By Michele Black and Dawn Deines
Beverly Hills, CA (TheHollywood360.com) 10/13/2016 – The Wallis Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts Center presents under the direction of creative team Director Anderson Davis, Executive Producer Shane Scheel and Musical Director Jesse Vargas –For The Record: Scorsese – American Crime Requiem on stage in its 500 seat Bram Goldsmith Theater through October 16, 2016. Ticket information www.TheWallis.org/ftr
“Scorsese’s films are inherently theatrical, transporting us to another time and place through music, images and iconic characters,” shared Paul Crewes, The Wallis’ Artistic Director. Going on he had this to say about the Scorsese – American Crime Requiem experience. “Our co-production will build upon these elements to take you inside a Scorsese film. As our audience arrives at the Wallis, they can listen to live musicians while sipping themed cocktails and enjoying pasta on the outdoor Promenade Terrace. The pre-show performance, in and around the Bram Goldsmith Theater, illuminates the early work of the director. The experience continues after the show with cast members and surprise musical guests performing in The Bar at The Wallis.”
The Wallis and For the Record’s creative team have painstakingly planned the evening for you. While the audience may think they’re going to a play, and while that is true, it’s actually an immersive experience. The venue all dressed up in an Italian theme beckons the audience right into the action 90 minutes before the show even starts. Access to Italian cuisine dished up by the Prince Of Venice caterers, tables set up in the bar area replete with red checkered table cloths, fun Scorsese specialty drinks (I had the Scorsese Martini YUM!) and musicians with violins, classical guitars and a piano all serve to ignite the senses to the extraordinary evening about to be presented.
As the audience members make their way down the main upstairs hallway, they pass the Promenade Terrace (renamed the Promenade Terrazza for the run of the show) on the right. Directly across the hall on the wall from the promenade is a large mug shot type image of some of the cast. This is a great place to take a picture. Be sure to do that!
This show is definitely not for the easily offended. Davis directs a “put it right in your face” portrayal of the seedier side of crime and addiction that most would prefer never to deal with. BRAVO to Davis, Scheel and Vargas for pulling off the gritty, turbo charged, crowd pleasing, senses exploding, visual extravaganza that is Scorsese- American Crime Requiem. Backed by 40 years of Martin Scorsese’s iconic films to choose from, powerhouse vocals, an amazing four tiered set designed by Matt Steinbrenner and Kyle Courter, a 7 piece kick ass band consisting of Gianluca Palmieri (Drums/Percusion, Erik Carlson (Guitars), Daniei Durston (Bass), Tom Zmuda (Flute/Tenor/ Bari Sax), Sean Billings ( Trumpet/Flugelhorn), Paul Nowell (Trombone), under the musical supervision of Jesse Vargas (Piano/keyboard), believable Scorsese characters brought alive on stage by an ensemble cast that is as first stellar as they come, all ensconced in the beautiful Wallis Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts.
For The Record has come a long way from its humble beginnings in a small bar in Los Feliz, where in 2010 Anderson, Scheel and Christopher Lloyd Bratten brainstormed and brought to fruition the first For The Record cabaret production using films and soundtracks from Director Quentin Tarantino’s vast pool of films. What followed was a successful run at various venues around Los Angeles before leaving and heading to Las Vegas, Chicago, Montreal, Canada, as well as a stint on Norwegian cruise lines. For The Record returns to L.A with a television deal with Dick Clark productions and ABC under it’s belt.
Pre show finds some of the cast in full character in the lower lobby of the theater greeting guests. I particularly liked this touch as it added to the immersive feel of the show. Doug Kreeger (Jake, and understudy for all male roles) sings a medley of songs while mingling with the guests. Kreeger who is the swing for all male roles is so fun to watch, he plays a variety of rolls throughout the show, and he’s Lester, a drunken guy, a belligerent a@#hole and part of the ensemble. Kreeger can play it all, and has! Jason Paige (Frankie) works the crowd and flirts with the ladies. Paige shared with the 360 that the pre show is one of his favorite parts of the show: getting into character, feeling the room out and interacting with the guests, getting people warmed up for what they will be experiencing next. Zak Resnick (Henry from Goodfellas) moves in and out through the crowd welcoming everyone to the venue and guiding the guests to the bar where he encourages them to purchase a cocktail.
Later Resnick takes his turn at the microphone in the lobby and begins to serenade the guests. All are wonderful touches that hit their intended mark of creating an intimate, inclusive feel to the show.
Moving into the theater the audience is immediately drawn to the massive four tier set that serves as Marty’s bar, The Tangiers Las Vegas Casino, The Copacabana from Goodfellas, a broker house from Wolf of Wall Street and in various scenes, Mean Streets and the Departed. The set also houses the superb 7 piece band on the upper platform. On the ground level is the bar, where you’ll find James Byous (Travis from Taxi Driver) tending bar and serving up drinks to the various cast members who are part of the pre show. There’s some 4th wall breaking with the cast as they enter the theater from the side doors, walking toward the bar greeting the audience, another nice touch to help draw the crowd into the Scorsese experience.
Above the bar is a large table which is used for various scenes: a craps table, stripper stage, bedroom, dining table and from time to time, a stage. Placed around the second and third levels are tables that audience members were allowed to purchase as their seats, thus essentially affording them the opportunity to not only have an up close and personal view, but to be a part of the action as well.
Scorsese American Crime Requiem opens with a comedian (Doug Kreeger) spewing profanities, god awful jokes and taunting Frankie (Jason Paige) which results in the first of many gunshots that pepper the show. From then on audience members are taken on a head spinning run down the rabbit hole of some of Scorsese’s most iconic films: Casino, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, The Departed, Wolf of Wall Street and Mean Streets. Davis has assembled a powerhouse of talent in this stellar ensemble. Grammy nominated B. Slade (Stacks), Tony Award nominated and winners John Lloyd Young (Tony Award winner for Jersey Boys/ Sam) and Carmen Cusack (Tony Award nominated for Bright Star/ Ginger), and cast members James Byous (Travis/ Taxi Driver), Jason Paige ( Frankie), Lindsey Gort (Iris,) Olivia Harris (Theresa and understudy for all female roles), Justin Mortelliti (Jordan Belfort), Dionne Gipson (Diane) from past For The Record shows, as well as newcomers (Pia Toscano/ Karen) on her first real acting gig (could have fooled me, she’s excellent and has great comedic timing!) and Slade (Stacks), while no stranger to the stage, is an absolute showstopper in this his first For The Record production. Zak Resnick (Henry) and Doug Kreeger (Jake and understudy for all male roles). Pair all them with an outstanding band and you have the makings of one spectacular, eye popping, outstanding show.
Usually in a show this size you’d find some possessing the ability to command the audience’s attention over others. However, this is not the case with this ensemble. Every single performer is outstanding, believable and when necessary comedic. Having power watched all the Scorsese films that were being represented in the show gave me a fresh eye on each of the characters. I give high marks to Davis and the cast for taking on something as iconic as Scorsese’s well-loved and often underbelly characters, and owning them, while maintaining the integrity of the originals.
What I absolutely loved about this show was my inability to choose one stand out moment. To quote Karen (Pia Toscano) “I was dizzy!” Between the singing: dancing (hats off to RJ Durell and Nick Florez for some great choreography) and lighting (thanks to Dan Efros and Michael Berger for their expertise in lighting design). The Wallis had that authentic Vegas/night club feel with Efros and Berger delivering power flash of light effects coupled with Ben Soldate on sound. If you hadn’t known you were in a theater, this set would have been right at home on the strip!
A shout out to Costume Designer Steve Mazurek for capturing the style of glittery Vegas shows, the fashions worn by the underbelly of society and the expensive suits worn by Frankie and Sam! I mentioned the set design earlier but must say the audience has no trouble believing they are being swept right into the center of the action from the seedy bar that is Marty’s place to The Tangiers with its crap tables and Vegas show “Aces High”, to the swanky Copacabana. Scorsese- American Crime Requiem is an electrifying show. John Lloyd Young said it best “I see this as a theme park ride through Scorsese for grownups.” Indeed, it’s one thrill ride a minute with talent that seems to possess a force field of its own with the ability to pull the audience back time and time again to see this limited run at The Wallis in Beverly Hills sadly ending on October 16.
Dionne Gipson and Jason Paige lead the cast in the FTR as most veteran members, having worked together since 2004. Dionne looks every bit the stunning diva commanding the attention of the audience in her gorgeous costumes, and taking advantage of the vast space of the Wallis to project her powerhouse vocals to deafening heights. Every eye is drawn to this live wire as she shimmies and saunters across the stage. With a Tina Turner strut and Beyonce attitude Gipson knows how to work the stage to her advantage and the audience is eating it up. “We used to play in small bar or club like venues. It was really fun because we performed the scenes in between the tables, sometimes sitting on someone’s lap, or incorporating them into the show. We wanted to try to bring some of that feel to this show as well,” Gipson shared with the 360 after the show. James Byous (Travis, bartender) had mentioned that with FTR coming to this bigger venue, there was some worry that the intimacy of past shows might not be achieved. Byous as Travis takes full advantage of the space allotted him. His performance draws you into the confusion, the sleazier end of society. Having been in the front row and in various other places around the theater, I’d say they have nothing to worry about.
Paige plays the Joe Pesci psychopath from Casino even more volatile than the original actor. In one disturbing scene Paige sings with a severed hand causing audience members to grimace at his antics, and leaving them on the edge of their seats wondering what is going to happen next. “Well, Well, Well” is my favorite of all the solos Paige has. His gravel throated voice forces you to sit up and take notice. Even when you want to turn away from the insanity and chaos that is associated with Paige’s character. Turning away just isn’t an option Paige’s performance allows no room for it. Just like a Scorsese film, once you begin watching it, you just can’t turn away.
When asked the thing he has heard most from audience members regarding his performance, he humbly states, “Well they compare me to Joe Pesci, and say I did a better job. Which I’m grateful for, but that’s unfair, because being on stage you are larger than life! You don’t have that same impact in a movie. Pesci did a great job!” Paige did an impressive job, to learn more about what he’ll be up to after the show closes. Check out the link after the story.
Tony Award Winner John Lloyd Young brings star power to Sam (from Casino), Young channels a bit of Robert DeNiro and teams that with his own spin on Sam. Young portrays Sam as self assured, powerful, cool and an in charge winner. Running one of the biggest Casinos in Vegas -The Tangiers with confidence knowing there’s no one better than him to get the job done. He’s successful in everything he puts his mind to. Except one thing – Ginger one of the most respected hustlers in Vegas played by Carmen Cusack.
Young and Cusack are paired in a duet “Two to Tango” which serves as the courting scene between Sam and Ginger, and it’s easy to see why Young and Cusack were Tony Award and Tony nominated.
Sam falls hard for Ginger after watching her take on a gambler who didn’t pay up at the end of the night. “I fell in love right there” says Sam. Sam is Ginger’s biggest hustle yet. Sam loves Ginger, and Ginger is still obsessed with her old pimp boyfriend Lester. Young is very believable as the embattled Sam alternating between a hard ass, mover and shaker and a man desperate to keep control of his personal life. Sam finally fed up with the humiliation, lies, deception and addiction; in one of the more emotionally charged scenes between the couple ends up kicking Ginger out. On the heels of that event is Young’s solo song “Stardust.” Heart wrenching and emotional Young deftly draws the audience into the depth of Sam’s pain. Beautifully done!
Tony nominated Carmen Cusack plays Ginger to Young’s Sam. Davis hit the jackpot when he cast these two Broadway stars together. The moment Young (Sam) lays eyes on Ginger you really do believe it was love at first sight for Sam and just another hustle for Ginger. As earlier stated the chemistry really takes off as they sing their duet “Love Is Strange” and later “Two to Tango.” Control, passion, deception and hopelessness all meld together in their scenes together. Cusack has a wonderful sense of comedic timing especially in scenes that are so dramatic and heart wrenching. Her solo on “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” threads comedy in with the pain. And while you want to laugh, you almost feel as if to do so would mean laughing at Ginger’s demise. Picking a stand out Cusack vocal performances for me was tough. As she had so many wonderful opportunities to sing her heart out. If I must choose these are my three favorites; “Sweet Dreams,” “Two to Tango” and the last is with the women’s ensemble “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.” When asked how she is able to sing while crying, she stated, “Well I just came off a Broadway show where I had to be able to do that. Now it comes almost as second nature I suppose! I’m able to tap into that place to bring out that emotion while singing.”
James Byous (Travis, the Bartender) is one of the first characters on the “stage”, and he is one to keep your eyes on. Byous plays his role so well that audience members have even approached the bar to ask him to make them a drink! His presence signals the other actors will soon be in place, and will be mingling at Marty’s Place in character before the show “officially” starts. What impressed me the most about his performance was watching the progression of his character. “Travis is a nice guy that finally snapped, more than a psychopath.” James said. “He is surrounded by filth and murderers day after day at the bar, and is disgusted by what he sees.” He explains that his motivation gets to be different than Robert DeNiro’s was in Taxi Driver, because he’s a different person. He’s a bartender not a taxi driver. “I get to pay homage to what DeNiro did, while making the role my own. I think if he were here, he would tell me to do that.”
Playing opposite James were two actresses, (Lindsey Gort, Olivia Harris), both outstanding in their performances as “Iris.” With bluesy vocals and sexy dance moves, these girls keep audience members riveted. Lindsey Gort who played lead for Iris unfortunately became ill, and after performing in preview week and on opening night, the role was taken over by Olivia Harris. Both brought their own flavor and vulnerability to the role, while knocking it out of the park with the seductive and alluring “Baby I Love You” and “The Thrill Is Gone.” Harris and Gort are a part of the women’s ensemble and absolutely bring the house down along with Dionne Gipson, Pia Toscano and Carmen Cusack in the house favorite “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.”
How fun is Zak Resnick (Henry)? Extremely! Henry begins by saying, “I’ve always wanted to be a gangster!” and launches into “Rags to Riches” from then on Resnick hooks you in with his boyish grin and subtle comedy. Resnick does a superb job of playing Ray Liota’s part in Goodfellas. Resnick is Henry to Toscano’s Karen, but more about that later. He performs in one of the funniest scenes in the show, taken from Wolf of Wall Street, with Justin Mortelliti. That scene also includes B Slade singing one of my favorite songs in the entire play “Rubber Biscuit/Spoonful has audiences practically rolling out of their seats with laughter. As they embark into the iconic Quaalude scene, Mortelliti and Resnick’s sense of comedic timing, and hilarious antics bring the house down! Slade’s ties it all up with his own side splitting ending scene. Hilarity abounds. Many from the ensemble join in, and it becomes a three ring circus of comedy you can’t take your eyes off of.
“Hello Mick, is that you?” Justin Mortelliti, playing Jordon, practically steals the show from the moment he comes blowing on stage singing the Stones “Jumpin Jack Flash” and spewing stock market bullshit with the best of them. Seriously, at the end of his scene I felt like ringing up my finance guy and buying a crap ton of his worthless stock. He’s that convincing and that good! Jagger has a bit of competition with this guy. He’s relentless and commanding. My advice don’t take your eyes off of him, not that you ever could .He lights up the stage like a roman candle and the rest of the cast follows suit. From the moment Mortelliti hits the stage, the energy level skyrockets, and his Mick Jagger like dance moves to Jumpin’ Jack Flash, incredible singing, and spot on performance begin to steal the show! He has the audience in the palm of Jordan’s narcissistic hand. “I’m from Jersey, so it was easy to fall back into the accent.” Mortelliti stated.
Pia Toscano (American Idol) is one of the newest members of the FTR family and plays Karen, Henry’s wife from Goodfellas. Unbelievable as it seems this is Toscano’s first acting role ever! I was stunned to say the least. Toscano is a natural and her vocals have the capacity to blow the roof off The Wallis. Her rendition of “I’m Sorry” is just jaw dropping. Everything Toscano sings is gorgeous, simply gorgeous and her scenes opposite Resnick are hilarious: especially the “panties” scene. She plays a fiery Karen with passion, vulnerability and strength as she struggles to understand her life and loving Henry. Keep your eye on this one she’s going places for sure!
Slade, as luck would have it, came across Scheel’s path at a birthday party for Tracey Toms. Slade sang, and Scheel knew he would be an asset to FTR. Slade wasn’t so sure. “I’d never done anything quite like this! It’s so fast paced, and has so many moving parts. I wasn’t sure I could do it justice.” For being the new kid on the block he sure knows how to stand out in the crowd. From “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” to “House of the Rising Son”, slades stage presence, dynamic powerhouse vocals along with this sensational ensemble cast all possesing the talent to send their voices to the heavens.
He is Grammy nominated 3 times as well as winner of 7 stellar awards. With over 20 years experience and 30 albums under his belt, Slade, while a newcomer to the FTR family, is certainly no stranger to the stage.
This is one show you must not miss. Angelinos are always harping about how Broadway has all the hits first. I disagree. This is a Broadway quality show right here in our own backyard L.A Get out and support this amazing cast. Continuing through October 16 where sadly it must close
What: For the Record- Scorsese American Crime Requiem
Where: Wallis Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills
When: Sept 21- Oct 16, 2016
Ticket Information: www.thewallis.org
Jason Paige Information:
John Lloyd Young
Anderson Davis- Director
Shane Scheel- Executive Producer
Paul Crewes- Artistic Director- The Wallis