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.”

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s ‘The Sound of Music’ a moving summer gem

The Sleepless Critic has reviewed a few beautiful productions of ‘The Sound of Music,’ a riveting true story set in Austria about the resilient Von Trapp family who not only attempt to resist the Nazi regime in 1938 Pre-war Salzburg, but also attempt to move on without their late mother.  A blend of grace, faith and strength in the face of an indelible sadness, no doubt makes it a stirring classic.  Yet, with the exception of Audra McDonald’s brilliant turn as Mother Abbess in NBC’s 2013’s ‘The Sound of Music Live‘ musical, her extraordinary vocals lifting Fox’s arguably mediocre production with this glorious anthem, Climb Every Mountain, the music to ‘The Sound of Music’ has generally never been my favorite.

Make no mistake, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic, Academy Award-winning musical score is nevertheless respected and appreciated for its mark in musical history.   However, what makes Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s musical, ‘The Sound of Music’ particularly special is its resonant harmonies, a brilliant lead in Aimee Doherty as Maria, and the lively vocals and playful choreography delivered by this wonderful, lighthearted cast.  It convinced me to care for ‘The Sound of Music’ score, which has never sounded lovelier.

With a mix of tradition, opulence, and a few songs not featured in the iconic 1965 film starring Julie Andrews, Reagle Music Theatre’s ‘The Sound of Music’ is the perfect lighthearted summer treat, even in its serious moments.  ‘The Sound of Music’ continues at the Robinson Theatre in Waltham, Massachusetts through Sunday, July 21.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Reagle Music Theatre The Sound of Music Aimee Doherty as Maria Confidence in Me

Aimee Doherty as Maria I Have Confidence Photo courtesy of (C) Herb Philpott Photo/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

The Sound of Music has many highlights, but one of its brightest is Aimee Doherty’s glowing, enchanting turn as Maria.  This Maria is a tad more youthful, boasting flowing dark hair and a wide, playful smile.  Doherty brings light and gravitas to the role, her infectious charm and soaring vocals especially noticeable during the playful, yet pensive number, I Have Confidence.  Paired with Daniel Forrest Sullivan’s buoyant choreography, it is one of Maria’s more subtle, but powerful moments.

Reagle Music Theatres The Sound of Music Von Trapp Children

Emma Heistand as Leisl, Wade Gleeson Turner as Friedrich, Jane Jakubowski as Louisa, Ryan Philpott as Kurt, Fiona Simeqi as Brigitta, Addison Toole as Marta, Libby Sweder as Gretl, and Aimee Doherty as Maria  Photo courtesy of (C) Herb Philpott Photo/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Each of the adorable Von Trapp children featuring Emma Heistand as sweet, but rebellious Liesl, Wade Gleeson Turner as Friedrich, Jane Jakubowski as precocious Louisa, Ryan Philpott as Kurt, Fiona Simeqi as Brigitta, Addison Toole as Marta, and Libby Sweder as Gretl have their moment to shine, and their charming number Do-Re-Mi with Doherty is a delight.  The children’s colorful, identical, and traditional Austrian wardrobe enhance each scene.  Liesl, portrayed by Emma Heistand and Rolf, depicted by Max Currie impressively develop swift chemistry over the playful number, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, largely thanks to Sullivan’s breezy choreography.

Reagle Music Theatre's The Sound of Music Sixteen Going on Seventeen

Emma Heistand as Liesl and Max Currie as Rolf in ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen’ Photo courtesy of (C) Herb Philpott Photo/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

There is a moment during the production where Doherty states, “When God closes a window” and Mark Linehan completes her sentence with, “he opens a door.”  The expression is actually the other way around, but Mark Linehan as Captain von Trapp instantly picks up on her phrase and completes her statement, indicating how in tune they both are onstage.  Mark Linehan has shown a natural charisma in other productions and there is no shortage of that here, delivering a powerful performance in the dour, firm, but forthright Captain.  However, his biggest strength is in the quieter moments of the show, especially in the moving reprise of the title song The Sound of Music and bittersweet Edelweiss.

Reagle Music Theatre The Sound of Music Captain Elsa and Max

L to R: Mark Linehan as Captain von Trapp, Janis Hudson as Elsa, and Robert Orzalli as Max Photo courtesy of (C) Herb Philpott Photo/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

From the first few notes of the Nuns’ gorgeous, a capella chant, Preludium, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston have certainly outdone themselves.  Their resonant harmonies are among the production’s most beautiful moments.  Mara Bonde delivers an understated performance as patient, insightful, and ceaselessly faithful Mother Abbess, enhanced by a soaring rendition of the show’s inspiring anthem, Climb Every Mountain.  Ever the standout, Yewande Odetoyinbo also makes a remarkable impression as outspoken Sister Berthe.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston The Sound of Music Aimee Doherty as Maria and Mara Bonde as Mother Abbess

Aimee Doherty as Maria and Mara Bonde as The Mother Abbess Photo courtesy of (C) Herb Philpott Photo/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Elsa, portrayed with flashy elegance by Janis Hudson, is a sophisticated, marginally manipulative socialite, with a taste for the finer things.  In what could be a potentially unlikable character, Hudson strikes a delicate balance of a woman who struggles with what she wants and yet, wishes to do the right thing.  She and Robert Orzalli as comical and seemingly smarmy Max are quite a comical pair, especially during the little known number, How Could Love Survive.

Reagle Music Theatre The Sound of Music So Long, Farewell

Mark Linehan as Captain von Trapp, Aimee Doherty as Maria and the Von Trapp children Photo courtesy of (C) Herb Philpott Photo/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

As wonderfully potent to the ears as visually vibrant, experience Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s ‘The Sound of Music’ though Sunday, July 21 at the Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street in Waltham, Massachusetts.  Reagle Music Theatre will soon cap off its summer musical season with the comedy classic, ‘La Cage aux Folles’ in August.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston on Twitter and Facebook for upcoming events and more.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Season 5 of WGBH’s ‘Sing That Thing!’ still packs a vocal punch

Maybe there was a moment watching American Idol or The Voice where that person auditioning is a friend, acquaintance, or just familiar somehow.  Perhaps it’s a moment of six degrees of separation where suddenly Kelly Clarkson, Lionel Richie, or Katy Perry are not so out of reach now that the person you know knows them.

Now imagine how much likelier that might happen watching WGBH’s popular local singing competition, Sing that Thing! kicking off its fifth season on Friday, April 12 on WGBH 2.  Composed of eighteen dynamic choral ensembles over this season from Boston and beyond, each group competes by creating a unique vocal performance within variety of music genres as coaches decide who will make it to the next round and give feedback on their performances.  Click here for further details.

Divided into three categories consisting of adult, high school, and college, the coaches measure on factors such as visual performance, musicality, intonation, and projection during the course of eight episodes.  Expect less of the Hollywood glitz and glamour and much more insight into what it truly takes to deliver a thrilling performance.

Sing that Thing’s Season five coaches include Anthony Trecek-King, President and Artistic Director of the Boston Children’s Chorus, Jared Bowen, Executive Arts Editor at WGBH and host of Open Studio, and Annette Phillip, vocalist and creative director of Women of the World and Assistant Professor at Berklee College of Music.

Sing That Thing Season 5

From L to R: Coaches Anthony Trecek-King, Annette Phillip, and Jared Bowen Photo credit to Meredith Nierman/WGBH

Sing that Thing’s season five premiere returns to its roots in a way by showcasing a couple of talented groups from its first season.  Season one returning champs Boston Arts Academy Spirituals competes with  The Zumbyes from Amherst College also featured on the first season.  Univoz Vocal Ensemble also joins the competition, making their debut on the show with original compositions.  Sing that Thing! offers a peek into how these ensembles prepare to perform and get ready for their sheer energy!  Whether singing a tender ballad or a resounding hymn, these sophisticated and lively ensembles are the real deal.

Click here for more on Sing that Thing’s new season starting on Friday, April 12 at 8 pm on WGBH 2.  This program can also be seen on WGBX 44, WGBY, New Hampshire PBS, Vermont PBS, Maine Public, and CPTV – Connecticut Public Television.  Apply to be a part of Sing that Thing’s sixth season here and catch up on previous episodes here.  Find out more about Sing that Thing! on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram using #singthatthing.

 

 

REVIEW: Boston Ballet’s bold and exciting ‘Full on Forsythe’ kicks ballet up a notch

With all that Full on Forsythe has to offer, it is easy to forget any preconceived notions one may have about the ballet.  The Boston Ballet takes on a wide variety of classic productions such as Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, as well as the upcoming performances of Cinderella in May and Coppelia starting March 21.  Yes, ballet is steeped in tradition, but Full on Forsythe adds a bold, modern dimension to dance and this version is unconfined by any assumptions.

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Boston Ballet in William Forsythe’s Pas/Parts 2018; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

The Boston Ballet continues Full on Forsythe at the Boston Opera House through Sunday, March 17.  The Boston Ballet also recently announced a tour of Full on Forsythe in Paris next month.  The production is divided into three parts with two intermissions.  Click here for more information and tickets.

From catchy R&B to electronica to soul, acclaimed choreographer William Forsythe showcases a modern spin to the Boston Ballet’s signature moves creating fascinating visual portraits.  Songs were taken from James Blake’s album, The Colour in Anything, including I Need a Forest Fire, I Hope My Life, and F.O.R.E.V.ER., music by Dutch composer Thom Willems, and music from popular R&B singers such as Khalid, Barry White, and Natalie Cole.

Lithe, athletic solo dancer Chyrstyn Fentroy kicked off this joyful, haunting, and romantic music journey with last year’s Pas/Parts 2018 in a dual colored leotard as dancers gradually multiplied.  The industrial, tribal feel of Thom Willems music as dancers shift in shadows create a haunting intensity.  The dancers spin and swing like part of seamless machine, hitting every last eccentric beat.

Forsythe Playlist

Patrick Yocum Boston Ballet in William Forsythe’s Playlist (EP); photo by Angela Sterling; courtesy of Boston Ballet

There are quite a few extended solos including Lasha Khozashvili, Sao Hye Han, Patrick Yokum, Issac Akiba, Ji Young Chae, Daniel Cooper, Patric Palkins, and Lia Cirio who all capture an intensity within the music and pulsing rhythm, depicting an myriad of exciting dance moves.  Whether in a duet or solo, Patrick Yocum is a particularly wonderful dancer, soulful and charismatic each time he takes the stage.  Click here for a closer look at the company.

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Lia Cirio and Viktorina Kapitonova in William Forsythe’s Playlist (EP); photo by Angela Sterling; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Blake Works I offers a more intimate, romantic display, but also has its share of subtle and humorous moments, especially within the duets.  Pairs Ji Young Chae and Seo Hye Han, Lia Cirio and Patric Palkens, and Jessica Burrows and Patrick Yocum have a great chemistry together as they entwine in each other’s arms in a part interpretive dance.  At one point Patric Palken attempts to lift Lia, but she teasingly denies him before she joins him.  It is a subtle moment, but it depicts the sweet chemistry and joy between the two.

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Roddy Doble, Patrick Yocum, and Hannah Bettes in William Forsythe’s Pas/Parts 2018; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

The Boston Ballet is revered for its beautiful performances, but what sets Full on Forsythe apart is its universal appeal.  The Boston Ballet’s must-see Full on Forsythe leads the audience on an enthralling, unique, and beautiful music journey that concludes on a jubilant, mesmerizing note.

The Boston Ballet continues to offer an opportunity to learn more about ballet through The Warm Up, an interactive, photo-friendly display located in the lower lobby.

The Boston Ballet continues Full on Forsythe at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, March 17.  They also recently announced a tour of Full on Forsythe in Paris next month.  Click here for more information and tickets.  For future events and more, follow Boston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter.

Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s renowned conductor Cynthia Woods discusses ‘Angels and Heroes’ and describes her inspiration

On International Women’s Day, the Sleepless Critic pays homage to women who are making their mark around the world.  One woman who is thriving in the Boston area and beyond is renowned Cambridge Symphony Orchestra (CSO) conductor, Cynthia Woods.

Cynthia has toured around the world and put together Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s latest show, ‘Angels and Heroes,’ a one day only concert performance on Sunday, March 17 at Kresge Auditorium at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  Click here for more information and tickets.  The Sleepless Critic interviewed her about her exciting music background, what inspires her, ‘Angels and Heroes,’ and her future plans.

Angels and Heroes

Photo courtesy of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra

Sleepless Critic:  Grammy award-winning composer Nan Schwartz has not only composed arrangements for Natalie Cole and is from a long line of women composers, but she has also created orchestration for several films such as My Week with Marilyn, Life of Pi, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, and Julie and Julia.  What inspired the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra to take on Nan Schwartz’s latest work, the 15-minute trumpet tone poem, ‘Angels Among Us?’  I understand this piece will be performed live for the very first time.

Cynthia Woods:  I met Nan Schwartz a few years ago and immediately thought her music would be a great way to broaden our programming.  I asked her to keep me in the loop about her works for concert orchestra and she very kindly did.

Simultaneously, I was actively looking for some fresh concertos that use the brass to break up the piano or violin concerto routine and found a great fit when I heard Angels Among Us.   Its beautiful lines and lush melodies evoke shimmering imagery and its rich, jazz influence brings a breath of freshness to the concert repertoire.

SC:  One of the featured soloists for the afternoon is trumpeter Joseph Foley.  He has performed all over the country and his first solo CD makes its debut this year.  How did he become part of this performance?  I understand this is a particularly challenging piece.

CW:  I knew I needed an exceptional trumpet player who was also very comfortable crossing idioms and had a range that went much higher than what is considered standard.  Joe, whom I have known for years, came to mind right away as the perfect choice.

SC:  It is easy to see why this performance is called ‘Angels and Heroes’ because Joseph Schwanter’s powerful piece, ‘New Morning for the World’ pays tribute to the great Dr. Martin Luther King, JrReverend Ray Hammond of Bethel AME Church will narrate some of Dr. King’s most acclaimed speeches.

CW:  As you know, Art reflects the times we live in and the struggles we face as a society.  I wanted to program something that reflected some of our current struggles we face while adding a historical context.  Schwantner’s brilliant ‘New Morning for the World’ was a perfect choice.  Dr. King preached hope and love and Schwantner represented that by using bold, fractured rhythmic cells to represent the unrest and despair of inequity against the soaring, vocal-like writing of the strings and brass.

The text is drawn from a series of some of King’s most famous speeches including ‘Behind the Selma March’ ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ and ‘I Have a Dream.’  We are thrilled Reverend Dr. Raymond Hammond is joining us to narrate these speeches and to bring renewed life and hope to Dr. King’s words.

SC:  The theme of this concert is using your voice to break through feelings of powerlessness.  Please expand on that.  I understand the pieces in this performance complement each other.

CW:  Yes, all the works in some way celebrate the human spirit and its ability to transform our lives for the better. The ‘Angels’ of Schwartz’s work are the ordinary people such as parents, teachers and friends, who, in the quietest way, change our lives for the better.  Schwantner reminds us while we may face many challenges and heartbreak in life, we must have hope for change ‘because the arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’ (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). The Sibelius, which was inspired by the simple beauty of 17 swans soaring overhead, reminds us of the simple beauty and inspiration our lives hold on a daily basis.

SC:  You have worked all over the world.  Please tell me what first inspired you to choose a career in music and what has been your favorite career moment so far?

CW:  My parents enrolled me in a Preschool for the Performing Arts when I was three, and I think I have had the music bug ever since.  I have very vivid childhood memories from when my folks would take my brother and me to the local orchestra concerts, which were conducted by the pioneering conductor Catherine Comet. My eyes were glued to her and thought it looked like fun! My passion for music began early and never dimmed.

I have so many wonderful memories. One of my favorite moments might be our recent ballet production of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream.  It ended up being everything I could have hoped for artistically as a synthesis of music and dance, two of my favorite art forms.

SC:  Is there a particular conductor that has inspired you over the years?

CW:  It’s hard to choose because there are so many wonderful conductors out there, but my favorite one would be Bernard Haitink if I had to choose.  He seems to overflow with music every time he performs.

SC:  I understand you conducted Conrad Pope’s The Little Match Girl, such a compelling tale. You also worked on Morgan Neville’s documentary on Amar Bose.  Please tell me more about that.

CW:  Two seasons ago, the CSO was very fortunate acclaimed Hollywood composer Conrad Pope agreed to write The Little Match Girl for us.  With youth runaways and homelessness at an all time high, we envisioned a tone poem outlining a story that is still very relevant today. Instead, it found its essence as a ballet filled with various scenes of our heroine’s life, from snow ball fights to teasing a grumpy old man to her vivid memories of her grandmother waiting for her in heaven.  Due to this evolution, both Pope and I hope to see it fully staged at some point in the future.

I worked with Morgan Neville on his documentary about Amar Bose filmed on location at various parts of MIT where Bose was a student and he designed where the CSO performs, the Kresge Auditorium.  Anytime you work with artists of different fields, it gives you a broader sense of your own idiom.  It was an inspiring and rewarding experience.

SC:  When you are not conducting, you are also a lecturer and writer.  Any new projects you’d like to let people know about?

CW:  We are busy planning lots of great things for our 45th anniversary season next year including a newly commissioned ballet of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. We also hope to commission a new work for our Family Concert series as well as continue to highlight diverse and relevant programming that inspires our audiences. I think it will be our most challenging and rewarding season yet.

Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s latest show, ‘Angels and Heroes will be held Sunday, March 17 at Kresage Auditorium at MIT.  Click here for more information on Cambridge Symphony Orchestra and for tickets.

Childsplay’s Artistic Director Bob Childs talks new album, ‘The Bloom of Youth’ and how one violin changed his life

It all started with a fiddle.  Childsplay’s Artistic Director Bob Childs didn’t realize over 40 years ago when he entered a shop in Maine to have his violin fixed, it would be the start of something that would change his entire life.  Featuring a long list of award-winning musicians from across the country and beyond, internationally-touring Childsplay recently released their latest album The Bloom of Youth.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Artistic Director and violin maker Bob Childs talks about creating Childsplay’s unique sound, making 160 violins, their latest album, and the lasting friendships he has made through music.  He has a shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Sleepless Critic:  What is it about the fiddle that appeal so much to you?

Bob Childs:  I worked my way through college as a carpenter and my first job out of college was in Maine selling furniture.  In 1976, I took my violin for repair to an old violin maker, Ivy Mann, because I thought about playing Irish fiddle music.

When he repaired my instrument, he asked me when I was coming back.  I had no concept of what he was saying so I said I wasn’t sure.  He pointed at this wood he put on his bench and said that he would love to teach me violin making because he was in his 70s and was ready to pass on information before he stopped working.  I was 22 and I decided why not.

Training as a violin maker involved six years of apprenticeships and some journeymen work since it is a European instrument.  I worked with two violin makers who were training in Germany and then ended my journeyman work in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where I worked for a shop that mainly worked with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

SC:  With the band and everything, Maine seems to be a center point in your life.

BC:  Maine is an incredible place not just for the land’s beauty, but for the great music.  I really cut my teeth on music and got to know a lot of the old musicians there.  We always sell out the shows in Maine and the audiences are incredibly enthusiastic.  Even though I am down in the Boston area, some family members still live there and I think at least three or four of the musicians also have Maine roots.

When I left Philadelphia, I came here in 1986 and the band has been together since 1988.  When Childsplay first started playing together, a woman in Washington D.C. wanted me to play in a fiddle concert when I was working in a shop in Philadelphia.  I said yes and she said that the name of the band is Childsplay because everyone in the band is going to be playing one of your instruments.  We had an amazing time and it’s been over thirty years of playing music together.

SC:  Childsplay also features many performers.

BC:  Yes and I have made over 160 violins.  Most of my instruments have gone to classical musicians and I’ve always built an instrument for somebody with them in mind.  So, I’ve gotten to know so many incredible musicians and they are great friends.

A-BloomOfYouth-Cover

Childsplay’s latest album Photo courtesy of Childsplay

SC:  The Bloom of Youth is your latest album and features some beautiful music.  Big acts like U2 and Bruce Springsteen have snuck right through to perform there.  One of your DVD sets features a live performance at the Somerville Theatre.

BC:  Yes, the first DVD set was filmed at the Somerville Theatre in the late ‘90s.  The second one was made at the Zeiterion Theatre in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 2013.  That film in particular had great success and was picked up by NPR, PBS, and has been shown on pretty much every station in the country.

I think if people attend a Childsplay concert, they really get into the spirit!  The musicianship is unsurpassed featuring All-Ireland Fleadh champions, two national Scottish fiddle champions, and Boston Symphony players, but the best part is the band’s energy.  You can feel it live, on the DVDs, and Bloom of Youth because it is dynamite.

SC:  I understand your latest album, The Bloom of Youth is also your final album.

BC:  It’s our seventh album and our last album because after next year, we are going to stop touring as a band for a number of reasons.  One is because tour costs are incredibly high.  There’s 21 musicians, five on the production team plus all the other expenses.  Next year will probably be our last year of touring and I hope people will come out and honor the incredible musicians that have been part of the band and the music we have created together.

SC:  I’ve listened to the album and I really like the joyous rhythms of Buddy Strathspey and Noodle Vendor’s plucking rhythm.

BC:  Shannon Heaton, an amazing composer and flute player who we get to perform with, put together The Noodle Vendor.  She lived in Thailand for awhile and the music she created was a unique cross between Irish and Thai music.  Hanneke Cassell put together Buddy Strathspey.   We both play two other tunes together on the album.  When you hear Childsplay, you hear interesting rhythmic elements and these great harmony layers create a unique sound.

SC:  What is the inspiration behind this new material and what do you think sets this album apart from previous albums?

BC:  We share the stage and the CD with Karan Casey, the most amazing singer from Ireland.  When we first started making our CDs and playing music, we didn’t have a vocalist with the band and it became clear to me when someone made the comment, ‘Out of all the instruments, the violin is the one that sounds most like the human voice.’  I realized that we should add vocals.

In Bloom of Youth, Karan came over from Ireland and she’s touring with us.  We cover some of her songs, what she’s written, and others that she’s brought to the band.  All the arrangements were done by Childsplay members Hanneke Cassel, Keith Murphy, and Bonnie Bewick so we had a lot of fun in making this last album.

SC:  One of the tracks with Karan’s vocals, Where are You Tonight I Wonder is lovely.  It’s like a little lost love song.

BC:  Andy Stewart from Silly Wizard wrote it in Scotland shortly before he passed away.  It’s a beautiful song and Karan’s voice is absolutely stunning.  The song is meant for a lost lover and her singing in the band really conveys that blue feeling you get when a relationship ends.

Award-winning Mastering Engineer Bob Ludwig has mastered so many great albums such as U2 and Springsteen.  He mastered our album as well and he played Karan’s voice right in the center of the sound.  It is absolutely magical to hear that and understand how he really had the ear to make that happen.

We also offer free fiddle lessons.  Different members of the band give fiddle lessons and people can go to the website and download them.  We’ve had a half million people do that over the years.

SC:  You guarantee we’ll be experts at it in the end.

BC:  I’ll do my best to help you.

SC:  The band has evolved so much over the years.  How do you feel about how the band has come along?

BC:  It’s an inter-generational band with the youngest member 17 and the oldest person in their 70s.  More than that, there is a maturity that comes from years of playing together.  The band members have been together over 20 years and there is a sound that emerges over time.  I started making violins in ‘83 and I first started in ‘76.  Not until ‘83 did the violins start sounding like how I made them.  It takes several years of playing together to develop an ear for each other and a real sense of creating our sound and that has happened.  I’m so proud of the band!  It’s remarkable to be onstage and see the audience receiving and reacting to the music.

SC:  What do you hope people will take away from your music or when they attend a live show?

BC:  The one thing I hope to convey to people through our music that it’s possible to create things yourself.  As Karan Casey wrote in her liner notes, ‘Childsplay is an exercise in democracy.  There’s no one leader in the band and everyone takes turns leading and it’s a real creative process.’

I’m hoping when people are moved by our music and its creativity, they’ll be inspired to make their own music or do something creative to add to the world. The world is in very difficult times right now and I’d rather have a legacy making beautiful things and connecting people.

Click here to learn more about Childsplay, their tour schedule and how to get The Bloom of Youth which is also available on ITunes and CDBaby. Follow Childsplay on Facebook or all their latest updates.

Boston Camerata’s Artistic Director Anne Azema talks Fortune and greed in classic satire ‘The Tale of Fauvel: A Political Fable from Medieval France’

With a dose of comedy and memorable music, The Boston Camerata kicks off its 64th season with an enduring satire on hypocrisy, abuse, and greed called The Tale of Fauvel: A Political Fable from Medieval France on Sunday, October 28 at the First Church of Boston at 4 p.m.  Based on a 14th century poem the Roman de Fauvel, this compelling piece focuses on corrupt rulers and the effect they have on society.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

 

The Boston Camerata’s Artistic Director Anne Azema portrays Fortune in this political fable.  She describes her pivotal role, the show’s contemporary significance, and plans for the future.

Sleepless Critic:  You took on the role of Fortune in Tale of Fauvel: A Political Fable from Medieval France. No doubt Fortune must play a powerful role in this piece.

Anne Azema:  Fortune or Lady Luck, a kind of pagan Goddess surviving into the Christian Middle Ages, is a powerful presence and presented as a female in medieval literature. According to the Carmina Burana text, she holds the world in her hands, sits on her wheel, will raise some and crush others – and will leave you shirtless, with a bare back.  Fauvel, the Orange-Maned Horse, has put in his mind to conquer the entire world by wooing and then marrying Fortune.  Little does he know Fortune’s answer to his courtship is a severe put-down.

SC:  This show is a satire, but it carries a contemporary significance ahead of the midterm elections.

AA:  Fauvel began Camerata’s long series of story-telling programs, an effort that continues to this day.  I think Fauvel’s truculent criticism of hypocrisy, abuse, and greed in public life continues to be as relevant as the headlines in today’s newspapers. Some of the lines from 1310 seem so relevant, it will give you shivers.

SC:  What was it like working with the cast?

AA:  A complete joy!  Our core team has performed this piece in various configurations before.  Aside from our three singers, we will have two instrumentalists and a narrator, who will share, in irreverent English verse, the adventure of our Horse, Fauvel.

We are also happy to include Longy School of Music of Bard College students and Brandeis students.  They will all take part in the revels of Fauvel’s Wedding Night!

SC:  What inspired you to bring it to the Boston Camerata stage this season?

AA:  Its manuscript source is interesting on many levels so it is well known both to musicians and literary types who have an interest in early repertoires.  It’s a vehement diatribe in verse against the abuse of power in Paris of 1310, but there is a visual aspect to the book which includes beautiful illuminated miniatures. The music, an anthology so to speak, of varied genre and style of pieces, were songs that were circulating in Paris at the time.  They were either recycled from other sources to fit the narrative or composed to illustrate the purpose.

Camerata developed a first version of Fauvel in the 90s as a commission for Warner/Erato.  Within the Boston Camerata’s repertoire are programs both recently created and ‘classic’. Our Fauvel falls into this latter category. We are delighted this production continues to be in demand both here and in Europe.

SC:  What sort of music will this show offer?

AA:  Written many centuries ago but very accessible, the music is direct and acoustical.  It’s a mixture of voice(s) and instruments in a small setting. The public is close to the performers and has an ‘organic’ access to them.  The trademark to our performances is a blend of spontaneity, energy, and emotional commitment with careful research and scholarship.

SC:  Though this show has its moments of humor, this piece is message-driven. What is the best reason you think people should see this show?

In the end, I believe what is important is spending an entertaining hour or more together. Although the music is seven centuries old, it is totally enjoyable.  Its beauty and energy will bring you to another powerful place and frankly, speaking of humour and satire, we all need to blow off a little steam in this highly fraught moment.

Boston Camerata Fauvel (2)

The cast in action. Photo courtesy of the Boston Camerata

 

SC:  Boston Camerata’s 64th season boasts a wonderful lineup including Christmas performances Puer Natus Est: A Medieval Christmas and Gloria! An Italian Christmas in December. How do you select each season’s performances?

AA:  My choices are driven by my personal interests, the teams we have, the repertory book we want to keep alive, and by our mission to create new programs combined with touring and recording demands. The idea is to keep us and our audiences alert, perky, and open to new experiences.

SC:   I understand you are also a soloist, often writing your own pieces, touring, or recording. Please tell me about that.

I just returned from touring Canada with a One Woman Show, a show which presents music of the 12th and 13th century. These recitals, alone or with colleagues, offer a different way of connecting with the public and demand a deeper relationship with the music.

SC:  What work you are currently working on?

AA:  I will continue to look at narratives/storytelling and prepare several recording and media projects in the coming seasons.  Besides our medieval shows, we’ve been involved in early American music. We are also working on the release of our Naxos CD recorded last season in the context of a Canadian, American, and Dutch project. We recorded The Harmonia Mundi CD in September and that will contain some powerful, motivating American songs of resistance and rebellion!

For one day only, The Boston Camerata presents The Tale of Fauvel: A Political Fable from Medieval France on Sunday, October 28 at the First Church of Boston at 4 p.m.  Click here for more information and tickets and be sure to follow The Boston Camerata on Facebook for all their latest news.

REVIEW: Despite boat’s limited view of the band, sold-out 70s funk and disco ‘Booty Vortex’ boat cruise still made waves

Taking off from Boston Harbor to Gilligan’s Island and Hawaii Five-O’s adventurous theme songs, this was one three hour tour that kept party cruisers on their feet.  Plenty of sun poured into the boat as fans wore their shiny, disco best boarding the Mass Bay Lines off of Rowes Wharf boat to witness the annual return of the nine piece 70s Funk and Disco band, Booty Vortex on their sold-out 21+ Booty Boat cruise Sunday, August 26 at 4 p.m.  The cruise offered a cash bar and various concessions.  Click here to find out Booty Vortex’s full schedule as well as a closer look at their talented band members.

This particular Mass Bay Lines boat was not ideal for a concert cruise.  The roof where the band played was completely covered and attendance at full capacity, which offered limited ways to see the band perform up close.  Booty Vortex’s past performance on the Provincetown II provided an open floor plan and dance floor so attendees had more room to move and witness the band take the stage.  However, the band’s upbeat tunes provided plenty of reasons why Booty Vortex has developed such a strong following.

Booty Vortex on Provincetown II

Past performance on Provincetown II for Rock and Blues concert cruises.

Calling themselves Boston’s finest funk and disco band, Booty Vortex is indeed unconventional, full of character, and possesses a bit of a wild side.  Their enthusiasm is infectious, their voices powerful, and their music, a collection of mostly 70s disco cover songs, are tailored for a truly devoted 70s and retro dance crowd.

From saxophone to keyboard player, Booty Vortex delivers a full retro, big band sound.  Some of their lively sense of humor is found in their self-proclaimed group member names composed of Huggy Bear Jeremy D. Valadez on saxophone, Brass Tornado Mark Coronado as Manager and Trumpet player, Gold Fingah James Tootle as MD/Keys and Vocals, Minty Fresh Dave Burnett on Bass, E-Bop Erik Barnes on Guitar, Tiger Lily Eva Davenport as Media and Vocals, Pixie Stix Maureen Medieros on Percussion, Rufus Russell Bogartz on Trombone, and Papi Erick B. Cifuentes on Drums.

Booty Vortex on Booty Boat Cruise

Full Booty Vortex band on Mass Bay Lines boat Photo credit Erin Frawley/Booty Vortex

The nine piece extravaganza has a unique style, their music not too hard or loud and songs range from danceable to at times, mellow.  They charmed audiences with pop tunes and disco hits such as Hues Corporation’s Rock the Boat, Lakeside’s Fantastic Voyage, Patti Labelle’s Lady Marmalade, Alicia Bridges’ I Love the Night Life, Tavares’s Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel, A Taste of Honey’s Boogie Oogie Oogie, George Benson’s Give Me the Night, Donna Summer’s Bad Girls, The Trammps’s Disco Inferno, Rose Royce’s Car Wash, Bee Gees’s You Should Be Dancing, Hot Chocolate’s You Sexy Thing, Chic’s Freak Out, Dee-lite’s Groove is in the Heart, KC and the Sunshine Band’s Get Down Tonight and Shake Your Booty, prompting the crowd to sing along.

Boston skyline view

Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Under sunny skies with no need for a jacket, the Booty Boat cruise provided some of Boston’s most beautiful sights including the Boston Harbor Islands and a lovely and hazy view of the city.  It was primarily a smooth ride, with just a few instances of rockiness.

Booty Vortex C Note

Booty Vortex will next appear at the C-Note in Hull on September 8. Photo credit to Erin Frawley/Booty Vortex

Easing their way back to Rowe’s Wharf, Booty Vortex closed out the evening with Sister Sledge and Jade’s We are Family and Journey’s hit Don’t Stop Believing.  Booty Vortex next takes the C-Note stage in Hull on September 8.  Click here for more of their future tour dates around Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.