Archive for June, 2012

Adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, both legitimate versions for children’s theater/school plays and humorous adult parodies, have been a staple of American theater for decades. A notable example of same was A Yellow Brick Road Runs Through It at the Grove Street Playhouse in the mid-90s, starring Paul Lucas and the late Julie Kurnitz, directed by Joseph Weiss with musical direction by Joel Maisano. Enter the Haberdasher Theatre Company, an ambitious and merry band of Off-Off-Broadway entertainers, who have now brought their own adaptation of the play to the Drilling Company Theater, 236 West 78th Street, and the result is a nonstop chucklefest which simply must return to the New York stage after it closes on June 30th.

This version was initially adapted by Jeanette Jaquish for children’s theater before playwright/director Hollie Elizabeth Klem adapted it further for an adult audience, and the result couldn’t be more sensational. This time around, Auntie Em is a tough cookie from Queens who had to sell the house and move to a farm with orphaned niece Dorothy and her dog Toto. After the dog has been threatened to be destroyed by evil neighbor Almira Gully, the child decides to run away to New York City, pup in tow. It’s only after a chance meeting with slimy vacuum salesman Professor Osland that he convinces her to return home, at which point, of course, she and the house are subsequently swept up in the tornado that brings her to Oz. As expected, the house smashes the Wicked Witch of the East; what’s not expected is that instead of Munchkinland, Dorothy is informed by Glinda that she’s landed in NoHo Village. The story continues much in the same way as the beloved story, but with a few delectable twists; we learn of the deep sibling rivalry between the two wicked witches, Glinda carries a long pink shotgun rather than a magic wand, the band of Flying Monkeys are a ghetto crew, and the greeters at the gate of Oz Castle could be a hairdresser’s convention in the Castro. It all combines to an uproarious two hours that speaks volumes of the Haberdasher Theatre Company’s potential, especially under Klem’s directorial helm.

Performance-wise, there’s not a weak one to be had. An obvious measure of any parody of The Wizard of Oz are strong performances, and they are here in abundance. Tami Soligan is perfection as Dorothy, vulnerable and lost in wonder but possessing an inherent bravery. Jeff Foley as the Scarecrow is so adorable you just want to put him in your pocket and take him home, and Brian Ogston makes the wise choice of playing the Tinman with a bit of an edge even sharper than his axe. One wouldn’t think that casting a woman as the Lion would be prudent, but Nicole J. Lippey gives it her all and comes up swinging at every turn.  Matt Giroveanu absolutely sparkles in the dual roles of Professor Osland and the Wizard, and likewise Christen Madrazo as both Auntie Em and Glinda. And the four members of the ensemble each have a chance for more than one standout moment; they are Melody Cheng, Joseph Dale Harris, Jennifer Michaels (who is particularly delicious as both the mean Apple Tree and the Gatekeeper besides the Wicked Witch of the East) and Nick Panagakos. But the standout performance of the evening is the talented (and blindingly beautiful) Taylor Zito as both Almira Gully and the Wicked Witch of the West; this gal is electric in the role right up until her final exit after melting (with a hilarious action that has to be seen to be believed). Overall, this cast is simply breathtaking.

The technical side of this production is equally top-shelf. Although it would be nice if the show had a higher budget for sets, designer Link Salas has created a beautiful forest. Michael A. Megliola’s lighting is absolutely divine as is the prop design by Keri Taylor, and Adam Weir on sound design and stage management proves impeccable in both capacities. As for the costume and makeup design of Katie Grammes, the only appropriate adjective would be ‘outstanding.’ And Quincy Ellis provides admirable fight choreography.

In an ideal world, Haberdasher’s production of The Wizard of Oz would at the very least make a permanent move to a higher-profile house that would enable them to achieve the following they so deeply deserve. Alas, this is not to be. If perhaps there’s a wizard out there who can grant them that wish, the Off-Off-Broadway community would emerge as undoubtedly richer.

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When one thinks of the great celebrity impersonators of the last sixty years, many names spring to mind. As far as the males, there’s of course Rich Little, David Frye, Fred Travalena, Charlie Callas, George Kirby, Jim Meskiman, and more. Among the women, there’s Marilyn Michaels, Louise DuArt, Christine Pedi, Klea Blackhurst, Suzanne Blakeslee, Tracey Berg, Chloe Webb, Jane Horrocks, Hynden Walch and so many others. And as far as those who cross over from male-to-female impressions, there’s Craig Russell, Charles Pierce, Tommy Femia, Brian Murphy, Steven Brinberg, Jim Bailey, Kenny Sacha, Jamie Beaman, Rick Skye and a plethora too numerous to list. Not to mention the triumph Rainie Cole scored with Always Patsy ClineRita McKenzie’s Call Me Ethel, Totie starring Nancy Timpanaro, Julie Sheppard as Judy Garland and the entire catalogs of Michele LaFong, Alison Briner or Angela LaGreca. But a new and extremely-stellar talent has joined their legendary ranks, and if her first full-length cabaret act I Hear Voices, which will play its final show (for now) at the Duplex (61 Christopher Street) on Tuesday the 12th at 7 PM is any indication, the genre has a brand-new and rightfully-deserving star on its hands. Her name is Carly Sakolove, and to call her a genius simply doesn’t sum up what this lady has got to give. If this were 1962, she’d be a superstar beyond words. But she must become one regardless; she’s THAT good.

Directed by the ever-excellent Bill Russell (a Tony nominee for his work on Side Show, and previously-renowned for his collaboration with Frank Kelly on the Off-Broadway mega-hit Pageant), the evening is basically a therapy session spent between Sakolove and her therapist explaining that she doesn’t merely HEAR voices, but that then they speak through her. The voices in question, however, happen to be those of the greatest divas of our time from Broadway and beyond, including Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Elaine Stritch, Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Barbra Streisand, Carol Channing, Ethel Merman, Bette Midler and Julie Andrews. Now, to those who either do impressions or are a fan of impressionists, some of them may seem indeed slightly run-of-the-mill. Sakolove, however, has more than a few tricks up her sleeve; she also provides faultless sound-a-likes, either spoken or sung, by Idina Menzel, Dame Judi Dench, Jennifer Coolidge, Susan Sarandon, Heather Hedley, Alice Ripley and Jane Lynch. As if none of THAT was enough, as evidenced when she released her Some People and Send in the Clowns clips within the last season to viral effect on YouTube, it became clear that she can record her brilliant pastiches in one take without a breath from voice to voice, a feat never accomplished by a similar artist. Hence, this is a young lady very possibly headed for extreme greatness within the genre. One is left to wonder what she might next add to her act: Betty Buckley? Barbara Cook? Madeline Kahn? Angela Lansbury? Audra McDonald? Whatever they may be, Sakolove has established herself once and for all as a true wonder of the nightlife universe with her otherwordly talents.

In addition, one must make mention of the splendiferous accompaniment of musical director Dan Micciche. His prowess on the keys is only matched by his phenomenal abilities to display the lady perfectly, and keep up with her numerous personas as they unfold throughout the evening.

Needless to say, I Hear Voices, and of course Carly Sakolove, stand to emerge as one of the greatest finds in the last several decades of cabaret and beyond. For those wishing to catch her final show at the Duplex this Tuesday before she is most certainly whisked away to greater stardom, do not hesitate to call 212-255-5438. In all truth, this is neither a cabaret act nor a concert. It is as much a happening event as seeing Midler herself at the Baths in ’71. Seats are goin’ fast, folks!

(UPDATE: Due to popular demand, Sakolove has extended her show for two additional nights at the Duplex, Thursday, June 21st at 9:30 PM, and Friday, June 29th at 7 PM)