REVIEW: Featuring Grammy award-winning mezzo-soprano Krista River and special guest musicians, A Far Cry ended season with a stirring ‘Sunset’

Having witnessed A Far Cry’s triumphant return to performing live and in person last September as they kicked off their 15th season with Circle of Life, it was an honor and fitting to review Sunset, A Far Cry’s final concert of the season.  Sunset was originally scheduled for March 2020 and this Grammy-nominated, self-directed chamber orchestra was thrilled to finally present it onstage.  With a heartfelt introduction by Sarah Darling, Boston-based A Far Cry brought a diverse repertoire of suspense, tragedy, and soaring vocals by mezzo-soprano Krista River before joining a collection of promising musicians including Project STEP for a robust finale.

A Far Cry criers at Jordan Hall Boston MA Photo credit to A Far Cry

Following opening group Project STEP, A Far Cry took the gorgeous Jordan Hall stage in Boston, MA for their final concert on Friday, May 13 for 90 minutes with no intermission.  A Far Cry will cap off their 15th season with a Spring Soiree on June 1 at the Nathaniel Allen Center for Arts and Culture in Newton, MA.  The event includes a sneak peek of next season, outdoor cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and a charity auction with the option to attend in person or virtually.  Click here for more information and here for a look at A Far Cry’s upcoming season.

Grammy-nominated Chamber Orchestra A Far Cry Photo courtesy of A Far Cry

Elegantly dressed in flowing dresses and suits, A Far Cry opened their final concert with all 18 criers for Julius Eastman’s Joy Boy.  A piece likened to the feeling of falling in love, Joy Boy has a trickling and mounting intensity as the orchestra gradually comes to life.  It is fascinating to watch the ebb and flow in Joy Boy’s soothing opening rhythms which escalate to a gripping crescendo before lulling into its resonating finale.

Imagine moments before a stunning discovery in a suspenseful film.  That’s the escalating tension built around Lutoslawski’s fiery Musique Funebre, Spanish for Funeral Music.  A Far Cry performs this chilling and somber dirge with rich, Hitchcockian flair enhanced by a stroke of the viola and plucking, creeping rhythms.  Fueled by searing drama and violin-tinged, pulsing urgency, A Far Cry plays furiously to bring this masterful work to an exciting and astounding climax that might leave you with a few goose bumps by the finale.

‘Il Tramonto Photo credit to Sarah Darling/A Far Cry

Led by Grammy award-winning mezzo-soprano Krista River’s airy and soaring vocals, A Far Cry took on Respighi’s classic piece, Il Tramonto, which is an Italian phrase translated as The Sunset.  It is a popular piece having been featured in films such as the western classic, The Good the Bad and the Ugly.  Adorned in a shimmering blue gray gown with her hair swept into an updo, River’s expressive vocals and her stirring countenance brings out the surreal poignancy of this tragic romance.  Based on a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Il Tramonto has a moving story behind it and possibly inspired by a real life disaster in Indonesia. 

Mezzo-soprano Krista River Photo credit to A Far Cry

A Far Cry recalled how music has been “cathartic journey” and like many in the arts and beyond, the love for the arts has been tested, especially in the last few years.  Joined by promising musicians in New England Conservatory, NEC Prep, and Project STEP, A Far Cry brought this concert to a robust and wondrous close with Vicente Lusitano’s Aspice Domine and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme, the latter dedicated to an inspiring teacher that encouraged young musicians to pursue their musical aspirations.  Highlighted by a duo of skilled violinists, this group of musicians brought A Far Cry’s 15th season to a glorious close with a mix of fragility, power, and a stirring finale.

Students in Project STEP Photo credit to Project STEP/A Far Cry

A Far Cry will cap off their 15th season with a Spring Soiree on June 1 at the Nathaniel Allen Center for Arts and Culture in Newton, MA.  The event includes a sneak peek of next season, outdoor cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and a charity auction with the option to attend in person or virtually.  Click here for more information and here for a look at A Far Cry’s upcoming season.

REVIEW:  Lexus Broadway in Boston’s ‘Ain’t too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations’ powerhouse vocals as compelling as their back story

Get ready for a whirlwind concert experience fueled by vocal powerhouses.  Having been familiar with the award-winning 1998 The Temptations miniseries produced by Temptations founder Otis Williams and based on the book featuring a special appearance by Smokey Robinson, it is no secret just how much material this musical had to cover and does so with finesse and upbeat pacing.

The Temptations Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams, James T. Lane as Paul Williams, Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks, Harrell Holmes Jr as Melvin Franklin and Elijah Ahmed Lewis as David Ruffin Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Directed slickly by Des McAnuff and produced by Otis Williams and Shelly Berger, Lexus Broadway in Boston presents Tony award-winning jukebox musical Ain’t Too Proud:  The Life and Times of the Temptations at Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, MA through Sunday, May 1.  The show is 2 hours and 30 minutes including an intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Behind every monumental group is a colossal tale.  The story behind the Temptations spans decades encapsulating wild drama (some of which seems too incredible to be true) while members of the Temptations changed like a revolving door.  Some of these legendary performers haunted by the past wrestled with inner turmoil and demons that indelibly impacted their own lives and with timeless and groundbreaking music comes sacrifice.

Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams (center) Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Based on the Otis Williams and Patricia Romanowski’s The Temptations autobiography, the journey began in Detroit.  Marcus Paul James is part preacher, part storyteller, and all heart as Temptations founder Otis Williams recalls admiring groups like The Cadillacs in his hometown when he wasn’t getting into trouble.  Finding his calling to sing was like ‘the heavens opening up.’  Immediately engaging, James guides the audience through decades of the Temptations musical journey through the losses, the humor, dedication, arrogance, passion, tragedy, and fleeting success to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Most importantly though, it is a rich voyage through the classic Motown tunes that have stood the test of time not just by The Temptations, but the Supremes and other famous Motown classics of that time.

Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks with the Temptations and The Supremes together. Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Decked out in suave matching gray suits and ties and launching into The Way You Do the Things You Do featuring the five original members composed of James T. Lane as Paul Williams, Harrell Holmes Jr as Melvin Franklin, Elijah Ahmad Lewis as David Ruffin, Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks, and Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams, Ain’t too Proud is an interactive, energetic, concert-driven locomotive as sliding vintage black and white photos and film depict the fans, the touring, the injustices, and the milestones through the years.  The frequently moving, multilayered set by Robert Brill combined with Howell Binkley’s impressive lighting gives the slick illusion of the quick pace of their lives and the audience riding along for each transforming scene.

The Supremes – Traci Elaine Lee as Mary Wilson Deri’Andra Tucker as Diana Ross and Shayla Brielle G. as Florence Ballard Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Not only does Ain’t too Proud feature Tony award-winning choreography, but some dynamite vocals from start to finish.  Traci Elaine Lee delivers a dual role first with brief, but memorable impromptu vocals as fast-talking Johnnie Mae in a spectacular onstage Cadillac as as Mary Wilson of The Supremes.  The Supremes, adorned in dazzling gowns by costume designer Paul Tazewell, make brief but memorable appearances with seamless vocals for classic numbers such as You Can’t Hurry Love and I’m Gonna Make You Love Me led by Deri’Andra Tucker as the luminous Diana Ross. 

Though each member of the Temptations have good chemistry, baritone Marcus Paul James as Otis and Harrell Holmes Jr as dedicated and forthright bass singer Melvin, have an exceptional brotherly connection. Jalen Harris as falsetto Eddie Kendricks performed a memorable Just My Imagination to an enthusiastic crowd. Elijah Ahmad Lewis portrays complex and sensational tenor David Ruffin with charisma, arrogance, and affliction from the sweet first notes of My Girl to I Wish it Would Rain.  The stirring I Wish it Would Rain symbolizes much more than love lost in this particular production.

Harris Matthew as Dennis Edwards (center) Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams, James T. Lane as Paul Williams, Harrell Holmes Jr as Melvin Franklin, and Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Ain’t too Proud delves into the lives of the Temptations, the classic tunes, what tears them apart, and what ultimately makes them the greatest Rhythm and Blues group in music history.  With a total of 24 Temptations over the years, it is quite the tale to tell. 

Lexus Broadway in Boston presents jukebox musical Ain’t too Proud:  The Life and Times of the Temptations at Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, MA through Sunday, May 1.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Singer-songwriters Natalie Price and Grace Pettis share resilience through struggle and the joy of performing live onstage again

It is no surprise that guitar strumming singer-songwriters Natalie Price and Grace Pettis recently brought a mix of emotional weight to the Club Passim stage in Cambridge, MA.  Not only in the great joy of performing for an audience again, but the heartache, loss, and reflection in their music as a result of these past couple of complicated years.  However, within this sadness lies resilience for thriving again.  

Grace Pettis and Natalie Price Photo credit to Natalie Price

Singer-songwriter Natalie Price debuted at Club Passim and opened for returning Club Passim favorite Grace Pettis on Thursday, April 14 in person and on live stream for one night only.  Click here to see where Pettis will perform next and here for more on Price.  Click here for more on Club Passim, their educational programs, upcoming events, and how to support local music.

A smattering of spotlights lit the Club Passim stage as Dallas-born Natalie Price delivered a mix of reflective, sorrowful, and playful love songs during her brief opening set.   Price’s sound has a tinge of Natalie Imbruglia or Lisa Loeb as she shares her experiences.

These Days is a clever track about the memory of escaping an unhealthy relationship and if the timing of that relationship were any different, Price might not have escaped.  Price sings, ‘I’m so glad I wasn’t younger when we met’ and ‘The heaviness, strangled me/A songbird in a cage.’  Its seemingly lighthearted chords contrast a returning and complex memory that changes over time.

Another highlight was The Island, a song performed entirely with a music box-sounding Kalimba instrument.  It is a melodious track about the euphoria of new love while Done is another clever piece that delves into the erratic and frantic feelings of unsteady love.  Price ends the set with a catchy and cheerful tune about devotion.

Natalie Price’s music can be found on Band Camp or on her website.

Grace Pettis Photo credit to Nicola Gell

Before taking the stage alone, Grace Pettis joined Price for an unconventional and sweet lullaby Pettis wrote and performs for a Ukrainian child living with Pettis and her family in Ireland called Sleepy Lobster.  Pettis had a table set up that evening to support Ukraine.

Florida-born Grace Pettis delves into a collection of powerful, somber, and soulful tunes, a reflection of some of the complex, life-changing experiences Pettis endured over the last two years.  In a burgundy shirt and black pants, Pettis is an unassuming presence with a certain personable charm and expressed her gratefulness to be back at Club Passim sharing her music with a crowd again.

Her passionate and powerful vocals in Pick me Up and Never Get it Back from her new album, Working Woman from MPress Records, has universal appeal with the latter a bittersweet message on the importance of living in the present and the former finding the strength to keep going in spite of life’s hardships.   Though Pick me Up could simply be interpreted as a love song, it could also apply to a larger message about faith and finding loyal support through life.

Pettis mused in Rain’s lyrics, ‘I don’t know how to be happy’ when she recalled being tasked with writing a song about sunshine.  The somber track was inspired by November rain in Ireland.

So many of Grace’s work addresses strength through struggle.  Mean Something also from Working Woman has a soothing quality about finding hope while Birthright, which is a Nobody’s Girl song, reveals the struggles of living with the pain of the past.  Pettis is an apt songwriter reflecting on the end of a life-changing relationship. She sings, ‘Brace myself for unwanted advice…I’m the box forgotten in the attic.’

However, one of my favorite tracks is Corner, a complex love song about unconditional loyalty, the pain thick in Grace’s voice.  Though the show had its share of solemn musings, Pettis ends the set with Working Woman’s fiery and meaningful title track, her powerful belt demonstrating though hardship, Grace Pettis has thicker skin than that.

Click here for more information on Grace Pettis and where she is touring next.  Learn more about Natalie Price here and click here for more on Club Passim, their music classes, upcoming concerts, and how to support local music.

REVIEW:  Boston Ballet’s elegant and edgy ‘DREAMstate’ a fascinating departure from reality

From classically fanciful to electrifying to distinctive, unconventional artistry, the Boston Ballet’s DREAMstate is an astute exploration of the delicate nature of dreams and a fascinating escape from reality.  Aside from Boston Ballet’s traditional Nutcracker in December, Mikko Nissinen’s DREAMstate is the first live and in person return to Boston Ballet’s regular season since the pandemic.  Excitement was in the air and the Boston Opera House was full.

Boston Ballet in George Balanchine’s Chaconne © The George Balanchine Trust; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Balle

Boston Ballet’s DREAMstate continues through Sunday, March 27 at live and in person at the Citizen’s Bank Opera House in Boston, MA.  The show is approximately two hours with two intermissions and the final piece contains partial nudity.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Rolling Stones tribute DEVIL’s/eye Photo credit to Boston Ballet

Though all three Boston Ballet pieces had its highlights, the stellar world premiere of Boston Ballet’s tribute to the Rolling Stones, DEVIL’S/eye was the most uniquely compelling.  Weaving in live concert elements and classic hits such as Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Paint it Black and much more, dancers take the stage in shadow bathed in purple, red, yellow, pink, and blue glimmering from an incredible, multi-functional sound system lit by Brandon Stirling Baker.  With exhilarating choreography and edgy and exotic costume design both by Stephen Galloway, lively dancers in silk, sequins, fishnets and windswept hair complete the full glamour of a rock and roll concert showing off thrilling, contemporary freestyle moves.  The entire performance is an electrifying spectacle as dancers let loose to the Stones concert footage with epic alicicone spins, but a brief pause in the guitar-tinged, horn-infused rhythms showing off each dancer’s glowing silhouette cannot be properly conveyed here and those sensational moments are best witnessed in person.

George Balanchine’s Chaconne brings to life a regal and fanciful daydream to the heavenly sounds of the Christoph Willibald von Gluck opera, Orfeo ed Euridice.  Elegantly adorned in a flowing and ethereal skirt and crown by Barbara Karinska in front of tranquil green blue backdrop, the always fresh-faced and charming Viktorina Kapitonova performed a beautiful and romantic pas de deux with Lasha Khozashvili, dressed in white.  Khozashvili lifts and leads Kapitonova delicately as they sporadically intertwine.  The piece is primarily playful as dancers bow and sway in gleaming, royal costumes as they float along this lighthearted daydream, the flutter of slippers sweeping across the stage.

Misa Kuranaga and Patrick Yocum in George Balanchine’s Chaconne © The George Balanchine Trust; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The final piece is probably one of the most unconventional performances the Sleepless Critic has ever witnessed with the Boston Ballet because after a brief intermission, the piece begins before the music starts and dancers are already in motion as the rehearsal blurs into the performance.

Altan Dugaraa, Sarah Wroth, Yury Yanowsky in Jiří Kylián’s Bella Figura; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Boston Ballet

 Jiri Kylian’s Bella Figura, a fan favorite, often departs from reality and the structure of how a performance would normally flow.  In many ways, it bucks tradition as the dancers float and slide between closing curtains as Seo Hye Han, topless, wraps herself in only a black stage curtain.  Bella Figura has some captivating choreographed indignation and intensity as Ji Young Chae struggles not to be held or controlled by Paul Craig, shaking Craig away.  Bella Figura seems an abstract piece with haunting and mysterious elements as female dancers are manipulated in sharp, robotic movements.   It seems Bella Figura represents the vision of a perfect female specimen as women bend under the intensity and pressure to be perfect.  In gathering rich red skirts, men and women, all topless and all looking the same, glide along the stage.  It is a memorable, distinctive performance as the piece continues even as the music concludes.

 Boston Ballet’s DREAMstate continues through Sunday, March 27 at live and in person at the Citizen’s Bank Boston Opera House.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  ‘Freestyle Love Supreme’ an astounding good time

A roaring crowd greeted hip-hop comedic dynamos, Freestyle Love Supreme opening night at the Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston on Friday, March 18.  Packed with plenty of self-proclaimed Freestyle Love Supreme super fans, witnessing this unique, interactive, Tony award-winning production feels more like attending a rock concert.  The anticipation leading up to it was palpable and I immediately got the sense I was in for a truly remarkable experience.    

Before In The Heights or Hamilton, there was Lin Manuel Miranda’s Freestyle Love Supreme which continues live and in person at the Emerson Colonial Theatre, 106 Boylston Street in Boston, MA through April 2.  The show is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. Click here for more information and tickets.

L to R: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kaila Mullady AKA Kaiser Roze, Anthony Veneziale AKA Two Touch and Aneesa Folds AKA Young Nees Photo credit to Joan Marcus

No wonder Freestyle Love Supreme is beloved seeing that the show still features some of the founding cast members since the group started in 2004 and went on to be featured in the self-titled Hulu documentary and on Broadway.  Founding member Chris Sullivan AKA Shockwave wows with phenomenal hip hop beats (and seemingly impossible) sound effects, Aneesa Folds AKA Young Nees can perform powerful vocal gymnastics to anything that is thrown Young Nees’s way, and founding member Anthony Veneziale AKA Two Touch is a great and welcoming host.  Not only can every cast member deliver clever quips at the drop of a hat, but the show is friendly, interactive, and inclusive.

From L to R: Chris Sullivan AKA Shockwave, Richard Baskin Jr AKA Rich Medway, Anthony Veneziale AKA Two Touch and Aneesa Folds AKA Young Nees Photo credit to Joan Marcus.

Is Freestyle Love Supreme a big party?  A resounding yes, but every performance is unique so it is best enjoyed just knowing the basics.  Don’t feel pressure to participate, but the more enthusiasm and participation, the better the show.  Trust me.  Even in masks which Freestyle Love Supreme deems ‘consonant killers,’ the audience is invited to demonstrate what they are saying in creative and amusing ways.  It is fun, has heart, and there wasn’t a dull moment.

The show is tailor made for the locals boasting a slew of signature Boston and pop culture references.  Listen closely for the inventive and masterful delivery of these brilliant, high-speed rappers.  The possibilities are endless.  They also aren’t shy about what they say onstage.  This may sound a bit like Whose Line is it Anyway and Wayne Brady was part of the cast at one point, but accompanied by an intimate live band, Freestyle Love Supreme is just on another level.  For example, one audience member suggested the word, ‘Yankees’ and it was amazing to see how just many ways that one word was demonstrated led by the vocal styling of hilarious Jay C. Ellis AKA Jellis J.

The cast of ‘Freestyle Love Supreme’ Photo credit to Joan Marcus

Freestyle Love Supreme is hilarious, relatable and brilliantly fast-paced, but what makes the show most endearing was not so much the spectacle, but how much the cast does not hesitate to share their personal experiences as each show is shaped into a carefully tailored crowd pleaser. To think for the first time ever, the show’s full set was not delivered by opening night!  I can’t imagine having a better time.

Freestyle Love Supreme continues live and in person at the Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston, MA through April 2.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Whimsical and festive, Celebrity Series of Boston at Home extends the holiday season with Jason Palmer Quintet’s distinct and upbeat free digital concert

We all just wanted the holiday season to last just a bit longer.

With the uncertainty and bitter temperatures in this New Year just weeks into 2022, it is difficult to part from the bustling excitement of last year’s holiday season.  Musicals, plays, concerts, and more burst onto the stage cautiously but assuredly to deliver holiday cheer, some escapism, and to offer new and hopeful insight into what we have all been going through.

Trumpeter Jason Palmer, tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, pianist Kevin Harris, bassist Max Ridley and drummer Lee Fish continues digital stream for two more months. Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

In December, The Jason Palmer Quintet lit up the Arlington Street Church in Boston live and in person amid festively adorned green and gold wreaths while sharing some new music twists to a few beloved Christmas carols.  Don’t expect to hear these traditional Christmas carols without some clever and spirited flair.

Celebrity Series of Boston at Home is extending the spirit of the season with their free pre-recorded digital concert, part of the Neighborhood Arts, Jazz and Contemporary Music Series, The Jason Palmer Quintet.  This warmhearted concert is accessible for two more months and runs under 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and additional selections from Jason Palmer and his quintet.

Trumpeter Jason Palmer, tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, bassist Max Ridley and drummer Lee Fish Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

Infusing music dynamos Duke Ellington and brothers Elvin and Thad Jones into eloquent compositions, The Jason Palmer Quintet arranges what trumpeter Jason Palmer affectionately calls ‘derangements.’ These derangements weave unique and lighthearted spins into traditional carols while each performer has their own chance to shine. 

Bassist Max Ridley and drummer Lee Fish caught on camera! Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

Some of the concert highlights include an extended and impressive trumpet solo to open the show in the smooth and mid-tempo Sunset and Mockingbird/Christmas Song and Lee Fish’s playful drum solo during Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer as the drum beat imitates hooves on a rooftop.  It’s a sweeping, quiet build to Rudolph’s catchy chorus.  Trumpeter Jason Palmer, tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, pianist Kevin Harris, bassist Max Ridley and drummer Lee Fish are all so well in sync and it is fascinating to watch them pair off as the instruments ‘chat,’ jam, and gradually build before circling back to that familiar tune with an unexpected flair and flourish.

ChristmasTime is Here is an expressive, rumbling, and fast-paced imagining of Vince Guaraldi’s easygoing classic number.  With more hustle, the musicians glide and veer into their own peaks and valleys highlighted by dynamic pianist Kevin Harris tickling the keys under a church sign that reads ‘To the Glory of God.’

Pianist Kevin Harris in action Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

What is certain about this quintet is if the viewer listens carefully to their clever compositions, one may detect an extra carol or two within their potent rhythms.  For example, stray lyrics to Sleigh Ride can be heard within an eclectic medley of Silver Bells/A Child is Born and Santa Claus in Coming to Town emerges from a rolling and upbeat Greensleeves medley.  They certainly kept this enthusiastic audience on their toes.

Celebrity Series at Home is extending the mistletoe and holly with free digital concert, The Jason Palmer Quintet for two more months.  Click here to view the concert, more information, and additional selections from Jason Palmer and his quintet.

REVIEW: Boston Lyric Opera’s season opener ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ a passionate and magnificent affair

Not even Easter Sunday can stop a scandal in the Sicilian countryside.

Featuring distinct, eye-popping costumes, a glorious Opera Chorus led Brett Hodgdon, and a full orchestra, Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) opened their season on a grand scale with the renowned one act Italian libretto, Cavalleria Rusticana for just two performances on October 1 and 3.  Boston Lyric Opera was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd anticipating BLO’s return to a live venue for 18 months.  Delivered on a concert scale, Cavalleria Rusticana was presented under Leader Bank Pavilion’s open air tent in the Seaport District in Boston, Massachusetts.  It ran for 1 hour and 10 minutes with no intermission.

JAVIER ARREY AS ALFIO WITH DANCERS VICTORIA L. AWKWARD, MICHAYLA KELLY, AND MARISSA MOLINAR Photo by Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Loyalty, love, honor, and faith are tested among this group of passionate players.  Led by Music Director David Angus, the seemingly joyous overture delivers an exciting rush woven into a sense of foreboding, hinting at turmoil among still waters on the holiest of days, Easter Sunday.  Introducing the libretto is an interactive and unparalleled performance of Pagliacci’s Prologue by Javier Arrey.  Taking a reflective, humorous, and philosophical tone addressing the audience over what they are about to see, Cavalleria Rusticana becomes a passionate and cautionary tale, pleading about the affects of love and the human spirit.

Julia Noulin-Merat’s standalone set pieces, including overturned chairs piled high in pale pink as well as bright yellow chairs lining the stage, pop as does Gail Astrid Buckley’s distinct, vivid costumes with blooming flowers set against the orchestral backdrop depicting the emergence of a Sicilian spring. 

CHELSEA BASLER AS LOLA WITH DANCER MICHAYLA KELLY Photo by Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

It is easy to get invested in these headstrong characters and Cavalleria Rusticana hits the ground running steeped in a complex love affair as the sacredness of Easter surrounds them, emphasized by ethereal dancers Victoria Awkward, Michayla Kelly, and Marissa Molinar and the swelling of the Boston Lyric Chorus’s powerful and spiritual lyrics.

Michelle Johnson as conflicted Santuzza leads this magnificent cast, delivering a splendid, heartrending performance.  Filled with sorrow and longing, Johnson’s tremendous vocals and her searing confrontation with Turiddo, portrayed with a charismatic yet manipulative mystique by Adam Diegel, show Johnson is a force to be reckoned with.  Chelsea Basler depicts alluring and complicated Lola with infuriating and masterful charm and the heart of the show lies with loyal and compassionate Nina Yoshida Nelsen as Mamma Lucia who observes it all much like the audience, with bated breath.

The show is delivered entirely in Italian and with subtitles at significant parts of the production.  However, for someone who does not know Italian and with a production so captivating, it is difficult having to forego not knowing every single word spoken from this enthralling cast.

Cavallaria Rusticana takes place in 1900’s Sicily and yet this opera is as timeless as any contemporary story told today and a perfect choice to open Boston Lyric Opera’s new season which includes virtual and live and in-person performances including jazz-themed opera Champion and Svadba through operabox.tv.  Click here for more information and a closer look at BLO’s new season.

REVIEW: A Far Cry makes a luminous and powerful onstage debut at South Shore Conservatory with ‘Circle of Life’

Forgive me for being excited.  This was the first music concert the Sleepless Critic has attended since 2020 and by none other than a Grammy-nominated group during the final days of summer.  For A Far Cry, it was not only this renowned chamber orchestra’s debut at the South Shore Conservatory, but their first set of live performances to kick off their 15th season after last season was done entirely virtually. 

Elegantly dressed in flowing dresses and suits, this Boston-based group of musicians couldn’t have been more thrilled to take the outdoor stage in front of a live audience again as the skies grew dark, the crickets chimed in, and the Amphitheater’s twinkling lights began to burn. 

Tackling life’s tumultuously journey from sweeping birth to a peaceful end, A Far Cry opened their new season with Circle of Life at South Shore Conservatory’s Jane Carr Amphitheater on Saturday, September 18 in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here to find out where A Far Cry will perform next.

Gearing up for A Far Cry that evening Photo courtesy of the South Shore Conservatory

A Far Cry’s Grace Kennerly offered a warm introduction as all 18 ‘criers’ took the stage for their opening work arranged by Alex Fortes of Bela Bartok’s Traditional Lullabies and For Children arranged by Leo Weiner.  This work of sweeping, wondrous, and charming lullabies also delivers bursts of foreboding and urgency through a solo violin.  Its soft, soothing strings create a dreamlike quality as the movement gallops toward exuberance and a sense of adventure.

A particular highlight of the concert lies within Franghiz Ali-Zaheh’s Shyschtar:  Metamorphoses for String Orchestra which is described as ‘the development of oneself in the teenage years.’  Instantly captivating, Metamorphoses evokes strife and a mysterious urgency, almost sounding like something borrowed from Hitchcock.  The carefully-timed violin plucking, occasional vocalizing, and haunting tapping enhances the work’s thrilling and suspenseful rhythms as the work builds to a searing climax before it takes an unexpectedly poignant tone and draws toward its eerie conclusion. 

A Far Cry’s Jason Fisher introduced Antonin Dvorak’s stirring Serenade for Strings.  This work carries its own quiet excitement as Dvorak wrote it while he and his wife were expecting.  It has occasional undertones similar to a wedding march and like Lullabies, a dreamlike quality and a gentle building of anticipation.  The lengthiest movement, Serenade for Strings delivers chirping peacefulness and quiet interludes with a touch of melancholy as it builds to an uproarious, gallivanting glee.

Karl Doty’s Castles, though it is Circle of Life’s shortest work, packs a no less powerful punch.  It has a vibrancy and incandescence that comes together in a rush.  With its occasional vocalizing, it evokes vitality, strength and a degree of reminiscing as this piece was written when Doty returned to his childhood home.

To complete the Circle of Life, A Far Cry performed Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135.  It’s a combination of a quiet musing, searing rhythm, and an intangible foreboding of the inevitable.  However, this piece also evokes a settling and resignation of what is to come.

Kicking off their 15th season on a powerful note with the exploration of life’s journey, A Far Cry will continue in October.  Click here for A Far Cry’s upcoming performances and here for more information on South Shore Conservatory’s upcoming events.

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.