IT'S BEEN a little while since Center City has been home to a venue that showcases fairly big names in a fairly intimate setting. Morgan's Cabaret, located on the second floor of what was then the Prince Music Theater, closed after the 2013-14 season. But the void will be filled beginning tonight as The Rrazz Room opens its doors in the same space previously occupied by Morgan's, in the recently renamed Prince Theater.
The Rrazz Room - its oddly spelled handle references the first names of co-owners Robert Kotonly and Rory Paull - is the fourth in the chain of musical hot spots that also includes outposts in New Hope, Miami and Coral Springs, Fla. Like its corporate siblings, the Prince Theater branch will feature both an environment and entertainment aimed at grown-ups. But the best part of all is that quite a bit of emphasis will be put on performers whose resumes include time spent on Broadway stages.
Tonight, Karen Mason, who created the role of Tanya in "Mama Mia" and also appeared in New York productions of such blockbusters as "Sunset Boulevard" and "Hairspray," christens the 156-seat nightclub. In the weeks ahead, it will present such Great White Way vets as playwright Charles Busch (known for "Tales of the Allergist's Wife," tomorrow), Linda Lavin (star of "Gypsy," Oct. 17) and, most impressively, famed Broadway dancer/choreographer Tommy Tune (noted for "The Will Rogers Follies," Oct. 9 and 10).
Co-owner Kotonly promised that musical theater artists will be "very, very important" to the room's operation.
"In fact," he said, "when [Paul] and I came up with the idea of opening this particular room, we said we wanted something that really makes a statement to show that we're really serious about performers who have a theater background. And we decided if we could get Tommy Tune our first season, that would be the perfect act for us.
"So, theater performers are a big part of the programming in this room."
Of course, cabarets do not live by Broadway alone. The Rrazz Room also will spotlight pop singers and comedians, including pioneering African-American comic Dick Gregory (Oct. 2) and former Howard Stern lieutenant, Jackie "The Jokeman" Martling (Jan. 30).
According to Kotonly who, as a child, regularly accompanied his parents to shows at the old Latin Casino in Cherry Hill (thus instilling in him his love of live entertainment and nightlife), the opening of the Center City Rrazz Room will not affect his New Hope operation. However, he revealed that the Bucks County club will be moving in November from the Ramada Hotel to The Raven, a recently resurrected hotel, bar and restaurant complex also located in New Hope. The Raven's ownership, he said, "wanted something to signify that they want to be a part of the entertainment scene in New Hope."
Kotonly and Paul will open in a 90-seat room before moving next summer to a new 350-capacity space inside the hotel.
Prince Theater, 1412 Chestnut St., 215-422-4580, therrazzroom.com.
Bruce Graham has another winner in "According to Goldman," which runs through Oct. 11 at Ambler's Act II Playhouse.
Not knowing the Bard of South Philly personally, I can't swear that this sly and cynical piece is autobiographical. But the lead character, Gavin Miller, is a one-time big-money screenwriter now teaching somewhere Back East. In real life, Graham, a prolific "script doctor" whose credited works include co-writing "Dunston Checks In" and the 1997 animated musical version of "Anastasia," today teaches film classes at Drexel University ("Dunston" was about a chimpanzee; in the play, Gavin refers to his script for a movie called "Monkey On the Loose").
Either way, the wickedly funny piece centers on Gavin's love-hate relationship with Tinseltown: He never misses a chance to denigrate the industry which, according to Oscar-winning scripter William Goldman, is one in which "nobody knows anything" (hence the title). But as we soon enough find out, he is secretly dying to get another writing job - something he hasn't had for an unidentified, but obviously significant, length of time.
The ubiquitous Tony Braithwaite (Act II's artistic director), hits it out of the park as the totally conflicted Gavin, essaying the role with the correct amounts of piss and vinegar - not to mention emotional vulnerability hidden behind a façade of wise-cracking bravado.
But the play's real fulcrum is Jeremiah, the socially awkward student in whom Gavin sees his ticket back to the cinematic big time. Luke Brahdt plays him with heaping helpings of creepiness and ticking-time-bomb-ness, which results in a solid turn that leaves the audience somewhat off-balance (as does the interestingly sour twist that occurs in the second act). Susan Reilly Stevens likewise shines as Gavin's long-suffering wife, Melanie, but her part seems a tad underwritten.
And David Bradley's direction is sure-handed, keeping the action moving forward in a crisp manor.
Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler, show times vary, $25-$36, 610-654-0200, act2.org.
Celebrated playwright Nzotake Shange and Broadway director Oz Scott will be at Temple University's Performing Arts Center on Sunday to discuss Shange's career-making mid-1970s drama, "for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf."
In addition to the Q-and-A session, moderated by Temple associate professor of theater Lee Kenneth Richardson, the program also will include the issuing of an official citation from Mayor Michael Nutter in recognition of Shange's lifetime achievements in literature and theater.