Friday, April 30, 2010

Cirque du Soleil's "OvO" Arrives in Hartford June 17

"Families will literally BUG OUT and HAVE A BLAST"
- Time Out Kids

Cirque du Soleil's Grand Chapiteau (Big Top) returns to Market Street in Hartford June 17 for OvO, a show teeming with insects.

OvO is the most jaw dropping spectacle yet from the Cirque du Soleil, and it is creating significant buzz as the best touring show this company has ever put on the road. Currently playing in New York City (Randall's Island Park) to June 6, the company will pack up its tent and move to Hartford June 17 to July 4 and then Boston from July 22 to August 15.

In Hartford it is conveniently located at the intersection of I-84 and I-91 (Northwest corner). In Boston the blue and yellow tent will be found at Fan Pier and Pier 4 instead of Suffolk Downs.

All About OvO

OvO is a headlong rush into a colorful ecosystem teeming with life, where insects work, eat, crawl, flutter, play, fight and look for love in a non-stop riot of energy and movement. The insects’ home is a world of biodiversity and beauty filled with noisy action and moments of quiet emotion.

When a mysterious egg appears in their midst, the insects are awestruck and intensely curious about this iconic object that represents the enigma and cycles of their lives. It’s love at first sight when a gawky, quirky insect arrives in this bustling community and a fabulous ladybug catches his eye – and the feeling is mutual.

Cirque du Soleil's OvO is visually stunning.

As anyone who has seen a Cirque show knows, their sows are overflowing with contrasts. The hidden, secret world at our feet is revealed as tender and torrid, noisy and quiet, peaceful and chaotic. And as the sun rises on a bright new day the vibrant cycle of insect life begins anew.

The cast of OvO comprises 54 performing artists from 16 countries and director Deborah Colker, a renowned choreographer, has integrated dance movements into many of the acts in the show. Colker is the first female Director at Cirque du Soleil.

OvO features many acrobatic acts including a stunning flying trapeze act: Six flyers soar 40 feet in the air, making this act the biggest of its kind ever presented under a big top by Cirque du Soleil. It combines many circus disciplines: banquine, Russian swing and swinging chair. The finale features 20 artists running, jumping and leaping up a 24-foot vertical wall.

The playing space envelops and involves the audience.

The Creative Team behind the world of OvO is: Artistic Guides Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix; Writer, Director and Choreographer Deborah Colker; Director of Creation Chantal Tremblay; Set and props Designer Gringo Cardia; Costume Designer Liz Vandal; Composer and Musical Director Berna Ceppas; Lighting Designer Éric Champoux; Sound Designer Jonathan Deans; Acrobatic Equipment and Rigging Designer Fred Gérard; Acrobatic Performance Designer Philippe Aubertin; and Makeup Designer Julie Bégin.

iShares is the presenting sponsor of the 2010 U.S. tour of OvO. Sun Life Financial, CGI, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and American Express are the official sponsors.

Everything about OvO is extravagant: huge cast, live music, incredible costumes, clowns, acrobats, what's not to like?

"WHAT A SHOW! To say audiences are wowed is an understatement."
"It's not just great family fun; it's breathtaking."
- The Huffington

Ticket Information

The performances are Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 8:00 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. No performances on Mondays. Tickets will be available as of this Sunday, April 11 at 9 a.m. via or at 1-800-450-1480. Tickets for adults are from $45 to $125 and tickets for children are from $31.50 to $87.50. A VIP Tapis Rouge™ package is also available. It includes one of the best seats in the house, as well as access to the VIP suite one hour before the show and during intermission. The adult package is available for $250 and the child package for $175 (aged 2 to 12 years old). Prices include taxes.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fewer Jukebox Musicals and More Plays About Sports, Please

George Merrick and Shannon Lewis
in a publicity photo for Damn Yankees at Boston's North Shore Music Theatre in 2006.

Thank goodness for Damn Yankees. It's probably the best sports musical ever written, and for those of us in the Northeast, we will be able to enjoy it again August 5-21 at the Weston, VT Playhouse.

(For a rundown on the Berkshire's Summer of 2010 Schedules, visit Berkshire on Stage which lists all the major companies.)

I first saw it in its original Broadway outing back in the late fifties, and have never stopped loving it. "You've Gotta Have Heart" and "Whatever Lola Wants" are so eminently hummable while "Steam Heat" can be a great dance number.

Instead, lately it seems the jukebox musicals are becoming the new form for musicals, from Mamma Mia! and Jersey Boys to Rock of Ages and American Idiot, that last one recycling a Green Day 2004 album. Now, there is no question that the music in question is good, even great, but the underpinnings, the book, the plot, the depth is pretty shallow. In Damn Yankees we have the issue of selling one's soul to the Devil while in Mamma Mia! we have a pastiche.

Here in the Berkshires we have the additional curse of the "tribute" shows, including one which I attended that supposedly saluted ABBA. In the middle of the show they scrapped ABBA and started playing anti-Disco music which clearly showed they hated playing ABBA in the first place. It was insulting to those who paid to enjoy the songs of the Swedish pop group. The venues who book these scandalous second rate shows are shortchanging their audiences and endangering their "brand" by diluting it with pap.

Audiences love these pop music revues, and there is no shortage of ticket buyers, so what is a commercial producer to do?

The lack of substance in musicals has always been a problem. But would you swap Sweet Charity for say, Footloose?

Sucker Punch at London's Royal Court Theatre

Sports musicals are rare, and plays about the subject are few and far between. Here we can count our blessings that Kate Maguire (Artistic Director of the Berkshire Theatre Festival) is a fan, a BIG fan of baseball. WIthout her, we would never have gotten to see the nostalgic and impressive Red Remembers last fall.

But isn't it about time someone did a credible job on Take Me Out, also about baseball players? Roy Williams new play about boxing, Sucker Punch is also intriguing. In the UK there are lots of plays about rugby, cricket and their version of football, but where is the American basketball or football tale to keep audiences riveted to the stage.

Dave Garrison as Red Barber in the Berkshire Theatre Festival play, Red Remembers.

Don't think there aren't sports fans in the audience, and theatre lovers at the stadium cheering on the local team. Audiences cross over all the time. Indeed I contend that a someone at the baseball stadium is more likely to buy a ticket to a stage show than some television viewer watching Survivor.

The world is divided into those who sit at home and those that go out. People who are always out and about will eventually discover local theatre and music. The couch potatoes only leave the nest to scoop up more junk at WalMart.

To expand audiences for the arts, it is possible that sports could be a better magnet to draw new people in than the jukebox.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Annie, Get Your Earplugs! Dueling Musicals in May

Jenn Gambatese is Annie Oakley in Goodspeed Musicals' ANNIE GET YOUR GUN Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

When Irving Berlin wrote Annie Get Your Gun, he wrote a classic. It's the show that introduced "There's No Business Like Show Business" to the world which has become an anthem. In just a matter of weeks we will have two versions of this great musical within striking distance of the Berkshires.

But like the other famous song in the show, "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better," it will be easy to pick which show you want to see. You see there is the scaled down MacHaydn version in Chatham, NY which runs from May 27 to June 6 or the Goodspeed Opera House full bore production in East Haddam, CT which runs from April 16 to June 27. If you are a WalMart shopper you will love the MacHaydn version where tickets are only $26-28. It's done in the round, with some pretty fine singers, but there are problems. Certainly having to look at the back of an actor's head is no fun, and doing musicals on a stage that is barely larger than a pizza platter doesn't leave room for much for scenery or choreography.

Then there is the matter of the sound. At the Mac it seems limited to a piano and synthesizer to emulate what a band or orchestra should rightly be playing.

The MacHaydn has scores of loyal fans who will no doubt throw their walkers and canes at me for writing such harsh words, but bad music clearly does not seem to bother the geriatric set which predominates, especially at matinees. I apoloigize in advance for the snark attack, but don't you think that when you can't hear very well anyway, it likely doesn't matter much?

I have friends who don't mind. But it is their achilles heel. You can certainly see for yourself and come back and comment here. Tickets and information is available at

The Alternative

Jenn Gambatese as Annie Oakley with Jessie, Nellie & Little Jake (Joy Rachel Del Valle, Griffin Birney, Marissa Smoker) Photo by Diane Sobolewski
On the other hand there is the Annie Get Your Gun being staged at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT. This is the upscale version with prices to match. Tickets are $27.50 to $71.00 though what you get is a decent sized group of live musicians, great sets and costumes and a cast that is drawn from Broadway. The Goodspeed has sent more musicals to Broadway than any other theatre company.

Kevin Earley (above) will play marksman Frank Butler opposite the sharp-shooting Annie Oakley played by Jenn Gabatese (below).

This Annie Get Your Gun will be directed by Rob Ruggiero whose work has been seen frequently in the Berkshires, as well as in award-winning regional theatres around the country. Mr. Ruggiero returns to Goodspeed where he directed 1776, Big River and last year’s sensation Camelot. His off-Broadway and tour credits include All Under Heaven and the world premieres of Ella and Make Me A Song, all of which he both conceived and directed. His newest production, Looped starring Valerie Harper, is currently running on Broadway.

Annie Get Your Gun was first staged on Broadway at the Imperial Theater on May 16, 1946 and ran for 1,147 performances. It was directed by Joshua Logan; Ethel Merman starred as Annie Oakley, and Ray Middleton played Frank Butler. Mary Martin starred as Annie Oakley in a U.S. national tour that started on October 3, 1947 in Dallas, Texas. Martin also did the television version back in the 1950's about the same time Merman was doing Happy Hunting on Broadway.

The Revival Changed a Lot of Songs.

I saw the most recent Broadway revival in 1999 that starred Tom Wopat and Bernadette Peters, an unlikely combination if ever there was one. It was not a success, and having seen it, I think both leads were miscast.

There is a good reason to see both versions: in the past some of the songs have been cut or revised due to the changing political climate and increasing respect for Native Americans. Musicals, often show their age, and this one does, though for those of us who lived through the period in which the original was written (1946) don't seem to notice the disconnect nearly as much as young people who are surprised by the subtle and overt racism. Still, it is a show that has all the classic ingredients including a wonderful score. Don't miss it.

Performances: April 16- June 27, Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., (with select performances at 2:00 p.m.), Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.).

Tickets:$27.50 - $71.00, Goodspeed Box Office (860.873.8668) or on-line at

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pharmaceutical Marketing Explored in Orgasm, Inc. at MASS MoCA

To go to film website, click here.

Pharmaceutical Marketing Explored in Orgasm, Inc.
Film at Mass MoCA

The final film in MASS MoCA's Lie, Cheat, Steal and Fake It documentary series is Orgasm, Inc., a feature-length documentary exploring the depths of female pleasure and the distances pharmaceutical companies will go just to make a buck. Orgasm Inc. will be screened on Thursday, April 29, at 7:30 PM in MASS MoCA's Club B-10. A full bar and snacks and Herrell's ice cream from Lickety Split will be available.

Filmmaker Liz Canner had been making documentaries on human rights issues such as genocide, police brutality, and world poverty for years when she decided to take a break and pursue something more pleasurable, no pun intended. When offered a job editing erotic videos for a pharmaceutical company that was developing an orgasm cream for women, she accepted. Excited about the opportunity to explore the mixture of science and female pleasure, she gained permission to document the work of her employers. She did not intend to create an exposé of the pharmaceutical world but, as she uncovered more about the process and goals of her employers, she felt compelled to dig deeper. She says, "[my] insider perspective allows the film to scrutinize the everyday patterns of pharmaceutical company work in order to explore a culture that has been perverted to place the drive for profit above our health."

The search for a female orgasm drug.

In the film, Canner uncovers a company, Vivus, who lost the race for a drug to aid erectile dysfunction when Pfizer beat it to the market with a much larger advertising budget. Vivus executives believe that their product will work just as well on wome, and the company forges ahead with development of a drug that has no particular "disease" that it is intended to cure. In an expert sleight of hand Vivus creates a new syndrome which its drug will treat: Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD). The reason why thousands of women fail to enjoy intimacy is because they suffer from FSD, and Vivus becomes the largest advertiser and advocate for a cure.

Aside from meeting and interviewing drug company CEOs, field-testers, and number-crunchers, Canner films doctors, scientists, and psychiatrists who are resisting the pharmaceutical industry's notion that sexual dissatisfaction is a "disease" that needs to be treated with a drug. Additionally, she profiles a sex shop owner who crashes pharmaceutical conferences to educate the doctors in attendance, a vintage vibrator collector who provides insight into the history of female sexuality, and a professor whose monkeys have taught him to pay more attention to women. They all profess that the key to sexual satisfaction is to change not just our sex lives but also our society. Canner has stated that her disagreement is not about the idea of a drug to help women achieve satisfaction but rather the assumptions these drug-mongers make about who and what women are.

The film (and all the films in the Lie, Cheat, Steal and Fake It series) will be introduced by Williams College professor Shawn Rosenheim who will also lead a post-screening discussion with other scholars and activists.

Canner shooting the film Orgasm, Inc.

Canner earned a BA with honors in both Visual Arts and Anthropology from Brown University. Her subsequent work has received more than 40 awards, honors, and grants. Her projects have been supported by foundations such as The National Endowment for the Arts and the Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media. A number of her films have been broadcast on PBS and on public television around the world. She has screened films at the New York Film Festival and the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, among others. Her film, Deadly Embrace: Nicaragua, The World Bank and the IMF, on the effects of IMF and World Bank policy, was one of the first documentaries to look critically at globalization. Canner was also recently named one of the "top 10 independent filmmakers to watch" by The Independent Magazine.

Tickets for the screening of Orgasm, Inc. are $8 for adults and $5 for students. MASS MoCA members receive a 10% discount. Tickets are available through the MASS MoCA Box Office located off Marshall Street in North Tickets can also be charged by phone by calling 413.662.2111 during Box Office hours or purchased on line at Snacks and Herrell's ice cream from Lickety Split and full bar are available before and during the film.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Commonwealth Opera's Fully Staged "Lucia" May 7-9 in Northampton

Lucia is loosely based upon Sir Walter Scott's historical novel The Bride of Lammermoor. It is a role that makes stars.

Opera in the Berkshires and Western Massachusetts has become a rare treat, and fully staged operas are to be cherished.

So it comes as great news that Commonwealth Opera, a professional opera company in residence in Northampton, Massachusetts, will be presenting two performances of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor on Friday May 7 at 7:00 PM and Sunday May 9 at 2:00 PM at The Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton. Best of all, it is happening at a time that there is in the "shoulder" season, before the hectic summer.

November's Cosi fan Tutte marked Commonwealth Opera's debut as a fully professional company. The company itself was founded more than three decades ago.

For those who might not be familiar with Donizetti's masterpiece, the opera Lucia follows a tragic heroine caught between family obligations, a forceful brother’s will, and her true love - her family’s sworn enemy! This star-crossed love affair takes place in 17 century Scotland.

Enrico has promised his sister, Lucia, to Arturo, but Lucia loves Edgardo. Fearing her brother's rage, Lucia and Edgardo agree to keep their love a secret. Edgardo leaves on a diplomatic mission, but Enrico learns of his sister's relationship. In Edgardo's absence, Enrico gives Lucia a letter he forged to make her think that Edgardo has been unfaithful.

Devastated, Lucia consents to marry Arturo. Edgardo bursts into the wedding celebration to claim her, but seeing her infidelity he curses Lucia and leaves. Enrico follows Edgardo and challenges him to a duel, meanwhile Lucia and Arturo retire to their bridal chamber where Lucia stabs him to death and goes mad.

In the most famous scene of the opera, she wanders into the ongoing wedding festivities, crazed and covered in blood, imagining she is married to Edgardo, and then falls down dead. Awaiting Enrico's arrival for their duel, Edgardo learns of Lucia's death and, distraught, he stabs himself and dies, hoping to join his beloved in heaven.

This "Mad Scene, "Il dolce suono...Spargi d'amaro pianto," has historically been a vehicle for several coloratura sopranos (providing a breakthrough for Dame Joan Sutherland) and is a technically and expressively demanding piece as the video clip below demonstrates. It features Sumi Jo in a concert version of the aria. I can hardly wait to see it fully staged in Northampton.

Some sopranos, most notably Maria Callas, have performed the scene in a come scritto ("as written") fashion, adding minimal ornamentation to their interpretations. Most sopranos, however, add ornamentation to demonstrate their technical ability, as was the tradition in the bel canto period. This involves the addition and interpolation of trills, mordents, turns, runs and cadenzas. Almost all sopranos append cadenzas to the end of the "Mad Scene", sometimes ending them on a high E-flat.

Donizetti’s lush dramatic masterpiece comes to beautiful life in this new, fully staged period production directed by Eve Summer under the baton of Commonwealth Opera music director Ian Watson. This three act opera boasts stunning bel canto arias, magnificent choruses, and a passionate love story for the ages. The opera will be sung in its original Italian with a simultaneous projected English translation.

The scenic design is by Julia Noulin-Merat, costume design by Toni Elliott, and lighting design by Ben Pilat.

Ian Watson will conduct.

Lucia...Andrea Chenoweth
Edgardo...Jin Ho Hwang
Enrico...Anton Belov
Raimondo...Paul Soper
Arturo...Giovanni Formisano
Alisa...Glorivy Arroyo
Normanno...Joseph Holmes

Tickets are priced from $10 - $50, and may be purchased directly through Commonwealth Opera (all box office fees will be waived) by calling 508-847-0517. The Academy of Music Theatre's box office begins sales April 16th at or at 413-584-9032 x105. Box office fees may apply. Some tickets will be available for students the day of performance at $8.00.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam - Soldier's Stories Resonate

The Things They Carried at Barrington Stage April 15-17.

Tim O'Brien and David Rabe both served in Vietnam and lived to write about what they saw and felt. Rabe wrote for the stage and his Vietnam plays - "The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel," "Sticks and Bones," "The Orphan," and "Streamers," are still popular, perhaps because of the parallels they offer with Iraq and Afghanistan today.

Tim O'Brien wrote a book - a masterpiece, really - "The Things They Carried," and it will receive a staged reading April 15-17 at Barrington Stage Company. It is part of The Big Read currently being celebrated throughout the City of Pittsfield.

And it's the performances planned by Artistic Director Julianne Boyd and Producing Director Richard M. Parison, Jr that will likely be the most memorable and moving. The book has long been known to have the power to change the way people think about that war (or any war for that matter) and to understand how the first hand experience is nothing like the media drawn images we substitute for the real thing.

Actors participating in “The Things They Carried: A Staged Reading” include Tim Rush as Tim O’Brien, Alex Cendese and MacCleod Andrews as two soldiers in the Vietnam War, and Hannah Koczela (BSC’s “Carousel”) in the role of Tim O’Brien’s 11-year-old daughter.

Tim O'Brien's book about the men who live through endless war will come to life through a staged reading.

Three readings will be presented on Friday, April 16 and Saturday, April 17 at 7p.m. at the BSC Mainstage, 30 Union Street , Pittsfield. In addition to the Friday and Saturday readings, a matinee reading will be presented on Thursday, April 15 at 12:30p.m. for invited local schools and Vietnam veterans. Tickets are available for a suggested donation of $10 for adults, $5 for Vietnam veterans and youth ages 18 and under. Tickets may be reserved by calling the Box Office at 413-236-8888 or online at

Today, Tim O'Brien teaches writing at Texas State University. His book, based on the events he experienced in 1969, is a series of short stories, slices of life as lived by the guys on the ground. When you talk with veterans of wars, you often get well-rehearsed war stories, or stoney silence and one word answers. The experiences are harrowing, but often uplifting too. It takes writers like o'Brien to give them substance and form. And an ensemble of gifted actors and directors to bring them to life on stage. This is one of those rare moments.

Far from home and love. Maya Alleruzzo Photo.

What Did They Carry?
They Carried Each Other.

"They carried P-38 can openers and heat tabs, watches and dog tags, insect repellent, gum, cigarettes, Zippo lighters, salt tablets, compress bandages, ponchos, Kool-Aid, two or three canteens of water, iodine tablets, sterno, LRRP- rations, and C-rations stuffed in socks. The carried standard fatigues, jungle boots, bush hats, flak jackets and steel pots.

They carried the M-16 assault rifle. They carried trip flares and Claymore mines, M-60 machine guns, the M-70 grenade launcher, M-14's, CAR-15's, Stoners, Swedish K's, 66mm Laws, shotguns, .45 caliber pistols, silencers, the sound of bullets, rockets, and choppers, and sometimes the sound of silence. They carried C-4 plastic explosives, an assortment of hand grenades, PRC-25 radios, knives and machetes.

Some carried napalm, CBU's and large bombs; some risked their lives to rescue others. Some escaped the fear, but dealt with the death and damage. Some made very hard decisions, and some just tried to survive.

They carried malaria, dysentery, ringworms and leaches. They carried the land itself as it hardened on their boots. They carried stationery, pencils, and pictures of their loved ones - real and imagined. They carried love for people in the real world and love for one another. And sometimes they disguised that love: "Don't mean nothin'!"

They carried memories

For the most part, they carried themselves with poise and a kind of dignity. Now and then, there were times when panic set in, and people squealed - or wanted to, but couldn't; when they twitched and made moaning sounds and covered their heads and said "Dear God" and hugged the earth and fired their weapons blindly and cringed and begged for the noise to stop and went wild and made stupid promises to themselves and God and their parents, hoping not to die.

They carried the traditions of the United States military, and memories and images of those who served before them. They carried grief, terror, longing and their reputations. They carried the soldier's greatest fear: the embarrassment of dishonor. They crawled into tunnels, walked point, and advanced under fire, so as not to die of embarrassment. They were afraid of dying, but too afraid to show it. They carried the emotional baggage of men and women who might die at any moment. They carried the weight of the world. "

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wilco Solid Sound Festival at Mass MoCA from August 13-15

Wilco, arguably the greatest rock band working today.

I think Wilco is a brilliant and innovative programming choice for Mass MoCA. It is also the best thing to happen in North Adams in years. It is the sort of popular attraction that will make North Adams the center of the universe for fans of rock and roll. Ready or not, this is no cookie cutter event, it's our own mini-Woodstock. Let's hope the city of Spaghetti Suppers and 50/50 raffles has the class to pull off such an important and highly visible event.

One of the unusual amenities being promised is a bicycle valet. Now that is out of the box thinking!

Using the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail? You can take it from Lanesboro to Adams, but then it's Route 8 until the final leg is built. Waiting on the other end there will be a bicycle valet for the Festival, a first for Mass MoCA.

If you are wondering just how they are predicting 10,000 when the Hunter Center at max can hold 900 people standing, 650-700 sitting, there will be three stages set up at MMoCA. The main one will be in the huge field behind MMoCA that is partially owned by National Grid. It's an immense undertaking. Mass MoCA's tech staff is top notch, and handling three stages at once will require an awful lot of good people to pull off successfully.

From what I gather Wilco will not only perform as a band, but also individually.

Wilco will headline the festival with two performances, with additional individual performances by all the Wilco members’ side projects, including Glenn Kotche’s On Fillmore, The Nels Cline Singers, The Autumn Defense featuring John Stirratt and Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen’s Pronto.

They are only selling weekend tickets not one day at a time, which admit purchasers to every event. It is a logistical challenge. If they follow their usual pattern of residencies, they will do half a dozen shows - or more - over the period, each one featuring different combinations of musicians and repertoire. They like to review their recordings without ever repeating a song on any of the set lists.

Fender bender Nils Cline.

There are incredible possibilities with this event, and I hope it succeeds. The Berkshires could develop a popular-rock-mainstream live performance series to equal Tanglewood, and this is the leading edge of a move towards that. That it will happen in the Northern Berkshires is something to cheer about.

Wilco last appeared at Tanglewood and garnered rave reviews even as the ushers tried to keep people plastered to their seats. I love Tanglewood (spent a summer there in the press office once) but the BSO management and trustees have dithered long enough and clearly does not want to dilute its image as a classical music venue by going populist.

Update and mea culpa: Since I wrote those harsh words, the BSO has announced the appearance of folk-rock group Crosby, Stills and Nash at Tanglewood, scheduled for September 1 in the Shed. In addition, jazz legend Herbie Hancock slated for August 9. The summer is shaping up to be a great one.

Though I continue to be concerned about the future of classical music, and the greying of its audiences. In recent times we have seen theatre, dance and contemporary art reinvent themselves over and over. But classical music has hardly changed in 150 years. There's a lot that can be done to bring in more young people, but change is incredibly difficult to sell to the benefactors who make mammoth operations like the BSO and other orchestras possible. It can't be done on ticket revenues alone, and those with the checkbooks call the shots.

Anyway, Stockbridge is in for some fun. And so too is North Adams. The Berkshries are in for something different, very populist, yet tinged with contemporary music, art and old fashioned money. The question is, will it draw a younger demographic, and will their needs be met as smoothly as the older crowds.

Let's hope there is a sensible balance between making sure it is a great experience for concert-goers and residents alike.

With the tickets now on sale I suggest you act soon since I sincerely doubt there will be any left by the time we get to the event itself. Of course the scalpers will try to get their pound of flesh. Word.

Below is the official announcement for the event.

The Hunter Center at Mass MoCA.

The SOLID SOUND FESTIVAL is a new festival curated by the Chicago band Wilco. It debuts August 13 - 15 at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, MA. The SOLID SOUND FESTIVAL is an independently promoted and ticketed three-day event of music, art, comedy, interactivity and more. Wilco headlines the weekend, in the bandʼs only East Coast performance of the summer. This new festival also presents individual performances by all the Wilco membersʼ side projects including Glenn Kotcheʼs On Fillmore, The Nels Cline Singers, The Autumn Defense featuring John Stirratt and Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgensenʼs Pronto.

SOLID SOUND FESTIVAL at MASS MoCA also plays host to additional musical performances, a fully programmed comedy stage, interactive installations and exhibits (including the Solid Sound Stompbox Station, an interactive guitar pedal exhibit created and demonstrated by Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, a concert-poster screening demonstration, planned workshops by luthiers and more), plus film, video installations and djʼs. Festival attendees will have full access to the entire MASS MoCA campus, which incorporates 150,000 square feet of galleries. MASS MoCA, a renovated 19th century textile mill, is the largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts in the U.S.

Tickets for SOLID SOUND FESTIVAL are on sale this Friday, April 9 through the bandʼs official website and through From April 9 to May 31 tickets for the three-day event will be available for $86.50 (including all fees and parking) and after June 1 for $99.50 (including all fees and parking).

Art on display during the festival includes the Sol LeWitt wall Drawing Retrospective (chosen #1 exhibition of the year by Time magazine); Inigo Manglano-Ovalle's Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With; a major exhibition of work by Petah Coyne; Material World: Sculpture to Environment, a group exhibition; Leonard Nimoy's Secret Selves; and a new installation by Michael Oatman.

Tickets for Wilco's Solid Sound Festival will go on sale on-line on Friday, April 9, at 10 AM through or at 11 AM in person at the MASS MoCA Box Office. More information is available at From April 9 to May 31 tickets for the three-day event are $78, after June 1 tickets are $91. Children under 6 are free. The event is rain or shine. Tickets are general admission and are available through the MASS MoCA Box Office located on Marshall Street in North Adams from 11 AM until 5 PM daily.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cabaret Open Mic with Katie Johnson at Taylors in North Adams

Portrait of Katie as an Artist.

When local songstress Katie Johnson plays host for a Broadway Open Mic Night on April 16, she will be stepping into a new role as entrepreneur extroadinaire.

Based on a wildly popular similar event a year ago, it's part soirée, part cabaret, and part reunion, featuring an open mic and some of the Berkshires best singers. You never know exactly who is going to sing, or what, but it's a rip roaring good time. And there is a bit of humor and irony squeezed in between the notes.

Katie Johnson will host a Cabaret at Taylor's April 16th.

Katie Johnson is an impassioned artist who has a trumpet of a voice that lends itself to boldly expressive singing. Katie was a huge hit at last year's highly successful Cabaret Night. Katie's credits include but are not limited to Urinetown, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Fame: The Musical, Chicago, Annie, Sound of Music, and Cinderella.

Singers are encouraged to bring sheet music for their favorite Broadway or Cabaret tune and take a turn at the mic. The event is for one night only, on Friday, April 16, 2010; at 9:00 p.m. For tickets, call: 413.662.5204 and for general information, call: 413.664.8718.

Though Katie is gaining a following as a singer, she also has an impressive number of Facebook friends who revel in her witty postings. Yet not too much is known about the real person behind the microphone. So for the past week or so Arts America has been exchanging emails about her life and music.

So is this Cabaret at Taylor's a big deal?

Its a HUGE deal. A Broadway open mic night in the Berkshires? Are you kidding? I've died and gone to heaven. When I'm revived, I will spread the news that I have seen the promised land and it is in North Adams, MA. Hallelujah!

For one thing, I've never hosted an open mic night before. And I don't consider myself a stand up comedienne by any stretch of the imagination so barring any unforeseen mishaps like sliding off the top of the piano while trying to channel Michelle Pfieffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys, it'll be more about letting everyone get a chance at the mic than clever one liners from me. I'm just going to try to be a classy, encouraging, mega-sexy host. My genius lies in my simplicity and fear of crickets.

Why do audiences love these informal gatherings so much?

Some remarkably talented people love to sing at cabarets. Some who will be there are part of our theater scene, and others I met while studying under Sheri James Buxton, who has been my inspiration for years. With cabaret open mike, the response I always observe from new audience members is "What a great night, I had no idea there was so much talent!"

I also hear "Katie Johnson, you are talented and adorable. Why are you still single?" a lot.

And people can be so helpful. Recently, at a local cabaret, I had a women tell me that she didn't like my hair cut and gave me the number of her very expensive hair stylist in South County.

How anyone could pass up a night of live music and cocktails is beyond my comprehension. Its not about being the best singer.. its about saying something in a song that means something to you.

I can't afford therapy so I sing in cabarets.

Katie, l
Let's talk about your piano player who supports all these different singers. It takes skill and fast reflexes to offer singers stylistic freedom while maintaining the tempo. A new singer’s expressive turns can't be known in advance. So the pianist has to be able to turn on a dime. Good ones are hard to find, right?

I originally had asked Brian Usifer (you can read an earlier interview with Brian here) who I met performing in Fame the Musical in 2006 at Barrington Stage Company.

Happily for him and sadly for me, he's in rehearsal for a show in New York City and I would've had to drive him to Wassaic almost immediately after the cabaret and even doing that I was not sure I could get him back in time for his gig.

I almost panicked. Then I remembered that Carlton Maaia II is back in the Berks full time. He has saved the day. We met when he, Kara Demier and I worked together. He is one fantastic pianist. He knows musical theater, jazz and a great deal of other styles.

He's also single, ladies..and devilishly handsome.

Carlton Maaia II will be the Music Director.

When did you first know you wanted to sing?

For me it was a 6th grade moment. My teacher announced that the holiday concert needed singers for a "special" chorus. I desperately wanted to be in that chorus so I sat up straight in my chair and sang out as best I could as she walked up and down the aisles listening. She tapped my shoulder (which I think in today's school system would get her fired for inappropriate touching) and from then on I knew I would sing for the rest of my life.

Of course, music was always around the house growing up, thanks to my father. He played early jazz, ragtime and a lot of the old Irish tunes. Not exactly the type of music a kid wants to listen to but it grew on me as I got older. 

As I evolved, I grew to love the great standards and singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Julie London, Peggy Lee and Betty Hutton.

Katie Johnson as a Rasta Woman. She can sing in a variety of styles.

How do you select your songs?

I pick songs that say something to me or I think speak in a unique voice. I listen to all genres of music all the time. Then a song will come along and knock me off my feet. A song like that just demands to be sung so people know how great it is.

A good example is Driving Naked by Nikos Tsakalakos and Jess Digiacinto which I first heard at Barrington Stage last year.

Barrington Stage is unique in their commitment to new music and musicals, aren't they.

The best. The Pool Boy by Nikos will get a fully staged production this year at their Music Lab. And Bill Finn hosts a show on Labor Day weekend every year at BSC called Songs by Ridiculously Talented Composers You Probably Don't Know But Should. He brings in all sorts of great talent. Students from the Musical Theater MFA program at NYU. Broadway singers from NYC. Locals. Bill introduces the audience to brand new songs written by these...well... ridiculously talented composers.

The promising composer, Nikos Tsakalakos whose Pool Boy will get a full production this summer at Barrington Stage.

I love these younger composers like Nikos and Jess, Daniel Mate (who just won the 2010 Jonathan Larsen Foundation Grant) Anna Jacobs, Maggie-Kate Coleman, Sara Cooper, Zach Redler, and Bill Nelson. Then there are the usual suspects: Sondheim of course, Bill Finn, Marc Blitzstein, Kurt Weill, Hoagy Carmichael, Cole Porter, Mary Rodgers, Duke Ellington, Comden and Green, Billy Rose, Frank Loesser. A lot of great music is ageless, and new talents are constantly adding to the songbook.

Where do you see your life and career going?

In a perfectly normal family of hard working civil servants, I became the black sheep who was drawn to the arts. I live, eat and breathe it. Commercial, nonprofit, there are many choices. Lately I've been drawn to complexities of casting, and think I'd make a good theatrical agent. I have had the unbelievable good fortune to have gotten my feet wet at BSC where there is so much talent and innovation.

Singing can be fun too, especially though it helps with the rent if there is a paycheck involved. I really love singing for cocktails. But the level of training, talent and dedication that is needed to succeed is daunting. Perhaps with perseverance my day will arrive.

Do you think there is enough of a critical mass to support Cabaret on a regular basis in the Berkshires?

We won't know until someone makes a serious commitment at it. Are there people who love to sing at cabarets? Yes. Is it easy to find a venue to host a regular cabaret night? It's a pretty unfamiliar way to make money for most restaurant and club owners. It won't happen overnight, but it can be done.

I would love to parlay this night, if successful, into a once-a-month night at Barrington Stage at Stage 2 during the summer. I would love to share the stage with other singers who live or work in the Berkshires. To name a few, there's Jeff McCarthy, Harriet Harris, Tyne Daly, Michael Winther, Sally Wilfert, Heath Calvert. Donna Lynne Champlin, etc. These are people who can not only deliver a song, but also encourage local singers to stand up and do the same.

Where do you go to be entertained?

Actor Frank LaFrazia and I are hooked on karaoke. Sometimes colleagues from Barrington Stage and the Berkshire Theatre Festival will get together for a night of drinks and song at Michael's in Stockbridge. And I love the Dream Away Lodge especially on Hootnanny night.

This past year, I've joined a rock/blues band with a few local guys that I call "The Alan Bauman Project". They are introducing me to music I never thought I could sing which excites me for every rehearsal.


Katie Johnson, 32, was born and grew up in Lynn, MA, (City of Sin) and graduated from MCLA in North Adams, where she focused on Arts Management. She is Assistant to the Producing and Artistic Directors at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA. While currently happily ensconced at Barrington Stage Company, who knows what the future will bring.

When she acts as host for the Broadway Open Mic Night she will be stepping into a new role as entrepreneur extroadinaire.