Friday, April 17, 2015

Touched by greatness: Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga deliver wondrous performance

Legendary singer Tony Bennett and the gifted Lady Gaga collaborate to the delight of a full house recently in Las Vegas. Our artful team saw the show, following the "modern vintage" collaboration.  

"I call her "firefly" 'cause oh, my. She radiates moon glow. Wants none of that noon glow. She starts to glitter when the sun goes down 'Bout 8 p.m., it's mayhem........."
--from "Firefly," sung recently by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga to a standing ovation Las Vegas audience

If Cookie cries for joy, the concert
or play makes her "tops" list.


IT WAS MOON GLOW, not mayhem when Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett charmed us last weekend. Everything was in order.
SO MANY fantastic plays and concerts I've seen in my lucky life.
I started a "Top Ten" list about 30 years ago.  It changes as I see and evaluate several hundred shows each year.
Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga's fabulous, flawless performance made the list.  When a show makes me cry for joy, it's in.
Tony Bennett, a frisky 88, still has the pipes, folks, and a sense of fun.
Here he twirls Lady Gaga around in a packed house at Axis Theater, Vegas.
Lady Gaga goes solo for several songs
with the best band a singer could have.
EACH SHOW on my list reminds me of how precious it is to be in the company of greatness. True genius touches one's life only on rare occasions. The greats remain in my heart and mind --so Tony and Gaga join stellar memories of:
* FRANK SINATRA crooning at the old Sands Hotel, with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., accompanied by Count Basie in the Copa Room.
* Mary Martin washing that man right out of her hair in "South Pacific" on Broadway. The audience wouldn't stop cheering.
* Patti Lupone as Mama Rose in Gypsy.  She stopped the show with a standing ovation for "Everything's Coming Up Roses."
*Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou taking their fifth curtain call in "Sweeney Todd," to cheers and thunderous applause.
NOW, ADD to my "tops" list the incomparable Tony Bennett and the sublime Lady Gaga.
Did I weep?  You bet.  Through nearly the entire concert.
Saying good-bye:  Bennett and Gaga leave the floor
at the Axis in Planet Hollywood, to raves and cheers.
Don't be wary at the 60-year age gap.  (Bennett is a spry and handsome 88 and Gaga is a sophisticated, flirty 28.)  The two are fast friends and exciting collaborators.
We've seen them twice since we reveled in their sold-out New Year's Eve show at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.  We bought tickets in March for their recent two-day gig at Planet Hollywood's Axis Theater, also in Las Vegas.
The show was stunning, an immediate "tops" on a list formed from more than 5,000 plays and concerts enjoyed in my lifetime.
full of life and love. It's obvious the two love and respect one another's great gifts as they honor Duke Ellington, Cole Porter and Gershwin. Soulful phrasing, fabulous arrangements and the world's finest musicians make an irresistible combination.
Fabulous Indian fare in Bay Area bistro, click here
I FIRST heard of the unique collaboration in a New Yorker story. I'd seen Bennett and Gaga in separate concerts -- loved both for their style, flair and precision.  He asked her to record a duet on a favorite album, "Duets II," and in 2011, they recorded “Lady Is a Tramp” then a full album, "Cheek to Cheek," also the name of their ambitious tour.
 I love the collaboration. She keeps him youthful.  He adds to her elegance. Their arrangements are
Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Sinatra
in the Copa Room of the old Sands Hotel,
imploded to make room for the Venetian.
timeless.  If a CD can wear out, mine will soon.  "Cheek to Cheek" goes with us -- it's been to Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the Middle East since its top debut on Billboard's Hot 100.  I cried (of course) when it won a Grammy for best traditional pop vocals. I was thrilled to hear “But Beautiful,” "I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and “I Won’t Dance” on this tour.
EACH ARTIST takes turns performing solo, so Lady Gaga can change into a half-dozen costumes.
While she's becoming a sultry blonde or sexy redhead, Bennett croons classics like “The Good Life,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Sing You Sinners” and his signature "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."  Gaga sings jazz standards including “Bang Bang,” Billy Strayhorn's beautiful “Lush Life” and a bouncy “Firefly,” which Bennett joins. (BTW: Tony is happily married for years.) A crystal-studded curtain and fabulous orchestra set the show's glittery tone.
HERE ARE others on my "Top Ten" list of concerts and performances (okay, I know it's more than 10; I can't cross anyone else off.) 
*Bette Middler at Caesar's in a torchy show of non-stop fun and emotion.
* Ian McKellan and Tim Curry, brilliant in "Amadeus" in New York. 
Dustin Hoffman as Shylock in "The Merchant
of Venice" (Geraldine Page was Portia.) 
*Dustin Hoffman in "The Merchant of Venice" in London, delivering a deeply moving performance.
*"Death of a Salesman" -- of 15 performances, most memorable were the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Beijing, China, with the playwright directing. No dry eyes at Linda's graveside eulogy on either continent.
*The original Broadway version of "Les Miserables."
*"Agnes of God" with Amanda Plummer.
*Elton John, who tore up Caesar's with his lavish "Million Dollar Piano" production.
 *Childhood productions of "The King and I" and "South Pacific" and "My Fair Lady."
 (If only I'd seen Judy Garland at the Palladium in London in 1963. I cherish the double album.)
Cookie Meyers and Bruce Keller (Cookie and Keller)
on the town and about to dance cheek to cheek.
WHO KNOWS how many shows Tony Bennett has in him.  Years more, if the music gods deem.
Meanwhile, he's dipping from the fountain of youth, touring the world with his "Lady." We'll catch them often as we can -- in London at the Royal Albert Hall, and the Hollywood Bowl. Who knows, maybe we'll be invited to her wedding. She's asked Tony to sing! Psst: Have I mentioned I play a mean piano?

CATCH US where at lilianslast dance each weekend for updates on the best in concerts, plays, art and books -- with our unique twist -- at  And follow the novel by the same name here, too.
"Lilian's Last Dance" is out in paperback, available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. We're on a national tour of readings and signings.  We're booking into the fall now and would be delighted to read for your book club or civic group. Contact us at: 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Million Dollar Quartet delivers magnificent talent, delights

"Million Dollar Quartet" at Harrah's in Las Vegas is top entertainment.


Martin Kaye is fabulous as Jerry Lee Lewis.


IMAGINE if four brilliant performers from the 1950s got together for an impromptu jam session.
A Broadway musical, "Million Dollar Quartet,"
is splendidly performed in Las Vegas. 
Imagine those four were Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.
Imagine that they were all little known then, just making their names and emerging on the international music scene.
This really happened -- in Sun Records studio. 
Elvis and girlfriend sing a sexy duet in "Million Dollar Quartet."
"Million Dollar Quartet" is a lively musical based on this 1956 meeting, little known until the writers came up with the idea -- a brilliant one -- to share the thrill of this unique moment of rock 'n' roll history. The show was a Broadway smash, closing four years ago.
The joint is jumpin' as fantastic actors portray the day in 1956 when
legendary singers and performers jammed into history in Memphis.
THE MEMPHIS jam session happened by chance.  Perkins, the first of the four to meet success, was coasting on his "Blue Suede Shoes," when he dropped into the studios with his brothers Clayton and Jay. Drummer W.S. Holland was there, too.  The plan was to cut some new songs, including a revamping of an old blues song, "Matchbox."
The real guys, with Elvis Presley's
girlfriend, in Memphis in 1956.

Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, invited his latest acquisition, then unknown piano genius Jerry Lee TAKE A HIGH ROLLER RIDE, click here
Lewis. Cash and Presley were both in town, and the four started jamming, along with the brothers and Holland. Cash said in his autobiography that he actually arrived first, and that Elvis slipped away first -- but only after the four were recorded together. 
Head out of the Flamingo and past Wynn
into Harrah's, for "Million Dollar Quartet."
WOW! An amazing chemistry happened with the talent gathered that day. "Million Dollar Quartet" boasts fantastic actors as the four soon-to-be stars, and another terrific actor as Phillips, who tells the story.
The back-up musicians are fabulous, too.  
The splendid company includes Martin Kaye as the rambunctious Jerry Lee Lewis, Benjamin D.Hale as Cash, Tyler Hunter as Elvis and Robbert Britton Lyons as Perkins.
Marc Donovan is Phillips, terrific as the narrator-producer, with Felice Garcia as Presley's girlfriend Dyanne and Jim Belk and Mikey Hachey as the brothers.
  DON'T OVERLOOK this fabulous tribute show when you're shopping for Las Vegas entertainment. The energy is electric.
Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga at Planet Hollywood.
We were at the SRO concert -- front and center.
"Million Dollar Quartet" is the name given the recordings made that historic, lucky day. Don't miss the show, up the escalator to Harrah's Main Showroom.
UP NEXT WEEKEND: Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga thrill a packed house at Planet Hollywood.  We're in the front row for the standing ovation! Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Saturdays at

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Theater Down Under: Wonderful Wharf Theatre transformed derelict space

 The Wharf Theatre in Sydney is home to Sydney Theatre Company.  Located in The Rocks on the water, it is a splendidly converted warehouse space, where patrons  mingle for top theater, cocktails, conversation and fine dining.


'My soul is heavy today with the burden of unexpressed love.' -- from "Cyrano de Bergerac" at  Sydney Theatre Company at The Wharf


THINK AUSTRALIA and you probably don't think fabulous theater.
Kangaroos, convicts, shrimp on the barbee, large vast space, shark attacks. Not too many people -- all cliches. And yet, all true.
But Sydney's Wharf Theatre is no cliche. It's fresh, inventive, beautifully wrought drama in a stunning space.
The Princes Theatre in Melbourne,
established 1892 on the Yarra River,

 is one of the country's first and oldest.
Richard Roxburgh dons the nose of "Cyrano" at the Wharf.
His moving interpretation of the character wowed our reporters.



Nicole Kidman, above with Hugh Jackman, fell in love in the movies, then married. 
They are ardent supporters of theater in the beautifully "redone" Pier 4 and 5 Wharf.
WE RECENTLY saw a production of "Cyrano de Bergerac" that will live in our memories forever. Acclaimed actor Richard Roxburgh brought the character to life -- as the poetic soul willing to sacrifice everything for the ideal of pure love. (And so in love with language, that he lets a handsome but doltish friend take the credit.)
When the first European settlers brought Western traditions of
theater to Australia in the 1780s, the great tradition of  "Theater Down Under" began.
Like theater worldwide,  Aussie theater was built on known, accepted traditions and developed over time, shaped by local and international artistic movements, events and trends.
TODAY, THINK NICOLE Kidman and her husband, Hugh Jackman. They've put their money and their mouths into promoting Australia's dramatic art -- luring movie studios to Australia and financing live stage productions. With a nod to the proud history of
forebears. Kidman and Jackman carry on the "deep pockets" tradition.
Their goal is that Aussies and tourists be entertained, enchanted, captivated and challenged.  And so we were at "Cyrano," played to a packed house by a magnificent cast in a once derelict space.

THE WHARF Theatre contains two theatres; Wharf 1 has 339 seats and Wharf 2 has 205 seats. From the street a 200 metre wooden walkway lined with framed posters of STC productions takes patrons through the history of the theater. Large windows frame Sydney Harbour Bridge and the aptly named Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf offers east and west facing balconies as one sips a glass of wine with gorgeous views of Luna Park and the North Shore skyline.
The space is larger than a rugby field and cost $3.7 million to restore.  Builders worked 56 weeks to refurbish it and water themes are incorporated into the company’s blue logo.
The Wharf's popular Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf lures playgoers
for a cocktail with a splendid view before or after the performance.
EARLY SYDNEY playbills date back to 1788.  Colonial drama consisted mostly of English-style musical theater, comedies and pantomimes with local themes. Australia's early theater was, as the penal colony, a place of punishment for convicts.
INTERNATIONAL star Sarah Bernhardt toured Australia in 1891. American touring ensembles brought vaudeville-style theatre to Australia. In 1893 Harry Rickards founded Sydney's Tivoli Theatre and the Tivoli vaudeville circuit. Authorities struggled with badly-behaved audiences, pickpockets and other crimes.
But theater is alive and well in Australia. "Cyrano" made us think, laugh and even cry.