REVIEW: Led by powerhouse vocals, SpeakEasy Stage Company’s engaging ‘Songs for a New World’ a memorable musical experience

We are all hearing soon.  Soon we will be back together in the theatre for a wonderful live theatrical experience.  How it has been missed! 

However convenient it is sitting in front of a computer for a virtual show, there is nothing quite like the anticipation of live theatre in person with an audience in a shared experience.  SpeakEasy Stage Company’s remarkable concert musical benefit show, Songs for a New World, accomplishes quite a bit in its hour and a half runtime.  Through clever cinematography that still adheres to Covid guidelines, SpeakEasy Stage Company recreates the thrill of seeing actors together onstage and it is easy to see each cast member’s excitement through their own extraordinary performances.  We’re not quite there yet, but this is getting ever closer.

‘A New World’ featuring the entire company Video courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

Directed by Paul Daigneault and musically-directed by Jose Delgado, SpeakEasy Stage Company continues their 30th anniversary season with John Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World streaming through June 8.  The show was filmed onstage at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Discount tickets are also available.  Click here for more information on SpeakEasy Stage Company’s recently announced 2021-22 season.

It is difficult to describe the anticipation of seeing SpeakEasy Stage Company’s concert musical benefit, Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World.   The last Jason Robert Brown musical I witnessed was a film adaptation of The Last Five Years.  It was a glorious, resonating tear jerker featuring reliable talents Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick

Songs for a New World explores a variety of characters that are faced with the ultimate, sometimes humorous and other times harrowing life-changing decisions and deciding what to do next.  With simple staging and an onstage band conducted by Jose Delgado, Songs for a New World has humor and heartache enhanced by some of Boston’s most recognizable vocal powerhouses.

Rashed Al Nuaimi sings ‘She Cries” Video courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

From the inspiring, tremendous, and relatable opening number, A New World featuring powerful, upbeat harmonies between Dwayne P. Mitchell, Davron S Monroe, Mikayla Myers, Rebekah Rae Robles, Alexander Tan, Victor Carillo Tracey, Laura Marie Duncan and Rached Al Nuaimi, this production proves to be something to behold.  A New World/Time to Fly gives the audience a glimpse into the shared experience of what each character is feeling and the hope their decisions will turn out right.

Songs for a New World is full of powerful performances and each song is as strong as the last, but here are a few highlights.  One standout performance is a tender and stirring rendition of On the Deck of a Spanish Ship, 1492 as Monroe exclaims, “Have Mercy Lord” while the cast embarks on a harrowing, life-changing journey.  Dressed in a long fur coat, Laura Marie Duncan is wildly entertaining as a scorned woman in an extreme situation in Just One Step.  Duncan’s expressive personality and her sheer energy drive this amazing performance. 

‘I’d Give it All for You’ Jennifer Ellis and Dwayne P Mitchell Video courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

Jennifer Ellis performs some vocal gymnastics as Mrs. Claus for Sweabaya Santa, reimagining Santa as an absent, judgmental husband whose love is as fleeting as his sleigh.  Dwayne P Mitchell literally rises from the ashes of his childhood in this boastful, self-assured rendition of The Steam Train.  Ellis and Mitchell have sweet chemistry in a beautiful duet about the complexity of love in I’d Give it All for You.

Rached Al Nuaimi demonstrates zany, emotional turmoil and building frustration in She Cries and Jennifer Ellis delivers a bold and anguished performance in The Flagmaster, 1776.

SpeakEasy Stage Company’s Songs for a New World also boasts an incredible finale not to be missed with Hear My Song.  Glad to add John Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World as another memorable musical experience. 

SpeakEasy Stage Company continues streaming Songs for a New World through June 8. Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support the SpeakEasy Stage Company.

REVIEW: Boston Children’s Chorus’ free virtual concert “Lift Every Voice: At the Table” ends season on a vibrant and hopeful note

Transitions have been a strong theme over the past year and a half and with that brings forth a tumult of emotions.  Staying true to this season’s theme, “Waves of Change,” the Boston Children’s Chorus depict a vibrant range of emotions through songs of comfort, pressing contemporary issues and dreams of hope of everyone together again in their final concert of the season, Lift Every Voice:  At the Table.

Photo courtesy of Boston Children’s Chorus

Featuring special guest composers Sydney Guillaume, Omar Shahryar, and Layth Sidiq, Lift Every Voice:  At the Table was live streamed for free on Sunday, May 30, but is still available to watch on their Facebook page, and YouTube channel.  The concert also delivers information about their upcoming summer outdoor concert series, We Sing as well as information about the Kiser Scholarship, a memorial scholarship focused on community building and social healing.    

Though each song offers its own message of hope and change, Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, and Brandi Carlile’s uplifting Crowded Table and Omar Shahryar’s The Journey of Feelings portrays the dream of unity while reflecting on uncertainty and the exhaustion of the journey through this pandemic from a child’s point of view.  Crowded Table brings to life the dream and comfort of finally being together again at the table without worry by a roaring fire.  It’s a sweet, joyous, and memorable song that you may never want to end.

The Boston Children’s Chorus Virtual Choir Photo courtesy of the Boston Children’s Chorus

Omar Shahryar’s catchy The Journey of Feelings has its amusing moments, but underneath the beat paints a startlingly perfect expression of what kids are feeling from day-to-day over the course of the pandemic.  It’s an upbeat and urgent song providing insight into intense and overwhelming feelings and yet delivers a precocious sense of maturity expressing hope of life returning to normal.  Omar Shahyar’s There’s a Change A-Coming further enhances this sense of gradual change as they navigate through these uncertain times. 

Moving backdrops and colorful, innovative zoom cinematography enhance each song and it is wonderful to hear from Boston Children’s Chorus members from all levels and their reflections on the world.  It is also a treat to see the chorus outdoors from bridge to beach to city singing together at various times over the concert’s duration, but this is especially wonderful to watch for Mavis Staples’s inspiring Build a Bridge and Layth Sidiq’s spiritual, haunting, and rhythmic Reflection.

John Mayer’s popular song, Waiting on the World to Change brings its signature insightful flair but BCC enhances this poignant song with a moving dedication to emergency workers and glimpses of the state of the world during the pandemic such as the closure of theatres, empty trains, and elbow bumps instead of hugs.  Mayer’s timeless lyrics resonate profoundly while the world is in transition.

Photo courtesy of Boston Children’s Chorus

Delving into multiple languages and a unique, moving open, The Boston Children’s Chorus also reflects hope and uncertainty through the eyes of Migrants with Joel Thompson’s America Will Be as the BCC proclaims, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”  Dany Rivera’s charismatic and powerful vocals depict struggle and determination with Gregory Porter’s Running (Refugee Song).

The Boston Children’s Chorus encapsulates distinctly what many are feeling at this time through their evocative vocals and strong messages while leaving this season on a hopeful note. 

Click here for more information on how to join and support the Boston Children’s Chorus, their upcoming events, and digital offerings.

REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston at Home’s free concert, ‘Quartet Kalos: The Songs We Make’ makes meaningful debut

This virtual concert ended with a laugh.  On Thursday, February 25, Celebrity Series of Boston at home’s free weekly Neighborhood Arts concert series featured the soothing and unique rhythms of Quartet Kalos: The Songs We Make livestreamed on Celebrity Series of Boston’s website, Facebook Live and YouTube at 7:30 p.m.  The concert was filmed at Futura Productions in Roslindale, MA and included a Q & A with the group. Click here to see the full concert on demand.

Introduced by Celebrity Series of Boston’s Associate Director of Community Engagement Robin Baker, this livestreamed concert was particularly meaningful for this skilled quartet.  Not only did they make their Celebrity Series of Boston debut as a group though they have all performed for Celebrity Series individually since 2017, it was the first time performing live together onstage since the pandemic and they couldn’t have been more delighted.

Composed of Maria Finkelmeier on marimba, Angela Shankar on clarinet, Francesca McNeeley on cello and soprano Mary Mackenzie all in masks, Quartet Kalos provided a blend of eclectic, original, enigmatic, playful, and intriguing rhythms that provide a soulful respite from the pressures of the world today.

A portion of Quartet Kalos’s music is Swedish-inspired due to members of the group having lived there and these particular concert selections took some time to deliver their take on classical music and hymns. 

Their lively and inquisitive opening number, Solstice, is an instrumental piece blending soprano Mary Mackenzie’s silvery and versatile vocals.  Mackenzie’s operatic range has a brilliant and natural shine, even when delivering the spoken word.

Dreamlike and experimental, Beau Kenyon’s I Will is melodic and smooth in its building intensity.  Aaron Copeland’s timeless Appalachian Spring is easily recognizable within Quartet Kalos’s upbeat arrangement to Shaker tune Simple Gifts.  Quartet Kalos also provides a unique and memorable blend on the Swedish tune, Uti Var Hage with timeless hymn, I’ll Fly Away (arr. Angela Shankar) in a sea of galloping rhythms with a special dedication.

Maria Finkelmeier’s original and spirited composition, Clone has an urgency and mischievousness filled with rhythmic stops, starts, and lively moments.

However, the real standout was Swedish tune, I denna ljuva sommartid (arr. Sanna Andersson), a glorious, uplifting song about summer’s great beauty which is particularly missed in the depths of winter.  This lively number is further enhanced by its stirring acapella harmony.

Quartet Kalos:  The Songs We Make is still available for viewing here.  Celebrity Series of Boston’s free virtual Neighborhood concert series will next present Hub New Music on Thursday, March 11 at 7:30.  Click here for more information and for all that Celebrity Series has to offer this season.

REVIEW: Boston Children’s Chorus’ free MLK tribute concert ‘Born on the Water’ a stirring and hopeful virtual journey

Although the Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC) could not physically be together this year for their annual concert, they certainly spiritually united in harmony through innovative zoom technology that helped make this remarkable concert a visual spectacle.  Featuring renowned special guests in music and in the arts, The Boston Children’s Chorus composed a stirring, gripping, and hopeful collection of works including music and poetry honoring Martin Luther King’s historic day.

The 18th Annual Boston Children’s Chorus concert tribute to Martin Luther’s King, Born on the Water was livestreamed on their website and Facebook on Sunday, January 17 at 4 p.m. The virtual concert is still available on their Facebook page and YouTube channel.  Click here for more information on how to support the Boston Children’s Chorus, their upcoming events, programs, digital offerings, and how to join.

Boston Children’s Chorus’s 17th annual MLK Tribute concert Photo Credit to A Priori Photography/Boston Children’s Chorus

In under an hour, the free virtual tribute concert offered a selection of hymns, protest songs, and hopeful melodies.  Broadway actor-vocalist Roman Banks delivered an incredible opening number with the Boston Children’s Chorus in a gripping rendition of the African American folk song, Been in the Storm as Banks exclaimed, ‘Give me Time to Pray.’

Broadway vocalist Roman Banks performed with the Boston Children’s Chorus for this year’s virtual concert, ‘Born on the Water’ Photo courtesy of Boston Children’s Chorus

African American Folksong Joy in my Heart, arranged and introduced by Dr. Rollo Dilworth of Temple University, was a beautiful and hopeful song made more enchanting by the visually-engaging technology and the heart shaped graphics that framed the adorable and angelic-sounding Children’s Chorus.

Boston Children’s Museum’s President Carole Charnow introduced the moving classic African American Spiritual Let Me Fly with Edith Mae’s poem written during for the Civil Rights Movement, Fight on Little Children in memory of Emmett Til.

BCC’s 16th Annual Martin Luther King’s Tribute concert, ‘She Persisted’ Photo credit to A Priori Photography/Boston Children’s Chorus

Other highlights included Nina Simone’s protest song, Mississippi Goddam introduced by KingBoston’s Executive Director Paris Jeffries.  It was a fast paced, quick witted, impactful song mastered by the Boston Children’s Chorus and enhanced by clever, visually-engaging technology.

Boston Children’s Chorus dedicated Alicia Keys’s catchy, meaningful song Underdog to Frontline Workers and everyone who is risking their lives during the pandemic.  The BCC delivered seamless harmonies accentuated by a beautiful montage of Boston.

Actress and vocalist E. Faye Butler performed with the Boston Children’s Chorus for this year’s MLK virtual tribute concert, ‘Born on the Water’ Photo credit to Boston Children’s Chorus

Adorned in an elegant dress, actress and soloist E. Faye Butler joined the Boston Children’s Chorus in a performance of Stevie Wonder’s poignant, yet uplifting rendition of Love’s in Need of Love Today.  It was easy to hear the enthusiasm in Butler’s warm and soaring vocals as she sang, ‘Don’t delay/Send yours right away’ as the group offered a sorely needed message with such relevance today and so in tune with MLK’s continuing mission.

BCC’s Born on the Water is still available to stream on their Facebook page and YouTube channel. Click here to learn more about the Boston Children’s Chorus, their upcoming events, digital offerings, how to join, and how to support their mission.

Amid peerless Castle Hill and candlelight, Boston Lyric Opera delivers exquisite ‘Winter’s Evening’ on Operabox

One this is for sure, Boston Lyric Opera can achieve elegance anywhere.

Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) had two remarkable debuts for their virtual concert, A Winter’s Evening.  Directed sublimely by Nathan Troop, Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ not only made its virtual debut on Operabox, but soprano Gabriella Reyes also made her effervescent debut with the Boston Lyric Opera, an event which she calls “a dream come true.”

BLO’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues streaming through Sunday, January 10.  Click here for more information.  Boston Lyric Health Task Force helped coordinate the virtual performance to meet safety standards.

Surrounded by the gorgeous grounds at Castle Hill at the Crane Estate in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Miss Massachusetts 2020 Sabrina Victor, adorned in black fur over a glittering white gown, hosted this lovely evening with warmth and poise.

Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues streaming on Operabox through Sunday, January 10. Photo credit to Boston Lyric Opera

Boston Lyric Opera also weaved in elements of hearth and home blending classic opera and festive classic songs as Gabriella Reyes and Sabrina Victor shared personal remembrances of holidays past.  The show is the height of elegance, not only in the couture, but inside the Crane Estate’s majestic ballroom embellished with candlelight and Christmas trees. 

Impressively accompanied by pianist Brett Hodgdon, Reyes, adorned in a black gown, showcased her broad range with a dynamic selection of songs that included a serene, bi-lingual version of Silent Night/Nochede Paz, passionate Quando M’en Vo from Puccini’s La Boheme, stirring Nana by Manuel De Falla, a dreamy and heartfelt When You Wish Upon a Star with lyrics by Ned Washington and music by Leigh Harline, and the inspirational classic Harold Arlen song, Over the Rainbow featuring its rarely sung introduction.  Reyes masters the operatic selections, her light and powerful vocals make it all look easy.

Guitarist Zaira Meneses accompanied Reyes for a portion of the evening with a selection of songs that are meaningful to both of them including Grever’s Alma Mia and Sandoval’s Gracias a la Vita.  Meneses’s vibrancy and flair, putting her entire body into her music with Reyes’s eloquence made for a stirring pair.

BLO’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues on Operabox through Sunday, January 10.  Click here for more information and how to subscribe to Boston Lyric Opera’s current season.

REVIEW: Christmas Revels 50th virtual anniversary delivers mirth, merriment, and reflection

For what marks its 50th year, Christmas Revels has been entertaining audiences by delving into vast cultures and recreating historical moments and holiday traditions with drama, dance, humor, and song.  Christmas Revels made its debut in 1971 and though it is limited to the screen this year, this engaging production brought a mix of new material while glimpsing some of their best performances in their long history. 

Father Christmas makes an appearance in The Christmas Revels annual “Mummers Play” Photo courtesy of Revels

Having never seen Christmas Revels before, it was a lot to take in and quite a feat to encapsulate the best moments in such a broad time frame.  Catching glimpses of some of their special guests, returning favorites, and new faces was an innovative way to recap a half century of productions, but it also had me longing to see more, especially as I glimpsed some of their best, most enduring performances.

Christmas Revels is still available to stream on-demand through Thursday, December 31.  Click here for more information and how to support future Revels productions.  The 50th Anniversary of Christmas Revels is also available as a 2-CD set.  Click here for more information.

Statues: Paula Plum as James Otis and Richard Snee as Josiah Quincy Photo courtesy of Revels

Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre is as majestic and welcoming as ever even as it fills for a virtual audience.  The dark, wooden stage is softly-lit with two stately, marble Greek statues sitting on each end as a grand, dimly-lit bronze chandelier floats overhead.  Hosted by acting dynamos Paula Plum and Richard Snee as James Otis and Josiah Quincy who were immortalized as those legendary statues on the Harvard University stage and the only souls who have seen every Revels performance and then some, Christmas Revels blends humor, stirring moments, and a wistful trip down memory lane to witness some of Revels’ earliest performances as it gradually became what it is today.  

From humorous moments to joyful carols such as 1984’s Yorkshire Here We Come A Wassailing, Go Tell it On the Mountain with Janice Allen and Joy to the World featuring choruses from Christmas past and virtual Christmas present, and a serene Dona Nobis Pacem featuring renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Christmas Revels does not predictably explore its past in sequence, but in clever moments such as merging a past and more recent performance of a song  by various performers, setting a different tone to its enduring meaning.

Yo-Yo Ma with Audience: Cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs the peace round “Dona Nobis Pacem” with members of the Revels Virtual Audience Photo courtesy of Revels

One of the best and most exciting examples of this was in 1997’s and 2015’s Lord of the Dance featuring David Coffin, Neena Gulati, and Patrick Swanson as they explored eastern and western Hindu traditions.  Audience members were on their feet as enthusiastic performers led audience members to spill out into the Sanders Theatre’s lobby singing along.  1993’s Kukko dance featuring the Karelian Folk Ensemble stood out as one of the more exotic cultures while 1997’s Niska Banja featuring the Revels Women, New England Romanian Ensemble, and Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble revealed beautiful and distinctive garb.  2007’s Shopsko, choreographed by Petre Petrov with Mladost Folk Ensemble, The Village Band, and Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble offered memorable upbeat and bustling Bulgarian dance. 

Johnny Nichols, Jr. and Carolyn Saxon perform the spiritual “Hold On” in a segment linked to Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”, exploring the ongoing journey towards justice and equality Photo courtesy of Revels

 Janice Allen and the Silver Leaf Gospel Singers took the stage in 2000 for a stunning, acapella version of Amazing Grace while 1986’s impressive Appalachian Clogging with Ira Bernstein and the Big Gap String Band and Jean Ritchie delivered a captivating Kentucky folk carol, Christ Was Born in Bethlehem.  Another indelible moment rested in a powerful medley of 2000’s Underground Railroad featuring Sheila Kay Adams and Janice Allen, Jordan Ashwood, and Cyrus Brooks, Silver Leaf Gospel Singers, Roaring Gap Chorus, Rocky River Children, Carolyn Saxon, and Johnny Nichols, Jr.

Christmas Revels’ ever changing repertoire is too numerous to mention every highlight, but there are plenty of surprises.

The detailed, rustic sets and the meaningful, meticulous costumes ranged from festive to humorous to haunting.  It was marvelous to witness the virtual technology that was such a big part of this production.  The virtual choir delivered moving, crisp carols and seeing the creators including founder John Langstaff and Revels Directors Patrick Swanson and George Emlen united in present time without actually being onstage provided some comfort that technology can still make some things possible. 

Christmas Revels is still available to stream on-demand through Thursday, December 31.  Click here for more information and how to support future Revels productions.  Click here for more information on The 50th Anniversary of Christmas Revels available as a 2-CD set. 

REVIEW: GBH’s inviting virtual ‘A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ maintains warmth and tradition in 2020

2020 has been many things, but traditional is not one of them.  However, this year’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn brought back holiday traditions, beautiful performances, reflections, stirring carols, and dare I say a bit of normalcy to 2020.

With a selection of live performances and an option to watch on-demand, GBH’s A Christmas Celtic Sojourn was brought into your home in a warm, inviting, and spirited atmosphere.  From a majestic, candlelit cathedral in Ireland to a festive outdoor step dance in Ottawa, Canada, it unconventionally included all the elements of what is beloved about this annual New England show and somehow broadened its possibilities worldwide. 

Host Brian O’Donovan and fiddle player Jenna Moynihan at Rockport Music Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Brilliantly directed by Jenna Worden, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn offered seven live streaming opportunities to watch virtually from your home Tuesday, December 15 at THE VETS in Providence, RI, Wednesday, December 15 at Hanover Theatre in Worcester, MA, Thursday, December 17 at The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford, MA, Friday, December 18 at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, MA, Saturday, December 19 at The Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, MA, and Sunday, December 20 in GBH Studios in Boston, MA  These locations are usually where A Christmas Celtic Sojourn tours annually.  A bonus encore presentation also occurred on Christmas Eve. 

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through January 2, 2021.  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn would also like to hear what you thought of the program by visiting their Facebook page.

Celtic harpist, pianist, and Assistant Music Director Maeve Gilchrist Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Though a portion of the performers were at home, audiences were treated to harmonies created from multiple locations nationally and internationally while enjoying festive, international scenery.  For a person who has lacked the chance to travel the world this year, it was a more than welcome opportunity to take a glimpse and to share in some international traditions. 

From the stirring, candlelit opening of beloved carol, O Come Emmanuel sung in Latin by Cathy Jordan from gorgeous Sligo Cathedral in Ireland, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn transported audiences to Ireland and to other places around the world as they were unable to bring Ireland to the stage.  The show also boasted dueling harmonies simultaneously sung from Vermont, Scotland, and various parts of Massachusetts. 

Host Brian O’Donovan brought a mix of humor, melancholy, and wistful reflections toward this difficult year, engaging storytelling, and fond tidings.  Though this year has presented its challenges, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn still managed to keep the rituals and long-awaited music right at your fingertips delivering jubilant, soulful moments while still embracing winter’s dark and sacred stillness.

Music Director and multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan with fiddlers Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Thanks to Rockport Music, multi-instrumentalist and Music Director Seamus Egan, Assistant Music Director, Celtic harpist, and pianist Maeve Gilchrist, Bouzouki and Harmonium player Owen Marshall, guitarist Conor Hearn, and fiddle players Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin returned to perform cheerful medleys and energetic jam sessions filmed in Rockport Music at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts.  Seamus Egan’s brilliance shone through as he reached for multiple instruments for separate songs and at one point reaching for a banjo for a joyful freestyle. 

Fiddle players Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin with Bouzouki and Harmonium musician Owen Marshall Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

A traditional wassail in Edinburgh, Scotland, rollicking sing-along carols and dance from A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’s past, a peerless lullaby carol involving a newborn, original song and stirring new renditions of classic carols, a lighthearted percussive dance from Michigan by Nic Gareiss, and returning step dancer and choreographer Cara Butler reveling in her backyard to a jubilant tune in Ottawa, Canada are just some of the highlights of this carefully-executed, moving production.  There were plenty of welcome surprises not to be revealed here.

Spending an awful lot of time at home and not in the car, music is less of a tradition in my house.  GBH’s  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn created a haven of holiday comfort in song that though we are far apart, some rituals and traditions can still stay the same.

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through January 2, 2021

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company re-imagines a classic in riveting ‘Swan Lake in Blue’

Exploring love from obsession to at first sight, Greater Boston Stage Company couldn’t have chosen a more perfect time to introduce Swan Lake, one of ballet’s most popular productions of all time, with a bold and re-imagined twist the day after Valentine’s Day.

With insightful choreography and direction by Ilyse Robbins, Greater Boston Stage Company continues Jazz Ballet Swan Lake in Blue through Sunday, March 1 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue tap dancing

Jackson Jirard (center) and the cast of Swan Lake in Blue Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Tap dancing, ballet, and classic dance just skims the surface of the sheer energy that encapsulates Swan Lake in Blue, a brilliant production that transforms Tchaikovsky’s classic fairy tale into a lively, non-stop dance spectacle with big band flair.  Swan Lake in Blue has elements of that beloved classic in swan feathers, but set in thrilling 1940’s New York City.

Costume designer Kevin Hutchins and Scenic and Prop designer Teri Oakes work together to capture the mood of 1940s New York City in bowler hats, vintage suits, and colorful casual wear right down to the cast’s 40s style Oxfords.

Steve Bass not only seamlessly composed and musically directs Swan Lake in Blue, but also performs onstage with a full big band stately dressed in black and grey vintage sophistication.  The rollicking live orchestra instantly sets the mood of this vibrant, non-stop musical journey.  Swan Lake in Blue features an array of gloriously energetic, athletic dancers that keep the pace joyous and thriving while integrating popular dance moves of its time like the Charleston and Swing.  Each dancer gets an opportunity to shine and Jackson Jirard as Ben Kelly leads this agile group of exceptional talent.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue dancers

Jackson Jirard (center) with male dance auditions. Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Jirard is magnificent as he leaps and spins audaciously in tap shoes. Andy McLeavey as Seigfried and Jirard look like naturals dancing together, especially when Mr. Seigfried is first introduced. From Mambo to the Samba to the alluring Dance of the Swans, it is a wordless piece that invites dance to take over.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue Sara Coombs as Odette

Sara Coombs as Odette Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Swan Lake in Blue preserves the classic tale but gives it a Broadway spin involving a mobster, idyllic “swans” and a love struck Broadway producer set in a dance studio.  Odette, portrayed with elegance, fragility, and anguish by Sara Coombs, is a seemingly tethered soul longing for peace.  Coombs flourishes in the complex dual role which balances sass and sincerity as well as compassion and malicious glee through her carefully crafted sharp and sweeping dance moves.

Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey as charming Seigfried share some beautiful moments.  David Visini captures a dark sophistication as Von Rothbart.  Visini’s unsettling, sharp, and menacing dance create a mysterious and powerful charisma every time he makes an appearance.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Tchaikovky’s immortalized Dance of the Swans takes on a new, alluring spin as Briana Fallon and Gillian Gordon join Coombs decked out in feathery, white fringed dresses.  It’s a daring, yet fitting departure of Tchikovsky’s original dance and like the imaginative Swan Lake in Blue,  includes a few winks to the original.

Greater Boston Stage Company continues Jazz Ballet Swan Lake in Blue through Sunday, March 1 at Greater Boston Stage Company at 395 Main Street in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here for more on Greater Boston Stage Company’s 20th season.

 

REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston presented John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift for Nat King Cole tribute and more on Valentine’s Day

Since Jazz and love doesn’t follow a set of rules, they came together for Valentine’s Day.

Love lit up Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Valentine’s Day as Celebrity Series of Boston presented ‘For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole’ on Friday, February 14 at 8 p.m.  Whether longing for love, falling in love, or losing in love, Veronica Swift and the John Pizzarelli Trio brought a jazz-infused twist to classic love songs and American Standards from Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Cole Porter, and especially Nat King Cole for one night only.

Veronica Swift and John Pizzarelli are currently on tour.  Click here for Swift’s upcoming shows and here for John’s future tour dates.  Click here for more on Celebrity Series of Boston and their upcoming events.

Festive purple curtains embellished Sanders Theatre’s beautiful, softly-lit stage.  Dressed in an effervescent pink jumpsuit that changed shades in different lighting, jazz vocalist Veronica Swift kicked off the evening with a drum-infused rendition of Cole Porter’s breezy classic, Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love).  Each musician had an opportunity to show off their stellar talent which included pianist Julius Rodriguez, bassist Phillip Norris, and drummer Aaron Kimmel.

Swift offered a casual, low key presence as she shared childhood stories of growing up touring with her jazz singer mother, Stephanie Nakasian and her father, bebop pianist Hod O’Brien.  Swift’s versatile set had its share of joyous and stirring moments which included a poignant version of Ella Fitzgerald’s Everytime We Say Goodbye dedicated to her father as her voice swelled in quiet emotion.  She skimmed the scales in an electrifying version of Billie Holiday’s Come Rain or Come Shine and an anguished Prisoner of Love.

Veronica Swift and pianist Julius Rodriguez Photo credit: Robert Torres

At just 25 years old, she is a spirited and contemplative performer.  Jazz aficionados would appreciate her natural ability for scatting showcased in a fast paced, ebullient rendition of Billie Holiday’s I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me.  Though I am not a big jazz fan, it is easy to appreciate the liberties jazz takes to transform these classics into a refreshing, eclectic new sound.

With a great deal of humor, a relaxed atmosphere, and in a sharp gray suit, avid storyteller John Pizzarelli delved into the history of Nat King’s Cole music while sharing some of his own history along the way.  He revitalized a few of Nat King Cole’s hits and shared a few anecdotes in tribute to Nat King Cole’s centennial.  American Jazz singer-songwriter and musician Nat King Cole was one of the most successful artists on Capital Records’ roster and his music has inspired generations.

Pizzarelli is currently on tour for John Pizzarelli Trio’s most recent album For Centennial Reasons:  100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole.  The title seems a subtle play on Nat King Cole’s I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons) which Pizzarelli performs tenderly later in the show.  Aside from Pizzarelli who can no less shred on guitar, Pizzarelli was joined by spectacular musicians Isaiah Thompson on piano and Mike Karn on bass.  The John Pizzarelli Trio’s collective sound had the rhythm of a moving train.  Each piece came alive as the instruments seem to “chat” with each other especially during Hit That Jive, Jack and a lively rendition of Honeysuckle Rose.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

Bassist Mike Karn, John Pizzarelli, and pianist Isaiah Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

The trio explored Lorraine as Pizzarelli shared a legendary story about how the song turned Nat King Cole from a pianist into a singer, though it is a rumored tale.  Nat King Cole was part of the Nat King Cole Trio and it was nice to see Pizzarelli reflecting that with his own John Pizzarelli Trio, each member getting their own chance to shine.

Pizzarelli’s delivered an uplifting set which included a few love songs.  His guitar hummed during a cheerful rendition of Nat King Cole’s Make Believe as lightning fast pianist Isaiah Thompson commanded the keys.  Pizzarelli showed off his side winding guitar style in his own song titled Nat King Cool and his scatting skills during Nat King Cole’s Frim Fram Sauce.  The evening’s lighthearted vibe continued with the humorous Save the Bones for Henry Jones, the vibrant I Would Do Anything for You, and one of Nat King Cole’s most popular singles, Straight Up and Fly Right.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

John Pizzarelli, bassist Mike Karn, and pianist Isaish Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

Swift returned to the stage for a few Gershwin classics that included a wistful Someone to Watch Over Me.  She and Pizzarelli delivered a wonderful rendition of They Can’t Take That Away from Me, I Got Rhythm, and their lauded encore Route 66.

As a big Nat King Cole fan, I would have liked to have heard Nat King Cole’s Stardust and his mega-hit Unforgettable, but it simply didn’t fit into an evening consisting of mostly the brighter side of love and its boundless possibilities.

Celebrity Series of Boston is just getting 2020 started with a number of performing arts musicians that includes Bobby McFerrin, Milos, the Jason Palmer Quartet, Lyon Opera Ballet, and the return of Alvin Ailey.  Click here for the full list of upcoming events.

 

REVIEW: Seeped in silvery, eclectic rhythms, Celebrity Series of Boston presented a joyous, sold out Sergio Mendes and Bebel Gilberto concert for Bossa Nova’s 60th anniversary

Catchy, invigorating rhythms have never had a better reception than at Grammy award-winning Brazilian great Sergio Mendes and popular Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto’s sold out concert to celebrate 60 years of Bossa Nova on Friday, October 18 at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston.  Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston, an enthusiastic crowd rejoiced in the exhilarating, eclectic rhythms that surely left them humming a tune or two long after the show was over.

Click here to find out where Sergio Mendes and Bebel Gilberto will perform next on their tour.  Click here for more about Celebrity Series of Boston and all of their upcoming events.

Dressed in a floral, black trimmed dress that delivered a certain sparkle with silver, sky high heels, Bebel Gilberto, who descends from a long line of Brazilian and jazz greats including her late father, Joao Gilberto, who wrote the Grammy award-winning tune, The Girl from Ipanena, kicked off the celebration.  Accompanied by renowned guitarist Guilherme Monteiro and drummer Leo Costa, Bebel swept onto the stage with catchy, low key rhythms.   Her smooth, slinky vocals opened with Wave written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Frank Sinatra recorded this popular song in English in 1969.

BebelGilberto-credit Vicente de Paulo(3)

Bebel Gilberto Photo credit: Vicente de Paulo/Celebrity Series of Boston

Most of Bebel’s songs were in Portuguese, but as she engaged the crowd through song and personal reflections, she said she is Brazilian-American.  She dedicated a few songs to family members, stating family is everything.  Her set was a mix of jazz and serene rhythms as she whistled and scatted onstage.

Even if Portuguese is not a familiar language, the beats and rhythms linger in Bebel’s crisp, clear, and captivating vocals.  She invited the crowd to sing and clap along as she covered some of her father’s hit songs such as the humorous O Pato (The Duck), the upbeat rhythms of Saudade vem Correndo, and Udiu, a song that Bebel said mirrors how her father played guitar.

Warm and charismatic, Bebel delivered a lighthearted, invigorating version of her own hit, So Nice (Summer Samba) and performed a lighter, more upbeat version of Just One of those Things, dedicating the classic Cole Porter hit to her parents.  After playfully applying lipstick onstage, she ended her set with Samba Da Bencao, dedicating the mystical, romantic rhythms to Boston.

The celebration heated up as Grammy award-winning Sergio Mendes appeared onstage, greeted with a rousing applause.  Along with his vocalist wife Gracinha Leporace and Katie Hampton, Sergio promised the crowd a musical journey through 60 years of Bossa Nova music and he certainly delivered.

Referring to the renowned musicians onstage as “the best band he ever had” while simultaneously playing piano and conducting the band, Sergio was accompanied by drummer Leo Costa, guitarist Kleber Jorge Pimenta, bassist Andre De Santanna, keyboardist Scott Mayo, and percussionist Gibi.

Dressed in his signature white Cuban Hat and suit, Sergio delved into the history of Bossa Nova, opening with a rousing rendition of Magalenha as the crowd clapped wildly.  He followed it with the lighthearted and colorful tune, Waters of March, composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim as Katie Hampton and Gracinha Leporace swayed and effervescently sang, “It’s the end of the strain/It’s the joy in your heart.”

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Sergio Mendes Photo credit: Vincente De Paulo/Celebrity Series of Boston

Sergio kept the evening lively, sharing songs that ranged from romantic and stirring to breezy and joyous with drum-infused rhythms.  In a flowing sea green dress and charcoal leggings, Gracinha passionately sang O Que Sera by Chico Buarque.  Hip hop veteran and vocalist Harrell Harris (H2O) sang a lovely duet with Katie Hampton for Sergio’s 80s hit, Never Gonna Let You Go as guitarist Kleber Jorge Pimenta performed an amazing guitar solo.

One of the most thrilling parts of the evening was a freestyle jam session which included a berimbau and percussionist solo seeped in the rhythms of Rio de Janeiro. Many of the musicians are multi-instrumentalists and it was fascinating to watch the instruments seemingly “speak” to each other.

The concert featured unique spins on popular songs such as Gracinha and Katie’s spirited, piano-infused duet of the Beatles classic, Fool on the Hill.  Gracinha also lends her powerful vocals to an eclectic version of Dusty Springfield’s James Bond theme song, The Look of Love.

Sergio Mendes capped off the evening on a high note with two of his most popular songs.  H2O returned to the stage as the band performed Mas Que Nada, a 1966 hit song that became popular again when Sergio collaborated on the song with Will.i.am and The Black Eyed Peas.  H2O is an incredible talent, adding a boost to an already electric lineup.  Saving the best for last, Bebel returned to the stage with the entire ensemble for a sensational version of Sergio’s most popular song, Pais Tropical, enhanced with bright rhythms and Scott Mayo’s thrilling saxophone.  After 60 years, Bossa Nova still puts joy in the heart.

Click here to find out where Sergio Mendes and Bebel Gilberto are performing next.  Click here for Celebrity Series of Boston’s wonderful 2019-20 season and upcoming events.  For updates and more, follow Celebrity Series of Boston on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.