Friday, March 27, 2015

Saluting Sir Elton: Veteran performer Elton John delivers the goods in Vegas


The "Million Dollar Piano" is part piano, part video screen, with a hypnotic, engaging effect on the audience at Caesar's.

Cookie in red scarf, with Keller, right, and friends Bob & Sue.

SIR ELTON JOHN is legendary in the world of popular music.
He has an astonishing 47 albums to his credit, the biggest selling single of all time -- "Candle in the Wind" -- collaborated on a Broadway hit -- "The Lion King," -- and keeps a touring schedule that would leave people half his age breathless.
Elton John's back-up singers includes four well known singers.
Rose Stone, third from left,  gained fame with "Sly and the Family Stone."
All that talent, plus a dazzling wardrobe.
WE SAW SIR Elton a few days ago in a festive mood at his sold-out concert. It was birthday week for the dapper singer, who turned 68 Wednesday.

Cookie and Keller, left, with
friends Bob and Sue at Caesar's.
I'VE FOLLOWED his career since I was young -- and have seen him in concert three times.  I was with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga on New Year's Eve, but if I'd been on the east coast, I'd have seen Elton's first New Year’s Eve show in New York. His rousing rendition of "I’m Still Standing" brought down the house there -- and at our Vegas show Saturday.)
Sir Elton John's performance
at Caesar's Colosseum
is not to be missed.
OTHER HITS Sir Elton sang at our recent "Million Dollar Piano" concert were "Empty Garden" (Hey Hey Johnny), written as a tribute to his friend John Lennon,  "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues," "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," "Philadelphia Freedom," "Crocodile Rock," "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" and, "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," which brought the screaming audience to its feet. 
SIR ELTON'S Vegas magic goes back to 2003 at Caesar's, when he dazzled with his lauded "The Red Piano" show in the Colosseum. That played through 2009, then in 2011, Sir Elton returned to Las Vegas with a new gig in the same hallowed theater where we saw Bette Midler and Cher.  The Colosseum remains our favorite Vegas venue and the new show -- "The Million Dollar Piano" -- continues its tradition of excellence.  Named after hybrid half-piano, half-video-screen instrument, the creation took Yamaha four years to develop.
GORGEOUS, ever changing visual imagery on the piano creates a spectacular evening, unlike anything we've seen worldwide.
Sir Elton John in earlier days.  He still creates a dazzling presence on stage.
Below right, he smiles with his husband David Furnish.
The piano's built-in video screen complements the music for a mesmerizing concert experience.
Both new and older pieces are there -- with Bernie Taupin's presence felt in his brilliant lyrics. Their long collaboration is one of the most successful in show biz history.
The Colosseum -- at Caesar's --
is the venue for Elton John's new showw.

Performing with Sir Elton is his astonishing band: Davey Johnstone on guitar; Guy Babylon on keyboards; Bob Birch on bass guitar; Ray Cooper on percussion; and Nigel Olsson on drums, plus two fine new Eastern European cellists and four female backup singers including Rose Stone from the original Sly and The Family Stone.
Birds in paradise on the Las Vegas strip, click here
JUST BEFORE Christmas, Sir Elton married his partner of 21 years, David Furnish. They received the Human Rights Campaign's National Equality Award in Washington D.C., between 105 public, charity and private performances on a dizzying 17-country tour.
Our Saturday show was long sold out, but tickets remain for the rest of the Vegas run.  If you are anywhere near Caesar's Colosseum through April 14, be there!  Then Sir Elton takes a couple weeks off before launching a three-month tour. After Texas and Louisiana, he and his orchestra cross the pond to Sir Elton's native United Kingdom, then Switzerland, Scandinavia, Germany, Holland and Italy. That tour ends in July, then after a break, the amazingly energetic Sir Elton heads to Australia and New Zealand.
HAPPY BELATED birthday, Sir Elton John. Thank you for years of fantastic entertainment, and for sharing your enormous talent and generous heart.
San Diego Repertory Theatre's artistic
director Sam Woodhouse directs an
electrifying performance of a spin on
the Greek tragedy, "Oedipus Rex."
Lakin Valdez and Monica
Sanchez are electrifying
in "Oedipus El Ray."
DON'T MISS "Oedipus El Ray" at the Lyceum Theater, Horton Plaza, downtown San Diego.  The latest inventive production from San Diego Repertory Theatre  will knock your theatrical socks off.  It's a Latino spin on the classic play, "Oedipus Rex," by Sophocles.  Taking a page from the centuries older Greek playwright, Luis Alfaro creates a moving chorus of three inmates, who move the action forward and explain the tragedy's plot points. Actors Lakin Valdez and Monica Sanchez are electrifying, backed by terrific support on a sparse, effective Lyceum stage.  Rep founder and artistic director Sam Woodhouse displays his usual sense of daring, pushing the envelope with an extensive nude sex scene between Oedipus and his mother. The work is bold, gutsy and memorable -- not for the faint of heart; rather it is for lovers of fine theater. Get your tickets now for the run ends this weekend:
What is it about Australia
that breeds fine actors?
Here's Nicole Kidman.
Up next at lilianslastdance!

NEXT UP AT LILIAN'S LAST DANCE: An artful side of Australian life is its active theatrical and film life. Nicole Kidman returns often to her native land and keeps several homes there. But Australia's love of acting goes back to its early days. Remember to explore, live and learn, and check us out for features on the arts -- movies, TV, museums and books. Visit us weekends at

Friday, March 20, 2015

Angela Lansbury: legendary actress can still deliver standing ovation performance

There is nothing like a dame -- especially one who's been in theater for 70 years

Lansbury's Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney
Todd," won her a Tony award.
PHOTOS from theaters and movie studios
Queen Elizabeth II makes Angela Lansbury a dame of the empire. 

HOW MANY actors can say they've been in show business 70 years?
Not many can claim being on the planet that long, let alone being in the spotlight and remembering the lines.
Lansbury shows pretty legs
in a studio shot in the 1950s.
Lansbury toured "Driving Miss
Daisy" internationally.
                                                                    ANGELA Lansbury can. At nearly 90,
the spirited actress is still touring internationally.
Recently, we saw her at the lovely Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles starring in Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit." She's on a tour that would leave most younger actors breathless.  She toured "Driving Miss Daisy" a few years back with the same vigor and energy.
Drama critic and celebrity biographer Martin Gottfried (who penned "Balancing Act," about Lansbury's life), says Lansbury's greatest regret is that she never starred in a motion picture.
Lansbury with her sons in 1957.
Lansbury has a fondness for dogs. 
SHE HAD many wonderful character parts in films, though, including "The Manchurian Candidate" and "Gaslight," and she
Angela Lansbury's Madame
Arcati -- the 
actress does some
amusing little physical bits. 
has managed to keep all her balls in the air in her "balancing act." She grew up in England but escaped to the United States during World War II. Her mother was an actress, and Angela followed in her footsteps, gaining early success with "The Picture of Dorian Grey."  She also portrayed the mother
of the character played by Elvis Presley in "Blue Hawaii."
BESIDES HER break-through Broadway role (the title character in "Mame") and her conniving accomplice in "Sweeney Todd" (both Tony winners), she gained international fame in the hit TV show,
Oasis on the Vegas strip (a little birdie told me)

"Murder She Wrote." She voiced an endearing animated character for "Beauty and the Beast," and had a long marriage complete with children, dogs and a well adjusted domestic life.
Angela Lansbury kicks up
her heels in "Mame."
She moved to County Cork, Ireland, 30 years ago, but returns to the U.S. to tour.  At the moment, she's playing the leading role of the eccentric medium, Madame Arcati, at the National Theater in Washington, D.C. these days. The Washington Post reported that the still sprightly actress, star of TV's popular "Murder, She Wrote," booked a table for family and friends at the Old Ebbitt Grill downtown.  She wore a silk scarf with shamrocks, but passed on the green beer. Instead, she had a small glass of wine with her crab cakes, clam chowder and sorbet.
Cookie follows favorite actors and performers, attempting to see
every production in which they appear. It's a habit since childhood.
I FELL for Lansbury at the movies then followed her stage career, with the good fortune to see her "Mame," Mrs. Lovett and earlier this year Madame

Wellington's wonders: take a look at a delightful New Zealand city

Arcati. She still kicks up her heels as the medium, with amusing little physical bits that leave the audience howling.
"Everyone loves you, everyone loves the success, and enjoys it as much as you do," she reflects. And it lasts as long as you are on that stage and as long as you keep coming out of that stage door."

Sir Elton John, appearing days ago at the Colossseum
in Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, where he delivered a SRO show.
NEXT UP: Sir Elton John delivers a fantastic live performance at the Colosseum in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace.  And we're front and center in orchestra seats. He dazzled for two hours, leaving the stage only to change his cape oradd a jacket.  What a show! Coming next. Remember to explore, live and learn, and check us out for features on the arts -- movies, TV, museums and books. Visit us weekends at

Friday, March 13, 2015

'Jeopardy' day is an exciting one -- from Alex Trebek to Johnny Gilbert

The set of "Jeopardy" is familiar to fans of the acclaimed daytime TV show. It was a fun day for Cookie, Keller and others.
Actor Art Flemming was
recruited to be the original
host of "Jeopardy" in 1964.


Ken Jennings and Art Flemming photos from archives 

A DAY at Sony Studios and the "Jeopardy" set is a day I've dreamed about for a long time.
I'd met Alex Trebek years ago at a fundraiser in Los Angeles, but I'd not spent time on the set.
So, carpe diem.  This was the year.  "This IS Jeopardy."
We waited outside the studio beneath a larger than life Alex Trebek.
I've been a "Jeopardy" fan since the show debuted in 1964.  I was just starting high school and I'd sit with my grandmother Olive, who loved language, gameshows, and those with quick wits and minds.
"Oh,I love Art Flemming," Gran used to say. "He's so handsome."  And so he was, the popular actor who became first "Jeopardy" host and stayed with it until 1975. The show took a hiatus, was briefly revived, then shelved in 1978.
PRESENT HOST, Trebek, was a reporter in his native Canada in 1984 -- covering everything from horse races to politics -- when creator Merv Griffin asked him to come on board. That was 20 years after Gran and I first blurted out answers and hummed that catchy tune.
Fun travel tips, cruising, hotels, nature pieces, at whereiscookie
RESEARCHING the history, I thought of this "Jeopardy" test: 
Answer: "He was a popular actor when asked to host the original show of 'Jeopardy' on TV."
Question: "Who was Art Flemming?"
But why was 'Jeopardy' so successful?
Think of the 1950s, if you go that far back. There was growing frustration from the public at quiz shows scandals.
Ken Jennings with Alex Trebek:  Jennings earned over
a million dollars on the popular show.
Producers were being accused of providing answers to contestants and rigging the results. "Jeopardy" stepped in, attempting to provide a departure from traditional quiz shows by asking contestants to give their answers in the form of a question. The unique show caught on, and enjoyed a successful daytime run from 1964 to 1975.
 FLEMMING AND the original show were on NBC. After the second, short run of the show was cancelled in 1978, the notion was shelved for nearly six years.  When it came returned, Flemming was replaced by Trebek.
Cookie waited patiently with others.
The daily syndicated version we all know has always featured Trebek as host and the seemingly ageless Johnny Gilbert as announcer. It was
Alex Trebek in early "Jeopardy" days.
delightful to watch  the show open with Gilbert's familiar "This is Jeopardy." During a recent day of tapings, Gilbert had one arm a sling, result of rotator cuff surgery, then a car-pedestrian accident that resulted in a "redo" of the initial surgery. "What did Alex do to your arm?" one audience member joked. Gilbert ad libbed a jaunty answer: "He was reaching for my wine glass." 
Johnny Gilbert works the house during
several breaks in "Jeopardy" filming.
JOHNNY GILBERT -- well up in his 80s --  is a story in himself, a legendary game show host with more than 60 years in show biz. He still loves his work, and mingled with the audience while we waited for action to resume.  We also watched make-up artists touch up the contestants and Alex cross the stage to help a contestant who was having trouble with his signaling device. Since several shows are taped during a day, we observed costume changes -- on both Alex and the winners who advanced to more games.
Cookie takes a spin on the set.
And we enjoyed watching a panel of judges and consultants checking answers. Twice during our visit, Alex adjusted a contestant's score.  Alex also made a slight faux pas in reading one of the "question/answers" and that was retaped during a break, something that would have been impossible with live TV.
GRAM WOULD be thrilled to know that with over 6,000 episodes aired, the daily "Jeopardy" has won a record 31 daytime Emmy awards and is the only daytime game show to be honored with the prestigious Peabody Award.  In 2013, the program was ranked No. 45 on  TV Guide's list of the 60 greatest shows in American television history. Jeopardy! has also gained a worldwide following and has been the subject of hilarious sketches on "Saturday Night Live."
Angela Lansbury plays
Madam Arcati in Noel
Coward's "Blithe Spirit,"
recently in Los Angeles.
The daily syndicated series' 32nd season will premier in September.

NEXT UP:    Actress Angela Lansbury has had a remarkable career -- from movies to stage and TV.  This reporter's recent viewing of "Blithe Spirit" in Los Angeles proved the actress still has what it takes. Join us for a look back at 60 years in show biz with one of the greats.  Remember to explore, live and learn, and check us out for features on the arts -- movies, TV, plays, museums and books. Visit us weekends at

Friday, March 6, 2015

Stars shine on season of exciting San Diego theatrical openings

"The Grift" in the Lafayette Hotel is one of La Jolla Playhouses "interactive" productions, offering play goers a chance
to be part of the action, in this case, getting retribution for Ben, who supposedly lived his life in the hotel.
The Lyceum in downtown San Diego
in Horton Plaza always entertains, provokes.



(or even play a part in a production, if you like)  

and theater marketing contacts
 Lakin Valdez is Oedipus and Monica Sanchez is
Jocasta in San Diego Repertory's new work at Lyceum.
Sean Murray is Professor Higgins,
who transforms a lowly flower girl
into a proper lady -- and finds
himself transformed as well.
THE STARS are shining on theater in San Diego, with a play for every taste. Pick your seats for a polished string of theatrical pearls. From an old-fashioned musical with some of Broadway's greatest songs, to a bittersweet comedy about loss and a second chance for love, a pair of cutting edge dramas or an audience participation mystery, San Diego theater provides an enticing mix.
Emmy winner Hal Linden, front left,
joins a stellar cast in "The 27th Man."
Linden is remembered for his
  honored TV show, "Barney Miller."
David Ellenstein and Jacquelyn Ritz star in "Chapter Two'' at
 North Coast Repertory Theatre, a comedy about loss and love.
LA JOLLA Playhouse's "The Grift" at the historic Lafayette Hotel in Normal Heights, San Diego, takes play goers inside the 1940s hotel in an audience-participation endeavor. With a nod to vintage costumes and 1940s detective films, we helped solve the mystery with clues, keys and riddles  -- a couple of them musical, a natural for me. We felt the ghosts of Hollywood legend who frequented the hotel -- Betty Grable, Gene Kelly, Bob Hope and Lana Turner as we roamed the Lafayette's byways, suites and bars. "The Grift" is part of LJP's "Without Walls" immersive, off-site theatrical offerings.
Click for travel, cruising, outdoor adventure at
PLAYWRIGHT Tom Saloman greets play goers who are divided into teams helping pull off a con. Fun way to meet fellow theater buffs with an inside look at a San Diego landmark. Wear your walking shoes and enjoy the ride.

The Old Globe in historic Balboa Park offers a lovely
setting for theater in the round, and a pretty place to stroll. 
AT THE LYCEUM, "Oedipus, El Rey” opens Saturday night, playwright Luis Alfaro’s steamy vision of the Greek classic, blending Greek mysticism, Mexican ritual and Southern California’s barrio culture. The Lyceum's Sam Woodhouse, always sharpening the cutting edge for which he and San Diego Rep are lauded, directs the production. Like the Greek classic by Sophocles it explores hubris and obsessive love of mother for son, with sex and passion part of the story.
Old Town is the home of Cygnet Theatre, which is presenting Lerner and
Loewe's classic "My Fair Lady" with its array of favorite tunes.
AT NORTH COAST  Rep, Neil Simon's romantic comedy, "Chapter Two," is delighting audiences in the second week of its run. NC Rep's gifted artistic director David Ellenstein directs with Christopher Williams and stars in the story of a pair of wounded adults, drawn together to give love another chance.
At the Old Globe, "The Twenty-seventh Man" is being lauded as a first-rate production.  A Soviet prison is the setting for the tale, in which Stalin’s secret police have rounded up 26 giants of Yiddish literature. As judgment looms, a 27th suddenly appears: an unknown teenager, baffled by his arrest. He and his cellmates ponder what has brought them together in troubled times. Artistic director Barry Edelstein reimagines the play he premiered in New York. Award-winning novelist Nathan Englander wrote the piece, performed in the Globe's intimate in-the-round space.
The Lafayette Hotel in Normal Heights is the setting for a
 fun "WOW"  (without walls) production. 
The fun of San Diego theater is enhanced by fine eateries, bars and parks near the venues! Make it a night or afternoon on the town!
YOU CAN'T go wrong with "My Fair Lady," at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.  The beloved classic, based on George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," tells the story of a scruffy Covent Girl flower girl, transformed to a graceful lady by a linguist. Cygnet's artistic director, talented Sean Murray, directs and plays the professor whose lady passes as royalty. Murray's nuanced interpretation goes far beyond caricature to create a humane, believable bachelor who  finds himself transformed as well. Allison Spratt Pearce's Eliza is gorgeous to look at and listen to, and Ron Choularton's Doolittle is priceless. Lerner and Loewe themselves would join the standing ovation for this splendid Cygnet production with a stellar supporting cast.
The Wharf Theatre lobby in Sydney offers books as well as a bar, and tickets
for a variety of shows.  We saw a half-dozen plays in Australia, all well done.

COMING NEXT WEEKEND: Theater in Australia offers a mix of hard-hitting drama and beautifully staged classics.  We saw a half-dozen plays -- at Sydney Opera House and The Wharf -- and not a loser in the bunch. Catch worldwide theater pieces weekends here at and  head to Wednesdays for travel, cruises, hotels and adventure. Remember to explore, learn and live.