REVIEW:  Central Square Theater and Front Porch Collective’s ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Fats Waller Musical’ dazzling, engaging, and sensational fun

Whether it was a wink, a smile, Anthony Pires Jr’s mischievous laugh, the crackling chemistry and snappy asides among this multi-talented, finely adorned cast or Central Square Theater’s transformation into a vivid vintage Harlem nightclub, Ain’t Misbehavin’ certainly knows how to throw a roaring party.

Innovatively directed with stellar choreography by Maurice Emmanuel Parent and Ilyse Robbins with musical arrangements by Luther Henderson, Central Square Theater and The Front Porch Arts Collective continues sensational Ain’t Misbehavin:  The Fats Waller Musical live and in person at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA through Sunday, May 29 before moving to the Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA from June 9 to June 26.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Jackson Jirard and Christina Jones in Central Square Theater’s ‘Ain’t Misbehavin” Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

With festive lighting by Jeff Adelberg, red cocktail tables and lamps lining a gold-embroidered stage that frames the intimate, big band orchestra while eye-catching portraits hang on each side of the stage, Jon Savage’s alluring set design immediately sets the mood for an interactive, carefree, spontaneous, and humorous concert event fueled by Fats Waller’s tremendous talent.

The cast of ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Fats Waller Musical’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Accented by Elizabetta Polito’s distinctive costumes from furs to glimmering garments to slick pinstripe suits and bowler hats, Ain’t Misbehavin’ seamlessly rewinds the clock to the roaring 20s where Harlem nightclubs and speakeasies sprung up for a boisterous night of revelry during the Prohibition era.  Kicking off the show with a recording from Fats Waller himself, Ain’t Misbehavin’ reveals Waller’s catchy musical repertoire ranging  from exuberant romance to humorous irreverence to playful flirtation while also addressing significant and sobering issues of the era that remain rife today.  This incredible cast depicts it all with clever and mesmerizing swagger as well as some measure of illuminating heartache.

Led and enhanced by conductor Dan Rodriguez’s swift and extraordinary piano work especially for the thrilling stride piano number, Handful of Keys, this fiery, six-piece orchestra masters every brass-tinged and drum-laden beat with finesse. 

The cast of Central Square Theater and Front Porch Arts Collective’s ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Fats Waller Musical’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

With an vocal aptitude for exciting, big band numbers as well as ardent crooning, a few of this show’s many highlights include Lovely Hoffman’s clever and moving Mean to Me and the sheer energy and vibrant vocals in Yacht Club Swing and The Joint is Jumpin.’ 

Ain’t Misbehavin’s  crackling chemistry is well demonstrated between Lovely Hoffman and Anthony Pires Jr as they deliver a playful duet for the light and amorous number, Honeysuckle RoseChristina Jones and Jackson Jirard take the stage for a sweet version of I Can’t Give You Anything But Love and Sheree Marcelle and Anthony Pires Jr deliver an equally charming duet for I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.  Accented by Jirard’s limber movements and amazing choreography through hazy lighting, the show takes on a captivating, psychedelic turn as Jirard sings The Viper’s Drag.  Anthony Pires Jr shows off big personality and comedic sass for Your Feets too Big before the cast gathers for a heartrending Black and Blue.

The cast of Central Square Theater and Front Porch Collective’s ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Fats Waller Musical’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

The only thing more exciting than the music are the side smirks, irritated looks and onstage antics clearly hinting of the juicy drama happening between cast members behind the scenes, though it is all part of a show that thrives on the audience’s enthusiasm and interaction.   Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a riveting musical celebration for a multi-talented musician clearly ahead of his time.

Central Square Theater and The Front Porch Arts Collective continues sensational Ain’t Misbehavin’  The Fats Waller Musical‘ live and in person at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA through Sunday, May 29 before moving to the Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA from June 9 to June 26.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Singer-songwriters Natalie Price and Grace Pettis share resilience through struggle and the joy of performing live onstage again

It is no surprise that guitar strumming singer-songwriters Natalie Price and Grace Pettis recently brought a mix of emotional weight to the Club Passim stage in Cambridge, MA.  Not only in the great joy of performing for an audience again, but the heartache, loss, and reflection in their music as a result of these past couple of complicated years.  However, within this sadness lies resilience for thriving again.  

Grace Pettis and Natalie Price Photo credit to Natalie Price

Singer-songwriter Natalie Price debuted at Club Passim and opened for returning Club Passim favorite Grace Pettis on Thursday, April 14 in person and on live stream for one night only.  Click here to see where Pettis will perform next and here for more on Price.  Click here for more on Club Passim, their educational programs, upcoming events, and how to support local music.

A smattering of spotlights lit the Club Passim stage as Dallas-born Natalie Price delivered a mix of reflective, sorrowful, and playful love songs during her brief opening set.   Price’s sound has a tinge of Natalie Imbruglia or Lisa Loeb as she shares her experiences.

These Days is a clever track about the memory of escaping an unhealthy relationship and if the timing of that relationship were any different, Price might not have escaped.  Price sings, ‘I’m so glad I wasn’t younger when we met’ and ‘The heaviness, strangled me/A songbird in a cage.’  Its seemingly lighthearted chords contrast a returning and complex memory that changes over time.

Another highlight was The Island, a song performed entirely with a music box-sounding Kalimba instrument.  It is a melodious track about the euphoria of new love while Done is another clever piece that delves into the erratic and frantic feelings of unsteady love.  Price ends the set with a catchy and cheerful tune about devotion.

Natalie Price’s music can be found on Band Camp or on her website.

Grace Pettis Photo credit to Nicola Gell

Before taking the stage alone, Grace Pettis joined Price for an unconventional and sweet lullaby Pettis wrote and performs for a Ukrainian child living with Pettis and her family in Ireland called Sleepy Lobster.  Pettis had a table set up that evening to support Ukraine.

Florida-born Grace Pettis delves into a collection of powerful, somber, and soulful tunes, a reflection of some of the complex, life-changing experiences Pettis endured over the last two years.  In a burgundy shirt and black pants, Pettis is an unassuming presence with a certain personable charm and expressed her gratefulness to be back at Club Passim sharing her music with a crowd again.

Her passionate and powerful vocals in Pick me Up and Never Get it Back from her new album, Working Woman from MPress Records, has universal appeal with the latter a bittersweet message on the importance of living in the present and the former finding the strength to keep going in spite of life’s hardships.   Though Pick me Up could simply be interpreted as a love song, it could also apply to a larger message about faith and finding loyal support through life.

Pettis mused in Rain’s lyrics, ‘I don’t know how to be happy’ when she recalled being tasked with writing a song about sunshine.  The somber track was inspired by November rain in Ireland.

So many of Grace’s work addresses strength through struggle.  Mean Something also from Working Woman has a soothing quality about finding hope while Birthright, which is a Nobody’s Girl song, reveals the struggles of living with the pain of the past.  Pettis is an apt songwriter reflecting on the end of a life-changing relationship. She sings, ‘Brace myself for unwanted advice…I’m the box forgotten in the attic.’

However, one of my favorite tracks is Corner, a complex love song about unconditional loyalty, the pain thick in Grace’s voice.  Though the show had its share of solemn musings, Pettis ends the set with Working Woman’s fiery and meaningful title track, her powerful belt demonstrating though hardship, Grace Pettis has thicker skin than that.

Click here for more information on Grace Pettis and where she is touring next.  Learn more about Natalie Price here and click here for more on Club Passim, their music classes, upcoming concerts, and how to support local music.

REVIEW:  Dreams proceed with caution for Central Square Theater’s illuminating ‘Young Nerds of Color’

When I first witnessed the hit film Hidden Figures, I was absolutely amazed for a couple of reasons.  In the early 60’s, a team of phenomenal NASA mathematicians were so talented that some astronauts including Neil Armstrong refused to board the space shuttle without their astute calculations.  The other amazing and frustrating detail is that for all that these African-American women accomplished, I had never heard of them or worse, was never taught about them at school.  Hidden Figures stayed with me.  These genius mathematicians made such an indelible impact in the world and yet, I was learning about them for the first time in this film.

‘Young Nerds of Color’ cast and creative team Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Directed remarkably by Dawn M. Simmons, Underground Railway at Central Square Theater presents Young Nerds of Color arranged by Melinda Lopez live in person through March 20 at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA and virtually through April 3.  The show is approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.    Click here for more information, tickets, and COVID-19 guidelines.

The night before reviewing Young Nerds of Color, I attended an astronomy group meeting that featured a documentary about a rarely predictable phenomenon.  A professor claimed he knew when the next supernova would occur.  A supernova is when a star explodes and disperses its matter into the galaxy.   It turns out the professor made a tragic miscalculation and the supernova never occurred in the documentary.  However, Young Nerds of Color depicts two beautiful ones thanks to Andrea Sofia Sala’s innovative lighting while also symbolically illuminating some big and impactful ideas such as the discovery that matter from a supernova is directly connected to eyesight. 

Lindsey McWhorter as Portia Long, Daniel Rios Jr as Reinaldo Herrera and DJ Lopez, and Alison Yueming Qu As Chloe Chen Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

An educational and unconventional play full of discoveries, Young Nerds of Color translates like a flowing and collaborative academic dialogue among geniuses with performances so subtle and convincing that I had to glance back at the program to make sure they were actors and not the actual professionals they are depicting.  A show gathered from 60 interviews with real life scientists, cast members deliver their point of view in their own unique style as they discuss the journey to make their ambitions come to life. 

Ricardo Engermann as Jim Gates, DJ Thomas, Reinaldo Herrera and DJ Lopez Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Sponsored in part by MIT, Young Nerds of Color examines the lives of renowned scientists and engineers from diverse backgrounds whose career dreams were more difficult to achieve than they ever expected even before they discovered that dream.   Living in pre-segregated Boston, racism and economic struggles was just a portion of the challenges they faced for being “young nerds of color.”  They all collaboratively take on the role of scientist and educator as they share with the audience and usher in the next generation to proceed toward their dreams with cautious optimism.

Lindsey McWhorter as Portia Long and Karina Beleno Carney as Dr Maria Hernandez Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Shelley Barish’s straightforward and illuminated set features two double helixes that might also symbolize that long career ladder and periodic table while Nona Hendryx creates memorable compositions with catchy and cosmic-sounding rhythms and original music.

Some of the cast depicts multiple roles and have engaging chemistry as they portray the journey from childhood experiments fueled by curiosity to those dangerous discoveries that can change the world all while presenting themselves in a way that society might accept so they too might thrive.   I should have learned about this astounding group before now.

Hidden Figures stayed with me and Young Nerds of Color sure does too.

Underground Railway at Central Square Theater presents Young Nerds of Color arranged by Melinda Lopez live in person through March 20 at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA and virtually through April 3.  The show is approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.    Click here for more information, tickets, and COVID-19 guidelines.

REVIEW:  ‘Christmas Revels In Celebration of Winter Solstice’ a clever and inviting return to the stage

Performing for a full and enthusiastic crowd and dedicating the performance to Revels friend Julie Smith, this year’s Christmas Revels offers a lot to its audience, but most importantly, it ushers in the excitement and gratefulness of being together again with a sing-along as well as emphasizing helping those in need.   

Christmas Revels’ audience sang live in Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts and now until January 9, you are invited to sing along virtually from your own living room.  Be sure to download the program first and follow along to songs from the middle ages to classic Christmas carols to contemporary classic songs.   Directed cleverly by Patrick Swanson, The Christmas Revels in Celebration of Winter Solstice is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and how to see this year’s show.

Scene from the Mummers Play (William Forchion as The Dragon, Regie Gibson as the MC/referee, and Mark Jaster as Saint George) Photo courtesy of Shep Ferguson

From last year’s selection of new songs mixed in with some of their greatest performances over Christmas Revels’ 50-year run, Christmas Revels is back to a bit of storytelling and theatrics while still tying in the past with the present day – pandemic times, masks, and all.  An unconventional battle with a dragon is only portion of this wild and peculiar tale where traditions are challenged and life today takes an unexpected turn for this lively cast during a caroling and Christmas party. 

It also weighs in the vintage with the contemporary while infusing its own share of lighthearted humor and enough fantastical elements to create a concise and innovative story.  Acknowledging our present woes, Christmas Revels offers insight and hope into how to best help each other through these difficult times. 

Christmas Revels boasts a large, collaborative cast which includes the lighthearted return of Paula Plum and Richard Snee’s quick-witted observational skills.  With dynamic chorography by Kelli Edwards, Tony Tucker, and Gillian Stewart, charismatic David Coffin returns as Master of the Revels leading an uplifting rendition of Lord of the Dance and beautiful a cappella harmonies for Donna Nobis Pacem.  Alex Cumming and the Revels Morris dancers also impress with the traditional and eclectic Pudding Jig.

The Elizabethan’s arrive! (William Forchion, Regie Gibson, Mark Jaster) Photo courtesy of Shep Ferguson

William Forchion portrays pub owner Joe with Carolyn Saxon as his wife.  Forchion is affable and charismatic keeping a cool head as the pub experiences some unexpected surprises.  He shows off some fancy footwork in a drum-infused sword dance and his smooth vocals are also put to the test in a dual role that is anything but cool.  Regie Gibson portrays sophisticated and no nonsense Reginald while Sabrina Selma Mandell amusingly delivered cheerful comedic nonsense as Flunky, a seemingly dimwitted jester. 

Carolyn Saxon bringing the house down at the George and Dragon’s annual carol party Photo courtesy of Shep Ferguson

Carolyn Saxon gives an amazing performance every time she lifts her voice.  Her vibrant vocals shine in her warm delivery of Oh Happy Day, her heartfelt rendition of Lean on Me, and inspiring Someday at Christmas accompanied by the entire cast.

The Ha’Penny Wassail Children also do a splendid job as they join together for a festive “zoom” to We Wish You a Merry Christmas, their own sweet rendition of Someday at Christmas with harp accompaniment, and leading off a glorious Wassail medley while decorating a tree.

Elizabethan’s strut their stuff (dancing) Photo courtesy of Shep Ferguson

Heidi Hermiller’s colorful costumes varies from humorous ugly Christmas sweaters to festive pub wear to resplendent, gold embroidered and delicately laced gowns.  Jeremy Barnett’s hospitable and festive pub setting includes subtle sparks of hope and encouragement weaved into the surroundings such as a ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ sign by the bar.  With a glowing fireplace in the background, the warm atmosphere boasts a festively decorated room enhanced with lit evergreen trim wrapped around the entire theatre as Jeff Adelberg innovative lighting flashes to the beat as the live onstage Pickled Eggs House Band showcase a variety of music styles led by Music Director George Emlen and Associate Music Director Edmar Colon.

The Christmas Revels in Celebration of Winter Solstice continues its virtual run through January 9.  Click here for more information and how to see the show.

REVIEW:  Boasting two stellar leads, Central’s Square’s ‘The Half Life of Marie Curie’ full of inspiration and crackling chemistry

For revolutionary physicist and chemist Marie Curie, not everything can be solved through a calculation.

On the verge of her second Noble Prize for Chemistry, anxious and introspective Marie Curie finds herself embroiled in a scandal and at one of the lowest points of her life.  Quite literally bursting onto the scene is brilliant and charismatic electromechanical engineer and suffragette Hertha Ayrton ready to bring humor and optimism to what seems like a bleak situation.

Lee Mikeska Gardner as Marie Curie Debra Wise as Hertha Ayrton Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

Brimming with crackling chemistry between Lee Mikeska Gardner as Marie Curie and Debra Wise as Herthe Ayrton, Central Square Theater opened their fall season with Lauren Gunderson’s The Half Life of Marie Curie continuing through December 12 at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The show is 85 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

The stage is deceptively serene for Lauren Gunderson’s The Half Life of Marie Curie. Lindsay Genevieve Fuori’s colorful, innovative, and functional scenic design comes to life as stirring sound effects and a mysterious and foreboding piano score by sound designer Elizabeth Cahill make an intriguing combination fused with Whitney Brady-Guzman’s dynamic and surreal lighting.

A production that picks up from the very start, these two driven pillars of science with contrasting personalities are a fascinating pair to watch and listen to their musings.  Gunderson’s sharp script strikes a delicate balance between intellectual prowess and absorbing dramedy.  They share their views on life, family, and work with wit, humor and candor, yet instinctually encourage each other forward with respect and admiration.  Both are widows and mothers who struggle with how women were perceived in the early 20th century, but their sheer determination and passion for science ultimately make an indelible mark on the world.

Lee Mikeska Gardner as Marie Curie and Debra Wise as Hertha Ayrton in 1910s swimwear Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

Adorned in a lovely feathered black hat and flowing emerald green dress, Debra Wise brings gravitas, confidence, ego, and clever charm as Hertha Ayrton.  From the moment Ayrton bursts onto the stage with a confident cock of her head, gleam in her eye, and cheerful intonation, a lightheartedness sets in to her passionate and outspoken persona as opposed to Curie’s darker sensibilities.  Dressed demurely in a rich purple dress, Gardner skillfully embodies tense Curie in her careful and calculated movements.  You can practically see the wheels turning in Curie’s constantly analyzing mind and consider the lengths she would go for the sake of her work.

Lee Mikeska Gardner as Marie Curie Debra Wise as Hertha Ayrton Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

Marie Curie and Hertha Ayron’s exchanges are no ordinary gabfests.  From sexual politics to love to family and everything in between, Wise and Gardner, as different in their approaches are and as opposite their personalities, they understand each other as equals, colleagues, and kindred spirits. Celebrating each other’s triumphs and supportive in hardship, theirs is a true testament to unyielding and enduring friendship and it stands at the center of this auspicious and biographical story.

Directed astutely by Bryn Boice, Central Square Theater presents Lauren Gunderson’s The Half Life of Marie Curie through December 12 at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The show is 85 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Currently on tour, Ice Dance International’s ‘In Flight: Live’ delivered a stylish farewell to the Skating Club of Boston

The memories certainly flow after a century.

Ice Dance International’s Executive Artistic Director and choreographer Douglas Webster reflected wistfully as he introduced what was likely Ice Dance International’s final performance on The Skating Club of Boston’s ice rink on Saturday, February 29.  With a 100-year reputation of bringing everything from amateur to Olympic skaters to the ice, The Skating Club of Boston has been sold and will move to a much larger facility in Norwood, Massachusetts.  During the week of Ice Dance International’s historic performance in Boston,  WGBH’s Open Studios’ star Jared Bowen interviewed Ice Dance International’s exemplary ice dancers at WGBH and took to the ice with them for a stunt or two.

01 -- IDI Tour Cast Photo David J Murray

ICE DANCE INTERNATIONAL “IN FLIGHT: LIVE” TOUR 2020 FULL Cast Front Row: Laura Seal, Klabera Komini, Lara Shelton, Douglas Webster, Alissa Czisny, Kseniya Ponomaryova; Back Row: Ian Lorello, Neill Shelton, Rohene Ward, Collin Brubaker Not pictured: Adam Kaplan Photo credit to David J. Murray, ClearEyePhoto.com

Ranging from searing romance to lighthearted fun to big band to catching the wind, Ice Dance International’s ‘In Flight:  Live’ gave The Skating Club of Boston a proper send off with a sold out show at 1240 Soldiers Field Road in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Ice Dance International, who holds residence at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, Massachusetts, is currently on a national tour through April 4.    Click here for more information and tickets.

06.1 Till The End PHOTO Daphne Backman

Neill Shelton and Kseniya Ponomaryova in ‘Till the End’ Choreographed by Douglas Webster

Ice Dancing is not competitive skating, but a unique artistic journey on ice.  Not only did ‘In Flight’ feature captivating and extraordinary ice dancers that delivered more than their share of eye-popping stunts, but what was most impressive was how different each dance was from the other.  Featuring dynamic choreography from Douglas Webster, Trey McIntyre, Stephanee Grosscup, and Benoit Richaud, Ice Dance International delivered a wide range of music from classical to contemporary including pop, hip hop, and ballads evoking stories of heartache, excitement, humor, and passion.

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Just a few of the highlights included a stirring couples skate from Collin Brubaker and Kseniya Ponomaryova called ‘Till the End’ to the haunting ballad, Kissing You by Des’ree.  A passionate and bittersweet performance, the pair seemed to float upon the ice as Collin dipped, spun, and lifted Kseniya. They joined together as one before he must let go.  Another elegant performance was delivered by Klabera Komini and Neill Shelton called ‘In Space’ choreographed by Douglas Webster with music by Tom Yorke called Suspirium.   To a luminous, piano-infused melody with a deeper meaning, the dancers skillfully glided together connected only by a sheer purple scarf.

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Alissa Czisny and Rohene Ward delivered beautiful solo performances.  Rohene was charming and humorous in a beard and suspenders in ‘Wind Dancer’ choreographed by Stephanee Grosscup while Alissa was a vision in blue skillfully keeping a precise, quick pace to Yo-Yo Ma’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major in ‘Primavera.’

Some lighter moments included a group skate with Collin Brubaker, Adam Kaplan, Ian Lorello, Laura Seal, and Lara Shelton to Ben Kweller and Parsonfield’s  How It Should Be.  In a dance appropriately called ‘A Blade of Sunshine,’ what looked like a freestyle, fun loving group skate in bright, rich colors culminated into a jaw dropping moment as one dancer dove underneath and through the group of moving dancers and landed on his feet.  It’s only one example of the sensational stunts witnessed throughout the evening from daring lifts to high speed spins to impossible twists and turns.

Ice Dance International’s ‘In Flight:  Live’ continues its 2020 national tour through Saturday, April 4, concluding in Aspen, Colorado.  Click here for more information and tickets.  For upcoming events and more, follow Ice Dance International on Facebook.

REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston presented John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift for Nat King Cole tribute and more on Valentine’s Day

Since Jazz and love doesn’t follow a set of rules, they came together for Valentine’s Day.

Love lit up Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Valentine’s Day as Celebrity Series of Boston presented ‘For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole’ on Friday, February 14 at 8 p.m.  Whether longing for love, falling in love, or losing in love, Veronica Swift and the John Pizzarelli Trio brought a jazz-infused twist to classic love songs and American Standards from Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Cole Porter, and especially Nat King Cole for one night only.

Veronica Swift and John Pizzarelli are currently on tour.  Click here for Swift’s upcoming shows and here for John’s future tour dates.  Click here for more on Celebrity Series of Boston and their upcoming events.

Festive purple curtains embellished Sanders Theatre’s beautiful, softly-lit stage.  Dressed in an effervescent pink jumpsuit that changed shades in different lighting, jazz vocalist Veronica Swift kicked off the evening with a drum-infused rendition of Cole Porter’s breezy classic, Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love).  Each musician had an opportunity to show off their stellar talent which included pianist Julius Rodriguez, bassist Phillip Norris, and drummer Aaron Kimmel.

Swift offered a casual, low key presence as she shared childhood stories of growing up touring with her jazz singer mother, Stephanie Nakasian and her father, bebop pianist Hod O’Brien.  Swift’s versatile set had its share of joyous and stirring moments which included a poignant version of Ella Fitzgerald’s Everytime We Say Goodbye dedicated to her father as her voice swelled in quiet emotion.  She skimmed the scales in an electrifying version of Billie Holiday’s Come Rain or Come Shine and an anguished Prisoner of Love.

Veronica Swift and pianist Julius Rodriguez Photo credit: Robert Torres

At just 25 years old, she is a spirited and contemplative performer.  Jazz aficionados would appreciate her natural ability for scatting showcased in a fast paced, ebullient rendition of Billie Holiday’s I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me.  Though I am not a big jazz fan, it is easy to appreciate the liberties jazz takes to transform these classics into a refreshing, eclectic new sound.

With a great deal of humor, a relaxed atmosphere, and in a sharp gray suit, avid storyteller John Pizzarelli delved into the history of Nat King’s Cole music while sharing some of his own history along the way.  He revitalized a few of Nat King Cole’s hits and shared a few anecdotes in tribute to Nat King Cole’s centennial.  American Jazz singer-songwriter and musician Nat King Cole was one of the most successful artists on Capital Records’ roster and his music has inspired generations.

Pizzarelli is currently on tour for John Pizzarelli Trio’s most recent album For Centennial Reasons:  100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole.  The title seems a subtle play on Nat King Cole’s I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons) which Pizzarelli performs tenderly later in the show.  Aside from Pizzarelli who can no less shred on guitar, Pizzarelli was joined by spectacular musicians Isaiah Thompson on piano and Mike Karn on bass.  The John Pizzarelli Trio’s collective sound had the rhythm of a moving train.  Each piece came alive as the instruments seem to “chat” with each other especially during Hit That Jive, Jack and a lively rendition of Honeysuckle Rose.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

Bassist Mike Karn, John Pizzarelli, and pianist Isaiah Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

The trio explored Lorraine as Pizzarelli shared a legendary story about how the song turned Nat King Cole from a pianist into a singer, though it is a rumored tale.  Nat King Cole was part of the Nat King Cole Trio and it was nice to see Pizzarelli reflecting that with his own John Pizzarelli Trio, each member getting their own chance to shine.

Pizzarelli’s delivered an uplifting set which included a few love songs.  His guitar hummed during a cheerful rendition of Nat King Cole’s Make Believe as lightning fast pianist Isaiah Thompson commanded the keys.  Pizzarelli showed off his side winding guitar style in his own song titled Nat King Cool and his scatting skills during Nat King Cole’s Frim Fram Sauce.  The evening’s lighthearted vibe continued with the humorous Save the Bones for Henry Jones, the vibrant I Would Do Anything for You, and one of Nat King Cole’s most popular singles, Straight Up and Fly Right.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

John Pizzarelli, bassist Mike Karn, and pianist Isaish Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

Swift returned to the stage for a few Gershwin classics that included a wistful Someone to Watch Over Me.  She and Pizzarelli delivered a wonderful rendition of They Can’t Take That Away from Me, I Got Rhythm, and their lauded encore Route 66.

As a big Nat King Cole fan, I would have liked to have heard Nat King Cole’s Stardust and his mega-hit Unforgettable, but it simply didn’t fit into an evening consisting of mostly the brighter side of love and its boundless possibilities.

Celebrity Series of Boston is just getting 2020 started with a number of performing arts musicians that includes Bobby McFerrin, Milos, the Jason Palmer Quartet, Lyon Opera Ballet, and the return of Alvin Ailey.  Click here for the full list of upcoming events.

 

REVIEW: Soprano-actress Christina Pecce puts her own spin on a few famous faces in fabulous ‘Witches, Bitches, and Divas!’

In a white suit and glittering heels, soprano and actress Christina Pecce may have paid homage to Beyonce (her style reminiscent of Beyonce’s suit at the Superbowl 50 halftime show), but certainly stepped into quite a few famous shoes with ‘Witches, Bitches, and Divas,’ a one night only, one woman cabaret that took place at the American Repertory Theatre’s (A.R.T.) Oberon Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Sunday, September 8.  Click here for a closer look at ‘Witches, Bitches, and Divas!’ and here to see where Christina will perform next.

Don’t be deceived by the title.  No witches, bitches, or divas actually appear in the show unless you are referring to “every woman” Christina Pecce.  Her one woman show steps into all three categories to create a partly auto-biographical and comedic musical show covering the likes of Elphaba (Witch) from the Tony award-winning hit musical ‘Wicked,’ Miss Hannigan from the classic musical, ‘Annie‘ (Bitch, if left to interpretation), and diva Mariah Carey.  She also chooses zany selections about marriage and shows off her classically-trained vocal talents performing a soaring French opera and then a tonally-deaf singer with Flanders and Swann’s A Word to My Ear.  The bottom line is Christina Pecce can sing just about anything.

Witches Bitches and Divas Oberon Cambridge

The Oberon in Cambridge, Massachusetts Photo credit to Witches, Bitches and Divas

Accompanied by a trio of powerhouse musicians which included Music Director Steve Bass on piano, drummer George Darrah, and bassist Nick Francese, Christina brings humor and personal anecdotes while adding her own spin to various medleys.  She tackles subjects like nannies, drinking, and gravity and even sneaks in an amusing little drinking game too.

From Sondheim to Nat King Cole, Christina makes her time onstage an unpredictable, interactive treat as she occasionally wanders through the crowd, serenading a few audience members.  She also left a piece of her heart onstage in a stirring rendition of Sondheim’s ‘Being Alive.’  Pecce last appeared at the Oberon in February and from the glowing reception she received when she returned, it certainly will not be her last time.

American Repertory Theatre’s Oberon is an intimate and inviting night club without a bad seat in the house that welcomes a variety of shows throughout the year.  Located at 2 Arrow Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Oberon is American Repertory Theatre’s second stage for theatre and nightlife.  Click here for upcoming events at the Oberon, here to learn more about Christina Pecce, and here for more about the American Repertory Theatre.

 

 

 

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

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

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

Whiskey Treaty Roadshow Tour Schedule 2019

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

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

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

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

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow band

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.