FOR PIANO AND HARPO by Carol Kaufman Segal
For Piano and Harpo, written by and starring Dan Castellaneta, is a play making its world premiere at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank. Levant was a multi-talented pianist, composer, actor, and comedian who appeared in films, on television, and stage. He studied piano with Arnold Schoenberg and was a close friend to George Gershwin. He had a sharp sense of humor, but at the same time, he was a troubled man.
The play centers on a time when Oscar (Dan Castellaneta) finds himself in a psychiatric ward at Mount Sinai Hospital, most likely due to his addiction to prescription drugs and his struggles with his demons. While his mind transforms from past to present, his thoughts go back to a time when he left home to stay with his closest friend, Harpo Marx (JD Cullum). He relives encounters with his father (Phil Proctor) and mother (Gail Matthius), Hollywood celebrities like Jack Paar (Jonathan Stark), Fanny Brice (Gail Matthius), and, George Gershwin (Jonathan Stark), people who had an effect on his past.
As Levant struggles with his problems, it is obvious that he is a genius haunted by his past. But he is also an obstinate man who refuses to accept the fact that he is where he is in order to be helped if he wants to be released. When at last, he has no other option but to cooperate with the medical staff, eventually he is redeemed.
Castellaneta brings Oscar Levant to life supported by a wonderful cast, each performing multiple roles. They include Deb Lacusta (June Levant/Barbara), Gail Matthius (Shirley, Oscar’s Mother, Fanny Brice), (Phil Proctor (Sidney, Butler, Oscar’s Father), Jonathan Stark (Dr. Grenleigh, Jack Paar, George Gershwin). J. D. Cullum plays the role of Charlie, but his real asset to the production is his wonderful performance as Harpo. Pianist David O and Harpist Julian Risigari-Gai add the musical attraction to the production, all under the perceptive direction of Stefan Novinski.
For Piano and Harpo plays Wednesday through Saturdays at 8 PM, Sundays at 4 PM, at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside in Burbank, through March 5. Tickets are available online at www.falcontheatre.com, or by calling (818), 955-8101.