Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 28, 2013

Interview with Ted Vigil, star of Rocky Mountain High

CityStage, Springfield, MA
May 16 & 17, 2013
by Eric Sutter

Ted Vigil is a singer, songwriter, and John Denver tribute artist. In 2006, Vigil competed against contestants from 28 states, taking first place as the best Denver-like singer in talent and even in looks. He now performs his John Denver tribute nationwide. In the Spotlight (ITS) spoke to him about his life's endeavors. . . 

ITS: First, how did you get started in music?

Ted: Well, when I was a young kid about 10, we would do country jamborees with family in the Olympia, WA area. I took drum lessons and played in a diversity of styles such as concert band, jazz and rock bands in high school.

ITS: As a John Denver tribute artist it's obvious his music influenced you. Are there other artists?

Ted: I'm a big Beatles fan. Paul McCartney & Wings, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and The Eagles were influences. I have a wide range of influences.

ITS: I see that John Denver's guitarist Steve Weisberg is joining you at CityStage. Could you tell me about that?

Ted: We both worked with tribute artists and met about five years ago. Mutual friends on Facebook connected us, and he gave a call to work with me. It's been amazing.

ITS: It's amazing how much you look and sound like John Denver. Which came first, the look or sound?

Ted: When I met my mother-in-law, she commented that I looked like John Denver. Of course, I thought I was Bon Jovi back then. Later on, I tried John Denver music and adopted his look on a daily basis.

ITS: Will you add your own songs to the set list for CityStage?

Ted: Yes, a tribute to John called 'Sing My Songs' and an environmental song 'Blessings in the Skies' that was co-written with the country band Montgomery Gentry.

ITS: Do you have any personal favorites to sing?

Ted: I love the highs of 'The Eagle and the Hawk' and 'Calypso' is always fun. I also like my 'Blessings in the Skies.'

April 22, 2013

Roman Holiday

Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
through April 21, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

What’s a “Roman Holiday” concert without a Respighi tone poem? Though only one of these poems had a direct connection with Italy, solid performances of three repertory standards made the seventh program in the HSO’s current “Masterworks” series a coherent and satisfying evening.

Any concert that opens with a Rossini overture is off to a popular start. Set in ancient Babylon, “Semiramide” was one of the Italian master’s most serious operas, but its overture was just as light and effervescent as any of his many other familiar overtures. Bulgarian-born guest conductor Rossen Milanov led a taut, lively account that featured especially notable playing from HSO brass and woodwinds.

Clancy Newman
Albany native Clancy Newman then joined the orchestra as soloist in a deeply felt performance of Elgar’s 1919 Cello Concerto. The English composer’s last major work, it expressed both his nostalgia for the Edwardian era that had been swept away by World War I and his grief over the loss of many friends in that conflict and over his and his wife’s failing health. The elegiac tone of the piece was reflected in its unusual structure: three slow movements leading into a closing Allegro. Milanov and the orchestra gave powerful backing to Newman’s rich and focused cello tone.        

The concert closed with a jubilant rendition of the program’s most obvious namesake, Mendelssohn’s joyous Symphony No. 4, which he called his “Italian” symphony because it was inspired by a tour of Italy that he took in 1831 at the age of 22. Conductor and players again found the emotional core of each movement, from the exuberant opening “Allegro vivace,” the solemn processional “Andante con moto,” the delicate “Con moto moderato,” to the thrilling “Saltarello: Presto” finale.   

Enthusiastic applause for all three pieces suggested not only that no one missed Respighi on this program, but that the prospect of inspired music making has more drawing power for classical audiences than catchy concert titles.

Interview with Maria Logan of “Tap-The Show”

Tap – The Show
Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
May 11th at 8pm
by Shera Cohen

Imagine being the only female vocalist in a troupe of some of the best tap dancers currently touring the country. Now imagine singing some of the most well-known tap numbers of the past century – “42nd Street,” “I’ve Got Rhythm,” and “Singing in the Rain.” Then imagine performing on Springfield’s beautiful Symphony Hall. Finally, imagine singing John Lennon’s signature piece “Imagine,” which is also the focus of the rousing dance-music performance “Tap – The Show.”

Maria Logan doesn’t have to imagine any of the above. This is exactly where the 26-year-old is in her life right now. With a background in music and dance which started at age 5, Logan especially credits one of her first dance teachers as well as her studies in music at Belmont University in Nashville.

Logan admits that Lennon’s work isn’t typically considered music for tap. However, she calls it the “thesis of the show. It’s music and rhythm all coming together as one language that we can all speak.” That’s something wonderful to imagine.

Starting as a 30-minute gig in Hershey, PA three years ago, “Tap” has grown into a two hour production, and in less than one year, has already toured 45 cities.

While Logan is the singing star of the show, along with her male counterpart, she can also tap – doing just a few steps while onstage. “I am a little jealous when everyone else is dancing, but singing comes first for me. We all have a part to play and I love my part in the show,” she said.

She also has double duty as the Show Captain; the person in charge of putting out fires once on the road. She spoke of one challenge, where the performance site’s stage was too small to accommodate “Tap’s” portable dance floor. The entire production had to be re-blocked.

Then, there are the joys of touring. Every performance is followed by a Meet & Greet. “So many from the audience, of all ages, talk to us and ask questions. It’s especially nice to see anyone trying to do a ‘shuffle ball change’ [a tap move],” Logan said.

According to Logan, the tap of the MGM era has not stayed the same through the years. “Tap” has a lengthy tribute to the old movies with “42nd Street” as the highlight. “This show is such an inspiration. The dancers are so versatile. They’ve opened up my eyes to new tap, called ‘street tap’ – it’s dance that has evolved to become something fresh,” she continued.

April 18, 2013

Sister Act

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through April 21, 2013
by Walter A. Haggerty

Take one eager, would-be night club singer who can really belt, give her the opportunity to be in the right spot at the wrong time to witness a gangland style murder, hide her in a convent for protection, then add a dozen singing-swinging nuns, and you have the perfect recipe for a riotous, jubilant musical that restores the key ingredient of “comedy” to the world of musical comedy, and that’s “Sister Act.”

A visit to Hartford’s Bushnell this week offers an audience a thoroughly enjoyable evening. The authors have found all they needed for focus in the framework of a highly successful Whoopi Goldberg movie. By adding an original score by multi-Academy, Grammy, and Golden Globe composer Alan Menken, with lyrics by Glen Slater, a ton of sequins and glitter, and a cast that knows how to deliver show-stoppers, “Sister Act” is ready for the big time.

Heading the large and exuberant cast is Ta’Rea Campbell as Deloris Van Cartier, in an audience-pleasing rock ‘em, sock ‘em performance that is terrific. Hollis Resnik’s Mother Superior manages to bring some warmth and subtlety to a characterization that relies more on her delivery than to the material provided.

Kingsley Leggs, as Curtis Jackson, contributes a healthy measure of laughter aided by Todd Horman, Ernie Pruneda and Charles Barksdale, as a trio of inept hoods. As Eddie Souther, E. Clayton Cornelius turns a bumbling, stumbling police officer into an instant hero.

Lael Van Keuren, as postulant Mary Robert, has an endearing opportunity to shine in  "The Life I Never Lived.” Each member of the chorus  of nuns brings distinctive nuances to, what are intentionally, very broad and amusing character studies.

A suggestion to the “Sister Act” sound technicians or the Bushnell’s own sound personnel – reduce the volume. Every number does not need to be transmitted at the highest level to the point that all singers sound like overpowering stereos instead of real people.

Back to “Sister Act.” It’s strictly for laughs at a time in our lives when sharing a good laugh is something everyone can use.

April 15, 2013

Lies & Legends-Musical Stories of Harry Chapin

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through May 26, 2013
by Eric Sutter

This is not "Any Old Kind of Day" or any old kind of play. First, it was announced that Harry Chapin's widow was in the audience, as she stood and was recoqnized. Second, four singers -- two younger and two older -- weave a magical story around the songs of Harry Chapin. With ups, downs and in-betweens, the story captures the audience. Charmers "Corey's Coming" and "Salt and Pepper" find the cast dancing in a clap and shout footloose jig. Each player has a chance to shine. Human feelings unfold with favorites "Mr. Tanner" and "The Rock." Big hit "Taxi" is sung by John Herrera who catches the character's emotional rejection just right.

Excellent musicianship by the crack band of musical director Mitch Chakour on keyboards, Greg Alexander on guitar, Noah Schmitt on cello, Don Rovero on bass and Tim Hosmer on drums keep the show heartfelt and rolling. The ramblin' story song "Thirty Thousand Pounds of Bananas," about a trucker's dead end dilemma (a hellslide to a pile of mashed bananas), delivers a humorous jolt of laughter. A special dance sequence plays up the shadow of the moody "Sniper" with its dramatic tension to end Act I.

While it might be initially difficult to imagine enough Chapin's songs able to complete a story woven together in a theatrical presentation, Act 2 proves to the contrary. Chapin's music has strong character development unto itself, and combined with the skillful and soulful musical direction of Chakour, the performance becomes a winner. Chakour's piano lead into the cast's harmony singing of the hymn "Nearer, My God, To Thee" seques into the rock n' roll humor of "Danceband on the Titantic" with a spirited pairing of dancing couples. "Mail Order Annie" showcases Tyler Morrill's song and dance routine with beautiful Darcie Champagne.

"WOLD" features Herrera in a stellar version of another Chapin classic that perfectly evokes the character's frustration and loneliness. The lighting is effective throughout the entire production, especially during "Cat's in the Cradle" and the whole cast sing-a-long of  "Odd Job Man." Sonja Stuart shines frequently with a range of emotion from gutsy to sentimental in "A Better Place To Be." The finale is something to behold as it all comes to "Circle."

Gershwin & Rachmaninoff

Springfield Symphony, Springfield, MA
April 13, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

Two familiar headliners, but only one familiar work, appeared at the sixth classical concert of the current SSO season. In her welcoming remarks from the stage, SSO President Kris Houghton noted that at least two of the three works on the program were “new music” to many orchestra members. That may explain why they all sounded especially fresh and bracing.

The evening got off to an exuberant start with Gershwin’s familiar “An American in Paris,” which the composer called “a rhapsodic ballet…to portray the impressions of an American visitor as he strolls around the city.” Energetic leadership from Music Director Kevin Rhodes drew vivid and committed playing from all sections of the orchestra, which featured jazzy clarinets and saxophones and an enlarged percussion section, including car horns. 

The program continued with an unfamiliar piece by an equally unfamiliar composer, the Symphony No. 4, written in 1950, by Walter Piston. In a spoken introduction to the work, Rhodes called it an “incredibly beautiful” example of the composer’s strong influence on later generations of musicians whom he taught at Harvard. The orchestra seemed to relish the variety of rhythms and moods in the symphony’s four short movements, and the audience’s enthusiastic response suggested that Piston’s music should be played more often.

Intermission was followed by an unfamiliar composition by a familiar composer, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 4, perhaps the least known of his four concertos but also the most harmonically advanced.  Written in 1926, its lack of a clear tonal center made it sound newer than Gershwin’s piece, which was written two years later. And heard after the two American works, the Rachmaninoff even seemed to reflect some of the jazz influence that was infiltrating classical music in the 1920's.

Guest soloist, Russian pianist Alexander Ghindin, who played Rachmaninoff’s only slightly better known first piano concerto with the SSO several years ago, made a passionate case for the fourth concerto, tempering virtuosity with lyricism in a performance so impressive that he played two encores by the young Rachmaninoff: a rarely heard but lovely Elegie; and the famous Prelude in c sharp minor.

April 14, 2013


Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through April 28, 2013
by Jarice Hanson

Beth Henley writes great scripts for strong women. That reason alone, was impetus to see  "Abundance" at Hartford Stage. The premise is promising. Two mail-order brides travel to Wyoming in the 1860's and strike up a friendship that ultimately withstands husbands, famine, homesteading, the coming of the railroad, Indians, anniversaries, successes and failures. Billed as “wickedly funny and deeply touching” the dialog is strong and the actors infuse their characters with energy, but the play lumbers along. The laugh lines are clever, but the play is anything but a comedy.

The female leads, Bess (Monique Vukovic) and Macon (Brenda Withers), are talented actors who work well together, but though their their characters' 25-year friendship is challenged by extraordinary events, it’s hard to see the emotional turmoil between them as their lives unfold. The actors playing their husbands -- the sadistic Jack (James Knight) and the good, but dim William (Kevin Kelly) -- are also fine actors, but the roles are stereotypical and it’s unclear what makes each man change over the years.

Tracy Christensen’s costumes are perfect, and Philip S. Rosenberg’s lighting design are standout contributions to creating mood. The large playing space and the spare set reinforce the wide open spaces of the west, but director Jenn Thompson uses the revolving stage far more than necessary and she often blocks her actors to speak upstage, for no real reason. Wilson Chin’s scenic design is highly representative, but the actors are directed to break walls and violate the audience’s sense of space. It is questionable whether Henley’s script calls for the Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts,” or whether the sound designer or the director chose this music to signal time passage, but the tune seems inappropriate and overused.

The production has potential to grow throughout the run, but unfortunately at this point, "Abundance" leaves this reviewer unfulfilled.

April 9, 2013

Shanta Paloma's CD Release Party

The Elevens, Northampton, MA

April 11, 2013

by Eric Sutter

A milestone personal and professional achievement by local singer-songwriter Shanta Paloma will occur Thursday, April 11th at 8pm at the Elevens when her debut CD release party happens. The CD consists of songs from the past decade that symbolize love and truth, all presented in her unique Indie rock style with full band. In the Spotlight (ITS) spoke to her recently.

ITS: How did you get your start in music?

Shanta: I have always been interested. When I was 15, I secretly took my Dad's guitar and played his Beatles anthology song book. "Eleanor Rigby" was the first song I learned. That is when I started writing. At Wesleyan University, I learned World Music. I took guitar lessons from Pioneer Valley native Sue Burkhart. Moving to NYC, I gigged in singer-songwriter sessions including CBGB's. Eventually, I moved back to the Valley and became a music teacher and gigged.

ITS: Who inspired you musically growing up?

Shanta: My father, who played sitar in an Indian restaurant, and my mother,who played violin. As for musical artists, the 80's hair metal, 90's alternative rock, jazz and flamenco/bossa nova artists.

ITS: The song from your CD "Under Your Kiss" is a video on YouTube. Where was it filmed?

Shanta: In Monson behind my bass player Jesse Mushenko's house. He filmed it while I sang it with my guitar in a tree. He swung around like a monkey to get it all.

ITS: Is there a song that connects you to fellow artist Matto, who paints as you sing at occasional solo gigs?

Shanta: There is one love song called "Rhapsodic Inspiration" that I wrote in college. That one fits us perfectly.

ITS: What are your future aspirations?

Shanta: Basically to continue writing and performing with the band. We are planning "The Badass to Baroque Tour to Las Vegas" for spring, 2014. I also want a studio to write, record and sell songs from. As a musician, I want to become a better classical player.

ITS: Good luck on your endeavors and CD release party.

Shanta: It is very exciting. Thanks, and I hope to see you there.

April 7, 2013

The Mountaintop

TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
through May 5, 2013
by Jarice Hanson

An exact replica of room 306 at the Lorraine Motel provides the set for Katori Hall’s imaginative play, "The Mountaintop." The scene recreates the night before Martin Luther King’s assassination on the balcony of the Memphis motel in April, 1968. After delivering his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, King returns to his room to meet Camae, a maid who delivers his coffee and tells him that “God wants me to get you ready to go home.”

Hall’s script is uneven, blending images of historical accuracy and collective memory with fantasy, popular culture and time warps, but director Rob Ruggiero makes the script work by building tension between the two actors, and between the actors and the audience. Occasionally a line is prescient with meaning those watching the play see King struggle with the burden of leadership while experiencing the carnal desire of a man who spends too much time on the road.

Actors Courtney Thomas as Camae, and Jamil A.C. Mangan in the difficult role of MLK, give intelligent performances resonating with sexual tension and humor. Room 306 is the place where they share cigarettes, reflect on the meaning of Civil Rights, and the brief time we share on earth. When Mangan powerfully builds to the pinnacle of the performance, the audience is left to ponder the significance of destiny.

Evan Adamson’s detailed set is flawless, and provides a link to time and place integral to the story. John Lasiter’s lighting and Michael Miceli’s sound design punctuate the action with foreshadowing that heightens the tension. While it is difficult to describe everything that happens without giving away the twists and turns that make the story so compelling, "The Mountaintop" delivers strong performances, and a meaningful experience that packs a punch.