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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ boasts humor, heartache, and hairspray

A good story is usually rooted in truth.

Robert Harling’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ is partially based on a true story.  Harling wrote the play, ‘Steel Magnolias’ in 1987 and based it off of real people he knew in Louisiana.  In the popular 1989 film (which included a parade of famous actresses such as Dolly Parton, Olympia DukakisDaryl Hannah,  and Shirley MacLaine), the part of M’Lynn was portrayed by Sally Field and Julia Roberts was Shelby.  Harling based M’Lynn on his mother and Shelby (whose real name was Susan) on his sister.

Directed by Paula Plum, Hub Theatre Company of Boston celebrates the 30th anniversary of the 1989 film with comedy drama ‘Steel Magnolias’ continuing at Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s summer home, Club Cafe through Sunday, August 3.  This show is on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Click here for more information and tickets.

The Sleepless Critic also recently spoke to Hub Theatre of Boston Artistic Producing Director’s Lauren Elias about ‘Steel Magnolias,’ the future of Hub Theatre Company of Boston, and more.  Click here for the podcast.

Set entirely in Truvy’s Beauty Shop in Chinquapin, Louisiana in 1985, this bittersweet tale follows a group of vastly different women who find strength in each other through hardships and triumphs with a great deal of understanding, humor, and hairspray.  Though it has its share of serious themes, ‘Steel Magnolias’ offers more humor and relatable moments seeped in a wealth of 80s references that include mentions of Jane Fonda, and Elizabeth Arden.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston Steel Magnolias full cast 2

From L to R: Maureen Adduci as Ouiser, Liz Adams as M’Lynn, Oye Ehikhamhen as Shelby (center), Lauren Elias as Annelle, June Kfoury as Clairee, and Catherine Lee Christie as Truvy Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

With bold costumes by Chelsea Kerl and Wig Master Caroline Clancy, the show impressively rewinds the clock into the 80s big hair era and memorable fashion sense while highlighting each woman’s distinct personality.  It is also refreshing to look at back at life at a time before the internet where people shared time, recipes, and hair tips in person.

Directed impressively by Paula Plum, ‘Steel Magnolias’ also thrives through its smart casting and the developing chemistry and growth between these primarily outspoken southern women, keeping this popular show fresh.  With a gift for gab and gossip, Catherine Lee Christie portrays Truvy Jones with charm and sass.  As a big fan of the movie, it is hard to imagine this part for anyone other than Dolly Parton, but Christie, in an array of distinct, sparkling, and mismatched fashion, rises to the occasion.  Her scenes with Lauren Elias as mysterious and humble Annelle make for some quirky, heartwarming moments.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston Steel Magnolias full cast

From L to Right: Maureen Aducci as Ouiser, Liz Adams as M’Lynn, Oye Ehikhamhen as Shelby (center), Lauren Elias as Annelle, June Kfoury as Clairee, and Catherine Lee Christie as Truvy Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Maureen Adduci’s sardonic, frank, and darkly amusing Ouiser delivers some of the most entertaining moments in the show.  Adduci’s exhausted scowl alone in Truvy’s cheery beauty salon is enough to crack a smile.  Her sarcastic facade rings true with the priceless line, “I don’t see plays because I can nap at home for free…and I don’t read books because if they are any good, they are going to make them into a miniseries.”  June Kfoury as Clairee, a stylish and gossip-driven widow with good intentions and a knowing smile, amuses herself by teasing Ouiser and their exchanges create their own spark.

However, the most captivating relationship is the family dynamic between Liz Adams as M’Lynn and Oye Ehikhamhen as M’Lynn’s daughter Shelby.  The push and pull between the two make it easy to see them as mother and daughter.  As in any mother-daughter relationship, one minute they exchange nagging barbs and the next, nurturing affection.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston Steel Magnolias Liz Adams as MLynn and Oye Ehikhamhen

Liz Adams as M’Lynn and Oye Ehikhamhen as Shelby Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Liz Adams portrays M’Lynn with a quiet, palpable tightness and a bundle of suppressed feelings.  It is easy to feel the weight of the world on her shoulders.  This M’Lynn has a bit of a tougher edge and a dry sense of humor as she meticulously looks after everyone but herself.  Though M’Lynn and Shelby are both dramatic and stubborn, Oye Ehikhamhen as Shelby is a ceaselessly optimistic force where happiness is a requirement, not an option.  With a broad smile and easy chemistry with the entire cast, Oye as Shelby shines in a charismatic, compassionate performance.

Club Cafe’s stage is an air-conditioned, intimate space that includes tables set up for food and drinks.  In honor of the production, Club Cafe offers themed specialty cocktails such as Truvy’s Twister, Blush and Bashful, Wack-A-Ouiser, and Chinquapin Parish Punch.

Directed by Paula Plum, rewind the clock and take a trip south to Truvy’s for Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ at Club Café  at 209 Columbus Ave through Saturday, August 3. This show is on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Click here for more information about Hub Theatre and tickets.  Hub Theatre Company of Boston is also taking donations of beauty products and toiletries at every performance to be donated to Rosie’s Place and other charities.

REVIEW: Multi-talented Hugh Jackman wows at the TD Garden

Is multi-talented Hugh Jackman better on film or onstage?

Is it worth seeing him when he comes back to Boston?  Is he the Greatest Showman?

One thing is certain – Hugh Jackman is the genuine article.

Some actors who decide to go on tour put on self-indulgent shows of their history in show business and share their general musings about life to promote their next album or film.  They might even sing a song or two.  However, outside the studio, they can’t really sing or dance.   People cheer, even if the show isn’t what they were expecting, but they remember that guy in that film or show who was so great in those roles, and that is enough.

Hugh is one talented guy.  He is a Tony, Emmy, and Grammy award-winner as well as a Golden Globe and Academy Award-nominee.  He has also been on the other side of acting as host of the Academy and Tony Awards.  For his 50th birthday, he wished to go on a world-wide tour.

Hugh Jackman’s ‘The Man. The Music.  The Show.’ will continue through October 20, 2019. Click here for show dates.  He’ll also return to Boston’s TD Garden for one more performance on Tuesday, October 1.

Hugh Jackman the Tour

Photo credit to Hugh Jackman The Show

The morning of Hugh’s appearance on Thursday, June 27 at the TD Garden, Hugh Jackman made a surprise appearance serving coffee from a coffee truck in Boston to promote his charity work with ‘The Laughing Man Cafe and Foundation.’  A loyal Bruins fan, he called performing in Boston one of his big dreams.

As superhero Wolverine (in which he demonstrates an onstage pose or two), he shows his dynamic range.  Decked out at first in a white tux, he runs the gamut of styles from flashy costumes to more casual attire with no ringleader costume in sight.  Though he reminisces about his career with a realistic look at his dogged pursuit to find success as an actor, he seems like a humble, funny, and approachable guy.

A family friendly show, he keeps the crowd moving with a broad range of music.  From reaching into an old school vibe with selections such as I’ve Got Rhythm and Mac the Knife to tap dancing to AC/DC to performing a vast selection of musical theatre including lighting up the stage with selections from ‘The Greatest Showman,’ the show has a universal appeal though especially for the theatre buff.  He joins Kaley McKnight onstage to perform a stunning, powerful rendition of This is Me and a sweeping ‘Les Miserables‘ medley.  He also joined members of the Boston Children’s Chorus for a stirring rendition of You Will Be Found from the hit musical, ‘Dear Evan Hansen.’

Hugh Jackman stage

Hugh Jackman at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

The second half of the show does not outdo the first, but he demonstrates his range further in the second.  It actually gets a bit trippy during his ode to his Australian idol, Peter Allen in which Hugh won a Tony Award for his portrayal as Peter in ‘The Boy From Oz.’  Peter was not only known for songs such as Don’t Cry Out Loud and Arthur’s Theme, but for his over-the-top stage performances.  He also welcomes the audience into his native Australia by recreating the outback, claiming it as one of his most out-of-this-world experiences he has ever had.

So, to answer those questions, I prefer Hugh in his epic films, but he is undeniably a wonderful performer.  The very best is a lot to ask, but his dynamic range is truly great and worth watching on tour or when he returns to Boston in October.  You will no doubt recognize the sheer talent that he has developed over decades of being a singer, a dancer, theater actor, movie star, and a hero.

REVIEW: Company Theatre’s ‘Paragon Park the Musical’ is one amazing ride

The Company Theatre is reprising their original, award-winning production of ‘Paragon Park the Musical‘ to cap off their 40th season from Friday, July 26 through Sunday, August 18 with a VIP reception taking place on Saturday July 27.  Winner of the Moss Hart Award in 2012 for Best New England Production, ‘Paragon Park the Musical’ returns with a new cast including Michael Hammond as George A. Dodge and some returning cast members.

A portion of the proceeds from the tickets will be donated to the beloved Paragon Carousel.  Performances will take place at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  Tickets are selling fast.  Click here for more information and how to get tickets and here about the Paragon Park VIP reception.

Click here for a clip of the original production.  Here is what the Sleepless Critic had to say about this production when it first debuted onstage in Summer 2012…

As the dazzling chandelier is to the musical, ‘Phantom of the Opera’ or a certain symbolic revolving stage is to ‘Les Miserables,’ the original, historic carousel used in the Company Theatre’s exciting production of ‘Paragon Park the Musical’ exudes its own brand of theatre magic.  It serves as a pulsing centerpiece into creator George A. Dodge’s timeless imagination as well as the depth and delight of what made children and adults embrace that revolutionary park in Hull, Massachusetts for nearly 80 years and beyond.

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‘Paragon Park the Musical’ is an original production by Company Theatre co-founder Zoe Bradford and director Michael Hammond with lyrics and music by composer Adam Brooks.  Performances continue through Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This highly-anticipated musical is enjoying a brilliant run, with nearly every show sold out weeks in advance.

What makes this particular production so popular is it depicts the history of a beloved beachside amusement park that closed in 1984 and actually existed in Hull, Massachusetts.  Historic Paragon Park encapsulates many happy memories to Massachusetts natives, especially those in the South Shore.

‘Paragon Park the Musical’ tells the story of warm, ambitious, and imaginative whaling mogul George A. Dodge, who was passionately inspired to entertain Massachusetts residents and beyond with a revolutionary beachside amusement park.  It also tells a story of forbidden romance and a glimpse into the lives of the real people who resided in that little seaside town in Hull.  The Company Theatre’s ‘Paragon Park the Musical’ not only shines a historical lens into a piece of the South Shore’s dynamic history, but the picturesque settings paint a crisp portrait with each scene.

'Paragon Park the Musical' 2012 production

Scott Wahle as George A. Dodge with cast in the 2012 production Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The cast is very much an ensemble and delves into various social issues, family issues and immigration, giving insight into each character’s devotion to the park, showing what truly made the park endure for nearly 80 years.  Boston broadcast veteran Scott Wahle is charming and clever as George A. Dodge, portraying him with a twinkle in his eye.   He is full of charisma and authenticity throughout the show and is a delight to watch with children.

It is wonderful to see so many strong female characters such as strong willed Tilly, portrayed with vivacity by Joyce McPhee, discerning Amira, played by Maya Carter, sharp and spirited journalist Floretta Vining, depicted by Victoria Weinstein, and spunky and ambitious Mrs. Rose Stone, played by Juliana Dennis.  The practical Mrs. Rose Stone’s strong presence is a fine match for George A. Dodge’s relaxed humor.  Rinado, portrayed by Nick Cox, is a combination of rugged good looks and captivating naivety, while John King’s Ogden has a spectacular sneer.  Dave Daly is refreshing as lively and cheerful Honeyfitz, who showcases soaring vocals and can play a spirited rendition on a ukulele too!

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Each of Paragon Park’s original 18 numbers are polished and lyrically rich.  The musical’s exhilarating songs, One Last Ride and Paragon Park are delivered with spectacular energy and passion.   The humorous song, Over the Bridge sets a cheerful tone and depicts a few glorious aspects of being young through the wonder of the park.  Joyce McPhee’s Long Lost Love compliments her stunning vocal range and was a crowd favorite.  Massachusetts residents will delight in many well-known local references in the show, especially in the welcoming number, Nantasket for a Day. and A Proper Life.

The sets and costumes range from elegant and sophisticated to colorful and humorous.  The question, “Did I really wear that?” may also come to mind.  The sets are colorful, detailed, and the backdrops are simply stunning.

Through meticulously detailed costumes, ‘Paragon Park the Musical’ brings to life important eras of the park’s history with ease.  With 18 original numbers, a powerful 20-piece orchestra, and the enthusiasm of each cast member, the Company Theatre’s ‘Paragon Park the Musical’ is a beautiful creation, a love letter to its creator and the many people who hold dear memories of the park’s heyday.

Company Theatre reprises ‘Paragon Park the Musical’ from Friday, July 26 through Sunday, August 18.  Click here for more information and tickets or call the box office at 781-871-2787. Follow Company Theatre on FacebookInstagram and Twitter for more on their upcoming events.

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.

REVIEW: Billy Joel brought his A-game for his fifth year at Fenway Park

Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter Billy Joel will not be sharing new music any time soon.  Renowned for his library of hits in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, he stuck with the chart toppers and some lesser known singles at the Fenway Park field on Friday, August 10 as part of the Plainridge Park Casino Fenway Concert series.

Billy Joel Fenway Park

Photo credit to IheartMedia

‘I haven’t had a hit in 25 years,’ he muses, ‘but I have also not released an album in 25 years.’  Opening fittingly and dramatically with the theme song from The Natural, a beloved 1984 sports film starring Robert Redford, Billy Joel took the Fenway Park stage for his fifth year.  Click here to see where Billy Joel will perform next.

Showcasing his biggest hits along with a few of his lesser known ones, Billy Joel brought his A-game.  Kicking off shortly after eight in the evening as fans were still filing into the park, he arrived behind his piano for his straight-talking hit Big Shot, a song that was said to have been inspired by a dinner he had with Mick and Bianca Jagger.  Under multicolored lights and an infectious beat, from the start Billy Joel proved his ceaseless energy at 69 years old.

On a cloudy, but rainless night in Fenway, Joel referred to Boston as the birthplace of freedom where he wrote the song, My Life.  He also mentioned the Red Sox, though he’s an avid NY Mets fan, before a stirring rendition of NY State of Mind, which featured shots of New York City’s famous landmarks.  He even playfully sang Boston’s More than a Feeling before jokingly “forgetting the words.”

Billy Joel Fenway

Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Sharply dressed in a dark suit and tie, Billy Joel spoke with humor and frankness, sharing personal details behind his music, his voice matured into a deeper, grittier growl with all the same power behind it.  He treated the enthusiastic full house to a spectrum of his famous and lesser known songs as he reflected, ‘I worked just as hard on the lesser known songs as the hits.’  Some of those lesser known songs included Summer, Highland Falls, Zanzibar, The Downeaster Alexa, and Vienna, a sweet, quiet tune from his album The Stranger and was also featured on the 13 Going on 30 film with Jennifer Garner.

Accompanied by a robust rock, jazz, and horn-infused big band, Joel performed upbeat number, Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song), a hit song that inspired a 2002 Tony award-winning Broadway musical of the same name.  The musical highlighted a number of Billy Joel’s greatest hits.  Dedicating a song to his three year-old daughter, Joel performed Don’t Ask Me Why as well as many of his signature hits including a resonant Only the Good Die Young, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, a colorful, extended version of River of Dreams, and It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.

The award-winning singer-songwriter kept the crowd on their feet with surprise guests from two vastly different genres.  Peter Wolf, lead singer of the J.Geils Band, a group Billy Joel opened for early in his career.  Wolf performed the band’s 80s hit, Centerfold before calling Joel one of the nicest in the business.  Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, who was to perform with the band at Fenway the following night, also joined Joel.  Accompanied by powerful guitar, Elliott’s deep, throaty vocals delivered their audacious hit, Pour Some Sugar on Me.  As welcome as their appearances were, it couldn’t beat their return to the stage later to sing with Joel for You May Be Right.

Joel also had his share of quiet moments as he silenced the crowd with the emotional, heartfelt number, And So it Goes and She’s Always a Woman.  Sitting behind the baby grand piano most of the evening with a brief stint humming on the harmonica for Piano Man before taking to the guitar during an epic, four-song encore, Billy Joel still has a seasoned passion for the stage and left with hardly a voice, delivering short of a three hour performance.