REVIEW: Immersive and insightful, Museum of Science’s ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth’ cleverly reveals the woman behind the monster

The beauty of mythology is how outlandish a tale can be while still conveying a powerful, contemporary message.  ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth‘ with ‘What Time is it, Mr. Fox?’ is an immersive, multimedia experience that weaves live music with a classic tale…and a twist.

For three Thursday nights during the summer with a final performance that took place on August 22, The Museum of Science in Boston’s Charles Hayden Planetarium presented a theatrical experience that conveyed messages of female empowerment, human nature’s capacity for cruelty and shallowness, and more through this classic mythological tale.  Click here for the full trailer.

It was part of an adult series (18+) which continues with ‘Subspace:  Redefining the Adult Experience’ throughout the fall.  This dynamic series includes Storytelling, Halloween Happening, the music of Stevie Nicks, a night with Isabella Rossellini, and much more.  The Museum of Science is located at 1 Science Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for the full schedule and ticket information.

Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth

Imagery of the legendary creature, Medusa Photo credit to ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth’

‘Man plans and God laughs’ takes on a whole new meaning when breathtakingly beautiful Medusa plans to become a priestess to Athena.  However, what she thought was her path became a sordid journey.  Told in flashback in Crete 1100 B.C., ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth’ offered humor, violence, and beauty weaved into an insightful, message-driven tale.

Packed with illustrations depicted more artistically than realistically by animators Ruth Lingford and Norah Solorzano, this panoramic experience combined with the Charles Hayden Planetarium’s supersonic sound creates a mesmerizing journey through the world of Ancient Greece.  Rich blue skies, the star-studded cosmos, and dark, raging oceans were just glimpses into this mesmerizing experience.

Medusa - mrfoxlineuplogo_orig

The band, ‘What Time is it, Mr. Fox?’ Photo credit to ‘What Time is it, Mr. Fox?’

As the tale unfolded, the haunting and emotive sounds of acoustic neo-soul group, ‘What Time is it, Mr. Fox’ performed original songs that emphasized the madness, grief, tyranny, and danger within this tale.  With vivid lyrics such as, “We can do a lot more with this kind of rage,” “Trying to breathe while learning to drown,” and “You’re going to wind up dead if the devil gets in,” this dynamic group’s jazz-infused interludes between scenes not only enhanced what the characters were thinking, but the journey itself.  Front and center and bathed in blue light, a few of the most beautiful orchestrations included On Fire, Learning to Drown, The Witness, and Into the Black.

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The men were depicted as arrogant and narcissistic and the conversations between the gods had their moments of humor, chemistry, gossip, and power talks.  However, what made the tale so intriguing was it offered a more rounded, sympathetic view of the legendary Medusa while sharing various interpretations of her through statues and illustrations.  ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth’ means to shatter those preconceived notions of this mythological, snake-haired creature and bring her to a place of mercy and anguish, powerful but yielding, and facing issues that were not so different than they are today.  She was a myth, a monster, but still a woman.

Though this show has completed its run, ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth’ may still have a future beyond its time at the Museum of Science.  Click here to learn more about ‘Medusa Reclaiming the Myth’ and here for more on the band, ‘What Time is It, Mr. Fox.’  The Museum of Science offers programs throughout the year and continues ‘Subspace Redefining the Adult Experience‘ through the fall.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: ‘Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert’ with live orchestration from the Boston Pops a thrilling cinematic achievement

No better way to witness a galaxy far, far away.

It has become a beloved Boston Pops tradition to exhibit the finest films in cinema history enhanced by the stellar sounds of the Boston Pops, an immersive film experience performed so eloquently, one may never watch the film quite the same way again.  In the past few years, The Boston Pops has inventively breathed new life into film classics such as ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ ‘Psycho,’ ‘Home Alone,’ ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ and ‘Nosferatu‘ through stunning live orchestration and Star Wars lives up to that sterling reputation.

The re-mastered, extended version of ‘Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert‘ with live orchestration by the Boston Pops was held at Symphony Hall earlier this spring and then recently in the Koussevitzky Music Shed at the Tanglewood in Lenox, MA on August 16.  The ninth film and epic conclusion of the Star Wars series, ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker‘ arrives in theatres in December and what better way to welcome the end than by remembering the beginning.

John Williams at Tanglewood (Hilary Scott)

John Williams conducting Film Night at Tanglewood Photo credit to Hilary Scott

Academy award-winning composer John Williams has been the name on everyone’s lips at Tanglewood for the past couple of weeks with ‘Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert‘ on Friday, August 16 and then the ever-popular ‘Film Night’ on August 24, an annual tribute concert featuring just a few of the acclaimed film scores of John Williams.  Not only did John Williams make an appearance at the end of the August 16th performance, but Patriots owner Robert Kraft was also in the audience.  Click here for more information, tickets, and a look at Tanglewood’s full schedule.

Keith Lockhart Leads the Boston Pops at Tanglewood (Hilary Scott)

Keith Lockhart leads the Boston Pops at Tanglewood Photo courtesy of Hilary Scott

Conducted by acclaimed Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, The Boston Pops launched an enthusiastic audience into that beloved galaxy with ‘Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope,’ the first film in what would become a beloved series of films in 1977.  The rising swell of the perilous, suspenseful, triumphant, and Academy award-winning Star Wars Main Theme from John Williams was just the start of this exciting film that has been thought to be a touchstone to future films in that genre while also possessing some classic Shakespearean roots.

The intense score, each crisp note from the orchestra, the sound that thundered in the Koussevitzky Shed was nothing that can be relived in front of a television screen or in a movie theatre.  It felt like being in the studio with the cast, enhancing their already outstanding performances, and scoring the film for the first time.

Star Wars A New Hope

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, and Harrison Ford as Han Solo in ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ Photo credit to Disney/Lucasfilm

The lively audience was clearly composed of some of the most devoted Star Wars fans cheering   not only the opening of the film, but each major character as they were first introduced onscreen.  Familiar faces such as the twinkling eyes and swaggering charisma of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, Peter Mayhew’s towering presence as Chewbacca, Carrie Fisher’s holographic appearance as Princess Leia as she utters the classic line, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  You’re my Only Hope,” Alec Guinness as the wise and mysterious Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mark Hamill’s naïve Luke Skywalker, and James Earl Jones as the timeless voice of Darth Vader were all greeted with rousing applause.

Set on the planet with two suns, the subtle humor, the scheming, the epic adventure, George Lucas’s marvelous characters, the dazzling technology of its time, the bickering between R2-D2 and C-3PO and between Han Solo and Princess Leia are all recaptured in this unforgettable cinematic experience.

The Lawn at Tanglewood 2016 (Hilary Scott)

The Lawn at Tanglewood 2016 Photo credit to Hilary Scott

Located in the Berkshires at 297 West Street in Lenox, Massachusetts and now year-round, Tanglewood’s outdoor venue is a must see, whether under the tent at Koussevitzky Shed or under the stars for a lawn picnic.  Click here for Tanglewood’s full schedule follow them on Facebook.

Exploring theatre, nature, space and more, Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s Christopher Wilkins talks depth and diversity in free summer concert series

From exploring live theatre and music to nature to science to space as well as taking on racism, climate change, and many more important topics all involving a vast array of community members, organizations, and performers, Boston Landmarks Orchestra is so much more than a beautiful free Wednesday night concert outing at the Esplanade.  Boston Landmarks Orchestra Gala will celebrate 90 years of free concerts on the Esplanade in October.

WCRB is a media partner for the Boston Landmarks free concert series.  Click here for Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s complete summer schedule at Boston’s renowned Hatch Shell and here for further details on the upcoming Gala.

It was an honor to speak with Christopher Wilkins, Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s conductor and Music Director, who took time out of his busy schedule to discuss the highlights of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s summer season and what is coming up.

The Sleepless Critic:  The season kicked off on July 10 with the second annual “Season Tune-Up” party.  What was that like?

Christopher Wilkins:  It was a gorgeous night with a great turn out.  Lots of children attended and we introduced our audience to many of our partner organizations which include musical organizations, music educational schools, and partners like the New England Aquarium and the Museum of Science.  The “Season Tune-Up” Party featured fun games, a performance from the Everett High School band, and our Maestro Zone where kids can step up at the podium, wave the baton, look at a score, and get a conducting lesson.  We offer Maestro Zone at our regular concerts as well.

Boston Landmarks Orchestra Maestro Zone Assistant Conductor Shuang Fan

The Maestro Zone with Maestro Zone Assistant Conductor Shuang Fan

SC:  We’ve been blessed with some beautiful nights this summer.  You have been the Music Director and conductor for the Boston Landmarks Orchestra since 2011.  What has it been like for you collaborating with different theatres and new works each year?

CW:  Our mission is to engage as many Bostonians as possible from all walks of life and one of our strategies is to develop partnerships.  They feature an array of organizations to get their fans, their folks, and their constituency excited to come to a concert and work with us.

One of our best strategies is to create composer residencies in different neighborhoods around Boston so people who might not ever encounter an orchestra can develop some way of making music or dancing or some other performing art that they can bring to our stage and perform with the orchestra. We have a lot of inexperienced young performers throughout the summer and some who have never been onstage before.   We do all that along with an eclectic lineup of Dvorak, Broadway, symphonies, and a great choral repertoire.

SC:  It must be an incredible experience to see how everybody interacts with each other and how it turns out onstage.

CW:  It’s wonderful to perform it in the Hatch Shell because it is an iconic venue, people associate it with orchestral music, and it is in the heart of the city.  The Hatch Shell is also quite enormous. We can fit 5,000 people or more at our concerts and that is typically what we draw when the weather is nice.

SC:  Such depth in a free event.

CW:  It’s important to many people that can’t afford to come otherwise.  It’s also a powerful emblem of the idea of universal access.  Everybody is welcome.

We just think about access barriers, which are not only economic.  Cultural assumptions in a community can cause people to stay away.  At Landmarks, we think deeply about what those barriers are and do what we can to get rid of them.

SC:  Yes, and you have held many events so far this season.  For example, you recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing with Symphonic Space Odyssey.  How did you pay tribute to this historic event?

CW:  We performed that in Jordan Hall because it was a stormy night.  Jordan Hall is one of the most beautiful venues in America and the sound indoors just rattles your bones.  We didn’t have to change the program at all, just the venue.

The Moon Landing is one of the most amazing achievements in the history of mankind.  It was an awesome night and we celebrated it with the Museum of Science which was perfect because they have had an exhibition ever since the moon landing occurred.  The Museum of Science prepared fabulous video footage relating to the moon landing, space travel, rockets, and deep space taken from materials produced in house at the Hayden Planetarium for their full dome experience.

SC:  What are you most looking forward to this season?

CW:  Each week is so over the top that it’s hard to pick a favorite.  We have a wonderful collaboration on August 14 with the New England Aquarium featuring some remarkable video material that will be synchronized live to the orchestra.

Boston Landmarks Orchestra New England Aquarium

Boston Landmarks Orchestra partners with the New England Aquarium for a free concert on August 14 Photo courtesy of Boston Landmarks Orchestra/New England Aquarium

The subject is climate change and we’re performing Vaughan Williams Symphonia Antarctica which is originally a film score, but now set to a more recent film made by Natural History New Zealand featuring all shots from Antarctica.

Then we have a beautiful photographic sequence put together by Boston Globe writer David Arnold called “Above and Below.”  He’s taken Brad Washburn’s iconic aerial photographs of glaciers and coral reefs mostly from the 1930’s and then taking the same shots today.  Of course what you see is a devastating record of loss set to Adagio for Strings.  The program also includes optimistic shots from Boston Harbor and other places from then and now which shows tremendous improvement environmentally and send the message that we can do something about climate change.

We did an extremely interesting panel discussion recently which has some caused useful and in depth panel conversation called “Who Should Sing Ol’ Man River?” around race and the portrayal of racial themes at WBUR CitySpace.  Our moderator was Emmett G Price III, a celebrity in Boston and a wonderful musician, historian, pastor, and radio personality.  It was a wonderfully experienced and informed panel who weighed in on a lot of these questions and shaped how we put together the following week’s concert.

Boston Landmarks Orchestra Alvy Powell

Bass Bariton Alvy Powell Photo courtesy of Boston Landmarks Orchestra

SC:  Ol’ Man River from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Showboat” is such an amazing song and I’ve seen it done is so many different ways.

CW:  It’s a showstopper.  Our base Alvy Powell has sung Ol’ Man River in the White House for the last six sitting Presidents in a row.  He sang it at George H.W. Bush’s funeral at President Bush and his wife Barbara’s request.  He also sang it at Gerald Ford’s funeral.  If anyone should sing Ol’ Man River, it’s Alvy Powell and he performed it that night.

SC:  What kind of conversation sprung from that panel?

CW:  That’s a good question.  We got into questions of language, dialect, the history of black music, and cultural appropriation.  Quite an interesting segment was when we were looking at where we go from here.  One of our panelists was Ashleigh Gordon, founder of an organization that has attracted a lot of praise and attention called Castle of Our Skins.  It celebrates African American composers and performers.  She’s done an amazing job furthering the discussion and coming up with creative ways of producing eye catching programming.

They are opening a permanent set of offices at the Boston Center for the Arts.  We are collaborating with Ashleigh, Castle of Our Skins and Anthony Green, a composer she works with frequently on the Esplanade on August 21 for our Landmarks Dance Night.  The project surrounds the music and dance of Haiti because we are also including the Jean Appolon Expressions Dance Company.

Boston Landmarks Orchestra Jennifer Ellis Matthew DiBattista, Maesto Wilkins, and One City Choir

Christopher Wilkins with Jennifer Ellis Matthew DiBattista, Maesto Wilkins, and One City Choir Photo courtesy of Boston Landmarks Orchestra

It’s often our best vehicle for showcasing the diversity of traditions and types of cultural expression.  I grew up here, but the city is infinitely more diverse now than it was when I grew up.

SC:  Absolutely.  What have you liked most over your time with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra?

CW:  We’ve had lots of great moments over the last eight or nine years.  My first concert was conducting Beethoven’s 9th at Fenway Park so that is pretty hard to top.  We did an amazing night celebrating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech with Governor Deval Patrick as our narrator and featuring a lot of video and photographic imagery.

We did a memorable collaboration with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum when their director, Peggy Fogelman, first arrived in Boston.  Another highlight was a series of programs with Commonwealth Shakespeare Company.  We performed full productions of musicals or a Shakespeare play such as “Midsummer Night’s Dream” with Mendelssohn.

The musicians learn something they know so well and are able to put it into the context of the play while the actors now can play off a symphony.  Now how often does that happen?   It is amazing for the performers and the audience.

SC:  You’ve performed all over the United States.  What do you like best about your time with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra?

CW:  I love our mission.  It’s readily understandable to most people in the community which I think is why we are receiving increasing levels of support from all quarters from individuals and foundations and from political reps because we are using great music with its level of complexity, depth, and emotional appeal and a first class professional orchestra as a means to gather community together.

I don’t know another orchestra that has a mission defined in this way.  I learn a lot and meet all kinds of interesting people doing interesting work.  We get to come together in a musical setting and it’s almost guaranteed everybody has a wonderful time.

Sit back and enjoy the Boston Landmarks Orchestra free every Wednesday night.  Click here for the full schedule and how to support future concerts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renowned conductor Charles Floyd talks Boston Pops’ annual Gospel Night and how his career began

For 27 years, the Boston Pops have made Gospel Night a highly-anticipated tradition.  A glorious, enthusiastic audience which includes newcomers and returning fans greet conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd, the Boston Pops Gospel Choir, and a selection of guest artists.  This year, award-winning Gospel singer Dottie Peoples headlines this year’s concert for one night only on Saturday, June 15 at Symphony Hall in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets to this beloved annual event.

Renowned conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd talks about his longtime role with Gospel Night, its evolution, and having dreams he never imagined would come true.

Charles Floyd leading the Boston Pops (Stu Rosner)

Renowned conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd leading the Boston Pops Photo courtesy of Stu Rosner/Boston Pops

Sleepless Critic:  The Boston Pops Gospel Night is an incredible event each year.  The last time I went, it seemed like a nonstop celebration, joyfully continuing long after the concert was over.

Charles Floyd:  Everybody looks forward to that part of the program because it is probably the most energetic.  The music can be very exciting and uplifting.  We like to feature something that the gospel choir performs without the orchestra.

The orchestra wants to go into overtime and that gets into an issue, but if the building is still open, there’s no reason why the choir can’t stay to do a couple more numbers if they enjoy singing and the audience is going to stick around.  When the formalities are done, it’s a nice moment when people can just let their hair down.

SC:  The concert is so uplifting, you don’t want to leave.  You have been with Gospel Night for 25 years, almost since its start.

CF:   I appeared the second year.  I was called because the conductor the first year could not do it the second year.  I had to take a year away back in 2004, so this is my 25th and it’s their 27th, but I am celebrating 27 years just like they are.

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

CF:   It’s been an honor to be a part of it.  I was working with Miss Natalie Cole for close to 14 years.  We had done a few concerts with the Boston Pops, and at the time, Maestro Lockhart and I were in the running in some capacity to step in.  Keith got the gig and I was very happy for him.  It was great for the community and I was somewhat new, and so they called and asked if I had done that sort of thing.  I said I have and only had about 6 weeks’ notice to prepare.

It was a little bit nerve-wracking to put together an entire program, write orchestration that didn’t exist, and then learn the classics and light classics on top of having to cater to guests artists.  We balanced out the program with Keith conducting the first part of the program and I conducted the third part of the program, Rhapsody in Blue.

Keith had to be at Tanglewood and other places as the date of Gospel Night moved around.  That’s kind of how it happened.  When the door opens, you walk through or the door might not open again and here we are.

Dottie Peoples Headshot 1

Award-winning gospel singer Dottie Peoples Photo courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra

SC:   Some of the best things happen spontaneously.  This year, Dottie Peoples will be the featured artist on Saturday, June 15.  Do you have a hand in who performs each year?

CF:   I am involved in the process.  I don’t always have control over who the artist will be because a certain artist I may want to work with may not be available, but they are nice enough at the Pops office to ask who they could look into.  They come up with their own ideas too.   We all put our cards on the table and explore the possibilities.

SC:  You have been part of the Gospel Night tradition for so many years and you have performed all over the world.  Music has been a part of your life since you were 4.

CF:  I used to bang on cables and pretend like I was playing.  Everybody thought it was cute.  By the time I got to a piano, I was 4 and I was already taking out melodies and ordering things by year.  It was another six months before I started taking formal lessons, but yeah, music has been a part of my entire life.

You never know what life is going to hold when you are young.  Just because you start playing the piano no matter how good or bad you are at it, there is no guarantee of what the future will hold.  I took physics and journalism as a back up in high school, but once I got to college, I dedicated myself completely to music and didn’t try to be a master of all trades.

All through 10 years of conservatory and grad school, it was all piano.  I was not a conducting major and I found myself in a situation where a conductor was needed.  I was the only person who could step in at the time, so I got serious about conducting.  I started studying all kinds of things such as opera, had to go through all the symphonies and all the major works of all the major composers.

I learned so much about accompanying singers with the baton from listening and attending operas.  I played for singers my entire life, but to watch a conductor accompany a singer is something I don’t think a lot of people really appreciate at least the way that I did and what I learned from it.  It’s been fun and as long as the work keeps coming in, that’s the greatest thing.  Just to keep going.

SC:  What have been your career highlights?  I understand you also performed Howard Shore’s ‘The Lord of the Rings Symphony‘ at his request.  That must have been tremendous.

CF:  I was trying to explain it to my sister and family not long ago.  People talk about having their dreams come true.  My situation is a little backwards.  It’s not a question of my dreams not coming true, but most everything that has transpired in my career were things I never dreamed of in the first place.

If I had said when I was eight years old that I would be at Symphony Hall with the Boston Pops or working with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall with James Taylor and Sting or sitting at an event next to Harry Belafonte or conducting orchestras for Natalie Cole or playing the piano for somebody else.  These are usually once in a lifetime events and I’m grateful that they continue to happen.  New things are coming in all the time and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful.

Click here for Gospel Night tickets, call SymphonyCharge at 1-888-266-1200, or visit the Symphony Hall box office during business hours at 301 Massachusetts Ave in Boston, Massachusetts.  Follow The Boston Pops on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

REVIEW: Company Theatre walks the line between love and rage with Green Day’s catchy punk musical, ‘American Idiot’

Rage. Love. Town. City are the themes emblazoned within the songs and tale of the Tony award-winning punk rock musical, Green Day’s American Idiot, presented by the Company Theatre and continuing through Sunday, February 17 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  It is an in-your-face journey of a group of young, unambitious city dwellers who occupy a portion of an angry, rebellious America.  Green Day’s American Idiot is a concert drama that contains mature themes and surprising moments.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Green Day American Idiot set

The set of Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

This high energy musical is based on Green Day’s lauded album, American Idiot, a band known for their raw, catchy, guitar-tinged riffs, and uncensored lyrics.  With hits such as Holiday, Know Your Enemy, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Wake Me Up When September Ends, and Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), Green Day’s American Idiot contains the music and vocal chops that would please Green Day fans while also considered a message-driven punk rock opera.

Sharing a bit of the mentality of Rent and the 90s film, Reality Bites, the characters in American Idiot wander into a realm of rebellious indifference, confusion, and perhaps laziness looking for their purpose in life as Green Day sings, “in the land of make believe.”  Some are unconcerned and others genuinely lost.  Partially set in a beat up apartment equipped with a blank, but lit tube TV and shabby couch which perhaps reflects a thinking but lost generation, American Idiot shows they have a hell of a lot to learn.  

The energetic, daring choreography by Corinne Mason, which includes moshing and head banging, reflects the anarchic nature of punk music.  The choreography in Holiday, which includes a group of characters packed into a wire cart, is a visual highlight.

Cast of Green Day's 'American Idiot'

(Back row, L-R ) Audrey Clark of Northboro as Whatsername, Jose Merlo of Attleboro as Jose, William Oliver of Weymouth as Will, Sarah Kelly of Braintree as Heather, John Crampton of Dedham as John, Jessica DePalo of Westboro as Extraordinary Girl, Brendan Duquette of North Attleboro as Tunny (Front row) Theo Victoria of Brockton as Theo, Evan Cole of Natick as Johnny, Aliyah Harris of Mansfield as Aliyah Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford

This cast of jaded youths include a haunting performance by Chris Boyajian as Joshua/St. Jimmy, a role that Green Day lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong took over for 50 performances during the show’s run on Broadway.  Evan Cole hits all the right notes as Johnny, who also plays his own guitar for Boulevard of Broken Dreams, one of the show’s few quieter tunes.  He shares a natural camaraderie with Brendan Duquette as naive Tunny and William Oliver as oblivious Will, a trio of friends heading in different directions.  Sarah Kelly stands out as Heather as she develops her resolve during a heartfelt Last Night on Earth.  Aliyah Harris as Aliyah also lends her serious pipes to Favorite Son and Too Much Too Soon.

The Company Theatre presents Green Day’s American Idiot through Sunday, February 17, with a special event for Valentine’s Day.  All performances take place at Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts  Click here to support the Company Theatre and here for more on their 2019 season.

 

 

 

REVIEW: WGBH’s ‘Tis the Night with Ben Folds and Friends’ holiday music special offers some impressive, lighthearted cheer

Ben Folds, award-winning lead singer of Ben Folds Five, rang in the holiday season with some of Boston’s most renowned performers as he hosted Tis the Night with Ben Folds and Friends which has been featured on WGBY Public TelevisionNew Hampshire PBS, and WGBH 2 this month.  Ben has collaborated with many acclaimed artists in his over 20-year career including Regina Spektor, William Shatner, Tori Amos, and Weezer.  He is also known for performing with many orchestras throughout the world.  Take a closer look at Tis the Night here,  click here to find out when WGBH will broadcast this show next, or here to stream it online.

In this WGBH holiday special, Ben hosts for the most part, leaving it to renowned Boston choruses such as the Boston Children’s Chorus, Handel and Haydn Society, the Harvard- Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, and students from the New England Conservatory to bring in the good cheer.  However, in the few times he collaborated with the artists, this concert special became that much more engaging.

Ben Folds and Caleb Teicher perform on Tis the Night (Meredith Nierman - WGBH)

Ben Folds and Caleb Teicher perform on ‘Tis the Night’ Photo courtesy of Meredith Nierman/WGBH

Tis the Night with Ben Folds and Friends offered a selection of well-known holiday songs done in new, insightful ways.  Surrounded by blue festive lights and illuminated snowflakes, Tis the Night opened fittingly with I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day sung warmly by the Boston Children’s Chorus, dressed in red scarves and multicolored shirts as Ben Folds looks on.

Handel and Haydn orchestra and chorus perform on Tis the Night (Meredith Nierman - WGBH)2

Handel and Haydn orchestra and chorus perform on ‘Tis the Night’ Photo courtesy of Meredith Nierman/WGBH 

Handel and Haydn’s Society took on three memorable choruses from Handel’s Messiah, which was a lighthearted take from the classic version.  It was refreshing to hear, though I prefer the classic interpretation.  However, the Handel and Haydn Society’s uplifting, angelic harmony was no less impressive, ending on a triumphant note.

Ben Folds took a break from hosting to join NYC choreographer Caleb Teicher for a catchy version of Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth.  They were accompanied by New England Conservatory student guitarist Andres Orco-Zerpa and student bassist Tyler Wagner.  Affectionately calling Caleb’s tapping “drumming for your feet,” Ben Folds drummed while singing a duet with Caleb, whose freestyle tapping got more remarkable as the beat escalated.

Harvard Radcliffe Collegium Musicum performs in Tis the Night (Sam Brewer - WGBH) (1)

Harvard Radcliffe Collegium Musicum performs in ‘Tis the Night’ Photo courtesy of Sam Brewer/WGBH 2

Conducted by Music Director Andrew Clark, The Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum was a particular highlight.  Their peaceful, silvery vocals enriched their first number, In the Bleak Midwinter as picturesque scenes were shown of new fallen snow topped on trees and covered in fields. Sung entirely acapella, that captivating number was followed by a few more impressive classic Christmas carols.

New England Conservatory student jazz vocalist Darynn Dean, decked out in a shimmering dress and accompanied by student pianist Matthew Thompson, delivered a jazz-infused, airy version of Jingle Bells. Darynn’s agile vocals scat and soared while Matthew’s lighthearted piano solo created an exhilarating medley.

vocalist Darynn Dean and pianist Matthew Thomson perform Jingle Bells on Tis the Night (Sam Brewer - WGBH)2

Vocalist Darynn Dean and pianist Matthew Thomson perform Jingle Bells on ‘Tis the Night’ Photo courtesy of Sam Brewer/WGBH 

Under an illuminated starlit sky, New England Conservatory student soprano Saori Erickson accompanied by student pianist Bethany Pietroniro performed a gorgeous, emotionally-rich version of Ave Maria.

soprano Saori Erickson and pianist Bethany Pietroniro performing Ave Maria (Sam Brewer - WGBH)

Soprano Saori Erickson and pianist Bethany Pietroniro performing ‘Ave Maria’ Photo courtesy of Sam Brewer/WGBH

Ending on a bright, inviting note with Ben Folds, the Boston Children’s Chorus, and Caleb Teicher collaborating on We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Tis the Night offered a few great reasons why the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year.

Review: Packed with inspiring music, Lyric Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective’s ‘Breath and Imagination’ soars

It often takes a village to become great.  In Daniel Beaty’s Breath and Imagination:  The Story of Roland Hayes, lyric tenor and composer Roland Hayes embarks on a tremendous journey from a shy, sulky church boy to the trials and sacrifices that were made in order for him to become an established singer.  He was often plagued by insecurity and faced backlash in many forms, but the heart of this piece lies in the ones who believed in him even when he wasn’t sure how to proceed, ultimately proving, as the production proclaims, “pain and promise make you great.”

Co-produced by Front Porch Arts Collective, directed by Maurice Emmanuel Parent, and musically directed by Asher Denburg, Lyric Stage Company proudly presents this interactive, uplifting musical helmed by a stellar cast, Daniel Beaty’s Breath and Imagination:  The Story of Roland Hayes continuing through Sunday, December 23 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  This is a 90-minute musical with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Front Porch and Lyric Stage Breath and Imagination Asher Denburg and Davron S. Monroe

Music Director Asher Denburg and Davron S. Monroe Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Packed with impressive performances, Breath and Imagination is an important musical, especially fitting for Boston since Roland Hayes is the first soloist of color to perform at Symphony Hall.  Accompanied by a grand piano sitting in front of an illuminated, sliding paneled backdrop, this interactive, concert musical draws the audience into the performance with its small and mighty cast.

If I thought Davron S. Monroe was terrific in Lyric Stage’s Kiss of the Spider Woman or on the Company Theatre stage in the powerful musical, Ragtime, nothing could quite prepare me for the magnificent performance he delivers as lyric tenor and composer Roland Hayes.  Not only does Monroe beautifully depict Roland Hayes’s journey as he matures from a humble childhood in a wool cap to adulthood in bow tie and tails, he also shows Hayes’s progressive vocal maturity, his powerhouse vocals rising to new, complicated heights as he masters everything from spiritual hymns to internationally-renowned classical works.

Guiding him on this audacious journey is his no nonsense, strict, and faith-filled mother, Angel Mo’, portrayed by Yewande Odetoyinbo in a captivating performance that makes it easy to see where Roland Hayes gets his inspired vocal chops.  Odetoyinbo as Angel Mo’ is fierce yet humble, a quick witted woman in a shawl who shows Hayes what is truly important in life and song.  She reflects the pain of her past and the weight of the immense obstacles in front of her, but consistently holds her own with faith and love.

Front Porch and Lyric Stage Breath and Imagination - Davron S Monroe, Yewande Odetoyinbo and Nile Scott Hawver

Davron S. Monroe as Roland Hayes, Yewande Odetoyinbo as Angel Mo.’ and Nile Scott Hawver Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Odetoyinbo and Monroe teamed up earlier this year in Lyric Stage’s spring musical, The Wiz and their sweet chemistry make it no surprise they are collaborating again.  Much of this musical tackles the highs and lows of their relationship as he makes his way into the world.

Rounding out this stellar cast is Doug Gerber as Mr. Calhoun and Nile Scott Hawver, who portrays multiple roles seamlessly from a preacher to a teacher, his enthusiasm makes way for some exciting, touching, and humorous moments.

Front Porch and Lyric Stage Breath and Imagination - Asher Denburg, Doug Gerber, Nile Scott Hawver, Davron S. Monroe and Yewande Odetoyinbo

Asher Denburg, Doug Gerber, Nile Scott Hawver, Davron S. Monroe and Yewande Odetoyinbo Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Enjoy the Lyric Stage Company and The Front Porch Arts Collective’s compelling musical, Breath and Imagination:  The Story of Roland Hayes at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, December 23.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow The Lyric Stage on Twitter and Facebook for their upcoming productions and more.