Susan K Asher, Atlanta PR and Art Reviews
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Comic Carol Leifer at the MJCCA, Sept. 10

2017 August 19
by Susan Asher


Carol Leifer, acclaimed stand-up comedian, Emmy-nominated writer and best-selling author, brings to the MJCCA stage her one-woman show that touches on aging, love, parenthood, family matters, and the world of Jewish humor. Hailed by The Washington Post as “one of the best comedic minds of our time,” Leifer has headlined at The Comic Strip, Catch A Rising Star and The Improv. Her writing and producing credits include Saturday Night Live, The Larry Sanders Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and Seinfeld – where she is known as the inspiration for the character Elaine Benes. She is a regular writer for the Academy Awards and has written for Billy Crystal, Chris Rock, Whoopi Goldberg and Ellen DeGeneres. She is also the author of two best-selling books, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying: Lessons from a Life of Comedy and When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win.

Leifer performs Sunday, Sept. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Marcus Jewish Community Center Atlanta. Tickets are $20 for MJCCA members and $25 for nonmembers and are available online here.

‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ at Pinch ‘N’ Ouch

2017 August 13

L to R: Alex Van, Al Stilo and Jayson Warner Smith (in background)

You may have seen it a few years ago on the Hertz Stage at the Alliance Theatre, but “Glengarry Glen Ross” by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet, is playing again, this time at Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theatre. Even if you’ve seen the play before, there’s good reason to see this production: two stellar performances by Al Stilo and Alex Van. These two carry the play, but castmate Marcus LaRon trails only slightly behind. The rest of the cast is left in the dust, but when these two stars are on stage, Mamet’s script zips along with a roar.

It’s the 1980s, and an office of deceitful salesmen are attempting to sell properties and get their names on the sales board to win the latest contest. Years ago Shelly Levene (Al Stilo) was the star of the salesforce, but he tells his office manager, John (Omer Mughal), that the reason he hasn’t been making sales in years is because he only gets bad sales leads.

Dave (Alex Van) has a plan on how he can make money and get back at management for not taking care of its sales force. When his scheme goes awry, he flails about foaming at the mouth. Richard (Grant McGowen) suckers James (Marcus LaRon) into buying some land he can’t afford. When James realizes he’s been conned, he comes down to the office shaking and crying.

Directed by Grant McGowen, “Glengarry Glen Ross” features two separate casts. The night I saw the show, it also featured Andy Fleming and Jennifer Schottstaedt. The show runs through Sept. 23 at Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theatre.

‘An American in Paris’ at the Fox Theatre,
Aug. 15-20

2017 August 2
by Susan Asher


The national touring company of “An American In Paris,” the four-time Tony Award-winning production that earned more awards than any other musical in the 2014-2015 season, will be at the Fox Theatre Aug. 15-20. The story, based on the 1951 movie starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, revolves around an American solider and a mysterious French girl, each yearning for a new beginning in the aftermath of war. Updated from the movie version, the story is still cheesy but the music by George and Ira Gershwin is THE reason to see this show. No two composers have ever put out any music greater than that of the Gershwins.

Some of the songs in the movie version have been excised but new ones like “(I’ve Got) Beginners Luck” have been added. Reviews of the national touring company say the singing and dancing are excellent.

“An American in Paris” runs Aug. 15-20 at the Fox Theatre. Tickets run from $33.50-$113.50.

Actor and Author Alan Alda
to Speak at MJCCA June 27

2017 June 4
by Susan Asher

Actor, screenwriter, director and author Alan Alda will be speaking about his new book on better communication called “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face?” After working with scientists for more than 20 years helping them improve their communication skills, Alda began adjusting his techniques to help people in business and in personal situations. He strives to teach people to communicate in such a way that they can better be understood and can bridge the gap between their intellectual and emotional sides.

As well as listening to the words people speak, Alda says people need to pay attention to facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. His book focuses on telling engaging stories and providing techniques to improve communication.

Alda will talk about his book in conversation with CNN journalist Holly Fifer Tuesday, June 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Marcus Jewish Community of Atlanta. Ticket prices are $33 for members and $37 for nonmembers, and include a copy of his new book. Tickets can be purchased online here.

My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy

2017 May 22
by Susan Asher


It may have taken nearly three decades, but Brad Zimmerman finally has found his life’s calling as a comedic actor and showcases his talent beautifully in his one-man show, “My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy.”

Zimmerman regales us with tales of his woes: a stereotypical Jewish mother who sees him as a failure, a monotonous life as a waiter for 29 years that barely affords him rent money, and years of being alone because no one will date him.

Unlike most struggling actors who find some acting parts or go home within a few years, too scared to audition, Zimmerman took acting classes for more than a decade and then continued working as a surly waiter until he was nearly 50. When customers yelled, “Waiter!,” he shot back, “Customer!”

He sunk into depression. His therapist said he had to go for his dream. Still too scared to audition, he took a class in writing and performing standup comedy, got good at it and ended up as the opening act for George Carlin and Joan Rivers.

In his one-man show — which  ran on the New York stage in 2014 for nearly five months — he melds his standup alongside of his life’s tragedies. He takes us back to his days as a child superstar athlete and to nearly 40 years later when he is a failed actor who randomly calls his father for money. He shares his feelings about celebrity athletes and reality TV stars, his mother who constantly compares his life to the grown children of her friends who have sold their businesses and become rich, and his diet that has given him high cholesterol. Zimmerman excels at talking to and connecting with the audience while transforming himself into numerous characters: an athlete who dances a minute-long swish and sway as if he’d just made a touchdown, a stereotypical old Jewish woman who can’t decide what dish to order and a loudmouth braggart who shouts into her cell phone about her life of riches.

If you’re Jewish or know many Jewish people, or if you’ve ever struggled for years or dreamed of doing the near impossible, you’ll certainly relate to his comedic tales. For minutes on end, we are pulled into his life and are rooting for him. There he is, like Spalding Gray and Eric Bogosian before him, enveloping us into his life story, but standing up and acting scenes out, from as far back as when he was an adolescent at Camp Akiba before his was bar mitzvahed.

But all is not perfect. As a script writer, Zimmerman fails to seamlessly blend his comedic act into his storyline. We feel connected to his life’s story but then are pulled out of it, and are left wondering, “Are you now doing a standup comedy routine rather than continuing the story of your life?” Either way as a storyteller or comic, he’s funny, and his show is worth seeing. Zimmerman has found his just desserts and goes home each night with his biggest tip yet: he’s now an employed stage and TV actor.

Written and directed by Brad Zimmerman, “My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy” runs through June 18 at 7 Stages.

‘Finding Neverland’ at the Fox

2017 May 19
by Susan Asher


If you’re looking to find great theater in Atlanta this weekend, it’s the musical “Finding Neverland.” Yes, the movie was great, and this production is a musical version of the same story about how J.M Barrie came upon the idea and storyline for “Peter Pan.”

If you saw “Finding Neverland” on Broadway or elsewhere during this national tour, there have been a few tweaks since then, making this a wonderful production and so worthy of seeing. I had read earlier reviews of the show, and my guest and I both expected to be bored. Au contraire, we both loved it and thought the acting, singing, and choreography were wonderful. And we both left in tears. Bring tissues.

The show is perfect for adolescents and adults. There are plenty of theatrical stage antics — pirates swing from ship halyards, glittering lighted flakes stream down from the rafters and a real labradoodle puts children to bed — but there’s also loads of talent. The four lost boys are impressive actors and when they sing as a quartet as one of them plays a ukulele, they look and sound like the next superstar pop band.  Their mother, Sylvia (Christine Dwyer) and J.M. Barrie ( Billy Harrigan Tighe) also are wonderful singers. The songs “What You Mean to Me” and the ballad “All that Matters” are standouts.

Book by James Graham, music and lyrics by Gary Barlow & Eliot Kennedy, choreography by Mia Michaels, directed by Diane Paulus, “Finding Neverland” runs through Sunday, May 21 at the Fox Theatre.

 

Atlanta Jazz Festival Sunday, April 30 – May 28

2017 April 29
by Susan Asher

Two days after the birthday of the grand master of jazz, Duke Ellington, 40 Days of Jazz, a primer for the Memorial Day Weekend Atlanta Jazz Festival, continues with music this Sunday with the International Jazz Day. Unfortunately, I just discovered the cancellation of the concert that was scheduled at the Rialto Center for the Arts of Georgia State University with The Jazz Epistles, featuring Abdullah Ibrahim on piano, Kippie Moeketsi on alto saxophone, Jonas Gwangwa on trombone, Hugh Masekela on trumpet, Johnny Gertze on bass, and Early Mabuza or Makaya Ntshoko on drums. Boo, hoo, hoo! No one even told me.

Unfortunately, Hugh Maskela, one of the featured headliners with The Jazz Epistles, is ill and cannot travel to the United States, says the Atlanta Jazz Festival website. Instead, Japanese jazz pianist, Senri Oe, will be performing as a soloist this Sunday, April 30, at 3 p.m.

Check the calendar here for upcoming jazz events. The festival culminates Memorial Day Weekend with lots of free concerts, including Macy Gray.

Fabulous ‘Matilda the Musical’
at the Fox through April 23

2017 April 22
by Susan Asher


The national touring company “Matilda the Musical” is worthy enough for its outstanding acting, choreography, dancing and singing aside from the story, whose ending made me shed a tear.

“Matilda the Musical” has won 70 international awards, including four Tony Awards and a record-breaking seven Olivier Awards.

Matilda is a precocious genius who was born into a family that doesn’t want her. Her father (Matt Harrington) is a car salesman who cheats his customers and calls Matilda a “brat” and a “boy.” Her mother (Darcy Stewart) spends her time ballroom dancing with a sexy dance partner, and neither parent understands why Matilda wastes her time reading books when she could be watching “the telly.”

On her first day of school, Matilda shocks her fellow students and teacher as she is already a whiz at math and reading. The principal, Miss Trunchbull (Dan Chameroy), mocks and belittles the children, trills her “Rs” as if she is casting evil spells on them and pulls them by their ears and their pigtails. The library and her warm, kind teacher, Miss Honey (Jennifer Bowles) are Matilda’s refuge.

Based on the novel “Matilda” by Roald Dahl, who also wrote “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” this musical production keeps both children and adults entertained with humor and music, but what makes this show so worthy is the fantastic performances by the adult and child actors. They keep the acting so real, even for those caricature over-the-top characters: the mother, father and Miss Trunchbull. On opening night Matilda was played by Jenna Weir, but she shares the role with Gabby Gutierrez and Jaime Maclean. Weir was outstanding.

If you have children, take them to this show. If you don’t have children, go simply for the wonderful performances and the creative choreography, which melds Broadway, ballroom, hip-hop, ballet and modern.

Book by Dennis Kelly, music & lyrics by Tim Minchin, “Matilda the Musical” runs through April 23 at The Fox.

Cast:
Party Entertainer . . . . . . . . . . . Stephen Diaz
Doctor . . . . . . . . . . . Justin Packard
Mrs. Wormwood . . . . . . . . . . . Darcy Stewart
Mr. Wormwood . . . . . . . . . . . Matt Harrington
Matila . . . . . . . . . . . Jenna Weir
Michael Wormwood . . . . . . . . . . . Darren Burkett
Mrs. Phelps . . . . . . . . . . . Keisha T. Fraser
Miss Honey . . . . . . . . . . . Jennifer Bowles
The Escape Artist . . . . . . . . . . . Justin Packard
The Acrobat . . . . . . . . . . . Kim Sava
Miss Trunchbull . . . . . . . . . . . Can Chameroy
Rudolpho . . . . . . . . . . . Stephen Diaz
Sergi . . . . . . . . . . . Eric Craig
Other parts played by Jacqueline Burtney, Marisa Kennedy, Anthony MacPherson, Tyler McKenzie, Gray Monczka, Soren Miller, Gabby Beredo, Jacob Anderson, Isabella Stuebing, Jim Kaplan, Molly Richardson, Talia Cosentino, Gregory Diaz IV.

SF Jazz Plays Miles Davis
April 15 at the Ferst Center for the Arts

2017 April 13
by Susan Asher


The SF Jazz Collective performs The Music of Miles Davis and original compositions this Saturday. Launched in 2004 by SFJAZZ, the Collective, a bunch of jazz all-stars, has become known for playing the music of legendary composers, including Thelonious Monk, Stevie Wonder, Wayne Shorter, Michael Jackson, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane.

The band includes Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone, David Sanchez, tenor saxophone, Sean Jones, trumpet, Robin Eubanks, trombone, Warren Wolf, vibraphone, Edward Simon, piano, Matt Penman, bass, and Obed Calvaire, drums.
Zenon is a multiple Grammy Award nominee, and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Fellowship. He has released many albums as a band leader and appeared on over 70 recordings as a sideman.

David Sanchez is a six-time Grammy Award nominee and Latin Grammy Award winner in 2005 for Best Instrumental Album, “Coral.” He has toured with Eddie Palmieri and performed with Hilton Ruiz and Claudio Roditi who brought Sánchez to the attention of Jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie. In 1991, Gillespie invited the young saxophonist to join his “Live the Future” tour with Miriam Makeba. Later having the opportunity to be a part of Gillespie’s recording, “Live At The Blue Note.”

Sean Jones is featured on the 2007 Grammy Award-winning album “Turned to Blue” by Nancy Wilson. As a bandleader, he has released seven albums under the Mack Avenue Records label. He performs with his own groups both nationally and internationally. Jones often plays at music venues and jazz festivals such as the Monterey Jazz Festival, Detroit International Jazz Festival, and Montreal International Jazz Festival.

Robin Eubanks has performed with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Slide Hampton, Sun Ra, Elvin Jones and Stevie Wonder, and has released several albums as a bandleader. He played for 15 years in double bassist Dave Holland’s quintet, sextet, octet and big band.

Warren Wolf taught at Berklee College of Music for two years and has toured and performed with Bobby Watson’s “Live and Learn” Sextet, Karriem Riggins “Virtuoso Experience” and Christian McBride & “Inside Straight.”

Bobby Simon was named Guggenheim Fellow by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and has been employed by Bobby Hutcherson, Herbie Mann, Kevin Eubanks and Paquito D’Rivera.

Matt Penman founded a collaborative quartet with Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks and Eric Harland called James Farm. He performs regularly with John Scofield; in trio and in quartet with Joe Lovano. He is a member of Nils Wogram’s Root 70, and Breve, a drummer-less trio with Hayden Chisholm and John Taylor. Other collaborators have included Kurt Rosenwinkel, Kenny Werner, Dave Douglas, Chris Cheek, Seamus Blake, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Guillermo Klein, Rebecca Martin, Nicholas Payton, Fred Hersch and Madeleine Peyroux.

Obed Calvaire has performed and recorded with Wynton Marsalis, Seal, Eddie Palmeri, Vanessa Williams, Mark Murphy, David Foster, Mary J. Blidge, Stefon Harris, Monty Alexander, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Music Soulchild, Nellie McKay, Yellow Jackets, Joshua Redman, Steve Turre, and Lizz Wright to name a few. He has also performed with large ensembles such as the Village Vanguard Orchestra, Metropole Orchestra, the Mingus Big Band, Roy Hargrove Big Band, and the Bob Mintzer Big Band.

SFJAZZ is a nonprofit organization that presents year round jazz concerts, festivals and educational programs at the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco, CA.

Tickets can be purchased online at the Ferst Center for the Arts.

‘White Woman in Progress’ at 7 Stages

2017 April 4

Tara Ochs, Photo: Jake Scott-Hodes,

“White Woman in Progress,” a one-woman show written and performed by Tara Ochs, revolves around racism against African Americans. Inspired by the real-life character she played in the film “Selma,” Viola Liuzzo, a white woman who was killed while fighting for civil rights, Ochs developed this piece to do her part in the fight for equality.

On the stage, Ochs discusses things she learned about the Civil Rights movement from her research for her role. Liuzzo, a nearly 40-year-old married white woman with five young children in 1965, drove from Michigan to Selma to join the Voting Rights march to Alabama’s capital, Montgomery. While driving a young black man back to Selma after the march, Liuzzo was shot and killed by the Ku Klux Klan. Ochs shares Liuzzo’s history and portrays the martyr as well as numerous other characters, including young children, teachers, a prejudiced white woman in Selma and the editor of Ladies Home Journal who wrote disparagingly of Liuzzo for going to Alabama. Ochs portrays those characters well, especially the editor, who appears to be a sly, catty Southern version of Donna Reed. As for portraying Ochs herself at different times in her own life, the actress tends to overact and talk at the audience rather than to them.

Ochs tells the audience she didn’t know much about the march before researching her movie role. Interspersed through the performance are fleeting, gut-wrenching video recordings of black people being disabused by authorities. At least there was that and the magazine journal that chilled my soul. The preachy content did not.

Ochs is an inprov performer and instructor at Dad’s Garage Theatre Company.

Directed by Heidi S. Howard, “White Woman in Progress” runs through April 9 at 7 Stages.