Posts Tagged ‘Max & Louie Productions’

by Stephen Temperley
Directed by Sydnie Grosberg Ronga
Max & Louie Productions
December 15, 2017

Paul Cereghino, Debby Lennon
Photo by Patrick Huber
Max & Louie Productions

Florence Foster Jenkins has gotten more notoriety than she could have predicted, even though she probably would have loved it. Even decades after her death in 1944, the socialite and wanna-be classical singer is probably more well-known than ever, thanks to the eponymous acclaimed film starring Meryl Streep as well as the play Souvenir, Stephen Temperley’s charming two-character comedy that’s now onstage at the Marcelle, presented by the always excellent Max & Louie productions. It’s a well-cast production that highlights an important relationship in Jenkins’s life, and provides a showcase for two immensely talented local performers.

The play tells the unlikely but true story of Jenkins (Debby Lennon) through the eyes of her longtime accompanist Cosme McMoon (Paul Cereghino), who is initially shown reminiscing about their relationship 20 years after Jenkins’s death. McMoon then goes on to tell the story of how they met, and how they formed an unlikely team, and after McMoon’s initial shock at the combination of Jenkins’s personal confidence and her lack of discernible singing talent, the working relationship grew into a close friendship.  That’s basically the story, told with much humor but in an affectionate way rather than a ridiculing way. Even though Jenkins really isn’t the great singer she imagines herself to be, she’s got a lot of personal strength, and a truly enviable level of self-confidence. McMoon, over the years, grows to admire her and even feel protective of her, and their unfolding relationship is a joy to witness. Although for the most part, the tone of this piece is comic, there are also some poignant dramatic moments, leading to a truly touching and heartfelt conclusion.

While the script itself is excellent, what makes this production shine most of all is its casting. There are two remarkable performances here. I’ve been told by several trained singers that in order to accurately portray “bad” singing on purpose, it takes a great singer, and Lennon is that and more. The beauty of a piece like this is that it gives Lennon the opportunity to show off her “bad” singing as well as–in a fantasy sequence–her genuinely great singing. Lennon also has such an endearing quality about her as Jenkins that, even though her singing is spectacularly bad, the audience loves her for it. There are so many levels to Lennon’s performance, from humor to an undercurrent of loneliness and desire to be loved. Cereghino is every bit her match as McMoon, as well, getting the chance to show off his excellent piano skills in addition to his acting. His McMoon is charming and supremely likable, as well, and the growing friendship between these two is made all the more believable because of the excellent chemistry between Cereghino and Lennon. The comic timing is first-rate, and the dramatic moments are given just the right weight, as well.

The time, place, and mood of this show is well-maintained in the technical aspects, as well. Dunsi Dai’s gorgeous set, backed by a dazzling video wall/ceiling, provides the right backdrop for the show. There are also wonderful costumes by Teresa Doggett–from Jenkins’s various costumes ranging from classy to outrageous, to McMoon’s stylish suit and tux. There’s also excellent work from lighting designers Patrick Huber and Tony Anselmo, as well as sound designer Casey Hunter. The world of Jenkins and McMoon and the overall milieu of 1930s and 40s New York is communicated with a great deal of style.

This is a remarkable production. The two leads shine, as does the whole show. It looks good and it’s thoroughly fascinating and compelling. A character who could easily be lampooned and ridiculed is given an affectionate tribute here, as is the fond friendship between the “singer” and her accompanist. This is a Souvenir worth celebrating.

Debby Lennon, Paul Cereghino
Photo by John Lamb
Max & Louie Productions

Max & Louie Productions is presenting Souvenir at the Marcelle Theatre until December 31, 2017.


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Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
by Lanie Robertson
Directed by Leda Hoffmann
Max & Louie Productions
February 17, 2017

Alexis J. Roston Photo by John Lamb Max & Louie Productions

Alexis J. Roston
Photo by John Lamb
Max & Louie Productions

Billie Holiday was an undisputed legend of jazz music. Since she died in 1959, there are many people today who have had no opportunity to see her in concert. Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, currently being presented by Max & Louie Productions, gives audiences the closest chance they can get to seeing Holiday perform live. Through a remarkably complex performance from its leading performer, attenders are given a window into Holiday’s life and music, simultaneously showing the greatness and the struggles of her too-short life.

The Billie Holiday we see here, as portrayed by the remarkably talented Alexis J. Roston, is the Lady Day who was nearing the end of her career, as well as of her life. Taking place in March, 1959–four months before she died–the play has the conceit of a concert. Introduced by Holiday’s small band led by pianist Jimmy Powers (Abdul Hamid Royal), Holiday is unpredictable but enthusiastic at first, singing a string of jazz tunes and sharing anecdotes from her life, some humorous and others poignant, sad, and even disturbing. This is a Billie Holiday whose greatness as a singer is still readily evident, although her weariness and decline is also clearly on display. It’s an incredibly strong, richly nuanced performance from Roston, who sounds like Holiday but comes across as a fully realized character rather than a simple impression or tribute. Songs like the poignant “God Bless the Child” and the devastating “Strange Fruit” are not simply sung well by Roston–they are vividly set up in the stories she tells, as she remembers her mother, her first husband who introduced her to heroin, and her experiences performing in the highly segregated and hostile Southern states. Sipping whiskey throughout, Holiday ranges from lucid to near-incoherent, but that voice still rings out when she sings, showing us the talent that made her a legend even when, at this moment in time, the best years of her singing career are behind her.

Although the show is primarily about Holiday, and Roston’s superb performance, she is well supported by Royal as her supportive but occasionally exasperated pianist, Jimmy, and by Kaleb Kirby (drums) and Benjamin Wheeler (Bass), Jimmy’s bandmates. The set, by Dunsi Dai, is a vividly realistic recreation of a 1950’s Philadelphia jazz bar, and Dorothy Jones’s costumes outfit Roston and her band in appropriate period attire. Patrick Huber’s lighting is also especially effective in setting and maintaining the mood and concert atmosphere of the production, with excellent work from sound designer Casey Hunter as well. The music is well-represented by Roston’s excellent voice as well as Royal’s strong music direction and the band’s top-notch playing.

There are many memorable songs here, from “I Wonder Where Love Has Gone” and “When a Woman Loves a Man” to “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and the emotional “Deep Song” that closes the show.  What we see here in this stunningly realized production is an artist at the end of her life, but with so much of her talent on display even through the more difficult moments. Roston especially is a revelation, and this is a production not to be missed especially for fans of classic jazz music and of Lady Day herself.

Abdul Hamid Royal, Kaleb Kirby, Ben Wheeler, Alexis J. Roston Photo by John Lamb Max & Louie Productions

Abdul Hamid Royal, Kaleb Kirby, Ben Wheeler, Alexis J. Roston
Photo by John Lamb
Max & Louie Productions

Max & Louie Productions is presenting Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill at the Kranzberg Arts Center until March 4, 2017.

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