Only neo maxi zoom dweebies won’t enjoy BratPack

For the Record Live and Feinstein’s at the Nikko present BratPack, a nostalgic fusion of ’80s movies and music that feels part musical, part concert, part vintage video from the age of MTV. Below: Zahan Mehta channels John Cusack in Say Anything. Photos by Kelly Mason courtesy of Feinstein’s at the Nikko

Feinstein’s at the Nikko, one of San Francisco’s last great cabaret rooms, is coming out of its pandemic slumber in day-glo colors, acid-washed denim and a new show that moves way beyond the traditional piano-bass-drums behind a singer idea.

We all love a cabaret diva and a set of songs from the Great American Songbook, but BratPack, which has transformed the room (and especially the stage) at Feinstein’s, is the high-energy, nostalgia-fueled fun fest we need right now.

And by “we” I really mean any GenX-er who graduated high school in the ’80s (greetings from the Reno High School Class of 1985) or who has a deep and abiding love of the John Hughes ouvre. And if you have to ask “what is a John Hughes ouvre?” this show may not be for you.

Hughes was the writer/director who tapped into the ’80s zeitgeist with the kind of generation-specific ferocity that has hardly been seen since. The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink comprise the holy Hughes trinity, and those are the three primary inspirations for BratPack, which takes music from the soundtracks and dialogue from the scripts to craft something in between a musical adaptation and a revue with hints of a really great wedding band and a ship-rocking cruise show thrown in for good measure.

Co-creators Shane Scheel and Anderson Davis take the five basic character outlines from The Breakfast Club – the Athlete, the Basket Case, the Criminal, the Princess and the Brain – and set them loose on the plots and music from Hughes films (which also include Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, Weird Science and Some Kind of Wonderful) as well as other ’80s teen flicks like Say Anything, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and St. Elmo’s Fire (not actually about teens but still feels like teens from a Hughes movie playing grown-up).

The fun is in the mash-up and all the surprises thrown in to delight and amuse ’80s devotees (relics?) throughout the show’s 90 minutes. There are only two dedicated musicians on stage (including musical director Matt Grandy on keyboards), so it’s up to the cast – Rachel Lark (Basket Case), Michael Martinez (Jock), Zahan Mehta (Rebel), Bryan Munar (Geek), May Ramos (Princess) – to add bass, guitar, drums, keyboards and percussion. Scott Taylor-Cole gets to play the enjoyably mean “adult” who takes the form of Ferris’ vengeful school principal and the sadistic detention monitor, Richard “Dick” Vernon. “Don’t mess with the bull, young man. You’ll get the horns.”


The performers sound great – ’80s power with some contemporary singing competition cascading – and the music is appropriately LOUD as they build an all-encompassing teen story about secret crushes, proms, graduation, locker rooms, detention and fantasies. Their building blocks are songs like “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” (the song we hear the most throughout the evening), “True,” “In Your Eyes,” “If You Leave” and “Melt with You.” There are also non-’80s tunes that factor significantly into some of the movies involved like “Try a Little Tenderness” (Pretty in Pink) and “Twist and Shout” (Ferris Bueller) as well as a pair of David Bowie greats – “Changes” and “Young Americans.”

It’s basically an ’80s-themed party with great music, favorite lines from the movies and re-creations of some of those iconic moments (think kisses over a birthday cake and boom boxes held aloft) – and it’s a whole lot of fun. Even the drinks are a kick – inspired by Capri Sun juice pouches, the brightly colored cocktails come in pouches with straws (there are traditional drinks available as well as food). Everything is ordered and paid for on your phone – one of the nice service improvements that COVID has given us.

Speaking of COVID (sad to even have to talk about something that didn’t exist in the ’80s), Feinstein’s requires proof of vaccination and masks when not eating or drinking. Cast members, who are vaccinated and tested regularly, are all over the room, belting and dancing their hearts out. Those who don’t want “Rebel Yell” sung in close proximity or who don’t want to sing-along with the Simple Minds’ “laaaa, la la la la la” might not be comfortable here.

Otherwise, this high-voltage exercise in cinematic and pop music nostalgia is the perfect place to revel in and re-live nearly 40-year-old memories that only seem to (day)glow brighter with time.

BratPack continues an extended run through Jan. 1, 2022 at Feinstein’s at the Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $79-$104. Call 415-394-1100 or visit

Pure pop pleasure with the Puppini Sisters

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The Puppini Sisters (from left), Emma Smith, Marcella Puppini and Kate Mullins, performed two shows at the Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel on Sunday, April 17, as part of the Bay Area Cabaret season. Photos courtesy of the Puppini Sisters

Under ordinary circumstances, the fact of wonderful British actor Hugh Laurie sitting a table away from me would be highly distracting. But Sunday afternoon at the Fairmont’s Venetian Room wasn’t ordinary circumstances: it was the only scheduled US performance of the British act The Puppini Sisters in support of their new album, The High Life.

The afternoon performance, like the sold-out evening performance, was part of the Bay Area Cabaret season, a season that spans Broadway, pop, jazz and, in a grand Puppini embrace, high camp and sterling musicianship.

If you don’t know the Puppinis, click here and spend some quality time reveling in their close harmonies, their abundant humor and their impeccable musicianship. The trio, which knows its way around a sisters Andrews, Boswell, McGuire, Dinning, Lennon arrangement, was formed in 2004 by Marcella Puppini with Kate Mullins and Stephanie O’Brien. In 2012, O’Brien left the group, replaced by Emma Smith, but the course of the Puppinis ever did run through traditional numbers (“Jeepers Creepers,” “Diamond Are a Girl’s Best Friend”) and not-so-traditional numbers (Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”).

In concert at the Fairmont, the Puppinis were in fine fettle, looking good (they were decked out in Easter basket-colored tops and skirts adorned with pom-poms) and sounding marvelous. Backed by a swinging three-piece band – Henrik Jensen on bass, Blake Wilner on guitar and Peter Ibbetson on drums – the ladies dazzled with a set list that provided 75 minutes of serious fun.

They opened with the original title song of the new album, “Is This the High Life?,” and veered directly into classic three-part harmony territory with “Mr. Sandman.” From the traditional to the decidedly nontraditional: a thrilling mash-up of “Rapper’s Delight,” which swings more easily than you might imagine, and Sia’s “Chandelier” (ditto).

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Throughout the show, the Puppinis (none of whom are actually sisters) opted to break down the harmonies and let the individual voices shine with solo spots. First up was the beguiling Mullins with a full-throttle version of “Love Me Tender” accentuated by Wilner’s electric guitar. Puppini was the next solo with the self-penned title track to her new solo album, “Everything Is Beautiful,” in which she promises the meaning of life in three minutes (and she delivers). And then Smith pretty much brought down the house with her dedication to Tony Bennett: “Cheek to Cheek,” playfully performed with Jensen on bass and the audience snapping along.

As good as they are on their own, the Puppinis are nothing short of dazzling when they’re together. There were no low points in this show, but among the highlights was a mashup (in the truest sense) of Destiny’s Child’s “Bills Bills Bills,” Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband, Kander and Ebb’s “Money Makes the World Go ‘Round” from Cabaret, Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” The Adventure of Stevie V’s “Dirty Cash (Money Talks),” Madonna’s “Material Girl” and “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. How do you follow such a thing? With a dreamy version of “The Tennessee Waltz,” that’s how.

Between the be-bop vocalese salute (“We Love to Bebop”) and the reinvention of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” they managed a jaw-dropping tribute to David Bowie (“Changes,” with a final few mind-blowing notes) and a nod to the women who provided their foundation, the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”

When you’re having this much fun showing off your extraordinary jazz/pop/harmonic chops, and the audience is going wild with delight, what can you possible do for an encore? If you’re the Puppinis, you promise to turn the camp dial up to 11 and haul out the swingingest, funniest version of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” this side of an animated chalk drawing.

The Puppini Sisters are among the most exciting, innovative and entertaining acts out there right now. They are majorly talented musicians whose specialty, lucky for us audiences, is happy-making music of the highest order.

[bonus videos]
The Puppini Sisters’ official video for “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”

The Puppini Sisters’ live mashup of “Rapper’s Delight” and “Chandelier”

Net up in the Bay Area Cabaret season is Bay Area Teen Idol 2016 on May 15 and Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway’s From West Side Story to Wicked: Broadway by the Callaways on May 22. Call 415-927-4636 or visit

The general awesomeness of Emily Skinner

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Tony-nominated Broadway actor Emily Skinner dazzled Bay Area Cabaret audiences on Sunday, March 6 at the Fairmont’s Venetian Room, her San Francisco concert debut.

In the last couple of years, San Francisco went from no Emily Skinner to new and improved now with 200 percent more Emily Skinner. The Tony-nominated actor (Side Show) was suddenly making regular appearances on our stages. In October of 2014, Skinner revealed her star power in 42nd Street Moon’s Do I Hear a Waltz? (read about it here),
in May of last year, she was a highlight of American Conservatory Theater’s A Little Night Music (read about it here). The question is how did we get so lucky?

On Sunday, March 6, Skinner made her San Francisco concert debut as part of the Bay Area Cabaret season, and her show was everything her local fans could have wanted: nearly 90 minutes of Skinner showing us why she’s one of the best in the business known as Broadway (pronounced broadWAY).

Skinner’s combination of charm, confidence and vocal mastery makes for a mightily entertaining show. Accompanied by John Fisher on piano, Skinner moved easily through a set of songs that mixed comedy, character and trenchant emotion. She turned to Kander and Ebb twice, once on the opener “Everybody’s Girl” from Steel Pier and later in the show with When You’re Good to Mama from Chicago. Both are saucy, which is something Skinner does well, perhaps because she admits to a fascination with Mae West, whom she channeled brilliantly on the signature “Come Up and See Me Some Time.”

Emily Skinner 2

The out-and-out comedy numbers, like “Here Comes the Ballad” (which Wally Harper apparently wrote for Barbara Cook) and “Bald” by Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler, delivered reliable laughs. And the character tunes – Ursula the Sea Witch’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid, Sondheim’s angry “Now You Know” from Merrily We Roll Along and Noël Coward’s “Why Do the Wrong People Travel?” from Sail Away – found something a little meatier than simply comedy.

When Skinner decides to take a breath and play it straight, there’s magic in her balladry. Her powerful, unadorned take on Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” made a familiar song sound fresh, and the poignant “I Don’t Need a Roof” from Andrew Lippa’s Big Fish made a strong case for taking another look at the score from this short-lived Broadway show. The grown-up lullaby “Sleepy Man” from The Robber Bridegroom was hypnotic and lulling in the best possible way.

It turns out that when Skinner was asked to audition for Side Show, they didn’t request an up-tempo and a ballad. Rather, they asked auditioners to perform a song that revelealed something about themselves, about who they are. Skinner chose a tune written by Side Show composer Bill Russell from the song/monologue cycle Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, and she got the job. Now having heard her perform the number, it’s no surprise why. Her version of “My Brother Lived in San Francisco” is a deeply emotional experience, filled with warmth, love and pain. It’s one of those songs (and performances) that’s like a three-act play all contained in a few unforgettable minutes.

Skinner closed her set with a spare and achingly lovely “For All We Know,” and it left the audience – hooting and hollering and on their feet – wanting more, and that seems just right. Now that Emily Skinner is making regular stops in San Francisco, it will be exciting to see what she does here next.

[bonus video]
In her cabaret show, Emily Skinner sings “Send in the Clowns,” probably Sondheim’s most popular and well-covered song. Skinner turned to YouTube to sample different interpretations, and two of her favorites are versions by Cher and Dame Judi Dench. Please enjoy this mini-“Clowns’ fest.

The Bay Area Cabaret season in the Venetian Room in the Fairmont Hotel continues with the fabulous Puppini Sisters April 17 (5:30 p.m. show is sold out; 2 p.m. show added); Bay Area Teen Idol 2015 on May 15; Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway’s From West Side Story to Wicked on May 22. Visit or call 415-927-4636.

Taylor Mac cycles through American song

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Taylor Mac performs the first act of his epic A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: 1776-1806 as part of Curran: Under Construction. When completed, the song cycle will stretch 240 years, from 1776 to 2016 and will be performed in its entirety over 24 hours. The fabulous costumes are by Machine Dazzle. Photos by Jim Norrena

Taylor Mac emerges, godlike, from the mezzanine, resplendent in a sparkling headdress and gown, and from the stage of the Curran Theatre, where the audience is seated, it looks like the lowered chandelier is actually the crowning part of his ensemble.

Once Mac makes his way to the stage, where he joins his nine-piece band, he may appear less godlike – the dress, on closer inspection, is part tawdry tease, part used car lot banners and tinsel – but remains no less impressive. Towering in his heels, Mac warbles his way through an amazing “Amazing Grace” as he welcomes his audience into Act 1 of his epic undertaking: A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, which, when complete, will be performed once in its entirety, with each decade receiving an hour in the show, making it a full 24-hour concert experience with no intermissions. In smaller chunks, the piece is broken into eight acts, each covering three decades. The first act covers 1776 to 1806, and the last will cover 2006-2016.

While in San Francisco, Mac, a native (and escapee) of Stockton, as part of the Curran: Under Construction series, Mac is performing Act 1 and, for the first time, Act 2: 1806-1836. On Saturday, Jan. 30, he will do a marathon six-hour run of Act 1 and Act 2, and, like all performances from the cycle, there will be no intermissions.

To describe what Mac does in this show requires some critical quilting: there’s performance art, there’s theater, there’s cabaret, there’s agitprop swirled with history, politics and protest. And above all, there are pop songs – popular songs of the day. Not necessarily American songs, but songs that were popular in this country during these particular decades (in the later decades, Mac promises some original songs written in response to performing the entire cycle). Above all else, it’s an experience. It’s fun, it’s long (though the time does fly), it’s thoroughly engaging and Mac is as fascinating and compelling and intelligent and outrageous a star as possible, even when trying to exercise performance art muscles and be annoying or exercise Brechtian distancing techniues. Mac is a true entertainer with a powerful voice as both a singer and a writer (his play Hir, which started out at the Magic Theatre here in 2014 [my review is here], is now a big hit in New York). Mac’s reason for creating this extraordinary piece date back to the mid-’80s and attending the first AIDS Walk in San Francisco. There, on view, was a community deteriorating from the ravages of an epidemic but, at the same time, building itself back up into a community to nurture, fight and survive. That pattern, Mac says, is evident in every decade he’s covering and his show, the 24-hour hone, will deteriorate as it progresses (the 24-piece orchestra on that day will lose a musician an hour leaving a ravaged Mac alone on stage in the final hour) all the while building a new community among the audience members.

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The way Mac builds that community is primarily through his dynamic performance of songs, most of them unfamiliar but all rousingly performed (and arranged by music director/pianist Matt Ray). Mac also engages his audience in all kinds of activities. During “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” for instance, judy (Mac prefers the pronoun judy to a more traditional gender-based pronoun, which is way too creative and fun not to use) explicates the song’s origins (British making fun of behind-the-fashion Americans) and engages judy’s audience in various parts to create chaos representing all the elements on which the country was founded, including loathing of Congress, the longing to be anywhere but America, the adoration of people with black hair and the misinterpretation of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense.” Mac has an audience member worshipped as a god from the stage, has the “dandy minions” (a squad helpers) outfit audience members in boas and fuzzy ears and the like, and recruits various audience members to play characters opposite judy on stage.

In the second hour, which is devoted to the origins of the women’s movement, Mac has the dandy minions pass out apples for a particularly poignant section, and during the third hour, which is devoted to pub songs to represent the young union’s “frat boy” phase, we get beer and pingpong balls.

With each new hour comes a new costume designed by Machine Dazzle. The trash-chic glitter of the first hour is replaced by chiffon-dripping columns and hips adorned by severed heads. For the pub section, Mac takes on the character of Crazy Sally, a sort of performance-art barfly whose gown features practical features like rolls of toilet paper and other toiletries. It’s all grandly theatrical, and surprises abound throughout the three hours.

Co-director Niegel Smith and Mac still have a work to do, which they will do throughout this workshop production, but the roughness is part of the charm. Everybody feels in the moment, and as Mac repeats as a sort of mantra, “perfection is for assholes.” As fun as Act 1 is, it also has a certain weight. There’s a moment when Mac is a singing a beautiful lullaby and asks neighbors to put their heads in each other’s laps as if after a night of heavy drinking, and it felt like the onstage community had really clicked. We were in it together and taking a moment of comfort. It was a stunning experience, as is, it would seem, just about anything Mac sets out to do.

Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music continues with performances of the first act, 1776-1806, on Jan. 22 and 23 and the second act, 1806-1836, Jan. 26 and 27. Both acts will be performed in a six-hour marathon run (no intermission) Jan. 30. Tickets are $50 and $75 (marathon). Visit

Ever the trouper, Liza still wows

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Showbiz legend Liza Minnelli, currently in the midst of a multi-city tour with her Simply Liza concert, pulled into Davies Symphony Hall last Friday for a 90-minute show that encompassed old favorites and some nice surprises.

Though the notes aren’t all there and her physical condition seems to be posing her some challenges, Minnelli still knows how to work a room. And her fans are as adoring as ever. She performed much of the show from a director’s chair at center stage, and watching her get into and out of the chair was a bit she milked as if it were a slapstick routine from her Arrested Development gig.

I reviewed the concert for the San Francisco Chronicle. Here’s a sample.

The 68-year-old Minnelli is making the best of what she’s got. She does not have the voice she had when she was 19 and won her first of four Tony Awards. She has neither the voice nor the Bob Fosse-inflected moves she had when she was 27 and won an Oscar (for “Cabaret”) and an Emmy (for “Liza with a Z”) in the same year.
But she’s got an invaluable sense of showmanship, and though the big notes on songs like “Maybe This Time,” “The World Goes ‘Round” and “Ring Them Bells” might be either ragged or wholly absent – she referred to her singing as “honking” – she’s got a reliable lower range, a canny musical director and a personality that audiences relish.

Read the full review here.

And here’s Liza recently on the Today show with Kathie Lee and Hoda.

Todd Murray’s voice: delicious as warm bread


Not many people can claim success in the fields of musical theater, bread baking and crooning. Todd Murray can.

Growing up in a small Pennsylvania farming community, Murray had two loves. One was music. The other was food. In the pre-Internet, pre-cable TV days, Murray figured it would be impossible to break into the entertainment industry and maybe not as difficult to break into the food biz. Up until his senior year of high school, he had his sites set on chef school.

But then in college, he started gravitating toward performing and started getting jobs in Opryland USA, Tokyo Disneyland and summer stock in his home state.

On the phone from Charlotte, N.C., where he’s visiting his partner, Broadway performer Douglas Sills, who is starring in the tour of The Addams Family, Murray recalls his early days of performing in venues like cruise ships and the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey. At auditions, Murray, who has a rich bass baritone, was constantly being asked if he could sing higher. Desperate for a job, the young performer would try to comply.

“It took me a long time to accept that my voice range was my voice range,” Murray says. “Where I sound good is lower than where most men sound good. That’s who I am, and it doesn’t work to plug me into someone else’s sweet spot. It doesn’t mean I’m not a good singer. I’m a different singer.”

So Murray found himself singing and dancing in the chorus.

“I got bored with that,” he says. “And there was no guarantee that I’d become a leading man on Broadway, which is what I wanted. I decided I wanted a little more control of my destiny.”

So while on tour with The Secret Garden, Murray met a fateful loaf of bread in San Francisco. The bread baker was Oliver Zaenglein, who was baking European-style loaves just as the artisan bread craze was taking hold.

Todd_on_Hollywood_Blvd.When Murray finished his tour about a year and a half later, he called Zaenglein with an offer: how about Murray licensed his bakery and opened an outlet in Los Angeles? The deal was sealed, and Murray ran the bakery for the next decade (though unfortunately Zaenglein died suddenly only eight months after Murray moved from New York to LA).

“I enjoyed being a businessman,” Murray says, “but I didn’t want to grow old being a baker. This other thing was gnawing at me – my music. I needed that outlet, so I started to put together my own shows.”

That’s how a Broadway baby turned bread baker becomes a cabaret performer.

As Murray began testing the cabaret waters in New York and LA, he gained in confidence. He sold his bakery to fund his first CD, called, naturally, When I Sing Low.

Reviews for his shows almost always referred to him as a crooner, and that got him thinking about what his next show might be.

“I realized I didn’t entirely know what crooning meant,” Murray says. “We know Sinatra and Crosby were called crooners, but when I started researching, I came to see that the microphone is the key to singing intimately, almost conversationally.”

The advent of the microphone changed singing, and suddenly, radios across the land were filled with the soothing tones of singers like Crosby singing to housewives in their houses once the husbands had gone off to work.

“You don’t think of singers like Bing Crosby as sexually charged, but that’s how it was seen back then,” Murray explains. “These crooners invented pop music as we know it today.”

So Murray created Croon, the show with which he’s making his San Francisco cabaret debut at the Rrazz Room Oct. 24 and 25. The show features songs from the 1920s to today. Crosby and Sinatra are represented, of course, and so are Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond, Lou Rawls and Leonard Cohen.

Murray introduced a few of his own songs on his second album, Stardust and Swing, and for Croon, he and pianist/musical director Alex Rybeck collaborated on a song called “And I’m Leaving Today,” which was nominated for the MAC Awards in New York for best song.

“Doing shows like Croon for intimate clubs is where I get to express who I am,” Murray says. He is controlling his destiny. “I set the key,s I set the songs. I set the interpretation. I’ve gotten really good response. My voice is happily different from what’s out there. You don’t hear a lot of men singing in the range I sing in.”

Murray has other projects going, including a documentary called Toni and Rosi about German pianist sisters who escaped the Nazis and lived and performed in New York. (visit the movie’s website here).

As for food, Murray’s busy schedule means he only gets to eat it these days. But he keeps ties to the food world. His favorite chef is Patricia Wells for whom he wrote the song “Patricia.” He’s heard this before, but maybe it’s time for a new twist on a cooking show. The Crooning Chef anyone?

[bonus video]
Here’s Todd Murray singing his original song “And I’m Leaving Today.”

Todd Murray’s Croon is Oct. 24 and 25 at 8pm, Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $30 (plus a two-drink minimum). Call 800-380-3095 or visit Visit Todd Murray’s website:

Pants down, smiles up: you’ve been HughJacked

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Hugh Jackman serenades his audience old-school. The razzle-dazzle showman performs at the Curran Theatre through May 15. Photos by Joan Marcus

It was hot and steamy in San Francisco Wednesday. And the weather was nice, too. Hugh Jackman, that final Australian frontier of old-school razzle-dazzle entertainment, put on a show at the Curran Theatre.

And it’s about time. In the old days, Jackman would have starred in a weekly variety show on TV, had regular gigs at the Tropicana in Vegas and toured with his celebrity golf tournament.

These days, it’s much harder for an entertainer. Once you have your street cred and your bona fides – sci-fi/action movie star, romantic lead, beloved awards show host, Tony Award-winning Broadway star – you get license to do as you please.

So Jackman has his own show, courtesy of SHN, and it looks and sounds an awful lot like the shows of yore – and thank the heavens for that. There’s a 17-piece band on the bandstand (under the direction of Patrick Vaccariello, Jackman’s colleague from Broadway’s The Boy from Oz days) and elegant drapes framing the stage just like they used to do in Vegas (Broadway vet John Lee Beatty was the scenic consultant).

The lights (designed by Ken Billington) are a sharp combination of old-school flash and modern-day concert drama. There are two backup singers, Merle Dandridge and Angel Reda both Broadway performers, and a smattering of special guests (more on that later).

Most importantly, center stage, you have Hugh Jackman – handsome, charismatic and generous with both his energy and his talent. At Wednesday’s opening night, the more Jackman was himself, the more he shone. He dutifully followed the script that he and creative producer Warren Carlyle (who most recently directed the Broadway revival of Finian’s Rainbow), but every time he veered away, whether because of technical or costume difficulties, his wattage increased.

The first snafu occurred in Alexander V. Nichols’ projection design. A photo of nerdy Jackman at age 14 failed to materialize. Jackman actually seemed kind of grateful about that.

The second – and this was a doozy – came after Jackman had dutifully opened the show with “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” from Oklahoma!, followed it with the disco strains of “One Night Only” from Dreamgirls and revived his “I Won’t Dance” reluctant dance routine from the 2005 Tony Awards (apparently movie execs get nervous when Wolverine does high kicks). See video below.

He was seriously getting his groove on as Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” turned into Elvis’ “A Little Less Conversation.” He took off his suit jacket, and people in the audience squealed.

Little did they know they were about to get a whole lot more. Catching his breath after the number, Jackman laughed and said, “It must be opening night. I’ve just ripped a hole in my pants.” He turned around, and sure enough the whole back seam of his black pants was ripped open.

Just like he did with the projection bungle, Jackman played it suave and debonair. He had Nancy, his costume assistant, bring him another pair of pants and changed them in full view of the audience. For the record, he’s a boxer briefs guy, and there’s a block of fabric sewn on the tail of his shirt to make sure it stays tucked in while he dances.

“Now you’ll know all my secrets,” Jackman said. Not quite all.

Hugh Jackman

The thing about Jackman is that he’s got a nice voice – it’s high and nasal and has the brightness of a trumpet. It doesn’t have a lot of dynamic variety in it, but he has solid money notes and incredible breath control. But it’s less about voice than it is about performance.

He can pull off a ballsy choice like the seven-minute “Soliloquy” from Carousel and make it seem as easy as a frothy disco number. Through it all he dazzles with the blinding light of his charm. And in my opinion, the funnier he is, the sexier he is.

The second half of the nearly two-hour concert (no intermission) featured an extended medley of Peter Allen songs from The Boy from Oz – “Not the Boy Next Door,” “Best That You Can Do,” “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” “Quiet Please, There’s a Lady On Stage” and – best of all – “Tenterfield Saddler.” That last song, a touching story song about Allen’s grandfather, was performed with Jackman sitting on the edge of the stage, Garland-style, while guitarist John Joseph McGeehan strummed.

Even throw-away numbers like the movie songs medley or “L-O-V-E” accompanied by a montage of Jackman movie clips give Jackman a chance to reach back to variety show days and simply entertain for entertainment’s sake. He can be cheesy (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” Really?) and he can be sassy (“Lady Marmalade”).

He interacts with the audience almost as well (and as often) as fellow Aussie Dame Edna and has a penchant for making fun of how older white guys dance.

The special guest section featured two didgeridoo players from Australia to kick off a film montage of Aboriginal and Australian landscape beauty, and that segued into Jackman singing the Israel Kamakawiwoʻole arrangement of “Over the Rainbow.” The number was also a plug for the Australian charity Nomad Two Worlds (

The next special guest was pop star Richard Marx, and, in between giggles and bromantic banter, sang a duet on Marx’s 1989 hit “Right Here Waiting.” Marx posted a video of the opening-night performance.

Getting back to his musical theater roots and demonstrating one last time that he’s a complete and utter musical theater geek (as if his recitation of the Music Man opening number wasn’t enough), Jackman closed with “Luck Be a Lady” from Guys and Dolls and then offered a sincere Peter Allen closer, “Once Before I Go” as his final farewell.

Whether dodging leather handcuffs thrown on stage by a fan (“Tom Jones, eat your heart out!”) or toasting SHN co-founder Carole Shorenstein Hays and her purchase of the Curran (“Sorry, Carole, you were probably writing a press release or something. Oh, well. It’s already on Twitter.”), Jackman is a throwback. He’s an entertainer, a charmer, a vivid personality in a highly appealing package.

May he continue to bounce between stage and screen for a very long time. And if he somehow finds the time, maybe he could bring back the variety show.


Hugh Jackman in Performance at the Curran Theatre continues through May 15 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $40-$250. Call 888-746-1799 or visit

Tweeting, posting and singing with Betty Buckley

Betty Buckley

Onstage and online, Broadway legend Betty Buckley is electrifying.

If you’ve ever seen her perform on Broadway – perhaps in the original cast of Cats or as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard — or in concert halls large or small, you know just how electrifying she can be. Very few singer/actors connect to material the way she does.

But Buckley, at age 63, has embraced social media in a big way. On the advice of her brother, Norman, a television director, she got hooked up. Now she Tweets daily (@BettyBuckley) and posts on Facebook with regularity to her nearly 5,000 friends. To find a name for her latest concert, she asked her online followers for suggestions. The winner would receive two tickets to the show.

Buckley brings that show, called For the Love of Broadway, to the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko May 3 through 8.

On the phone from her ranch in Texas, Buckley says the new show’s title is but one of the advantages to being, as they say, wired.

“I had to learn how not to be so fixated by it,” she says. “When I was in San Francisco about a year ago, doing shows at Yoshi’s, all these Twitter and Facebook fans came, which was really a blast. It’s nice when people like my work and support. It’s nice to be in touch with them to see how they feel.”

The new show, which features music direction by John McDaniel, includes songs Buckley has loved but never had the opportunity to perform. She sometimes refers to them as “my shower songs – songs I sing in the shower but never really knew all the words to.”

Audiences members can expect songs from Avenue Q, South Pacific, The Pajama Game and Nine among others. That should please the show-music fans, of which Buckley has thousands.

But Buckley, a Texas native, has eclectic taste in music and is as likely to sing a country tune as a show tune. Her last album, Bootlegs: Boardmixes from the Road, featured eight live tracks including a new song from Michael McDonald, some country tunes and Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” a sneak preview of her forthcoming album, Ghostlight.

The new album is produced by T-Bone Burnett, the Grammy- and Oscar-winner behind such albums as the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand. Buckley and Burnett have known each other since high school in Fort Worth. Their mothers were friends, and at age 19, Buckley recorded her first album in Burnett’s recording studio (that album has since been re-mastered and released as Betty Buckley 1967).

Buckley recently heard the final remixes for the album, which should be out in November. “It’s the most wonderful recording I’ve ever done,” she says. “T-Bone is a genius. Some of the songs from For the Love of Broadway were cornerstones of that recording, but they’re done very differently than I do them in the cabaret setting. T-Bone calls the songs ‘my airs.’ He says, ‘I’m so in love with this recording of your beautiful airs.’ I’m so thrilled I can’t even tell you. This album is probably the truest to who I am than anything I’ve done.”

[bonus video: Betty Buckley performs “Meadowlark”]

If you listen to Buckley singing “He Plays the Violin” from 1776, which she recorded in 1969, and then listen to the live recordings from Bootlegs you hear the same singer but a very different voice.

“My voice is definitely different than when I was younger,” Buckley says. “I kinda like it. It’s richer and has more dark colors than when I was younger. As a kid I had this clarion mezzo-soprano voice. But I had some wonderful voice teachers – Paul Gavert, Joan Lader – who have helped me quite a lot. Paul really taught me to sing with a long line, with one vowel becoming the next vowel, how one thought becomes the next thought. It’s a brilliant way to approach singing. I’m so grateful I was able to learn from him. That’s how I could sing “Memory” night after night in Cats.”

As a singer’s voice changes over time, Buckley says, she is certain of one thing: a singer will always have a voice if she takes care of herself. “The voice follows who you are,” she says. “The instrument of my voice has deepened, gotten richer over time because I’ve grown as a person, changed as a person.”

Buckley has been teaching voice herself for nearly 40 years, but she credits Gavert with having a vision of her that was greater than she could have for herself.

“He was able to impart that vision to me and hold it in space with me in this long process until I could step into the potential he felt I had,” Buckley explains. “It took quite a while. That was such a gift to me when I look back. It’s so deeply touching that he would do that. I’ve always felt it was my responsibility to pass that on. I’m grateful to have an innate gift, but everything good I’ve learned to do I’ve learned from other people.”

Buckley had participated in a workshop performance of the new musical Tales of the City, which will be running at American Conservatory Theater shortly after her run at the Rrazz Room. She was rumored to be cast in the role of Mrs. Madrigal in the world-premiere production, but that didn’t work out.

This fall she’ll be back on the New York cabaret scene with a new show. Who knows? She may even ask her online followers to come up with another title. If she does, get to thinking: she says she’ll likely be doing men’s songs from Broadway shows.


Betty Buckley’s For the Love of Broadway runs May 3-8 at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $45-$55 plus a two-drink minimum. Call 800-380-3095 or visit

Eder, Wildhorn reunite for Now


I talked to singer/actress Linda Eder a while back for a San Francisco Chronicle story pegging to her concerts this weekend (April 22 and 23) as part of the Rrazz Room Concert Series at the Marines Memorial Theatre. Read the story on

The story focuses mainly on her reunion with ex-husband Frank Wildorn for her new album, Now.

There was only one question that didn’t make it into the final piece, and it has to do with Linda’s skills as a renovator.

Q: You’ve been doing some heavy-duty DIY work on your property.
A: There are two houses on our lot, and for the 1909 carriage house, we gutted it down to the beams. I’ve done some construction and building work before, but never to this extent. I really love working with wood. I had my brother here helping. It’s not as hard as you might think. We’re almost finished, with only moldings and detail things to finish. If you look at my hands, you can see I’ve really been doing the work. These are the hands of a laborer. They don’t make a lotion that can fix these hands.

[bonus video]
Here’s Linda singing “What’s Never Been Done Before” from the new album. It’s a song from the Frank Wildhorn and Nan Knighton’s musical Camille Claudel.


Linda Eder: Now, 8 p.m., April 22 and 23, The Rrazz Room Concert Series at the Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St., San Francisco. Tickets are $49.50-$77.50. call 800-380-3095 or visit for info.

Spencer Day in Sacramento

Spencer DayI wrote a story for my former employer, the Sacramento Bee, about one of my favorite singers: Spencer Day, who was a San Francisco resident for a while but is now dwelling in Southern California and continuing his star-making journey.

Read the story here.

The story pegs to Day’s Sunday, July 5 concert benefit for Kiwanis House in Sacramento. He’ll be at the San Jose Jazz Festival at the end of July, and he he returns to San Francisco’s Rrazz Room for a nice long run Sept. 8-20. Day’s new album, Vagabond (on the Concord label, no less), is released Sept. 8.

Visit for information.

I got to listen to the new album and it’s fantastic.