For the Record: Scorsese
Diehard film buffs and lovers of dinner-theater cabaret are gradually discovering what was apparently one of L.A.’s best-kept entertainment secrets during 2012. The handsomely remodeled venue, Rockwell Table & Stage, formerly called the Vermont Restaurant in the Los Feliz area, is providing a stylish and superbly equipped showcase for sophisticated and inventive musical evenings, featuring exemplary performers and top-flight musicians as well as delectable cuisine.
"For the Record: Scorsese," which ends its encore run Jan. 27, follows an inspired formula devised by producer Shane Scheel and his musical director, Christopher Lloyd Bratten. Anderson Davis, a standout performer in this production, has joined this duo in adapting material for "Scorsese."
As with previous shows in this new series, which has so far drawn from films of the likes of John Hughes, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson and Baz Luhrmann, the Scorsese evening incorporates tidbits from some of the master filmmaker’s most memorable scenes, while cleverly incorporating songs from the films’ eclectic soundtracks.
Hollywood’s penchant for featuring plenty of music in soundtracks for popular films-familiar pop-rock songs from yesteryear, combined with original material-is a staple of modern cinema, which gives the Rockwell creative team plenty of exemplary musical material from which to draw.
The concept devised by Scheel and Bratten is highly original and proves to be richly entertaining. It’s a unique amalgam of a nightclub-type revue with the intoxicating flavor of a particular filmmaker’s body of work. Nostalgia, humor, poignancy, and even a touch of drama converge, while a dynamic cast of actor-singers seize the opportunity to shine.
The tension that dominates Scorsese’s films, which are often driven by emotional and physical violence, is splendidly conjured, yet is smoothly integrated alongside comedic moments and the sheer enjoyment of the consummately performed musical segments.
Scorsese’s resume is more wide-ranging than one commonly assumes. The Oscar-winning filmmaker is most often thought of as a master of gritty dramas, which have prominently featured Mafioso-type mobsters (as in "Goodfellas" and "Casino"), influential power-players (Howard Hughes in "The Aviator"), dangerous loose cannons ("Taxi Driver"), violence in the sports world ("Raging Bull") and shady law enforcers ("The Departed").
Yet the master also has scored in other genres, such as a noir-flavored Kander and Ebb musical ("New York, New York" with Liza Minnelli and Robert DeNiro) and a plucky woman’s picture ("Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore").
"For the Record: Scorsese" merges Scorsese’s diverse sensibilities, yet tends to emphasize the bloody crime dramas, seething with moments of violence, sexuality and cruelty, leavened with ironic humor.
No film reference in this presentation is more evocative than Jason Paige’s dead-on recreation of the voice, physicality, and chilling aura of the amoral white-collar gangsters that Joe Pesci played in "Goodfellas" and "Casino." Paige is stellar in serving our memories of these characterizations, yet he is far from alone in creating memorable portraits.
The chameleon-like players are versatile in tackling various roles. The triple-threat skills of these actor-singer-dancers (Paige, Davis, Tomasina Abate, James Byous, Max Ehrich, Dionne "Didi" Gipson, Ben D. Goldberg, Lindsey Gort, Ginifer King, Doug Kreeger, Ruby Lewis, Kristolyn Lloyd, Steve Mazurek, Justin Mortelliti, Peter Porte, Angela Pupello, Jackie Seiden, Von Smith and Danielle Monet Truitt) result in a first-rate ensemble effort. Davis directs the production with zest, originality and energy, eliciting a wonderfully polished production. Pupelllo’s galvanic choreography includes several showstoppers.
The terrific musical combo -- Bratten on keyboard, Johnny Morrow on bass, Robert Humphreys on drums, and Nick Perez on guitar -- keeps the joint jumping during a continually rousing evening. The score pulsates with its treasure trove of chart-topping classics.
A few of the standouts amid the dozens incorporated are "Leader of the Pack," The Animals’ "House of the Rising Sun," "Just a Gigolo," "Rags to Riches," "I Ain’t Got Nobody," "Volare" and "Be My Baby."
The creators skillfully assimilate this diverse material into clever groupings of the numbers, leading into brief dialogue exchanges, which recreate unforgettable moments of Scorsese movie history, such as Katharine Hepburn courted by Howard Hughes in "The Aviator," Robert DiNiro’s iconic and chilling "You talkin’ to me?" speech from "Taxi Driver" and several startling moments of beatings and murder at the hands of ruthless thugs. Be forewarned that a gangster might be slaughtered right behind you as you bite into your rare steak, as the action is staged throughout the entire room. This is truly in-your-face theater.
Design credits are also grade-A, notably Matt Steinbrener’s production design, Daniel Hartman’s lighting and Dave Evans’ sound.
Watch for announcements of more "For the Record" concerts during months to come. Meanwhile, a can’t-miss offering is upcoming on Feb. 20 and 27 at Rockwell: Tony winner Sutton Foster ("Thoroughly Modern Millie," "Anything Goes") in concert.
"For the Record: Scorsese" runs through Jan. 27 at Rockwell Table & Stage, 1714 N. Vermont Ave. in L.A. For info or tickets, call 323-661-6163 ext. 20 or visit http://rockwell-la.com.