REVIEW: Immersive and insightful, Museum of Science’s ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth’ cleverly reveals the woman behind the monster

The beauty of mythology is how outlandish a tale can be while still conveying a powerful, contemporary message.  ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth‘ with ‘What Time is it, Mr. Fox?’ is an immersive, multimedia experience that weaves live music with a classic tale…and a twist.

For three Thursday nights during the summer with a final performance that took place on August 22, The Museum of Science in Boston’s Charles Hayden Planetarium presented a theatrical experience that conveyed messages of female empowerment, human nature’s capacity for cruelty and shallowness, and more through this classic mythological tale.  Click here for the full trailer.

It was part of an adult series (18+) which continues with ‘Subspace:  Redefining the Adult Experience’ throughout the fall.  This dynamic series includes Storytelling, Halloween Happening, the music of Stevie Nicks, a night with Isabella Rossellini, and much more.  The Museum of Science is located at 1 Science Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for the full schedule and ticket information.

Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth

Imagery of the legendary creature, Medusa Photo credit to ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth’

‘Man plans and God laughs’ takes on a whole new meaning when breathtakingly beautiful Medusa plans to become a priestess to Athena.  However, what she thought was her path became a sordid journey.  Told in flashback in Crete 1100 B.C., ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth’ offered humor, violence, and beauty weaved into an insightful, message-driven tale.

Packed with illustrations depicted more artistically than realistically by animators Ruth Lingford and Norah Solorzano, this panoramic experience combined with the Charles Hayden Planetarium’s supersonic sound creates a mesmerizing journey through the world of Ancient Greece.  Rich blue skies, the star-studded cosmos, and dark, raging oceans were just glimpses into this mesmerizing experience.

Medusa - mrfoxlineuplogo_orig

The band, ‘What Time is it, Mr. Fox?’ Photo credit to ‘What Time is it, Mr. Fox?’

As the tale unfolded, the haunting and emotive sounds of acoustic neo-soul group, ‘What Time is it, Mr. Fox’ performed original songs that emphasized the madness, grief, tyranny, and danger within this tale.  With vivid lyrics such as, “We can do a lot more with this kind of rage,” “Trying to breathe while learning to drown,” and “You’re going to wind up dead if the devil gets in,” this dynamic group’s jazz-infused interludes between scenes not only enhanced what the characters were thinking, but the journey itself.  Front and center and bathed in blue light, a few of the most beautiful orchestrations included On Fire, Learning to Drown, The Witness, and Into the Black.

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The men were depicted as arrogant and narcissistic and the conversations between the gods had their moments of humor, chemistry, gossip, and power talks.  However, what made the tale so intriguing was it offered a more rounded, sympathetic view of the legendary Medusa while sharing various interpretations of her through statues and illustrations.  ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth’ means to shatter those preconceived notions of this mythological, snake-haired creature and bring her to a place of mercy and anguish, powerful but yielding, and facing issues that were not so different than they are today.  She was a myth, a monster, but still a woman.

Though this show has completed its run, ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth’ may still have a future beyond its time at the Museum of Science.  Click here to learn more about ‘Medusa Reclaiming the Myth’ and here for more on the band, ‘What Time is It, Mr. Fox.’  The Museum of Science offers programs throughout the year and continues ‘Subspace Redefining the Adult Experience‘ through the fall.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: ‘Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert’ with live orchestration from the Boston Pops a thrilling cinematic achievement

No better way to witness a galaxy far, far away.

It has become a beloved Boston Pops tradition to exhibit the finest films in cinema history enhanced by the stellar sounds of the Boston Pops, an immersive film experience performed so eloquently, one may never watch the film quite the same way again.  In the past few years, The Boston Pops has inventively breathed new life into film classics such as ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ ‘Psycho,’ ‘Home Alone,’ ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ and ‘Nosferatu‘ through stunning live orchestration and Star Wars lives up to that sterling reputation.

The re-mastered, extended version of ‘Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert‘ with live orchestration by the Boston Pops was held at Symphony Hall earlier this spring and then recently in the Koussevitzky Music Shed at the Tanglewood in Lenox, MA on August 16.  The ninth film and epic conclusion of the Star Wars series, ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker‘ arrives in theatres in December and what better way to welcome the end than by remembering the beginning.

John Williams at Tanglewood (Hilary Scott)

John Williams conducting Film Night at Tanglewood Photo credit to Hilary Scott

Academy award-winning composer John Williams has been the name on everyone’s lips at Tanglewood for the past couple of weeks with ‘Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert‘ on Friday, August 16 and then the ever-popular ‘Film Night’ on August 24, an annual tribute concert featuring just a few of the acclaimed film scores of John Williams.  Not only did John Williams make an appearance at the end of the August 16th performance, but Patriots owner Robert Kraft was also in the audience.  Click here for more information, tickets, and a look at Tanglewood’s full schedule.

Keith Lockhart Leads the Boston Pops at Tanglewood (Hilary Scott)

Keith Lockhart leads the Boston Pops at Tanglewood Photo courtesy of Hilary Scott

Conducted by acclaimed Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, The Boston Pops launched an enthusiastic audience into that beloved galaxy with ‘Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope,’ the first film in what would become a beloved series of films in 1977.  The rising swell of the perilous, suspenseful, triumphant, and Academy award-winning Star Wars Main Theme from John Williams was just the start of this exciting film that has been thought to be a touchstone to future films in that genre while also possessing some classic Shakespearean roots.

The intense score, each crisp note from the orchestra, the sound that thundered in the Koussevitzky Shed was nothing that can be relived in front of a television screen or in a movie theatre.  It felt like being in the studio with the cast, enhancing their already outstanding performances, and scoring the film for the first time.

Star Wars A New Hope

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, and Harrison Ford as Han Solo in ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ Photo credit to Disney/Lucasfilm

The lively audience was clearly composed of some of the most devoted Star Wars fans cheering   not only the opening of the film, but each major character as they were first introduced onscreen.  Familiar faces such as the twinkling eyes and swaggering charisma of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, Peter Mayhew’s towering presence as Chewbacca, Carrie Fisher’s holographic appearance as Princess Leia as she utters the classic line, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  You’re my Only Hope,” Alec Guinness as the wise and mysterious Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mark Hamill’s naïve Luke Skywalker, and James Earl Jones as the timeless voice of Darth Vader were all greeted with rousing applause.

Set on the planet with two suns, the subtle humor, the scheming, the epic adventure, George Lucas’s marvelous characters, the dazzling technology of its time, the bickering between R2-D2 and C-3PO and between Han Solo and Princess Leia are all recaptured in this unforgettable cinematic experience.

The Lawn at Tanglewood 2016 (Hilary Scott)

The Lawn at Tanglewood 2016 Photo credit to Hilary Scott

Located in the Berkshires at 297 West Street in Lenox, Massachusetts and now year-round, Tanglewood’s outdoor venue is a must see, whether under the tent at Koussevitzky Shed or under the stars for a lawn picnic.  Click here for Tanglewood’s full schedule follow them on Facebook.

Exploring theatre, nature, space and more, Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s Christopher Wilkins talks depth and diversity in free summer concert series

From exploring live theatre and music to nature to science to space as well as taking on racism, climate change, and many more important topics all involving a vast array of community members, organizations, and performers, Boston Landmarks Orchestra is so much more than a beautiful free Wednesday night concert outing at the Esplanade.  Boston Landmarks Orchestra Gala will celebrate 90 years of free concerts on the Esplanade in October.

WCRB is a media partner for the Boston Landmarks free concert series.  Click here for Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s complete summer schedule at Boston’s renowned Hatch Shell and here for further details on the upcoming Gala.

It was an honor to speak with Christopher Wilkins, Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s conductor and Music Director, who took time out of his busy schedule to discuss the highlights of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s summer season and what is coming up.

The Sleepless Critic:  The season kicked off on July 10 with the second annual “Season Tune-Up” party.  What was that like?

Christopher Wilkins:  It was a gorgeous night with a great turn out.  Lots of children attended and we introduced our audience to many of our partner organizations which include musical organizations, music educational schools, and partners like the New England Aquarium and the Museum of Science.  The “Season Tune-Up” Party featured fun games, a performance from the Everett High School band, and our Maestro Zone where kids can step up at the podium, wave the baton, look at a score, and get a conducting lesson.  We offer Maestro Zone at our regular concerts as well.

Boston Landmarks Orchestra Maestro Zone Assistant Conductor Shuang Fan

The Maestro Zone with Maestro Zone Assistant Conductor Shuang Fan

SC:  We’ve been blessed with some beautiful nights this summer.  You have been the Music Director and conductor for the Boston Landmarks Orchestra since 2011.  What has it been like for you collaborating with different theatres and new works each year?

CW:  Our mission is to engage as many Bostonians as possible from all walks of life and one of our strategies is to develop partnerships.  They feature an array of organizations to get their fans, their folks, and their constituency excited to come to a concert and work with us.

One of our best strategies is to create composer residencies in different neighborhoods around Boston so people who might not ever encounter an orchestra can develop some way of making music or dancing or some other performing art that they can bring to our stage and perform with the orchestra. We have a lot of inexperienced young performers throughout the summer and some who have never been onstage before.   We do all that along with an eclectic lineup of Dvorak, Broadway, symphonies, and a great choral repertoire.

SC:  It must be an incredible experience to see how everybody interacts with each other and how it turns out onstage.

CW:  It’s wonderful to perform it in the Hatch Shell because it is an iconic venue, people associate it with orchestral music, and it is in the heart of the city.  The Hatch Shell is also quite enormous. We can fit 5,000 people or more at our concerts and that is typically what we draw when the weather is nice.

SC:  Such depth in a free event.

CW:  It’s important to many people that can’t afford to come otherwise.  It’s also a powerful emblem of the idea of universal access.  Everybody is welcome.

We just think about access barriers, which are not only economic.  Cultural assumptions in a community can cause people to stay away.  At Landmarks, we think deeply about what those barriers are and do what we can to get rid of them.

SC:  Yes, and you have held many events so far this season.  For example, you recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing with Symphonic Space Odyssey.  How did you pay tribute to this historic event?

CW:  We performed that in Jordan Hall because it was a stormy night.  Jordan Hall is one of the most beautiful venues in America and the sound indoors just rattles your bones.  We didn’t have to change the program at all, just the venue.

The Moon Landing is one of the most amazing achievements in the history of mankind.  It was an awesome night and we celebrated it with the Museum of Science which was perfect because they have had an exhibition ever since the moon landing occurred.  The Museum of Science prepared fabulous video footage relating to the moon landing, space travel, rockets, and deep space taken from materials produced in house at the Hayden Planetarium for their full dome experience.

SC:  What are you most looking forward to this season?

CW:  Each week is so over the top that it’s hard to pick a favorite.  We have a wonderful collaboration on August 14 with the New England Aquarium featuring some remarkable video material that will be synchronized live to the orchestra.

Boston Landmarks Orchestra New England Aquarium

Boston Landmarks Orchestra partners with the New England Aquarium for a free concert on August 14 Photo courtesy of Boston Landmarks Orchestra/New England Aquarium

The subject is climate change and we’re performing Vaughan Williams Symphonia Antarctica which is originally a film score, but now set to a more recent film made by Natural History New Zealand featuring all shots from Antarctica.

Then we have a beautiful photographic sequence put together by Boston Globe writer David Arnold called “Above and Below.”  He’s taken Brad Washburn’s iconic aerial photographs of glaciers and coral reefs mostly from the 1930’s and then taking the same shots today.  Of course what you see is a devastating record of loss set to Adagio for Strings.  The program also includes optimistic shots from Boston Harbor and other places from then and now which shows tremendous improvement environmentally and send the message that we can do something about climate change.

We did an extremely interesting panel discussion recently which has some caused useful and in depth panel conversation called “Who Should Sing Ol’ Man River?” around race and the portrayal of racial themes at WBUR CitySpace.  Our moderator was Emmett G Price III, a celebrity in Boston and a wonderful musician, historian, pastor, and radio personality.  It was a wonderfully experienced and informed panel who weighed in on a lot of these questions and shaped how we put together the following week’s concert.

Boston Landmarks Orchestra Alvy Powell

Bass Bariton Alvy Powell Photo courtesy of Boston Landmarks Orchestra

SC:  Ol’ Man River from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Showboat” is such an amazing song and I’ve seen it done is so many different ways.

CW:  It’s a showstopper.  Our base Alvy Powell has sung Ol’ Man River in the White House for the last six sitting Presidents in a row.  He sang it at George H.W. Bush’s funeral at President Bush and his wife Barbara’s request.  He also sang it at Gerald Ford’s funeral.  If anyone should sing Ol’ Man River, it’s Alvy Powell and he performed it that night.

SC:  What kind of conversation sprung from that panel?

CW:  That’s a good question.  We got into questions of language, dialect, the history of black music, and cultural appropriation.  Quite an interesting segment was when we were looking at where we go from here.  One of our panelists was Ashleigh Gordon, founder of an organization that has attracted a lot of praise and attention called Castle of Our Skins.  It celebrates African American composers and performers.  She’s done an amazing job furthering the discussion and coming up with creative ways of producing eye catching programming.

They are opening a permanent set of offices at the Boston Center for the Arts.  We are collaborating with Ashleigh, Castle of Our Skins and Anthony Green, a composer she works with frequently on the Esplanade on August 21 for our Landmarks Dance Night.  The project surrounds the music and dance of Haiti because we are also including the Jean Appolon Expressions Dance Company.

Boston Landmarks Orchestra Jennifer Ellis Matthew DiBattista, Maesto Wilkins, and One City Choir

Christopher Wilkins with Jennifer Ellis Matthew DiBattista, Maesto Wilkins, and One City Choir Photo courtesy of Boston Landmarks Orchestra

It’s often our best vehicle for showcasing the diversity of traditions and types of cultural expression.  I grew up here, but the city is infinitely more diverse now than it was when I grew up.

SC:  Absolutely.  What have you liked most over your time with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra?

CW:  We’ve had lots of great moments over the last eight or nine years.  My first concert was conducting Beethoven’s 9th at Fenway Park so that is pretty hard to top.  We did an amazing night celebrating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech with Governor Deval Patrick as our narrator and featuring a lot of video and photographic imagery.

We did a memorable collaboration with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum when their director, Peggy Fogelman, first arrived in Boston.  Another highlight was a series of programs with Commonwealth Shakespeare Company.  We performed full productions of musicals or a Shakespeare play such as “Midsummer Night’s Dream” with Mendelssohn.

The musicians learn something they know so well and are able to put it into the context of the play while the actors now can play off a symphony.  Now how often does that happen?   It is amazing for the performers and the audience.

SC:  You’ve performed all over the United States.  What do you like best about your time with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra?

CW:  I love our mission.  It’s readily understandable to most people in the community which I think is why we are receiving increasing levels of support from all quarters from individuals and foundations and from political reps because we are using great music with its level of complexity, depth, and emotional appeal and a first class professional orchestra as a means to gather community together.

I don’t know another orchestra that has a mission defined in this way.  I learn a lot and meet all kinds of interesting people doing interesting work.  We get to come together in a musical setting and it’s almost guaranteed everybody has a wonderful time.

Sit back and enjoy the Boston Landmarks Orchestra free every Wednesday night.  Click here for the full schedule and how to support future concerts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Multi-talented Hugh Jackman wows at the TD Garden

Is multi-talented Hugh Jackman better on film or onstage?

Is it worth seeing him when he comes back to Boston?  Is he the Greatest Showman?

One thing is certain – Hugh Jackman is the genuine article.

Some actors who decide to go on tour put on self-indulgent shows of their history in show business and share their general musings about life to promote their next album or film.  They might even sing a song or two.  However, outside the studio, they can’t really sing or dance.   People cheer, even if the show isn’t what they were expecting, but they remember that guy in that film or show who was so great in those roles, and that is enough.

Hugh is one talented guy.  He is a Tony, Emmy, and Grammy award-winner as well as a Golden Globe and Academy Award-nominee.  He has also been on the other side of acting as host of the Academy and Tony Awards.  For his 50th birthday, he wished to go on a world-wide tour.

Hugh Jackman’s ‘The Man. The Music.  The Show’ will continue through October 20, 2019. Click here for show dates.  He’ll also return to Boston’s TD Garden for one more performance on Tuesday, October 1.

Hugh Jackman the Tour

Photo credit to Hugh Jackman The Show

The morning of Hugh’s appearance on Thursday, June 27 at the TD Garden, Hugh Jackman made a surprise appearance serving coffee from a coffee truck in Boston to promote his charity work with ‘The Laughing Man Cafe and Foundation.’  A loyal Bruins fan, he called performing in Boston one of his big dreams.

As superhero Wolverine (in which he demonstrated an onstage pose or two), he showed his dynamic range.  Decked out at first in a white tux, he ran the gamut of styles from flashy costumes to more casual attire with no ringleader costume in sight.  Though he reminisced about his career with a realistic look at his dogged pursuit to find success as an actor, he seemed like a humble, funny, and approachable guy.

A family friendly show, he kept the crowd moving with a broad range of music.  From reaching into an old school vibe with selections such as I’ve Got Rhythm and Mac the Knife to tap dancing to AC/DC to performing a vast selection of musical theatre including lighting up the stage with selections from ‘The Greatest Showman,’ the show had a universal appeal though especially tailored for the theatre buff.  He joined Kaley McKnight onstage to perform a stunning, powerful rendition of This is Me and a sweeping ‘Les Miserables‘ medley.  He also joined members of the Boston Children’s Chorus for a stirring rendition of You Will Be Found from the hit musical, ‘Dear Evan Hansen.’

Hugh Jackman stage

Hugh Jackman at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

The second half of the show did not outdo the first, but he demonstrated his range further in the second.  It actually became a bit trippy during his ode to his Australian idol, Peter Allen in which Hugh won a Tony Award for his portrayal as Peter in ‘The Boy From Oz.’  Peter was not only known for songs such as Don’t Cry Out Loud and Arthur’s Theme, but for his over-the-top stage performances.  He also welcomed the audience into his native Australia by recreating the outback, claiming it as one of his most out-of-this-world experiences he has ever had.

So, to answer those questions, I prefer Hugh in his epic films, but he is undeniably a wonderful performer.  The very best is a lot to ask, but his dynamic range is truly great and worth watching on tour or when he returns to Boston in October.  You will no doubt recognize the sheer talent that he has developed over decades of being a singer, a dancer, theater actor, movie star, and a hero.

REVIEW: Currently on tour, The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow raised the roof at Club Passim for album release party

Part of what makes folk music fascinating are the inflections of various genres weaved into each track.  Add some insightful lyrics and it creates its own unique journey.  Unlike other music genres, folk experiments a wide variety of eclectic rhythms.  Currently on tour, rock and roots folk music band The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow does one better.  Each band member writes and performs their own songs, voiced from their own perspectives.

Very much a collaborative band, The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow, made up of singer-songwriters and musicians Greg Smith, David Tanklefsky, Billy KeaneTory Hanna, and banjo picker Chris Merenda all have distinctive styles, but when they collaborate, it is spot on.  They have attended songwriting retreats together and collaborate on each of their compositions in various stages of completion, so everything syncs with the band’s sound the way it should.

Whiskey Treaty Roadshow Tour Schedule 2019

The “Band Together” tour schedule Photo courtesy of The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow returned to Club Passim celebrating the release of their new album, ‘Band Together‘ and played for some familiar faces on June 7.  With band members hailing from different parts of Massachusetts including the Berkshires and Boston, the sold out crowd was thrilled as each of its five members made their individual entrances onto Club Passim’s stage.  Click here to see where The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow will appear next, here for an interview with band member, David Tanklefsky, and here for more on Club Passim.

Sam Chase from Scituate opened for the Whiskey Treaty Roadshow, and there was a brief intermission before the band took the stage.  From quiet, horn-infused reflections in ‘Reasons‘ to the rolling and the ebb and flow rhythms of ‘Jimmy the Whiskey Boy,’ ‘Rock n Roll Déjà Vu,’ and ‘Perfect Day,’ to the lightning-fast, freestyle tempo of ‘Born to Pick Bluegrass’ to observations on the current state of the world with ‘Hey Lady,’ ‘Close to the Edge,’ and ‘Pass the Peace,’ The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow delivered a variety of insightful, optimistic songs as each band member took the lead to tell their story.

Telling jokes, improvising, and revealing some inspiration behind their songs, it is easy to see their breezy camaraderie as they make the most out of Club Passim’s intimate stage.  Dressed casually in jeans and distinctive hats (one band member in a signed tank top), their music travels an eclectic emotional spectrum, from acoustic to electric with lyric-heavy compositions tinged in rock, reggae, roots, country, and blues.  Passersby outside peaked into Club Passim’s lower level concert space as the band performed for an enthusiastic crowd.

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow band

Whiskey Treaty Roadshow – Billy Keane, David Tanklefsky, Tory Hanna, Greg Smith, and Chris Merenda Photo courtesy of Whiskey Treaty Roadshow

Though The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow has an easygoing vibe, they have been hard at work having just released a new album and are currently on a national tour.  They also boast a Berkshire-based, award-winning short documentary, Whiskey Treaty Roadshow:  Of Brotherhood, Music, and Fine Spirits that can be found here.

After a few encores, Whiskey Treaty Roadshow’s Billy Keane playfully sung an uplifting love song, Leave Your Light On with lyrics such as “If you admit I try and damn, look how much I’ve done/And my love for you is strong, look at the lengths in which I’ve gone,” a fitting end for a band that you should leave your light on for in the future.

This memorable, fun evening marks my first time concert experience at Club Passim, 47 Palmer Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Convenient to the Harvard Square T stop, Club Passim features daily live concerts from promising to professional artists with some hailing from Passim School of Music.  Concerts are situated with table seating with their own restaurant serving appetizers, sandwiches, and more.  Click here for more about Passim and all the venue has to offer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renowned conductor Charles Floyd talks Boston Pops’ annual Gospel Night and how his career began

For 27 years, the Boston Pops have made Gospel Night a highly-anticipated tradition.  A glorious, enthusiastic audience which includes newcomers and returning fans greet conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd, the Boston Pops Gospel Choir, and a selection of guest artists.  This year, award-winning Gospel singer Dottie Peoples headlines this year’s concert for one night only on Saturday, June 15 at Symphony Hall in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets to this beloved annual event.

Renowned conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd talks about his longtime role with Gospel Night, its evolution, and having dreams he never imagined would come true.

Charles Floyd leading the Boston Pops (Stu Rosner)

Renowned conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd leading the Boston Pops Photo courtesy of Stu Rosner/Boston Pops

Sleepless Critic:  The Boston Pops Gospel Night is an incredible event each year.  The last time I went, it seemed like a nonstop celebration, joyfully continuing long after the concert was over.

Charles Floyd:  Everybody looks forward to that part of the program because it is probably the most energetic.  The music can be very exciting and uplifting.  We like to feature something that the gospel choir performs without the orchestra.

The orchestra wants to go into overtime and that gets into an issue, but if the building is still open, there’s no reason why the choir can’t stay to do a couple more numbers if they enjoy singing and the audience is going to stick around.  When the formalities are done, it’s a nice moment when people can just let their hair down.

SC:  The concert is so uplifting, you don’t want to leave.  You have been with Gospel Night for 25 years, almost since its start.

CF:   I appeared the second year.  I was called because the conductor the first year could not do it the second year.  I had to take a year away back in 2004, so this is my 25th and it’s their 27th, but I am celebrating 27 years just like they are.

SC:   It must be amazing to see how it has evolved over the years.

CF:   It’s been an honor to be a part of it.  I was working with Miss Natalie Cole for close to 14 years.  We had done a few concerts with the Boston Pops, and at the time, Maestro Lockhart and I were in the running in some capacity to step in.  Keith got the gig and I was very happy for him.  It was great for the community and I was somewhat new, and so they called and asked if I had done that sort of thing.  I said I have and only had about 6 weeks’ notice to prepare.

It was a little bit nerve-wracking to put together an entire program, write orchestration that didn’t exist, and then learn the classics and light classics on top of having to cater to guests artists.  We balanced out the program with Keith conducting the first part of the program and I conducted the third part of the program, Rhapsody in Blue.

Keith had to be at Tanglewood and other places as the date of Gospel Night moved around.  That’s kind of how it happened.  When the door opens, you walk through or the door might not open again and here we are.

Dottie Peoples Headshot 1

Award-winning gospel singer Dottie Peoples Photo courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra

SC:   Some of the best things happen spontaneously.  This year, Dottie Peoples will be the featured artist on Saturday, June 15.  Do you have a hand in who performs each year?

CF:   I am involved in the process.  I don’t always have control over who the artist will be because a certain artist I may want to work with may not be available, but they are nice enough at the Pops office to ask who they could look into.  They come up with their own ideas too.   We all put our cards on the table and explore the possibilities.

SC:  You have been part of the Gospel Night tradition for so many years and you have performed all over the world.  Music has been a part of your life since you were 4.

CF:  I used to bang on cables and pretend like I was playing.  Everybody thought it was cute.  By the time I got to a piano, I was 4 and I was already taking out melodies and ordering things by year.  It was another six months before I started taking formal lessons, but yeah, music has been a part of my entire life.

You never know what life is going to hold when you are young.  Just because you start playing the piano no matter how good or bad you are at it, there is no guarantee of what the future will hold.  I took physics and journalism as a back up in high school, but once I got to college, I dedicated myself completely to music and didn’t try to be a master of all trades.

All through 10 years of conservatory and grad school, it was all piano.  I was not a conducting major and I found myself in a situation where a conductor was needed.  I was the only person who could step in at the time, so I got serious about conducting.  I started studying all kinds of things such as opera, had to go through all the symphonies and all the major works of all the major composers.

I learned so much about accompanying singers with the baton from listening and attending operas.  I played for singers my entire life, but to watch a conductor accompany a singer is something I don’t think a lot of people really appreciate at least the way that I did and what I learned from it.  It’s been fun and as long as the work keeps coming in, that’s the greatest thing.  Just to keep going.

SC:  What have been your career highlights?  I understand you also performed Howard Shore’s ‘The Lord of the Rings Symphony‘ at his request.  That must have been tremendous.

CF:  I was trying to explain it to my sister and family not long ago.  People talk about having their dreams come true.  My situation is a little backwards.  It’s not a question of my dreams not coming true, but most everything that has transpired in my career were things I never dreamed of in the first place.

If I had said when I was eight years old that I would be at Symphony Hall with the Boston Pops or working with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall with James Taylor and Sting or sitting at an event next to Harry Belafonte or conducting orchestras for Natalie Cole or playing the piano for somebody else.  These are usually once in a lifetime events and I’m grateful that they continue to happen.  New things are coming in all the time and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful.

Click here for Gospel Night tickets, call SymphonyCharge at 1-888-266-1200, or visit the Symphony Hall box office during business hours at 301 Massachusetts Ave in Boston, Massachusetts.  Follow The Boston Pops on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow’s David Tanklefsky talks songwriting and the band’s touring adventures

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow, who recently released their live debut album, The Heart of the Run is returning to Club Passim for a sold out CD release party in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Friday, June 7 at p.m.  Sam Luke Chase is opening for the group.  Click here to learn where Whiskey Treaty Roadshow is opening next on their ‘Band Together’ tour and here for future performances at Club Passim.

Whiskey Treaty Roadshow’s David Tanklefsky talks about Whiskey’s unique songwriting, the Beatles, and their touring adventures.  Click here to see their award-winning, short documentary and follow them on Facebook.

Sleepless Critic:  You’ll be at Club Passim on Friday, June 7 and are currently touring.  You have also performed at Club Passim for their bi-annual interactive ‘Campfire Festival‘ which features an interactive concert experience on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend.

David Tanklefsky:  Passim is a special place and we are lucky to have it in the area.  It seems like as less money is available to go around in the music world, the relationship between musicians and venues has become more transactional.  Passim is the opposite. They are unique and truly care about developing musicians and giving them a platform for being heard.

SC:  How did Whiskey Treaty Roadshow form and how did you meet?

DT:  Tory Hanna is really the conduit through which the band came together.  One of my best friends, who I was in a band with for years growing up, was living in a loft in Brooklyn with Tory and we started hanging out through him.  His wife Susie went to high school with Greg Smith and Tory knew Billy Keane through the Berkshires music world.  Billy had played a few shows with Chris Merenda and was a big fan of his old band, the Mammals. It happened very naturally, which I think is the best way for creative groups to get together.

Whiskey Treaty Roadshow band

With Chris Merenda, David Tanklefsky, Greg Daniel Smith, Tory Hanna and Billy Keane Photo courtesy of Whiskey Treaty Roadshow

SC:  Whose idea was the award-winning, short documentary and how did you decide on the details to the documentary?  It features lots of scenic, peaceful views of different areas of Massachusetts.

DT:  Tory grew up with a filmmaker named Tim Bradley who was looking for a new documentary project.  Tim captured our rehearsals for a four night tour we had organized through Massachusetts.  It was our first time playing together as a group.

Watching it now is such fun because it’s a snapshot of a band just starting out without any expectations beyond playing four great shows.  Tim meticulously planned out all the locations and the amazing videography.  When Tory mentioned his friend wanted to film us, I trusted his judgment but never imagined Tim would come up with such a well-crafted film.  It really helped catapult us into being a real band.

SC:  You have a relaxed sound, a rhythm likened to a drive down a peaceful country road.  You have a bit of a country tinge to some of your music.  Was that planned?  How did you end up conforming to a sound?

DT:  In folk music, there are songs and chord progressions that become seared into your soul over time. We’ve never had a discussion about it, but everyone brings songs to the table that we think will work with our instrumentation and vocal abilities. I think the folk/country/Americana textures come from having many stringed instruments on stage and the collaborative spirit of just sitting around, passing the guitar, and sharing songs.

SC:  Folk music is full of rich stories and each of you has a distinct style.  How do you come up with your songs?  Do you write a song together or are the songs bits of each songwriter or one song written by one another?

DT:  In this project, everyone writes independently and then brings songs to the table in various forms of completeness. We’ve been tinkering with different instrumentation and having some songs with more minimal arrangements as it has evolved.  We ask ourselves, ‘Do we need five people strumming away like mad men through this whole song?’  Often the answer is no. In the next few months, we’re planning to do a little songwriting retreat where we write more actively together for the first time, which will be new, exciting, and hopefully fruitful.

SC:  Where did your love for songwriting start?  Your particular songwriting style has a bit of humor with some rich lyrics and a bit of an unpredictable tempo at times.

DT:  When I was 10, I had an unhealthy obsession with the Beatles for three years straight.  I thought they were a perfect band.  My friends and I went as the Beatles for Halloween every year between ages 10 and 13. No one wanted to be Ringo and no one was left-handed like Paul so we were four kids with mushroom cuts and right-handed cardboard guitars.

Later I became inspired by songwriters that are always growing, pushing, and challenging their listeners.  I think Paul Simon is the gold standard for that.  I’m in awe of the insatiable curiosity he taps into and I try to write from a position of newness like that.  Being unaware of where my curiosity will take me but trying to just follow it through.

SC:  I understand you are touring.  What kind of venue would be an ideal place for you to play?

DT:  It was a huge thrill to perform with Woody Guthrie’s granddaughter Sarah Lee. That’s way up on the list.

We’ve had the opportunity to play some amazing old theatres. We loved the Northampton Academy of Music and the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield.  It was total thrill to sell out Mass MOCA, but some of our best shows have been in how-did-we-end-up-here type places too.

We played a last minute show in Cambridge at a really tiny place in Central Square and it was packed in with people standing on tables, total chaos.  The bouncer was adamant that no one else could come in because it was too packed.  One person left outside was our drummer, Jimmy.  He came in the back door and was kicked back out onto the street. We said, ‘But that’s the drummer!’  The bouncer replied, ‘I don’t care, I said no more!’  Eventually we brokered a deal and Jimmy was allowed inside and the show went on.  Theatres and dive bars are both okay in our book.

Click here for more information about Whiskey Treaty Roadshow and  and here for future concerts at Club Passim, 47 Palmer Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, conveniently located in Harvard Square.  Not only a haven for music lessons, Passim offers live concerts nearly 365 days a year featuring Grammy winners to musicians with a dream.  Click here for their music schedule and follow Passim on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

 

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ worth every penny

December 4, 1956 was a pivotal night for rock and roll music as four distinct, legendary performers united for a one-night-only recording experience unlike anything rock and roll would see again.  The egos, the tension, and the harmony.  Oh, the harmony.

Greater Boston Stage Company’s tribute concert musical Million Dollar Quartet is guaranteed to keep your feet tapping, whether you are aware of it or not.  Directed by Ilyse Robbins with Music Direction by James Scheider who also portrays a hilarious Jerry Lee Lewis, Million Dollar Quartet continues through Sunday, May 19 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Accompanied by Trey Lundquist behind the Fluke and Drums and Matthew Pitts as Brother Jay and Bass, Million Dollar Quartet does an exhilarating job of capturing the sound and magic of that musical night long ago featuring Luke Linsteadt as Elvis Presley, Nile Scott Hawver as Carl Perkins, Austin Wayne Price as Johnny Cash, and James Scheider as Jerry Lee Lewis.  With a powerful, authentic sound by John Stone, inventive set design by Patrick Lynch, stylized concert lighting by Jeff Adelberg and Lawrence Ware, and each performer singing and playing their own instruments like the legends themselves, Million Dollar Quartet delivers greatness times four.

GBSC Million Dollar Quartet band

From L to R: James Scheider as Jerry Lee Lewis, Trey Lundquist as Fluke/Drums, Matthew Pitts as Brother Jay/Bass, Nile Scott Hawver as Carl Perkins, Melissa Geerlof as Dyanne, Luke Lundquist as Elvis Presley and Austin Wayne Price as Johnny Cash Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

 

On the surface, Million Dollar Quartet seems like the ultimate jam session featuring classic songs such as Blue Suede Shoes, Folsom Prison Blues, Great Balls of Fire, and Ghost Riders, but that is only part of the story.   The show is also about loyalty, a bit of David and Goliath, and knowing real talent from the man behind the music, Sam Phillips, portrayed with forthright affability by Robert Saoud.  Saoud is wonderful as Phillips, a modest, compelling, and insightful narrator.  A genius among record producers, Phillips had a vision and music was all that mattered.

Luke Linsteadt portrays a young, thriving Elvis complete with his familiar, rubbery legs as he keeps the crowd moving with Hound Dog.  Attempting to keep his ego in check is Nile Scott Hawver as Carl Perkins, who was last seen at Speakeasy Stage’s captivating musical, Once.  Though Perkins is the more reserved in the bunch, the story behind Blue Suede Shoes was one of Hawver’s best moments.

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Perfecting Johnny Cash’s guitar style is Austin Wayne Price, taking on the man in black with a soulful quality, his drawn, serious eyes and deep vocals deliver a unique rendition of Walk the Line.  Jeff Scheider relishes the reckless and obnoxious nature of up and coming, bigger-than-his-britches Jerry Lee Lewis.  Scheider is a real scene stealer, delivering some of the funniest one liners in the show while madly sweeping those piano keys.

Though Elvis brought a dancer to the recording studio as his date on that night in 1956, Melissa Geerlof slips into the role of Dyanne, a promising songstress.  She shows she is much more than Elvis’s eye candy singing Fever with an alluring, bluesy growl.

GBSC - Million Dollar Quartet full band

The cast of Million Dollar Quartet Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Though Million Dollar Quartet features plenty of rock and roll moments, the band’s quieter scenes are just as appealing.  When Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis unite for an acapella version of the spirituals, Down by the Riverside and Peace in the Valley, their clean, silvery harmony is pure perfection.

Greater Boston Stage Company’s Million Dollar Quartet continues through Sunday, May 19 at Greater Boston Stage Company, 395 Main Street in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for more information on Greater Boston Stage Company’s recently announced 20th season.

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company’s intriguing ‘Onegin’ offers vodka, love at first sight, and a whirlwind of surprises

Combine an onstage rock band nicknamed the Ungrateful Dead with a storytelling cast in 19th century St. Petersburg, Russia.  Throw in love at first sight, a duel, add some vodka, and a few winks to today’s technology and it is quite the tale…and that’s not even the half of it.

Expect the unexpected at Greater Boston Stage Company’s unique performance of Onegin, a semi-interactive musical that blends the traditional with the contemporary in surprising ways.  It explores how far one would go for love while its rock and roll vibe and comic moments show it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Based on Alexandr Pushkin’s poem of the same name and Tchaikovsky’s opera, Greater Boston Stage Company continues Onegin’s United States debut at the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Massachusetts through Sunday, March 31.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Onegin - cast

From L to R: Michael Jennings Mahoney as Vlaimir Lensky, Music Director Steve Bass (on piano), Mark Linehan as Evgeni Onegin, Josephine Moshiri Elwood as Olga, Sarah Pothier as Tatyana, and Peter Adama as Prince Gremin Photo by Maggie Hall Photography/Greater Boston Stage Company

Onegin pushes quite a few boundaries within its two hour time frame.  The show inhabits a myriad of genres and occasionally breaks the fourth wall, but underneath it all is a moving tale of love and loss and what it means when destiny is out of your hands.  The contemporary flair of this period piece may not appeal to staunch traditionalists, but the show has heart.

Katheryn Monthei’s open set design topped with sparkling brass chandeliers and silk backdrops mixed with Deirdre Gerrard’s detailed costumes and Ilyse Robbins’ dynamic choreography depict a romantic, yet edgy vibe indicative of this strong and versatile cast.

Onegin Lensky

Michael Jennings Mahoney as Vladimir Lensky Photo by Maggie Hall Photography/Greater Boston Stage Company

Opening with the rollicking number A Love Song, these singing storytellers describe a man irretrievably in love and one who is roguishly indifferent to it. Michael Jennings Mahoney portrays excitable and lovelorn poet, Vladimir Lensky.  Lensky could have been a one note character, but Mahoney gives him dimension and makes him much more than he seems.   He is taken with Olga, portrayed with complexity and practicality by Josephine Moshiri Elwood.  Enter Evgeni Onegin, portrayed with a deep vibrato and roguish charm by Mark Linehan.  Linehan is charismatic, but also possesses a cynical, world-weary look on life while Tatyana, portrayed with pensive idealism by Sarah Pothier, may just change everything.

ONEGIN at GBSC

Sarah Pothier as Tatyana and Mark Linehan as Evgeni Onegin Photo courtesy of Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

A few highlights include Sarah Pothier’s commanding performance of Let Me Die and stunning performances of In Your House and My Dearest Comrade by the cast.   Expect the unexpected at Onegin and like this engaging cast, prepare to have a little fun.

Directed by Weylin Symes, Greater Boston Stage Company’s musical drama Onegin continues through Sunday, March 31.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for a closer look at Greater Boston’s Stage Company’s recently announced season.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Once’ a celebration even within its quiet moments

Dancing fiddlers and a rollicking music celebration is only the beginning.  Directed by Paul Melone and adapted from the 2007 romantic musical film of the same name, The SpeakEasy Stage Company presents the Tony Award-winning musical, Once extended through Sunday, April 7 at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Welcoming early arrivals to the show is a lively, comical, pre-show band that is also part of the talented Once cast.  Each cast member is also a musician and they all get their moment to shine.  With naturally flowing choreography by Ilyse Robbins, stomping guitarists and dueling fiddlers joyfully romp in a freestyle dance with the drummer.  The band has such personality and the performance is a wonderful preface to a quietly beautiful love story about a pair of lonely musicians who long for their place in the world.

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Eric Levenson’s absorbing set design enhances the production’s soulful atmosphere, featuring instruments hanging around a brick arch while musicians pop up sporadically during the production.  Though Once is set in Dublin, takes a lot at Czech and Irish traditions.  Guy is a lonely, sensitive street performer from Northside Dublin.  Portrayed with tight lipped earnestness by Nile Scott Hawver, Guy expresses his raw emotion through his songwriting, immediately leaving an impact with his first number, Leave.

Guy meets Girl, a talkative Czech pianist portrayed with quirky charm by Mackenzie Lesser-Roy.  Their immediate, humorous chemistry and her heartening, compassionate demeanor toward him is a particular highlight only topped by their remarkable duets, heightened during the show’s signature song, Falling Slowly.

Hawver does an impressive job portraying Guy’s gradual vulnerability while showing off his comic chops, especially during the song Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy, but it is Lesser-Roy who shines, her chiming voice delivering a stirring rendition of The Hill and If You Want Me.  She carries a longing and loneliness she recognizes in Guy and her plucky, irrepressible optimism leaves a mark on everyone she meets.

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Once also has its share of amusing moments.  Billy Butler is hilarious as hot blooded, macho music shop owner, Billy.  Jeff Song is a delight as Bank Manager in a wildly enthusiastic version of Abandoned in BandonJacob Brandt and Kathy St. George are charming as perpetual dreamer Andrej and as candid, strong-willed Girl’s mother Baruska respectively.

The songs on Once’s acoustic, fiddle-laden soundtrack contain timeless, contemplative messages and the ensemble certainly contributes to its playful moments, but Once’s greatest strength is its subtle nuances and the impalpable stillness within this simple tale, most evident in the ensemble’s lovely, a capella version of Gold.  Love can a simple, quiet declaration that lingers long after the show is over.

SpeakEasy Stage presents the Tony Award-winning musical, Once extended through Sunday, April 7 at the Calderwood Pavilion, 539 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Click here for a closer look at the SpeakEasy Stage and its 2019 season.