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Scorsese Comes to Life with American Crime on Stage

I’ve never started a review with medical advice but in this case I feel compelled to warn people of a certain age to take a couple of Excedrin before settling in to watch “For the Record: Scorsese – American Crime Requiem” currently on stage at The Wallis. In addition, do come equipped with earplugs to de-amplify the extremely over-amplified Ben Soldate’s sound design. Deafening would have been bearable, but this was beyond the pale.

The pre-set lighting by Dan Efros and Michael Berger dressed the stage in a light red wash. Although their lighting design, with a distinctly Las Vegas glitzy feel to it, was bursting with deliciously vibrant colors throughout the production, the portions where blinding light was aimed at the audience was not effective as people held up programs in front of their eyes to shield themselves from the sharp lighting. I know it’s unusual to discuss production values so soon in a review, but it’s important because the unbearable sound and some of the lighting actually detracted from the full enjoyment of this production.

Now to the play – or is it a musical review, or is it a concert, or is it a evening of sketches backed up with some really fabulous singing and dancing? Originally created by Anderson Davis, Shane Scheel, and Jesse Vargas, the show made its debut in a small bar in East Hollywood in 2010. It is safe to assume that the intent was to pay homage to Martin Scorsese, one of the film industry’s most talented auteurs, who has graced the big screen with his incisive story telling for over four decades. His body of work is legion and includes such seminal films as “Casino,” “The Departed,” “Goodfellas,” “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” “Aviator,” “Gangs of New York,” “Cape Fear,” “Raging Bull,” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” It is from that body of work from which the non-connected scenes sprouted, with recognizable dialogue usually followed by a song from the film’s soundtrack, a Scorsese directorial signature.

One of the opening scenes is from “Goodfellas,” and takes place in a seedy bar in New York. With Tony Bennett’s “Rags to Riches” playing, mafia wise guys are sitting around a table shooting the breeze, with colorful xx-rated language punctuating their sentences. Here we meet Frankie played by Jason Paige, who does a great imitation of Joe Pesci’s character of Danny DeVito in that famous scene in “Goodfellas” between Danny and Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta. In this re-enactment, Frankie tells a funny story and when Hill laughs, he badgers him demanding to know why he thinks he’s funny. The character of Henry is nicely played and sung by Zac Resnick. Paige has Frankie’s hair trigger temper down pat and is in multiple musical and non-musical scenes throughout the evening. We see that explosive nature at work in the bar scene where a guy is teasing him about shining shoes when he was a kid. We watch Frankie’s temper rising to a boiling point and well, the teasing comes to an ultra-violent ending.

Another scene from “Goodfellas,” is the one between Henry and his wife Karen, played in the film by Lorraine Bracco. In this version, Pia Toscano plays Karen and two scenes are recreated: one where she confronts him at gunpoint about whether or not he’s cheating on her, and the other is when she flushes cocaine down the toilet.

In an excerpt from “Casino,” where Robert De Niro played Sam “Ace” Rothstein and Sharon Stone played his wife Ginger, Tony award winner John Lloyd Young and Tony nominee Carmen Cusack do the scene where she asks Sam for $25,000 to give to her old boyfriend Lester Diamond, who in the film was played by James Wood. However, the actor playing Lester is not credited in the program. Another memorable scene from the same film is between Sam and Frankie:

 

Sam:   “Are you f***ing my wife?”

 

Frankie: How can you “akst” (ask) me that?”

 

Sam:  “Just tell me!”

 

Frankie: “I’m not gonna’ answer.”

 

Although the director, Anderson Davis, was clear in the press notes that he was not going for a parody or a series of sketches, I’m afraid he did not accomplish his vision as that’s precisely what was presented on stage. On the plus side, the deafening sound and occasional blinding light notwithstanding, he put together an incredibly gifted, award-winning ensemble – most of who have strong Broadway backgrounds and possess “legit” voices. They performed both the acting and musical portions at the highest professional level but again, the painful decibels detracted from their performances. This would be a different show if that element were adjusted. Another outstanding member of the cast is James Byous, who as the bartender, has compelling scenes as Travis from “Taxi Driver.” Other members of this talented ensemble include, Dionne Gipson (Diane), Lindsey Gort (Iris), Olivia Harris (Teresa), Doug Kreeger (Jake), Justin Mortelliti (Jordan), and Grammy Award winner B. Slade, who as Stacks gives a show-stopping rendition of “Hoochie Coochie Man,” from the “Casino” soundtrack.

The ensemble numbers, beautifully choreographed by RJ Durell and Nick Florez were top notch. Costume designer Steve Mazurek dressed the actors in period clothing, from the expensive suits worn by the “wise guys,” to the glittering array of short, sexy costumes worn in the Las Vegas production numbers. The loud, electric seven-piece band was on the highest tier of the stage and for those audience members who wanted an up close and personal experience, they were seated at a few “night club” tables scattered around the set.

Included in the Music Set list were some of the popular songs featured in Scorsese’s films such as: “Gimme Shelter” (“The Departed,” “Goodfellas,” “Casino”), “Be My Baby” (“Mean Streets”), “Takes Two to Tango” (“Casino”), “Taxi Driver Theme” (“Taxi Driver”), “Boom Boom Boom” (“The Wolf of Wall Street”), “Wives & Lovers” (“Goodfellas”), “I’m Sorry” (“Casino”), “Sweet Dreams” (“The Departed”), “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” (“Casino”), “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” (“Cape Fear”), “My Way” (“Goodfellas”), and “House of the Rising Sun” (“Casino”).

As an added attraction, The Wallis has transformed the Promenade Terrace into a Little Italy street party where wine and appetizers were served following the performance. For any New Yorkers out there, it tried to replicate the famous Feast of San Gennaro held every year in Little Italy. If you don’t have a chance to have dinner before curtain, The Prince of Venice Food Truck is on site and serves up a variety of dishes including pasta and assorted beverages.

 

For The Record: Scorsese –

American Crime Requiem

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

Goldsmith Theatre,

9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd.,

Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

Run: Tuesday-Friday 8 p.m.

Saturday: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday: 5 p.m.

Tickets: $25-$129 310.746.4000 or

online: TheWallis.org.

Closing Date: October 16, 2016

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