Little Shop "Rocks", Cocktails With Mimi "Romps" and The Best Of Broaday is CCMT's Best Yet!

This week’s reviews include an evening with Contra Costa Musical Theater (CCMT) enjoying The “Best Of Broadway”; an evening at the Willows, getting reacquainted with “Little Shop of Horrors” and finally, in Pleasant Hill at the Senior Center, enjoying Vagabond Players“Cocktails With Mimi”.

“Best Of Broadway”

This weekend, Contra Costa Musical Theatre thrilled local audiences with their musical review of some of the finest shows on Broadway, in their production entitled “The Best of Broadway”. Not only are they bringing you selected numbers and nostalgic bits and pieces from literally hundreds of shows I know you have seen and loved, but a chance to enjoy songs from major Broadway shows that have not been released to be produced in local venues yet.

While CCMT has always produced stellar events, this has to be one of the very best musical reviews they have ever done. The cast selection includes some of my absolute favorites with John Hetzler, Terry D’Emidio, Jessica Fisher, Steve Rhyne, Meghann May and Nephi Speer. In addition, the 26 piece orchestra, under the magical baton of Karl Pister, was a stunning success.

This is the second year that CCMT has presented “The Best of Broadway” and a stellar example of what you can expect when the event comes back again, next year. Everybody performs to their very best and yet, certain numbers seemed to simply stand on certain numbers, a tribute to the fine talent of these performers.

Some of the musical numbers reviewed were from little known musicals and several of the individual pieces taken from those shows gave the audience a rare view of some truly terrific, seldom heard love songs. “A Quiet Thing”, sung by John Hetzler, came from the 1965 musical by Kander and Ebb, “Flora, the Red Menace”, which was the vehicle that introduced the world to Liza Minnelli. The show was a flop financially, and after receiving highly critical reviews from the New York Critics, it closed after just 87 performances. On the other hand, this show was the first collaboration between Kander and Ebb who went on to write Cabaret and Chicago, and we all know how the world received these two dynamic shows. Liza Minnelli didn’t do so bad either, becoming one of the youngest performers every to receive a Tony Award for her work on this Broadway show, at the tender age of 19.

The harmony between Terri D’Emidio and Meghann May is at times exquisite, and quietly thrilling. Their collaboration on “I Know Him So Well”, borrowed from the Broadway Musical, “Chess” was absolutely exquisite. This duet, originally sung by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson, held the number one spot on the UK singles charts for 4 weeks in February 1985 and won the Ivor Novello Award as the Best Selling Single ('A' Side). Steve Rhyne and Jessica Fisher were absolutely spellbinding, truly thrilling in number after number. Nephi Speer and Maghann May are two of the brightest new professional level performers to hit East Bay stages in the past couple of years and it will not be long before they take root in the vibrancy of professional theatre venues across this great country. The entire evening was one marvelous surprise after another, moving the audience to a grand crescendo of accolades at evening’s end.

I wish this show were continuing for another couple of weeks, but this weekend was all they were able to deliver at this time. If you did see the production, you, like I, must have come away duly impressed. If you didn’t get to attend, get out your 2009 calendar and make a note to keep your eyes peeled for the “Third Best of Broadway” which will undoubtedly come your way in 2009.

The often revived and very popular musical, 42nd Street will open on October 10th, already in rehearsal, blessed with an outstanding cast, packed with elaborate dancing and stunning choreography designed to bring back memories of great Broadway showmanship. Please visit the
CCMT website at for more information on upcoming productions.

“Little Shop of Horrors”

The Willows Theatre has brought back the outrageous musical comedy, “Little Shop of Horrors” which is in current production in the Willows Theatre in the Willows Shopping Center in Concord. Under the adept directing skills of Richard Elliott, this fun filled goofy rock musical (originating in the 60’s) about a nerdy flower shop employee by the name of Seymour Krelborn, who, while cruising the wholesale flower district, discovers a totally unique plant (that he describes as similar to a Venus flytrap) following a total eclipse of the sun. Krelborn (an orphan) brings the strange little plant back to the skid row flower shop, known as“Mushkick’s Skid Row Florist” where he lives and works. His co-worker, Audrey (Meghan Doyle), is a very attractive and curvaceous blond, with very poor taste in clothing and boyfriends, who struggles with her self-image and relationships.

The florist shop owner, Mr, Mushnick (Dale Murphy), advises his two employees that due to a lack of business, he is about to close the florist shop forever. Krelborn (Ricardo Rust) suggests that they display his unique new plant in the front window of the store, suggesting that it may bring renewed interest and patrons to the florist shop. No sooner than the plant is displayed, than a customer comes in and buys $100 worth of roses. The Florist shop immediately begins a renaissance of new sales and success. Krelborn names the plant after his co-employee, “Audrey II”.

The plant however becomes a serious problem, as Krelborn soon discovers that the plant survives and thrives on a sanguinary existence, requiring human blood to keep it growing.

The narrators in this show are three female doo-wop characters, straight out of the 1960’s rock and roll girl singing groups, Crystal (Tracy Camp), Ronnette (LeNeae Weathersby) and Chiffon (Sara Barreto Worthing). These girls comment on the action throughout the show. Audrey’s boyfriend, Orin (played by Shaun Carroll), is a sadistic dentist who wears a black leather jacket and rides a motorcycle, enjoys administering pain and reminding us of in some ways, of Marlon Brando, the leader of the pack.

As the show moves forward, Krelborn discovers that the carnivorous plant can talk, and with a deep authoritarian voice demands from his host, “FEED ME!”

This outrageous musical is full of hilarious dark comedy, very clever musical numbers, and some very entertaining acting. “Little Shop of Horrors” is a wild show that doesn’t require any deep thought nor will it cause any deep anxieties as it is as silly as it is dark and bloody.

There are some problems with the fluctuations in volume and balance of sound and I would suggest that you request seats near the center isle as we had a very difficult time understanding many lines where we were sitting.

This fun filled evening of entertainment plays Wednesdays and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m., now through September 14th. The Willows Theatre is located at 1975 Diamond Blvd., next to REI sporting goods at the southernmost end of the Willows Shopping Center, across Diamond Blvd, from the Concord Hilton Hotel. Tickets range between $30 and $40 with discounts for seniors. Call the box office at 798-1300 for reservation and ticket information or visit their website at for more information.

"Cocktails With Mimi"

Sharon Redman is a local director who brings local theatrical talent to a variety of stage venues, ranging from Senior Centers to Little Theatres, at a very reasonable cost through her company, The Vagabond Players. Her current production, Cocktails With Mimi, played this past weekend at the Pleasant Hill Senior Center and will perform again at the Martinez Senior Center this Friday (8/29) and the Nick Rodriguez Community Center in Antioch on September 12th, 13th, and 14th.

Cocktails With Mimi is a funny play about a socialite by the name of Mimi Ralston (played by Marianne Lamberts), who is known for giving parties with a decidedly offbeat theme or one that is full of surprises. This time, she is giving a party, purportedly to entertain her friends and at the same time introduce her daughter’s boyfriend’s parents (Judge Leland Calthorpe and his wife Eudorra) to a very embarrassing experience, hoping to get their family to break off the engagement. Mimi has hired an actor to play an incompetent waiter, Paul Hanson (portrayed very well by Gary Mutz), to dump linguini on the unsuspecting guests.

Her daughter, Edith (Marie Stillwagon) is one step ahead of her parents, and substitutes a pair of actors for her boyfriend’s parents, fearing the unpredictable nature of her mother. The actors, Lou White and Bert Evans (played by Claire and Bill Toaspern) are pretty sharp and manage to throw Mimi’s plans into a cocked hat, defusing the original intent, when the real parents, Leland and Eudorra (played by Bill Dietz and Rita Hamlin) unexpectedly show up.

The show is a near vaudeville experience, a lot of fun and it provides some local actors a chance to work on stage. This is a fun show, with a few minor missed cues, that provides a very inexpensive afternoon or evening of entertainment. The show includes several other actors who are guests at the party, Patricia Williams, Ms Ben Walker, and Al Paltin.

I would suggest you try the next show which will be at the Martinez Senior Center, at 818 Green Street in Martinez, this coming Friday the 29th at 1 p.m., or the Nick Rodriquez Center at 213 F. Street, in Antioch on September 12th and 13th at 8 p.m. and o September 14th at 2 p.m., Call 689-3368 or visit their website at for more information and ticket prices.