By Courtney Blackburn
When you think of “dinner theatre,” it’s not hard to conjure an image of ladies in long dresses and men in ties watching overblown actors and past-their-prime performers slink on stage while expensive food is toted by snooty waiters.
Happily, that was not the case at Rockwell Table & Stage’s “An Evening of Classic Broadway,” presented by Fraser Entertainment. Friend Helen and I trotted down to have a look…
The date: Wednesday night, April 22. The time: 8 o’clock, sharp. The place: Rockwell Table & Stage, a blink-and-you’ll-walk-right-by-its-unassuming-grey-façade in Los Feliz Village, Los Angeles. And inside…
A platter of mac n’ cheese—with bacon, broccoli, and oozy goodness–and a cold lemonade landed on our small table. The place was packed with gals in jeans or flirty dresses, guys in button-down shirts, all ages, all races, all shapes and sizes. A relaxed atmosphere, but a heavy strain of “hipness” ran through the entire place. Over the laughter and chatter, soft strains of “All I Ask of You”—the love song from Phantom of the Opera—hinted at the live performance that was to come, just three feet away on a slightly raised stage.
“An Evening of Classic Broadway” was moments away. It intended to give “a great way to celebrate Broadway Your Way on Earth Day enjoying songs from classic musicals performed by a cast of singers from Broadway, television and film.”
A piano sat stage left. Microphone stands floated to the right. And right on cue, the Piano Man appeared: Brad Ellis, musical director of this “one evening only” event and current cast member on “Glee,” Fox’s hit musical television show. He plays the piano there, too.
Brad introduced himself, the show, and promptly began—playing “I Love A Piano,” from Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. His delivery was skilled and humorous, and set everyone laughing.
And thusly the musical show proceeded, with talented singers and performers–Will Collyer, Louise Mary Cornillez, Savannah Leigh, Kelly Lester, Alex Newell, Joanne O’Brien and Jeffrey Polk—carrying the audience through sweet songs, sad songs, wistful songs, sly songs, sassy songs, and even power ballads that brought down the house. Throughout it all, Brad Ellis played the piano, his music oftentimes a voice in itself.
The magnificently talented Joanne O’Brien gave a Julie Andrews medley—and she sounded just like Julie Andrews! She also touched on a more melancholy note with “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” a riveting and delicate performance.
Alex Newell (also of “Glee” fame) showed both raw power and sophistication in his turns on “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful” (Hairspray) and “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” (Dreamgirls)—a divisive song, (I dislike it, my friend loves it) but it was performed perfectly.
My personal favorite? A tie— between Louise Mary Cornillez’s “Stars and the Moon” (Songs for a New World), a beautifully sung “story” song I’d never heard of before, describing a woman who could have had love and adventure, but wanted riches and comfort instead; and Jeffrey Polk’s amazing rendition of “Heaven On Their Minds” (Jesus Christ Superstar), a song where the performer must talk in rhythm, hit the high notes, and even roar. He aced the song, and, as Brad Ellis explained to the audience, it really is a shame he never “was” Judas—he just understudied the role nine times.
Will Collyer sang my friend’s favorite, “On The Street Where You Live,” (My Fair Lady). She and I also loved his enthusiastic “She Likes Basketball” (Promises, Promises), which was full of fun and youthful celebration that the girl you like is cooler than you thought.
17-year-old Savannah Leigh, Brad Ellis’ protégé, would not have sounded out of place as Elphaba, the “Wicked” star of, well, “Wicked.” Her voice was by turns lovely and young, and when she belted the big notes, the front row was blown back a few inches.
Last, but certainly not least, Kelly Lester brought a delicacy, maturity, and beauty in both voice and precense. She sang a tremulous but hopeful, “Will He Like Me?” (She Loves Me) and a rollicking duet “What Is This Feeling?” (Wicked) with Dianne Fraser, a talent and driving force for Fraser Entertainment Group.
An audience sing-along “Give My Regards to Broadway” (Little Johnny Jones) brought everyone to their feet, and a standing ovation kept them there as the stars took their bows. And, promptly two hours after the performance began, it ended.
What did we think? The food was delicious, and the drinks endless—free refills for $3.50! And the show? Needless to say (again), the show was amazing. These are real, live, in-the-flesh stars, and they sang to us from mere feet away, as if in the comfort of a dining room. The performances made us laugh, swallow a tear, and cheer the house down.
That Wednesday night, every seat in the house sold out. But! There’s very good news: “An Evening of Classic Broadway” has been invited back to Rockwell for a return engagement. Stay tuned for cast announcement for Tuesday, June 16th. (An Evening of Classic Broadway Facebook) and information on how to get your tickets and experience first-rate musical theater and a delicious dinner!
A few other shows being put on at Rockwell include Romeo & Juliet: Love is a Battlefield, The Unathorized Musical Parody of Cruel Intentions, and Cabaret for a Cause—see all the things you can see while you eat at http://rockwell-la.inticketing.com. Rockwell Table & Stage is located at 1714 N. Vermont Ave. in Los Angeles 90027.
Other shows presented by Fraser Entertainment Group include Starr Quality, Actors Fund Benefit and Tribute to Rick Starr, and Gifts of Love: the Words and Music of Stephen Schwartz, both at the Catalina Jazz Club, as well as the four-night, four-venue Actors Fund benefit concert event, Cabaret Is Alive And Well And Living In Los Angeles directed by David Galligan, which returns for a second engagement this fall. Learn more about Fraser Entertainment Group at www.fraserentertainmentgroup.com.