Christmas season entertainment offerings abound, all around the Bay!

Eddie Money brings his Christmas Show to San Francisco!
Photo used with permission

Well, the Christmas season is rapidly approaching, Christmas lights are going up and Karen and I even saw Christmas trees in home windows as we drove through Lafayette this past weekend. Yes, I know, from an entertainment standpoint, that means the annual onslaught of feel good stories and musicals are wending their way down a holiday lane to a theater near you. First out of the holiday entertainment chute is Irving Berlin’s ever popular “White Christmas”, a heartwarming story of gratitude, love and hope that returned to the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek this past week and continues through December 4th in the Margaret Lesher Theatre. Get ready for caring and giving and the celebration of Christmas.!

I would imagine that you have probably seen the 1954 Paramount movie by that same name that brought Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Verra Ellen together in a little Pine Tree Lodge in upstate Vermont. If you haven’t, then right now would be an excellent time to start warming up the cockles’ of your heart with some excellent music, some outstanding singing, dancing and acting talent mixed with an upbeat seasonal message.

The Diablo Theatre Company has marshaled the talents of Director Marilyn Langbehn, Musical Director G. Scott Lacy and choreographer Suzanne Brandt who have brought to the stage a highly entertaining musical comedy for your enjoyment. Two young men, Jeffrey Adams and Stephen Perez, step into the roles of Wallace (Crosby in the movie) and Davis (Kaye in the movie) and Alicia Teeter and Sharon Reitkerk ease their ways into the lead female characters, Betty Haynes (Clooney) and her sister, Judy Haynes (Ellen).

The story revolves around two guys, one who was a former Broadway entertainer and the other, a wannabe entertainer, who became military buddies during World War II. The story opens near the end of the military involvement of their company, the 151st infantry battalion in the European Campaign. Wallace and Davis have helped to produce a show for the guys when it is announced that their General, Major General Thomas F. Waverly is being mustered out, retiring from military life. The beloved General is given a rounding send off and Wallace and Davis vow to work together in the entertainment field after they are discharged from their military service.

The boys do continue to work together and become a very successful song and dance team, eventually becoming one of the hottest groups on Broadway, even producing their own musicals. In this process it becomes quite obvious that Davis (Stephen Perez) is the playboy and Wallace (Jeffrey Adams) the all-business professional who has little or no time to chase skirts seeking romantic opportunities. Davis is determined to make a happily married man of Wallace, whom he sees as overworked and becoming burned out. He constantly sets up blind dates and opportunities for his buddy to meet the right girl, only the right girl never seems to come along, as Wallace really isn’t interested. Then Davis stumbles across a couple of very talented sisters. The Haynes Sisters, Betty and Judy, who also perform in nightclubs as a sisters act.Davis decides to try once again to play matchmaker by getting the two gals to join their production company. As best laid plans do occasionally fall apart, Davis’s original plan doesn’t even get off the ground and so he decides to go out on a limb, He has taken a liking to Judy Haynes and doesn’t really want to let her get completely out of his sights. Davis’s new idea literally involves derailing Bob’s plans to take the train south to spend the winter months in Florida, while working on a new show. Davis lies to Wallace, telling him that he will take care of everything and get them on the right train, but instead reroutes their train tickets to Vermont, where it just so happens the gals, Judy and Betty, have a job performing at a ski lodge.

Some like it hot and some like it cold, but Bob is definitely hot when he finds out he has been side tracked and sent towards a frigid winter scene instead of leisurelycomposing new songs while basking in the Florida sunsets. When the four entertainers arrive in Vermont, much to everyone’s surprise, the snow forgot to show as well, and the winter tourists are leaving the lodge in the lurch for other winter climes. Our foursome also discover that the lodge is the retirement home of their beloved General Waverly, who invested everything, including all his savings and pension proceeds in this post-military retirement dream. Much to their dismay, they also learn that the Lodge is up to its rafters in debt, and about to go bankrupt. They decide to take a crack at turning the old stage in the barn into a theater and bring all their production performers up to Vermont to produce their new show in this experimental venue, hoping to turn General Waverly’s luck around and to try out their new show way off, off Broadway!

The general has turned to Martha Watson (Nancy Sale), to assist in the management of the Lodge, and she does her best to manage the facility, but without snow or a winter attraction to hold the turistas, try as she may, the money just never catches up with the need. General Waverly’s granddaughter Susan (Lauren McNutt) is also visiting from California, also seeking the snow which didn’t show, but provides some support in addition to the very caring Martha Watson.

There is a terrific cast of very exciting dancers and singers, that include far more than I have the space to name here, but they provide some really wonderful dancing routines, singing Irving Berlin’s great poignant words and romantic refrains, over and over and again and again! The four leads, Adams, Perez, Teeter and Rietkerk were quite outstanding in every respect. Nancy Sales was absolutely superb, so good that she almost stole the show! Dan Cawthon, who played the General, was exceptionally good as well. I also have to mention the excellent lighting by David Lamb and the superb, superb costumes, brought together by Tammy Berlin.

The romantic pill turns out to be a bit bitter for a while but finally the misunderstanding and misgivings give way to true love for the guys and gals, success for the lodge and the final act drew a great big ovation! This is an old chestnut, but a much loved chestnut that is well worth the journey to the Lesher Regional Center for the Arts at 1300 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek. This fun filled love story, musical and comedy, was well received and while there were a couple of things that I think would have been better received if done differently, the over-all production was very pleasing and the audience seems to just love it!

I hope you have already purchased your tickets to "White Christmas", because I learned during my attendance on this past Saturday, that all tickets for the remaining three performance run of the show (December 3rd, 4th (matinee and evening performances) are already sold out!!! If you want to check in to see if there are any cancellations, call the Lesher Center box office at (925) 943-7469 or visit their website at or simply take a chance and stop by the ticket booth in the Lesher Center just before a show to see if anyone has turned in the tickets. Ticket prices range between $20 and $42. This is a really enjoyable Christmas flavored show!

Guitarist Ottmar Liebert plays some cool latin nouveau flamenco and Eddie Money is about to perform his "Acoustic Christmas" show in San Francisco!

This past weekend, the Rrazz Room in the hotel Nikko on Mason Street in San Francisco offered up an evening of fine guitar entertainment featuring the world famous, globe trotting Ottmar Liebert, nouveau flamenco guitarist extraordinaire. I have enjoyed the scintillating Latin sounds of German born guitarist Ottmar Liebert for many years. He has been nominated for 5 Emmy awards and since 1990 he has released 25 albums and has received 38 Gold and Platinum certifications for his highly sought after and widely distributed albums. He often is accompanied by a base guitarist and a percussionist in a small group he calls, Luna Negra (Black Moon).

Having listed to the exciting music from a cross section of his albums, including such favorites as “Barcelona Nights”, “Nouveau Flamenco”, “Santa Fe”, “The Hours Between Night and Day”, and compilations such as “Surrender To Love” and “Barcelona Nights: The Best of Ottmar Liebert”, I was surprised to discover that this performance by Ottmar Liebert would be solo, sans Luna Negra. No explanation was given other than his producer “was sure we would love it”. Granted, the virtuoso was as great as ever in delivering his unique Latin flavored sounds, but it was not the show we were expecting. A lovely lady sitting next to us (Hildi B.) voiced her mild disappointment at the end of the performance, stating that while she enjoyed his music in general, she had specifically brought a guest (Judy M.), who was not familiar with Ottmar’s music, fully expecting for her to experience the depth and diversity of this performer’s music, a sound that Hildi was personally accustomed to. She described the offering as “monochrome”, pure and simple and I couldn’t agree more. It certainly lacked the vibrancy that is prevalent in his albums, a sound that to me is far more exciting than what we heard live. The evening’s experience was similar to sitting at home relaxing with friends enjoying the music of a brilliant solo guitarist. My personal feeling was that it was not as exciting as what I’ve heard on his albums, accompanied by his group.

Ottmar (originally an art student) is also an avid photographer and his show is accompanied by a remarkable slide show. There were two large monitors set up on both sides of the stage where his photos, taken from his travels around the world, were projected. These are images he has taken over recent years, images that are quite beautiful and certainly added significantly to the experience.

I have been very fortunate to be invited to the Rrazz Room to report on this venue’s outstanding offerings which have included many, many highly respected, long time professional performers over the past few years, including some of my favorites, Lucie Arnaz, Mary Wilson of the Supremes, Stephanie Powers (who starred with Robert Wagner in Hart to Hart) and songwriters/song stylists Ashford and Simpson.

If you enjoy rock and roll then don’t miss what promises to be a terrific musical experience this coming weekend in the Rrazz Room when 70’s and 80’s super-star Eddie (Mahoney) Money brings his show , “An Acoustic Christmas”, to San Francisco. Eddie Money was a transplant from New York to Berkeley, California in the 60’s, where he first hit success with Columbia Records. He has been around the rock and roll scene since the mid 70’s and has sold over 11 million records. His big hits, “Two Tickets to Paradise” and “Baby Hold On”, are still reverberating on the oldies stations. He has performances at 7 and 9:30 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday.

Tickets are a very reasonable $45 to $50 each. You can call for reservations at (866) 468-3399 and/or visit their website to get a flavor of the terrific variety of coming events. Host-escorted seating assigned is on a first come, first serve basis. Doors open 90 minutes prior to show. The Rrazz Room has a two-drink minimum and tickets are non-refundable. They have a variety of very nice drinks, alcoholic or not, and they have a bistro meal menu. With a Rrazz Room validation, parking at the Mason O'Farrell Garage is $10 (up to five hours) and $15 (up to ten hours). Enter the garage from Mason or O'Farrell Streets. Karen and I usually take BART and walk the four blocks to the beautiful Hotel Nikko!