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C. Paul Luongo's Published Columns

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Todd English's Tuscany


Anytime a restaurant manager comes to my table with an overflowing, fresh banana martini, I’m off to a good start! That’s exactly what David Weiler, Restaurant Manager at TUSCANY did on a recent Saturday evening prior to the FRANK SINATRA JR. show at the Cabaret.

TUSCANY has rustic charm with exposed beams with fiberglass boulders to emulate the Taughannick Falls. While there is no water flowing inside the restaurant, there is a courtyard near the falls outside with patio seating. The 55-foot high waterfall is called the Taughannick Falls because it represents a treacherous crossing point during the tribe’s migration.

There are 180 seats with a full bar for 10 seats (you can also eat at the bar) with three alcove private tables complete with curtains for privacy and a chef’s table for 10 looking into the glass-walled kitchen.

We started our dinner with delicious flatbreads with names like Arthur Avenue, Bronx Bomber, Bianco, Rustic Margherita, Tuscan and Almalfi Shrimp. They are like mini- pizza slices each with various combinations of tomatoes, mozzarella, pepperoni, basil, prosciutto, rock shrimp, scallions, etc. They range from $9 to $12 for a whole flatbread. Arthur Avenue refers to the famous Italian section of Brooklyn known for its Italian cuisine!

Next came Antipasto dell Casa, at $4 for each item, including “Vegetale” cauliflower, artichokes, peppers, etc. Salumi consists of prosciutto, mortadella, capicola and other cold cuts and finally Formaggio with a mixture of cheeses. I can’t eat cheese but made a good dent in the Salumi of prosciutto and mortadella with my flatbread and was by now sated before the entrees arrived.

But being the good critic that I am, we did manage to sample a bit of the Crispy Cod ($28) with macadamian nut crust, tatsoi salad. The cod was not flaky or tender. I also sampled Grilled Rack of Lamb ($32) with vegetable Panini, couscous yogurt (mine wasn’t well done as expected) and Garganelli, a wild boar sausage with broccolini and pasta aglio e elio. Ricotta pesto comes with this but I cannot eat it ($24). The pasta was a bit gummy.

My companions sampled the Wood Grilled Tuna with chilled noodles, stir-fry vegetables and toasted peanut ($32) which they say was very tasty, the Mahi Mahi with celery root puree, crispy oysters, plum Glaze ($32) cooked perfectly to satisfy my guests and the Filet Mignon grilled onion watermelon salsa, cornbread ($38) which they reported as “cool sweetness and warm buttery meat.”

We also sampled the Kurabutto Pork Shank with sweet potato polenta and toasted walnut salad $30. This was the hit of the evening. It’s braised by Chef de Cuisine, Jeffrey, for five hours.

As an extra attraction on Friday and Saturday evenings there is an Italian strolling guitarist who comes to your table and sings!

There are few desserts and therefore I opted for another banana martini as a wonderful way to the end the meal and prepare for the Sinatra show. The restaurant is open 7 days, lunch and dinner. Lunch reservations can be made by telephone at (860) 862-3236. Telephone dinner reservations can be made at (888) 226-7711.

Lunch is served buffet-style at the Tuscan Table everyday from 12PMto 3PM. Dinner hours are from 5PM to 10PM everyday except Saturday, when the kitchen stays open until 11PM.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Judy Garland

And Now Ladies and Gentleman, Miss Judy Garland

This 90-minute (no intermission) show opens with Judy, garbed in a white pant-suit, attempting to deal with a tape recorder in her London hotel room. She is struggling to record memories of her life for a book to be written as she needs the cash.

Through her reminiscences, we learn that she began performing at a tender two-years-old in Grand Rapids, Minnesota and appeared in vaudeville as part of the GUMM SISTERS with her siblings and parents. She complains about how many people stole money from her and reveals that it was George Jessel, the noted comedian, who gave her the last name of Garland which later became Judy Garland. This is part 1 of a 2 part presentation with Tim Evans at the piano (that I think needs tuning).

Kathy St. George, formerly a school teacher from Stoneham, plays Judy. She offers a pleasant presentation of Judy without Judy’s vibrato. Otherwise she’s mastered the hand mannerisms and hair (wig) and in Part II makes three costume changes. She first appears in a silver beaded top with blue skirt, later changes on stage behind a theatre trunk into a black dress and finally into a tramp outfit to sing, A COUPLE OF SWELLS, a song made famous in one of Judy’s movies with Fred Astaire.

During the second act she sings all the songs identified with Judy Garland, including-
ZING WENT THE STRINGS OF MY HEART, (which she sang as an audition for MGM,)
GET HAPPY (with Soft Hat),

There was a standing ovation in the half-empty theatre. It makes for a good summer theatre presentation and is entertaining. The show closes July 1 and plays Wednesday-Saturday at 8PM and Sundays at 3PM. There is also a matinee on June 27, 2PM. For more information about the show, check out www.andnowjudygarland.com.

And Now Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Judy Garland
140 Clarendon Street
Boston, MA

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tribute to Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee

Everett Longstreth Orchestra Tribute to Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee, with Vocalist Amanda Carr at The Stoneham Theatre

Some things just never go out of style. Pearls. Well-made suits. And swing music. And when Everett Longstreth and his 14-piece orchestra took to the stage at the Stoneham Theatre to pay tribute to Benny Goodman, it was clear why. The precisely executed arrangements and tight integration of reeds, horns, drums, chords and ivories never fail to get toes tapping and heads bobbing.

The evening featured a wide range of Goodman’s best-known works, and was enhanced with the vocal renderings of Amanda Carr, covering songs from the more than 60-year career of Peggy Lee.

Leader Longstreth kicked the evening off with “Let’s Dance”, giving clarinetist Sil D’Urbano and alto sax player Ted Casher the first of many spotlight solos. Alas, the restored movie theatre did not have room for dancing – to the dismay of a nearly sold out crowd of 360+ (if the bouncing of the row I was in was any indication of the audience’s desire to “cut a rug”!?).

Other favorites in the first half included “Stompin at the Savoy” (another one screaming for a dance floor), “Don’t Be that Way” and “Benji’s Bubble”, a light and bouncy tune written for one of Goodman”s daughters.

Amanda Carr began her tribute to another one of Goodman’s legacies – Peggy Lee – with “Tangerine”. Dressed in a long-flowing gown, reminiscent of the days of glamour, Carr did justice to several other Lee favorites, including “It Might as Well Be Spring” and “Indian Summer.”

The second half of the show began with “A String of Pearls” (of course, what would a night of swing music be without the Glenn Miller signature tune?). Followed by “Clarinet Marmalade”, when leader Longstreth gave D’Urbano more than a moment to impress the crowd with his homage to the clarinet genius that Goodman was at the height of his career. Not to be outshone, the orchestra’s drummer Jimmy Latini, wowed the crowd on the next tune -- “Runnin’ Wild” – with a solo that lasted long enough to let the other band members lay down their instruments and lean back in the their chairs, as Latini took to the skins in a frenzy.

Carr joined the orchestra again, and spent the next 45 minutes revisiting Lee’s career, mapping her selections to the varied and ultimately troubled life of the young woman from North Dakota who lit the stage with Goodman, and for decades later. “It’s a Good Day”, marking Lee’s launch, then on to the more vamp-ish tunes Lee is known for, including “He’s A Tramp” (penned by Lee for Disney’s “Lady and The Tramp” and, according to Carr, well-suited for describing Lee’s picks when it came to men), “Big Spender”, “My Man” and “Fever”.

Illustrating the differences between the world in which Lee lived and the world we live in today, Carr sang “MaƱana”, a No. 1 hit in 1954, definitely outside the realm of political correctness. Carr’s cover of “Show Me the Way to Get Out of This World”, written by Lee near the end of her career, was a sincere tribute to Lee, who’d paved the way for so many women singer/songwriters, with just the right blend of wistful tone and powerful delivery.

After nearly two hours, the evening came to close as Longstreth ended with “Swing, Swing, Swing” – as much a tune as a cheer for the wonderful sound of the big band.

Naked Comedy

Naked Comedy

The first Wednesday of every month is the Naked Comedy Showcase at the IMPROV BOSTON, Cambridge, with Andy Ofiesh as your naked host. Yet this middle-aged, be-spectacled, chubby, out of shape, owlish looking comedian spends his daytime hours as a software engineer! Yes, the whole show is naked, 7 performers, male and female, each does a naked stand-up of about 7 minutes while telling funny stories or jokes.

Most of the comics are twenty-something or early thirties. One exception is Dr. NO NO NO, a 60-ish school teacher, who asks the audience questions about lots of things to be answered by members of the audience. Yes, he too, is naked and the questions range from oral sex, to “is sex more important than money?” to children and sex, wildest sex, etc.

There’s even a BU linguistics student who performs and I asked if any of his classmates has seen him or if he is ever propositioned. It’s a no on both counts.

The club is small, 60 seats maximum with stadium seating in the center and theatre seats on each side. The show is about 90 minutes. There is no food or booze. Admission is $10 cash or online. The audience is mixed both male and female. You must be 18 or older.

Toward the end of the show Andy asks if anyone in the audience would like to perform and sure enough, on the night I was there, a young 20-something female ripped off her clothes and told stories about her hippy parents. Amazing. However, it’s not that uncommon.

When asked about some of the strangest or wildest responses from the audience, Andy was quick to reply with a story about a couple who had come to see the show. When asked if anyone from the audience would like to join the comedians on stage, the young man was quick to volunteer, and even quicker to get his female companion equally undressed because he refused to go onstage naked unless she either donned a blindfold or did the same. To the amazement of the audience, the young woman opted out of the blindfold (and her clothing) and met her boyfriend on stage.

Another comedian that I didn’t see asks if anyone would like to perform with him but they must be naked. No problem.

Andy says, “We don’t strip; we’re just naked,” and that there are similar clubs in Worcester and New York.

1253 Cambridge St.
Cambridge, MA