San Francisco silent filmfest, “Behind the Door” on Blu-ray, North Carolina’s silent era

“Get Your Man” (1927) with Clara Bow and Buddy Rogers.
“Get Your Man” (1927) with Clara Bow and Buddy Rogers.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival gets under way June 1 at the city’s treasured silent-era movie palace, The Castro. Harold Lloyd’s popular “The Freshman” (1925), featuring a climactic football game filmed at UC Berkeley, is slated for opening night. Douglas Fairbanks Sr. headlines the closing night June 4 in “The Three Musketeers” (1921). In between the schedule promises some real gems, including the definitive restoration of Sergei Eisenstein’s masterpiece “Battleship Potemkin” (1925), about the 1905 revolution—one of the greatest films ever made by anyone, anywhere, any time.

The 22nd annual SFSFF will screen two silents directed by women, the reconstructed version of Dorothy Arzner’s “Get Your Man” (1927) with Clara Bow and Buddy Rogers, and Lois Weber’s “The Dumb Girl of Portici” (1916) with ballet legend Anna Pavlova, the first blockbuster ever directed by a woman. African-American director Oscar Micheaux’s “Body and Soul” (1925) features Paul Robeson in his film debut.

Also showing: Tod Browning’s “Outside the Law” (1920) with Lon Chaney in a dual role and Anna May Wong; the brilliantly photographed Japanese silent, “A Page of Madness” (1926); Ernst Lubitsch’s “The Doll” (1918); the first film adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World” (1925) in a new reconstruction; Cecil B. DeMille’s long lost “Silence” (1926); and footage from a lost Wallace Beery-Louise Brooks comedy. Music scores will be performed live by the Alloy Orchestra, Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, Donald Sosin, Stephen Horne and others.

“Behind the Door” is a 1919 film (available on Blu-ray and DVD from Flicker Alley) that shows us some things have changed a great deal in the past century while other things haven’t changed at all. Xenophobia, which rears its ugly head early in the film when World War I is declared, is as virulent as ever. The heavy melodramatic style of acting has gone the way of the buggy whip but is fascinating to watch. Hobart Bosworth chews the scenery as the working-class hero; Wallace Beery, not to be outdone in his role as a villainous submarine commander, sneers into the camera in his first close-up.

This silent Thomas Ince production (newly restored in a collaboration between the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the Library of Congress and Gosfilmofond of Russia) belongs to a genre called revenge films. It’s “one of the most outrageous” pictures of its era according to film historian Kevin Brownlow, who gives us the lowdown on director Irving Willat and the cast in a superb bonus interview. The original color tinting scheme is painstakingly recreated; composer tephen Horne provides an appropriate score. A booklet full of erudite essays is included, par for the course with Flicker Alley.

“Asheville Movies, Volume I: The Silent Era,” a handsome volume by Frank Thompson, provides a vivid account of North Carolina’s early days as a magnet for film production. The book (available in paperback from Men with Wings Press) is crammed with rare photos and memorabilia from this forgotten period in the state’s filmmaking history, circa 1910-1929. Thompson makes you want to see many of the films, but sadly only nine of the nearly 350 silent movies made in NC are extant.

“Killer Angels” at Maverick Theater, Wajda’s “Afterimage” in cinemas

“Killer Angels” at Maverick Theater.
“The Killer Angels” at Maverick Theater.

The best way to comprehend the Battle of Gettysburg—the turning point in the Civil War—is to tour the battlefield with an historian. At present, your best bet on the Left Coast would be to check out “The Killer Angels” at Fullerton’s Maverick Theater (playing through June 24). Brian Newell’s adaptation of Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning historical novel is a fine dramatization that focuses on the strategic effort behind the scenes, on both sides of the conflict.

Brian Kojac heads a strong ensemble cast as General Robert E. Lee, in a beautifully understated performance that lends a gravitas to the proceedings. Frank Tryon (Col. Chamberlain, commanding the Union army), Mark Coyan, Brock Joseph, Paul Jasser and others too numerous to mention contribute finely-etched portrayals of officers and soldiers, putting a human face on the conflict of 1863 that consumed a horrific number of lives.

Newell (who has toured the battlefield, as I have) is practically a one-man show behind the scenes, producing and directing this epic 2.5 hour production as well as designing lights, sound, and costumes. The show repurposes the music of the late film composer James Horner (“Glory”). The Gettysburg Address, delivered by several cast members, provides a fitting conclusion to the proceedings, marking the 150th anniversary of the war’s end and Lincoln’s assassination.

Polish painter Władysław Strzemiński, co-founder of the National School of Fine Arts in Lódź, was the kind of professor who told his students, “The purpose of art is to impose its truth on reality.” The renowned avant-garde artist is the subject of “Afterimage,” the last film directed by the great Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda before his death in 2016. Film Movement presents the US theatrical release, opening in NYC on May 19th and in LA (at Laemmle Theaters) on May 26th.

Strzemiński (played by Boguslaw Linda) fights a no-win battle with the Stalinist government, clashing with their socialist agenda and campaign against “decadent art” in post-war Poland. Wajda, as uncompromising as his subject, conveys the indomitability of the human spirit and evokes the bleak mood of the era with a muted color palette.

Hot tip: Laguna Playhouse is offering free tickets for all theatergoers 21 and under (ID required) to “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey,” an inspirational one-man show written and performed by Academy Award-winner James Lecesne (June 11-25).

 

“My Son the Waiter” in Huntington Beach, “Middletown” in Anaheim

Brad Zimmerman in “My Son the Waiter.”
Brad Zimmerman in “My Son the Waiter.”

Will Eno’s “Middletown” (in its SoCal premiere at Anaheim’s Chance Theater through May 21) reminds you of Thornton Wilder’s celebrated “Our Town” from the get-go. This may or may not have been a conscious decision on Eno’s part but he’s trying to accomplish the same thing; the play is simple as well as profound, but not as profound as it endeavors to be. (A clever moment has actors portraying audience members, discussing the play and what it’s about).

What happens on stage is what might happen in any town on almost any given day: a librarian helping a patron find a book, a cop interrogating a drunk, a doctor telling a new mother her baby could grow up to be another Beethoven and suggesting she buy him a drum. There are some odd goings on and that’s as it should be in theatre; we can just watch TV if we want everything wrapped up in nice little packages.

Lola Kelly makes a strong impression as Mary, the new mother; Chance regular James McHale does likewise as John, a handyman. Ahmed Brooks (as a doctor and other characters) and Karen Webster (doctor/librarian) offer fine support. Trevor Bishop’s attentive direction is aided by Bruce Goodrich’s scenic design.

What happens when a nice Jewish boy wants to be an actor but ends up shlepping soup instead? Brad Zimmerman provides the answer in “My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy” (at Huntington Beach Library Theater through May 14). This autobiographical one-man show is essentially standup comedy; the jokes fly fast and thick but writer-performer Zimmerman leavens the laughs with self-reflection and personalizes the shtick with family anecdotes.

Would a gentile enjoy the show? No question. But Jews will derive an extra level of meaning from it. “I’m as far from a practicing Jew as you can get,” we’re assured. “I’m one step above a Muslim.” The comic, a former opening act for Joan Rivers and George Carlin, uses a technique not unlike Jackie Mason—he circles around a target and keeps firing on it from all sides. The result is pretty much a dead hit on the collective funnybone.

“Heart, Baby!” and shorts at Newport filmfest, “Tanna” on Blu-ray & DVD

Shawn-Caulin Young in “Heart, Baby!”
Shawn-Caulin Young in “Heart, Baby!”

One of the great things about the annual Newport Beach Film Festival—which wrapped its 18th edition last week—is the abundance of short film programs. If you don’t like what you’re watching, wait a few minutes. You’re bound to see something like the clever animated “Anatomie” or the surreal “Dreamkeeper” that’ll knock your socks off.

Prison films have changed radically since “Cool Hand Luke” reinvented the genre 50 years ago. What Angela Shelton’s “Heart, Baby!” (which screened twice at the festival) lacks in a name-brand star like Paul Newman it makes up for in strong naturalistic acting that pulls you into its unlikely scenario—based on a true story. Though it contains a scene that is almost an homage to “Luke” with a woman using her body to tease a busload of prisoners, “Baby!” is a love story at heart and a singular one at that.

A powerfully built African American with a knockout punch in the boxing arena, George (Gbenga Akinnagbe) has been incarcerated since he robbed a house at age 18; his cellmate, Crystal (the charismatic Shawn-Caulin Young), is a white transgender female junkie. When George rejects a shot at competing in the 1984 Olympics, only his boyhood friend and fellow prisoner, Doc (Jackson Rathbone), can handle the truth of their relationship.

Though the brutality—stabbings, beatings and more—makes “Baby!” difficult to watch at times, this film about people who want acceptance on their own terms is as inspiring as it is uncompromising. (The true happy ending occurred off-camera during the making of the film when the real-life George and Doc were reunited.)

Another tale of forbidden love based on a true story is the award-winning “Tanna,” set on an island in the South Pacific (available on Blu-ray and DVD through Momentum/Sony, also Amazon Video and iTunes). The picture was Oscar-nominated this year for Best Foreign Language Film, the first time a movie from Australia has been represented in that category.

Dain (Mungau Dain) and Wawa (Marie Wawa) are lovers no less star-crossed than Romeo and Juliet; unfortunately they’re members of the same tribe, the Yakel, thus their relationship goes against age-old customs. When their shaman is killed by the rival Imedin tribe, Wawa is betrothed as a peace offering. None of the cast members had ever seen a movie before making “Tanna,” much less acted in one (Marceline Rofit nearly steals the picture as Wawa’s little sister Selin).

Written by Bentley Dean, Martin Butler and John Collee in collaboration with the people of Yakel, the film was directed by Dean and Butler. The excellence of the picture belies the simplicity with which it was made. Dean shot the film on a single Canon camera, with its batteries charged each night by a single solar panel; his photography is stunning.

 

“Doll’s House 2” on stage, Newport filmfest and “Quiet Passion” on screen, “Tharlo” on DVD

Shannon Cochran and Lynn Milgrim in “A Doll’s House, Part 2” at South Coast Rep. Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR.
Shannon Cochran and Lynn Milgrim in “A Doll’s House, Part 2” at South Coast Rep. Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR.

What happens when Nora Helmer returns home for a visit, 15 years after she walked out at the end of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”? Lucas Hnath has come up with a surprisingly satisfying answer in his sequel to the classic drama (at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa through April 30). “A Doll’s House, Part 2” filters the characters through modern sensibilities, though the play is set in the same period as the original; Nora has become a successful author, penning an autobiographical albeit slightly fictionalized novel about a woman unhappy in her marriage.

Shelley Butler’s minimal direction works because the writing is compelling enough to stand on its own. Shannon Cochran is a tower of strength as Nora, a performance matched by Lynn Milgrim as her housekeeper, Anne Marie, and Virginia Vale as her now adult daughter. Bill Geisslinger is fine as Torvald; Sara Ryung Clement’s costumes make a strong impression.

The 2017 Newport Beach Film Festival, which offers more than 350 films from some 50 countries, continues through April 27. Screenings take place at the Big Newport, Islands, Triangle and Lido cinemas, as in previous years. New Italian, Swedish, French, and German films vie for attention in the European Spotlight tonight at the Triangle.

Terence Davies’ “A Quiet Passion” (which opened at the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles last week) offers up a markedly different portrait of Emily Dickinson from William Luce’s “The Belle of Amherst.” Writer-director Davies sets out to reveal the little known woman behind the familiar poems and largely succeeds, with Cynthia Nixon giving us a far more complex characterization than Julie Harris did so memorably in Luce’s beloved one-woman play.

“Passion” shows us where the poetry came from, and wanders into some dark corners in an attempt to humanize Dickinson. We see the young Emily growing up in an overtly religious household, with a strict no-nonsense father (a solid Keith Carradine), as well as the mature woman who rejects potential suitors as a matter of course, turning her back on love if she can’t have equality. Jennifer Ehle shines in support as Emily’s patient sister Vinnie.

A man who lives in the past is the heart and soul of a recent film by Tibetan filmmaker Pema Tseden. “Tharlo” (available on DVD from Icarus Films) tells the story of a sheepherder from rural Tibet who gets involved with an attractive hairdresser. The naturalistic acting draws the viewer in, but much of the film moves at a glacial pace. The original story by Tseden, included in a booklet, is itself a compelling read; curiously, one of the film’s best scenes, in which Tharlo sings a love song to the young lady in a karaoke bar, is only a single sentence in the story.

 

 

Reviving 1920s and ‘30s jazz in style, recalling Laurel and Hardy’s ‘50s music hall tour

Vince Giordano
Vince Giordano

What do Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Michael Feinstein know that most folks don’t? They’re all wild about, cannot do without Vince Giordano—when it comes to recreating the music of the 1920s and ‘30s and making it live for today, he’s “the top,” as Cole Porter would say. This guy eats and sleeps the sounds of the era, as vividly depicted in the new feature film documentary, “Vince Giordano: There’s a Future in the Past” (at Laemmle Theatres at L.A. through April 20).

Directed and produced by award-winning filmmakers Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards of Hudson West Productions, this is an outstanding portrait of the bandleader and bass player. The doc captures not only the glamour—the standing ovations, the delirious fans swing-dancing to the music—but the day-to-day grind of loading the instruments, booking the gigs, worrying about the sidemen that don’t show up.

Giordano grew up in the ‘50s listening to his grandparents’ record collection on their Victrola, until the music “became my calling and my religion.” It isn’t the money that drives the bandleader and his Nighthawks orchestra, it’s the passion, and that passion is abundantly clear in this film. By the way, if you’re in New York, you can hear them play their special brand of jazz live—as I’ve had the pleasure of doing—at Iguana NYC and elsewhere.

Laurel and Hardy on tour
Laurel and Hardy on tour

Michael Ehret would no doubt approve of the Nighthawks’ theme song (“The Moon and You”) since it was written for his favorite comedy team. The German jazz drummer has put together an extraordinary volume with Nico Cartenstadt of Belgium, “Spot On: An Audiovisual Account of Laurel and Hardy’s 1952 British Tour.” The book, crammed with previously unpublished color and black & white photographs, is obviously the work of devoted fans. Included are essays by Danny Bacher and Glenn Mitchell, plus copies of typescripts, programs, ship manifests, letters and more. Ever wonder what their wardrobe trunks looked like? Check out the full-page color photos here.

L&H fans might be forgiven for thinking the last thing they need is yet another book on the comedians. But this one is occasioned by the serendipitous find of a lost recording of the sketch “On the Spot!,” which the team performed live in music halls after their film career ended. The two-part, 20-minute sketch is included on a CD, along with a short interview Laurel gave to a French radio station circa 1950. The handsome hardcover book and CD are available in a limited edition from Michael Ehret Publishing.

Speaking of limited editions, Bonaventure Press tells me “Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies–The Ultimate Edition” by my pal Randy Skretvedt, is close to selling out its first and only hardcover printing. Little known details of their films, deleted scenes from the scripts, recollections of their collaborators, information about the locations and musical scores, tons of rare photographs—small wonder fans call it The Bible.

 

 

“The Siegel” and Playwrights Festival in Costa Mesa, “Stupid Bird” in Long Beach

Mamie Gummer and Ben Feldman in "The Siegel." Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR.
Mamie Gummer and Ben Feldman in “The Siegel.” Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR.

What if? That’s the question we all ask ourselves in the wee hours of the night, is it not? And that’s the proposition Michael Mitnick makes in “The Siegel” at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa (playing through April 23). What if you could take a second shot at something, a situation where you royally messed up–how would it play out?

Ethan Siegel, a determined young man, proposes marriage to his girlfriend Alice–two years after he broke up with her. Never mind that she has a boyfriend at present. Mitnick begins with this amusing off-kilter premise and builds on it with sharp wit and original dialogue. That he has a BA from Harvard and an MFA from Yale School of Drama will surprise no one.

Director Casey Stangl makes the smart choices SCR audiences have come to expect from her (Sarah Ruhl’s “In the Next Room, or the vibrator play” comes to mind). Ben Feldman (as Ethan) and Mamie Gummer (Alice) enhance the writing with exceptional performances that suggest we’ll be seeing more from them in the future; Matthew Arkin and Amy Aquino (Alice’s parents) and Dominique Worsley (her boyfriend Nelson) provide first-rate support, as does scenic designer Michael B. Raiford.

“The Siegel” is part of SCR’s annual Pacific Playwrights Festival, which includes world premiere productions of “A Doll’s House, Part 2” by Lucas Hnath (which plays through April 30, and supposes 15 years have passed since Nora Helmer walked out on her family at the end of Henrik Ibsen’s classic 19th century drama) and “Yoga Play,” a comedy by Dipika Guha (April 19-30).

The festival–celebrating its 20th anniversary this year–also offers staged readings of four new plays, including Amy Freed’s “Shrew!” (April 21 at 1 p.m.) and Donald Margulies’ “Long Lost” (April 22 at 10:30 a.m.), directed by his longtime collaborator, Daniel Sullivan.

Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” to which “The Siegel” makes oblique reference, is also the inspiration for a “retelling” called “Stupid F**king Bird” by Aaron Posner at The Garage Theatre in Long Beach (playing through April 29). The show, in which “a  young theatre artist tries to create a new form of theatre, to revolt against his mother, her generation, and their old ideas of art,” is set in 21st century America and directed by Matthew Anderson.

 

 

 

 

Comedy tonight: “Funny Thing” in Brea, vintage Burnett and Skelton on DVD

Together again - Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett.
Together again – Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett.

It’s hard to believe the theatrical juggernaut that is “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” almost wasn’t. When the Burt Shevelove-Larry Gelbart-Stephen Sondheim show first previewed on Broadway, audiences weren’t laughing; producers hurridly added some visual jokes to the opening number to convince people it was a comedy.

If you haven’t seen the show lately—or somehow haven’t seen it—the Southgate production at Brea’s Curtis Theatre (running through Apr. 9) is definitely worth a visit. Director Jonathan Infante keeps the farcical goings-on moving like a well-oiled machine. Scott K. Ratner, who heads up the show as Pseudolus, the sly, conniving slave who runs riot through ancient Rome, makes the long evening consistently fun; his bag of tricks includes a few that didn’t occur to the original producers.

Brian J. Cook looks a little too youthful and virile to play the henpecked head of the household who employs Pseudolus; similarly, Erich Schroeder is a bit too mature to be entirely convincing as Hero, his inexperienced son, who falls hopelessly in the love with the girl next door. Both however deliver the goods in performing their roles.

The rest of the ensemble is a mixed bag. Floyd Riggle is miscast as Pseudolus’ sidekick, Hysterium. Daniel Berlin seems wrong as Lycus—but a gay man who procures courtesans for a living would have no conflicts of interest, so his atypical approach works. Megan Cherry (Domina), Garry Hobday (Erronius), Kiana King (Tintinabula), Allison Aoun (Protean) are just right in their parts. Jo Monteleone’s musical direction is on solid ground.

If you like your entertainment vintage, you might want to time your visit to coincide with the wonderful silent movie poster exhibit next door at the City of Brea Art Gallery (running through Apr. 14).

“Carol + 2” (available on DVD from Time Life) is a long “lost” 1966 Carol Burnett TV special that co-stars her idol, Lucille Ball, along with Zero Mostel—who of course originated the role of Pseudolus in “Funny Thing.” The writing is exceptional, so it’s no surprise the show was written and produced by Nat Hiken, the genius behind “The Phil Silvers Show.”

Burnett is outstanding, proving even before her long-running series the sitcom sketch format that gave her a chance to play different characters, and play them broadly, was her forte; she also gets to sing. Zero does one good sketch with Carol and sings his evergreen “If I Were a Rich Man,” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Lucy is in top form here, including the memorable finale which has her and Carol playing cleaning ladies at the William Morris Agency and singing “Chutzpah!” No mention is made of Mostel’s 1943 film debut at MGM, which co-starred Ball—a missed opportunity for a bit together. Burnett’s 1972 special, “Once Upon a Mattress,” is a bonus on the disc.

“The Red Skelton Hour in Color” (also on DVD from Time Life) collects 12 shows previously unreleased on DVD from the great comedian’s TV variety program. The shows, originally aired from 1966-1969, feature Skelton clowning with stars like as John Wayne, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney, Phyllis Diller and Tim Conway, with such musical guests as Simon & Garfunkel.

Red was funnier in live performance than on TV but the shows hold up well. The writing is uneven, however; “Skelton viewed his writers as adversaries,” according to one I interviewed, Bob Weiskopf, and they hated him. There are lots of political jokes on these programs that still resonate. Wayne shines here, and his genuine affection for Skelton (and vice versa) is obvious. Conway proves he needs good material, like he enjoyed on the Burnett show (which he didn’t get on his outing with Skelton).

Yuri Temirkanov & St. Petersburg Phil at SCFTA, “Orange” at South Coast Rep

Yuri Temirkanov (courtesy IMG Artists)
Yuri Temirkanov (courtesy IMG Artists)

A friend once gave me a ticket he couldn’t use to a concert at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. I thought it was a lousy seat—front row, far right—until I realized it afforded me a terrific view of the conductor, who was so impassioned he was giving the most compelling performance I’ve ever seen on the podium. His name was Yuri Temirkanov and I’ve been looking forward to his return ever since; thanks to the Philharmonic Society he’s back in Costa Mesa this week.

The maestro will lead the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra  Wednesday at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, marking the 50th anniversary of his debut with the orchestra (he’s been the Artistic Director and Chief Conductor since 1988). Temirkanov, renowned for his recordings of Tchaikovsky symphonies and Stravinsky ballets, conducts Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 on this occasion, with Japanese violinist Sayaka Shoji joining the orchestra.

Selections from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloe, Suite No. 2” round out the Mar. 15 program. A pre-concert lecture by KUSC’s Rich Capparela begins at 7 p.m. with the concert following at 8 p.m. The National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine marches into SCFTA Mar. 22 with Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony.

South Coast Repertory commissions a lot of new work, bless them. Some of the results, like Qui Nguyen’s “Vietgone,” produce more satisfactory results than others, such as Aditi Brennan Kapil’s new “Orange” (at SCR through Mar. 26). The latter comedy-drama, about a home-schooled 17-year-old Indian girl searching for identity and yearning for adventure on a visit to Orange County, is as wild a ride as “Vietgone,” with some unexpected twists and turns—and even Disneyland fireworks—but isn’t ready for prime time.

“Orange” scores points with some off-kilter observations but teems with jokes about OC that were stale 20 years ago; there’s a lot of talk about gods, demons and aliens that doesn’t quite jell. Michael B. Raiford’s amateurish set design (apparently suggested by the playwright) doesn’t help.

Nonetheless, Jessica Kubzansky does an outstanding job of directing a three-member cast that would otherwise be lost in space. Pia Shah (as Leela, the innocent teen adventurer) and Karthik Srinivasan (a variety of male characters) deliver fine performances, and Anjali Bhimani (as Leela’s uptight mother, her out-of-control cousin and others) is nothing short of amazing.

 

 

“Gent’s Guide to Murder” in Costa Mesa, Hershey Felder’s “Tchaikovsky” in Laguna Beach

Hershey Felder as “Tchaikovsky.”
Hershey Felder as “Tchaikovsky.”

You may recall the wonderful 1949 Alec Guinness movie, “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” where Sir Alec plays eight members of the ill-fated D’Ascoyne family who stand between an ambitious young man and a fortune. Whether you’ve seen it or not, you won’t want to miss the consistently clever “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” (at Segerstrom Center for the Arts through Mar. 5). It’s based on the Roy Horniman novel that begat the film, with book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman, music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak.

Kevin Massey is smooth and slippery as Monty, the devious young fellow who plots his way to wealth, and John Rapson is highly entertaining as the D’Ysquith family, especially the two females. But the most talented cast members are Kristen Beth Williams as Monty’s lover Sibella, and Kristen Hahn as Phoebe, to whom he finally gives his heart.

This is no average road company, by the way. Director Darko Tresnjak, who deservedly won a Tony for the Broadway production, has brought not only Massey and Hahn with him from New York but almost his entire team, including scenic designer Alexander Dodge and choreographer Peggy Hickey.

Hershey Felder has returned to Laguna Playhouse with “Our Great Tchaikovsky,” portraying the beloved Russian composer who gave us “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker.” I’ve seen a half dozen of Felder’s unique one-man-and-a-piano solo shows, and I can only say, I haven’t had enough. The show, now in previews, opens Mar. 5 and runs through Mar. 26 in Laguna Beach.

Felder, who has brought George Gershwin, Chopin, Beethoven, Liszt, Leonard Bernstein and Irving Berlin back to life, is also reprising his popular “Great American Song Book Sing-Along” in Laguna for three performances (Mar. 14-21). “Tchaikovsky” was written by Felder, who supplies the scenic design as well. The show is directed by Trevor Hay, who previously directed Felder as Liszt and Berlin.