TMC PRESS, October 1999
Written by Hitch Hitchcox
Now this is a lounge act with class, it has a warm-up act. We were fortunate enough to see Tara Lee Fray's "Ramona & Me" however, each night there is a different performer from the Actors Art Theatre in Los Angeles.
I guess most of us have a little kid, a bit of a rebel in us. Fortunately we are able to repress it most of the time. Twenty-five year old Tara Lee Fray is having serious difficulty containing five year old Ramona. Ramona has a tendency to come out at all the wrong times, demanding her rights and desires. Ms. Fray is very convincing, quite amusing, and we are sorry she is from L.A. and we won't be able to see her very often.
Also, during the run of "Lounge Stories" performing the opening act are Grady Lee Richmond, Dezhda Mountz, Frank Uzzolinio, and Laura Richardson. If they are talented as Ms. Fray, the show will get off to a bright and amusing start.
Phil Johnson takes us back to a time (last week or forty years ago) to that dive of a nightclub, just one short step up from being a neighborhood bar. It's that place with those faded thread-bare booths. It's so dark that the waitress needs a penlight to see your table. She is, of course, wearing a knock-off of a "Bunny" costume from a Playboy Club. The place reeks of cigarette smoke and stale drinks. In the corner is a drink-stained ancient baby grand piano almost in tune. Behind it, sipping a drink with a non-filtered cigarette smoldering in an ashtray, is the Lounge Lizard.
"The Act" stars Phil Johnson as the Lounge Lizard. He is accompanied by Joe DeMers on a drink-stained upright piano. Mr. Johnson's luxury of Joe DeMers, backup allows Phil to command the full stage at Sledgehammer. The Lounge Lizard was a special singer. He knew he was God's gift to women. His every move, on stage and off, was choreographed. His song styling was lubricated with Brillcream. His songs oozed from his meager vocal cords. He built his act by taking the absolute worst moves of filmdom's Latin lovers. Mr. Johnson's Lounge Lizard satirically combines all of the elements that lack grace, style, and talent into an act that the audience enjoyed with enthusiasm.
Phil's moves were perfectly over-staged, even to the whipping of the mike cord for emphasis. His eyes bore in at you, seeing, yet unseeing. He can wrap words around a tune, to turning a set of lyrics into an unending pun as in his "garbage" number which included "disposal," "throw out," "beyond the pail," and "incineration." There is no doubt that Johnny Ray turned over in his grave as the Lounge Lizard's totally destroyed Ray's mid-fifties hit "Cry Me a River." Every Lounge Lizard must do "Lady is a Tramp" at least once in every set. Mr. Johnson didn't miss a beat.
I am sure, in another incarnation, Phil Johnson taught Elvis every move of hip and body. He is of the school that if it can pivot, push it. Amusing, yet touching, was his "Some of these Days" as a first-time college student singer. And this is just the first act.
After a needed respite - the laugh muscles needed a rest - Phil returned with "Say Cheese." It's audition time in the seventies when the "Arteest" was in, when anything went, and the act of creation itself was considered good theatre. Sir Wilford, after his allotted fifteen-minutes of fame forty years ago, emerges from the scrapheap of the talentless to bring the world his newest creation - a play that is not written, but rather created by the talentless tryouts at auditions. Mr. Johnson develops his cast of characters with delight, giving us a rousing second act.
"Lounge Stories" was directed by Jolene Adams, Artistic Director of Actors Art Theatre in Los Angeles. She was instrumental in the creation of "The Act" and "Say Cheese." The show has an extremely short run, closing October 3rd. For my older readers, this is time to reminisce about some good times in bad lounges. For my young readers, here's an opportunity to see how delightfully awful some of our haunts really were back in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. This is a fun evening filled with almost too many laughs.
AAT Note: Lounge Stories is Say Cheese and Writing Out Loud, visiting the Sledgehammer Theatre as their 'Alternative Guest' for the season.