Renowned conductor Charles Floyd talks Boston Pops and Gospel Night’s 25th anniversary featuring CeCe Winans

For 25 years, the Boston Pops has 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, multiple Grammy award-winning Gospel singer Cece Winans headlines this special 25th anniversary concert for one night only on Saturday, June 17 at Symphony Hall in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets to this monumental concert event.

Renowned conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd talks about his longtime role with Gospel Night and its evolution as well as dreams he never imagined coming 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 is an incredible event each year.  The last time I went, it seemed like the Boston Pops Gospel Choir was a nonstop celebration, joyfully continuing even 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 anyway.  You have been with Gospel Night for 23 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 23rd and it’s their 25th, but I am celebrating 25 years just like they are.

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

Gospel Night at the Boston Pops (Stu Rosner)

Gospel Night at the Boston Pops Photo courtesy of Stu Rosner/Boston Pops

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 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 3rd 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.

SC:   Some of the best things happen spontaneously.  This year, CeCe Winans will be the featured artist on Saturday, June 25.  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 that 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.  CeCe is big in the Gospel world and was available.   We’re really excited to have her as our guest.

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Legendary, Grammy award-winning Gospel singer CeCe Winans Photo courtesy of the Boston Pops

SC:  Will there be any surprises on this 25th anniversary celebration?

CF:  I don’t think I’ll be flying in from the balcony on a cable, but we do have a few things. (Laughs)  The first part of the program is mostly Americana.  We’ll start the program with Fanfare for The Common Man.  It recently would have been JFK’s 100th birthday.  Maybe the first part will feature the music of John Williams edited together and text added from the speeches of the late president JFK called, Let the Word go Forth.  Some of the music by John Williams will accompanying the narration is from the movie, JFK.  We are just going to celebrate a little Americana with CeCe Winans and the choir is going to perform some favorites over the past 25 years.  We may never get out of there. (Laughs)

SC:  It is fitting since the Boston Pops season is dedicated to John Williams this year.

CF:  Absolutely.  Tying the program together with Boston Pops tradition as well as the Gospel music tradition and its history has been a challenge and a lot of fun.  I look forward to it as well as some many other people.

Boston Pops John Williams leads Film Night, 6.6.14 (Stu Rosner)

Acclaimed composer and conductor John Williams leads Film Night Photo courtesy of Stu Rosner/Boston Pops

SC:  I’m glad you have been part of the Gospel Night tradition for 23 years and I know you performed all over the world.  Music has been a part of your life since you were 4.

CF:  That’s when I finally got to a piano.  I used to bang on cables and pretend like I was playing.  Everybody thought it was so 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 just 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.

Charles Floyd and Melinda Doolittle perform on a Gospel Night Program in 2010 (Stu Rosner)

Charles Floyd and Melinda Doolittle perform on Gospel Night in 2010. Photo courtesy of Stu Rosner/Boston Pops

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 in 2017, I would be celebrating 25 years 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 more grateful and happier.

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.

REVIEW: ‘L.A. Dance Project’ closed Celebrity Series of Boston’s season with powerful, message-driven performances

Another spectacular season of Celebrity Series of Boston has come to an end, but not without an intriguing and dynamic finale by L.A. Dance Project, packing a punch with their surprising footwork.  The final performance also featured a free, interactive post-show talk with Ballet Master Sébastien Marcovici.  Celebrity Series of Boston’s 2017-18 season will premiere in October with multi-talented performer Alan Cumming.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Playful, vibrant, and at times haunting, L.A. Dance Project, closed out the Celebrity Series of Boston’s season at the Shubert Theatre from May 19-21. Led by Benjamin Millepied, an acclaimed dancer and choreographer known for choreographing the award-winning film, Black Swan, L.A. Dance Project’s three complex and contemporary dance segments offer its share of joy and conflict while inspiring strong emotions throughout the performance.

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‘Harbor Me’ (Morgan Lugo, Robbie Moore, Aaron Carr) Photo courtesy of Robert Torres/Celebrity Series of Boston

Accompanied by a haunting oboe featured in a dynamic medley by Park Woojae, Harbor Me by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui delivers a powerful message about human nature and looking past what is on the surface.  Fragments of light stripe the floor as shadows sway ominously on the walls.  Dressed in fatigues and urban clothing in browns, blues and greens, Stephanie Amurao, Julia Eichten, and Lilja Ruriksdottir interact with each other in a ballet-infused variation of unity, imitation, reflection, and conflict.  They move in a fascinating flurry of abstract movement that both celebrates unity as well as emphasize the dark side of human nature as the music intensifies.

LA Dance Project Murder Ballades

Murder Ballades (Nathan Makolandra, Rachelle Rafailedes) Photo courtesy of Robert Torres/Celebrity Series of Boston

Worn sneakers possess a mighty significance as dancers, dressed youthfully in shirts and shorts, unite in a vigorous and charming performance, the second dance segment of the afternoon.  The lighthearted, violin-infused music possesses a mounting urgency set upon a vibrant water, gold, and black background.  The lithe men and women ensemble, featuring Stephanie Amurao, Aaron Carr, Julia Eichten, Nathan B. Makolandra, Robbie Moore, and Rachel Rafailedes, are blissful and uplifting in smooth, sweeping steps.  They perform pirouettes with zeal, twirl, dip, and hook arms in a display of sweet innocence.  In a particularly humorous moment, as the dancers exited the stage, rambunctious dancer Janie Taylor, carried away by the music, was yanked offstage at the last moment. The performance, entitled Murder Ballades by Justin Peck, is a response to real life, tragic events that children have endured in Aurora and Sandy Hook.  It is a beautiful, spirited tribute to youth, but not without a sense of foreboding.

LA Dance Project Janie Taylor

‘Murder Ballades’ (Janie Taylor) Photo courtesy of Robert Torres/Celebrity Series of Boston

The final dance, On the Other Side, is an intriguing compilation by acclaimed artistic director and choreographer Benjamin Millepied.  With an extraordinary emphasis of color by costume designer Alessandro Sartori and bright, multicolored background art by Mark Bradford, On the Other Side taps into a wondrous reverie featuring dancers Stephanie Amurao, Aaron Carr, David Adrian Freeland Jr., Morgan Lugo, Robbie Moore, Rachel Rafailedes, Lilia Ruriksdottir, and Janie Taylor.  Each color in the artwork seems to come to life in each dancer as they spin, twirl, and skip along.  The piano tune, by Philip Glass, also builds to a crescendo as duets perform a mix of traditional ballet and contemporary dance and then gather center stage, as if yanked out of a reverie.

LA Dance Project Rachelle Rafailedes

‘On the Other Side’ (Rachelle Rafailedes) Photo courtesy of Robert Torres/Celebrity Series of Boston

Click here to learn more about L.A. Dance Project and future performances.  Follow L.A. Project on Facebook.  Celebrity Series of Boston will be back for another stellar season featuring celebrity appearances, dance, comedy, and more.  Click here for more information, subscriptions, tickets, and how to support Celebrity Series of Boston.  Get further updates on Celebrity Series of Boston on Facebook.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston celebrates 49th summer season with three renowned musicals

Dance, forbidden love on the water, and an epic tale among brothers featuring a coat of many colors encompass Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s award-winning summer musical season.  Celebrating its 49th season of bringing summer musicals to Waltham, Massachusetts, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston kicks off their summer season on June 8, featuring one renowned musical a month through August 13.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

From acclaimed composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, who have both earned Tony, Grammy, Academy, and Golden Globe awards, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston presents the joyous and stirring musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat starring American Idol contestant and country singer Ayla Brown for two weekends from Thursday, June 8 through Sunday, June 18.

Based on the Book of Genesis, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat explores the incredible journey of Joseph and his brothers as Joseph discovers his destiny.  Exploring a variety of genres such as country western, rock and roll, disco, and reggae, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat boasts memorable tunes such as Close Every Door, Any Dream Will Do, and Go, Go, Go Joseph.

Reagle Showboat

Courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Celebrating its 90th anniversary, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston proudly presents the award-winning, grand scale musical, Showboat starring Broadway’s Ciaran Sheehan for two weekends from Thursday, July 6 through Sunday, July 16.  With music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Showboat explores the relationships and events aboard a Mississippi show boat from 1887 to 1927.  An insightful musical delves into significant issues such as prejudice and forbidden love, Showboat features the timeless numbers Ol’ Man River, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man and Make Believe.

Reagle 42nd Street

Courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston closes out its summer musical season with the toe-tapping, Tony award-winner for Best Musical, 42nd Street starring The Dukes of Hazzard star Tom Wopat for two weekends from Thursday, August 3 through Sunday, August 13.  Featuring hit songs such as Lullaby of Broadway, We’re in the Money, and I Only Have Eyes for You, 42nd Street is a fast-paced, dazzling musical surrounding the inner workings of a Broadway show.

All performances will be held at the Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street in Waltham, Massachusetts. Call 1-781-891-5600, visit click here, or email groups@reaglemusictheatre.org for more information on their summer musical series and much more.  Group tickets and gift certificates are also available.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston will also host Musical Theatre camp in July! Click here for more information and follow Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Kristin Chenoweth, making her Celebrity Series of Boston debut on April 30, talks favorite roles, latest album, and more

From a church choir soloist to an Emmy and Tony award-winning actress and singer, Kristin Chenoweth has been dazzling audiences on film, television, and on stage with her dynamic range and powerful vocals for over 20 years.  Currently promoting her sixth album, The Art of Elegance, she will be making her Celebrity Series of Boston debut for ‘An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth’ at Symphony Hall on Sunday, April 30 at 7 p.m.   The evening will include a selection of her most popular songs, pop, American standards, and Broadway tunes.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Kristin Chenoweth talks about some of her favorite and most challenging roles, the inspiration behind her Grammy-nominated album, and a few surprises she has encountered along the way.   Click here for more on her upcoming projects.

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The Art of Elegance with Kristin Chenoweth Photo courtesy of Bryan Kasm

Sleepless Critic:  You’re an actress, singer, Broadway performer, and voiceover artist.  You sang in church at an early age.  Was singing your first love?

Kristin Chenoweth:  My first love was ballet.  I wanted to be a ballerina, but I didn’t have the flexibility in my feet.  I was so glad I had that training at a young age because I began to hear classical music and then I wanted to take piano.  I think I was about eight years old when I had my first solo in church and that’s kind of when things shifted for me.

SC:  You will be exploring a number of genres during your upcoming concert.  Pop, songbook classics, Broadway, a bit of everything you’re known for.  What kind of music do you enjoy listening to?

KC:  I love all kinds of music and I shift in and out and change a lot.  Right now, I’m listening to a lot of Linda Ronstadt.  I get on these kicks and I’ll just listen to something over and over and it shifts all the time.  There are so many artists I admire, but that’s what I am doing right now.

SC:  Have you ever had a role that you had certain expectations of and you ended up totally surprised by on Broadway or otherwise?

KC:  Absolutely, I think playing the female lead in Promises, Promises.  I knew it would be a challenge for me to play her, but it was really surprising how much I fell in love with her and came to really understand her.  There’s a big part of me who really knew who this person was.  It might not have been what fans wanted necessarily, but it is important as an artist to not always do what is expected.  The part scared me and that is how I knew I needed to do it.

SC:  You won a Tony as Sally Brown in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. What has been your favorite role so far?

KC:  On Broadway, it is definitely Lily Garland in On the 20th Century.  It was a role that required a lot of my own skill set and it is an operetta with tons of movement and high brow comedy.  I probably never worked harder, but it was extremely gratifying.

SC:  You have such a great vocal range.   Was there a note that you discovered you could hit that took you by surprise?

KC:  I remember being in a voice lesson while at Oklahoma City University.  My teacher was vocalizing with me.  I didn’t study voice growing up.  I just sang in choir and was in drama in high school.  That was my training, so I never had a voice lesson.  When I went to OCU, she vocalized with me up to a high F sharp above high C.  I knew that was high, but I couldn’t believe it.

For many years, I sang arias that required a high F and I noticed it’s maybe not there like it used to be.  I would say I am living in more of the D or E flat area, but that was a crazy high note.

SC:  When a song is particularly challenging, how do you overcome it?

KC:  It’s so funny, we were just talking about one of the songs from Promises, Promises the other day with Michael Orland, my music director on this tour.  The song is called, Knowing When to Leave by Hal David and Burt Bacharach.  I just told him that it hammered away at my voice eight times a week because it is very repetitive in an area of my voice that is what we call passaggio.  That song scared me.

Finally in rehearsals, I thought less about being note perfect and more about the character.  I find that when you let go, you really think about what you are singing and mean what you are singing.  It hasn’t always gone that way and I don’t always make the right decisions, but that is when you let go, you can get there.  That song was a big challenge for me and to this day, I think it’s hard, but I worked on it, wrote it down, lived it, and warmed up to it.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll pull it out again.

SC:  The Art of Elegance is your latest album.  What was the inspiration behind it and why did you choose American songbook classics this time around?

KC:  Basically, I made a list of a bunch of songs and it kept pointing to this era.  I love the lyrics.  I love the melody of its time and they are some of the greatest songs ever written by composers such as Gershwin and Cole Porter.  I didn’t know The Very Thought of You very well.  I think I heard it a couple of times and then I really started to investigate the song.  That happened a lot on this album and now, of course, I just feel like I want to do a part two.

Click here for more information and for tickets to Celebrity Series of Boston presents ‘An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth’ at Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave. in Boston, Massachusetts on Sunday, April 30 at 7 p.m.  Celebrity Series of Boston just announced their 2017-18 season.  Subscriptions, gift cards, group, and student discounts available.  Click here for more on their upcoming season.

Celebrity Series of Boston thrives on support from the community. Click here for a variety of ways to support Celebrity Series of Boston.

See Boston Marathon film documentary ‘Boston’ nationwide for one night only

Finding strength and endurance in life’s challenges is easier said than done, especially when it comes to one of the most cherished and epic races in history.  Hailed as one of the most demanding marathons since its inception in 1897, for many, The Boston Marathon encapsulates a lifelong goal.  It takes the utmost endurance, agility, stamina, and determination for some the fastest runners in the world to conquer and suffer through the Boston Marathon’s annual awe-inspiring journey from Hopkinton to Boston.  Boston invites audiences to hear a few of those extraordinary stories and more for just one night on Wednesday, April 19.

In its 120th year, the Boston Marathon will show its first feature-length documentary film, Boston as a nationwide Fathom event on April 19 only.  Narrated by Academy Award-winner Matt Damon, Boston explores the extensive history, the building momentum of the Boston Marathon over the years, the incredible stories of its runners, and continuing the race following the tragic events in 2013.  Sponsored by John Hancock, learn the story of the Boston Marathon’s first charity runner, Stelios Kyriakides, who ran to support poverty-stricken Greece during World War II.  Boston interviews first female runner Bobbi Gibb, the first Kenyan and African to win Boston, Ibrahim Hussein, and shares the story of exceptional runner Johnny Kelly, who ran the Boston Marathon 61 times.

Boston is directed by award-winning filmmaker and marathon runner Jon Dunham, who was able to share exclusive marathon footage, photos and memorabilia with permission from the Boston Athletic Association.  Jazz instrumentalist and Emmy award-winning composer Jeff Beal, best known for creating the haunting score of the Netflix’s drama series, House of Cards, composed Boston’s extraordinary soundtrack, which was recently recorded live at Symphony Hall.

Click here for a closer look and tickets to Boston. Get further details on their Facebook page.

Queen Latifah, Ben Folds, ‘Jaws,’ and ‘E.T.’ part of the Boston Pops ‘Celebrating John Williams’ season

Sometimes the most tremendous talent is located right in the backyard.  Responsible for a wealth of critically-acclaimed and celebrated music scores over a career that spans six decades and beyond, Boston Pops Laureate conductor John Williams has been nominated for 50 Academy Awards, winning five.  Legendary film scores for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Jaws as well as the Olympic Fanfare and theme and NBC Sunday Night Football are just a glimpse of the spectacular works by the incomparable John Williams.

In honor of John’s 85th birthday and his incredible accomplishments over the years, The Boston Pops dedicate their season to Celebrating John Williams from Wednesday, May 10 through Saturday, June 17 at Boston Symphony Hall.  The season will kick off with multi-talented actress and singer Queen Latifah from Wednesday, May 10 to Thursday, May 11 and finishing off with the 25th anniversary of Gospel Night on Saturday, June 17.

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Queen Latifah opens the Boston Pops season Photo courtesy of Boston Pops

The Boston Pops also offers a pre-season concert series hosted by Indiana Jones star, Karen Allen and the live recording of Boston Pops CD release on Friday, April 7.  Click here for Boston Pops tickets and here for more information on upcoming BSO concerts.

Led by accomplished conductor Keith Lockhart, a compelling roster of renowned artists and celebrity appearances enliven this spring’s Boston Pops season.  The stage and screen have never been brighter with iconic artists such as musicians Ben Folds, Leslie Odom, Jr, and the Party with the B-52s.  Other highlights include The Beatles & Beyond, Jaws in Concert, Mamma Mia, E.T. in Concert, Cirque De la Symphonie,  Lights, Camera, Music, The Music of John Williams, and more.

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Ben Folds Photo courtesy of the Boston Pops

The Boston Pops presents the always phenomenal and wildly-popular Gospel Night once again led by Charles Floyd and the return of Film Night with John Williams.  Click here for a full list of performances.

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Leslie Odom, Jr from Hamilton will perform with the Boston Pops Photo courtesy of the Boston Pops

Click here for 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.

 

Award-winning journalist JC Monahan discusses her part in Urban Improv’s funniest fundraiser, ‘Banned in Boston’

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Photo courtesy of Urban Improv

What is it like to perform at Urban Improv’s annual fundraiser, comedy, and music revue Banned in Boston?   For the last five years, Emmy award-winning journalist and Chronicle host JC Monahan has taken the stage to support Urban Improv’s dedication to youth empowerment each year while leaving seriousness at the door.  Sometimes the backstage antics are as hilarious as what is happening onstage.

Urban Improv is celebrating its 25th anniversary and presenting Banned in Boston, an evening of delicious food from top restaurants such as Mei Mei, Island Creek Oyster Bar, Eastern Standard, and East Coast Grill, improve featuring guests from business to politics to media personalities, and much more on Friday, April 7 at House of Blues in Boston, Massachusetts at 6 p.m.  This is a 21+ event.   Hosted by WGBH’s Jim Braude and Margery Eagan, click here for this year’s featured guests and tickets.

As the guest list grows longer each year, this exciting, highly-anticipated event get sillier and more inventive.  Anything can happen.  Emmy award-winning journalist JC Monahan talks about her experiences.

Sally Taylor and Charlie Baker

Onstage at Banned in Boston – Governor Charlie Baker and musician Sally Taylor

Jeanne Denizard:  Last year, I interviewed returning musician, Sally Taylor.  Sally said she had a blast at Banned in Boston.

JC Monahan:  She participates every year and is such a big supporter.  I think a lot of the fun happens backstage, but we also have fun onstage too.  It’s a chance to connect with so many other people in Boston behind the scenes talking and getting to know each other, laughing at the costumes we’re wearing and the lines that we’re saying, and it’s a blast seeing some of these people put into crazy situations.  For example, one of my all-time favorite memories is Aerosmith’s Tom Hamilton, dressed in this fantastic blue prom dress, as one of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters.  Tom has achieved so much in his life and it’s so great he is totally willing to get onstage and be silly all for Urban Improv.

JD:  He’s local too.

JCM:  We have amazing people right in our backyard and it’s fantastic they all get onstage for this cause.  We’re all from different walks of life contributing in our own way in our personal lives, but we are also contributing together onstage.  I am as much a fan as I am a participant.  Sally Taylor is so sweet, so down to earth, and so talented.  I’ve become good friends with WGBH’s Jared Bowen and that is completely through Banned in Boston.  Emily Rooney is hysterical and Matt Siegel, who I only hear on Matty in the Morning.  I usually don’t get to see him face to face.   It’s a little reunion every year.

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Urban Improv presents their annual fundraiser, Banned in Boston Photo courtesy of Lisa Kessler/Urban Improv

JD:  This year, Banned in Boston is hosted by WGBH’s Margery Eagan and Jim Braude.

JCM:  They are two of my favorites and I listen to them all the time.  Jim usually gives me a hard time which is perfect.  It’s a great night and I love everything about it.

JD:   It’s such a great cause.  Urban Improv helps youth cope with real life challenges such as bullying and violence through topical improvisation.

JCM:  Exactly, you’re there to support the arts in many ways, but you are also using the arts in such a constructive way to help kids learn to communicate.  We can all benefit from being better communicators.  I love that they are starting young and reaching kids who may not know how to solve a problem.  Maybe Urban Improv will be that change in their life that sets them on a new path.  How can you not want to be behind that?

JD:  These kids may lack the guidance and are not in an environment where they can get it.

JCM:  Exactly, it takes all of us.  Urban Improv steps in and reaches those kids.  If I can help keep that program going in a very small way, I’ll be there.  I’ve participated for four or five years, but I feel like I’ve been there since the beginning since they make you feel like part of a family.  It is a very inviting, warm, environment and it allows you to be even sillier that you would be.

JD:  Oh, I know!  The funny things I have heard.

JCM:  When you have the congressmen get up onstage and act silly, the Governor, and the people I know through charity events as well, it’s just fun for everybody.  One of the funnier ones is Sonia Chang-Diaz who was funny as Miley Cyrus one year.  Banned in Boston oftentimes have a ringer who is an actual actress or actor that will blow us all away.  Kathy St. George will be there this year and she’ll be amazing.

JD:  You need a few to keep people guessing.  Are any of your characters created with you in mind?

JCM:  No, I think they work hard to keep us outside our comfort zone.  Politicians don’t play politicians most of the time, though last year I did get to play a reporter a little on the nose.  Then, years ago, I was a bratty yoga devotee.  I’m all for putting me in the most uncomfortable, craziest role because it’s much easier than something that’s close to who you actually are.  I’d rather play Miley Cyrus than have to play myself.

JD:  Do you have certain people that you click with better onstage?

JCM:  Anyone who is all in is the person I want to work with and I don’t think there has been anybody who hasn’t been all in.  Lisa Pierpont is always all in.  She came one year in a big, long wig.  If you take yourself too seriously, this might not be the place for you.  The list of people who have said yes are ready to be silly, ridiculous, and get people to laugh and enjoy themselves because we want people to come back year after year and continue to support Urban Improv.

JD:  I know it is an improv show, but do you do any preparation for it?

JCM:  We get the script less than a week before the show, but they do give you a costume comment.  One year I played a judge, so I overnight shipped a graduation gown on Amazon for the show.  I played the yoga devotee and they said to please come in yoga clothes.  You have no rehearsal time and we walk onstage with our scripts.  We are pretty much a mess, and that is the fun of it.

JC Monahan onstage at Banned in Boston

JC Monahan during an improv sketch at Banned in Boston as a judge with cast Photo courtesy of Lisa Kessler/Urban Improv

JD:  What kind of surprises stick out for you over the years?

JCM:  You don’t know what character you are playing opposite until you get there, so it’s always fun to see who got what character.  A couple of years ago, the chefs in Boston made this awesome music video.  Nobody knew they had done it and it wasn’t part of the program.  That took some coordination, preparation, and effort for people that are super busy, but it was hysterical.  This year’s Banned in Boston’s theme is offense, misdeeds, and comedic infractions.

JD:  That sounds dangerous.

JCM:  Yes, you never know.  When I see the script in my inbox, it’s Christmas morning for me.  You find out where they put you, the songs we sing at the beginning and the end and coming up with new lyrics to fit the always Boston-centric theme.  Anybody from this area will get the jokes.  The jokes are always about Boston accents, Boston parking, Boston drivers, Boston politics.  Nothing will be missed and the audience will get it all.

JD:  You talked a lot about what you look forward to each year and what drives you to return.  What do you think is the best reason people should see Banned in Boston?

JCM:  There are a lot of wonderful Boston fundraisers, so it’s hard to capture people’s attention, time, and money, and Banned in Boston has found a really unique way to do it that captures the spirit of what Urban Improv is.  It has great food, great drinks, and a fantastic space at House of Blues in Boston.  There’s no better mix than that.

Urban Improv kids

Youth improv work in action Photo courtesy of Urban Improv

Click here for more information and tickets to this hilarious, one night only event starting at Lansdowne Pub for a cocktail reception at 9 Lansdowne Street on Friday, April 7 at 6 p.m.  Banned in Boston at House of Blues, located at 15 Lansdowne Street, kicks off at 7:45 p.m.  Click here for more on Urban Improv and its mission.