REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company re-imagines a classic in riveting ‘Swan Lake in Blue’

Exploring love from obsession to at first sight, Greater Boston Stage Company couldn’t have chosen a more perfect time to introduce Swan Lake, one of ballet’s most popular productions of all time, with a bold and re-imagined twist the day after Valentine’s Day.

With insightful choreography and direction by Ilyse Robbins, Greater Boston Stage Company continues Jazz Ballet Swan Lake in Blue through Sunday, March 1 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue tap dancing

Jackson Jirard (center) and the cast of Swan Lake in Blue Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Tap dancing, ballet, and classic dance just skims the surface of the sheer energy that encapsulates Swan Lake in Blue, a brilliant production that transforms Tchaikovsky’s classic fairy tale into a lively, non-stop dance spectacle with big band flair.  Swan Lake in Blue has elements of that beloved classic in swan feathers, but set in thrilling 1940’s New York City.

Costume designer Kevin Hutchins and Scenic and Prop designer Teri Oakes work together to capture the mood of 1940s New York City in bowler hats, vintage suits, and colorful casual wear right down to the cast’s 40s style Oxfords.

Steve Bass not only seamlessly composed and musically directs Swan Lake in Blue, but also performs onstage with a full big band stately dressed in black and grey vintage sophistication.  The rollicking live orchestra instantly sets the mood of this vibrant, non-stop musical journey.  Swan Lake in Blue features an array of gloriously energetic, athletic dancers that keep the pace joyous and thriving while integrating popular dance moves of its time like the Charleston and Swing.  Each dancer gets an opportunity to shine and Jackson Jirard as Ben Kelly leads this agile group of exceptional talent.

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Jackson Jirard (center) with male dance auditions. Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Jirard is magnificent as he leaps and spins audaciously in tap shoes. Andy McLeavey as Seigfried and Jirard look like naturals dancing together, especially when Mr. Seigfried is first introduced. From Mambo to the Samba to the alluring Dance of the Swans, it is a wordless piece that invites dance to take over.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue Sara Coombs as Odette

Sara Coombs as Odette Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Swan Lake in Blue preserves the classic tale but gives it a Broadway spin involving a mobster, idyllic “swans” and a love struck Broadway producer set in a dance studio.  Odette, portrayed with elegance, fragility, and anguish by Sara Coombs, is a seemingly tethered soul longing for peace.  Coombs flourishes in the complex dual role which balances sass and sincerity as well as compassion and malicious glee through her carefully crafted sharp and sweeping dance moves.

Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey as charming Seigfried share some beautiful moments.  David Visini captures a dark sophistication as Von Rothbart.  Visini’s unsettling, sharp, and menacing dance create a mysterious and powerful charisma every time he makes an appearance.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Tchaikovky’s immortalized Dance of the Swans takes on a new, alluring spin as Briana Fallon and Gillian Gordon join Coombs decked out in feathery, white fringed dresses.  It’s a daring, yet fitting departure of Tchikovsky’s original dance and like the imaginative Swan Lake in Blue,  includes a few winks to the original.

Greater Boston Stage Company continues Jazz Ballet Swan Lake in Blue through Sunday, March 1 at Greater Boston Stage Company at 395 Main Street in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here for more on Greater Boston Stage Company’s 20th season.

 

REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston presented John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift for Nat King Cole tribute and more on Valentine’s Day

Since Jazz and love doesn’t follow a set of rules, they came together for Valentine’s Day.

Love lit up Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Valentine’s Day as Celebrity Series of Boston presented ‘For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole’ on Friday, February 14 at 8 p.m.  Whether longing for love, falling in love, or losing in love, Veronica Swift and the John Pizzarelli Trio brought a jazz-infused twist to classic love songs and American Standards from Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Cole Porter, and especially Nat King Cole for one night only.

Veronica Swift and John Pizzarelli are currently on tour.  Click here for Swift’s upcoming shows and here for John’s future tour dates.  Click here for more on Celebrity Series of Boston and their upcoming events.

Festive purple curtains embellished Sanders Theatre’s beautiful, softly-lit stage.  Dressed in an effervescent pink jumpsuit that changed shades in different lighting, jazz vocalist Veronica Swift kicked off the evening with a drum-infused rendition of Cole Porter’s breezy classic, Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love).  Each musician had an opportunity to show off their stellar talent which included pianist Julius Rodriguez, bassist Phillip Norris, and drummer Aaron Kimmel.

Swift offered a casual, low key presence as she shared childhood stories of growing up touring with her jazz singer mother, Stephanie Nakasian and her father, bebop pianist Hod O’Brien.  Swift’s versatile set had its share of joyous and stirring moments which included a poignant version of Ella Fitzgerald’s Everytime We Say Goodbye dedicated to her father as her voice swelled in quiet emotion.  She skimmed the scales in an electrifying version of Billie Holiday’s Come Rain or Come Shine and an anguished Prisoner of Love.

Veronica Swift and pianist Julius Rodriguez Photo credit: Robert Torres

At just 25 years old, she is a spirited and contemplative performer.  Jazz aficionados would appreciate her natural ability for scatting showcased in a fast paced, ebullient rendition of Billie Holiday’s I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me.  Though I am not a big jazz fan, it is easy to appreciate the liberties jazz takes to transform these classics into a refreshing, eclectic new sound.

With a great deal of humor, a relaxed atmosphere, and in a sharp gray suit, avid storyteller John Pizzarelli delved into the history of Nat King’s Cole music while sharing some of his own history along the way.  He revitalized a few of Nat King Cole’s hits and shared a few anecdotes in tribute to Nat King Cole’s centennial.  American Jazz singer-songwriter and musician Nat King Cole was one of the most successful artists on Capital Records’ roster and his music has inspired generations.

Pizzarelli is currently on tour for John Pizzarelli Trio’s most recent album For Centennial Reasons:  100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole.  The title seems a subtle play on Nat King Cole’s I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons) which Pizzarelli performs tenderly later in the show.  Aside from Pizzarelli who can no less shred on guitar, Pizzarelli was joined by spectacular musicians Isaiah Thompson on piano and Mike Karn on bass.  The John Pizzarelli Trio’s collective sound had the rhythm of a moving train.  Each piece came alive as the instruments seem to “chat” with each other especially during Hit That Jive, Jack and a lively rendition of Honeysuckle Rose.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

Bassist Mike Karn, John Pizzarelli, and pianist Isaiah Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

The trio explored Lorraine as Pizzarelli shared a legendary story about how the song turned Nat King Cole from a pianist into a singer, though it is a rumored tale.  Nat King Cole was part of the Nat King Cole Trio and it was nice to see Pizzarelli reflecting that with his own John Pizzarelli Trio, each member getting their own chance to shine.

Pizzarelli’s delivered an uplifting set which included a few love songs.  His guitar hummed during a cheerful rendition of Nat King Cole’s Make Believe as lightning fast pianist Isaiah Thompson commanded the keys.  Pizzarelli showed off his side winding guitar style in his own song titled Nat King Cool and his scatting skills during Nat King Cole’s Frim Fram Sauce.  The evening’s lighthearted vibe continued with the humorous Save the Bones for Henry Jones, the vibrant I Would Do Anything for You, and one of Nat King Cole’s most popular singles, Straight Up and Fly Right.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

John Pizzarelli, bassist Mike Karn, and pianist Isaish Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

Swift returned to the stage for a few Gershwin classics that included a wistful Someone to Watch Over Me.  She and Pizzarelli delivered a wonderful rendition of They Can’t Take That Away from Me, I Got Rhythm, and their lauded encore Route 66.

As a big Nat King Cole fan, I would have liked to have heard Nat King Cole’s Stardust and his mega-hit Unforgettable, but it simply didn’t fit into an evening consisting of mostly the brighter side of love and its boundless possibilities.

Celebrity Series of Boston is just getting 2020 started with a number of performing arts musicians that includes Bobby McFerrin, Milos, the Jason Palmer Quartet, Lyon Opera Ballet, and the return of Alvin Ailey.  Click here for the full list of upcoming events.

 

REVIEW: Warmth and humor reign in Company Theatre’s traditional ‘Steel Magnolias’

One of my favorite lines from Robert Harling’s classic comedy drama, Steel Magnolias is stated by sarcastic and dour Ouiser, portrayed here by Ellen Peterson. “I do not see plays, because I can nap at home for free. And I don’t see movies ’cause they’re trash…and I don’t read books, ’cause if they’re any good, they’re gonna make ’em into a miniseries.”

This type of straight shooting and self deprecating humor is what has made Steel Magnolias thrive over the last 30 years.  Steel Magnolias has been adapted so many ways from stage to screen, but what Ouiser leaves out is her unmitigated opinion about a partial true story.

Company Theatre Steel Magnolias

Company Theatre continues with the comedy drama ‘Steel Magnolias’ through Sunday, February 16.  Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias originated as a screen play in 1987 and is based off of real people Harling knew in Louisiana.  In the popular 1989 film (which included a parade of famous actresses including Dolly PartonOlympia DukakisDaryl Hannah,  and Shirley MacLaine), M’Lynn was portrayed by Sally Field and Julia Roberts was Shelby.  Harling based M’Lynn on his own mother and Shelby (whose real name was Susan) on his sister.

In that same vein, who better to direct Steel Magnolias than someone native to this popular play’s southern setting?  Directed with local flair by Natchitoches native Johnny Nichols, Jr, The Company Theatre presents Steel Magnolias through Sunday, February 16 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.   Click here for more information and tickets.

Unlike the film, the play is set entirely in Truvy’s Beauty Spot in 1980’s Louisiana.   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.

Director Johnny Nichols, Jr not only adds local attributes unique to the show’s setting such as the voice of local DJ Rick Terrell, but the 80s come alive with music distinctive to the era and various references such as Princess Grace, Cher, and Elizabeth Arden.  Costume designer Paula Ninestein and Wig Master Ryan Barrow emphasize the era with fringe and florals highlighting each woman’s distinct personality while Truvy’s is an expansive salon that includes a boom box and  a wall to wall mix of pastel floral and lace on busy wallpaper and curtains.  However, what was most refreshing about this era is to look back at a time before the internet where people shared time, recipes, and hair tips in person.

Company Theatre Steel Magnolias cast 2

From L to R: Juliana Dennis as Clairee, Ellen Peterson as Ouiser, Karen Cavallo as M’Lynn, Stephanie Wells as Truvy, Hannah Cunniff as Annelle, and Abilgail Chase as Shelby (center) Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

Though other productions have put a daring spin on Steel Magnolias over the years, Company Theatre’s production is traditional, warm, and thrives on the growth between these primarily outspoken southern women.  With her signature blond locks and a gift for gab and gossip, Stephanie Wells depicts fun loving salon owner, Truvy.  As a big fan of the movie, it is hard to imagine this part for anyone other than Dolly Parton, but in a black fringe blouse and pumps, Wells puts her own spin on sweet, welcoming, and confident Truvy.  Her scenes with Hannah Cunniff as mysterious and humble Annelle make for some quirky, heartwarming moments.  Wearing an awkward smile, Cunniff portrays Annelle with quiet unpredictability.

Ellen Peterson’s sardonic and darkly amusing Ouiser delivers some of the most entertaining moments in the show.  A bit softer than other productions but no less amusing, Peterson depicts Ouiser more dramatic than sour.  Ouiser has a casual style, but costume designer Ninestein make an intriguing statement by having her also wear a distinctive string of pearls, showing Ouiser may not be quite who she seems. Her sarcastic facade rings true with the priceless line, “I’m not crazy.  I’ve just been in a bad mood for forty years.”

Widow Clairee, portrayed with warmth and stylishness by Juliana Dennis, is a down to earth perfectionist with an interest in keeping up with the times while Ouiser couldn’t be bothered.  With good intentions and a knowing smile, Clairee amuses herself by teasing Ouiser and their exchanges create their own spark.

However, the most compelling relationship exists between Karen Cavallo as M’Lynn and Abigail Chase as M’Lynn’s daughter Shelby.  Though Sally Field depicted M’Lynn with a tough sadness, Cavallo’s M’Lynn exudes a sweet demeanor and quiet anxiousness. Cavallo is impressive navigating this complicated character.  Chase as Shelby seems cast on the younger side, but exhibits growing maturity as the show progresses.  It is easy to see why they are mother and daughter and not just by their remarkable resemblance.  Cavallo is sensible while Shelby is impulsive and as with any mother-daughter relationship, one minute they exchange nagging barbs and the next, nurturing affection.

Company Theatre photo booth

Company Theatre’s Beauty Spot photo booth in lobby Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Rewind the clock and take a trip south to Truvy’s for Company Theatre’s Steel Magnolias at Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through Sunday, February 16.  Click here for more information and tickets, here for details on their upcoming “Galentine’s Day” and here for more on their 2020 season.

 

 

REVIEW: Let loose and laugh a lot about life with inventive musical comedy ‘The Other Josh Cohen’

What if life could nudge you in the right direction when nothing seems to be going right?  The romantic musical comedy The Other Josh Cohen inventively and comically explores this concept and more continuing at the Westside Theatre in New York, New York through April 7.  This production is 90 minutes without an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Imagine a studio apartment being robbed on a holiday with Grinch-like stealthiness, perhaps even the thief figuratively “taking the last can of Who Hash” which in this case is unceremoniously a radio.  However, rather than it taking place on Christmas Eve, it’s on Valentine’s Day, and what little the thief does leave behind becomes your most treasured possession – a certain CD.  It’s easy to relate to this scenario because my own car was robbed once and I knew kids were probably responsible because they left the movie soundtrack to Titanic behind.  Ah, kids today.

The victim in this robbery is Josh Cohen, portrayed with lovable earnestness by Steve Rosen as Narrator Josh, portrayed with confidence and charm by David Rossmer, looks on.  It seems that nothing is going quite right for Josh until an unforeseen circumstance just might turn his life around.

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Steve Rosen and David Rossmer as The Other Josh Cohens Photo courtesy of Caitlin McNaney/The Other Josh Cohen

This multi-layered musical comedy is as ambitious as it is hilarious.  Not only does the show take off right away and I’m not just talking about most of the set, but it plays with time frames, utilizing a small, but ceaselessly hardworking, multi-talented cast capable of playing several characters at the drop of a dime.  How many shows can say that the cast is also the band and it all runs like clockwork?

With orchestrations by Dan Lipton and David Rossmer, The Other Josh Cohen is packed with catchy, insightful, comical, and frequently optimistic tunes about life and isn’t afraid to get occasionally silly.   The lighthearted, rock and roll and pop soundtrack includes Hang On, The Other Josh Cohen, What If, Change a Thing, and Samuel Cohen’s Family Tree which come highly recommended.   The Other Josh Cohen star-studded CD soundtrack features the voices of Hank Azaria, Sutton Foster, Sarah Bishop, and Richard Kind to name just a few.

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From L to R Louis Tucci, Kate Wetherhead, Luke Darnell-Hannah Elless Photo courtesy of Caitlin McNaney/The Other Josh Cohen

There is a great deal of natural chemistry among this small cast and though they seem to be improvising at times, it is an entirely scripted show punctuated by timely pop culture references.  Cathryn Wake, Jane Bruce, Luke Darnell, Louis Tucci, and Megan Loomis all make portraying several roles look easy as glittering Aunt Bea, Josh’s neighbor who is part of the “she” street band, the superintendent, Josh’s father, and the dentist are particular highlights.

 

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So The Other Josh Cohen is funny, inventive, semi-interactive, and has a multi-talented cast, but what makes this show special?  Even when life shows its dark side, there is always hope.  It’s good to laugh a little (or a lot) and through its catchy, sometimes self-deprecating songs, everything in life just might turn out ok.  That makes for more than just a fun night out.

The Off-Broadway, romantic musical comedy, The Other Josh Cohen continues at the Westside Theatre at 407 W 43rd Street New York, New York through April 7.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for further details on that star-studded soundtrack.

 

 

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

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

Green Day American Idiot set

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

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

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

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

Cast of Green Day's 'American Idiot'

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

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

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

 

 

 

Sleepless Beyond the Stage: Building a dream with Richard Bento, President of South Shore Theatre Works

Building a dream always has its share of surprises and challenges. However, with determination, hard work, and more than a touch of luck, those sought after dreams can become a reality.  Sleepless Beyond the Stage explores the reality of making that dream come true, whether by building an organization, finally bringing that dream production to life, or starting a group that makes a difference.

Richard Bento, Executive Director and President of South Shore Theatre Works (SSTW) checked in with Sleepless Critic a few years ago as the theater was just getting on its feet.  Boasting a successful run of Seussical in December, SSTW’s upcoming productions include Blithe Spirit, Ordinary Days, and Chicago.  Richard Bento talks about how this Massachusetts theater has grown in a short time.  Click here for more information, auditions, and for tickets.

SSTW seussical the musical

Past performances of ‘Seussical the Musical’ December 2018

Sleepless Critic: Please tell me about your background and what inspired you to start South Shore Theatre Works?

Richard Bento:  I’ve participated in community and semi-professional theater throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Georgia, and San Francisco.  One of my goals was to have a group of my own who share the same mission and passion I had for the arts.

A few years ago, I decided to participate in theater here and assist another community theater group.  I fell in love with the people.  We shared the same passion.  When we were at a crossroads needing to decide whether we were going to bring this other group to another level or start our own with other people who shared that same drive, I decided to put together South Shore Theatre Works.

SSTW Blithe Spirit

South Shore Theatre Works presents ‘Blithe Spirit’ February 15-17 in Randolph, MA Photo courtesy of South Shore Theatre Works

JD:  What would you say to those who are considering starting a community theater?

After a night out, enjoy MET Bar and Grill’s ‘Boston Hot Chocolate Experience’

The holidays may be over, but any time during the winter is a good time for hot chocolate.  The MET Grill and Bar brings back their popular refreshment, ‘Boston Hot Chocolate Experience’ through Valentine’s Day.  With a wide variety of hot chocolate available in ‘adult versions’ topped with extra large marshmallows, whipped cream, and more, it is a special treat at the end of a concert or a great night out.

‘Boston Hot Chocolate Experience’ is offered at MET Bar and Grill locations in Natick and Back Bay in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information.

Hot chocolate options include Classic Hot Chocolate featuring vanilla chocolate and whipped cream, Spiced Mexican with chili and grated Mexican chocolate, Dolce De Leche with marshmallows and salted caramel, and Peppermint White Hot Chocolate featuring candy cane flavors and whipped cream.  Each treat can be enhanced with Peppermint Liquor, Caramel Vodka, Bailey’s, and more.

Enjoy them as ‘A Flight of Four’ experience featuring four miniature glasses or attendees can order one flavor as ‘One Big One’ presentation.

Visit MET Back Bay in Boston and in Natick, Massachusetts.  MET offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as Saturday and Sunday Brunch. They also are available for private events and gift cards are available online for the perfect gift.

After a night out, MET Bar and Grill presents the return of ‘Boston Hot Chocolate Experience’

Sweeten the end of a concert or a night out at the theatre with rich chocolate.  Whether hot or cold, it is an undeniable treat throughout the year.  With the return of ‘Boston Hot Chocolate Experience’ starting Friday, November 25 and continuing through Valentine’s Day 2018 at three MET Bar and Grill locations in Massachusetts, chocolate has never tasted better.  Click here for more information.

Exclusively at MET Back Bay, customers can indulge in an interactive experience with Tableside Smores. They can toast extra-large marshmallows at their own table and add graham crackers, milk, white, or dark chocolate.  Hot chocolate options include Classic Hot Chocolate featuring vanilla chocolate, whipped cream, and mini-roasted marshmallows, Caramel Sea Salt with whipped cream and caramel drizzle, Espresso with Almond Biscotti, and White Chocolate Peppermint Hot Chocolate, featuring white chocolate, crushed peppermint stick, vanilla cream, and a candy cane.  Each treat can be enhanced with Peppermint Liquor, Caramel Vodka, Bailey’s, and more.

These holiday treats are presented as ‘A Flight of Four’ experience featuring four miniature glasses or attendees can order one flavor as ‘One Big One’ presentation.  Visit MET Back Bay in Boston and MET Bar and Grill in Dedham and Natick, Massachusetts.  MET offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as Saturday and Sunday Brunch. They also are available for private events and gift cards are available online for the perfect gift.

From Renaissance to pop music, Barnaby Smith talks VOCES8’s exciting Celebrity Series of Boston debut

Sometimes a great sound is born out of friendship.  In the days following Valentine’s Day, Celebrity Series of Boston is proud to present British octet group, VOCES8, a renowned a cappella group that has toured all over the world and tackles a variety of genres from Renaissance to contemporary pop music.  They will make their Boston debut on Wednesday, February 15 and 16 at Longy’s Pickman Hall in Cambridge, MA at 8 p.m.

VOCES8’s Artistic Director Barnaby Smith talks about how the group was formed, its music roots, and what is in store for their exciting Boston debut.  Click here for more information on VOCES8 and for tickets.

Jeanne Denizard:  This is British octet group, VOCES8’s Celebrity Series of Boston debut.  Which songs are you most excited about sharing with Boston?  How do you select the songs you perform?

Barnaby Smith:  We are excited to come to Boston for the first time as a group because we know what an incredible city it is for the arts.  I am excited to sing our Renaissance Polyphony because Boston has such a wonderful tradition for early music, and I always find it thrilling to sing this specialist style of music to a knowledgeable audience.

We choose our songs in a number of different ways. Often festivals ask for specific repertoire or programme their festival on a specific theme, which guides us in uncertain directions. This is mainly true for the classical repertoire. As Artistic Director, I then listen to a lot of music and select songs I think the group will sing well or fit a theme I am working on for programming. Group members can make suggestions for all genres of music, but our pop and jazz rep is chosen a lot more by the members and arrangers of the group who might have ideas for great songs they think would work well for our voices and specific lineup. It’s always a collaborative process, and one of the exciting parts of my job as artistic director is to glue all the moving parts together into one great vehicle.

JD:  VOCES8 tackles a number of music genres such as pop and Renaissance polyphony.

BS:  Singing lots of different music in different styles is what keeps our job so wonderfully engaging.  We get to enjoy many different styles of music, but we also have the challenge of trying to master them too.  Singing a Bach motet requires a very different skill set than scatting a jazz tune. We have eight wonderful personalities and it is exciting that everyone brings an area of expertise, so we can all always be learning from each other too.

JD:  What inspired you to put this group together in 2003 and how did the group members meet?

BS:  All the original members were in the RSCM’s Millennium Youth ChoirRSCM’s Millennium Youth Choir in the UK.  When we all got a little old to be in the choir anymore, my brother Paul and I decided that we’d still like to see all our friends from choir during the school holidays, so we set up singing sleepovers. We’d all get together on Friday, rehearse on Saturday and sing a concert on Sunday. Everyone had to sleep on the floor of our parents’ house and we’d have a good party somewhere along the way too.  It all began out of friendship and our enjoyment of singing together.

We then got invited to a choral competition in Italy in 2005. The competition offered to pay our flights and accommodation to go to Italy for a week. We thought it would be a great holiday, so off we went without doing too much rehearsal or expecting much. When we arrived, it turned out to be a very serious competition. We rallied, did three days of intensive rehearsal, and somehow won the competition. The rest is history.

JD:  Is there a standout or unconventional song that was particularly challenging that you surprisingly share in your repertoire? 

BS:  In our programme in Boston, I am going to select The Luckiest.  The Luckiest is a song originally by Ben Folds who sings it solo at the piano. We have had to turn that into an eight part piece of choral music. It requires the singers to perform with perfect blend and also for us to find a very varied collection of colours to paint the wonderful text. The interesting thing about it and the reason I am proud of the group is that I hope it sounds easy when we sing it  I hope we’re a little like the Swan who is kicking furiously under the water but looks so elegant above it as he glides along. I think this is the ultimate test for a group’s technique and I am thrilled with how accomplished we have become at performing that particular song.

JD:  How did you decide on your sound?  Having toured all over Europe at some of the most prestigious venues in the world, was there one that you couldn’t believe you were onstage at?

We grew up listening to some of the great a cappella groups such as the King’s Singers, The Swingles, The Manhattan Transfer, and The Real Group which has always inspired us. We wanted to achieve the same technical perfection as these groups, but create our own sound so we chose a unique line-up with two females and six male singers. We have two countertenors who sing alto, a very British choral style. When we put the eight voices together, it creates quite a unique concoction. We work very hard without technique to be able to blend this sound.

We have been very fortunate to sing in many incredible venues across the world. Often I have to pinch myself!  Perhaps most recently would be our Christmas concert in Tokyo Opera City. It is a concert hall with a wooden ceiling as tall as a cathedral. It’s an incredible space.  Sometimes I think we take for granted the wonderful spaces we get to sing in. One of my New Year’s resolutions this year is to take a photo documentary of every hall so that I can remember them in years to come.

See VOCES8 on Wednesday, February 15 and Thursday, February 16 at 8 p.m.  Click here for the full list of performances and for tickets. Subscriptions and gift cards are also available.  Celebrity Series of Boston thrives on support from the community. Click here for a variety of ways to support Celebrity Series of Boston.

Bay Players of Duxbury presents romantic comedy, ‘Lovers and other Strangers’

Sometimes laughter is the best medicine, even around Valentine’s Day.  Bay Players of Duxbury is proud to present a collection of comedic and romantic stories with Lovers and Other Strangers by Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna.  A hit on Broadway and adapted into a film starring Bea Arthur, Lovers and Other Strangers is five tickling tales of love, sex and marriage set in the 1970s.  Among its many topics, it takes a lighthearted look at sexual freedom, gender roles, and women’s lib as relationships evolve over time.  Lovers and Other Strangers is a perfect show with a Valentine, a friend, or with a group.

Lovers and Other Strangers will be held for two weekends only.  Performances take place on Fridays February 10 and 17 and on Saturdays February 11 and 18 at First Parish Church at 842 Tremont Street (Rte 3A) in Duxbury, Massachusetts at 8 p.m.  Directed by Michael Pevzner and showcasing an intimate cast of ten local actors, click here to get more information or tickets to Lovers and Other Strangers, call 781-269-9885, or email Bay Players at tickets@bayplayers.org.  Tickets are also available at the door.  Group, student, and senior rates available.  Follow Bay Players of Duxbury on Facebook for updates, upcoming auditions, and more.