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: Seeped in silvery, eclectic rhythms, Celebrity Series of Boston presented a joyous, sold out Sergio Mendes and Bebel Gilberto concert for Bossa Nova’s 60th anniversary

Catchy, invigorating rhythms have never had a better reception than at Grammy award-winning Brazilian great Sergio Mendes and popular Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto’s sold out concert to celebrate 60 years of Bossa Nova on Friday, October 18 at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston.  Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston, an enthusiastic crowd rejoiced in the exhilarating, eclectic rhythms that surely left them humming a tune or two long after the show was over.

Click here to find out where Sergio Mendes and Bebel Gilberto will perform next on their tour.  Click here for more about Celebrity Series of Boston and all of their upcoming events.

Dressed in a floral, black trimmed dress that delivered a certain sparkle with silver, sky high heels, Bebel Gilberto, who descends from a long line of Brazilian and jazz greats including her late father, Joao Gilberto, who wrote the Grammy award-winning tune, The Girl from Ipanena, kicked off the celebration.  Accompanied by renowned guitarist Guilherme Monteiro and drummer Leo Costa, Bebel swept onto the stage with catchy, low key rhythms.   Her smooth, slinky vocals opened with Wave written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Frank Sinatra recorded this popular song in English in 1969.

BebelGilberto-credit Vicente de Paulo(3)

Bebel Gilberto Photo credit: Vicente de Paulo/Celebrity Series of Boston

Most of Bebel’s songs were in Portuguese, but as she engaged the crowd through song and personal reflections, she said she is Brazilian-American.  She dedicated a few songs to family members, stating family is everything.  Her set was a mix of jazz and serene rhythms as she whistled and scatted onstage.

Even if Portuguese is not a familiar language, the beats and rhythms linger in Bebel’s crisp, clear, and captivating vocals.  She invited the crowd to sing and clap along as she covered some of her father’s hit songs such as the humorous O Pato (The Duck), the upbeat rhythms of Saudade vem Correndo, and Udiu, a song that Bebel said mirrors how her father played guitar.

Warm and charismatic, Bebel delivered a lighthearted, invigorating version of her own hit, So Nice (Summer Samba) and performed a lighter, more upbeat version of Just One of those Things, dedicating the classic Cole Porter hit to her parents.  After playfully applying lipstick onstage, she ended her set with Samba Da Bencao, dedicating the mystical, romantic rhythms to Boston.

The celebration heated up as Grammy award-winning Sergio Mendes appeared onstage, greeted with a rousing applause.  Along with his vocalist wife Gracinha Leporace and Katie Hampton, Sergio promised the crowd a musical journey through 60 years of Bossa Nova music and he certainly delivered.

Referring to the renowned musicians onstage as “the best band he ever had” while simultaneously playing piano and conducting the band, Sergio was accompanied by drummer Leo Costa, guitarist Kleber Jorge Pimenta, bassist Andre De Santanna, keyboardist Scott Mayo, and percussionist Gibi.

Dressed in his signature white Cuban Hat and suit, Sergio delved into the history of Bossa Nova, opening with a rousing rendition of Magalenha as the crowd clapped wildly.  He followed it with the lighthearted and colorful tune, Waters of March, composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim as Katie Hampton and Gracinha Leporace swayed and effervescently sang, “It’s the end of the strain/It’s the joy in your heart.”

Sergio-Mendes_V0A0520_V_Final

Sergio Mendes Photo credit: Vincente De Paulo/Celebrity Series of Boston

Sergio kept the evening lively, sharing songs that ranged from romantic and stirring to breezy and joyous with drum-infused rhythms.  In a flowing sea green dress and charcoal leggings, Gracinha passionately sang O Que Sera by Chico Buarque.  Hip hop veteran and vocalist Harrell Harris (H2O) sang a lovely duet with Katie Hampton for Sergio’s 80s hit, Never Gonna Let You Go as guitarist Kleber Jorge Pimenta performed an amazing guitar solo.

One of the most thrilling parts of the evening was a freestyle jam session which included a berimbau and percussionist solo seeped in the rhythms of Rio de Janeiro. Many of the musicians are multi-instrumentalists and it was fascinating to watch the instruments seemingly “speak” to each other.

The concert featured unique spins on popular songs such as Gracinha and Katie’s spirited, piano-infused duet of the Beatles classic, Fool on the Hill.  Gracinha also lends her powerful vocals to an eclectic version of Dusty Springfield’s James Bond theme song, The Look of Love.

Sergio Mendes capped off the evening on a high note with two of his most popular songs.  H2O returned to the stage as the band performed Mas Que Nada, a 1966 hit song that became popular again when Sergio collaborated on the song with Will.i.am and The Black Eyed Peas.  H2O is an incredible talent, adding a boost to an already electric lineup.  Saving the best for last, Bebel returned to the stage with the entire ensemble for a sensational version of Sergio’s most popular song, Pais Tropical, enhanced with bright rhythms and Scott Mayo’s thrilling saxophone.  After 60 years, Bossa Nova still puts joy in the heart.

Click here to find out where Sergio Mendes and Bebel Gilberto are performing next.  Click here for Celebrity Series of Boston’s wonderful 2019-20 season and upcoming events.  For updates and more, follow Celebrity Series of Boston on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

REVIEW: Little Theatre of Stoughton’s ‘Anything Goes’ a zany musical comedy on the high seas

The Little Theatre of Stoughton showed off its sea legs with Cole Porter’s musical comedy classic, ‘Anything Goes’ that ran one weekend and concluded on Sunday, August 18 at Stetson Hall in Randolph, Massachusetts.  Directed and choreographed by Christina Maggio with music direction by Jesse Alling, this Tony Award-winning musical boasted a number of legendary composer Cole Porter’s hit songs while revealing a high seas tale of mistaken identity, lurking gangsters, and complicated romance.  Click here for more on the Little Theatre of Stoughton and check back for their upcoming events.

It was a lively, cheering crowd that greeted the cast in the final performance of this show, offering a short applause as each main character first took the stage.  Having never seen a production of ‘Anything Goes’ before, it was surprising to see just how many Cole Porter classics came from this 1934 musical.  You’re the Top, Let’s Misbehave, I Get a Kick Out of You, De-lovely, and the title track are just a few of the American Standards that have been covered by contemporary music artists and live on today.

Little Theatre of Stoughton Anything Goes aboard the ship

Nate Haywood as Billy Crocker (bottom center) and cast Photo courtesy of the Little Theatre of Stoughton

‘Anything Goes’ could very well have also inspired the 1977 television show, The Love Boat because comedy and complex romance runs amok on the SS American where Nate Haywood as Billy Crocker will do virtually anything for a laugh.  Earnest, charming, and complex, Haywood was well-fitted for the role as a man of many faces who wore many hats.

The show has its share of silly moments and Haywood’s scenes with Will Candler as boisterous and demanding Mr. Whitney prompted more than a few laughs.   Haywood’a agile vocals struck a few beautiful harmonies with romantic, optimistic, and forthright Hope, portrayed by Sarah Palmer, a lovely high soprano.

Little Theatre of Stoughton Anything Goes Hope, Billy, and Angels

Sarah Palmer as Hope Harcourt and Nate Haywood as Billy Crocker Photo courtesy of Mikayla Williams Photography/Little Theatre of Stoughton

Haywood’s vocals  were also a great match for Stephanie Wallace’s charismatic and clever nightclub singer Reno during the sweet and playful number, You’re the Top.   Wallace was exemplary as Reno, whether solo or accompanied by her elegant Angels, portrayed by Abigail Merchant, Caroline Tobin, Isabelle O’Connor, and Kelli Neville who were all dressed in bold, vintage gowns. Wallace’s smooth and soulful vocals soared through a spirited I Get a Kick out of You and a cheeky version of Let’s Misbehave accompanied by Matt Maggio’s seemingly stuffy, proper, and amusing Sir Evelyn Oakley.  Both Maggio and Wallace have wonderful comic timing and playful chemistry.

Little Theatre of Stoughton Anything Goes Hope, Billy and the cast

Sarah Palmer as Hope Harcourt, Nate Haywood as Billy Crocker, and the Reno’s Angels Photo courtesy of Little Theatre of Stoughton

With a squeaky high voice and party-loving ways, Whitney Lloyd as Bonnie and Kevin Fortin as smarmy, cool headed Moonface make a great, albeit a bit clichéd pair.

With captivating choreography by Christina Maggio, this bustling musical certainly showed off its sea legs for a few showstopping dance numbers including a dazzling, adrenaline-soaked tap routine during the title track, Anything Goes.  From there, the choreography certainly hit next level status with the spinning and lively number Blow Gabriel Blow and lighthearted Heaven Hop.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Little Theatre of Stoughton will soon announce its 62nd season.  Click here for more on the Little Theatre of Stoughton and get their latest updates on 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.

Celebrity Series 1739-Kristin-Chenoweth-Credit-Bryan-Kasm

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.