REVIEW: Grammy award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir makes a mesmerizing and festive Celebrity Series of Boston return

It was a special evening for the Soweto Gospel Choir having recently learned that their latest album, Freedom has been nominated for a Grammy on December 7.   Marking their 15th anniversary as a group, this Grammy award-winning South African Gospel group has toured all over the world and shared the stage with legendary performers such as Bono and Queen.

Celebrity Series of Boston presents Soweto Gospel Choir 'Songs of the Free'

Soweto Gospel Choir Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

Marking their sixth appearance since 2005, Celebrity Series of Boston welcomed back this renowned group to the Berklee Performance Center in Boston, MA for one night only to pay special tribute to the late Nelson Mandela who would have celebrated his centenary this year, Aretha Franklin, and perform a bit of James Brown’s fancy footwork.  Combining African Gospel, reggae, and American pop music and sung in six of South Africa’s eleven official languages, The Soweto Gospel Choir’s expressive rhythms, mesmerizing harmony and lively choreography is amazing to behold.  Click here to find out where the Soweto Gospel Choir will perform next and here for more information on Celebrity Series of Boston’s 80th season and more.

Accompanied by a keyboardist, slide whistle, and a drummer who performed a captivating drum solo, the concert’s first half was dedicated to depicting the realities of apartheid as well as perform songs from their latest album.  Dressed in colorful, coordinating traditional garb, The Soweto Gospel Choir’s energy is contagious whether they are sharing a powerful message or joyfully ringing in the Christmas season.

Celebrity Series Soweto Gospel Choir Dance

Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

Though each song delivered flawless harmony and the captured the spirit of their message, a few of the particular highlights were Sabashiya a Abuzai, Sabela, Thua Mtanami Medley, Johnny Clegg and Peter Gabriel’s Asimbonanga/Biko, and Letta Mbulu and Mbongeni Ngema’s Freedom Songs Medley:  Jikiela, Rolihlahla Mandela.  They also sang a heartfelt Amazing Grace in smooth harmony and beautiful baritone.

The second half delivered a wide range of Christmas Carols including an enthralling version of Go Tell in On the Mountain/He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands and a partially acapella version of Silent Night.  Soweto Gospel Choir delivered a spiritual Wade in the Water which included a drumming dance competition.  What makes this group unique is the joy and power they evoke though their music, their compelling rhythms, and their freestyle, free spirited choreography that will make you get on your feet.

Celebrity Series of Boston Soweto Gospel Choir 2

Soweto Gospel Choir Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

Ending the evening is was a grateful, heartening version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, dedicating the song to their latest Grammy nomination.  With talent like this, Soweto Gospel Choir has a lot to be grateful for.

Celebrity Series of Boston is currently offering big savings for the holiday season, which expires on December 28.  Click here for information about that special offer.

A few of the Celebrity Series of Boston’s 2019 highlights include the debut of guitarist Pablo Sainz Villegas in January, Mark Morris Dance Group and Mnozil Brass, Cirque in February, Voci Angelica, and Castle of Our Skins in February, and the return of NPR’s Rob Kapilow’s What Makes it Great on Bands of the Swing Era in March.  Click here to see all that Celebrity Series of Boston has in store.

Peter Josephson discusses the apocalypse, The Simpsons, and more as theatre KAPOW debuts ‘Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play’

Making its debut in New Hampshire, Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, written by Anne Washburn, is a powerful, wildly funny musical that may offer a whole new perspective on the beloved, long-running television series, The Simpsons, all while staying true to its characters.  Directed by Matt Cahoon, theatre KAPOW proudly presents Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play for one weekend only Friday, March 2 through Sunday, March 4 at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, New Hampshire.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Award-winning actor and Saint Anselm College Politics Professor Peter Josephson shares details about working with theatre KAPOW, the fascination behind The Simpsons, and becoming Homer.

Sleepless Critic:  You work as a Professor of Politics, but you are also a director, you train and teach acting workshops, and have won quite a few New Hampshire Awards for your art. It’s safe to say theatre is your other love.

Peter Josephson:  That’s true. I performed quite a lot in school and in my 20s, but left when I went to graduate school.  For almost 20 years, I didn’t perform and got back into it again almost 10 years ago.  Since I was very rusty, I sought out training and still train as well as teach.  It’s been terrific to get back to it over the last decade.

SC:  What is it like to perform with theatre KAPOW again?  I understand you have taken the stage with them a few times.

PJ:  Quite a few times and I find it valuable to go to other groups.  I have friends there and learn a lot from them.  I hope I bring something to them, but theatre KAPOW is home base for me in terms of performance.  Since my first show in 2010, I’ve typically done 2 or 3 theatre KAPOW shows a year and help lead their trainings.

Matt and Carey are wonderful human beings and have built a theatre company that is always looking for the next exploration, the next way of learning how theatre works, and what we can do with it.  Matt curates the season so we are not just doing a series of shows.  We have an idea of how shows connect and build on one another.  Last year, we did our first musical and Mr. Burns is our second.

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Nicole Viau, Emily Karel, and Rich Hurley in theatre KAPOW’s production of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, March 2 – 4, 2018. http://www.tkapow.com. Photo by Matthew Lomanno

SC:  Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play is a unique opportunity to do that.  The Simpsons have been part of the pop culture landscape for decades and have made commentary on politics, entertainment, science, and current events.  What do you think draws people to the Simpsons and as a professor of politics, do you think the Simpsons are insightful?

PJ:  When The Simpsons first started, a lot of controversy surrounded the show because it seemed to snub its nose at family values and traditional morality.  Some scholars take it very seriously as a contemporary text of America.  I have had colleagues at other schools write about it and find it as a way to talk to students about serious concerns in contemporary politics.  People wouldn’t watch it if the show weren’t crazy and funny.  It helps them see more clearly what is going on in their own lives.

SC:  Lately, The Simpsons have predicted a number of things that have come to fruition.

PJ:  Unfortunately, that’s true.  Hopefully the plot of the play doesn’t come true.

SC:  Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play has many layers to it.  It’s about surviving an apocalypse and using stories from The Simpsons as a means for survival.

Matt and Carey brought the script to me last spring and I was really struck by how funny it was.  It’s scary, shocking and underneath all of that, it’s an interesting story about how people use culture to work through their problems and how ideas of sacred truths develop culturally.  It’s fascinating and I think Anne Washburn and the actors she worked with when she was writing the script are brilliant.

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Rachael Chapin Longo, Rich Hurley, Nicole Viau, and Emily Karel in theatre KAPOW’s production of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, March 2 – 4, 2018. http://www.tkapow.com. Photo by Matthew Lomanno.

SC:  You play dual roles as Gibson and Homer.  Setting up a cartoon onstage and portraying a cartoon must have been a new kind of challenge.

PJ:  Yes, it’s kind of weird and crazy.  I would expect just about everybody in the audience knows who Homer is and I’m supposed to do that in some way, which isn’t really possible.  I had to find a central trait about Homer, express that, and remind the audience who the character is.  I play Homer in Act 3 and he is put into a different, darker environment.  His response to that is what one would expect Homer’s response to be and that is everything is going to be wonderful.

SC:  Mr. Burns is Homer’s adversary.

PJ:  Yes, Rich plays Mr. Burns in Act 3 and Washburn’s script has taken the cartoon character, identified his corruption, and made that part the most essential thing.  I would guess that if a Simpsons fan sees the show and then watches The Simpsons on television, they are going to see Mr. Burns in a different way.

In the second act, two actresses debate about what we do when we perform a play and whether the primary purpose is entertainment or to express some deeper meaning.  I think Washburn’s script accomplishes both.  Having worked on this play and going back and watching The Simpsons, I don’t look at Mr. Burns the same way anymore because I am aware of what Washburn saw in him and he’s deeper than I thought.

SC:  Bringing the cartoon to life onstage is its own challenge.  Some of the masks for the show are amazing.

Yes, they are wonderful.  We’ll be using masks in late June for an original show we are working on.  It’s an interesting acting challenge.  The masks’ design elements are goofy crazy and I think we have really captured the cartoon-ish quality of the characters and the challenge is to take that quality and put it into actual living human beings.

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Rachael Chapin Longo, Rich Hurley, and Emily Karel in theatre KAPOW’s production of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, March 2 – 4, 2018. http://www.tkapow.com. Photo by Matthew Lomanno.

SC:  Regarding the musical element of the show, I understand it features popular songs from the last ten years.

PJ:  Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Eminem, and Ricky Martin show up as well as some Gilbert and Sullivan.  There are three acts and in the second act, we’re following a traveling theatre troupe and part of the show features a commercial jingle that we sing and part of the show features six or seven pop hits the audience might remember from a time when we had electricity.  Act three is all singing in a peculiar operetta that is funny, crazy, and frightening.

SC:  What do you think is the best reason people will enjoy Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play?

PJ:  I think audiences will attach themselves to it because it speaks to something we are all looking for in wildly entertaining ways. It invites the audience in and makes them part of what is happening.  I’m confident the show will resonate deeply with the audience and keep them laughing.

Click here for more information and for tickets as theatre KAPOW presents Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play from Friday, March 2 through Sunday, March 4 at Shepard Auditorium at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, NH.  Follow theatre KAPOW on Facebook and Twitter for upcoming events and more.

Sting, John Mellencamp, Natalie Merchant, and ‘Jaws’ part of Tanglewood’s summer season

What does an underwater predator and an alien paired with Mozart, Mahler, Sondheim, and some of the biggest names in music have in common?  They are arriving at Tanglewood this summer.

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John Mellencamp, Emmylou Harris,and Carlene Carter perform in Tanglewood July 1 Courtesy of BSO Publicity photo

Overlooking stunning views in the Berkshires, the Koussevitzky Music Shed will once again deliver a wide variety of entertainment on Tanglewood’s stage.  Featuring legendary music guests such as Sting, Diana Ross, Emmylou Harris, James Taylor and more, Tanglewood’s season kicks off with renowned BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons leading the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in a performance of Mahler Symphony No. 2, Resurrection on Friday, July 7.  The season concludes with The Boston Pops featuring Melissa Etheridge on Sunday, September 3.  Performances are held at Koussevitzky Music Shed in Lenox, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and further information.

As the Boston Pops season celebrates the movie magic of acclaimed composer John Williams, Tanglewood delivers a few gems from this year’s Boston Pops season. That underwater predator is none other than Jaws as Keith Lockhart conducts the Boston Pops in John Williams’ Academy Award-winning score live along with the film screening.  Directed by Steven Spielberg, Jaws in Concert arrives just before summer on Sunday, June 18.  Celebrating its 25th anniversary, another Spielberg classic getting the screening live with orchestra treatment is E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial in Concert on Friday, August 25.  Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops will perform the Academy award-winning score by John Williams.

 

Just a few of  the celebrity music guests taking the Tanglewood stage are Diana Ross, John Mellencamp, Natalie Merchant, Sting, Melissa Etheridge, Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald, as well as Four Voices which includes The Indigo Girls, Joan Baez, and Mary Chapin Carpenter.  Best-selling author and humorist David Sedaris will share his insights and his new book, Theft by Finding in his Tanglewood debut on Sunday, August 20.

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Four Voices: Joan Baez, Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin Carpenter perform on Saturday, June 17 Photo courtesy of the BSO

A number of audience favorites will also return such as five time Grammy award-winner James Taylor, John Williams’ Film Night, Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Tanglewood on Parade, and Tanglewood Family Concert where attendees under age 18 are free.

Tanglewood - Diana Ross (photo by Al Watson)

The Legendary Diana Ross performs on Wednesday, August 30 Photo courtesy of Al Watson/BSO

Throughout the season, Tanglewood offers a wide array of classical works from Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven, and much more.   Located at 297 West Street in Lenox, Massachusetts, the Tanglewood season also includes special music presentations with Underscore FridaysTicket packages are available and attendees under age 40 can get tickets for just 20 dollars.  Click here for further details. Click here for the entire Tanglewood schedule and tickets or call SymphonyCharge at 1-888-266-1200.  Like Tanglewood Music Festival on Facebook for all the latest updates.