REVIEW: Company Theatre walks the line between love and rage with Green Day’s catchy punk musical, ‘American Idiot’

Rage. Love. Town. City are the themes emblazoned within the songs and tale of the Tony award-winning punk rock musical, Green Day’s American Idiot, presented by the Company Theatre and continuing through Sunday, February 17 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  It is an in-your-face journey of a group of young, unambitious city dwellers who occupy a portion of an angry, rebellious America.  Green Day’s American Idiot is a concert drama that contains mature themes and surprising moments.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Green Day American Idiot set

The set of Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

This high energy musical is based on Green Day’s lauded album, American Idiot, a band known for their raw, catchy, guitar-tinged riffs, and uncensored lyrics.  With hits such as Holiday, Know Your Enemy, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Wake Me Up When September Ends, and Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), Green Day’s American Idiot contains the music and vocal chops that would please Green Day fans while also considered a message-driven punk rock opera.

Sharing a bit of the mentality of Rent and the 90s film, Reality Bites, the characters in American Idiot wander into a realm of rebellious indifference, confusion, and perhaps laziness looking for their purpose in life as Green Day sings, “in the land of make believe.”  Some are unconcerned and others genuinely lost.  Partially set in a beat up apartment equipped with a blank, but lit tube TV and shabby couch which perhaps reflects a thinking but lost generation, American Idiot shows they have a hell of a lot to learn.  

The energetic, daring choreography by Corinne Mason, which includes moshing and head banging, reflects the anarchic nature of punk music.  The choreography in Holiday, which includes a group of characters packed into a wire cart, is a visual highlight.

Cast of Green Day's 'American Idiot'

(Back row, L-R ) Audrey Clark of Northboro as Whatsername, Jose Merlo of Attleboro as Jose, William Oliver of Weymouth as Will, Sarah Kelly of Braintree as Heather, John Crampton of Dedham as John, Jessica DePalo of Westboro as Extraordinary Girl, Brendan Duquette of North Attleboro as Tunny (Front row) Theo Victoria of Brockton as Theo, Evan Cole of Natick as Johnny, Aliyah Harris of Mansfield as Aliyah Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford

This cast of jaded youths include a haunting performance by Chris Boyajian as Joshua/St. Jimmy, a role that Green Day lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong took over for 50 performances during the show’s run on Broadway.  Evan Cole hits all the right notes as Johnny, who also plays his own guitar for Boulevard of Broken Dreams, one of the show’s few quieter tunes.  He shares a natural camaraderie with Brendan Duquette as naive Tunny and William Oliver as oblivious Will, a trio of friends heading in different directions.  Sarah Kelly stands out as Heather as she develops her resolve during a heartfelt Last Night on Earth.  Aliyah Harris as Aliyah also lends her serious pipes to Favorite Son and Too Much Too Soon.

The Company Theatre presents Green Day’s American Idiot through Sunday, February 17, with a special event for Valentine’s Day.  All performances take place at Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts  Click here to support the Company Theatre and here for more on their 2019 season.

 

 

 

Sleepless Beyond the Stage: Building a dream with Richard Bento, President of South Shore Theatre Works

Building a dream always has its share of surprises and challenges. However, with determination, hard work, and more than a touch of luck, those sought after dreams can become a reality.  Sleepless Beyond the Stage explores the reality of making that dream come true, whether by building an organization, finally bringing that dream production to life, or starting a group that makes a difference.

Richard Bento, Executive Director and President of South Shore Theatre Works (SSTW) checked in with Sleepless Critic a few years ago as the theater was just getting on its feet.  Boasting a successful run of Seussical in December, SSTW’s upcoming productions include Blithe Spirit, Ordinary Days, and Chicago.  Richard Bento talks about how this Massachusetts theater has grown in a short time.  Click here for more information, auditions, and for tickets.

SSTW seussical the musical

Past performances of ‘Seussical the Musical’ December 2018

Sleepless Critic: Please tell me about your background and what inspired you to start South Shore Theatre Works?

Richard Bento:  I’ve participated in community and semi-professional theater throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Georgia, and San Francisco.  One of my goals was to have a group of my own who share the same mission and passion I had for the arts.

A few years ago, I decided to participate in theater here and assist another community theater group.  I fell in love with the people.  We shared the same passion.  When we were at a crossroads needing to decide whether we were going to bring this other group to another level or start our own with other people who shared that same drive, I decided to put together South Shore Theatre Works.

SSTW Blithe Spirit

South Shore Theatre Works presents ‘Blithe Spirit’ February 15-17 in Randolph, MA Photo courtesy of South Shore Theatre Works

JD:  What would you say to those who are considering starting a community theater?

Film review: Vice packs great performances, but a less than fascinating story line

Though The Sleepless Critic does not usually tackle films, since awards season is here and Sleepless Critic is associated with the Screen Actors Guild Awards, a review will pop up here and there about a nominee.

The hype about the political satire film, Vice has been mounting.  With Christian Bale’s recent Golden Globe win for his portrayal as Vice President Dick Cheney, it seems that this film has its sights set on the Academy Awards.  Christian Bale and Amy Adams have been nominated for Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Male Actor in a Motion Picture and Outstanding Female Actor in a Motion Picture, respectively. The performances are definitely worth seeing and this biting satire has a lot to say, if it only the actual story line was that good.

Vice has its clever moments, but those moments were much more interesting in Adam McKay’s far superior film, The Big Short.  Narrated by a mystery man who plays a significant role in Dick Cheney’s life, this satirical tale is slow and a bit muddled from the start as it describes Cheney’s path into politics.

The second half picks up quite a bit as Cheney rises to power, but not enough to make up for the first half.  Accentuated by a crooked sneer, Bale is almost unrecognizable as the former Vice President, his performance quiet and calculating.  As the film warns, “Beware the quiet man.”  However, I was waiting to see how brazen he truly was and with the exception of a brilliant monologue toward the end, I was left waiting for the payoff.  His motivation is never really clear other than desire for power.

Underneath that plastered smile, Amy Adams is ruthless, power hungry Lynn Cheney.  Although it becomes clear why Lynn Cheney is with Dick Chaney, it is unclear why Dick seemingly will give anything to impress Lynn.  Steve Carell offers a steely and momentarily sympathetic portrayal of Donald RumsfeldSam Rockwell delivers an amusing performance as ill-prepared for the presidency, George W. Bush, but sadly, is not in the film nearly as much as he should be.

sag 2019 nominees

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

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

Vice is still in theatres now.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home Alone in Concert

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about bone-chilling.

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

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

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

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

sag 2019 nominees

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

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

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

Brooke Phillips, designer Sara Campbell’s Assistant Buyer, talks community involvement at Boston Women in Media and Entertainment Giving Tuesday event

What is it like to work for Sara Campbell?  Sara Campbell, CEO and founder of boutique clothing store Sara Campbell Ltd., hosted a charitable night of giving on Giving Tuesday on November 27, opening their doors for Boston Women and Entertainment to shop their Boston store while a percentage of each sale is donated to Cradles to Crayons.

Brooke Phillips, Assistant Buyer and Event Coordinator, talks about her experience working for Sara Campbell, a boutique clothing store in business for over 30 years and everything is made in the USA.

Sleepless Critic:  What does Giving Tuesday mean for Sara Campbell?

Brooke Phillips:  I work for a small company and we wear many hats.  One of the reasons I love working here so much is because of Sara’s philosophy of giving back to women and the local communities.  I think that is very important that women support women, especially nowadays.  We stand out from other retailers because we are not just selling clothing, but reaching out to communities and empowering women in other ways.

SC:  What projects you are currently involved in?

BP:  We partner and give donations for Dress for Success.  A few weeks ago, we had a successful event for Project Hope, a local women’s shelter and raised a lot of money for them.  We opened it up to the public.  That was an opportunity for our customers to shop their favorite designer, but also give back to their local community and women in need, especially around the holidays.  It made everyone feel really good.  Someone from Project Hope spoke about starting out needing Project Hope and ended up working with them.  It was a great feel-good story and an example of the work we do here.

SC:  Do you work on any Performing Arts events with your clothing line?

BP:  We haven’t, but we are open to any new ideas.  We spend a lot of time with local charities that need our help and that are near and dear to Sara’s heart, but we are more than happy to hear suggestions.

Click here to learn more about Sara Campbell, her collections, her company’s philanthropic work, and much more.  Click here to learn more about Boston Women in Media and Entertainment and the work they do all year long.

REVIEW: Company Theatre’s enhanced, lively production of Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver! ‘kicks this classic up a notch

It was a nostalgic night witnessing Company Theatre’s livelier version of Lionel Bart’s musical, Oliver! having performed in the musical production in high school.  While my part was limited to selling roses on a busy London street, the Company Theatre opened up an entire world for the holidays with enhanced flair for Lionel Bart’s Oliver! continuing through Sunday, December 16 at The Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  The production has recently sold out.  Click here for more information on the Company Theatre and their future productions.

Directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman and musically directed by Steve Bass with choreography by Sally Ashton Forrest, Lionel Bart’s Oliver!  is the latest version of this Charles Dickens’ classic.  This family production has enjoyed several tours and revivals in different parts of the world in its close to 60-year history.

It’s is the tale of a workhouse orphan who get entangled in a series of unfortunate events that lead him to face many adversaries, but stays strong in his search for hope and love.  With a large cast featuring memorable numbers such as Consider Yourself, As Long as He Needs Me, I’d Do Anything, and the title song, Oliver, this tale has its share of dark and humorous moments while delivering an important message about humanity that is especially relevant during the holidays.

Company Theatre's Oliver

Matthew O’Connor as Oliver Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

During the holiday season, the Company Theatre tends to make whichever production they have chosen bigger and more spectacular in line with the spirit of the season.  Lionel Bart’s Oliver! stays consistent with that tradition featuring extended, more upbeat musical numbers, grander sets,  and sharper choreography, especially during the sweeping numbers and quicker pacing of Food, Glorious Food and Consider Yourself.

From the humble, stone-lined workhouse surroundings with a single banner that reads, ‘God is Love’ to a bright street setting, Ryan Barrow’s impressive, rolling set design details the diversity of 1840’s London.  Set pieces dropping from the ceiling was a particular highlight.

The musical’s classic line, ‘I want some more’ has never sounded more humble than from the adorable countenance of Matthew O’Connor as Oliver, a sweet, naïve, but daring workhouse orphan boy who, by uncontrollable circumstances, has an opportunity to see life beyond the workhouse walls.  He shares some amusing camaraderie with Colin Paduck as the Artful Dodger, portrayed with a thick, regional accent and a charismatic grin.  They stay in time with the children’s ensemble’s compelling choreography, an energetic bunch light on their feet during some of the production’s most challenging numbers.

Company Theatre's Oliver - Sowerberrys

The Sowerberrys Christopher Spencer as Mr Sowerberry and Christa Dunn as Mrs. Sowerberry Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry are wonderfully wicked together.  With a nasal voice and prominent sideburns, Christopher Spencer is quite comical as dour Mr. Sowerberry and Christa Dunn as stern and maybe a bit tipsy Mrs. Sowerberry.  With a prominent stance and a great voice, Francis Sheehan takes on the gruffly bombastic parish beadle Mr. Bumble.

Company Theatre's Oliver - Oliver Fagin and Artful Dodger

Colin Paduck as The Artful Dodger, Christopher Hagberg as Fagin, Matthew O’Connor as Oliver and the children’s ensemble Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

With a white beard, black hat, and flowing overcoat, Christopher Hagberg delivers a limber, stealthy performance as Fagin.  Hagberg captures the magic of Fagin, his deceptively good nature and comic greediness put on display in the number, You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two and the fiddle-infused Reviewing the Situation.

Company Theatre's Oliver- Nancy, Oliver, Bet, and Artful Dodger

Brittany Rolfs as Nancy, Matthew O’Connor as Oliver, Aliyah Harris as Bet, and Colin Paduck as the Artful Dodger Photo courtesy of the Company Theatre

Brittany Rolfs brings sass and saavy to the role of Nancy, a sweet but tough woman who has mixed with the wrong crowd.  From her passionate, tenacious version of As Long as She Needs Me to the catchy harmony of the playful, rollicking number, Oom-Pah-Pah, Nancy is a force of her own onstage, sweet with the children, but always certain of what she wants.

With a deep seated growl and a menacing stare, Damian Smith steps into the role of troubled Bill Sikes.  In this production, The Company Theatre brings a new dimension and lesser known angle to this character as he stalks the city streets.  Remington is a welcome addition to the cast as scene stealing Bullseye, Bill Sikes’s dog.

The Company Theatre is capping off its 40th season with Lionel Bart’s Oliver! continuing through Sunday, December 16.  Click here for how to support the Company Theatre and here for more on their 2019 season.

 

Go green with Cohasset Dramatic Club’s sci fi horror comedy musical ‘Little Shop of Horrors’

Cohasset Dramatic Club’s comedy horror rock sci fi musical, Little Shop of Horrors, offers two very important life lessons.  Don’t feed the plants and everyone’s life should be narrated by a streetwise, Greek chorus.  Punctuated by the sweet, sassy sounds of female Greek chorus trio Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette, Cohasset Dramatic Club opened its 98th season with Little Shop of Horrors in all of its zany, outrageous glory on the Cohasset Town Hall stage in Cohasset, Massachusetts continuing through Sunday, November 18.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Cohasset Dramatic Club Little Shop of Horrors cover

Directed by Lisa Pratt, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ continues through November 18! Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

Little Shop of Horrors, based on John Cullier’s short story Green Thoughts from 1932, has gone on to become a cult classic, with actors such as Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, and John Candy stepping into its various film adaptations.  A remake is in the works as it celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2020.

It’s a seemingly simple tale about young love on Skid Rowe in a fledgling flower shop that houses a curious, unique breed of plant.  Some critics compare it to the campy tone of the another cult classic, Rocky Horror Picture Show, but Little Shop of Horrors offers a more subtle brand of campy charm.

The show has a gift for funny, ironic contrasts right down to the bright, cheerful set design by Mark Bono with scenic artist Denise Feeney.   An ode to vintage 50s films of its time, Mr. Mushnik’s beautiful and pastel Floral Shop front seems hardly a place that belongs on Skide Row or Gutter as the name of a bar.  With few exceptions, the music, with lyrics by award-winning composer Alan Menken, has a catchy, rock n roll vibe, some tunes an ode to 60s girl groups.  From plaids to shimmering gowns, Colleen Craig as Chiffon, Michelle Margulies as Crystal and Cara Lee Chamberlain as Ronnette form a taut, humorous, street-smart trio, unveiling the real ins and outs of Skid Rowe through harmony, kicking it off with the catchy, signature track, Little Shop of Horrors.

With a distinctive, comedic voice and dark reading glasses, Jonathan Markella is a natural as Mr. Mushnik.  Shrewd, sensible, and a bit dour, Markella’s take on the firm, yet fidgety Mr. Mushnik is a memorable one.  He showcases his comedic chops best with Jordan Reymolds as Seymour in the clever number, Mushnik and Son.

Cohasset Dramatic Club Little Shop of Horrors Seymour

Jordan Reymolds as Seymour and Audrey II Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

With black glasses and a sweater vest, Jordan Reymolds is splendid as Seymour, a sympathetic, conflicted botanist.  With a bit of a crackly speaking voice and a light city accent, he is ever the shy, unassuming nerd that actor Rick Moranis stepped into in the 1986 film adaptation.  He shines in the darkly tender number, Grow for Me and his awkward adoration for Audrey, portrayed with stylish, effervescence by Adina Lunquist, exudes comic charm, at one moment he’s hoping to take her to “a fancy dinner at Howard Johnson’s.”  Linquist is wonderful, her silvery soprano vocals carrying a lullaby or a soulful belt with equal skill.  She shares her simple, 50s domestic dreams in Somewhere That’s Green and with Seymour who deliver a powerful rendition of Suddenly Seymour.

Brendan Smith rises to the occasion playing several roles including the outrageous, narcissistic biker dentist.  Having portrayed The Monster in Young Frankenstein, his pliable, animated features master a multitude of roles in stride.

The real spectacle is Audrey II, the sly soulful plant that changes everything.  With deep, soulful, animated vocals that harness a bit of Elvis and Robin Williams and skillfully manipulated by Mike Nakashima whose theatre history includes a part in Cohasset’s Avenue Q, Audrey II is an impressive specimen right down to its shiny, dangling teeth.

Directed by Lisa Pratt, Cohasset Dramatic Club presents Little Shop of Horrors through Sunday, November 18 at Cohasset Town Hall, 41 Highland Avenue in Cohasset, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Learn more about Cohasset Dramatic Club by following on their Facebook page.

REVIEW: Billy Joel brought his A-game for his fifth year at Fenway Park

Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter Billy Joel will not be sharing new music any time soon.  Renowned for his library of hits in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, he stuck with the chart toppers and some lesser known singles at the Fenway Park field on Friday, August 10 as part of the Plainridge Park Casino Fenway Concert series.

Billy Joel Fenway Park

Photo credit to IheartMedia

‘I haven’t had a hit in 25 years,’ he muses, ‘but I have also not released an album in 25 years.’  Opening fittingly and dramatically with the theme song from The Natural, a beloved 1984 sports film starring Robert Redford, Billy Joel took the Fenway Park stage for his fifth year.  Click here to see where Billy Joel will perform next.

Showcasing his biggest hits along with a few of his lesser known ones, Billy Joel brought his A-game.  Kicking off shortly after eight in the evening as fans were still filing into the park, he arrived behind his piano for his straight-talking hit Big Shot, a song that was said to have been inspired by a dinner he had with Mick and Bianca Jagger.  Under multicolored lights and an infectious beat, from the start Billy Joel proved his ceaseless energy at 69 years old.

On a cloudy, but rainless night in Fenway, Joel referred to Boston as the birthplace of freedom where he wrote the song, My Life.  He also mentioned the Red Sox, though he’s an avid NY Mets fan, before a stirring rendition of NY State of Mind, which featured shots of New York City’s famous landmarks.  He even playfully sang Boston’s More than a Feeling before jokingly “forgetting the words.”

Billy Joel Fenway

Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Sharply dressed in a dark suit and tie, Billy Joel spoke with humor and frankness, sharing personal details behind his music, his voice matured into a deeper, grittier growl with all the same power behind it.  He treated the enthusiastic full house to a spectrum of his famous and lesser known songs as he reflected, ‘I worked just as hard on the lesser known songs as the hits.’  Some of those lesser known songs included Summer, Highland Falls, Zanzibar, The Downeaster Alexa, and Vienna, a sweet, quiet tune from his album The Stranger and was also featured on the 13 Going on 30 film with Jennifer Garner.

Accompanied by a robust rock, jazz, and horn-infused big band, Joel performed upbeat number, Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song), a hit song that inspired a 2002 Tony award-winning Broadway musical of the same name.  The musical highlighted a number of Billy Joel’s greatest hits.  Dedicating a song to his three year-old daughter, Joel performed Don’t Ask Me Why as well as many of his signature hits including a resonant Only the Good Die Young, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, a colorful, extended version of River of Dreams, and It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.

The award-winning singer-songwriter kept the crowd on their feet with surprise guests from two vastly different genres.  Peter Wolf, lead singer of the J.Geils Band, a group Billy Joel opened for early in his career.  Wolf performed the band’s 80s hit, Centerfold before calling Joel one of the nicest in the business.  Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, who was to perform with the band at Fenway the following night, also joined Joel.  Accompanied by powerful guitar, Elliott’s deep, throaty vocals delivered their audacious hit, Pour Some Sugar on Me.  As welcome as their appearances were, it couldn’t beat their return to the stage later to sing with Joel for You May Be Right.

Joel also had his share of quiet moments as he silenced the crowd with the emotional, heartfelt number, And So it Goes and She’s Always a Woman.  Sitting behind the baby grand piano most of the evening with a brief stint humming on the harmonica for Piano Man before taking to the guitar during an epic, four-song encore, Billy Joel still has a seasoned passion for the stage and left with hardly a voice, delivering short of a three hour performance.

REVIEW: Inspiring documentary ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’ more than a beautiful day in the neighborhood

“It’s such a good feeling to know we are lifelong friends,” was Mr. Rogers final words as he closed out his show, Mr. Rogers Neighborhoodin 2001.  However, the impact he has had on the world is timeless.

Though The Sleepless Critic usually tackles the very best in music and theatre, one has to make an exception to express the rare, extraordinary quality in Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor, a moving, deeply personal documentary which highlights Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, a children’s show that was unconventionally the best in television and ran from 1968 through 2001 on PBS.  The film is currently in limited release.  Click here for more information and ticket availability.

This is not to say Won’t You Be My Neighbor didn’t explore the power of music.  American cellist Yo-Yo Ma appeared on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood at a young age and shared his exceptional musical talent.

Mr. Rogers also used music as a powerful tool to influence his viewers such as with his original song, It’s You I Like.   An introvert from childhood, Mr. Rogers often expressed his feelings through music.  This inspiring documentary opens with Mr. Rogers offering a metaphor on the piano about life’s difficult transitions.  He expressed how easy it may be to get from a C note to a D, but how challenging it is to transition from an F to an F sharp, paralleling the challenges children face growing up.  His dedication to children through television offered children support on how to overcome the hardships of life and feel like they have a unique importance in this world.

The film draws from Mr. Rogers’s charisma, which softened the toughest of hearts with his assertion that everyone either had love or lacked it.  Through his family members, cast, crew, and some of his adversaries, it is a balanced portrayal of an ordained minister with a simple purpose, a purpose that was not always understood.  Nonetheless, Won’t You Be My Neighbor is an important film that has navigated generations of children through grief, assassination, divorce, disabilities, and other hardships, providing glimpses into devastation in recent history such as war, the Challenger tragedy, and 9/11.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor was also not without its own sense of humor from backstage antics to show parodies.  However, the best quality of Won’t You Be My Neighbor is, like a good neighbor, Mr. Rogers had a warm smile and an open door, and he genuinely cared.  That’s an awful lot of comfort in a troubled world.

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