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: Lyric Stage brings beauty and powerful perspective to Sondheim’s ‘Pacific Overtures’

Surrounded by wild pink cherry blossoms, Lyric Stage reveals a telling story with Stephen Sondheim’s stirring musical Pacific Overtures, a historical production set in 1853 when a mysterious ship drops anchor on Japan’s remote and tranquil island.  Told entirely from Japan’s perspective, it’s an important tale about conflict, betrayal, and the price of progress.

Skillfully directed by Spiro Veloudos, musically-directed by Jonathan Goldberg, and choreographed by Micheline Wu, Lyric Stage presents Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures through June 16 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Please Hello

Jeff Song and The cast of Pacific Overtures. Photo by Mark S. Howard.

The Lyric Stage has a knack for surprises.  They take on a variety of shows throughout the season, from contemporary to original productions to traditional musicals, but one thing they all have in common is it is hard to imagine how the show will play out onstage.  Though rarely performed, Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures is an unpredictable, multi-layered musical that delivers an unforgettable message about power and prosperity.

Between scenic designer Janie E Howland’s hand painted set, the sloping wild pink cherry blossoms, Gail Astrid Buckley’s rich and historically-accurate costumes, and Karen Perlow’s clever light design, Lyric Stage brings to life Japan’s beautiful and increasingly tumultuous landscape.  This show does an excellent job at depicting a sympathetic, humorous, and at times, haunting look of how Japan saw the outside world.

Choreographer Micheline Wu’s reflects Japan’s distinct culture in sharp choreography, integrating samurai tradition while carefully letting a bit of westernization seep in.  Kai Chao as relentless Commodore Perry struts into a patriotic, humorous, and cunning Lion Dance while Wu herself, who also depicts Tamate and other roles, captures Tamate’s raw vulnerability in a fan dance during the reflective number, There is No Other Way.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures cast

The cast of Lyric Stage’s ‘Pacific Overtures’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Enthusiastically recited by Lisa Yuen, who was last seen on the Lyric Stage as the mesmerizing Spider Woman in Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, Yuen delicately balances the tale she tells with a mix of humor and urgency, occasionally stepping into the story itself.  That could be an awkward transition, but it’s one that Yuen takes on with ease.

Carl Hsu portrays Kayama, a quietly conflicted fisherman thrust into the spotlight to solve a seemingly impossible issue.  Hsu’s wistful, soaring vocals reflect his alienation as western culture attempts to take hold in Bowler Hat.  Inquisitive and awestruck, he struggles to adjust to Japan’s seeming future.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Carl Hsu and Sam Hamashima

Carl Hsu as Kayama and Sam Hamashima as Manjiro in ‘Pacific Overtures’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Sam Hamashima portrays Massachusetts fisherman prisoner Manjiro, a man with mysterious intentions.  Hamasima and Hsu show low key camaraderie as they improvise together during the number PoemsGary Thomas Ng takes on several roles, but proves to be at his funniest as the Grandmother in the lighthearted number, Welcome to Kanagawa.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Welcome to Kanagawa

Alexander Holden, Gary Thomas Ng, Karina Wen, and Kai Chao in Pacific Overtures. Photo by Mark S. Howard.

Change can be painful.  From a remote, peaceful, self-sufficient island to an economic powerhouse to the home of the 2020 Olympics, Japan has worn many faces and overcame many obstacles.  Pacific Overtures depicts the raw emotion and a sympathetic perspective on what that might have felt like along the way.

Lyric Stage continues Stephen Sondheim’s moving musical, Pacific Overtures through Sunday, June 16 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and more information.  Subscriptions and dinner packages are also available.  Follow The Lyric Stage on Twitter and Facebook for their upcoming productions and more.

REVIEW: Boston Ballet’s idyllic ‘Cinderella’ more than a glittering gown and glass slippers

Be like Cinderella.

During Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella, The Prince, portrayed masterfully by Patrick Yocum, gentlemanly gestures for Cinderella to go first as they make their entrance and she in turn motions for him to go first.  It is a subtle gesture, but holds great significance.  It is just one moment in many that this Cinderella exudes pure selflessness, more so than other adaptations. We can all learn from Cinderella.  She’ll make a lasting impression and is a shining example of what every child should strive to become.

Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella, performed by the Boston Ballet, continues through Saturday, June 8 at the Citizens Bank Boston Opera House.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Click here for a closer look at the production.

The Boston Ballet’s Cinderella is an ethereal, lighthearted tale, told with a richness that far exceeds a glittering gown and glass slippers.  David Walker’s multi-layered, translucent scenic design and elaborate costumes create moving portraits from deep into an enchanted forest to a sophisticated royal ball.

It is a classic fairy tale about a young girl living with her father and two ugly Stepsisters.  When a mysterious woman shows up on their doorstep, it may change Cinderella’s life forever.  This adaptation has the earmarks of the popular fairy tale including the pumpkin, the royal ball, fairy godmother, and the handsome prince.

Jeffrey Cirio and Misa Kuranaga in Ashton's Cinderella ©Gene Schiavone

Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella also contains a few slight alternations from other popular adaptations and it is all the better for it starting with Vikorina Kapitonova’s marvelous portrayal as Cinderella.  Even in a soot-covered, flowing costume, Kapitonova’s glowing face shines through as she jaunts around the house, with only a broom as her companion.  She soaks in her surroundings, her exuberance shown through the simplest of things.  She puts joy in every step, rarely showing any despair in her strength, warmth, and innocent smile.  Cinderella may be neglected, but she’s also happy and imaginative, despite her circumstances.

Absent is the anguish and vindictiveness Cinderella endured from the glaring presence of a Stepmother in other retellings, but instead a harried father tending to the constant needs of two trying Stepsisters.  What makes this Cinderella so remarkable is she is not bullied by her Stepsisters, but that much more selfless, doing everything for the ease of others, always putting others first with a smile.  She tends to her Stepsisters needs out of love, a self-absorbed pair of braying bookends, portrayed with awkward, conceited flair by Roddy Doble and John Lam.  In full bonnets and mismatched, heavily adorned attire, the Stepsisters comically parade in their gaudy and audacious glory, unaware of how foolish they seem.

Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella’s choreography is an elegant display.  The Fairy Godmother makes a grand, magical entrance and is soon accompanied by the colorful Fairies of the Four Seasons.  They each have their moment to shine, their beautiful solos reflecting their distinct personalities on lush green and then under silvery trees.

Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio in Ashton's Cinderella ©Gene Schiavone

 

In white and blue, Patrick Yocum, who was also impressive in Boston Ballet’s Full on Forsythe, makes a wonderful Prince, leading Kapitonova to a delicate pas de deux. Their sweet chemistry is apparent as Cinderella makes her own grand entrance.  Another captivating dance occurs at the ball as the clock strikes midnight, the dancers intricately posing in that pivotal moment knowing the best is soon to come.

Boston Ballet 'The Warm Up'

One of the interactive stations at Boston Ballet’s ‘The Warm Up’ Photo by Jeanne Denizard

Mikko Nissinen’s Boston Ballet continues to offer a number of interactive stations including Fairy tale Fun and a photo-friendly display to learn more about the show and ballet through The Warm Up located in the lower lobby.

Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella, performed by the Boston Ballet, continues through Saturday, June 8 at the Citizen’s Bank Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Save 50% for youth under 17 after purchasing one full price ticket.  Click here for more information, tickets, and for future events and more, follow Boston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter.

 

REVIEW: With author Margaret Atwood in attendance, Boston Lyric Opera creates a twist-filled, haunting ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

She must have order.

First came the best-selling novel, then the 90s film starring Faye Dunaway, Elizabeth McGovern, Aidan Quinn, Robert Duvall, and Miranda Richardson, then the Hulu series already in Season 3, and now Boston Lyric Opera debuts Ruder’s The Handmaid’s Tale as an stirring opera with bestselling author Margaret Atwood in attendance on Sunday, May 5.

Boston Lyric Opera The Handmaids Tale May 5-12

Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

The Handmaid’s Tale has been adapted into different genres and it is not difficult to see why it stands the test of time and holds such relevance in today’s culture.  Yes, it’s harrowing and difficult to watch at times, but it also makes a statement about fanaticism, corruption, and a lack of privacy, serving as a warning to what our world will hopefully never become.  As Caroline Worra, who delivers an incomparable performance as Aunt Lydia, states, “Gilead is within you.”

The blurred lines of justice reign supreme in The Handmaid’s Tale, a meaty, remarkable story seamlessly transformed into an opera through Sunday, May 12 at Harvard University’s Ray Lavietes Pavilion in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for a clip of Boston Lyric Opera’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

When government has been destroyed, the army takes over and an unrelenting force rules society under the name of the Republic of Gilead.  Offred, portrayed passionately by mezzo-sopranos Jennifer Johnson Cano and Felicia Gavilanes, has been thrust into an oppressed, abusive world where she must face impossible decisions.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The state-of-the-art Ray Lavietes Basketball Pavilion is an unexpected place to hold this dystopian classic, but the cold, open space and James Schuette’s minimal set bring out the stark, rich color contrasts and adds distinction to each character in a hard, futuristic New England society.  This combination escalates the tension while an incredible score by Poul Ruders, zealously performed by the spectacular Boston Lyric Opera orchestra conducted by David Angus, makes for a chilling and moving experience.

Boston Lyric Opera’s The Handmaid’s Tale features a strong cast, each with their own complicated plight.  With beautiful, soaring vocals, Jennifer Johnson Cano is riveting as Offred, a mother and wife yanked into the Republic of Gilead.  Caroline Worra epitomizes the righteous and vigilant Aunt Lydia, her commanding stature and mesmerizing charisma apparent every time she steps onstage.  Kathryn Skemp Moran offers an empathetic performance as Ofwarren, a woman unable to let go of her past.  With deep, resonant vocals, David Cushing is convincing as the multi-faceted Commander who delivers a few surprises of his own along the way.

The Handmaids Tale Jennifer Johnson Cano as Offred and David Cushing as Commander

In the Commander’s office (David Cushing), Offred (Jennifer Johnson Cano) reads aloud from a beauty magazine published in the Time Before in Boston Lyric Opera’s production of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” running through May 12. BLO.org Photo courtesy of Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

The Boston Lyric Opera seamlessly translates Margaret Atwood’s twist-filled dystopian classic, The Handmaid’s Tale, into an opera for four performances only at Harvard University’s Ray Lavietes Pavilion through Sunday, May 12.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow Boston Lyric Opera on Facebook for upcoming events and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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: Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s ‘Sweet Charity’ has fun, laughs, and the right moves

She’s just a girl in love with love.  Swipe right for a Tony award-winning, romantic musical dramedy instilled with a dose of cynicism, Sweet Charity.  Unforeseen high jinks and adventures find Charity as she makes her way through what can be a harsh reality.  Before Julia Roberts stepped onto the L.A. streets in the popular film, Pretty Woman, Charity wondered Central Park.  Both have a heart of gold.

With music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, book by Neil Simon, and directed by Nathan Fogg, Hingham Civic Music Theatre (HCMT) continues Sweet Charity through Sunday, May 5 at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham, Massachusetts.  This show is for mature audiences and not for young children.  Click here for more information and tickets.

HCMT's 'Sweet Charity' - tap dance

Emilee Leahy as Charity Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

Sweet Charity is one of those rare opportunities to witness a collaboration featuring theatrical icons playwright Neil Simon and director and choreographer Bob Fosse.  Oh yes, and Fosse’s then wife, muse, and dance dynamo Gwen Verdon starred in the musical’s stage debut in the 60s.

Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon’s influence is still as lively as ever as FX continues Fosse/Verdon, a biographical miniseries starring Sam Rockwell as Bob Fosse and Michelle Williams as Gwen Verdon.  Coincidentally, Fosse/Verdon also covers in part the making of Sweet Charity.  Fosse Fever has certainly been evident as on the South Shore of Massachusetts as two adaptations of Chicago recently took the stage in close succession.

Perhaps it’s the Neil Simon influence, but Sweet Charity seems to tread on the lighter side of Fosse’s popular works.  It has its edgy moments and not for everyone, but Sweet Charity depends much more on humor than darkness.  Though Pretty Woman might be a beloved, yet formulaic tale, Sweet Charity is less predictable and not a by-the-numbers romantic comedy.  The costumes, by Kathryn Ridder and company, are fitted and flashy and the dialogue is snappy and at times, charming.  At one point, Emilee Leahy as Charity sings, “You’re so strong, you have muscles you don’t need.”

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After portraying resourceful criminal Velma Kelly in Massasoit Theatre Company’s production of Chicago,  Emilee Leahy delivers a breezier performance as coy yet sweet, aware and yet sometimes naïve, hopeful and pensive Charity Hope Valentine.  Charity’s can be a poor judge of character, but Leahy’s Charity proves to be worth rooting for.  She has a pliable vocal range and is certainly light on her feet as she slips into a spontaneous tap routine featuring the famous number, If They Could See Me Now, decked out with a signature Fosse cane and top hat.

Speaking of dance, Sweet Charity offers an array of Fosse-inspired dance sequences, tinged with retro flair.  Choreographer Samantha-Brior Jones, Music Director Sandee Brayton, and Dance Captain Mary Donahue turn up the heat with sharp and distinctive choreography as the Fan-dango Ballroom dancers perform a fierce, steamy, and hip shaking Hey Big Spender.  The sweeping, sophisticated, 60s-inspired Rich Man’s Frug featuring Pompeii Club dancers in all-black has a classic vibe to it while Rhythm of Life is an outrageous, seemingly spiritual journey.

HCMT Sweet Charity - The girls

Kristen Annese as Nickie and Pompeii Club dancers Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

The characters that Charity encounters seem a bit melodramatic, showing it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  With great New York accents, Kristen Annese as Nickie and Lindsay Warwick as Helene are a plucky, street smart comedy duo.  Their rendition of Baby Dream Your Dream has a lot of reassuring sass and they share playful, if at times mildly-snarky camaraderie with Charity.

Leah Shiels as Ursula and Rob Buckel-Gillis as Vittorio make an exotic celebrity pair, decked out in shimmering attire.   Buckel-Gillis delivers a beautiful rendition of Too Many Tomorrows.  Tony Light is comical as Oscar, a panicked claustrophobic.   Shirtless and in suspenders, Rylan Vachon delivers a wildly energetic, off-the-wall performance as zany preacher Daddy Brubeck.  Mike Warner as Herman also delivers some laughs, but keep an eye on his T-shirts.  Trust me.

Hingham Civic Music Theatre offers two remaining performances of Sweet Charity on Saturday, May 4 and a Sunday matinee on May 5 at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham Town Hall, 210 Central Street in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Tickets are also available at the door.  Be sure to follow Hingham Civic Music Theatre on Facebook and click here to learn how to support HCMT’s upcoming productions.