by Richard Dodds
Simon Cowell's scorching tongue has probably scarred enough aspiring singers to warrant a dedicated burn unit. But the talent-show judge's excoriating words, often preceding by the disclaimer "I don't mean to be rude," can actually help energize a performer if the spirit is strong and the talent is there. So it is with Jason Brock, an SF performer whose underground renown has been climbing into higher altitudes since his splashy run as a finalist on The X Factor. That run came to a sudden halt based on a veto by Cowell, who seemed revolted by the performer's unabashedly, flamboyantly gay stylings.
The coming weeks will see Brock return in both pre- and post-X Factor modes, as he rejoins the cast of Boxcar Theatre's Hedwig and the Angry Inch in a run that has been extended for his return, and who also gets a headliner gig at the prestigious Live at the Rrazz nightclub. His X Factor "mentor," record producer L.A. Reid, branded Brock as "Mr. Entertainment" as he surrounded the performer in Vegas-like spectacles, but Brock also displayed talents as a serious song stylist in several stripped-down "sing for your life" elimination heats.
Brock was part of the cast of Boxcar Theatre's original 2012 production Hedwig that retooled the musical (with permission from creator John Cameron Mitchell) by dividing up the title character's role among multiple actors. The summer production was such a success for the small theater that it was back in December (though sans Brock). Brock's run is set for Feb. 20-March 2, and he will offer a cabaret turn immediately following the 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday performances. More info at www.boxcartheatre.org.
But first, Brock will be at the cabaret for his Feb. 16 debut at Live at the Rrazz. The act is titled So Much Soul, with songs by Anita Baker, Beyonce, Tina Turner, and Adele in the set list, along with new material and past favorites. More info at www.liveattherrazz.com.
There have been some hiccups as the Rrazz Room at the Nikko Hotel had to be quickly transformed into Live at the Rrazz at 1000 Van Ness in January. After hosting several acts, the nightclub has had to cancel, postpone, or move its bookings to other venues as noise and permit issues are being addressed. By the time you read this, a scheduled hearing should have taken place, and a Rrazz spokesman expressed optimism that all will then be well.
It's hard to imagine otherwise, perusing the packed schedule of upcoming acts. It's a wildly eclectic collection, but our eyes are always drawn to those bookings with a theatrical hook. For example, there is Broadway and TV veteran Anita Gillette (Feb. 22-24) taking audiences through her adventures with Ethel Merman in Gypsy, David Merrick and Gower Champion during Carnival, and Neil Simon with Chapter Two.
Far Away Places to Live at the Rrazz in March. Photo: Ethan Hill
But the jewel in the crown has to be Patti LuPone, who will offer her acclaimed Far Away Places show on March 19-24. The Tony-winning star who was Broadway's original Evita performed Far Away Places last summer as the first attraction at New York's 54 Below nitery. The New York Times raved that the "brilliant show deserves many lives, perhaps even a Broadway run in an expanded version," while likening LuPone to such greats as Piaf and Dietrich.
The show's musical repertoire is made up of songs about, appropriately enough, far away places. The footloose sentiments are reflected in songs familiar, rare, and exotic. Cole Porter's "Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking," Brecht and Weill's "Pirate Jenny," Stephen Sondheim's "By the Sea," and the Bee Gees' "Nights on Broadway" are a few examples of LuPone's unpredictable notions of traveling music.
Rrazz co-founder Robert Kotonly told the Chronicle last month that LuPone's engagement will mark the official opening of the new space. The quick move from the Nikko Hotel meant launching the space as a work-in-progress, but when LuPone steps onto the stage, Kotonly said, "That's when the final product will be here."
Adventures at sea
Two of New York's most forward-looking theater companies have joined forces to present a trio of Eugene O'Neill's first plays. The Wooster Group and New York City Players share the same stage for Early Plays that aim to interpret anew O'Neill one-acts written between 1914 and 1918. This collaboration, first presented last year in Brooklyn, will have its West Coast premiere at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
The tramp steamer S.S. Glencairn is the setting for Moon of the Caribees, Bound East for Cardiff, and The Long Voyage Home, as O'Neill explores the harsh lives of the disposable souls aboard. Director Richard Maxwell of the NYC Players is known for his stripped-bare approach to dialogue, and a knack for subversive deadpan absurdity.
Performances are Feb. 14-16 in YBCA's Forum. Ticket information is available at www.ybca.org.