One of the joys of getting back into the reviewing scene in Los Angeles after a ten-year absence is discovering new theatre groups, new venues and most especially new talent. Musical theatre has always been my specialty—I could see a dozen or more different productions of a musical I really liked as opposed to maybe just two or three repeat productions of a non-musical play. I also reviewed a lot of cabaret acts in venues mostly gone these days-Studio One’s Backlot, The Rose, The Rose Tattoo, The Cinegrill as well as the still thriving Gardenia.
On Monday, March 3 I made my first visit to Sterling’s Upstairs at The Federal in North Hollywood. It’s a great venue for cabaret style entertainment. I remember nights spent downstairs in what was then a 99-seat theatre venue. Record producer and theatre maestro Bruce Kimmel was presenting his 43rd Kritzerland evening, his monthly revue of musical theatre songs and history. My first Kritzerland turned out to be a celebration of prolific Broadway Producer/Director Harold “Hal” Prince, winner of 21 Tony Awards. He has more individual Tonys than any other person and shepherded enduring classics as well as commercial flops. Kimmel served as host for the evening and provided fun factoids about Prince and the various shows from which the 21 songs he chose first appeared. It was a nice mixture of well-known and little-known songs from big hits and from big flops. But I was surprised not to hear anything from A DOLL’S LIFE. (Just kidding Bruce)
His cast of seven was also a nice mixture of new and established local musical theatre talent. Special Guest Terri White brought down the house with her performance of “Who’s That Woman?,” a song she performed in the recent revival of Stephen Sondheim’s FOLLIES. She even brought her tap shoes! Robert Yacko easily essayed the classic John Raitt style in “Hey There” from PAJAMA GAME before shifting into the heartbreaking “Not A Day Goes By” from MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. His voice has matured and grown richer since I last heard him and his “Pretty Women” from SWEENEY TODD should have producers clamoring to cast him in a production ASAP. A recent discovery for me was the multi-talented Ashley Fox-Linton here being winsome and funny in “Lovely” as well as delicate and soulful in “A Quiet Thing,” first introduced by Liza Minnelli. Fox-Linton also effortlessly made her way through Sondheim’s bullet train of a song, “Another Hundred People.” Josh Grisetti impressed with his basso profundo rendition of “I Rise Again” from ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY as well as belting out the paean to romantic survival “Being Alive” from COMPANY. Jean Louisa Kelly had a lot of fun channeling her inner Barbara Cook with “Vanilla Ice Cream” from SHE LOVES ME as well as giving a feminine touch to SWEENEY TODD’s “Not While I’m Around.” Young Jenna Lea Rosen delivered a soaring version of the expanded “The Glamorous Life” from the film version of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC while young Sami Staitman had fun with the bawdy “Don’t Tell Mama” from CABARET.
Overall it was a very entertaining and informative evening of theatre songs in an intimate and lively setting. I’m eagerly looking forward to my next visit to Kritzerland.