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San Francisco by Richard Connema

The Will Rogers Follies, Friends Are Forever and
I Feel a Thong Coming On!


A Razzle-Dazzle production of The Will Rogers Follies

Will Rogers Follies
Amy Nielson and
Shane Partlow

Florenz Ziegfeld is alive and well in Walnut Creek where the Diablo Light Opera Company is presenting an opulent production of the Tony Award winning musical The Will Rogers Follies: a Life in Revue at the Lesher Center for the Arts through September 27th. We first saw this show at the Palace Theatre in New York where Keith Carradine portrayed the legendary Will Rogers along with Dee Hoty as Betty Blake. Cady Huffman, who won a Tony Award later for The Producers, played Ziegfeld's Favorite. The show walked off with six Tony awards in 1991.

This is one of my favorite Cy Coleman shows, since the music is upbeat and the lyrics by Comden and Green are sparkling. The book by Peter Stone is pleasantly folksy. Songs such as "Will-a-Mania" and "Our Favorite Son" are full of energy when sung by the large cast. "The Powder Puff Ballet" would make Florenz happy. There are tender romantic songs like "My Unknown Someone" and "No Man Left For Me." Even Will Rogers' song, "I Never Met a Man I Didn't Like" is appealing. Many people don't know who Will Rogers was, but I remember him even as kid growing up in Ohio. He was probably the best political humorist of the 1930s, and the forerunner of the more sophisticated opinionated comedians like Jon Stewart and Mort Sahl.

Director Gloria Trombley and company have pulled out all the stops to make this a lavish musical with terrific yet simple 100 percent escapism choreography by Sheri Stockdale, based on Tommy Tune's original work. The chorus boys and girls are tremendous, with the meticulousness of the Rockettes. Even the big number where the chorus girls sit along with Shane Partlow, who plays Will Rogers, singing and using extraordinary hand movements to "Our Favorite Son" is precision personified.

Shane Partlow (Los Angeles actor who has played "The Roper" in 22 productions of the show) is wonderful as he ropes and jokes his way into the audience's favor. He perfectly plays the role of the man who makes fun of himself and comes up with political gems that are still relevant today. ("I'm not a member of any organized party. I'm a Democrat," and referring to the evolutionist-creationist debate that still rages today, he believes "man descended from lawyers".)

Christina Martin (has appeared at the Riverside Civic Light Opera and Candlelight Pavilion in Claremont) as Betty Blake is delightful and has a crystal-clear voice when singing "My Unknown Someone" and "No Man Left for Me," and singing with Partlow and four very charming youngsters in "The Big Time." Amy Nielson (DLOC's Cinderella) is a delight as Ziegfeld's Favorite. Not wearing very much, she shimmies across the stage with a Marilyn Monroe grin to carry signs marking the progress of Rogers' story. Ron Pickett (DLOC's Brigadoon) is perfect as Clem, Will's father. There is a hint of pathos beneath his witticism. There is even a clever dog act that brings down the house.

Producer Ellen B. Smith has spared no expense with Willa Kim and Carol Edlinger's 400 candy costumes and 1000 lightbulbs flashing different colors under the direction of Michael Palumbo. The set looks like an MGM musical with lighted steps running to the top of the back of the stage. There are zinging melodies coming from the 16-piece orchestra directed by Cheryl Yee Glass. In Gloria Trombley's deft hands, this an excellent theatrical involvement by all members of the cast and production staff.

The Will Rogers Follies plays at the Lesher Center for the Arts, 1600 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek through September 27th. For tickets call 925-943-7469. The DLOC will present the first local production of Mel Brook's The Producers on February 13, 2009.


An Audience Friendly Production of Friends Are Forever

Friends Forever
Leo Lawhorn, Dann Howard and Gerrad Bohl
The New Conservatory Theatre Center is currently presenting the world premiere of Tom W. Kelly's comedy Friends Are Forever. The playwright has written a clever, campy script for six male actors. It's a cross between a gay version of "Sex and the City" with a little of Clare Booth Luce's The Women thrown in for good measure. In the second act there is also a mini version of "American Idol."

The two-hour comedy follows three gay couples as they find friendship, love, commitment and unfaithfulness—and the awkward consequences that can occur. These six men love to bitch about all things sexual, yet somehow they stay friends throughout the whole play. They find that their humanity far outweighs their divergence. All six seem to have sex at one time or another with each of the other characters.

The characters are diverse, showing that even in the gay world there are different types of men. James (Dann Howard) is a flamboyant, anxious male who wants romance in his sex life. There are also the gay masseuse Steve (Gerrad Bohl) who wants to make everyone happy sexually; a very hunky Bill (Brian Patterson) who runs an escort agency (however he appears to be the only escort) and has had sex with all of them; and nerdish Roger (Robert McDiarmid), who has had a six month relationship with staid city employee Mike (Leo Lawhorn). Thrown into this mix is butch George (Christopher M. Nelson) who is having an affair with James. Yes, it is complicated, but fun to watch. There is a lot of sex talk among the six at a dinner party.

All six actors give natural performances, with Dann Howard giving a great performance. He is the epitome of a "drama queen" and has the best lines, including quotes from Shakespeare. He has lines like "Why can't someone love me even if I am a bitch?" When he has not seen his current lover George for a while he says, "I have not seen you for two weeks. I thought I saw your face on a milk carton."

Robert McDiarmid and Leo Lawhorn are good as the middle-aged couple who might think about an open relationship. Brian Patterson also gives a fine performance as the hunk escort who has known all of them intimately. Gerrad Bohl gives a personable portrayal of the masseuse, while Christopher M. Nelson has good acting chops as the butch George. Director Ben Randle keeps things moving quickly even throwing in a disco dance, with five of the males wearing very little, to titillate the audience.

Friends are Forever runs through September 21 at Walker Theatre in the New Conservatory Theatre Center located at 25 Van Ness just off Market Street, San Francisco. For tickets please call 415-861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org.

Photo: Lois Tema


A Wild Night with Tom Orr in I Feel a Throng Coming On!

For four years I have heard about satirist Tom Orr and his Dirty Little Showtunes!, but I kept missing performances because of prior commitments or being away from the Bay Area. I finally got a chance to see this lyricist-playwright-singer-comedian-actor at the Intimate Theatre at the New Conservatory Theatre Center where he recently entertained a mostly gay male audience (the night we were there, there were four ladies, two of whom are well known Bay actresses).

Tom Orr has a genius way of putting "dirty little lyrics" to well known Broadway melodies. His lyrics hit just the right notes of each famous Broadway classic and this "musical comedy cabaret porn star" delivers each song with great pizzazz. With musical director Scrumbly Koldewyn and director F. Allen Sawyer, Orr has concocted the filthiest, funniest, raunchiest show, and his bawdy Broadway parodies are hilarious. It reminds me when I was a lad and I would sneak into the Mayfair Burlesque Theatre in Dayton, Ohio, to hear the coarse comics. This is a show you don't take your Aunt Matilda or a member of the von Trapp family to, since it would shock the bloomers off them.

There are many songs that he sings that I cannot put into the review, but here are few examples. The very talented artist sings "That's Masturbation" to the tune of "That's Entertainment"; "I'm Just a Boy Who Can't Say No" to the melody of the song from Oklahoma; "Thoroughly Bottom Billy," which of course refers to "Thoroughly Modern Millie"; and the ever popular "Since Gays Can Get Married" to the classic melody of "If Momma Was Married" from Gypsy. Other titles are strictly X-rated.

Tom Orr opened the show with "I Feel a Thong Coming On" to the melody of "I Feel a Song Coming On" from the 1935 film Every Night at Eight. The singer is up to date with very clever lyrics in "Bitchslapped!" about the likes of celebrities in the tabloids today. This is a parody of Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh's "Witchcraft." The parodist is hilarious in his rendition of "The Modern Homosexual," a lampoon of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Modern Major General."

He not only sings these songs but uses different costumes with many drag outfits and various wigs. It's a fast-paced two-hour fifteen-minute show with an intermission. Scrumbly Koldewyn not only plays great piano but joins in on several of the numbers. The final song Tom sings, "My Birthday Suit," is a takeoff of "My Strongest Suit" from Aida and, yes, he sings it in his birthday suit.

There is no doubt about it—Tom Orr is one the cleverest parodists in the gay cabaret field today. He has the personality, the voice and the zest to put over each song. He played the small theater at the New Conservatory Theatre Center through September 7.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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