REVIEW: Featuring John Williams’s multi-faceted score, ‘Home Alone in Concert’ made a bustling, merry return to Symphony Hall

Kicking off with the familiar drumbeat of the 20th Century Fox fanfare performed live before the film’s opening credits, The Boston Pops presented Home Alone in Concert with style and a few surprises as this popular 1990 Christmas comedy film returned to Symphony Hall from December 29 and 30. Much like the Boston Pops’ ‘in concert’ predecessors featuring classic films such as West Side Story, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Nosferatu, Singin’ in the Rain, and Psycho, the Boston Pops enhances the unique tone of each film from score to sound effects, making it an unforgettable cinematic experience.  Led by Keith Lockhart, it doesn’t get much better than watching a feature film on the big screen alongside the Boston Pops’ clever orchestration.  Click here for more information on the Boston Pops.

It was a particular treat to be greeted by the Wellesley High School Keynote Singers and Rice Street Singers who performed a few lighthearted a capella holiday hits as the audience filed into the Symphony Hall lobby before the film started.  The anticipation of Home Alone in Concert was palpable, heightened by an uproarious applause as the film started and enthusiasm that continued throughout the performance.

A heartwarming film full of high jinks and relatable family humor, Home Alone features the McAllister family as they prepare to embark on a Christmas trip to Paris and through a series of unforeseeable circumstances, leave their youngest child, Kevin, portrayed by Macaulay Culkin, home alone.  Directed by Christopher Columbus, Home Alone features a hilarious cast that includes the late, great John Candy, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O’Hara, and John Heard.

From heartwarming to hectic to haunting, Academy award-winning composer John Williams offers a bit of everything in Home Alone’s multi-faceted score.  Songs from the film’s soundtrack such as Run Run Rudolph by Chuck Berry and I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas by the Drifters are left to the original artists, but John Williams’s compelling score featuring the Academy Award-nominated song, Somewhere in My Memory were performed by the orchestra.

Home Alone writer John Hughes was gifted with the ability to capture the voice of a young generation and he does a remarkable job depicting the perspective of mischievous and utterly adorable Kevin McAllister as he attempts to fend for himself.  Though some of the movie is a bit far-fetched, it remains as enjoyable as it was close to 30 years ago before cell phones were a daily part of life.

Home Alone in Concert

Holiday Pops presents ‘Home Alone in Concert’ Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Not only is Home Alone on the verge of celebrating its 30th anniversary since its release, but Macauley Culkin is all grown up and has reemerged recently in a reenactment of pivotal scenes from the original film to demonstrate the magic of Google Assistant.  With the same twinkle in his eye, Culkin adds a new dimension to those film scenes while keeping the spirit of the original film intact.

Home Alone in Concert was produced by Film Concerts Live!  In August, Keith Lockhart will conduct the Boston Pops to perform Star Wars:  A New Hope in Concert at Tanglewood.  Click here for more information on the Boston Pops and upcoming Boston Symphony Orchestra events.

All performances take place at Boston Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets, through SymphonyCharge at 888-266-1200, and at the Symphony Hall Box Office, 301 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, Massachusetts.

FILM REVIEW: A nail-biting, clever, and mostly unpredictable ‘A Quiet Place’

Talk about bone-chilling.

Though The Sleepless Critic does not usually tackle films, since awards season is here and Sleepless Critic is associated with the Screen Actors Guild Awards, a review will pop up here and there about a nominee.   Emily Blunt has been nominated for Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actress in a Supporting Role for the post-apocalyptic horror film, A Quiet Place.

The Abbots are embarking on a quiet journey.  Not by choice, but in fear for their lives.  Every moment of this nail biting PG-13 horror flick will keep you at the edge of your seat.  John Krasinski makes his directorial debut in A Quiet Place starring alongside his beautiful, IRL Emily Blunt, who has had a strong presence this awards season and was pregnant IRL during its filming.  See the trailer here.

It may seem like too simple a premise that just might put you to sleep.  Not a word is spoken for the majority of the film, but Krasinski makes some clever and bold choices to build the film’s tension to hair raising suspense.  It’s a mostly unpredictable movie about the Abbot family trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.  Everyday tasks are harrowing under the threat of being attacked at the hint of any noise.

John Krasinki brings this world to life and is likable as a courageous father and husband.  Emily Blunt is quite the warrior (especially in a perilous scene not to be revealed here), but it is Millicent Simmonds as Regan who is the real standout in this film, a young actress deaf in real life.

sag 2019 nominees

Screen Actors Guild Awards will be broadcast on Sunday, January 27.  Photo credit to SAG

The 25th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, hosted by Megan Mullally, will be broadcast on Sunday, January 27.  Click here for more information.

A Quiet Place is available for streaming on ITunes, OnDemand, on Blu-Ray, DVD, and where I found it – at my local library.

After a night out, enjoy MET Bar and Grill’s ‘Boston Hot Chocolate Experience’

The holidays may be over, but any time during the winter is a good time for hot chocolate.  The MET Grill and Bar brings back their popular refreshment, ‘Boston Hot Chocolate Experience’ through Valentine’s Day.  With a wide variety of hot chocolate available in ‘adult versions’ topped with extra large marshmallows, whipped cream, and more, it is a special treat at the end of a concert or a great night out.

‘Boston Hot Chocolate Experience’ is offered at MET Bar and Grill locations in Natick and Back Bay in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information.

Hot chocolate options include Classic Hot Chocolate featuring vanilla chocolate and whipped cream, Spiced Mexican with chili and grated Mexican chocolate, Dolce De Leche with marshmallows and salted caramel, and Peppermint White Hot Chocolate featuring candy cane flavors and whipped cream.  Each treat can be enhanced with Peppermint Liquor, Caramel Vodka, Bailey’s, and more.

Enjoy them as ‘A Flight of Four’ experience featuring four miniature glasses or attendees can order one flavor as ‘One Big One’ presentation.

Visit MET Back Bay in Boston and in Natick, Massachusetts.  MET offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as Saturday and Sunday Brunch. They also are available for private events and gift cards are available online for the perfect gift.

REVIEW: WGBH’s ‘Tis the Night with Ben Folds and Friends’ holiday music special offers some impressive, lighthearted cheer

Ben Folds, award-winning lead singer of Ben Folds Five, rang in the holiday season with some of Boston’s most renowned performers as he hosted Tis the Night with Ben Folds and Friends which has been featured on WGBY Public TelevisionNew Hampshire PBS, and WGBH 2 this month.  Ben has collaborated with many acclaimed artists in his over 20-year career including Regina Spektor, William Shatner, Tori Amos, and Weezer.  He is also known for performing with many orchestras throughout the world.  Take a closer look at Tis the Night here,  click here to find out when WGBH will broadcast this show next, or here to stream it online.

In this WGBH holiday special, Ben hosts for the most part, leaving it to renowned Boston choruses such as the Boston Children’s Chorus, Handel and Haydn Society, the Harvard- Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, and students from the New England Conservatory to bring in the good cheer.  However, in the few times he collaborated with the artists, this concert special became that much more engaging.

Ben Folds and Caleb Teicher perform on Tis the Night (Meredith Nierman - WGBH)

Ben Folds and Caleb Teicher perform on ‘Tis the Night’ Photo courtesy of Meredith Nierman/WGBH

Tis the Night with Ben Folds and Friends offered a selection of well-known holiday songs done in new, insightful ways.  Surrounded by blue festive lights and illuminated snowflakes, Tis the Night opened fittingly with I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day sung warmly by the Boston Children’s Chorus, dressed in red scarves and multicolored shirts as Ben Folds looks on.

Handel and Haydn orchestra and chorus perform on Tis the Night (Meredith Nierman - WGBH)2

Handel and Haydn orchestra and chorus perform on ‘Tis the Night’ Photo courtesy of Meredith Nierman/WGBH 

Handel and Haydn’s Society took on three memorable choruses from Handel’s Messiah, which was a lighthearted take from the classic version.  It was refreshing to hear, though I prefer the classic interpretation.  However, the Handel and Haydn Society’s uplifting, angelic harmony was no less impressive, ending on a triumphant note.

Ben Folds took a break from hosting to join NYC choreographer Caleb Teicher for a catchy version of Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth.  They were accompanied by New England Conservatory student guitarist Andres Orco-Zerpa and student bassist Tyler Wagner.  Affectionately calling Caleb’s tapping “drumming for your feet,” Ben Folds drummed while singing a duet with Caleb, whose freestyle tapping got more remarkable as the beat escalated.

Harvard Radcliffe Collegium Musicum performs in Tis the Night (Sam Brewer - WGBH) (1)

Harvard Radcliffe Collegium Musicum performs in ‘Tis the Night’ Photo courtesy of Sam Brewer/WGBH 2

Conducted by Music Director Andrew Clark, The Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum was a particular highlight.  Their peaceful, silvery vocals enriched their first number, In the Bleak Midwinter as picturesque scenes were shown of new fallen snow topped on trees and covered in fields. Sung entirely acapella, that captivating number was followed by a few more impressive classic Christmas carols.

New England Conservatory student jazz vocalist Darynn Dean, decked out in a shimmering dress and accompanied by student pianist Matthew Thompson, delivered a jazz-infused, airy version of Jingle Bells. Darynn’s agile vocals scat and soared while Matthew’s lighthearted piano solo created an exhilarating medley.

vocalist Darynn Dean and pianist Matthew Thomson perform Jingle Bells on Tis the Night (Sam Brewer - WGBH)2

Vocalist Darynn Dean and pianist Matthew Thomson perform Jingle Bells on ‘Tis the Night’ Photo courtesy of Sam Brewer/WGBH 

Under an illuminated starlit sky, New England Conservatory student soprano Saori Erickson accompanied by student pianist Bethany Pietroniro performed a gorgeous, emotionally-rich version of Ave Maria.

soprano Saori Erickson and pianist Bethany Pietroniro performing Ave Maria (Sam Brewer - WGBH)

Soprano Saori Erickson and pianist Bethany Pietroniro performing ‘Ave Maria’ Photo courtesy of Sam Brewer/WGBH

Ending on a bright, inviting note with Ben Folds, the Boston Children’s Chorus, and Caleb Teicher collaborating on We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Tis the Night offered a few great reasons why the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year.

REVIEW: Grammy award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir makes a mesmerizing and festive Celebrity Series of Boston return

It was a special evening for the Soweto Gospel Choir having recently learned that their latest album, Freedom has been nominated for a Grammy on December 7.   Marking their 15th anniversary as a group, this Grammy award-winning South African Gospel group has toured all over the world and shared the stage with legendary performers such as Bono and Queen.

Celebrity Series of Boston presents Soweto Gospel Choir 'Songs of the Free'

Soweto Gospel Choir Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

Marking their sixth appearance since 2005, Celebrity Series of Boston welcomed back this renowned group to the Berklee Performance Center in Boston, MA for one night only to pay special tribute to the late Nelson Mandela who would have celebrated his centenary this year, Aretha Franklin, and perform a bit of James Brown’s fancy footwork.  Combining African Gospel, reggae, and American pop music and sung in six of South Africa’s eleven official languages, The Soweto Gospel Choir’s expressive rhythms, mesmerizing harmony and lively choreography is amazing to behold.  Click here to find out where the Soweto Gospel Choir will perform next and here for more information on Celebrity Series of Boston’s 80th season and more.

Accompanied by a keyboardist, slide whistle, and a drummer who performed a captivating drum solo, the concert’s first half was dedicated to depicting the realities of apartheid as well as perform songs from their latest album.  Dressed in colorful, coordinating traditional garb, The Soweto Gospel Choir’s energy is contagious whether they are sharing a powerful message or joyfully ringing in the Christmas season.

Celebrity Series Soweto Gospel Choir Dance

Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

Though each song delivered flawless harmony and the captured the spirit of their message, a few of the particular highlights were Sabashiya a Abuzai, Sabela, Thua Mtanami Medley, Johnny Clegg and Peter Gabriel’s Asimbonanga/Biko, and Letta Mbulu and Mbongeni Ngema’s Freedom Songs Medley:  Jikiela, Rolihlahla Mandela.  They also sang a heartfelt Amazing Grace in smooth harmony and beautiful baritone.

The second half delivered a wide range of Christmas Carols including an enthralling version of Go Tell in On the Mountain/He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands and a partially acapella version of Silent Night.  Soweto Gospel Choir delivered a spiritual Wade in the Water which included a drumming dance competition.  What makes this group unique is the joy and power they evoke though their music, their compelling rhythms, and their freestyle, free spirited choreography that will make you get on your feet.

Celebrity Series of Boston Soweto Gospel Choir 2

Soweto Gospel Choir Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

Ending the evening is was a grateful, heartening version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, dedicating the song to their latest Grammy nomination.  With talent like this, Soweto Gospel Choir has a lot to be grateful for.

Celebrity Series of Boston is currently offering big savings for the holiday season, which expires on December 28.  Click here for information about that special offer.

A few of the Celebrity Series of Boston’s 2019 highlights include the debut of guitarist Pablo Sainz Villegas in January, Mark Morris Dance Group and Mnozil Brass, Cirque in February, Voci Angelica, and Castle of Our Skins in February, and the return of NPR’s Rob Kapilow’s What Makes it Great on Bands of the Swing Era in March.  Click here to see all that Celebrity Series of Boston has in store.

REVIEW: Captivating and lighthearted, Boston’s annual Holiday Pops as festive as ever

In its 23rd year, The Holiday Pops are in full swing and as festive as ever!  Illustration and illumination dominated this year’s performances woven into a wide spectrum of Christmas carols, spiritual hymns, and holiday traditions.  Whether it’s the excitement of the all-volunteer Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the Boston Pops adding their own unique, personal flair, or their highly anticipated sing-along, The Holiday Pops makes it easy to alleviate the stress of the season and happily embrace what truly matters.  Sponsored by Fidelity Investments and led by Keith Lockhart, The Holiday Pops at Boston Symphony Hall continues through Christmas Eve.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Elegantly adorning the intrinsically-detailed gold balconies are twinkling lights on thick, festive wreaths, just a sampling of the stunning surroundings inside Symphony Hall.  During the show, the stage spontaneously came to life with a variety of scenery illuminated above the stage from flickering candles to colorful, dancing snowflakes.

This beautiful performance of Holiday Pops delivered equal doses of reflective material and lightheartedness, the first half playful and spiritual.  Leroy Anderson’s A Christmas Festival which included Deck the Halls, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and Silent Night kicked off a memorable first half. The Boston Pops orchestra performed a harmonious and airy rendition of Parade of the Wooden Soldiers accompanied by a bright, festive short film created with original artwork and animation by FableVision Studios.

The Holidays Pops reflected on the revelation of Jesus during Shepherd’s Chorus as well as The Festival of Lights in an increasingly uplifting Songs of Freedom:  A Celebration of Chanukah featuring detailed portraits illustrated by children’s book artist, Judith Clark.  With stirring excerpts from O Little Town of Bethlehem, What Child is This, Go Tell it On the Mountain, and more, acclaimed baritone David McFerrin narrated The Christmas Story illustrated with Tomie dePaola’s original artwork.

Brimming with beloved classic Christmas carols and guest appearances by Santa and more, the second half of Holiday Pops was a vibrant, yuletide spectacle.  While bulbs glowing to the beat, the jolly Tanglewood Festival Chorus delivered a string of Christmas waltzes, singalongs, and more including the annual reading of Clement Charke Moore’s Twas The Night Before Christmas, read enthusiastically by special guest, Boston journalist Janet Wu.

Boston’s charming signature versions of Sleigh Ride and the always clever and amusing 12 Days of Christmas were welcome additions to the mix as Santa Claus made his grand entrance.  Holiday Pops concluded with Let There Be Peace on Earth, as Earth shone overhead, brilliantly conveyed the quiet hope for the coming New Year.

BSO - home-alone-345

The Boston Pops presents the beloved holiday film, ‘Home Alone in Concert’ with live orchestra December 29 and 30. Photo credit to Twentieth Century Fox/Boston Pops

Before ringing in the New Year, The Boston Pops will offer special presentations of Christmas film favorite, Home Alone featuring the music of John Williams with live orchestra at Symphony Hall on December 29 and 30.  The Boston Pops will cap off the year with their annual New Year’s Eve concert led by actor, animator, singer, and filmmaker, Seth McFarlane.

All performances take place at Boston Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets, through SymphonyCharge at 888-266-1200, and at the Symphony Hall Box Office, 301 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, Massachusetts.  The Holiday Pops are also available at home with A Boston Pops Christmas: Live from Symphony Hall album through ITunes, Amazon, and Amazon MP3.

 

Review: Packed with inspiring music, Lyric Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective’s ‘Breath and Imagination’ soars

It often takes a village to become great.  In Daniel Beaty’s Breath and Imagination:  The Story of Roland Hayes, lyric tenor and composer Roland Hayes embarks on a tremendous journey from a shy, sulky church boy to the trials and sacrifices that were made in order for him to become an established singer.  He was often plagued by insecurity and faced backlash in many forms, but the heart of this piece lies in the ones who believed in him even when he wasn’t sure how to proceed, ultimately proving, as the production proclaims, “pain and promise make you great.”

Co-produced by Front Porch Arts Collective, directed by Maurice Emmanuel Parent, and musically directed by Asher Denburg, Lyric Stage Company proudly presents this interactive, uplifting musical helmed by a stellar cast, Daniel Beaty’s Breath and Imagination:  The Story of Roland Hayes continuing through Sunday, December 23 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  This is a 90-minute musical with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Front Porch and Lyric Stage Breath and Imagination Asher Denburg and Davron S. Monroe

Music Director Asher Denburg and Davron S. Monroe Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Packed with impressive performances, Breath and Imagination is an important musical, especially fitting for Boston since Roland Hayes is the first soloist of color to perform at Symphony Hall.  Accompanied by a grand piano sitting in front of an illuminated, sliding paneled backdrop, this interactive, concert musical draws the audience into the performance with its small and mighty cast.

If I thought Davron S. Monroe was terrific in Lyric Stage’s Kiss of the Spider Woman or on the Company Theatre stage in the powerful musical, Ragtime, nothing could quite prepare me for the magnificent performance he delivers as lyric tenor and composer Roland Hayes.  Not only does Monroe beautifully depict Roland Hayes’s journey as he matures from a humble childhood in a wool cap to adulthood in bow tie and tails, he also shows Hayes’s progressive vocal maturity, his powerhouse vocals rising to new, complicated heights as he masters everything from spiritual hymns to internationally-renowned classical works.

Guiding him on this audacious journey is his no nonsense, strict, and faith-filled mother, Angel Mo’, portrayed by Yewande Odetoyinbo in a captivating performance that makes it easy to see where Roland Hayes gets his inspired vocal chops.  Odetoyinbo as Angel Mo’ is fierce yet humble, a quick witted woman in a shawl who shows Hayes what is truly important in life and song.  She reflects the pain of her past and the weight of the immense obstacles in front of her, but consistently holds her own with faith and love.

Front Porch and Lyric Stage Breath and Imagination - Davron S Monroe, Yewande Odetoyinbo and Nile Scott Hawver

Davron S. Monroe as Roland Hayes, Yewande Odetoyinbo as Angel Mo.’ and Nile Scott Hawver Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Odetoyinbo and Monroe teamed up earlier this year in Lyric Stage’s spring musical, The Wiz and their sweet chemistry make it no surprise they are collaborating again.  Much of this musical tackles the highs and lows of their relationship as he makes his way into the world.

Rounding out this stellar cast is Doug Gerber as Mr. Calhoun and Nile Scott Hawver, who portrays multiple roles seamlessly from a preacher to a teacher, his enthusiasm makes way for some exciting, touching, and humorous moments.

Front Porch and Lyric Stage Breath and Imagination - Asher Denburg, Doug Gerber, Nile Scott Hawver, Davron S. Monroe and Yewande Odetoyinbo

Asher Denburg, Doug Gerber, Nile Scott Hawver, Davron S. Monroe and Yewande Odetoyinbo Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Enjoy the Lyric Stage Company and The Front Porch Arts Collective’s compelling musical, Breath and Imagination:  The Story of Roland Hayes at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, December 23.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow The Lyric Stage on Twitter and Facebook for their upcoming productions and more.