by Patrick Shannon, III
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Camping With The Black Cat, Again!
A Revisit to Hollywood Heaven and The Black & White Blues
"The other day I went camping with Richard Simmons and we didnít even leave the living room!" (Comedienne, Joan Rivers)
Ricky Graham as Bette Davis & Roy Haylock (Bianca Del Rio) as Joan Crawford in Hollywood Heaven at Le Chat Noir
Le Chat Noir, cabaretlechatnoir.com (The Black Cat), is by now the most famous cabaret in New Orleans. The elegant and beautiful Ms. Barbara Motley and her hard working crew have put The Black Cat on the map and I get E-mail questions and comments from all over the world about this wonderful venue.
Ms. Motley has wisely opened the small stage and performance area to new plays and original works as well as the tried and true from the New York scene among others. This lady is a class act. She has completely refurbished a traditional old building at 715 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, into one of the most chic cabaret/theatre/bars in our town making it the one place to go, to have a show produced, or just to be seen. Anyone who is ANYONE or who thinks theyíre anyone or wants to be seen as anyone, can be found filling Le Chat Noir; from the wan-na-bes to the use-ta-bes, to the fans showing their fannies like groupies for their favorite performers, theyíre all there and itís one of the most energetic and wonderful watering holes for those who need a good cocktail or two.
So, you gather by now, I love the place and Iíve been there often. As such I have seen many wonderfully serious plays, heard wonderful cabaret singers, and seen some of our greatest camp masters do their parodies par excellence on the Le Chat Noirís playing area. And that brings us to my most recent visits to Le Chat Noir.
Two works of major-minor works of genius are still playing at Le Chat Noir. I was told they had tightened up and redone the works; and I was asked to see them again and tell us about the new look. Well, itís true. The two major minor-works of genius I refer to are,
Roy Haylock & Ricky Graham in Hollywood Heaven at Le Chat Noir
of course, Hollywood Heaven and The Black & White Blues (both concoctions sweeter than our locally crafted Heavenly Hash candy and as addictive as hash to a 24/7 professional wool gathering dreamer).
Hollywood Heaven is a brilliant parody, but itís a wickedly dark one, the kind that you canít just see one time. Addictive parody seems to be the special expertise of some of our most gifted theatre talents, Ricky Graham, Roy Haylock, Bob Bruce, Harry Mayronne, Heidi Junius and a few others not relevant to this review. But you know who you are and youíre a rare flock indeed for which this reviewer is grateful to have seen in performance - but back to Hollywood Heaven.
Itís not a new idea in theatre to parody well known movie stars and famous personalities. But itís the way itís done that makes or breaks the show. The plot of Hollywood Heaven is simple. Heaven is too full of dead
celebrities. God needs more room. Too many seem to be dying to get in one way or another. Truman Capote (one of Ricky Grahamís many roles) is standing at the pearly gates, handling the entry point switchboard so to speak. Some of them have to go. Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Carmen Miranda, Marilyn Monroe, Hattie McDaniel, Natalie Wood, Mae West, and as Luella Parson would have said, "A whole lotta others and we all had such a lovely time, and just everyone loved the lychee nuts!" Truman Capoteís job is to handle the ins and outs. Each one who is in heaven must prove why they should be allowed to stay. The plot that results is so hilariously clever that this is one show that will make you split your sides laughing.
The frantic antics of Ricky Graham and Roy Haylock, bedecked in the most beautiful as well as the most campy and outrageous costumes are stunning to behold as they cavort, wisecrack, and let out with more witty bon mots and one-liners than a staff writing for 50 of the best stand up comedians in the biz. I love Rickyís constant retort when another wan-na-be or "inside" celebrity is mentioned, the unforgettable Truman Capote line, "Oh I hate her!" Or when he has to announce to Judy Garland over the public address system in Heaven, "Miss Garland, Your prescriptions have arrived. (Pause) Bring a truck!" Mr. Grahamís scenes as Bette Davis with Roy Haylock as Joan Crawford are unforgettable!
Of course no one locally can do Bette Davis like Ricky Graham or Joan Crawford like Roy Haylock, but then Mr. Haylock also does a perfect job of Marilyn Monroe and numerous other icons of the silver screen. Composer, Harry Mayronne does a very funny Liberace at the piano as he also plays for the cast. Mr. Graham is right up there with him. His Truman Capote is a faultless camp. They are both masters of true character impersonations, just one of their many, many talents.
Roy Haylock & Ricky Graham in Hollywood Heaven at Le Chat Noir
The excellent and elegant very Art Deco "gateway to heaven" was designed and constructed by James R. Jennings. The lyrics (penned in some cases with a surgeonís scalpel or Melba Carondeletís curare dipped quill) are witty, wonderful and riotous and were done by Mr. Graham and Bob Bruce. The circus fast furious pacing, choreography, and direction were done by Heidi Junius with assistance from cast members. The original music was written by Harry Mayronne (the potential Mozart of our town) the off stage voices featured the golden talents of Becky Allen, Su Gonczy, Heidi Junius, Harry Mayronne, and Sean Patterson. Ms. Gonczy also did the lighting from every imaginable angle, but mostly "broad on" (get it?). Jason Knobloch did the effective sound design and execution of same.
If you havenít yet seen this show, see it before itís gone. Itís a major minor miracle of a parody that will, to quote Hallelujah Washington from the Treme neighborhood, "Bust yo ass wid laftah!" Hollywood Heaven is playing every Sunday at Le Chat Noir at 6pm - forever I hope! Iím sure Susan Sontag would describe Hollywood Heaven as a perfect example of high camp in good taste!
Another work of great satire and parody, The Black & White Blues by those gifted wits and wags, (book and lyrics by razor wit and uber raconteur, Ricky Graham, with original songs and music composed and arranged by Harry "Mozart" Mayronne) had its compact disc release party recently; and of course I was there (in my usual Lash LaRue or more recently, Johnny Cash all-in-black ensemble) hopefully to hide among all the glitterati; the wan-na-bes; the use-ta-bes; the chic; the rowdy warehouse boys and girls; the multi-talented gypsies, groupies and gropers; and anyone who is anyone. It was a packed house and the show was, Harry Mayronne told me, redone and tightened up, a remark that I could only wish applied to myself as well. However, Mr. Mayronne was right on the mark. The show was a fantastic nearly non-stop high top example of high camp wit at its best.
This jazzy-snazzy major-minor miracle of parody is a well cooked original sample platter of what the restaurant and waiter biz is REALLY LIKE. Itís no easy job being a "server" and thatís the truth. But only the wit, wisdom, and totally professional experience of performers like Ricky Graham and Harry Mayronne could have cooked up such a delicious platter of song and dance numbers that are so astonishing in their high energy as performed by Bob Edes, Jr., Heidi P. Junius, Jessie Terrebonne, and Christopher Wecklein. These gold star stage wise professionals made each song a showpiece showstopper. It was like watching 50 gypsies doing a number at a Broadway gala staged at Radio City Music Hall, thatís how big each satirical song and dance routine seems to fill the small stage of Le Chat Noir with its energetic routines.
All this great stage business and choreography was remarkable and it was the brainchild, the musical staging par excellence, of Heidi P. Junius. What a wonder work she creates in this show and not only that, but she plays some of the most hilarious parts: The Jewish lady who is so familiar to all of us, especially those who have lived in New York City - the demanding bitch with the Yankee/Yiddish accent that only the most outrageous of yentas could have. Ms. Junius has that stereotype down pat.
The most moving and tender song in the show is a lovely ballad Waiting Around, sung with a clear and moving style and beautiful voice of fellow cast-member waiter, Christopher Wecklein.
This is a truly high voltage satire on the plight of waiters everywhere and as such itís worthy of the compact disc that one can now buy of the equally electric super energy song work of the entire cast, Bob Edes, Jr., Heidi P. Junius, Jessee Terrebonne, and Christopher Wecklein. The show is amazing and highly entertaining in its professional polish and clever concept.
The costumes by Cecile Casey Covert are so imaginative and clever that they should be given an Ambie Award not to mention a Big Easy Award and any other that the theatre community offers. Her Fairy God-Waitress outfit and her version of what looked like a boiled shrimp cocktail were perfect examples of the high art of high camp when one has the talent to create such wonders.
James R. Jennings did the practical and attractive restaurant set, Su Gonczy the appropriate lighting, Jason Knobloch the sound design, with musical staging as mentioned by Heidi P. Junius, and direction by Ricky Graham assisted by Ms. Junius.
This is a remarkable work by Mr. Graham and Mr. Mayronne. It will live on as a classic of local talent for years to come. Even if youíve seen it before, see it again. Itís fresher, newer, and will simply blow you away.
So you see, you can go camping with all these people and not even leave Le Chat Noir! Itís a remarkable piece of original theatre that ranks high on any list of "must see shows!" Take Richard Simmons or Joan Rivers. Then you too can say, "I went camping and I never left Le Chat Noir." Please call Le Chat Noir at 504.581.5812 for performance dates and times of Hollywood Heaven and The Black & White Blues.
Sexy Music Again
"You know, sex without love is very difficult - itís very nasty." (Diana to her ex-husband, Todd)
"...tell me something, is it different making love to a man?" (Diana to her ex husband, Todd)
"Not for me. I use the same equipment." (Toddís response to Diana)
--Dialog from Charles Kerbs Sexy Music Again
Sexy Music Again, by the late Charles Kerbs, has just finished its run at the Cowpokes Theatre Space, www.cowpokesno.com, 1030 Marigny Street under the auspices of DRAMA!, www.DramaNO.org, 504.948.9924.
It is my opinion that there are only two really original and talented contemporary playwrights from New Orleans and one of them is the late Charles Kerbs, the other one, the very much alive and productive, Robert Tsarov.
Charles Kerbsí talent as a playwright was not as appreciated as it should have been during his life here in our town. He had a trunk load of good plays, but only during the last decade have there been so many new companies willing to produce new plays. In that respect, we saw only a few of his writings. The rest are yet to be discovered. And they will be, rest assured as they are rediscovered..
No better example of his sense of theatre, and his understanding of human nature could be found than in the recent production of Sexy Music Again. I am constantly amazed at the depth of his insight into the human condition and his innate talent with dialogue, plots, and themes in general; and we havenít even mentioned his spiky avant-garde sense of comedy and humor.
Sexy Music Again is even more amazing when one considers that it was written about 30 years ago. Its plot was way ahead of those times. Two characters, Diana (played by that explosion of blonde haired talents, Grace Fraga www.gracefraga.com, was done with a wit, excellent timing, and yet a soulful vulnerability -sort of a Judy Holiday interpretation as one may remember from her films and work on the stages of New York.)
Her ex-husband named Todd, and now gay, was performed with a worldly weary grace and sensitivity by Michael-Chase Creasy). But he left her for a guy and she remarried a boring straight dolt of a man.
One night she knocks on her gay, ex-husbandís apartment door. Sheís wearing a raincoat. Under that just a fancy slip. He opens the door, she enters and there begins an evening of bittersweet humor and a deep study of the meaning of love, loneliness, and the human need for touch, understanding, and sex. This is a play that actually says something about those mysterious subjects and lets the characters speak deeply and wisely in the words that could only come from the most perceptive imagination and deepest feelings of playwright Charles Kerbsí unique vision.
Grace Fraga as Diane takes to the role as if it were tailor made for her abilities. Ms. Fraga, a professional stand-up comedienne knows well, the other side of comedy - sorrow and pain. She is a voluptuously beautiful woman who can really act, and does so with a sense of style and vulnerability that just barely hides behind her quick timing and clever witty lines. I look forward to the day when someone in the theatre community casts her as Serafina in Tennessee Williamís The Rose Tattoo. This actress is made for that part.
Michael-Chase Creasy was excellent as the ex-husband who was gay, and finally left Diana for a younger boyfriend. He is now also adrift and lost on the sea of human need for warmth, touch, and yes, love and he seems to be barely afloat in a leaking little boat.
These fine performers of a deeply moving and meaningful Charles Kerbs play were directed by the very talented Chip Stelz in a manner that seemed effortless. And we all know that means Mr. Stelz really understood his material and his actors and made us all feel like voyeurs peering through a window at some real life event. Steltzís direction was as seamless as his actors performances.
Mr. Stelz also did the perfect "sloppy, deranged looking" set. (And I canít remember if heís even been to my house which a friend whispered in my ear, "must have been his inspiration." Those wicked wags.) His apartment (described as a "Downtown apartment - Anywhere USA" looks like my house), all 13 rooms - a used laundromat strewn with unfolded or unwashed clothes but complete with a full bar, a refrigerator, and a sofa bed. Magazines, papers and bit and pieces of trash in piles everywhere. In short, a place that symbolizes a totally confused, unhappy, mind-set. Itís certainly not a typical upscale queens apartment which every play or movie seems to think we all live in. Chic as compared to bleak.
Blake Balu did his usual excellent job wearing several hats for this fine production: Stage Manager, Lights and Sound Board, and all around right hand man. The well done lighting was designed by Troy McVey. John Gregory Winslow was the dialogue coach and William C. Smith was the main carpenter for set construction.
This was a play worthy of a talented playwright and worthy of an appreciative audience. Its theme was Tennessee Williams in its concern for lost, lonely souls seeking love, companionship and/or redemption, but its style was pure Charles Kerbs. May we all see more of this late great manís works.
Charles Kerbs was a man who knew comedy and humor but also knew that they were just the bright ribbons and paper we usually use to box up and disguise human loss and suffering. Sexy Music Again is dark comedy of the highest quality and was performed as such by a very top-notch cast and crew!
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