Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 30, 2010

Roger McGuinn/Tom Rush

Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA
March 27, 2010
by Eric Sutter

High spirited feelings of togetherness were experienced at the Colonial Theatre with the appearance of the Godfather of Jangle-Pop Roger McGuinn, who shared a double bill with the pre-eminent singer-songwriter of the Woodstock era, Tom Rush. The spiritually sensitive McGuinn was in fine voice and his special talents of combining the prettiness of folk music with the drive and strength of rock rhythm were evident as he walked out playing the opening riff of "Younger Than That Now" on his Rickenbacker. The folk legend proceded to time trip through, not only his own musical catalog, but the entire history of popular guitar music. He treated the audience to a traditional sea shanty, "Heave Away Johnny" played on his Martin guitar and the first American folk song from 1761 called "Springfield Mountain." He shifted to banjo for "Old Blue" which brought forth handclaps from the audience.

From Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and Elvis to the Beatles, he sampled different styles of guitar which culminated in the splendor of the ringing chime of Rickenbacker which colored "Mr. Tambourine Man" and the climatic hits of "Eight Miles High" and "Turn, Turn, Turn." He also performed "Chimes Of Freedom" and the movie anthem, "Ballad of the Easy Rider." His version of an "Irish Blessing" was a soothing closer.

Tom Rush was in awe of McGuinn as he sang "Making the Best of a Bad Situation" to humor the audience about following the Byrds' frontman's performance. Rush also proved to shine in his own way with a mix of songs from his lengthy career. He cooed an Eliza Gilkyson love song with "Fall Into the Night" and Joni Mitchell's "The Urge For Going." He shifted to a gruff bluesy singing style on "Drop Down Mama" and the funny "Remember Blues." Rush then performed the title cut from his new CD "What I Know." The celebration continued with "Let's Talk Dirty In Hawaiian," which set a flutter of laughter through the audience. "These Days" and "A Child's Song" were played warmly on his acoustic guitar. McGuinn joined Rush for a harmonious rendition of "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere." They closed with a gutsy "Driving Wheel" with Rush filling out the bottom with his deep voice. The strong tide of emotions aroused an awakened consciousness and left the audience starry eyed and laughing.

March 28, 2010

B.J. Thomas in Concert

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield
March 27, 2010
by Debra Tinkham

Some of you may recall Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, performed by B.J. Thomas in 1969, when there were no cell phones." (Audience chuckles.) "Well tonight, we urge you to turn off your cell phones." That's how the energized evening began with the SSO, Maestro Kevin Rhodes, and Billy Joe (B.J.) Thomas.
Rhodes began the program, appropriately, with a walk down memory lane. With Thomas being a Houston native, Rhodes narrated each of his western themed choices, beginning with John Williams' The Cowboys. Aaron Copeland's Rodeo, aka The Beef Song was humorously entertaining, as was the short, light Saturday Night Waltz.

Rhodes talked about, "…this Czech guy (Antonin Dvorak) who wanted to write a symphony that sounded American." Voila. The New World Symphony's first movement. It sounded Germanesque, but as Rhodes explained "...the music may be a bit opaque or order to allow freedom of thought." Finally - meaning before B.J. Thomas' entrance - was, "...this Italian dude named Rossini's The Lone Ranger from The William Tell Overture." 

Drum roll. "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mr. B.J. Thomas." Thomas walked his audience through his career and life, beginning in 1965, with All I Want Is You, Baby. Then, A Little Bit of Love, Deep in the Eyes of a New York Woman and Rock-N-Roll Lullaby, to name only a few.

In 1969, Burt Bacharach and Hal David wanted Thomas to sing the now infamous Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head for the movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Upon finding Bacharach's home, Thomas rang the bell and Angie Dickinson answered the door, saying, "Burt, your little friend's here to see you." Thomas said, "At the time, I didn't much care for Mr. Bacharach but I had the greatest respect for him being married to Angie Dickinson."

Thomas' narratives were poignant and touching. He has sung and performed with the best. After one song, he said, "I sounded great, but I have the SSO and my band to thank for that. I have been singing that song for 40 years and actually forgot the lyrics." His accolades to Rhodes, the orchestra and his band - who have in excess of 80 combined years with Thomas - were heartfelt and touching.

March 27, 2010

The Family That Plays Together

The Ashleys of Southampton

Stacy and Ben Ashley have been a couple for nearly 20 years - many of those years onstage. Now they are a quartet, and still onstage. Stacy and Ben met during a production of "Guys & Dolls," which seems a fortuitous title to their eventual relationship. Sixteen years of marriage later, their son Ben and daughter Jacqueline join mom and dad onstage in Exit 7 Players' spring play "Titanic."

Has the smell of the greasepaint been in the family for generations? Perhaps. Or, perhaps the kids grew up watching their parents rehearse and perform that they thought every parent does this. Since Stacy and Ben have starred or appeared in countless local theatre productions, mostly musicals, rehearsing meant a lot of singing - over and over again. "Whatever show were working on, they would be singing every word," says Stacy of her children. "They have been dragged to all kinds of rehearsals since they were born. Ben used to fall asleep as a toddler during rehearsals for 'Buddy Holly' [dad Ben took the lead role]. Luckily, Jacqueline came early, just before 'Forever Plaid' opened [again, dad Ben starred as one of the Four Aces' wannabes]."

By the time they could walk, they were performing, having started dance and then theatre classes at the Hackworth School of Performing Arts in Easthampton. At age 15, Ben is already quite comfortable in community theatre and high school productions. He is simultaneously rehearsing for "Titanic" and his role of the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz." His sister Jacqueline appeared with her brother in "It's a Wonderful Life," but concentrates on dance.

Local audiences would be hard-pressed to have not seen Stacy and/or Ben, particularly in Majestic Theater shows, where they have starred in performances and were lead singers in The Majestics Band for 10 years.

"Titanic" will be the Ashleys third play as a family. "Ben is playing my son, Jack Thayer, and my husband is Fred Barrett, the Stoker," says Stacy. Jacqueline has a role as passenger in steerage. "She tells everyone that 'she goes down with the ship.'"

To see the Ashleys, along with the other 40 actors in this massive community theatre production of "Titanic" on April 16 - May 1, check Exit 7's website at

March 20, 2010


Theater Guild, Hampden, MA
Through March 27, 2010
By Shera Cohen

Just about everyone is familiar with the musical "Chicago." Many have seen it onstage, most at the movies. It's a simple story about female crooks, in familiar settings of 1920's gangster-era Chicago, with caricature roles. Why is the play so popular? All of the above, plus lots of "Razzle Dazzle," sexy women in black teddies, and dance, dance, and more dance.

What is not simple, however, is mounting this musical in a country club - the Theater Guild's venue is a bit unusual setting. On a proscenium stage, "Chicago" is a tough show to present. Take away the usual three walls, entrances, exits, backstage and replace them with the floor which is level with the audience, dining tables nearly abutting each other, a bar in the rear of the room, and mounting "Chicago" must surely have been a nightmare. Bravo to director Mark Giza for even considering the task, let alone taking it on.

He was not alone in his decision and dedication to do the work necessary for a successful production. The cast of 20 and band of five pulled it off. Best about "Chicago" is the choreography. Kathleen Delaney moved her dancers with her own spin on Bob Fosse - lots of arms and fingers spread apart. She and the troupe made it look easy, even while dancing in, on, and around dozens of chairs.

In lead roles are Kiernan Rushford (Roxy), a solid singer who can also dance well; and Aileen Terzi (Velma), an excellent dancer who can also sing. The pair balanced nicely. Many performers had their moments to shine - Jonathan Trecker's "All I Care About," Andrew Gilbert's "Mr. Cellophane," and Tracey Hebert's "When You're Good to Mama." Hebert is a natural with a commanding voice and comfortable stage presence. There are also some casting surprises.

The picturesque view and the pleasant meal that precede the performance add to the evening's enjoyment. However, unless tickets have already been ordered, by the time of reading this review, it is, unfortunately, too late to go to "Chicago." This little theatre troupe has the enviable problem of a sell out run.

March 18, 2010

Beethoven & Mozart

Springfield Symphony Orchestra
Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
March 13, 2010
by T.C. Larsen

From pregnant silence came the rumor of druids, a shimmering, misty pianissimo in the strings - a shadow of silence. The solo trumpet played the "Question" from exile in the Mahogany Room. The commentary of "the fighting answerers," a quartet of flutes stationed in the balcony, filtered to the audience - notes of sonic awe and mystery. This display of dynamic restraint and control in the Springfield Symphony Orchestra's rendition of Ives' The Unanswered Question was the harbinger of many beautiful moments presented throughout the evening.

Beethoven's demanding fourth piano concerto received similar attention to dynamic concerns and natural expression. The opening pianissimo played by was breathtaking. This graceful whisper led to an animated, elegant, and surprisingly humorous conversation between pianist and the orchestra. Maestro Rhodes fulfilled his role as moderator of this dialogue with ease, deftly melding the interactions and dynamic balances of pianist and orchestra with clarity and passion.

Large in scale and demanding in detail, the extant portions of Mozart's unfinished Mass in C minor provide a remarkably satisfying work. The Chorus, beautifully prepared by Director Nikki Stoia, rose to the occasion by singing with lovely timbre, vigorous enunciation, and an admirable clarity of articulation of line. Despite occasional intonation problems during iterations of motives traded between the two soprano sections, and some dynamic imbalances between the small tenor section in divisi and the aggregate size of the other sections, the overall contribution of the Chorus was delightful and highly praise worthy. All four soloists are to be complimented for artful singing, each one contributing to an evening already ravaged by rampant beauty. Mary Wilson deserves special praise, addressing the technical demands and considerable size of her role with graceful ease and beauty of vocal production. Moreover, she set the audience at ease with the demeanor of an experienced story teller fully at home within the narrative.

March 12, 2010

The Four Bitchin' Babes present "Hormonal Imbalance"

CityStage, Springfield, MA
by R.E. Smith
through March 13, 2010

Continuing what seems to be an unofficial "gender based" show theme at CityStage, "Hormonal Imbalance" provided one of the best evenings of entertainment this season. Despite the title, this show was a perfect "balance" of humor, storytelling and musical craftsmanship. The four immensely likable, relatable "babes" whipped up a sparkling concoction that was equal parts Indigo Girls, "Sex and the City" and "Weird" Al Yankovic. Modern folk, girlish confiding and pointed parody added up to a surprisingly well-rounded performance that tickled your funny bone and touched your heart.

From the opening harmony of "Oh, No," which laments the scattered forgetfulness of middle age, it is clear that these are very talented women - accomplished musicians and songwriters who happen to have impeccable comedic timing. Men should have no fear that this is a male-bashing session. The ladies love their "man-babes" and the focus is frustrations life, not the male gender.

To be sure, the draw for the show is the humor, with song titles such as the "Boob Fairy," "Hot Flashes" and "Elastic Waistbands." Some of these observations on the female condition had the audience literally gasping for breath. While not all the songs are humorous, they are all life affirming.

Each babe is given her moment to shine and display her considerable, multiple, musical chops. Debi Smith is a five-octave soprano who also plays the Bodhran (Irish drum). She skewers her own talents by releasing her "Inner Diva" then takes your breath away with her powerful song about parenthood. Deidre Flint, puts her stand-up comedy background to good use on "Cheerleader" and "Here Comes Metric," using impeccable delivery and timing. Sally Fingerett is an accomplished pianist when she isn't raiding her cupboard for "Chocolate." Her strong folk storytelling roots are the most evident. Nancy Moran, a respected Nashville talent, tells it like it is, explaining there is "(No Such Thing As) Girls Like That." She personified the best girlfriend everyone wishes they had.

Despite some turns toward more traditional musical styles, the quartet sends everyone home laughing. Audience members leave the theatre feeling they know these women and hoping for the opportunity to sit down and "dish" with them again.

Black Grace Dance Company

UMass, Amherst, MA
by Amy Meek
March 9, 2010

"I am proud to be a Pacific Islander, a Samoan. Equally, I am proud to be a New Zealander, a Kiwi...Despite our struggles, it is in this land and under these Gathering Clouds where I will learn, live and love." These words from choreographer Neil Ieremia are used to describe one of the dances in the program by the Black Grace Dance Company, but they can just as easily summarize the content of the entire show. Ieremia's work fuses his native Samoan roots with his acquired Westernized training to create a unique and vibrant dance form. The dances reflected elements of Samoan culture as well as those of nature and family.

The dancers' movements were athletic, yet artistic -- alternating fluid with percussive moments. The troupe manipulated rhythms through the use of the traditional Samoan dance called Fa'ataupati, in which they furiously slapped their hands together and on their bodies in unison to create complex sounds along with vocalizations. This dance was an intense moment -- amazing to watch as the speed and precision with which the dancers moved was lightening fast.

One of the highlights was Ieremia's personal commentary about every piece in the program. It is not often that the choreographer speaks directly to the audience about his experience in creating the dances, but his insights gave those in attendance wonderful vision into his process. He spoke of the challenges of growing up in his Pacific Island culture and his desire to defend that culture from societal criticisms. His words and choreography showed hope amid change and the celebration of a changing culture of people.

March 7, 2010

The Mikado

Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA
March 6, 2010
By Karolina Sadowicz

One of Gilbert and Sullivan's best loved operettas, "The Mikado," is a comic romp set in feudal Japan. It's the tale of Nanki-Poo (John Farchione), a prince disguised as a minstrel, who hopes to marry Yum-Yum (Lauren-Rose King), the beautiful ward and sometime betrothed of the Lord High Executioner of Titipu, the self-involved and cowardly Ko-Ko (Jason Whitfield).

When the Mikado (Andrew Ford), emperor of Japan, demands that Ko-Ko fulfills the duties of his office by actually executing someone within one month, Ko-Ko must find a victim in order to save his own head. Nanki-Poo, who claims he could not bear to live without Yum-Yum, agrees to be beheaded by month's end, as long as he can marry her first. Their scheme is threatened by the arrival of Katisha (Emily Geller), a "cougar" from the Mikado's court who was jilted by Nanki-Poo, and a surprise visit from the Mikado himself.

Mistaken identities, broken hearts, and hidden agendas form this operatic farce, which gleefully makes light of bureaucracy and politicians. Under the direction of Jim Charles, the actors enjoy occasional ad-libs and wink at the audience with jokes about modern politicians, from Governor Peterson, to both Clintons, to Scott Brown, as well as giving nods to the local audience with a few quips about Pittsfield.

The elegant set evokes Japan though screens, red gates, and cherry blossoms, and is dramatically transformed through bold, vivid lighting design. The ensemble is a delight to watch in colorful kimonos, and their vocal performances are superb. Farchione is unassuming and masculine as Nanki-Poo, King is disarmingly alluring as the vain Yum-Yum. Whitfield's Ko-Ko is irresistibly funny and likable despite his cowardice, and quickly becomes the audience favorite. Andrew Lipman is a Falstaffian bureaucrat and earns huge laughs as the corrupt uber-administrator Poo-Bah, insisting on being "insulted" with bribes in order to bend laws and share secrets freely.

Each actor brings excellent vocals and physical comedy to this swiftly moving, delightful production. "The Mikado" is 125 years old, but with modern touches and energy, it thrills and amuses without showing its age.

March 1, 2010

A Man For All Seasons

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through April 3, 2010
by Eric Johnson

Conscience. Is it great courage or extreme folly to follow one's conscience if it means losing everything? This is the question Robert Bolt poses in this play, and it is one we are left to answer for ourselves. Faced with the same choices, what would we do?

A Man for All Seasons relates the story of Sir Thomas More and his devotion to his own conscience. The issue is separation from the Catholic Church and subsequent founding of the Church of England by King Henry VIII in order to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn.

The multi-level and multitasking set design by Greg Trochlil is impressive -- no surprise there. Colorful period costuming by Elaine Bergeron and the muted lighting design by Daniel Rist complement each other nicely and create a raw mood that is a perfect setting for this historic tale.

Add to this backdrop, an extremely talented, competent, and confident cast and what follows is, quite simply, good theatre. The performances are all convincing and the "larger than life" characters are portrayed realistically without being overdone. The entire cast works well as an ensemble, the characters believable and genuine. Kudos must be given to director Danny Eaton for taking on this challenging project and bringing it to fruition -a job well done.

A Man for all Seasons is a thought-provoking, dark production and, in all good conscience, one definitely worth seeing.