A hitch in the getalong: Looking back at 2014′s best

Dec 22

A hitch in the getalong: Looking back at 2014′s best

Reviewing the shows I reviewed this year, I was struck by two things: first, and as usual, there’s an abundance of talented people doing great work at all levels of Bay Area theater; second, this was a lesser year in Bay Area theater. Perhaps the reason for the later has to do with the changes in the Bay Area itself – artists are fleeing outrageous rents,...

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Chita! The liveliest living legend of all

Feb 24

Chita! The liveliest living legend of all

In her opening number, Chita Rivera sings, "You're alive, so come on and show it. There's such a lot of livin' to do." She finishes the song, and the 81-year-old legend adds, "I mean it." And she's not kidding. After a triumphant turn in the Fairmont's Venetian Room in 2010, Rivera returned to the Bay Area Cabaret as part of the company's 10th anniversary season. Rivera's performance four years ago was spectacular (read my review here). This time out, she was beyond spectacular.

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Ben Vereen and a sweet, happy life

Jun 08

Ben Vereen and a sweet, happy life

When you call Ben Vereen's mobile phone, you get a most entertaining voicemail message. It's Chita Rivera singing, "My wish for you is a sweet, happy life." Then a cheerful Vereen says that's his wish for you as well. It's such an uplifting message that by the time you hear the beep, you realize you don't really miss talking to the man himself.

But then you get the man himself, and he proves to be even more cheerful than that message. At 65, and after a car accident in 1992 that would have sidelined just about anyone else, Vereen is a man on the move, a man with a plan. He's bringing his show Steppin' Out with Ben Vereen to the Rrazz Room June 12-17. Next month he'll play the newly opened 54 Below, the cabaret underneath the former nightclub (now legit Broadway theater) Studio 54. Then he goes to Australia, and after that, it's Broadway, baby. At least that's the plan. Vereen is hard at work on the show he's call in The Last of the Showmen, and that's really what he is.

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Chita’s jazz…and all that

Nov 06

Chita’s jazz…and all that

Last night I fell in love with a 77-year-old Broadway legend.

Actually, I started with a giant crush that developed during a recent phone interview with Chita Rivera (read the story in the San Francisco Chronicle here), and then that crush fell off the deep end when I saw her in person at the recently re-opened Venetian Room in the Fairmont Hotel as part of the Bay Area Cabaret series.

About 13 years ago, when I was the new theater guy at the Oakland Tribune/ANG Newspapers, I had the chance to interview Rivera in person at the Clift Hotel. She was launching a Broadway-bound autobiographical show called Chita and All That Jazz. On my way to the interview, I passed a flower stand, and on impulse, I bought her a gardenia. I knew that's not what a seasoned professional would do, and my purpose wasn't to butter her up – it was more about honoring her extraordinary career. To arrive empty handed felt like...not enough. When I sat down with her and gave her the flower, her eyes welled up, and the interview was wonderful. I got a big hug at the end, and I was happy.

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Rita Moreno offers cabaret `Tributes’ at Rrazz Room

Nov 04

The Bay Area’s resident superstar, Rita Moreno, opens a new cabaret act at San Francisco’s Rrazz Room on Wednesday, Nov. 5. But she was recently at the Rrazz Room as an audience member for her dear friend Chita Rivera’s Bay Area cabaret debut. “We got together afterwards and just laughed and laughed,” Moreno says. Moreno and Rivera...

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Cleo, Chita & Rita heading to Rrazz Room

Jul 23

San Francisco’s Rrazz Room has announced its fall schedule, and it’s pretty amazing, especially for theater aficionados. The season opens in September with Dame Cleo Laine and Sir John Dankworth, one of the most celebrated jazz duos on the circuit. Although restricting them to one label is chintzy. Laine’s album of Sondheim songs is one of her best,...

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