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October 8, 2018:

An Early Musical Halloween Show reviewed by Rob Stevens

For the second consecutive year, Kritzerland producer Bruce Kimmel hosted an An Early Musical Halloween Show, this one Upstairs at Vitello’s in Studio City on Sunday, October 7. I’m not sure if they were creepy or kooky, mysterious or spooky or just altogether ooky, but the audience was in a fun mood from the get go. As part of the costume contest, 99% of the audience came as the most terrifying manifestation they could think of—themselves. The theme from The Addams Family TV series as well as the theme from The Munsters were given a rockin’, finger snapping rendition by Guest Artist Grant Geissman on electric guitar, aided by Richard Allen on piano. Robert Yacko got the evening off to a hilarious start with “The Brain from Planet X,” a song written by Kimmel for his musical of the same title. The song was peppered with titles of 1950s sci-fi films, some schlocky and some not. Yacko returned later with a lovely rendition of “The Mist” from the misbegotten Dracula musical by Frank Wildhorn. Having seen the show in La Jolla in 2001, I don’t remember anything sounding as good as Yacko made this song sound.

Young Peyton Kirkner was the perfect choice to sing a put-together of two odd songs from 1958—“The Blob” and “Purple People Eater.” Her youthful enthusiasm really sold the silliness of the lyrics. Kirkner later teamed up with Kimmel for the devilish “Two Lost Souls” from Damn Yankees. I believe I said his most recent Kritzerland appearance was the best yet from Daniel Bellusci. Well he topped that performance and continues to charm and wow at the same time. Kimmel gave him a What If–what if instead of writing A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum Stephen Sondheim had been inspired to write a musical version of Psycho—and could not have asked for a better singing wacky and homicidal Norman Bates, take that Anthony Perkins and Freddie Highmore. Bellusci’s rendition of “Monster Mash” had the audience dancing in their seats. He also did a lovely turn with the hauntingly beautiful Sondheim ballad “Not While I’m Around.”

Newcomer to Kritzerland Sophie Ullett really impressed this audience which has seen a plethora of songbirds over the past eight years. Where has this talent been? Kimmel wasn’t kidding when he said her first song, “Who Killed Teddy Bear,” was from one of the most outré films of the 1960s. Picture a really unhinged Sal Mineo, always in his tighty whities, and a really lesbian version of Elaine Stritch, both obsessing over the charms and gams of Juliet Prowse and you have tres outré. Ullett sang the song as if it were the loveliest ballad ever written. She closed the show and brought the house down with her soaring “Defying Gravity” from the Stephen Schwartz behemoth celebrating 15 years on Broadway later this month.

Now talk about scary! What would Halloween or any holiday be like without the addition of Sharon McKnight. She is a National Treasure, but not the kind Nicolas Cage might find in a dusty museum archive. She is a living, breathing embodiment of all things theatrical and her occasional cabaret outings are not to be missed. She started off with a lovely interpretation of “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors that really made you see that hopeful housewife in her dream tract house. She had the audience singing along with her when she gave them the finger during her manic take on “Love Potion #9”. But McKnight really excelled with one of her “songs to offend almost everyone,” the absolutely gut-busting hilarious “You Can’t Eat Dog in Taiwan.” Where else could you experience such a wide swath of musical theatre/cabaret history and talent but at a Kritzerland show? Richard Allen, the maestro of both piano and keyboards, gave great accompaniment to the singers throughout and even provided backup vocals for “Monster Mash”.

Kritzerland will be back Upstairs at Vitello’s on Sunday, Nov. 4 with a Fifth Anniversary concert version of Kimmel’s Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley revue, Pure Imagination. www.vitellosrestaurant.com

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