewe) before launching into "If I Were A Rich Man" (Bock & Harnick) and "L'Chaim," two crowd-pleasing favorites.  

It was Fyvush Finkel's humor and perfect sense of timing that made these Finkel Follies absolutely fabulous. Examples include his observation that "Jews don't drink because it interferes with their suffering." He also told the story about how annoyed he was that a man in the front row of one of his shows was asleep and snoring. He asked the man's wife to wake him and she refused and saying, "You put him to sleep. You wake him!" A matchmaker supposedly found the perfect young woman for this particular eighteen-year-old boy to marry. He was told she would be a supportive wife and a good mother for his children. He finally asks the matchmaker, "That's all fine but is she good in bed?" to which the matchmaker says, "to be honest, I don't know. Some people say yes. Some say no." On the topic of marriage, Fyvush says his prospective father-in-law would not consent to his marriage because he didn't want an actor marrying his daughter. Fyvush argued he makes a good living as an actor and he begged his future father-in-law to withhold judgment until he saw him perform. The man agreed and sat front and center while Fyvush sang and danced his heart out putting on the best performance of his life. After the show, the man came on stage and said, "Fyvush. I consent. You may marry my daughter." Excited, Fyvush asks, "What changed your mind?" The man responded, "Now that I've seen you perform, I realize you're no actor!"

No matter what the venue, I strongly recommend you catch one of Fyvush Finkel's upcoming performances. Tickets for these two shows at The Metropolitan Room cost $35.00 plus a two-drink minimum. The show was well worth the price of admission. You will be thoroughly entertained!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Euripides' The Bacchae in the First Floor Theatre at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Euripides' The Bacchae in the First Floor Theatre at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Bacchae
Written by Euripides
Presented by The Faux-Real Theatre Company
in association with La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club
Directed by Mark Greenfield
Masks & Puppets by Lynda White
Costume Design by Irina Gets
Dramaturge by Aaron Poochigian
Musical Director: Tony Naumovski
La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club 
First Floor Theatre
74A East 4th Street
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 3/6/16

The Bacchae is an ancient Greek tragedy written by Athenian playwright Euripides during his final years in Macedonia at the court at Archelaus I of Macedon. It premiered posthumously at the Theatre of Dionysus in 405 B.C. and won first prize in the City of Dionysia festival competition. The tragedy is based on the Greek myth of King Pentheus of Thebes and his mother Agave, and their punishment by the god Dionysus (who is Pentheus' cousin) for slandering him by denying he is a true son of Zeus. The god Dionysus usually appears as "the god of wine and uninhibited joy and instinct" but here he has borrowed a page from the playbook of Ares, the god of war, to seek revenge for the blasphemies. At first, his modest goal is to introduce Dionysian rites into Thebes, establish a permanent cult of followers, and demonstrate to the people of Thebes that he is, in fact, a god. However, Dionysus becomes increasingly incensed by what he sees and his desire for revenge is intensified to the point where, by the end of the play, there is the horrible and gruesome death of the king and the wrecking of the city of Thebes by the destruction of the ruling party and the exiling of the entire population.

A superficial evaluation of the plot might lead you to conclude Euripides wrote a play in honour of Dionysus containing a dire warning to all non-believers. However, given the fact that Euripides was often critical of the Greek gods and their followers, I took particular note of the fact that the followers of Dionysus tended to be women, old men, the infirm, and the ignorant, who saw "miracles" in everything he did. Dionysus also reveals he has driven the women of the city mad, including his three aunts, and has led them into the mountains to observe his ritual festivities. Whether they became "mad" due to having taken drugs (perhaps a hallucinogen) or as a result of extreme religious fervour, his followers, The Bacchae, are certainly not themselves. They are exhibiting "super-human strength" and many are literally foaming at the mouth. A herdsman arrived from the top of Mount Cithaeron and reported to King Pentheus, a rational and intelligent man, that he found women on the mountain behaving strangely. Some were sleeping quietly or drinking wine while listening to flute music. Others were going into the woods "in pursuit of love," putting snakes in their hair, and suckling wild wolves and gazelles. The herdsman and the shepherds made a plan to capture Agave, the King's mother, but the tables were turned and the women attacked the men. The men escaped but the cattle were not so fortunate, as the women fell upon the animals ripping them to shreds with their bare hands. Using their ceremonial staffs of fennel as weapons, they plundered two villages ISIS-style, stealing bronze and even babies. Dionysus, still in disguise, persuades King Pentheus (who wants to "put a stop to this obscure disorder") to forego his plan to destroy the cult using armed force, and, to instead, spy on them while disguised as a woman. Betrayed and identified by Dionysus, The Bacchae force a trapped King Pentheus down from a treetop, and led by his mother Agave, they rip off his limbs, behead him, and claw the remaining parts of his body "clear of flesh." Just as you might expect an ISIS leader to say, Dionysus declares that Pentheus was "rightly punished" and "suffered justly." Agave is under the delusion she has killed a wild animal with her own hands and proudly shows Cadmus, her father, the severed head of Pentheus. Agave is brought back to sanity and realizes what she has done. Dionysus warns the audience, "If any mortal man denies the gods, look upon this."

Although we were not allowed to enter the theatre until five minutes before show time, we were greeted by The Bacchae, who served us wine, juice, and grapes. This was a nice touch that certainly put us in the mood for the 90-minute show that was to follow. PJ Adzima, who played King Pentheus, is the bright light and shining star of this production. Charismatic, confident and bold, this ancient child of science and rationality convincingly took a stand against radical religious fanaticism and recognizing the danger it posed to his kingdom, took action to defeat it. Mr. Adzima is a talented, charismatic actor with a great future in the theatre. I was inspired by his performance and stood ready to lend a helping hand for the sake of the cause. Andrew Bryce was also excellent as the gender-bending Dionysus (described in the play as "this effeminate stranger"), who Pentheus mocked for having girly curls and for not appearing to be someone who would excel as a wrestler. Dionysus weakens Pentheus' masculine resolve to take action to destroy his cult followers by convincing him to dress as a woman and "to spy" on The Bacchae instead of directly attacking. Once overcome by the urges of a more feminine nature, Pentheus starts to lose his rationality seeing two suns in the sky and believing he has the ability to rip apart mountains with his bare hands. This reinforces the old belief that women are governed by irrational emotions while men are governed by logic and reason. Tragedy then strikes Pentheus and Thebes. We leave having learned how a nation can be destroyed when its citizens embrace myth, mysticism, and superstition. Leave science and reason behind at your own peril! 

If the themes I have mentioned interest you, I encourage you to see The Faux-Real Theatre Company's production of The Bacchae, which plays at La MaMa through March 20, 2016. The show has a cast of 16 and features a number of superior performances that are well worth the price of admission, which is $18.00 for adults and $13.00 for students and seniors. You can purchase tickets by calling 212-475-7710 or by visiting For more information, go to 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Demetria Daniels' Adventures Of A Buxom Blonde by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of the book Adventures Of A Buxom Blonde by Demetria Daniels was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Adventures Of A Buxom Blonde
(How I Met Celebrities In New York)
Written by Demetria Daniels
Dedicated to her parents James & Nora Daniels
& to Joe Franklin, her friend and mentor
With original portrait of Demetria Daniels by Peter Max
ISBN #9781517601577
Copyright 2015
Reviewed 3/10/16  

Always ready to slip into a cocktail dress whenever she may need one, Demetria Daniels details the specifics of how she met over forty major celebrities attending events in New York and on Long Island. She recalls meeting Liza Minnelli and being surprised by her 5' 2" stature (Demetria is 5' 4"). That night in Coney Island, Liza was "looking bedazzling in a white beaded pants suit...that reflected the luna luminosity, sparkling and effervescent." At the stage door of Radio City Music Hall, she met Frank Sinatra. He was wearing a simple blue windbreaker. She recalls, "He smiled as he got out of the car and walked very slowly to the door, and then, just turned towards us and winked and smiled and shook hands. It was his blue eyes that matched his blue jacket - they were percolating still for a second but dancing in the light as though accompanying his first fast song on stage. They were 'exciting' eyes, happy eyes and ones that would forever be impossible to forget." While attending Hood College in Maryland, she recalls meeting a "special guest" who arrived at the all-girls school in "a very fast red sports car" that "zoomed into the campus at great speed." The "very tall, handsome, good-looking and captivating senator" was John F. Kennedy, who was running for President. Both Demetria and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis were members of the Municipal Arts Society. Ms. Onassis served on its Board and at an event, Demetria sat only a seat away from the former First Lady. Demetria recalls, "She wore a white pants suit with a gold belt, looking stunning with her dark hair bouffant. She was gracious signing programs, being chatty, very warm, very talkative and very friendly, smiling at everyone who approached her including me."

Adventures Of A Buxom Blonde is only 81 pages long but it is packed full of stories and photographs regarding the famous people Demetria Daniels has met. Some of the text is too small to be easily read but most of it is fine. Demetria was born in Brooklyn and obtained a degree in Art History from Columbia University. Her father, James Daniels, owned Daniels Florist in Park Slope for over 70 years. She has lived in Westhampton, Long Island City (remind her to never go there again), and, after her divorce, she lived in the Felt Building in downtown Manhattan, where she regularly chatted with Cher. Her first television appearance was reading her poetry, which was arranged by Joe Franklin (she met Tony Curtis at the opening of his restaurant). Her first play was Uptown/Downtown and her first musical was Holiday In Heaven. She wrote a column called "East Village Report" for Downtown and maintains a blog entitled Gotham Gossip. She has been an active member of both the Players Club and the Beaux Arts Society. On page 24 of the book, there is a photograph of Demetria Daniels taken with Gloria Gaynor at the Beaux Arts Ball held at B. Smiths. She mentions that Ms. Gaynor was receiving an honorary tribute that evening and that your humble reviewer is the current President of the Beaux Arts Society.

Demetria Daniels met Mick Jagger both at Elaine's and at a July 4th party hosted by George Plimpton (Editor of the Paris Review) on Long Island. Plimpton and she discussed the fact that they were both "late bloomers." On January 15, 1998, Ms. Daniels wrote the following poem in honor of Mick Jagger: "You're a rolling stone, sing, song, scream, volume higher, you're supreme; You're alive, louder and louder as you jive up and down the aisle, flingin' your arms, in the air, you and Keith make a great pair; You're every stone, quite a gem, diamond shine, u rate a ten; Purple royal in your robe, sapphire blue, ruby to mauve...; You're all the stones, and every tone, rockin' and rollin' in the hall of fame; Mick Jagger gives us satisfaction, a reaction, to your name."

While in Cannes, she and a few other girls were hanging out on the beach where they met some sailors from the USS Independence. The boys invited them back to their ship for a concert where Demetria met Her Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco. On other occasions, she met President Bill Clinton, Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. Other celebrities she writes about include Steven Spielberg, Elizabeth Taylor, John Travolta, Madonna, Harry Belafonte, Bette Midler, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Lauren Bacall, Hugh Jackman, Cyndi Lauper, Marvin Hamlisch, Meryl Streep, Mickey Rooney, Penny Marshall, Richard Dreyfuss, Yanni, Matthew Broderick, Sara Jessica Parker, Michael Jackson, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Harvey Weinstein, and Ziggy Marley. For the inside scoop on each and to read about the rest of her adventures, you will just have to buy her book, which is available for $20.00 through Amazon at:  

Monday, March 7, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Hairspray at Theatre By The Bay by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Hairspray at Theatre By The Bay (The Community Theatre Group of Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center) was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Book by Mark O'Donnell & Thomas Meehan
Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman & Marc Shaiman
Directed & Choreographed by Ovi Vargas
Musical Director & Accompanist: Alan Baboff
Theatre By The Bay
Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center
13-00 209th Street
Bayside, New York 11360
Reviewed 3/5/16  

Hairspray, a musical based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name, opened on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre on August 15, 2002, after a successful tryout at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre. In 2003, it received twelve Tony Award nominations and won eight in the following categories: Best Musical, Best Original Score (Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman), Best Direction of a Musical (Jack O'Brien), Best Book of a Musical (Mark O'Donnell & Thomas Meehan), Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Harvey Fierstein), Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Marissa Jaret Winokur), Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Dick Latessa), and Best Costume Design (William Ivey Long). The production ran for more than six years, closing on January 4, 2009 after 2,642 performances. Hairspray, the 2007 movie, was based on the 2002 Broadway play.

The story takes place in 1962 Baltimore, Maryland, where Tracy Turnblad, an overweight High School teenager, dreams of dancing on The Corky Collins Show, a local television program. Even though not a traditional beauty, she learns a number of new dance moves from Seaweed J. Stubbs, a fellow student she met in detention. Her audition for an opening doesn't go well but when Corky Collins himself sees her dance while guest hosting a Sophomore Hop at her school (Patterson Park High School), he hires her to replace Brenda, who needed to take a leave of absence for 9 months (Corky promised his audience a replacement who would be "just as fun-loving but perhaps not quite as free-wheeling"). Tracy Turnblad becomes an overnight success and instantly becomes a contender for Miss Teenage Hairspray 1962 ("Ultra Clutch Hair Spray" is the sponsor of The Corky Collins Show - "Hey baby, you look like you could use a stiff one!"). Her main competition, Amber Von Tussle, is being promoted by her mother, Velma, who is the show's producer and who believes good parents need to point their kids in the "white" direction. Once a month, The Corky Collins Show has a Negro Day, hosted by Motormouth Maybelle, Seaweed's mom. Tracy gets herself in trouble because while being interviewed, Corky asks her what her first act as President would be if she were ever elected, and her response is, "I'd make every day Negro Day." She went on to say, "I'm all for integration. It's the new frontier!"

While it is true the show is very preachy in terms of promoting integration and interracial dating (Penny says regarding Seaweed, "I've tasted chocolate and I'm never going back"), the primary message of this musical is that you should love your fellow man and treat him as you would like to be treated. While it is true that Tracy and Motormouth lead a march to integrate The Corky Collins Show, everything turns out for the best in this upbeat musical. Even Edna, Tracy Turnblad's mom (a "simple housewife of indeterminate girth" who feels like "a half-filled book of Green Stamps - beyond redemption" and who hasn't been out in public "since the Eisenhower administration"), regains her confidence and joins her daughter during the demonstration, eventually ending up in jail. When Tracy escapes from solitary confinement with the help of the love of her life, the very handsome and charismatic Link Larkin, the police warn the public to call in if they see the fugitive (the message ends with the instruction, "if phone service is not available, simply shoot to kill"). During the show, you will meet other colorful characters, such as Mr. Pinky, the owner of Pinky's Hefty Hide Away, the plus size dress shop; Wilbur Turnblad and his Har-de-Har Novelty Shop; and Velma Von Tussle, a racist, who in the end is assigned the task of promoting "a new line of hair products, "Ultra Glow" - beauty products for people of color."

This production of Hairspray features a very strong primary cast. Morgan Misk is absolutely tireless as Tracy Turnblad, the eternally optimistic, idealistic young teenager who loves to dance. She nailed "Good Morning Baltimore" and "I Can Hear The Bells." Niko Touros, a charismatic and talented young man, was perfect in the role of Link Larkin. His various stances and bright smile made him quite believable as the High School heartthrob who is one of the featured stars on The Corky Collins Show. He is also a fine actor and singer, as was evident with his rendition of "It Takes Two." Christine Hull was exceptional as Velma Von Tussle, successfully exposing the complexity of her character's motivations and beliefs. She did a wonderful job singing "Miss Baltimore Crabs," which is not an easy task. Jennifer Sanchez was Amber Von Tussle, her ambitious, jealous and possessive daughter, who desperately wants to be crowned Miss Teenage Hairspray 1962 and who is Tracy's rival for the affections of Link. Ms. Sanchez has a strong stage presence and was right for the role. 

The decision was made to cast Jean Ann Kump as Edna Turnblad. She was great in every respect but since she is a woman, a few lines in the play meant to get a laugh when the audience knows Edna is really a man, failed to be as funny. Robert Gold certainly looked the part of Wilbur Turnblad but his weak vocal instrument took away from the success of Edna & Wilbur's duet "You're Timeless To Me." Rebecca Cushman was delightful in the role of Penny Pingleton, Tracy's best friend. However, her instant attraction to Phoenix Gray's character, Seaweed J. Stubbs, seemed unlikely unless you are a believer in "love at first sight." It is still difficult to buy into the fact that Penny falls madly in love with a man three times her weight and twice her age. Still, I understand why they cast Phoenix Gray in that role. He has an excellent voice and is an accomplished actor. I had concerns about Pamela Merrill being able to successfully pull off the role of the dominant and well-grounded Motormouth Maybelle. I was pleasantly surprised by how well Ms. Merrill did and I could tell the audience was more than satisfied with her rendition of "I Know Where I've Been." The presence of an Asian-American female as a Corny Collins Council Member reminded me of the broad definition of "white" used under South Africa's former apartheid system where people from Japan and Taiwan were legally categorised as "white." Two minor actors on the Corny Collins Council who particularly impressed me were Jason Wieder, who played Brad, and Karen Kessler, who was Shelly. Jason continues to draw my attention as an actor dedicated to performing every part to the best of his abilities. Karen Kessler is a fireball of explosive energy with exceptional dancing, acting and singing skills. I look forward to seeing more of them in future productions. 

I saw the show on opening night and there were a few scenery and sound issues, which I am certain will be resolved soon. The biggest problem with the production was with the music, which dragged throughout the show, especially during the final number, "You Can't Stop The Beat." It was as if Alan Baboff, the Musical Director and his two Accompanists, were playing the music for the first time. The tempo needed to be faster and the beat of the last number needed to reflect that the future is coming and you are not going to be able to stop it. I felt like screaming, "Faster! Faster!" but the cast couldn't dance any faster because the music was being played too slowly! The musicians have an independent responsibility to properly prepare and practice for gigs (despite whatever they are being paid), and if  they are unable or unwilling to do that, then Theatre By The Bay should consider hiring musicians who take more pride in their work. If the Director told them to play the music at that pace, then I feel he should reconsider that decision. Hairspray is supposed to reflect explosive joy and only a fast-paced production can achieve that goal.

Theatre By The Bay's production of Hairspray is a triumph! High Hair! High Hopes! Great Acting! Inspirational Music! You can't help but leave with a broad smile on your face. I highly recommend you see this show. Bring all your non-racist, tolerant, open-minded friends, as well as anyone you know who enjoys a good musical. They will have a grand old time! Tickets cost $22.00 for adults and $20.00 for Seniors/Children. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit