Performance Review: Come From Away


Come From Awayperformed at Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York City on April 17, 2022.

On Easter Sunday, my mother and I took my daughter to her first Broadway musical.  Come From Away is based on the true-life events in Gander, Newfoundland in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks.  Gander is home to a large airport that was a significant refueling stop for passenger planes crossing the Atlantic but became little used after planes were built to carry enough fuel for their entire journey.  After the United States closed all air traffic, 38 planes were diverted to Gander stranding 7000 people for several days.  Come From Away tells stories of the passengers and the locals from the communities around the airport who scrambled to provide aid and comfort to their unexpected guests.

The stories in show are drawn from real life experiences.  This includes Beverley Bass, the first woman to be a captain for American Airlines.  There are also stories of love found (a woman from Texas and a man from England who strike up a romance) and love lost (two men named Kevin whose relationship is strained to the breaking point by the experience).  A Newfoundland woman whose son is a firefighter bonds with the mother of a firefighter who’s among the missing in New York.  A local veterinarian also works hard to care for the many dogs, cats, and even bonobos in the holds of the airplanes.

The show doesn’t shy away from the discrimination against Arabic and Islamic people.  And in one of the most memorable scenes, people of different religious backgrounds pray side by side on the stage, albeit in different houses of worship in reality.  The show has a lot of warmth and humor as the passengers enjoy the hospitality of their Newfoundland hosts and some are initiated as honorary Newfoundlanders in a raucous ceremony.  The contrast of the great joy of community arising as a result of atrocity comes from the line:

My dad asks: “Were you okay where you were stranded?”
How do I tell him that I wasn’t just okay
I was so much better

The amazing part of the show is that there’s only a dozen actors but they seamlessly transition into different characters with changes in costume and lighting.  The simple rustic set is also quickly reset as the interior of airplanes, cafes, and shelters among other things.  The music is a great blend of Broadway show tunes with the traditional Celtic music style of Newfoundland.  The band performs on stage and interacts with the cast adding to the party atmosphere of some of the scenes.

It’s a terrific show and I feel fortunate to get to see it on Broadway with three generations of family.

Performance Review: La Nozze de Figaro


La Nozze de Figaro performed by the Metropolitan Opera at the Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, April 16, 2022.

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conductor: James Gaffigan

My mother wanted to take my daughter to the opera.  I was uncertain about how well that would go, but on the night before Easter the three of us watched Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” from the Family Circle and we all made it through the three and a half hour performance with no complaints.  It was fun to used opera glasses to get a closer look at the fantastic costumes and stunning set design.  And the music is good too.  I personally think that soprano Ying Fang stole the show as Susanna.  The story doesn’t make a ton of sense but is basically a Twelfth Night style of comical pranks and revenge plots among a group of people who alternate between being horny and angry at other people for being horny.

Note: This trailer has the same set and costumes but a different cast than the production we saw.

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Hamilton and other theatrical productions I have seen


On Thursday night, I took my daughter to see Hamilton at the Providence Performing Arts Center (there’s a nice review from The Providence Journal). We’d watched the filmed version of Hamilton on Disney+ and listened to the cast recording countless times but this was the first time we attended a live performance.  It was nice to get the wide view from the First Dress Circle where we could see the intricate choreography of the ensemble cast.  I was also impressed with the lighting design.  And it was interesting to see the different takes the actors had on the characters from the original cast.  Not related to the show, the Providence Performing Arts Center is a lovely theater although a bit short on leg room.

Anyhow, it got be thinking of what other theatrical productions I’d seen in my life.  So I brainstormed a list with the help of some old ticket stubs I’ve collected.

Broadway

  • Annie (early 1980s) at the Alvin Theatre – I remember getting autographs from the young cast members outside the theater although those weren’t saved. Sarah Jessica Parker might’ve been in the cast at the time.
  • Barnum (early 1980s) at the St. James Theatre – A musical about the life of P.T. Barnum long before The Greatest Showman. I remember being impressed by a woman purportedly supposed to be George Washington’s nurse singing a bluesy tune.  Also, jugglers and acrobats performed in the audience before the show.
  • Peter Pan (early 1980s) – A revival of the 1954 musical starring Sandy Duncan.  She flew out over the audience at the end of the show.
  • Lost in Yonkers (December 29, 1992) at Richard Rogers Theatre – A nostalgic comedy-drama by Neil Simon. Didi Conn played the main role replacing Mercedes Ruehl, much to the disgruntlement of my sister.
  • Jelly Roll (January 10, 1995) at 47th Street Theatre – A biographical musical about jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton.  I remember that it was performed by the second cast much to the disgruntlement of the guy behind me.
  • A Funny Thing Happened on Way to the Forum (March 19, 1997) at St. James Theatre – Whoopi Goldberg starred in the lead role that previously had been reserved for a man.
  • Once Upon a Mattress (March 19, 1997) at Broadhurst Theater -Sarah Jessica Parker was definitely in this show.
  • The Lion King (January 22, 2000) at New Amsterdam Theatre – Some friends convinced me to get SRO tickets for this show although I was resistant to Disney musicals at that point in my life.  I ended up liking it.
  • Monty Python’s Spamalot (November 19, 2005) at Shubert Theatre – As a long time fan of Monty Python and Tim Curry, I was eager to so this show and was severely disappointed.  Maybe because the cast felt like they were phoning it in the whole time?

Off-Broadway

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (early 1980s) at Radio City Music Hall – This production was made long before Disney movies were routinely adapted into Broadway musicals.  My dad took us to this show because he felt we needed to see something at the great Radio City Music Hall.
  • The Fantasticks (January 1995) at Sullivan Street Playhouse – Saw world’s longest-running musical when it was in the 35th year of its 42-year run. It was great.

West End

  • The Mousetrap (February 28, 1998) at St Martin’s Theatre – Since I’d seen the world’s longest-running musical in New York I had to see the world’s longest-running play of any kind in London.  This is a famous Agatha Christie murder mystery.
  • An Inspector Calls (February 28, 1998) at the Royal Theatre  – The second show I saw on the same night that featured people impersonating police officers.  This one was a satire of Edwardian society.

Touring Productions

  • Les Miserables (August 2, 1990) at National Theatre – The summer I went to a high school program at Georgetown University, I learned that big, bold, Broadway musicals are good actually.
  • 42nd Street (February 7, 1993) at Chrysler Hall – Part of a series of shows my Mom and I went to see when I was in college.
  • Last of the Red Hot Lovers (May 9, 1993) at Chrysler Hall – This production starred Don Knotts and Barbara Eden!
  • Camelot (October 24, 1993) at Chrysler Hall – I’ve loved Camelot since watching the filmed version of the 1982 revival so I was eager to see a live performance. Robert Goulet, who played Lancelot in the original production, starred is King Arthur.  This was a bit of a waste of his big voice since Arthur’s part was written for a lesser singer, but it was still fun and inspiring.
  • Rent (August 26, 1997) at National Theatre – The musical that brought a 1990s sensibility to Broadway.  I saw this with some friends in Washington and then listened to the cast recording for the next year.

Repertory, Community, and College Theaters, etc. 

  • Fiddler on the Roof (late 1980s) – My childhood parish had a community theater called the St. Catherine Players, although the performers weren’t generally members of the congregation.  Anyhow, I first saw this terrific musical about Jewish people in Russia in the basement of a Roman Catholic church.
  • Broadway Bound (August 1990) at Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse – This is the third in a trilogy of Neil Simon’s plays after Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues (which I only saw as movies).
  • Antigone (August 1990) at Tisbury Amphitheater – This was a modernized take of the Sophocles’ play performed in a lovely wooded setting on Martha’s Vineyard.
  • All the King’s Men (Autumn 1991) at William and Mary Theatre – Robert Penn Warren’s fictionalized story of Huey Long was set to music by Randy Newman.
  • Once Upon a Mattress (October 16, 1992) at William and Mary Theatre – I saw this on a bad date.
  • Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat at Matthew Whaley School – Sometime, I some group perform this at a public school in Williamsburg.  It was good, I recall.
  • Godspell (April 1993) at St. Bede’s Catholic Church Parish Hall – The Catholic/Episcopal Covenant Players performed this at William & Mary.
  • Night Sky (November 19, 1993) at William and Mary Theatre – A play in which the protagonist suffers from aphasia after an accident.  This was part of a much better date to celebrate my birthday.
  • Working (April 1994?) at The Fellowship Hall at the Williamsburg Presbyterian Church – Another Covenant Players production of a musical by Studs Terkel.
  • Into the Woods (January 20, 1994) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – The Sinfonicron Light Opera Company performed this Stephen Sondheim musical.  I remember feeling it was mean-spirited and feeling very depressed after watching it.  I’d probably like it better if I was in a better mind.
  • Helene (April 14, 1995) at William and Mary Theatre – I know this has something to do with Greek mythology, but I have no recollection what it was about.
  • Junebug/Jack (September 9, 1995) at The Arts Center Theatre – Another show I don’t clearly remember but it looks like something I would like.
  • Jim Crow Gotta Go (April 13, 1996) at William and Mary Theatre – I think that this was a touring production based on oral history experiences of people in a Southern town during the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Walk Together Children (1996) – This was a production that took its inspiration from Jim Crow Gotta Go to specifically focus on the stories of people in Williamsburg.  My good friend and housemate worked on producing this show.
  • Crazy For You (October 17, 1997) at William and Mary Theatre – A romantic comedy musical with Gershwin brothers songs that I thought was funnier than my date did.  But it was still a good date.
  • Angels in America: Part One (April 18, 1998) at William and Mary Theatre – A production of Tony Kushner’s groundbreaking drama about the AIDS crisis in the gay community was still controversial in Williamsburg 23 years ago
  • Jesus Christ Superstar (May 11, 2000) at Turtle Lane Playhouse – The main thing I remember about this production is that they made Mary Magdalene look like Monica Lewinski.
  • Blue Man Group – “Tubes” (September 8, 2000) at The Charles Playhouse – Got to see this show free-of-charge for participants of the Boston -> New York AIDSRide.  A Blue Man spat a piece of chewed-up Toblerone in my hand.  It was gross.
  • Miss Folk America (May 19, 2001) at Somerville Theatre – A comedy about the Boston area folk scene starring some of our favorite singer/songwriters at the time as fictional versions of themselves.  Extremely niche.
  • Nixon’s Nixon (March 2002) at Huntington Theatre – I volunteered as an usher and got to watch this comic drama of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger on the last night of Nixon’s presidency.
  • Blithe Spirit (February 19, 2004) at Walpole Footlighters – A colleague of Susan’s was involved in this production of the Noël Coward comedy.
  • The Birthday Party  (March 2004) at American Repertory Theatre – A very strange and very uncomfortable Harold Pinter play with the set’s furniture slowly being pushed into the center of the stage.
  • The Sweetest Swing in Baseball (2006?) at Cyclorama – A woman artist adopts the persona of Darryl Strawberry and becomes a success painting pictures of chickens.  Surprisingly it works.
  • Pippin (September 21, 2018) at Footlight Club -I’d long loved the music from this show but it wasn’t quite expected.
  • The Haunted Life (March 23, 2019) at Merrimack Repertory Theatre – An adaptation of a autobiographical Jack Kerouac novel about growing up in Lowell.

Shakespeare

  • Macbeth (Summer 1992) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – This was part of the Virginia Shakespeare Festival.  The star of the show also taught a theater course I took at William & Mary that summer.
  • Twelfth Night (February 25, 1993) at William and Mary Theatre – I played Sir Toby Belch in a high school production of Twelfth Night, so I love this comedy, but I don’t remember this William & Mary production at all.
  • Richard III (July 22, 1995) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – Another Virginia Shakespeare Festival production.
  • Measure for Measure (July 28, 1998) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – The main thing I remember about this Virginia Shakespeare Festival production is that they emphasized style over substance and I really hated it.  Also, music by the Gipsy Kings.
  • Twelfth Night (Summer 2001) at Boston Common – The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production of Shakespeare on the Common set Twelfth Night in the early-60s JFK/Camelot era.
  • Macbeth (2003) at Boston Common – Another Commonwealth Shakespeare Company production that moved the Scottish tragedy to Juan Perón’s Argentina.  Memorably, the three witches remained on stage for the entire show, pulling strings in the background.
  • Hamlet (2005) at Boston Common – In this production, the Danish prince had a swimming pool, I think?

Opera, Light Opera, Ballet, etc.

  • Romeo and Juliet (October 20, 1991) at Chrysler Hall – This was the first ballet I ever saw performed by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.  However, the main thing I remember about this performance is that my sister mistook a Navy officer in his dress uniform for an usher.  Welcome to Norfolk!
  • Patience (January 19, 1995) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – Another Sinfonicron Light Opera Company performance.  This made me realize that I really don’t like Gilbert & Sullivan
  • La Boheme (January 21, 1997) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – Having seen Rent, I saw the original with my Mom. Mimi has a strong voice for someone with consumption.
  • The Magic Flute (1997?) at Harrison Opera House – My first opera, also in Norfolk.
  • The Nutcracker (December 30, 2005) at The Opera House – Amazingly, I’ve only seen this ballet once, performed by Boston Ballet.  Maybe next Christmas?
  • Semele (September 28, 2006) at New York State Theatre – This was an adaptation of an oratorio by Handel that made the main character in Marilyn Monroe.
  • Urban Nutcracker (December 16, 2006) at John Hancock Hall – Another Christmas classic I need to see again.
  • Madama Butterfly (April 22, 2007) at New York State Theatre – A treat from my mother that I saw with Susan in the last months before we became parents.
  • Così fan tutte (March 24, 2018) at Metropolitan Opera House – My first show at the Met set the Mozart opera in a Coney Island-style beach resort. Broadway star Kelli O’Hara made a nice transition to opera.

I’ll add more if I remember them.

Performance Review: The Christmas Revels: An American Celebration of the Winter Solstice


The Christmas Revels: An American Celebration of the Winter Solstice
December 26, 2019 at 3 pm
Sanders Theatre, Cambridge, MA

Each year the Christmas Revels adopts the music, dance, and storytelling traditions of a different world culture (in addition to some annual Revels traditions). Every so often that theme comes home and focuses on American cultures.  If you’ve been reading my Revels reviews for a while, you’ll remember that I participated in the Revels chorus in 2009 when it had an American theme. Ten years later, I’m fascinated to see another Americana performance from the audience.

I’ve long had an idea for a Revels performance set on the stoops of a row of tenements in an American city in the 1920s/30s. Immigrants from various parts of the world (Ireland, Germany, Italy, Eastern Europe, China, etc.) and African American migrants from the South could come together and share their cultural songs, stories, and traditions of the winter season. 

This performance isn’t quite my imagined Revels, but it does come close! Set during the Dust Bowl/Depression era, a radio station host (Steven Barkhimer) offers guidance to a man named Johnny Johnson (Jeff Song), who is lost his memory and his direction. Johnny travels the country experiencing various American cultural traditions and repeatedly meeting a mysterious woman (Chris Everett-Hussey).

I always say that you don’t go to Revels for the plot. But in recent years they’ve been working on their narrative threads more, so this year’s story feels like a reversion to thinner storylines of the past. It also doesn’t make much sense. Needless to say the song and dance are great so it doesn’t need much else.

Several numbers from the 2009 show are revived in new settings, including:

  • A Shaker circle dance
  • Cherry Tree Carol – illustrated as a “movie” the cast watches
  • Children, Go Where I Send Thee – one of several numbers featuring the excellent vocals of Carolyn Saxon.
  • Longsword Dance to the Southern tune “Sandy Boys.”

Old time music is provided by Tui and Squirrel Butter on several numbers. Ana Vlieg Paulin provides a wonderful solo on “I Wonder as I Wander.” And long-time master of ceremonies keeps the audience on key and on in rhythm. My favorite numbers include:

  • “Dark as a Dungeon” – featuring tired coal miners walking through the audience to return to their families.
  • “Old Grandma Hobble-Gobble” – the Revels Children play a game with storyteller Bobbie Steinbach.
  • Sing-a-long with “I’ll Fly Away.”
  • The gospel of “Trouble All About My Soul.”
  • Medley of “Can the Circle Be Unbroken/This Land is Your Land.”

Performances of the Christmas Revels continue until December 29, so see it if you get the chance. And even if you miss it, mark you calendar for the 50th anniversary show in December 2020.

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Theater Review: The Haunted Life at Merrimack Repertory Theatre


Play: The Haunted Life
Venue: Merrimack Repertory Theatre
Writer: Sean Daniels
Director: Sean Daniels and christopher oscar peña

Susan and I enjoyed a night out at the theater last night thanks to tickets I won from WERS.  We saw a new play called The Haunted Life at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA which is based on a novel written by Lowell’s own Jack Kerouac.  Kerouac’s wrote the novel in 1944 but it wasn’t published until 2014, and it contains a lot of autobiographical details about Kerouac’s life.

The play focuses on 19-year-old the Holden Caulfield-esque character Peter Martin (Raviv Ullman), and begins in the summer of 1941 when he is home for the summer after his freshman year at Boston College.  One of Peter’s friends tries to encourage him to join the Army in order to find adventure, while another friend, Garabed (both played by Vichet Chum), keeps Peter up all night arguing about poetry.  Peter also enjoys picnics with his girlfriend Eleanor (Caroline Neff). At home, Peter’s father Joe (Joel Colonder) – himself a French Canadian immigrant – rages about the new immigrants destroying America.  Peter’s mother Vivienne (Tina Fabrique) worries about her older son who ran away to join the merchant marine a decade earlier and of whom Peter hardly remembers anything.

After fighting with his father over his racism, Peter also runs away to the merchant marine. When the US enters World War II, Peter leaves the merchant marine and tries to set himself up as poet in Manhattan, but is unable to make himself write anything. In of the most biting lines of dialogue, he tells Eleanor that he’s an “inactive poet,” to which she responds “an inactive poet is not a poet.”  Losing friends and family to the war, Peter shuts out everyone else in his life, and wallows in brooding despair.  Surprisingly, it is reconciling with his father that helps Peter to engage with the world again and decide what is important to do with his life.

The play is performed on a simple stage with few props against a backdrop of many windows fitted together.  The performers frequently deliver monologues that comment on Peter’s feelings and actions, that can be poetic or pretentious depending on your perspective.

Vichet Chum is probably the strongest actor in the show and displays his versatility in playing multiple characters.  Caroline Neff has a relatively small part, but also puts in a great performance, and also was the only actor who didn’t seem to be rushing her lines.  I was delighted to find out that Tina Fabrique provided the vocals for the original Reading Rainbow theme song, although I’m sure does not want to be pigeonholed just for that.  Fabrique may have the smallest part in the play but gives a depth and warmth to what could’ve been a stereotypical “mother” role.  I appreciate the casting of actors that encapsulate the modern-day diversity of Lowell that adds to the sense that the issues debated in a play set almost 80 years ago are still the same issues of today.

The Haunted Life continues performances through April 14, so if you have the opportunity, get yourself to Lowell and see it!

Theater Review: Pippin


Show: Pippin
Venue: Footlight Club
Date: September 21, 2018

Taking a Friday night date night performance of Pippin at the Footlight Club in Jamaica Plain fulfilled two long-term goals.  First, after eleven years living in Jamaica Plain, we finally made it to a show at the Footlight Club, a lovely and historic playhouse.  Second, I’ve liked the music from Pippin – especially the song “Corner of the Sky” – for a long time, but I’d never seen it performed.

I had a vague understanding that this musical was about Pippin, the son of King Charlemagne, and his involvement with a troop of players.  Vague is more accurate than I realized. Pippin, Charlemagne, and the other characters share the names with historical figures, but otherwise have no historical parallels.  In fact, the show is designed to remind the audience that what we’re seeing is an artifice, a performance but on by a troop of players (who are performed by our real live actors).

The basic plot is young Pippin’s yearning to find meaning to his existence.  In the first act he joins his father’s army, experiments with meaningless sexual encounters, and plots a revolution to overthrow is father’s tyranny.  In the second act, he falls into despair and is restored to health by the widow Catherine, who owns a large farm.  While Pippin does not enjoy the daily routine of manual labor, he falls in love with Catherine and grows fond of her son, Theo.  The finale features Pippin deciding between the temptation of the Leading Player’s “perfect” but self-destructive act, or a quiet life with Catherine and Theo. It’s a much darker play than I imagined, and the music and the humor balances a sometimes cynical, sometimes sarcastic critique of the human condition.

The Footlight Club cast is absolutely wonderful. Andrea Giangreco needs to be singled-out for her performance as the Leading Player which she filled with exuberance and joy, cleverly uncovering the character’s manipulative and cruel side over the course of the play.  Mary O’Donnell’s performance as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe provided the standout musical number of “No Time at All.” Not only was O’Donnell’s singing humorous and heartwarming, but the ensemble helped the audience participate by displaying the lyrics to the chorus through a remarkable trick of opening trunks and suitcases.  I can’t imagine how long they rehearsed that!  The Bob Fosse choreography screams FOSSE, but it’s still awe-inspiring.

If you’re in or near JP, make your way to the Footlight Club to see Pippin before it closes on September 29th.

Concert Review: Janelle Monáe


Performer: Janelle Monáe
Venue: Blue Hills Bank Pavilion
Date: July 21, 2018
Opening Act: St. Beauty

First thing, the unwritten rule that one cannot wear a concert tour t-shirt while at that very concert is now null and void.  Following one of her costume changes while performing at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion in Boston, Janelle Monáe stepped onstage wearing an official Janelle Monáe Dirty Computer 2018 concert tour t-shirt.  One might think of it as product placement, but in the broad themes of acceptance, inclusion, and love expressed at this concert, I think it was another way for Monáe to say be yourself, wear what makes you comfortable, especially is it’s a shirt with a picture of your own face.

Among the crowd of adoring fans there was quite a bit of expression in fashion of clothing that was sparkly, had bold colors, and/or stated brave political messages.  I had the thought before leaving for the concert, “What should I wear to a Janelle Monáe concert?”  Not knowing the answer I settled on something like what I always wear, a short-sleeve, button-down shirt with vertical stripes.  Ironically, some hip young people complimented me on this shirt, saying that they liked the colors.

It was a very accepting audience, and the most diverse crowd I’d ever seen for anything in Boston.  All ages, races, and gender expressions were in attendance. Any fears that I would be too old, white, straight, and cisgender were allayed by the fact there was also an even older white, married couple sitting right in front of us.

Janelle Monáe’s concert was visually striking with Monáe generally performing on stepped pedestal. Her costumes were black and white patterns with flashes of red.  Scenes from the “emotion picture” of Dirty Computer as well as archival footage and more abstract patterns were projected behind the stage.

Monáe was accompanied by a five-piece band which included a stunningly-talented guitarist and drummer and synthesizer players who doubled on the horns, depending on the song.  I cannot find the band members’ names anywhere online, but I suspect they are members of the Wondaland Arts Society and have recordings of their own.  If you know there names let me know in the comments!  Monáe also performed with a quartet of dancers.  I hesitate to call them “back-up dancers” because they’re dancing was integral to the performance, and if anything it looked as if Monáe and the four dancers were a group of friends hanging out and partying.

Highlights of the concert include “Screwed” which became an audience sing-a-long with help from the video projection. Taking a page from Morris Day of The Time, Monáe glanced at her new outfit in a full-length mirror and ascended the podium to a throne to perform “Django Jane.” The ballad “Primetime” concluded with a stunning guitar solo that I felt was the closest I ever will be to seeing Prince perform live in concert.

That solo gave a Monáe and the dancers the time change into the famous “vagina pants” for a performance of “Pynk.”  The enthusiastic crowd even cheered the appearance of Tessa Thompson in the video background. The feeling of inclusion, acceptance, and  love was heightened during the performance of “I Like That” when Monáe took the opportunity to compliment the things she liked about several members of the audience.

Perhaps the stand out performance in a night of excellent music, choreography, and stagecraft came during “Make Me Feel.”  The song began with an extended dance break with backlit Monáe dancing in silhouette. The song ended with Monáe singing “baby, baby, baby” while the horns played “I Got the Feelin'” In one song that’s already the Prince-iest of all of her songs, Janelle Monáe managed to also pay homage to Michael and Janet Jackson, and James Brown, while confidently expressing her own identity.

The party continued with “I Got the Juice” that turned into a dance-off among Monáe  and the dancers.  Then she invited members of the audience to come up a “dance as if there lives depended on it.” For the young folk who made it on the stage it was clear that this was the greatest moment of their lives.  They took turns dancing to wide acclaim, and Monáe assured each of them that “you’ve got the juice.” Monáe closed out the main set with two songs from her Archandroid album, “Cold War,” and a breathtaking performance of “Tightrope.”

For the encore, Monáe returned to the stage to sing a “love letter to America” in “So Afraid” as images of civil rights and Black Lives Matter protests and civil disturbances. This transitioned into “Americans,” a positive affirmation of the American identity of people often denied that.

Due to MBTA construction and a long wait to get in we missed much of the opening set by St. Beauty, a duo from Atlanta who are part of the Wondaland collective, but I like what I heard and will check them out.

Full Set List

Dirty Computer (the recording of this song from the album, complete with Brian Wilson’s harmonies, played as entrance music)
Crazy, Classic, Life
Take a Byte
Screwed
Django Jane
Q.U.E.E.N.
Electric Lady
PrimeTime
Pynk
Yoga
I Like That
Don’t Judge Me
Make Me Feel
I Got the Juice
Cold War
Tightrope

Encore:

So Afraid
Americans

Reviews:

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Performance Review: Così fan tutte


Così fan tutte performed by the Metropolitan Opera at the Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, March 24, 2018.

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conductor: David Robertson

My mother is a subscriber to the Metropolitan Opera so she treated me to a performance of this Mozart comedy.  This is only the fifth opera I’ve seen in my life (after The Magic Flute, La Boheme, Semele, and Madama Butterfly).  This was also my first visit to the spectacularly modernist Metropolitan Opera House, and now I’ve seen a performance in all three of the main venues of Lincoln Center.

The sparkly chandeliers were a gift from Austria as a thank you for the Marshall Plan.

As for Così fan tutte, well it’s not modern at all.  The title is translated as “all women are like that” and is a misogynist depiction of women as unfaithful.  The performance begins with two sailors Ferrando and Guglielmo, bragging about the faithfulness of their fiancees, the sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi.  Their older, wiser (creepy old dude) friend Don Alfonso makes them a wager that these women cannot remain faithful.  The young men pretend that they are called to war and return in disguise to attempt to seduce the other man’s fiancee, which of course, they do within 24 hours and lose the bet to Don Alfonso.  There’s a lot of ickiness in all of the farce and it’s disappointing that  Dorabella and Fiordiligi have to apologize for their unfaithfulness rather than ditching Ferrando and Guglielmo for their manipulative deception.

The view from our seats in the Tenzing Norgay Circle.

Of course, the singing and the music is lovely.  I particularly like Kelli O’Hara as the feisty maid Despina who helps Don Alfonso in his plot.  And some of the gags are worth a laugh, if only because the Metropolitan Opera is very loose in the translations they display on the subtitle screens (one line about a cowboy from Texas was almost certainly not in the original libretto).  What’s remarkable about this staging is that it is set in a seaside resort modeled after Coney Island in the 1950s which makes for delightful costumes and scenery.  They even have a team of actual sideshow performers (and a live ball python) performing tricks on stage. But the best part was the stagecraft, especially in the second act, when most of the scenes were set on amusement park rides. One aria in particular was set entirely on a floating balloon.

This Così fan tutte is definitely worth seeing for its adaptation through a carnival lens.

Concert Review: “Weird Al” Yankovic


“Weird Al” Yankovic at the Apollo Theater, March 23, 2018.

Special guest: Emo Phillips

I’ve liked “Weird Al” Yankovic since I was a child.  I’m not perhaps a diehard fan, especially compared with the people I sat next to on Friday night who sang along with every word.  I’ve long appreciated that Weird Al is more than a novelty, but a talented musician, one who can effectively write and perform songs in multiple genres.  I’d also heard that his live shows are terrific so I’d been wanting to attend.  The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour features shows in intimates settings without props and costumes and focusing on songs Weird Al wrote instead of parodies, so I felt this was the perfect opportunity to appreciate his work as a musician.

It also provided an opportunity to attend a show at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem.  And of course my first show at the Apollo is for the whitest (and nerdiest) performer ever, which I feel a bit guilty about, but I did appreciate the photos and plaques honoring the legendary jazz, soul, R&B, and funk performers who made the Apollo famous.  The theater is gorgeous in the neo-classical style of early 20th century performance spaces.  I had a great view of the stage from my front row balcony seat, albeit at 6’1″ I felt that the seat and foot space was designed for a significantly shorter person.

“Nature Trail to Hell” was played in blood-red light.

As promised, Weird Al and his four-man band performed Yankovic originals, including many style parodies which are a pastiche of a particular artist’s music.  The highlights for me were “Mr. Popeil,” a tribute to “seen on TV” gadgets in the style of the B-52s, and “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” a tender ballad about a young man who’s getting hints that his relationship is ending after his partners repeated attempts to kill him.  I was also impressed by the light design that matched the music and the mood – blood red lighting for the slasher film promo “Nature Trail to Hell,” and swirling paisleys for the trippy Doors-inspired “Craigslist.”

The tender ballad “You Don’t Love Me Anymore”

Weird Al concluded the set with a medley of his most well-known song parody lyrics set to the tunes of entirely different songs (for example “Eat It” was sung to the Unplugged version of Eric Clapton’s “Layla”).  It was all very meta but fun.  For an encore, they played a rocking, straightforward cover of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl.” Al introduced the song by saying that after decades in the music business he’d finally learned how to play guitar, and this would be his live performance debut on guitar (I don’t believe either of those things are true).  The gag was that when it came time for the guitar solo, Al simply strummed a single, unfretted string.  For the finale they played the beloved sing-a-long, “Yoda.”

It was a fun night, and I’d definitely see Weird Al again should I get the chance. I found the setlist from online sources. Note that the “drum solos” were short and deliberately unimpressive.

Setlist:

  1. Dare to Be Stupid (Grateful Dead version)
  2. Close but No Cigar
  3. Generic Blues
  4. Mr. Popeil
  5. Nature Trail to Hell
  6. Craigslist
  7. Dog Eat Dog
  8. My Own Eyes
  9. Your Horoscope for Today
  10. UHF
  11. I Remember Larry
  12. Drum Solo
  13. Jackson Park Express
  14. Young, Dumb & Ugly
  15. You Don’t Love Me Anymore
  16. Bass Solo (theme from “Barney Miller”)
  17. Albuquerque
  18. Drum Solo
  19. Eat It / I Lost on Jeopardy / Amish Paradise / Smells Like Nirvana / White & Nerdy / I Love Rocky Road / Like a Surgeon

Encore:

20. Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young cover) (First time Weird Al played guitar on stage)
21. Yoda

Weird Al’s guitar solo on “Cinnamon Girl.”

See also: Music Discovery: Weird Al

Concert Review: A Tribe Called Red


Artist: A Tribe Called Red
Opener: YVNG PAVL and DJ Big Bear of CLLCTV BOSTON
Venue: The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA
Date: 18 March 2017

It’s been a long time since I posted a concert review because it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a concert.  But I couldn’t miss A Tribe Called Red, one of my favorite musical acts to emerge in recent years.  The three DJs based in Ottawa, Ontario mix electronic music with First Nations’ chants and drums in a style called Electric Pow Wow.  Their music is danceable but lyrically is politically and socially charged with messages from contemporary native communities.

The opening act featured YVNG PAVL and DJ Big Bear of CLLCTV Boston who spun an eclectic mix of dance tracks that got people moving on the floor.  The two DJs worked together at a small soundboard often crossing one another’s hands in a surprisingly intimate manner.  CLLCTV is definitely something I’ll be checking out in the future.

DJ NDN,  Bear Witness, and 2oolman took the stage around 10 pm with a simple set-up on one long table.  Projected behind them were repeating clips of movies, cartoons, and perhaps performances on tv variety shows depicting clichéd and stereotypical Native American images in a way of reappropriation of the “Hollywood Indian.” Unlike A Tribe Called Red albums where the musical tracks are distinct pieces, in the live performance they ran as one long and highly infectious dance mix.  Periodically a pair of dancers would come on stage, received enthusiastically by the audience, performing a mix of native dances and breakdancing. Their clothing similarly mixed traditional native dress with African-American hip hop styles.

 

The set seemed to be over soon after it begun, but checking the time I realized that nearly two hours had passed.  I long wished to travel to Ottawa to experience the Electronic Pow Wow, but I’m glad that for one night it came closer to home.  It was definitely a performance worth seeing.

A side note, this is the first time I attended a concert at The Sinclair.  It’s an intimate venue, but while small it didn’t feel crushingly crowded despite a sizeable crowd.  There’s a large standing room only space on the floor in front of the stage with a smaller mezzanine with balconies on the sides.  Looking at the list of upcoming performances it looks like The Sinclair has taken over the dearly departed T.T. the Bear’s role of offering famed but not superstar performers from a diversity of genres a place to play in Cambridge.