Theater Reviews I... Sarah, The Divine
Reviews of the New York Off-Broadway Production Pretty Faces: the Large and Lovely Musical

I... Sarah, The Divine

"Sarah" a great risk, but a risk worth taking

Asheville Citizen-Times (North Carolina)
By Jim Cavener
Published: Aug 10 2001, 9:56 AM

SWANNANOA - Any one-person show is a great risk for a theater troupe. An untried new play with only one, regionally unknown actor is a greater risk. The phoenix-like Upstaged company, located in the new Swannanoa Playhouse alongside Interstate 40 at Exit #59, has taken the risk. And we are all the richer for it.

With just one performer it takes not only great skill and artistry on the part of that one, but it takes extraordinary material both well written and well directed to make for even a modicum of success. It helps if that material is based on the life of an historic figure who will capture the imagination of the potential audience. Still, such efforts fail more often than they succeed. Success is in the eyes (and ears) of the beholder, but this been-around-the-block theater writer is beholden to and greatly appreciative of the splendid work of author Robert Cabell, director Peter McLean and interpreter/performer Louise Martin for giving Asheville area theatergoers a pinnacle of theater art.

Sarah Bernhardt was the 19th century's most esteemed actress. One of the great stage personae of all time. Although she was French, this glimpse into her life is presented mostly in English, which Bernhardt spoke quite well. Consummate actress Louise Martin speaks her few fully French lines with an impeccable accent. Her French-accented English is totally delightful. Creating an autobiographical two-hour monologue which tells a person's tale without the feel of soppy self-aggrandizement is no mean feat. Author Cabell meets the test. The writing is near seamless, and few loose-ends dangle or need adjustment or amplification. It is not easy to keep clear Bernhardt's various paramours, lovers, husbands and dalliances, but one feels the author has probably provided that material, and it went past too quickly to be absorbed. Most of the male intimates of Madame Sarah appear somehow to be related to the Emperor Napoleon: his surgeon, his bastard nephew, etc. There are immense amounts of humor in the writing. Bernhardt's mother was a noted courtesan and gold-digger, who was known to have "loved a man for all he's worth, and not minded when he left - as long as he left a LOT." After Martin takes full control of the stage, the story begins to unfold with her lying on an ornate recamier chaise (her friend Oscar Wilde would have called it a "fainting couch") in the throes of death. Having begun at the end, the obligatory flashback takes us to her youth and through her long life until her death in 1923. Having dealt with her demise at the start, the show ends in a blaze of glory. Even the end of the first act has Madame Sarah clad in a triumphant tri-colored interior, black velvet cape, showing the red, white and blue when flung open and up. The same tricolor backlights her on the only undecorated part of the stage. Oscar Wilde, eat your heart out. Easy to say that Martin, the only person in the cast, steals the show. But, she has fierce and able competition from the set decoration around her. If ever a stage was "dressed" to the nines, it is this one. Some five or six staging areas are mostly from Bernhardt's Paris apartment. Props are attributed to Patrick Graham. He gathered and distributed a fine array. This dazzling display of Art Nouveau, cum Persian, with a touch of Turkish to add to the mix, this almost blinding collection of crystal candlesticks and pewter goblets, gilt tables and jeweled chairs, lace shawls and satin gowns, pheasant feathers and mirrored screens, leather-bound volumes and silver-framed photos, velvet and velour, Lalique and leopard skin, embroidered robes and silken sashes, classical statuary and potted palms all contribute to a decorator's dream, or nightmare. This was the era of indulgence, a time of High Camp, before camp was known. However, a couple of barren staging areas are behind the symbolic footlights, upon which Madame Sarah repairs to deliver snippets of several of her most notable roles. These vignettes are each jewels in the revelation of what made Bernhardt such an icon for an age of flamboyance. Each set piece, with her standing, pacing or reclining, gives a glimpse into the magnetism of this almost mythic figure of the Western stage. The audience has a problem being sure they should acknowledge these "performances" by the legendary thespian, when she finishes each tour de force. Of course, they should. The director needs, somehow, to cue the audience that they may display their appreciation of Bernhardt/Martin with abundant applause. The other time this audience interchange could be enhanced is for Martin to remain in character at the end of the show - reserved, regally and magnanimously milking the thunderous applause of the, as yet, sadly small audiences who are brought so physically and emotionally close to Bernhardt and the greatness of theater history. The power of this portrayal could be extended by holding us all - for yet another moment - in the thrall of the great Sarah. After that moment, Louise Martin can be herself, break into the friendly and warm smile, bow low and let us reward her for giving us this moving exposure to the life of a complex and compelling woman.

A Star's Life: A one-woman play about the groundbreaking French actress Sarah Bernhardt make its world premiere in Eugene

Eugene Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon)
By Bob Keefer
Published: Feb 9 2006


The Hair-raising Adventures of Jayms Blonde

MIAMI HERALD: A hairdresser by trade and a secret agent by choice, Jayms Blonde and his faithful pedicurist Precious Needmoore, lead the fight to save the planet from bad hair and bad air. Armed with bulletproof-mousse, Uzi blow-dryers, and hair-curler-hand-grenades, they rescue the dude-in-distress, and make saving the earth look fabulous.

CONNECTICUT POST: Blonde's foes are evil capitalists whose industries spike global warming and other eco-disasters. The hero and his cohorts work for STOP (Stop Terrorizing Our Planet), which is covertly funded by media celebrities. James Bond fought an organization known as SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) led by the supremely evil Ernst Blofeld. Blonde and STOP's primary foe is ZENRON (Zillionaire Environmental Nihilist Reinstating Oligarchic Nobility). Cabell clearly had a ball transforming literature and film's most promiscuous heterosexual spy into his very active gay hero.

KIRKUS DISCOVERIES: Cabell makes the over-the-top zaniness and mock action-hero antics fun, and everything congeals into a wildly enjoyable ride for readers who enjoy the adventures of a muscle-bound, crime-fighting queen in tights. A super-silly, whirling first episode that will leave gay superhero fans scratching their heads--and eager for the next installment.

LOS ANGELES INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: (Cover Story) author Robert W. Cabell uses his flirtatious narrative to pack a serious pro-environment message. "I wanted Jayms Blonde to be an icon for the world, a cheerleader for the environment, not [solely] a gay icon," Cabell said. Blonde's mission: to save the world from bad hair and bad air. Riddled with playful double innuendoes, Cabell teases with snappy one-liners that make a statement about Hollywood just as much it does about sex. . . In the end, Cabell describes Blonde as the "updated Tarzan with the world as his jungle and John instead of Jane by his side."

WASHINGTON DC BLADE: Nothing about this book is subtle, but the over-the-top nature of the storytelling is the novel's biggest advantage. The pun ratio is sky-high, as are the Octopussy-esque risqué character names. Jayms' sidekick is named Precious Needmoore, the equipment man is dubbed Harry Hardware, and in the book's later chapters, Jayms beds a young man name Kummalot. The only restraint used in "Jayms Blonde" is in regards to the sex. Amorous scenes are alluded to, not elucidated.

HX MAGAZINE: (New York) Hairdresser/secret agent Jayms Blonde is gay, and runs the Pink Berets, a group determined to halt the evil machinations of an anti-environment group. Breezy and funny, Jayms is a hero for every gay boy out there.

XTRA WEST (Vancouver BC): As an agent of STOP (Stop Terrorizing Our Planet), Jayms fights for the environment against the nefarious ZENRON Corporation (Zillionaire Environmental Nihilists Reinstating Oligarchic Nobility) with his arsenal of deadly cosmetic products, sassy comments and unquenchable libido. True to the Bond tradition, he has an impressive assortment of gadgets that includes a hair dryer that shoots Teflon bullets, explosive press-on nails and bulletproof hair mousse. The piéce de resistance is a backpack that sprouts wings so Jayms can fly around like a bumblebee -- a very sexy bumblebee. BOOK BEAT: (New Orleans) The Hair-Raising Adventures of Jayms Blonde is hilarious, sexy, and definitely a joy to read, but I doubt if it will ever win any major awards. Jayms Blonde is a gorgeous gay guy who makes the bad guys pay. He is a hairdresser by trade and a secret agent by choice, a former U.S. Navy Seal who can use an Uzi as well as a teasing comb. With the aid of his faithful pedicurist Precious Needmoore, they lead an elite band of Pink Berets to save the world from bad hair and bad air. It just gets wilder as you read along.

DAVID of ATLANTA: (Cover Story) THE BASIC PLOT is of two warring organizations. STOP (Stop Terrorizing Our Planet) is the environmental espionage group, led by the RuPaul-like Mama that employs Jayms. STOP's arch nemesis is ZENRON (Zealot Environmental Nazis Ruthlessly Obliterating Nature), a sinister cabal of billionaires who refuse to use their money to help Mother Nature. The only restraint used in "Jayms Blonde" is in regards to the sex. Amorous scenes are alluded to, not elucidated, and the most salacious thing in an illustration is the occasional bare bottom. "The definition of the book is 'the lights go off before the dicks come out,'" Cabell jokes. "It's salacious, but not X-rated.

IN LA MAGAZINE: (Los Angeles) New York-based writer Robert W. Cabell creates an over-the-top gay fantasy world in The Hair-Raising Adventures of Jayms Blonde, his illustrated novel that takes us from Hawaii to Hong Kong for Blonde's increasingly outlandish battles with the forces of ZENRON (Zealous Environmental Nazis Ruthlessly Obliterating Nature). Like James Bond and M, Blonde gets his secret assignments from the RuPaulesque Mama. Also like Bond, Cabell employs deliciously shameless names for his characters, like Hung Lo and Harri Kummalot. This one feels like the first in a delightfully silly series.

OUT IN NEW JERSEY: Everyone knows no one is more fierce than a gay hairdresser on a mission but you just aren't ready for how fierce that can be when super-gay-hero Jayms Blonde fires up his Uzi hair dryer and starts lobbing a few hair curler grenades. A secret agent of STOP, (Stop Terrorizing Our Planet) Blonde is an eco-warrior battling the forces of planetary spoliation. The book is really a lot of fun and would be an enjoyable fantasy trip for everyone from gay teens through older people who haven't forgotten the pleasure of imagination... It leaves the reader satisfied, laughing and pondering "if only. . . "

ABSOLUTE PALM SPRINGS MAGAZINE: The Hair-Raising Adventures of Jayms Blond is a naughty, sexy, comical book about a hairdresser / secret agent fighting crime to save the environment without messing his hair! There is only one thing Jayms loves more than crime fighting--that is sex and a lot of it. It's a very entertaining book that will keep you laughing 'til the end. With a cast of over-the-top characters and a vein of irresistible sexiness, Robert W. Cabell's Jayms Blonde is one book that delivers page after page of twists and turns.

BAY AREA REPORTER: (San Francisco) He's got a great concept -- The Hair-Raising Adventures of Jayms Blonde, a cute cartoon gay action-hero who doubles as a hairstylist to the stars. Blonde does battle with Zaroya and her evil henchmen and women, as she plots to assassinate Miss Galaxy, force Pakistan and India into war, and ruin the environment by destroying corn/ethanol products. Grab Jayms Blonde, renowned stylist to the stars and secret agent, and hang on if you can. He is going to take you on an entertaining joyride through a deliriously hyperactive soap opera of a world where just about everyone is gay and espionage is the sexiest occupation around.

LAMBDA BOOK REPORT WINTER 2008: If a reader relishes campy writing employing loads of outrageous puns, double entendres, innuendos, inside jokes, and the like, then he will enjoy this first outing in what proposes to be a series. Typical of the novel's humor is the villainess's quip as she feeds gay Hugh Humpit to her tigers: "if you don't eat pussy, pussy will eat you." (Other characters' names include Connie Ling Qua, Harri Kummalot, and Dr. Randy Dick.) The story is erotic to its core without ever being sexually explicit.

Pretty Faces: the Large and Lovely Musical

Elias Stimac -- BACKSTAGE: "Pretty Faces" offers solid performances, smooth direction, an involving plot line, and an infectious score. It appears to be poised to become a theatrical staple on the regional circuit, a la "Nunsenses."

David Lefkowitz -- SHOW BUSINESS, NY: "Cabell keeps the tunes short 'n'bouncy, winning us over with the amusing "Too Plump For Prom Night," the recurring "Sleep Walkers' Lament," and Bobby Joy's star spangled, baton twirling, song "Twirling For Jesus".

Stuart Wise -- NEW YORK LAW JOURNAL: "This spunky mini-musical is to be commended for avoiding the path of obvious fat jokes in the beauty pageant for "the large and lovely". . . there is a nourishing amount of good songs and commentaries for the calorie conscious as well."

Glenda Frank -- CHELSEA CLINTON NEWS: "From the lyrical fantasy 'Furs, Fortune, Fame Glamour' to the randy girl talk of 'How Do You Like Your Men' and the tongue-in-cheek 'Twirling for Jesus" spirits run high and the stage rocks with generously endowed talent.

Michael Sander -- LA, DRAMA-LOQUE: 'Pretty Faces' provides considerable entertainment. . . Cabell's book is efficiently crafted, with enough laughs and human-interest details to keep the story perking.

Jerry Tallmer -- NY POST: "It's an oddball premise, a show about a 'Global Glamour Girl' beauty pageant in Paris, Ohio, for your ladies of, shall we say, girth ... You might think of "Pretty Faces" as a Size XXL 'Chorus Line."

Adele Furman -- QUEENS CHRONICLE: "Pretty Faces Is A Pretty Show" . . . Robert W. Cabell is both the author and composer. His music is snappy, familiar, and the lyrics are clever. Outstanding is the "Don't Talk Dirty" . . The girls sing Spotlight Solos throughout entitled "42-32-42" and the melody goes with you after the curtain goes down.

Moses Schonfeld -- WRTN FM WVOX AM: "Whatever their story, one really feels for these women... Move over, Miss America, here come the women of the Miss Global Glamour Girl Beauty Pageant."

Bill O'Connell -- APPLAUSE MAGAZINE: "The Subject matter is dealt with a direct and appealing forthright way. . . novel entertainment, maybe even a "Nunsense" waiting to be born."

Ned Sontag -- DEMENSIONS MAGAZINE: "Pretty Faces the "Large & Lovely" Musical expands the boundary of what is beautiful ... The show boasts 26 new songs, great singing, awesome harmony."

Pretty Faces: the Large and Lovely Musical on CD

John Kenrick for Tuneful, humorous and upbeat.

Pretty Faces -- Original Cast Records

Nurtured by the Actors Cabaret of Eugene, this musical comedy about a beauty pageant for "large & lovely" ladies won acclaim at the 2004 New York Musical Theatre Festival. Tuneful, humorous and upbeat, the weight-friendly attitude of this show is reflected in songs like "42-32-42," "Too Plump for Prom Night" and Midnight Munchies." Theatre groups looking for a new musical that showcases female performers will want to consider this off-beat charmer (2 men, 6 women required)

Rob Lester of SOUND ADVICE: There's cleverness here.

In this cast album of Pretty Faces, writer Robert W. Cabell seems to reject the idea that "less is more" and opts for "more is more." I'm not referring to the size of the cast (8) or the size of the cast, meaning the dimensions of the plus-size women who are the focus of this show. It's that there are 27 tracks and that's a lot!....Cabell wrote book, music and lyrics. He's also the album producer. I think his strong suit is comedy, innocent, bawdy and snide. There's cleverness here....The musical is set at a beauty pageant for overweight women, and the constestants are madly rehearsing for the high-pressure event. Among the character song highlights are the Southern gal practicing with her baton that she is "Twirling for Jesus," and "Too Plump for Prom Night" for a character named Pleasure....The cast works well in the ensemble numbers, and their songs about getting ready for a show have fun, frantic energy that people used to putting on any kind of show will appreciate. Despite the subject of scale-tipping ladies, this is a lightweight show that is most entertaining when it stays entertainingly so. Like its main characters, it has potential to be a winner. (See Website for full review)

Andy Propst for American Theater Web: Warm & energetic cross between A Chorus Line and The Full Monty

From the 2004 New York Musical Theatre Festival comes the recording of Pretty Faces. This show takes audiences from the start to finish of the "Miss Global Glamour Girl Beauty Pageant" -- a beauty contest for "plus-size" women. The show, which boasts book, music and lyrics by Robert W. Cabell, comes across on the recording as warm and energetic cross between A Chorus Line and The Full Monty, a blend of "the I hope I get it" sentiment of the former show with the "overcoming stereotypes" throughline of the latter. Cabell's written a pop-infused score which often can be a true charmer. Some highlights on the disc include the poignant ballad "What's Missing in My Life," delivered smokily by Erica Jean, the comic, if slightly obvious, "Twirling for Jesus" (one of the talent numbers from the second act pageant) that Amanda Fackerell puts over with charming brashness, and the final triumphant "This Moment is Mine" which is delivered by all of the contestants. Although there's no synopsis for "Faces" in the sharp color booklet that accompanies the disc, listeners will have no problem grasping who's who and what's what in this show, which sounds like it might be come a very popular attraction in the country's regional theaters. PRETTY FACES - The Large & Lovely Musical

Pretty Faces [2005] Review

Book Music & Lyrics by Robert W. Cabell

In PRETTY FACES the "other girl next door" finds fame and glamour at a beauty pageant for plus-sized women in this backstage musical. Dubbed "a size XXL Chorus Line" (NY Post), Pretty Faces follows each contestant's Cinderella transformation, from day one of rehearsals to the crowning moment of truth. Complete with two feuding stars, a love-struck stage manager, a baton-twirling rich Southern belle, and a spoiled rich girl, this show pays tribute to the large and lovely.

Author/Composer Robert W. Cabell based this witty and gutsy new musical on real-life people, giving voice to the talented actresses perpetually cast in secondary or character roles because of their ample size. " I decided what if people could see them dressed up and looking gorgeous, and get to know them as the sexy, sensual, desirable women that they are? And that's how 'Pretty Faces' was born." The result was a triumphant Off Broadway run that was greeted enthusiastically by both audiences and critics. Show Business noted that "Cabell keeps the tunes short 'n'bouncy, winning us over with the amusing "Too Plump for Prom Night", the recurring "The Sleepwalkers Lament" and Bobby Joy's star-spangled, baton twirling song "I'm Twirling for Jesus". Leave the calorie-counter at home and check out this hilarious and life-affirming take on an All-American tradition.

Z --- the Masked Musical of Zorro

NEXT MAGAZINE - CD Reviews by Richard Tressan: The spirit of the legend of Zorro is stronger than ever! This recording stays true to the Spanish theme and distills the essence of the story musically with a symphonic score for the noble-born characters and a more folksy, mariachi-inspired sound for the townspeople. Seasoned pros such as Deborah Gibson, Kaye Ballard, Broadways' Sean McDermott and Menudo-veteran Ruben Gomez interpret songs from the musical. And if that weren't enough, look for two bonus tracks produced by none other than Tony Moran!

SHOWMusic Magazine: The legend of California's, Zorro, lavishly produced.Z - THE MASKED MUSICAL (Getzeed Productions 89762; 67:58) is the concept recording for Robert W. Cabell's adaptation of the legend of early California's Robin Hood, Zorro. Lavishly produced, the album features ex-Menudo heartthrob Ruben Gomez as the lead character, Robert Blades as Diego, Zorro's less adventuresome alter ego, Deborah (nee Debbie) Gibson as his (their?) love interest and Kaye Ballard Phyllis Newman, Christian Noll, Sean McDermott, Marc Kudisch, Jeff McCarthy, Michael DeVries, and Lynn Halverson singing cameo roles. Cabell's idea to give songs for the Spanish nobles and peasants contrasting sounds - symphonic for the former, mariachi for the latter - is a good one, although I'm no sure his straightforward approach to this story is quite so successful, because it doesn't allow for variety in the score. As Antonio Banderas illustrated in the recent Zorro film, a little tongue tucked firmly in cheek doesn't hurt the effectiveness of the legend. But Cabell has some effective and attractive melodies (his lyrics have a number of predictable rhymes) that make this well produced album quite listenable.

MASQUERADE Magazine: Z-The Masked Musical is a classy, enjoyable and entertaining album.England's Musical Mag MASQUERADE: In the light of the recent Zorro movie it seems an opportune time to release a musical based on the daring exploits of the hero of the oppressed Californian peasants. And that is just what Robert W. Cabell has done with Z - The Masked Musical. Cabell has adopted quite an unusual approach to the project, marrying two diverse musical styles with pop flavored show tunes sitting side by side with music with a strong traditional Spanish feel. A sort of Frank Wildhorn meets the Gypsy Kings. But on the whole the experiment is surprisingly successful. Personally, I found that the Spanish influenced songs worked better but that may be because I am not a major fan of the more poppy side of musical theatre material. Consequently I felt that songs like the swaying "Sweet Siesta", the sultry "Dance of Love" and the vivacious "Fiesta Amor" had much more to offer than the ballads. Oh there are a couple of worthwhile offerings ("Ivory Tower" and "Just Close Your Eyes"). Z-The Masked Musical is a concept album but one of the highest quality, beautifully recorded with a fine cast and nicely packaged. The lead roles are performed by Robert Blades (a relation of Ruben Blades of The Capeman fame perhaps?), Deborah Gibson and Ruben Gomez in a first class manner well supported by a large and impressive chorus and some talented musicians. Z-The Masked Musical is a classy, enjoyable and entertaining album. It is released on GZD-89762; for more information on the project why not visit web site