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“For Piano and Harpo” at Falcon Theatre Review – Slick, deeply thought provoking

By Ester Benjamin Shifren

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Laugh Then Think’s world premiere of “For Piano and Harpo,” was written by, and stars Dan Castellaneta as Oscar Levant, the brilliant, witty, pill-popping actor and concert pianist who was classically trained by Arnold Schoenberg. Levant composed the music for many movies, costarred with Gene Kelly in “An American in Paris,” and was a celebrated TV personality.



Levant verbally jousts with Jack Paar (Jonathan Stark), is haunted by the genius of George Gershwin (Jonathan Stark), and moves in for an extensive period with his only friend, Harpo Marx (JD Cullum). He is tormented by the memory of an abusive childhood, and phobic about a list of “unmentionables” that includes lemons, roses, and Philadelphia.

His struggles with mental illness and treatment with sedatives lead to his waking up to find himself in the Psych Ward of Mt. Sinai Hospital, committed in 1956 by his wife June (Deb Lacusta). He shares a room with Charlie (JD Cullum), a mute man with whom he develops some kind of, albeit strange, rapport.




Levant’s insults, acid remarks, retorts, and acerbic wit greatly disturb fellow psych ward patients and disrupt the group sessions he reluctantly attends. He is filled with angst, hallucinates, is sedated, and his past collides with his present, as he grapples with his demons to save his marriage and his sanity.




Backstage, and faintly discernible behind a thin veil curtain, David O on grand piano and harpist Jillian Risigari-Gai perform a great deal of fabulous music, perfectly coordinating with Levant and Harpo’s miming.

Director Stefan Novinski has succeeded in seamlessly shifting the scenes between the phases and events of Levant’s life, and all the actors move smoothly in and out of their different roles as his parents, the psych ward patients, various show biz celebrities and more. The show features many great, often darkly humorous, one-liners!




In a series of swift and incredibly slick persona and scene changes, ranging from the psych ward, to Levant’s childhood and disapproving parents (Phil Proctor and Gail Matthius), to his complex relationship with Harpo during his extended stay in Harpo’s mansion, the layers of Levant’s life are gradually peeled away to reveal the pain and suffering inflicted on himself, his wife June  (Deb Lacusta), and others, as the devastating result of his addiction and mental instability.

Playwright and actor Dan Castellaneta is on stage throughout, with a script and portrayal of Levant that is flawless! The stellar cast is more than up to playing multiple roles! Congratulations to the crew and musicians.  “For Piano and Harpo” successfully portrays a nightmarish, sad, and sometimes hilarious journey from addiction to redemption. Don’t miss seeing this five-star production!

The Falcon Theatre is a 130-seat professional theatre that operates year-round in Burbank, California. The theatre was founded in 1997 by the late director/writer/producer Garry Marshall and his daughter Kathleen Marshall LaGambina. It was Garry’s wish that the theatre continue and serve as a welcome home to established artists as well as emerging talent. This year’s subscription series is produced by Kathleen and Sherry Greczmiel.

Written by and starring Dan Castellaneta

Directed by Stefan Novinski

Photos by Sasha A. Venola

"For Piano and Harpo" stars, in alphabetical order:

Dan Castellaneta (‘Oscar Levant’)

JD Cullum (‘Charlie’/‘Harpo’)

Deb Lacusta (‘June Levant’/’Barbara’)

Gail Matthius (‘Shirley’/‘Fanny Brice’/‘Oscar’s Mother’)

Phil Proctor (‘Sidney’/‘Butler’/‘Oscar’s Father’)

Jonathan Stark (‘Dr. Greenleigh’/‘Jack Paar’/‘George Gershwin’)

Pianist is David O

Harpist is Jillian Risigari- Gai

Music Supervisor is David O

Scenic Design by Stephen Gifford,

Lighting by Jean-Yves Tessier,

Costumes by Kate Bergh,

Sound design by Drew Dalzell.

Production Supervisor is Lee Costello

Opening Night Feb. 10, 2017, and runs through Mar. 5, 2017 at the Falcon Theatre located at 4252 Riverside, Burbank, CA 91505.

Performances are Wed. through Sat. at 8pm and Sun. at 4pm.

Tickets, priced from $30-$45, on sale Jan. 4, 2017 online at Falcon Theatre or by calling the Box Office at 818-955-8101. Box Office hours are Tue.-Fri. 12-6pm, Sat.-Sun. 10am-4pm, and 1 hour prior to show time on performance days.

For more information, please visit the Falcon Theatre

Published on Feb 15, 2017

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