REVIEW: Tensions run high at sea in Moliere in the Park’s searing ‘pen/man/ship’

Aboard a whaling ship in 1896, two powerful forces cross paths that could cause a disaster of their own doing.  Christina Anderson’s pen/man/ship is a rich, quietly tense production that deepens within the intriguing script’s discourse and reflections and flows into the production’s dark setting.  Self-righteousness, dominance, and trust carry heavy weight as Anderson’s multi-faceted characters become more complex as the plot thickens.

Skillfully directed by Lucie Tiberghien in English with French subtitles, Moliere in the Park’s theatrical film, pen/man/ship continues live streaming for free through April 24.  RSVP is required and the show is two hours with a five-minute intermission.  Click here for more information and how to stream the show.

Aboard the Ship in ‘pen/man/ship’ Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Capturing the illusion of being on a ship without the cast actually being on one is no easy feat, but attractive visual illustrations by Rocco DeSanti and effective sound effects by Daniel Williams depict large groups and cast members sitting side-by-side do not look out of place or jarring to the flow of the story.  Subtle technical details such as the gentle sway of the ship seem natural with the cast aboard.  One particularly innovative moment shows Jacob reflected in a mirror next to Ruby to make it appear as if he is standing in front of her.  The film flows so well from scene to scene without the quirks that zoom can sometimes cause. 

Kevin Mambo as Charles Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Widow Charles Boyd (Kevin Mambo) and his son Jacob (Jared McNeill) embark on their first maritime voyage to Liberia when Jacob meets seasick Ruby Heard (Crystal Lucas-Perry) and is immediately attracted to her mysterious ways.  Mambo as Charles pens reflections on his voyage by candlelight but his real motivations are unwritten. 

Pen/man/ship boasts an impressive cast including Kevin Mambo as obstinate, domineering, and manipulative Charles and Crystal Lucas-Perry as mysterious, headstrong, blunt, and stubborn Ruby sterling in their portrayals.   Both of these strong characters are more alike than they care to admit.  Mambo and Lucas-Perry are eloquent in their discourse and both have a commanding presence in their own unique way.  Their slights and verbal exchanges become riveting as the show progresses.  One is persuaded by faith and the other by facts, but both seem too emotionally invested for that to be entirely true.

Jared McNeill as Jacob Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Jared McNeill delivers an amiable performance as modest, shrewd, loyal, and sympathetic Jacob who struggles with his heart and his head.  McNeil and Lucas-Perry’s chemistry is earnest, yet complex and McNeill and Mambo have a warm and wary father and son camaraderie.  McNeill is particularly shrewd at seamlessly evoking his inner conflict with Mambo, evident right across McNeill’s face.

Bearded and dressed as a crew member faithful to the period, Postell Pringle portrays humble, fair-minded, and altruistic crew member Cecil.  Pringle has a welcoming presence as Cecil who often defuses tension as the show progresses.  Forthright, experienced, and respectful, he is well-spoken and has the discernment to navigate each character just as well as any ship.

Postell Pringle as Cecil and Crystal Lucas-Perry as Ruby Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Pen/man/ship is a thought-provoking exploration of what motivates people who have the best intentions and how stubbornness, isolation, and fear can wield an ugly course and a stunning revelation. 

Moliere in the Park’s theatrical film, pen/man/ship continues live streaming for free through April 24.  Click here for more information and how to stream this free show.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: Michael John Ciszewski’s ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ dwells in dreamlike introspection in 2020

To some, the sun is an adversary.  To fast-living insomniac Simon, portrayed by Michael John Ciszewski, the sun is sleeping just when he is waking up.  Michael John Ciszewski’s second solo project, The Sun is Sleeping, is a personal, contemplative piece though Simon wants to be anything but contemplative.  He’d rather escape than be alone in his thoughts and his isolation, always looking for a quick fix as he dreams, loves, and parties big.

Having seen Ciszewski in other projects such as Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s The Little Foxes and his latest Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s virtual Much Ado about Nothing, Ciszewski has a strength for portraying intense, multi-faceted characters and Simon is no exception.  Steeped in city views, sunsets, and the crack of dawn, The Sun is Sleeping is a beautifully shot, relatable journey during these difficult times. 

Michael John Ciszewski in ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ Photo credit to Michael John Ciszewski

Click here for more information and how to watch The Sun is Sleeping, a one hour avant-garde film.

The Sun is Sleeping is part confessional, part introspection, and part escape, featuring a myriad of mixed emotions as Simon and other characters face a pandemic.  As Simon fantasies about an eternally happy existence and doubt seeps in, the audience is privy to each character’s meandering perspectives in their sheer yearning to bond with other people in any way they can.

For the actors themselves facing an arts ‘intermission’ of this magnitude, it’s the thrill of the audience, lack of that type of expression, and entire way of life turned upside down that contributes to their unsettling uncertainty.  Pier Lamia Porter as Sam and Rachel Belleman as Caroline unite in a wistful zoom call that could speak to anyone right now.  It’s the longing and joy of being together.  Some of the show has a sense of humor, but much more of it is reflection showing we all have too much time on our hands and yet the sun still shines.

Itamar Kubovy of modern dance troupe, ‘Pilobolus,’ discusses fascinating footwork and Celebrity Series of Boston return

Ever since Celebrity Series of Boston’s annual, free season opener Let’s Dance Boston at Dewey Square on September 13 featuring dancers that brought the audience to its feet, the 2017-18 has been a non-stop celebration.  Adding to the excitement from Friday, October 27 through Sunday, October 29, international modern dance troupe, Pilobolus, returns to Boston to share their distinctive, always fascinating moves in Pilobolus Maximus: Beyond the Limits of Dance at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Celebrity Series of Boston - PIL-MAX-KEY-ART

Photo courtesy of Grant Halverson/Celebrity Series of Boston

Pilobolus has taken the stage in over sixty countries and thrilled audiences with television appearances at the Academy Awards, the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Olympics as well as made film appearances in Little Miss Sunshine, The Devil Wears Prada and Snakes on a Plane.  Executive Producer of Pilobolus, Itamar Kubovy, discussed Pilobolus’s fascinating footwork, its unique name, and the troupe’s love for Boston.

Sleepless Critic:  This is your 12th performance with Celebrity Series of Boston.  You must know Boston pretty well.

Itamar Kubovy:  We love performing in Boston and that’s not just lip service. We’ve always found our audience to teach us a huge amount about our work. The laughs, gasps, and paper rattling teach us about the work we are making.  In Boston, we encounter a crowd that makes us better at what we do and allows us to sharpen our performances.

Celebrity Series of Boston - Pilobolus Maximus

From the program, ‘Branches’ Photo courtesy of Ben McKeown

 SC:  Pilobolus is named after speedy barnyard fungus.  In the dance, I can see the symbolism behind the name.  Is there an interesting story behind it?

IK:  Jonathan Wolken, the co-founder who named the company, had a scientist dad studying the Pilobolus fungus in his biology lab, an organism about ¼ of an inch tall that grows in cow dung and has a large eye at its tip that always leans toward light. When the time is right to reproduce, the fungus shoots its head off of its body at the fastest acceleration known in nature. This alacrity and attraction to the light inspired Jonathan to name their first dance and the fledgling company after the phototropic fungus.

SC:  It seems like a quite a physically demanding job for these dancers.  What kind of routine keeps the dancers in shape and how do they best prepare for a performance?

IK:  When our dancers are in the studio, they work 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. They are lifting each other and working with tremendous physical intensity for close to 40 hours a week. The additional prep involves body maintenance, stretching, group work, and yoga.  Regarding the prep right before the show, we warm-up with an open curtain so the audience coming in watches the dancers move on the stage.  Both the audience and dancers need some time to prepare and we try to share that time. It makes the show all the more exciting when the lights go down.

Celebrity Series of Boston 1807-Pilobolus-pc-Grant_Halverson

International dance troupe, Pilobolus in Pilibolus Maximus: Beyond the Limits of Dance   Photo courtesy of Grant Halverson

SC:  I imagine live performances and sometimes dangerous stunts can hold some surprises every once in a while.

IK:  They do, but the work these people do together day in and day out really limits the risk based on the trust they build between one another. Most importantly, these dancers know how to instantly adjust when something goes wrong. While we certainly have our moments of injury, we have a great deal of confidence going into every show.

Celebrity Series of Boston - Pilobolus Maximus

From the program, ‘On the Nature of Things’ Photo courtesy of Ben McKeown

SC:  Improvising is invaluable.  How is trust developed between other members of the group?

IK:  Trust is mysterious, but there is no doubt in my mind that the physical giving of one’s weight and balance to another person, literally putting yourself entirely in their hands over and over again speeds that process up.  Some of the principals in which our process is based is the human physical connection by sharing, giving, and taking weight.  Trust is a powerful by-product of caring touch.

Celebrity Series of Boston - Pilobolus Maximus

From the program, ‘Echo in the Valley’ Photo courtesy of Ben McKeown

Pilobolus Maximus:  Beyond the Limits of Dance will take the Boch Center Shubert Theatre stage at 265 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts from Friday, October 27 through 29, as part of their national tour.  A free, post artist performance artist talk moderated by Peter DiMuro of the Dance Complex will be held on opening night. Click here for more information and for tickets.  Click here for more information on Celebrity Series of Boston, their full schedule, and how to support them during their 79th season.  Learn more about their season and get updates through Facebook and Twitter.

Flutist Sarah Paysnick delves into Grand Harmonie’s rollicking ‘March Madness’ concerts

For a musician, choosing the right instrument is the key to success.  For Grand Harmonie flutist and co-founder Sarah Paysnick, family and Sesame Street played a big part in her choosing the right one.  When a group of successful musicians got together to pursue something new and exciting, the innovative and eclectic music ensemble, Grand Harmonie was born.

Grand Harmonie group pic

Grand Harmonie in action Photo courtesy of Sarah Paysnick

Grand Harmonie will deliver March Madness, two exciting and inventive concerts that mixes a little bit of everything.  Featuring conductor Scott Allen Jarrett and soprano Jacquelyn Stucker with horn by Yoni Kahn, March Madness kicks off on Friday, March 24 at Arts at the Armory in Somerville, Massachusetts at 7:30 p.m.  On Sunday, March 26, March Madness will take the stage at the Second Church of Newton in West Newton, Massachusetts at 3 p.m.

Grand Harmonie Scott Allen Jarrett conductor

Grand Harmonie conductor Scott Allen Jarrett Photo courtesy of Scott Allen Jarrett

Sarah Paysnick discusses her music career, Grand Harmonie’s educational outreach, the excitement behind Grand Harmonie, and a closer look into March Madness.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Jeanne Denizard:  What first sparked your interest in music and what inspired you to pursue it as a music career?

Sarah Paysnick:  In kindergarten, many of my friends started learning piano.  They would teach me what they were learning, so I begged my mom for piano lessons. I remember wanting to quit after a short time, but my mom told me I had to finish the year. A few years later, many of my friends started learning string instruments.  I have a cousin my age that played the violin and she’d teach me when we got together. When I told my mom I also wanted violin lessons, she said that I have two cousins who play the violin and I should pick something else. Watching Bob on Sesame Street and because another cousin was learning it, I decided on the flute.

In 4th grade, when asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, I said I wanted to be a cantor because Judaism and music were important to me.  I didn’t have proper training as a singer.  Something told me, over the next few years, it would exclusively become a music career even though Judaism is still important to me. I never really thought about doing anything outside of music, though my music path has taken me in a variety of directions.  Ultimately, it led me to historical performance on flutes and teaching piano to children.

JD:  How did you become a founding member of Grand Harmonie and what do you enjoy most about this group?

SP:  I knew Yoni Kahn, our horn player and soloist for this concert!  With Yoni Kahn and a couple of other founding members, we were interested in starting something new and exciting. Though my favorite music to perform falls a bit earlier than Grand Harmonie’s core repertoire, I am constantly inspired by my colleagues who push me every day to be a better musician and honored to be an organizing member of the kind of ensemble people enjoy working with. Everyone has such a positive, generous attitude and it’s infectious!

Yoni Kahn Horn

Yani Kahn, horn Photo courtesy of Grand Harmonie

JD:  Grand Harmonie is very versatile and can transform from a symphony orchestra to an opera orchestra, or even become a chamber ensemble.  Is the unexpected part of what sets Grand Harmonie apart from other groups?

SP:  Yes, Grand Harmonie is a bit of a moving target.  People attempt to put us into a box and we don’t fit into one.  Every performance is different, but it also makes anything possible!

JD:  Grand Harmonie will be touring through Somerville and Newton on March 24 and 26 for March Madness.  Is this Grand Harmonie’s first time performing March Madness?  Where did the idea come from?

SP:  This is our first time doing this performance as well as splitting up the movements of a symphony and sprinkling them throughout a concert. In the 19th century, performances were quite different than they are today. Maybe a full symphony wasn’t performed or it was performed in its entirety but not straight through.  Perhaps a small chamber ensemble gave listeners a break from the big symphonic sound or a soprano would delight everyone with her beautiful voice.

Grand Harmonie Jacquelyn Stucker Soprano

Jacquelyn Stucker, soprano for March Madness Photo courtesy of Jacquelyn Stucker

These concerts were a social event and audiences didn’t remain silent as they think they are expected to today. Grand Harmonie wants to break the tension and allow people to clap when they want to, explore the space around them, and enjoy the concert without fear of getting stared down if they clap at the wrong moment or make a noise during the music.

On Friday night, the cash bar at the Somerville Armory will be open all night. Through a generous donation from Aeronaut Brewing Company, the first 30 ticket purchasers will receive one free beer!  On Sunday in Newton, we encourage people to relax and enjoy themselves, but the concert will not include alcohol and will be a more traditional performance.

JD:  This concert will be a particularly intimate and uplifting concert experience since it will take place in-the-round. Additionally, Grand Harmonie will deliver classical pieces in an entirely unique and rollicking way. Putting something like that together must have been a lot of fun.

SP:  Friday’s show is a really exciting experiment in how to make a “classical” concert more accessible and we can’t wait to experience it with our audience! Sunday’s show will be more traditional with the audience in pews and the orchestra in front, but we still expect it will be a rollicking good time!

JD:  For March Madness, Grand Harmonie weaves Mozart, Beethoven, and Weber into one big concert.  You have a unique way of breaking up Beethoven’s First Symphony during this “in the round” concert experience.

SP:  It may sound unique to split up a symphony today but this was not unusual in the 19th century! Sometimes even a single movement was chosen for a particular program.

JD:  Grand Harmonie also participates in educational outreach.  Please tell me about that.

SP:  Grand Harmonie has given master classes at the Longy School of Music at Bard College, MIT, and Harvard, among others. We have also given informational lecture/demonstrations at MIT and Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library. We love sharing what we’ve learned with musicians and music enthusiasts young and old!  Audience members are very curious about our instruments and we are happy to engage with them.

JD:   A few Grand Harmonie concerts are coming up before the end of the season.  Please tell me about Grand Harmonie’s future plans.

SP:  March Madness is the official close of our season, but we have plenty coming up!  We will be performing Haydn’s The Creation with Edward Jones and the Harvard University Choir and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2 Lobgesang with Edward Jones and the Harvard-Radcliffe Chorus. We have loved working with Ed at least once a year since we began and it’s fair to say we have a mutual admiration for each other.  In NYC, we will be partnering with On Site Opera to perform a wind octet Harmonie arrangement of Mozart’s The Secret Gardener by our own Yoni Kahn on horn and Thomas Carroll on clarinet. Also, keep an eye out for us during the Boston Early Music Festival the second week in June!

Grand Harmonie Group photo

Grand Harmonie group Photo courtesy of Hannah Shields

Click here for all of Grand Harmonie’s upcoming concerts and here for more on Grand Harmonie’s educational outreach.  Follow Grand Harmonie on Facebook and Twitter for upcoming events and more.