REVIEW:  Comparing music biopic ‘Respect’ and anthology series ‘Genius:  Aretha Franklin’

Maybe it was because I went in with the highest of expectations. 

When casting was announced for the Aretha Franklin film biopic, Respect, the anticipation for this film soared.  A cast that included Academy award-winner Forrest Whittaker, multi-Tony award winner Audra McDonald and starring Academy Award-winning Jennifer Hudson as Aretha, it seemed this film could do no wrong.  In many ways, it didn’t and in other ways, it did.  The movie has my respect, but can’t quite pinpoint exactly why it wasn’t as spectacular as it should have been.

Though Respect is no longer in theatres, it is streaming on HBO Max, VOD, and other platforms.  National Geographic’s Genius:  Aretha Franklin is available on Hulu

This is not to say that Jennifer Hudson did not deliver a phenomenal performance.  Her dynamic vocal range could run circles around almost any singer today.  Just to see her take on the theme song to TV classic, The Jeffersons for Live in front of a Studio Audience:  All in the Family and The Jeffersons, her sass and brilliance shines through even for those select few minutes.  On a larger scale, she performed The Color Purple on Broadway plus watching her sing a live Prince tribute to Purple Rain alongside Cynthia Erivo (who also went on to embody the Queen of Soul in Genius:  Aretha Franklin) the night Prince passed away was probably one of the most endearing versions I have ever heard next to the Purple one himself.

It was the kind of vocals needed to match Aretha Franklin’s superlative falcon soprano voice that mastered an aria for Luciano Pavoratti during a live performance at the 1998 Grammy Awards to the bluesy Chain of Fools to the magnificence of her version of Amazing Grace.

 Jennifer Hudson is unquestionably an incredible talent and yet, watching Respect, it was difficult to envision Aretha Franklin.  Perhaps if Hudson was a less recognizable or not such an established talent in her own right, it might have been easier to picture it.  After watching Respect and Genius:  Aretha Franklin back to back, it was easier to envision Cynthia Erivo in the role of Franklin.  Not only does Erivo look more like Franklin and her distinct vocals a bit closer to Aretha’s, but she also possesses that determination and sass that Aretha was well known for.  However, Erivo also had a lot more room to flourish during an entire season.

Though both adaptations are worth watching, it seems like Genius had too much time to tell Franklin’s story and Respect did not have enough.  Respect sometimes seemed choppy and there are scenes that were featured in Genius that would have been better explored in RespectRespect was once a 3 hour film cut down to 2 hours and 25 minutes, but it would have better with more time.  Genius had plenty of time to tell its story, but some parts lingered on events a bit too long.

Hudson delivers a surprisingly subdued performance compared to the strong presence Franklin displayed in life.  Hudson masters more of Franklin’s natural instinct and wisdom into music as she navigates the music industry from her early misses to her meteoric success from Franklin’s version of the hit song, Respect (which is an Otis Retting song that Franklin undoubtedly made her own). 

Both Respect and Genius:  Aretha Franklin feature epic casts.  A notable portrayal was that of the young version of Franklin, portrayed by Skye Dakota Turner in Respect.  Turner possessed more of the charm, spunk, and valor that Aretha was known for.  It is easy to see Aretha has a song in her heart from the very first scene, especially due to director Liesl Tommy’s vivid cinematography.  Marc Maron delivers an amazing performance as legendary and steadfast music manager Jerry Wexler though the part is not a great departure from other roles he has delivered over the years.  Forrest Whittaker in Respect and Courtney B. Vance in Genius:  Aretha Franklin skillfully portray Franklin’s fiercely protective, stubborn, and seemingly strict preacher father.  Each actor hones in on different aspects of C.L. Franklin’s strong character.  Audra McDonald is dynamite as Barbara Franklin even within her brief screen time.  She delivers a memorable performance at the piano with young Aretha for Irving Kahal’s I’ll Be Seeing You.

Respect is also set up like the standard biopic rather than choosing an unconventional way of sharing excerpts from Franklin’s life.  Much like recent biopics such as Walk the Line, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Judy, Respect uses this narrative structure from fame to childhood and in sequence and in this instance, surrounded by depictions of Martin Luther King Jr, Barry White, Smokey Robinson, Dinah Washington and Sam Cooke along the way.  Though it is an effective formula, it is a bit of a clichéd one.  Genius:  Aretha offers a fresher and unconventional perspective into Franklin’s life delving into an experience Franklin and her father survived together, leaving the viewer to guess what could be next. 

Both biopics have their strengths, but if you are looking for a fresher and more believable take featuring some lesser known experiences on Franklin, dive into Genius:  Aretha Franklin.   Respect features an incredible cast worth watching for its masterful songs featuring a paramount scene featuring Aretha Franklin recording her signature Amazing Grace not to be missed.  Either way, the Queen of Soul’s dynamic life is worth telling twice.

REVIEW: Tony Williams’ ‘Urban Nutcracker’ makes a vivid and engaging return to the stage for its 20th anniversary

The thrill is back. 

For an interactive and engaging show like Urban Nutcracker, experiencing it online last year on its 19th anniversary offered a glimpse into its dazzling style, multi-genre music, and the unique perspective within a classic tale. 

However, sitting in the Boch Center’s Shubert Theatre as Urban Nutcracker’s dynamic orchestra traveled down the aisles performing their horn-infused, big band sound on instruments stringed in colorful lights created an authentically immersive experience.  This year marks Urban Nutcracker’s 20th anniversary live onstage, an innovative show that not only pays tribute to Tchaikovsky’s classic holiday tale, but to the beauty and spirit of Boston.

Featuring the City Ballet of Boston, The Brooklyn Ballet, Phunk Phenomenon Dance Complex, the Northeast School of Ballet, and Revels, Tony Williams Dance Center’s Urban Nutcracker is available for a limited engagement continuing through December 22 at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is approximately 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission. Click here to for more information and for further details about the Tony Williams Dance Center

Click here for an interview with Tony Williams about his dance center and how the Urban Nutcracker began.

Prefaced by festive carols from the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Nat King Cole, the enthusiastic crowd was more than ready to experience The Urban Nutcracker live and in person again and from the spontaneous cheers from the crowd, showed no sign of disappointment. 

As the band settles inside a replica of the Hatch Shell above the stage amid Janie Howland’s amazing scenic design, identifiable landmarks such as the CITGO signMassachusetts State House, Green Monster, and Downtown Boston’s Custom House Clock Tower  (which comes alive upon closer examination) are set strategically on Boston’s city skyline.  The orchestra plays above the performers, delivering rich and funky rhythms inspired by a variety of music styles that match the vast array of festive, eye-popping costumes by Dustin Todd Rennels as cultures from around the world take the stage once more.

Ruth Whitney and Ronnie Thomas Photo credit to Peter Paradise

When TchaikovskyDuke Ellington, and David Berger come together for this eclectic score musically directed by Bill Whitney, it takes this timeless tale to the next level.  Urban Nutcracker delivers a modern, sparkling, family-friendly vibe which is depicted in the show’s rich colors as a chic and contemporary apartment with a distinctive tree, glimmering cushions, and large and festive bulbs covering the windows is revealed.

What is particularly noticeable this year is the gathering.  The variety of children and adults dancing and playing with their new toys as a group come together for an amazing photo with a lengthy selfie stick.  The sheer joy of a houseful of children and adults enjoying each other’s company has been something dearly missed.

Selfie stick Photo credit to Peter Paradise

Horn infused jazz, hip hop, and the blues are just a few of the genres explored in this tradition meets contemporary Urban Nutcracker.  It was amazing to watch the adults dance with elements of swing and ballet integrated into their steps.

Urban Nutcracker depicts all the classic scenes from Tchikovsky’s production with an inviting twist featuring a diverse, multi-talented cast.  In a magnificent coat and top hat, Gianni Di Marco has more than one trick up his sleeve as captivating Drosselmeyer.  He not only wows adults and children alike with tricks and presents, but his sweet interactions with Ruby including one point as the duo watch from the balcony provide some of Urban Nutcracker’s most memorable moments.

Drosselmeyer does his magic as children look on. Photo credit to Peter Paradise

Khalid Hill returns and again masters multiple roles including a catchy break dancing, tap and toe tapping routine on the city streets as dancers synchronize beats on trash cans.  Ronnie Thomas is excellent as a wiry soldier doll in bright orange and purple as he bends in incredible shapes around the stage as well in an exciting rat battle as the Nutcracker Prince.

The Snow Queen and King, portrayed by Ruth Bronwen-Whitney and Ronnie Thomas, are sophisticated and elegant gliding in a snow-covered landscape of the Boston Common surrounded by luminous snowflake dancers.  Thomas also delivers a visually-rich and memorable performance in a duet with Ruth Bronwen-Whitney as Arabian dancers.  Spain’s spectacular costumes glitter in a flowing flamenco dance as a bull rider dominates the background while China’s dancers are bursting with color in a spinning fan dance.

Kirsten Glaser leads Spain dance Photo cred to Peter Paradise Michaels.

The Sugar Plum Fairy, performed by Kseniya Melyukhina and Ruth Bronwen-Whitney, has a more traditional look in lilac this year, but nonetheless stands out for a beautiful, upbeat solo and a later performance with Gianni Di Marco during a jazz-infused Nutcracker Suite. 

Kseniya Melyukhina in Urban Nutcracker Photo credit Peter Paradise

Several lighthearted performances return to the stage including the athletic hula hoop dancers in Revere Beach with back flips included, a lively and humorous performance featuring skilled, tap-dancing workmen in hardhats and paint-splotched overalls, but a favorite performance of Urban Nutcracker’s answer to Make Way for Ducklings is endearing and heartwarming featuring Michael Oliver Slayton as a tap dancing cop and an adorable, yellow feathered troupe of ducklings led by Simone Wolfhorst.

Urban Nutcracker still offers something for everyone with a unique twist on a classic while still reminding audiences what is truly important this time of year.  It is a unique and exciting Boston tribute with surprises along the way.

Tony Williams Dance Center’s Urban Nutcracker continues through December 22. Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support this organization.

REVIEW:  Company Theatre’s ‘Jordie:  A Celebration of Life and Concert’

In her good works, her loving and encouraging persona, and perhaps in a misbehaving microphone, Company Theatre’s beloved co-founder Jordie Saucerman’s presence was unmistakably felt in Jordie A Celebration of Life and Concert continuing through Saturday, November 6 at 7:30 PM.  This dynamic tribute is held live onstage with no intermission at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts. Click here for more information.

Courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Though there are moments of tearful recollections, this thoughtful, Mardi Gras-inspired tribute brought more joy than sadness not unlike Jordie herself.  She made an indelible mark not only in theatre and film, but her humor, drive, and generous nature made her an unforgettable presence in the lives she encountered, especially in children that often felt alone and misunderstood.  Her discernment, treatment of others, and her endless bowls of chicken soup and treats allowed them to shine.

Young Jordie Saucerman Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

A large cast that included Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) students paid warmhearted tribute to Jordie with hit Broadway tunes, pop and uplifting gospel songs, captivating dance numbers, and personal stories.  Composed of present and former students that she fondly referred to as family and those whose lives she touched over her 49 years in the arts, needless to say the stage was full.

Some highlights included a poignant montage of film clips capturing Jordie’s wonderful life, including her telling first and final reflections.  A stirring homily from Cathy Torrey and insightful, ballet-inspired choreography created by Jordie’s wife and Company Theatre choreographer Sally Forrest led in song by Paula Markowitz depict how beautiful she was inside and out.

Ballet-inspired tribute Photo courtesy of Michael Hammond/Company Theatre

The Company Theatre presents Jordie A Celebration of Life and Concert for one more show on Saturday, November 6 at 7:30 p.m.  Click here for more information.

In Jordie’s memory, The Company Theatre has created The Jordie Saucerman Forever Fund.  Click here to contribute to her legacy.

REVIEW:  Academy of the Company Theatre’s parody ‘Puffs’ full of lively, enchanted fun

Those first few chords seem familiar, but no, this is not quite the John Williams classic score about THAT wizard, but another earnest group of wizard hopefuls.  Not quite ‘saint-like,’ but fun loving and enthusiastic underachievers nonetheless.  Some legendary faces appear and make quite an impression, but the Puffs are the real stars.

Full of inside and self aware jokes, 90s pop culture references, chocolate frogs, almost every flavored bean, and not nearly as long as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 comes Puffs, a spot on parody that tells the epic tale of the seven years Harry Potter attended Hogwarts from the viewpoint of some of the lesser known wizard students that aimed for first, but would also settle for third.  It is a hilarious exploration that is best appreciated by Harry Potter fans due to its share of spoilers, but anyone would enjoy a wealth of improvisational fun and physical humor as well as Dean Palmer Junior’s impressive lighting and special effects.  The introduction of hilarious dragons and haunting dementors are just some of the show’s highlights.

Bath scene. Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed cleverly by Corey Cadigan, Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) presents Matt Cox’s Puffs for one exclusive weekend from October 22 through October 24 at Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  Click here for all of Company Theatre’s upcoming events including a tribute to Jordie Saucerman, Company Theatre’s late co-founder.

The timing is perfect for Puffs as next year marks 25 years since JK’s Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone hit bookshelves in 1997, making the author one of the richest people in the world.  With Harry Potter and the Cursed Child back on Broadway and around the world and Fantastic Beasts 3: The Secrets of Dumbledore slated for next year, Harry Potter remains a phenomenon.

Annie Dunn as Sally Perks and others and Marissa Tolini as Susie Bones and others Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

This is absolutely not a retread of Harry Potter though, but tells a slightly different and more humorous tale along Harry Potter’s timeline.  It is difficult to choose which characters makes the biggest impression because each cast member collaborate so well together and as a big Harry Potter fan, I found myself laughing right through my mask which is required within Company Theatre’s comfortable theatre space.

Brianna Casey as Narrator Courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Many cast members transfigure into multiple roles as Brianna Casey serves as Puffs scholarly narrator.  Casey’s benevolent and dignified delivery adds gravitas to an often whimsical role, keeping the tale focused as some of the more spontaneous characters could have led the story astray.  Will Moon epitomizes Cedric’s rock star persona and charismatic scene stealer in a dual role and Alex Norton’s Wayne Hopkins is talkative and charming as the tale’s ‘would be’ hero.  Morgan Hurley offers a memorable portrayal of conflicted Megan Jones, a rebel with a chip on her shoulder.  She shares endearing chemistry with Sean Lally as Wayne’s nerdy best friend, Oliver Rogers.

Anastasia Ferrera is bubbly and delightful as Leanne among others and James Keyes as goofy J. Finch as well as other roles is often the life of the party.  One of the many collaborative scenes and highlights of the show involve a party with too much butter beer and a familiar sounding 90s dance song.   Some scenes seem a random addition, but are always smartly done.

With intricate, multi-functional sets and props (those wands and that sorting hat!) by Ryan Barrow and colorful, distinctive, and humorously outlandish costumes by John Crampton, Puffs is a lighthearted and wonderful journey while still delivering important life lessons so prevalent in the books such as valuing the power of friendship, dreaming big, and being true to oneself.  It’s a shame the show is only presented for one weekend with a cast that is having so much fun.

Brianna Casey as Narrator and Max Ripley as Ernie Mac and others

Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) performs parody Puffs through October 24.  Click here for more information and for all of the Company Theatre’s upcoming events.

Company Theatre’s Michael Hammond reveals his favorite part of theatre, a secret project, and ‘Fun Home’

Just prior to the pandemic, an award-winning, intriguing production not only made its debut but closed in one night on the Company Theatre stage in Norwell, Massachusetts over a year ago.  Onstage as the meaty role of Bruce, Company Theatre’s Director of Development Michael Hammond experienced that incredible and bittersweet night and what it meant to the cast of the musical memoir Fun Home. Click here for our full podcast conversation.

Aimee Doherty as Alison, Michael Hammond as Bruce, and Riley Crockett as Small Alison Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The Company Theatre is offering a chance to see Fun Home for the full run they had originally intended in October.  Michael talks about his experience as Bruce, his favorite part of theatre, and a secret upcoming project. 

Click here for Sleepless Critic’s Fun Home review and here for tickets and further information about the Company Theatre.

Sleepless Critic: So you’ve been in theatre since you were a kid and now that we have had the pandemic, what was your favorite part of the theatre before and was there a change in your favorite or what you miss the most when we had a break?

Michael Hammond: I think we take a lot for granted in life.  We forget how much fun it is to sing with an orchestra or to perform on a beautiful set someone built.  Ryan Barrow does amazing sets at Company Theatre and it’s thrilling to perform on one of his sets.  It’s thrilling to perform with Steve Bass conducting an orchestra and thrilling to perform Sally Forrest’s choreography under Zoe Bradford’s direction. 

I think we take that for granted in some ways and as much as I enjoy it and maybe as I got from show to show to show, I think I just liked performing specific roles for the experience of getting to know a new cast.  I did a Christmas show at Company Theatre and just recharged my energy to be around such beautiful people and exciting kids and talent.  You’re in a flow and you are doing shows and enjoying it. 

The cast of Company Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

You get what you get out of it, but when the pandemic was coming, I was doing Fun Home with an extremely talented cast.  Riley Crockett was playing the youngest Alison.  I was re-experiencing theatre through her eyes and she had never been on a big stage or performed with an orchestra which is shocking because she is so talented.  She would ask me, ‘Are you nervous for your solo tonight?’  I would say, ‘I am a little.’  She would say, ‘Good, now you know how I feel.’  Ok, she needs a little more support and encouragement in that moment. 

Then we were standing on top of a staircase and we were about to walk down for our first entrance and she said, ‘Michael, I’ve never performed on a set like this.  This is a big deal.’  I said, ‘Yes, it is a big deal.  You are right. This is a beautiful experience and you’re about to sing live with an orchestra for the first time in a big theatre on a beautiful set.’  It made me look at what we are doing and not take it for granted. 

So we were fortunate to open and close Fun Home on the exact same night because the pandemic had really hit.  That day everyone was cancelling their performances but we went on because we had a feeling this would be it.  I’m so glad we did because it was one of the most exciting and electric experiences of my life.  People were rebellious and excited.  They knew this might be the last time they ever saw this show and Fun Home is not a super positive and happy experience.

Riley Crockett as Small Alison and Michael Hammond as Bruce Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC:  It is melancholy.

MH:  Right, but the audience treated it like it was a rock concert! 

SC:  Yes, I was there to review your first and final performance.  I felt so comfortable and wonderful and I had saw this show in Boston before.  What I liked about watching this particular show is that you can make it so different every time you perform it.  The parts can be portrayed very differently and you can do so much with the show.  In a way, if you had to say goodbye to theatre for awhile, I felt like that was such a poignant thing to do in that moment.

MH:  It was.  It was one of the most beautiful experiences I think I ever had and it was just so bittersweet because it was the last show with Jordie.  How thrilled and grateful am I that I got to have Jordie’s final show be Fun Home and I got to be a part of it. It was just such a fantastic experience and she loved the show. It was such a joy to go through that process with her. 

SC:  It is one of those shows that sneak up on you unexpectedly.  You’re experiencing the show and you enjoy it, but once it’s over, it is really thought-provoking. 

MH:  I saw it on Broadway and loved it.  I thought that I don’t necessarily need to see it again.  It was beautiful and moving and I think of it like a beautiful film.  You watch it and then you watch another film.  When this opportunity came around to work on the show, I have such a great appreciation for it.  I think it’s just one of the greatest things ever written where you’re dissecting and it personally and really in the trenches on it.  It’s so much more brilliant than I realized. 

SC:  It has such multi-layered performances as well. 

MH:  I was thinking today that there were so many things about Bruce,  I almost feel like I just left my body.  I personally couldn’t be any part of this character because it just wasn’t anything like me.  Sometimes I think about it and it feels really difficult to do it again because I remember it as ‘What did I even do?’  I feel like something else took over and performed the role for me.

SC:  I don’t often see you play parts like that.  Not to reveal anything, but your character is very complicated.

MH:  Then to hear compliments like you should do roles like that more often is such a compliment because people think of me as a song, dance, and musical theatre man.  Not that I shy away from roles like that, but it was very gratifying to play that part especially opposite such a talented cast.  It’s unbelievable.

SC:   I know you’ve written a few works with Jordie and Zoe over the years.  Please tell us how that came about.

MH:  I co-wrote Paragon Park the Musical with Zoe, Jordie, Sally, and Michael Joseph for the first production and Steve Bass for the second who worked on the music.  I love amusement parks and I loved Paragon Park. I went there so many times in my life. 

When I heard that Zoe and Jordie were thinking of writing a musical about Paragon Park, I selfishly just wanted to see it.  I had no inkling that I would be involved or that they would want me involved.  I just wanted to see that production so it got mentioned many times over the years and one summer I designed a poster Paragon Park the Musical coming summer of whatever year it was.  It was a long time ago. 

One day Zoe decided years after the poster even to start doing some research.  She said, ‘Why don’t you come with me?  We’ll get lunch.’  We went to the Hull Library which was incredible.  They put us in a private room and provided us with access to microfiche, boxes of memorabilia, and photographs.  They were so generous.  It just snowballed from there.  We just couldn’t stop.  We were researching and loved what we found.  It did not end up being the musical we thought we were going to write because the ideas we had in mind turned out to be completely not true.  It all got shifted.

We thought maybe there was this seedy underbelly to the park and that once the park was closed, things happened at night.  It was going to be dark and mysterious and then we find out from the park owners that ‘Oh no, we locked that place, sealed it like a drum at 11 pm, and went out for Chinese food.’  Nothing happened at the Park after hours.  So much for that, but the Stone Family provided us with so much information that we were able to write a really interesting and factual musical.  It was 80% true except for the love story we incorporated. 

SC:  Not only did you write it the first time around, but when it came back around, you got to star in it too. 

MH:  I did and it was a thrill!  The nicest feeling about that show and being in it is to be putting on a costume and as I’m by myself getting dressed, I would hear people walk down the hallway singing the songs or they would say that they get to do that scene they love now.  There was so much positivity and to realize we wrote a show that was really fun to perform.  Some of the kids were in Ragtime and we used to make these funny backstage videos.  So I said, ‘Why don’t we make videos during Paragon Park?’  They said, ‘Michael, you and Zoe wrote a show where there is no time to make videos.  When would we do that?’  It was nice to know we had a hand in creating this really fun experience.   It was quite thrilling to be able to perform something that I helped write.

Michael Hammond in Company Theatre’s ‘Paragon Park the Musical’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC: Please tell me about the projects you are working on now and upcoming projects.

MH: I’m devoting all my time to Company Theatre and Zoe and I thought, ‘Why not write another musical?’ It’s a completely different project from Paragon Park and we can’t quite announce yet what it is, but Zoe is incredibly inspired by this project. 

Watching her, it’s almost like she is channeling something like I’ve never seen.  She’s a beautiful artist and I’m obsessed with the way she draws and paints.  So she just took out a magic marker and a gigantic pad of paper and drew what she saw in her head for the plot of this show and it was quite impressive to watch.  Her ideas are flowing through her.  It is unbelievable so we’re hoping that will probably be the summer of 2023. 

A celebration of life for Company Theatre co-founder Jordie Saucerman. Visit companytheatre.com to learn how to be part of this tribute. Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts, is presenting Fun Home in October as well as devoting a night to their late co-founder, Jordie Saucerman, in November.  Click here for more information and check back to find out about Company Theatre’s mystery original production.

REVIEW: Boston Children’s Chorus’ free MLK tribute concert ‘Born on the Water’ a stirring and hopeful virtual journey

Although the Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC) could not physically be together this year for their annual concert, they certainly spiritually united in harmony through innovative zoom technology that helped make this remarkable concert a visual spectacle.  Featuring renowned special guests in music and in the arts, The Boston Children’s Chorus composed a stirring, gripping, and hopeful collection of works including music and poetry honoring Martin Luther King’s historic day.

The 18th Annual Boston Children’s Chorus concert tribute to Martin Luther’s King, Born on the Water was livestreamed on their website and Facebook on Sunday, January 17 at 4 p.m. The virtual concert is still available on their Facebook page and YouTube channel.  Click here for more information on how to support the Boston Children’s Chorus, their upcoming events, programs, digital offerings, and how to join.

Boston Children’s Chorus’s 17th annual MLK Tribute concert Photo Credit to A Priori Photography/Boston Children’s Chorus

In under an hour, the free virtual tribute concert offered a selection of hymns, protest songs, and hopeful melodies.  Broadway actor-vocalist Roman Banks delivered an incredible opening number with the Boston Children’s Chorus in a gripping rendition of the African American folk song, Been in the Storm as Banks exclaimed, ‘Give me Time to Pray.’

Broadway vocalist Roman Banks performed with the Boston Children’s Chorus for this year’s virtual concert, ‘Born on the Water’ Photo courtesy of Boston Children’s Chorus

African American Folksong Joy in my Heart, arranged and introduced by Dr. Rollo Dilworth of Temple University, was a beautiful and hopeful song made more enchanting by the visually-engaging technology and the heart shaped graphics that framed the adorable and angelic-sounding Children’s Chorus.

Boston Children’s Museum’s President Carole Charnow introduced the moving classic African American Spiritual Let Me Fly with Edith Mae’s poem written during for the Civil Rights Movement, Fight on Little Children in memory of Emmett Til.

BCC’s 16th Annual Martin Luther King’s Tribute concert, ‘She Persisted’ Photo credit to A Priori Photography/Boston Children’s Chorus

Other highlights included Nina Simone’s protest song, Mississippi Goddam introduced by KingBoston’s Executive Director Paris Jeffries.  It was a fast paced, quick witted, impactful song mastered by the Boston Children’s Chorus and enhanced by clever, visually-engaging technology.

Boston Children’s Chorus dedicated Alicia Keys’s catchy, meaningful song Underdog to Frontline Workers and everyone who is risking their lives during the pandemic.  The BCC delivered seamless harmonies accentuated by a beautiful montage of Boston.

Actress and vocalist E. Faye Butler performed with the Boston Children’s Chorus for this year’s MLK virtual tribute concert, ‘Born on the Water’ Photo credit to Boston Children’s Chorus

Adorned in an elegant dress, actress and soloist E. Faye Butler joined the Boston Children’s Chorus in a performance of Stevie Wonder’s poignant, yet uplifting rendition of Love’s in Need of Love Today.  It was easy to hear the enthusiasm in Butler’s warm and soaring vocals as she sang, ‘Don’t delay/Send yours right away’ as the group offered a sorely needed message with such relevance today and so in tune with MLK’s continuing mission.

BCC’s Born on the Water is still available to stream on their Facebook page and YouTube channel. Click here to learn more about the Boston Children’s Chorus, their upcoming events, digital offerings, how to join, and how to support their mission.

REVIEW: Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston, Mark Morris Dance Group’s ‘Pepperland’ a psychedelic, humorous, and visually-compelling Beatles tribute

It was a packed house and a long line outside of the Boch Shubert Theatre in Boston on a cold Sunday afternoon on February 10 to witness Mark Morris Dance Group’s Pepperland, a humorous and visually-captivating tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Beatles lauded album, Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Having made its debut in Liverpool in May 2017, Celebrity Series of Boston presented this distinct musical celebration for three performances only from February 8-10.  The show was approximately an hour with no intermission.  Click here to see where Pepperland will be next,  here for more information about the Celebrity Series of Boston and their upcoming performances, and here for more on the Mark Morris Dance Group.

From depicting the Beatles rampant popularity to a psychedelic journey to enlightenment to the lonely journey of finding love, Mark Morris Dance Group offered a fresh take of this beloved Beatles album through Ethan Iverson’s  original compositions.  Often instrumental, Pepperland is partially sung and narrated, highlighting some of the Beatles most popular and insightful lyrics.

Pepperland_Seattle 2018_Mat Hayward - 8416

‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle. Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

Renowned costume designer Elizabeth Kurtzman’s brilliant color schemes such as mesmerizing black and white checkered suits and kaleidoscopic pleated dresses seamlessly blend with the crystallized multi-color backdrop, thanks to set designer Johan Henckens and lighting designer Nick Kolin.  This mix created an alluring flair.

Within these original orchestrations lie hints of some of the Beatles most popular songs.  A particular highlight was the song, Magna Carta, where dancers bring some of the celebrities featured on the album cover, Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band to life, like Marilyn Monroe and Laurel and Hardy, just by their signature poses.  Mark Morris Dance Group performed a nostalgic version of With a Little Help from my Friends, punctuated by peace signs and a simple, yet memorable wave.

Pepper land dress rehearsal and press night. Images by Gareth Jones

Pepper land dress rehearsal and press night in Liverpool. Images by Gareth Jones/Celebrity Series of Boston

The dancers’ somewhat trippy and complicated moves personify the essence of the album while also providing a new vision.  Dancing in brightly colored socks, they performed a blend of classic and contemporary moves as they bent into a complex slant and defied gravity as they leaned back into each other.  In bright, bold colors, they formed clever dance combinations spinning in pairs, purposefully out of sync.

Their interpretive, ensemble dance of A Day in the Life was another particular standout, telling their own tale.  Couples flourished and dancers were lifted through the crowd.  Also weaved into the songs were energetic dance moves reminiscent of the era.  During the song, Within You Without You, dancers lapsed into moments of loneliness as the Beatles reflected, “We were talking about the space between us all and the people who hold thousands behind us all.”

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

Book ending the show was the iconic title track, Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.  The psychedelic, signature beat punctuated by a captivating and unique march kicked off and ended a journey that featured moments of joy, beauty, and individuality as they paid tribute to one of the most brilliant bands of all time.

Click here to see where Pepperland will be next.  Celebrity Series of Boston offers a dynamic roster featuring the annual Stave Sessions, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, What Makes it Great with NPR’s Rob Kapilow, and much more.  Click here for more information and for tickets. Tickets can also be obtained at the Celebrity Series of Boston’s box office.  Follow Celebrity Series of Boston on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Queen Latifah, Ben Folds, ‘Jaws,’ and ‘E.T.’ part of the Boston Pops ‘Celebrating John Williams’ season

Sometimes the most tremendous talent is located right in the backyard.  Responsible for a wealth of critically-acclaimed and celebrated music scores over a career that spans six decades and beyond, Boston Pops Laureate conductor John Williams has been nominated for 50 Academy Awards, winning five.  Legendary film scores for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Jaws as well as the Olympic Fanfare and theme and NBC Sunday Night Football are just a glimpse of the spectacular works by the incomparable John Williams.

In honor of John’s 85th birthday and his incredible accomplishments over the years, The Boston Pops dedicate their season to Celebrating John Williams from Wednesday, May 10 through Saturday, June 17 at Boston Symphony Hall.  The season will kick off with multi-talented actress and singer Queen Latifah from Wednesday, May 10 to Thursday, May 11 and finishing off with the 25th anniversary of Gospel Night on Saturday, June 17.

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Queen Latifah opens the Boston Pops season Photo courtesy of Boston Pops

The Boston Pops also offers a pre-season concert series hosted by Indiana Jones star, Karen Allen and the live recording of Boston Pops CD release on Friday, April 7.  Click here for Boston Pops tickets and here for more information on upcoming BSO concerts.

Led by accomplished conductor Keith Lockhart, a compelling roster of renowned artists and celebrity appearances enliven this spring’s Boston Pops season.  The stage and screen have never been brighter with iconic artists such as musicians Ben Folds, Leslie Odom, Jr, and the Party with the B-52s.  Other highlights include The Beatles & Beyond, Jaws in Concert, Mamma Mia, E.T. in Concert, Cirque De la Symphonie,  Lights, Camera, Music, The Music of John Williams, and more.

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Ben Folds Photo courtesy of the Boston Pops

The Boston Pops presents the always phenomenal and wildly-popular Gospel Night once again led by Charles Floyd and the return of Film Night with John Williams.  Click here for a full list of performances.

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Leslie Odom, Jr from Hamilton will perform with the Boston Pops Photo courtesy of the Boston Pops

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