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Let Her Sing and She's Happy

Chita glitters and The Frankenstein Summer sparks; We're Still Hot is anything but; The Owl and the Pussycat take a bow.

By New York City
Chita Rivera(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Chita Rivera
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
At one point in her new nightclub act, And Now I Sing, Chita Rivera suddenly blurts: "Don't think I can't dance!" She wants the audience to know that there's life left in her lower limbs -- and, considering how little room there is for movement on the small Feinstein's at the Regency stage, she shows that she can still move pretty damned well. But what she really shows is that she can still sing pretty damned well, too. In a carefully crafted act that takes full advantage of her personality, talent, and history, Chita is exhilarating. She knows who she is, she understands her audience, and she gives them exactly what they're hoping to see: a musical theater icon using all of the skills at her disposal. That's quite an arsenal!

There isn't a song in her show that isn't there for a very good reason. The opening number, "I Don't Want to Know" (Jerry Herman) is delivered in defiance of time and age as Chita walks through the audience with the house lights up, looking like a million bucks as she sings to us on her way to the stage. Next comes the deft combination of "I Won't Dance," (Kern-Hammerstein) and "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" (Irving Berlin), which immediately establishes the parameters of her show.

From her open-hearted rendition of "Where Am I Going?" (Coleman-Fields) to a hilarious medley performed as a duet with her musical director, Mark Hummel, Chita's show is alive with her blazing talent. And she ignites a fire in her audience, whether she's performing uptempo tunes, comedy numbers, or ballads. Singing from the perspective of one who has seen so many of her colleagues pass away, her performance of Carol Hall's "Circle of Friends" is exceptionally moving. But it's finally the brass that has defined Chita through the decades, and she's still got it. When she sings "All that Jazz" (Kander & Ebb), mark it down: It's been sung.

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Marc Geller, Abby Royle, and Brad Malowin The Frankenstein Summer
Marc Geller, Abby Royle, and Brad Malow
in The Frankenstein Summer
Lightning Strikes Frankenstein Story

Where did author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley get her inspiration for Frankenstein? Playwright Catherine Bush would have it that it came out of a dream she had one night while Mary, her sister Claire, and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley were staying at Lord Byron's home in Geneva during a summer storm. In the Red Light District Company's production of Bush's The Frankenstein Summer, there is certainly enough thunder and lightning (sound design by Shawn Lesmaster) to get the monster up and running. More to the point, there is thunder and lightning in the dialogue as these literary giants singe each other with language that sparks and burns.

Marc Geller is sensationally arrogant as Byron, tossing off caustic lines with poisonous humor while never losing sight of the fellow's humanity. A rapacious genius, Byron fascinates and repels but always stays at the center of the story. It's his belief in Mary's talent that gives her the impetus to create her masterpiece, and it's his desire to bed her (or her lover, Percy; he's an equal opportunity seducer) that keeps this literary soap opera spinning.

Among the other participants are a droll servant, played by the wonderfully winning Bill Roulet, and a doctor with literary aspirations, played by the endearing Brendan McMahon. Brad Malow capture's the cruelty in Shelley's ambition while Tracey Gilbert is shrill to a fault as Claire, the philistine in the group. Though she is meant to be a harridan, Gilbert's bark as an actress is much worse than her bite, which is not to her credit. On the other hand, Abby Royle is a revelation as Mary. She is at once sweet, innocent, and sexy. We readily understand her appeal to Shelley, the doctor, and Lord Byron.

Not only does Geller shine as Byron, he also directed the production with precision and a sense of style. It continues its run through this weekend at the Phil Bosakowski Theatre.

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We're Still Hot(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
We're Still Hot
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Quick Takes

If you love Menopause the Musical, then We're Still Hot! is the show for you; if you love good theater, however, you will find nothing more deathly cold and lifeless. The fact that it was a huge hit in Canada is not to the country's credit. Yet another musical about menopause, We're Still Hot! has a book from hunger -- and the songs are worse.

Remember The Owl and the Pussycat, the movie with Barbra Streisand and George Segal? It was based on a much darker, far more "downtown" sort of play by Bill Manhoff that was recently revived Off-Off-Broadway in a production starring an intense Patrick Christiano and a particularly impressive Chantal Georges. We were fascinated to see a more wounded writer in the "owl" role and, as originally cast (with Diana Sands), a black actress as the "pussycat." The play is not without humor but, to be frank, the movie is actually a more entertaining version of the story.

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[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegels@theatermania.com.]


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