SpamAlot is hot, hot, hot! On The Town and All Shook Up both get rave reviews!

I wrote in my article on September 10th that Monty Python’s SpamAlot was a show that was bound to be fun and after seeing the show this past week, it was even better than I thought it could possibly be! I just checked on their box-office website at and found that there are still tickets for this evening’s 8 p.m. show, as well as tomorrow’s 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. shows so pickup that phone and give them a call. This is one of the most outrageously fun shows you will ever see!

If you are not familiar with the wacky story, it began back in 1969 with a series of comedic skits on BBC that were known as Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The show became so popular that in 1975, the first movie by this wacky troupe was born and Monty Python and the Holy Grail came into being.

King Arthur and his lusty knights of the round table are extracted right from the original movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and they are more lusty than ever! King Arthur (played by Christopher Gurr) travels with his faithful servant and sidekick, Patsy, who carries all of his gear while Arthur plods on his quest for the Holy Grail, unfettered! Patsy (played brilliantly by Jeff Dumas) is a master of understatement, with all the right moves and at the right time. The characters in the movie consist of the standards, Sir Lancelot (Matthew Greer), Sir Dennis Galahad (Ben Davis), Sir Robin (James Beaman), the Historian/French Guard/Not Dead Fred/a minstrel/Prince Herbert (all played brilliantly by Christopher Sutton), the Lady of the Lake (Merle Dandridge). There are many actors, each of whom are uniquely well cast for their parts, but to me one of them absolutely most outstanding performers is non-other than Christopher Sutton, the gentleman I interviews while he was in Los Angeles two weeks ago. I would go back to see the show again for a lot of reasons, but I have to say that Mr. Sutton is without a doubt a singular sensation.

One of the characters in the movie exists only as a reference and that is the Lady of the Lake, the mysterious aqueous messenger who brings Excalibur from the waters of the lake and delivers that famous sword to the gentleman who was then to be declared the King of all Briton (England, and if you didn’t know that, you must be a clod!). The expanded that role in the musical so that they would have an excuse for a bunch of downright sexy women to get up on the stage and cavort practically naked!!! (and of course, yours truly loved this part, let’s face it I’m a normal kind of guy)

Of course if the ladies of the lake were any more sexy and vivacious, I would say Viva Camelot and start looking for my own time machine. The Gorgeous Lady of the Lake and her “cheeky Ladies of the Lake, are just plain drop dead beautiful. I love the way one of the characters describes them as “Soggy little blonds, with their bums in the pond” but I would happily be a frog in their pond, just happy to terry and oogle on!

The show is just plain outrageous madcap fun with a flatulent knight, a killer rabbit, a persistent Black Knight who continues to fight even without legs and arms, a group of Knights who say “NI” and demand a “Shrubbery” to allow the King to continue on his quest for the Grail. These hapless chainmail champions were overlooked when the history books were actually recorded, but you can learn all about them now and you will forever be grateful to me for introducing you to Monty Python’s SpamAlot!!!

The story is described more thoroughly in my earlier article, but my point in this little blurb, is to get you off the couch, into your car and send you down the road to Broadway San Jose, in the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts complex at 255 Almaden Blvd., in San Jose, across the street from the San Jose Convention Center. In fact I found that the convention center parking facility, was a very safe and secure place to park my car and it is only half a block away from the theater. Visit their website at or call (866) 395-2929 for more information. It’s not toooooooo laaaate! Call now!
As I open my notebook this morning, my first decision it to decide which of the two terrific shows now in production in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, to tell you about first. Normally I select the show that is closest to Rossmoor in terms of distance, but since they are both in the same building, equidistant from Rossmoor, I guess it doesn’t really matter as both shows are equally and thoroughly delightful. Diablo Theatre Company, formerly known as Diablo Light Opera Company, has brought back a fun-filled musical from the 40’s that was very popular on stage and screen, “On The Town”. Center Repertory Company is offering a delightfully new musical, recently receiving great reviews on Broadway, that takes the music made popular by Elvis Presley and created a fun-filled and outrageously funny story entitled, “All Shook Up”.

Quite frankly, I am a little surprised that the management of the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts would allow two competing theatrical companies to both schedule musicals for the same time frame. With theatre dollars as dear as they are these days, in my own mind, I would think it would be counterproductive to the success of both companies to have competing musicals appealing to audiences that lean towards that same entertainment medium. I may be totally wrong, but maybe the diversity will draw even greater dollars and greater audiences to both companies. However, you, their audience, now have two great choices, two terrific shows, both quite different in style, in the same convenient facility. Wow, the choice should now be easy as I am going to recommend that you see both!

“On The Town” is a delightful comedy about three war-time “Gobs” (sailors) with a 24 hour “shore-leave” pass and a yearning to discover why the world calls New York City “- - one hell-of-a-town”. The stage production was a huge success and hit its stride on Broadway in 1944. This light-hearted musical was created by Betty Comden and Adolf Green in book form, based on Jerome Robbin’s idea for his 1944 ballet, Fancy Free, to include music by Leonard Bernstein. The musical introduced several songs that became very, very popular and recorded over and over again by numerous stars; songs such as “New York, New York”, “Lonely Town” and “Some Other Time”. The musical integrates dance into its storytelling: Robbins made a number of ballets and extended dance sequences for the show, including the "Imaginary Coney Island" ballet.

By 1949, the huge success of the stage show spawned a movie version, featuring the dancing prowess of Gene Kelly both as a lead character and associate director. The movie version was rather unique as Kelly insisted that it be shot, to a great extent, on location in New York City. The movie version won the Academy Award for Best Music (even though much of Bernstein’s music was dropped in favor of Eden’s music), scoring of a Musical Picture, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Cinematography, and other awards as well.

What would a story about Gobs be, - - if there were no gals? Nada, nada, not so hotta! Naturally, in a rather somewhat silly story-line that evolves, one of the guys spies a poster of a beautiful girl featured as “New York City’s Miss Turnstile of the Month”. The story ushers the gobs off on an all-consuming mission to “find that girl”. Naturally, before the 24 hour pass expires, each of the three sailors becomes enamored with the particular charms of a particular woman of their own— and of course, the city itself.

Naturally, the stage cannot easily capture the nuances of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Rockerfeller Center and the American Museum of Natural History, but scenic designer Robert Broadfoot has created a very special and spectacular ambiance that will make New Yorkers feel right at home.

This musical stars six really outstanding actors who portray the three gregarious guys and three gorgeous gals, who find love “On the Town”. Director Mindy Cooper sought out and secured the talents of Bryan McElroy (as Gabey), Ryan Drummond (as Ozzie) and Mark Farrell (as Chip), the three love struck Gobs. Bryan McElroy played Tommy DeVito in the touring production of “Jersey Boys” during its 2007 run in San Francisco at the Curran Theatre. Both Ryan Drummond and Mark Farrell have received many kudos from this reviewer for their many appearances around the Bay, and particularly in our own local theaters. While the guys are great, so are the gals with Hope Mirlis (as the sexy and provocative Hildy Esterhazy), Emma Goldin (as Claire de Loone) and Courtney Iventosch (as subway poster-girl Ivy Smith). There are numerous other performers who contribute significantly to the production, but none more so than the extraordinary dancers of the “Company C Contemporary Ballet” company which, through its director, Charles Anderson, brings to the core of this exciting production, a pluperfect thirteen-member ensemble of classically trained dancers. I have always loved classical ballet but when integrated into a story of this type, their “moving, provocative, sensual and entertaining” talent sets this show apart from just about any local musical productions we have seen in recent years.

Stellar, stunning and enthralling, this production is an old-fashioned heart-warming musical that should absolutely not be missed! The orchestra under the very capable direction of Cheryl Yee Glass once again brings a brilliantly directed and fun-filled musical to its full fruition.

Performances of “On the Town” continue Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Sadurdays and Sundays at 2 p.m., now through September 27th in the Hofmann Theatre. Tickets are a more than reasonable $29 to $42 each, depending on production date and seating. You may call the Lesher Center ticket office at 943-7469 or visit their web-site at or at the DLOC web page, . The Lesher Center for the Arts is located in the heart of Walnut Creek, at 1601 Civic Drive.

There's a whole lot of Shakin' goin' on in Walnut Creek

Now, time to take another deep breath as I am still in “rave” mode and about to shout about another terrific production taking place at the same time, in the same venue, with Center Repertory Company’s brilliantly funny, superbly directed “All Shook Up” , in the Margaret Lesher Theatre.

This musical is all new and all together intrinsically in tune with the music and character of movies made by America’s great rock ‘n roller, Elvis Presley! Following the lead of a new musical style pioneered by ABBA ‘s creative team, who took the very popular music of their band, and created a delightfully romantic and upbeat story about a single mother on a little Greek island, in their production of “Mama Mia”, this musical has done something equally as fun and exciting with the music of Elvis Presley. This “jukebox musical” played well on Broadway in 2005 and closed after 213 performances and won the 2005 Theatre World Award and a 2005 Drama Desk Award as well.

While not as brilliantly conceived at “Mama Mia”, the story is a delightfully modern take on William Shakespeare’s 12th Night, especially as it relates to mistaken identities causing a mismatch of lovers’ interests. The lead character, Chad, is slightly reminiscent of a cross between Brando’s motorcycle, show-boating character in the movie The Wild One, and Elvis Presley’s rebel character in his seventh movie, “Wild in the Country”.

The story evolves in the mid 1950’s as a young, handsome, motorcycle riding, guitar playing, sexy crooning, roustabout, Chad (David Sattler), pulls into a small Midwest town. Before the roar of his motorcycle dies out, he is immediately seen by all the women in town as a tantalizing piece of non-conformity, It doesn’t take long before he cuts loose his pelvis gyrating moves on the moral majority (a town which had passed the Mamie Eisenhower Morality Act), and in so doing, shakes the sanctity and piety of this little country town down to its slumbering core.

Mindy Lym plays Natalie Haller, the grease monkey, tom-boy daughter of the town’s only gas station owner, Jim Haller (Colin Thomson). Naturally, Miss Haller perks up when she hears the roar of Chad’s motorcycle, pulls him to one side and cautions him that he is about to suffer a blown gasket if she doesn’t take an immediate look at his – ah – er - bike! Chad is a typical Elvis character, extremely good looking, sexy, swaggering with all the etceteras that Elvis was noted for, without actually trying to make him into an Elvis look and act alike. Chad immediately focuses his attention on the town’s librarian, Miss Sandra (Elise Youssef), whose good looks could write a new chapter in Google references. She wants nothing to do with this leather jacketed, intellectually inept, guitar banging troubadour. Chad forms a friendship with a local nerd, Dennis (Benjamin Pither), who follows Chad everywhere and becomes his sidekick doing Chad’s bidding. Dennis is feeling for the first time in his lonely life what it is like being respected and needed by someone, even if it is not a female.

Natalie decides that maybe the way for a tom-boy mechanic to get close to this rough hewn roustabout, is to don a motorcycle jacket, paint on a mustache and pretend to be a male of similar ilk. Now we have a female playing a slightly built male, who is apparently very knowledgeable about Shakespeare’s sonnets, thus causing the very sexy librarian to fall for Natalie, whom she thinks is a male.

To make a long story short without revealing the many intricacies and rollercoaster turns this tale has yet to take, this wild and wacky story is outrageously funny, superbly directed by Robert Barry Fleming. It is so good, so well done in every respect by a terrific cast, that I couldn’t begin to individually praise every actor highly enough. It is hard to believe that his is a local production, comprised of local actors, and not a touring Broadway show! I don’t believe I have ever seen a more enjoyable musical production in this 300 seat theater. Artistic Director Michael Butler who has taken over the helm of Center Repertory Company has done an outstanding job with this production. Michael is a very accomplished musician himself and it really shows in the stellar production.

Musical director Dolores Duran-Cefalu keeps the tempo up, without blasting us out of the theater, and the band really swings in perfect synchronicity. If you ever enjoyed Elvis Presley’s music, this show is an absolute must. The writers had to stretch the story line a bit to get so many different songs into the story, but all-in-all it works very well.

This show is as I declared earlier in this review, is “A must see production!” It plays Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with afternoon matinees at 2:30 p.m., on Saturdays and Sundays. “All Shook Up” continues through October 10th in the Margaret Lesher Theater in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek. In addition to the phone numbers, box office address and web site listed in the previous story, you should also be aware that you can pick up tickets in the Barnes & Noble bookstore, in Walnut Creek.

Music in the Park is a lark with Cajun music served up this week at Todos Santos Plaza in Concord by "Gator Beat"!

Finally, my entertainment notebook reminds me of another musical opportunity coming our way. I’ll bet you enjoy music in the park, especially if it is free! Well, a good friend of mine, Jim Ocean, who brokers many different outstanding concert programs through his company Creative Musical Alternatives. Jim provides the entertainers who appear during the City of Concord’s “Music and Market” music series at Todos Santos Plaza (park) in downtown Concord. This past week I was fortunate enough to drop by the park and took a few photos and listened to the lively upbeat grooving of a relatively new group calling themselves “Barely Manilow”. While speaking with Jim, I discovered that a really unique concert will be coming our way this Thursday evening (9/17/09) with the Cajun musical styling’s of a band called “Gator Beat”. To quote their web site: “Unlike Louisiana zydeco bands, Gator Beat plays many styles well. They embrace Cajun, with french lyrics, traditional button box, triangle. They execute hard core zydeco with piano, accordion, washboard, and with the driving rhythm, they knock out New Orleans funk and blues with keys and sax.”

Todo’s Santos Park is a great place to take your folding lawn chairs, a picnic lunch and a bottle of wine, and join in the fun while friends gather to dance on the grass or watch the kids frolic to some great local musicians. If you like Louisiana blues and funk, then this should be on your calendar. The band kicks up around 6:30 pm and plays until 8 pm. This is also the site of the Concord Farmer’s Market, which surrounds the park parameter. There are many food and drink vendors and the police do a great job ensuring the peace and family fun will go on unimpeded.

The easiest route to Todos Santos Plaza (park) is by taking the I-680 freeway north, along the highway 24 connector towards Antioch, to the Willow Pass exit, then drive east on Willow Pass road to the Plaza, which is located between Mt. Diablo Street and Grant Streets. You can also take BART to the Concord BART station and walk four blocks down Grant Street to reach the Plaza.

You can check out the concert listings at which provides you with a lot of listings all over the Bay Area.