Monday, September 1, 2014

CHAZZ PALMINTERI: A BRONX MAN WITH A TALE





When actor and writer Chazz Palminteri was a nine year old boy sitting innocently on a cement stoop in front of his Bronx home, he witnessed a murder.  He saw two men fighting five feet in front of him, ostensibly over a parking space, when a third man stepped in to help his friend. He killed his friend's opponent and, thus,  rescued his friend.  The police, no matter how they tried, couldn't get Chazz, who was called by his given name Calogero, to testify.

In the midst of this devastating encounter, Chazz's eyes met those of the stranger's, who turned out to be Sonny, the capo di tutti capi, or "boss of all bosses" or godfather if you prefer. The young impressionable lad soon found himself swept into a different and exciting world that Sonny commanded, into a fancy club, fetching coffee and cutting lemons and limes, rolling dice and collecting tips.  Chazz's father, a hardworking bus driver, did not approve of his son's new associates and when Sonny tried to give him a lucrative job he refused.  Soon "C" as he was called became Sonny's "penance, something good to leave behind."

Chazz was now influenced by two father figures.  His dad Lorenzo gave him a card that stated "Don't waste your talent," while Sonny taught him life lessons like "It's better to be feared than to be loved" and "Never underestimate your enemy."  Fast forward several decades and Chazz Palminteri, the aspiring actor, a dream he had harbored since he was ten, called out his memories of that long ago harrowing image and translated it into a ten minute monologue for an acting class.  He had been at the Actor's Studio in New York City where he studied under Lee Strasberg and now was in Los Angeles looking for his big break.  In between stints on television shows like "Hill Street Blues," he had a job as a doorman/bouncer at a high rollers club. A man was rude when he tried to enter and Chazz refused to let him pass.  The patron exclaimed, "I'll have your job in 15 minutes."  The boss suddenly appeared and hugged Swifty Lazar,a talent agent and deal maker to the stars, and, true to his word, Chazz found himself unemployed a quarter of an hour later.

Searching for a good role and not finding one, the inventive actor set to work creating his own.  The ten minute monologue about his early Bronx life grew minute by minute until it peaked at an hour and forty minutes long.  Embracing eighteen different characters, he made it a one man show, "A Bronx Tale" that "exploded" when he produced it in a small club and suddenly became the hottest property since "Rocky" to hit the theater circuit.

Offers of $250,000, $500,000 and, ultimately, a million dollars were offered to make it into a movie but never with Chazz in the main role as Sonny.  With only $200 in the bank, it took a lot of chutzpah to stay focused on his dream.

That dedication paid off when weeks later Robert DeNiro walked in one night and saw the show.  He told Chazz at their second meeting, "If you make it (the film) with me, I'd make it right."  With DeNiro directing his first film and playing Chazz's dad Lorenzo and Chazz as Sonny LoSpeechio, "A Bronx Tale" became a strong, witty, poignant coming of age tale by a master storyteller.

Chazz recalls his early years as an "outrageous time to grow up.  I had a great childhood in an Italian neighborhood with happy times, sports and some violence."  Writing about it has proven therapeutic, "a transference of energy from negative to positive."  He is grateful his father lived to see his success and his mom, now 94, can look forward to his upcoming appearances on "Modern Family" and "Legends" on television.

To witness this classic performance, book your tickets ($75) for one night only, Saturday, September 6 at 8 p.m. when Chazz Palminteri will recreate his iconic "A Bronx Tale" at Foxwoods Resort Casino, at the Fox Theater, 350 Trolley Line Boulevard, Mashantucket.  Call  800-200-2882  or online at www.foxwoods.com.  A special three-course dinner package is available at Cedars Steak House or Al Dente for $130, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. that night only.  Make reservations.  Tax and tip are included.

Chazz Palminteri is a man of many talents, none of which he wastes, as his father had warned.  A veteran of 50 films like "Analyze This" and "The Usual Suspects," he also runs classes three or four times a year "One on One Auditions" and the website www.chazzpalminteri.net to "give back" and help young actors as well as hosts a new Baltimore restaurant "Chazz A Bronx Original."  There his cold fire oven pizza cooks in 90 seconds, "sweet and fluffy on the inside, crispy and caramelized on the outside."

As for those life lessons, Chazz Palminteri also has learned "family is important" and "stay close to the things you value."  Come see him put all these lessons to good use.

TAKE A TOUR INTO GRANDEUR


 

Take a walk back in history, and what an elegant heritage it is, when Waterbury's exquisite Palace Theater opens its doors for a tour on Friday, September 5 from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.  Don't worry if you can't make tomorrow's foray as the Palace has promised to repeat this grand backstage event many times in the autumn season.

For nine decades, with only one sustained hiatus due to unforeseen events, the Palace has been a jewel in the entertainment world.  This monthly historical talk, which is only $5, but make a reservation, will reveal stories and anecdotes from the theater's past and present glories.  A trained staff of Palace Theater Ambassadors will be your guides, revealing all the delicious tidbits of knowledge that will make you feel you know this grand old lady, from her gilded and marble architectural design, her grand instrumental organs, her star dressing rooms and hidden backstage murals that illuminate the past in vivid color.  Imagine walking across that great stage, the same space where over the years Tommy Dorsey, Tony Bennett, Eddie Cantor, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, Carol Burnett and Pink Floyd among many others trod the boards.

Built in 1922 and a solid part of the National Register of Historic Places, the Palace Theater was designed in a Renaissance Revival style by architect Thomas Lamb and manages to beautifully combine Greek, Roman, Arabic and Federal motifs. It was the brain child of theater impresario of Sylvester Z. Poli and was originally a vaudeville and silent movie house.  It later welcomed talkies films, Big Bands, rock concerts and even later Broadway road shows.  You will surely admire its sweeping marble staircases, golden domed ceilings, cut glass chandeliers and intricate plaster relief details that all attest to its grandeur and glory from the past to the present. It went dark in 1987 and stayed that way for a long 18 years. In 2004, it was revived thanks to a grant of $30,000,000 from the state of Connecticut and we are all the richer for it.

A double anniversary will be held on Saturday evening, September 20 at 8 p.m. to celebrate the 80th year of WATR Radio, 1320 AM, and the Palace's tenth since its revitalization.  Billed as a "razzle dazzle musical revue," it will weave together headlines from the radio with theatrical headliners, appropriately called "Headlines and Headliners."  Tom Chute from WATR will direct and Brian Pia will orchestrate this unique one-of-a-kind evening that is sure to be a crowd pleaseer. Call for tickets ($35).

For tour ickets ($5), call the Palace Theater, 100 East Main Street, Waterbury at 203-346-2000 or online at www.palacetheaterct.org.  A special boxed lunch and tour package prepared by Riverhouse Catering for groups of 15 or more for $17 per person is available, reserved at least 3 days in advance.

Come learn all the secrets hidden and all the beauty revealed on the surface that the Palace Theater in Waterbury has for the taking.
Stroll into entertainment history.

Monday, August 25, 2014

COME MEET WOODY GUTHRIE, THE MAN AND THE MUSIC


 If your mama names you after a president, you might feel an obligation to make your life a little more meaningful and special.  Maybe that's what inspired Woodrow Wilson Guthrie to make such a joyous noise unto the Lord with his thousands of songs, folk tunes about his growing up years in Oklahoma's Dust Bowl, political, children's,  songs of wanderlust and traveling, songs of peace and against war, social justice and even songs with a Jewish flavor.  None of his verses is more well known than "This Land Is Your Land," that he penned in 1940, considered one of folk music's most famous tunes.  Even that was a protest against the sentiment he heard in Irving Berlin's "God Bless America."

To learn about the man Woody Guthrie and his life and his music, mosey on over to TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford for "Woody Sez" until Sunday, September 14.  The opportunity to make the acquaintance of this unusual talent is yours for the taking and you will be the richer for saying "Howdy" and metaphorically shaking Woody's hand.

The team of David M. Lutken and Nick Corley gets full credit for this production which they conceived together.  Lutken stars as the prosaic philosophizing guitar playing guy who was compelled to ramble across the country and write about all he saw and all the people he met along the way.  Nick Corley sets his hand to directing this impassioned yet humble tale, of a man and the music he had to make.

Think of Woody Guthrie as an amalgam of Will Rogers and Pete Seeger, a man filled with words and sentiments which he put into poems, plays, letters, a newspaper column called "Woody Sez," song lyrics as well as novels and artwork. He suffered many tragic losses in his life as well as great happiness. They translated into his writings.  As Woody says himself, "There's a feeling in music and it carries you back down the road you have traveled and makes you travel it again.  Sometimes when I hear music I think back over my days - and a feeling that is fifty-fifty joy and pain swells like clouds taking all kinds of shapes in my mind."

Accompanying Woody's character on stage are musicians David Finch, Leenya Rideout and Helen J. Russell, who create a powerful storm of sound with almost three dozen tunes.  Some highlights include "This Train Is Bound for Glory," "Sinking of the Reuben James," "The Ballad of Tom Joad," "Riding In My Car," and, of course, "This Land Is Your Land."

For tickets ($50-65, seniors $35 at Wednesday and Saturday matinees), call TheaterWorks at 860-527-7838 or online at www.theaterworkshartford.org.  Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m., plus a Wednesday matinee September 10 at 11 a.m. for children, who are free that day.  A sing-along jam session, Hootenanny Sundays, are open to all, free, bring a musical instrument, at 4:45 p.m. each Sunday.  Visit the gallery upstairs that is showcasing a varied display of musical instruments.

On September 23, a 3-CD Deluxe Audio Book, narrated by daughter Nora Guthrie will be released, entitled "My Name Is New York", ramblin' around Woody Guthrie's town.  Look for it.

Come meet Woody, his guitar and his friends in this special and moving tribute to the Oklahoma Troubadour.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE" CAN BE COMPLICATED AND COMIC






A random act of kindness for a dear friend can translate quickly into the old axiom "no good deed goes unpunished."  Thanks to the cleverly devious machinations of prolific British playwright Alan Ayckbourn, you will want to witness Westport Country Playhouse's excellently hysterical production of "Things We Do For Love" igniting peals of laughter until Sunday, September 7.

When a cynical and undemonstrative Barbara, who was nicknamed "Spike" in her school days, is reunited with Nikki after years of separation, the bonds are quickly cemented.  Nikki, who has had a string of disasters in the love department, has finally latched on to a winner, a bearded Scottish vegetarian named Hamish and they need a temporary place to stay while their new home is finished.

Barbara, who feels love is a crock, is willing to rent the upper floor of her well appointed flat in recognition of friendship as she already
has a tenant, Gilbert, a handy man/postman living in the basement.  Hamish is everything Barbara despices and their mutual dislike is instantanteous and absolute.  Yet Barbara is willing to disturb her well organized life momentarily for the sake of Nikki, a woman she pities for her neediness for male companionship.

A unique tri-level set, designed by James Noone, gives ample views of the action above and below Barbara's singular space.
In this intriguing romantic "square," Nikki and Hamish's relationship is quickly tested as a fascination with Barbara attacks both Hamish and Gilbert, leading to comic and violent complications.  The cast is uniformally terrific with Geneva Carr as Barbara, Sarah Manton as Nikki, Matthew Greer as Hamish and Michael Mastro as Gilbert, under the fine direction of John Tillinger.

For tickets ($30 and up), call the Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, off route 1, Westport at 203-227-4177 or 888-927-7529. Performances are Tuesday at 8 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Come discover how scissors, scrapbooks, sherry, footless socks, single unit plumbing, secrets and Scottish heritage invade Barbara's solitary and sheltered life and turn it effectively inside out and upside down.

Monday, August 18, 2014

MEET WINFRED REMBERT: ARTIST OF LIFE IN LEATHER




                       A COTTON FIELD, ART ON LEATHER BY WINFRED REMBERT

 By all rights, Winfred Rembert should have died five decades ago.  At 19, this African-American boy was captured by a gang of angry white men in a Georgia woods and had a noose around his neck for protesting in a Civil Rights march.  He was going to be lynched but, at the last moment, the men decided to use him as an example and parade him through the town.  That decision was a private miracle for his family and friends and a public joy and celebration for the world.

At 69 years of age, Winfred Rembert has enough stories of his heritage to last many more than the thousand and one nights of a Scheherazade.  As a self-taught folk artist who began his art career after the age of fifty, he might conjure up an image of Grandma Moses. But Winfred Rembert is his own man and the stories he tells through his art are uniquely his.

Born in Cuthbert, Georgia, he was raised by an aunt after his mother abandoned him at three months of age.  He rarely attended school and by six was more often in the cotton fields and potato patches earning 50 cents a day for his labors.  By the time he turned a teen, he had run away from that hard life, hung around pool halls and learned about the Civil Rights movement.

He was arrested for protesting and there followed terrible years of abuse when he was almost lynched and sentenced to 27 years in prison.  Thankfully, due to his own ingenuity, he learned to read and write from other prisoners.  More importantly, he discovered his talent for working with leather and creating an art form that testifies to and celebrates the sorrows and joys of his life.

Out of prison after seven years, through the intervention of a California senator, he returned home and continued his courtship of his love, Patsy, and they share the raising of eight children and many grandchildren in their Newhall Street, New Haven home.  A natural storyteller, Winfred was encouraged by Patsy to put those stories on leather as a heritage for their children.  The wallets and pocketbooks he learned to make in prison have now, for the last 15 years, been transformed into pictorials of his African-American legacy.

Prominent in his leather tooled art, that he makes often at night when sleep and nightmares are too painful, are images of rows of cotton fields and the laborers who strain their backs to pinch the bolls from the prickly plants.  Another is of Miss Lydie who stopped her picking long enough to birth a baby and then started work minutes later.  When Winfred was a babe himself, his baby sitter was told to hang a large white sheet from the line as a signal to his mama in the fields if there was a problem.

Winfred Rembert doesn't shy away from the painful memories.  He uses his tools, a toe and a heel and a swivel knife, followed by colored dyes rather than paints (paints crack and peel), to create scenes of lynch mobs and chain gangs, realities that he knows intimately.  Pool halls, dance parlors, his favorite swimming hole when he played hookey, the stores he frequented, the midwife who charges $8 for a baby delivery, jazz singers and even President Obama have all been immortalized.  This "true original" has had his life captured in a brilliant film "ALL ME: The Life and Times of Winfred Rembert" by Vivian Ducat and will be shown at Westville's Kehler Liddell Gallery, 893 Whalley Avenue, New Haven on Thursday, August 21 at 7 p.m.  Come early at 6 p.m. to see his leather carving demonstration.  His exhibit of vibrant and one-of-a-kind art will be on display until Sunday, August 31.  Gallery hours are Thursday and Friday 11a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment, 203-389-9555 or online at www.kehlerliddell.com.

Winfred Rembert "takes bad situations and turns them into beautiful art as a sign of strength and of remembrance."  He recently had an exhibit of his art in a gallery near his hometown in Georgia, an event that proved how far he has come from the scared and hurt little boy.  From his experiences, he could well hate the world for all the suffering he endured.  Instead he acknowledges his black history and his American history.  He also wants the three white Wilson Brothers from Cuthbert who told him he would amount to no good to know how wrong they were.

As he proclaims, "I have a dream of working with children in my home, my church, in schools.  I can make a difference in some children's lives.  I feel the Lord is with me and helps me do and say the right things."  He has often opened his home and his heart to runaway children and feels it is his heritage to tell his tale.  "By all rights, I should have died when a mob of mean people almost castrated and hung me, but instead let me live.  A guardian angel saved me and I am alive to tell my life story.  My art will help you to know me."



Let Winfred Rembert tell his special story through his vibrant hand-tooled leather pictures.  As he succinctly puts it, "I didn't give up.  I keep on trucking."



Let Winfred Rembert tell his special story through his vibrant hand-tooled leather pictures.  As he succinctly puts it, "I didn't give up.  I keep on trucking."

"THE WRITERS AFTERLIFE" AN INTRIGUING PROPOSITION

                         RICHARD VETERE, AUTHOR OF "THE WRITERS AFTERLIFE"

 How important is fame in the grand scale of life?  Quite important, if you feel you deserve it but don't achieve it, especially if your life is cut short and you die at a mere forty-four years of age.  As an artist, a statesman, a sports star, an actor, you might understandably feel cheated.  For Tom Chillo, a writer ready to burst forth on the literary scene, his sudden death is devastating.

Enter the creative, fertile and fantastic mind of Richard Vetere as he explores Tom Chillo's ascent into a unique place, "The Writers Afterlife." There Tom is assigned a guide, Joe, a painter who will assist his adjustments in the hereafter.  When Tom realizes he has been placed in the Valley of Those on the Verge, with the ability to see and even speak to the special Eternals, those lucky enough and talented enough to have achieved a level of prominence, assuring they will never be forgotten, he is devastated.

With envy, Tom regards The Eternals and desperately wants to earn his place among them.  To be forever in the company of Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Oscar Wilde and Thornton Wilder is a dream and goal that quickly consume him.

In this compelling tale, Vetere, who is himself a writer of some note, having penned plays, poetry, screenplays, novels and also acted, takes the reader's hand and guides him on a literary adventure.  As Tom Chillo chats with luminaries like Edgar Allan Poe and reflects that writers much younger than himself, like Keats who died at 26 and Shelley who left this earth at 29, achieved their quest for immortality, he plots how to join their ranks.

With a week at his disposal to go back to earth, to convince friends, agents and critics, to change his destiny, to help him achieve notoriety, Tom Chillo must plan incredibly well.  He has one chance to do it right.  Will the love of a fellow writer, Jennifer, help him in his goal?  He knows what makes a great writer: extraordinary use of language, the ability to tell a story, creating memorable characters, dedication to learning the craft and a well of imagination.

Does Tom Chillo have the right stuff to reside forever with The Eternals?  Read "The Writers Afterlife" (Three Rooms Press, $16.95) and discover the fascinating answer for yourself.

"LA CAGE AUX FOLLES" MAY BE THE BEST OF TIMES





Introducing your new prospective mate for life to your parents for the first time is fraught with complications and causes for concern.  When both sets of parents meet simultaneously with the new happy couple, it can be joyous, harmonious or, in a few cases, hysterically wrong. If your parents are both men, the situation can be  even more interesting.

Jerry Herman, Jean Poiret and Harvey Fierstein have conjured up one such dramatic encounter in the merry musical "La Cage aux Folles" which literally means the cage of the mad women in French, but there's room enough for mad men too.  Ivoryton Playhouse is wrapping itself in pink boas, tons of feathers and stiletto high heels for this rousing riot of a romp about romance until Sunday, August 31.

As manager of a trendy nightclub in Saint-Tropez where men dress exotically as women every evening, Georges, a suave and sophisticated James Van Treuren, takes his unusual lifestyle for granted.  His romantic partner Albin, a truly temperamental and trusting David Edwards, has for years been the star of the entertainment as ZaZa.  When Georges' son, the result of a one night experimental indiscretion, arrives at the uniquely different family home, he has one request.  Jean-Michel, a striving for normalcy Zach Trimmer, wants to come home with his new fiancee Anne, a sweet and innocent Allyson Webb, on his arm.  Also arriving to visit will be Anne's parents.  The fact that Anne's father (Frank Calamaro) is the head of a Tradition and Morality Party is a definite problem.  If her father, the uptight and conservative politician, had his way, all clubs like Georges' would be closed and padlocked. Anne's mother (Samantha Lane Talmadge) follows her husband's directives to the letter.

With their "maid" Jacob, a wildly wonderful Phil Young, leading the charge, Georges and Albin try to ready their establishment for the invasion of the principled parents.  Happily for the audience, everything goes awry in a frantic farce of complications.  Their friend the restauranteur Jacqueline (MarTina Vidmar) tries to help while all the club dancers the Cagelles prance in merry fashion but the ruse of being a traditional family unit explodes like the myth that it is.  Songs like "I Am What I Am," "With Anne on My Arm," "La Cage aux Folles," "Look Over There" and "The Best of Times" are wonderful.
Lawrence Thelen directs this marvelous musical comedy with white gloved cleverness and a sense of mischief. The elaborate set by Cully Long is worth the trip to Ivoryton all by itself.

For tickets ($42, seniors $37, students $20, children $15), call the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton at  860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.  Performances are Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m.,  Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.


Put on some sequined sparkles for a grand and gaudy visit to the French Riviera and watch a pleasure palace be transformed into a monastery as love
and family get new and different definitions.