Despite the seemingly dour and depressing title, Eulogy, Kevin Kent’s most recent non-Teatro Zinzanni related performance (also written by La Kent, with a double dose of it changes every show improve thrown in) is a master class in comedy with a delicious dollop of heart thrown in the mix.
Eulogy is set in the non-descript Bolten Memorial home (a model of which is onstage as part of the ingeniously simple yet detailed production design by Grant Rehnberg) presided over by an ominously silent, deadpan funeral director (Joe Kery) who types out any communication he wants to make. A service is in place, with professional medium and mourner Eleanor Mae (Kent, grandly and eccentrically costumed by Mark Zappone and wackily wigged by Shelby Adele Rogers) guiding the journey, Audience members are invited to come with photos which aid Eleanor Mae in accessing and channeling the dearly departed, and, to quote from their PR “A new body of memories will be created every night.”
Kevin Kent is at his considerable best in this kind of solo turn, the whole meal, where his Zinzanni shows only serve as a main course. He works so well with his audience, teasing but never insulting, as with the man who brought his pics in a plastic safety wrapper and never heard the end of it as Eleanor Mae merrily harped on it the rest of the night. Kent makes everyone in the house feel like Eleanor Mae is talking just to them. And wrings out so many laughs that when a few poignant moments occur it’s a welcome relief. Director Jennifer Jasper, a frequent Kent cohort, designs a clear if eerie ambiance for the evening, and elevates Kent’s work to the highest level. The entire team on this show including music consultant Kevin Joyce, Sarah Lozano for stop motion film, and lighting designer AJ Epstein do stellar work. Get over to West of Lenin to see the show in one of its remaining performances, and see Kevin Kent become the ghostess with the mostess on the ball!
Eulogy performs at West of Lenin in Fremont through April 16th. For tickets or information visit them online at westoflenin.com.
The 5th Ave Theatre production of A Night with Janis Joplin is a voyage of rediscovery for many, but a total discovery for me,as I was 10 when she burst on the scene, 14 when she died, and all ready hooked on show-tunes. Who knew Janis sang showtunes, and in fact grew up with a mom who bought a new Original Broadway Cast album each week. Two of these, Summertime and Little Girl Blue were hit recordings for her, and are brilliantly placed within Director/Creator Randy Johnson’s narrative, which is NOT a book musical, but really feels like a concert a heavenly Janis and some of her biggest inspirations in show-biz have come back to give the fans. Hits like Piece of My Heart, Cry Baby, and Me and Bobby McGee are all there too, and many more. But it is the cast and band that really send this stratospheric.
Kacee Clanton who played Janis in the recent Broadway production of the show is flat out sensational as an actress and a singer. She gives all the signature numbers her considerable all, but my favorite was a memory vignette where she and the amazing Yvonne Cason as a formidable Nina Simone share Little Girl Blue in their own distinct styles, much as we first hear Summertime a la Nova Patton’s amazing legit version (as pretty a rendition as you will ever hear) followed by a scorching Clanton turn on Janis’ rendition. Cason is also a fierce Aretha Franklin on Spirit in the Dark. Sylvia MacCalla is all Mother Earth as Bessie Smith on Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out. Aurianna Tuttle stakes her claim as Etta James on Tell Mama, and all the ladies join in with Clanton on a medley of Kozmic Blues and I Shall Be Released.
Clanton’s Janis, a bit more time-worn and melancholy, more like Joplin at the end rather than the beginning her career, closes out the evening powerfully with Stay With Me (familiar to me from Bette Midler’s Joplinesque rendition in the film The Rose), I’m Gonna Rock My Way to Heaven backed up by the Joplinaires and the outrageously talented and visually ideal 8 piece band, and finally a sing-along on Mercedes Benz. Many real Joplin fans in the house were spellbound, but I as a new audience member was hardly less engaged. Music arrangements by Len Rhodes reek of authenticity. The scenic design by Justin Townsend is pure concert stage heaven, ditto his explosive lighting design. Amy Clark’s costume design creates the essential styles for all the ladies represented period by period. Director/Creator Johnson is known for many shows of this genre of musical concert biography. In this swift paced and pulsating production he hits the jackpot, and the ladies and their songs are the BIG payoff.
A Night with Janis Joplin runs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through April 17th. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at 5thavenue.org.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to indicate that A Night With Janis Joplin is a 5th Ave Theatre production and is not part of a national tour.