Posts Tagged ‘cabaret’

The Royal Frog Ballet recently staged an outdoor event to welcome fall, but according to the lead players, it wasn’t so much a performance for strangers as a gift to new friends. The effect was surreal and entertaining.

Amelia Mason reports at WBUR, “A masked woman in an apron and kerchief jumps up on a picnic table and addresses a crowd.

“ ‘I’m your grandmother, and I’m here to help you throughout this show …  The first thing to know is that when I ring this bell it means we’re all going to move to the next thing and you’re going to have to follow my directions, OK?’

“It is the opening night of the Royal Frog Ballet’s ninth-annual ‘Surrealist Cabaret.’ Our guide — Shea Witzo, in the role of the Granny — gives us some more instructions: Watch out for holes. Stick close together. But first — wait. We pause for a moment, unsure of where to look.

“Then, 6-year-old Aiden Bairstow catches sight of something.

“ ‘Oh, I know what’s happening,’ he says. ‘I see it right behind you.’ We turn to see a band — fiddle, accordion and drums — approaching from across the field.

“The farm, it turns out, has many secrets in store. No matter where we look, something strange and surprising is bound to appear: a tall, swaying monster on stilts, for instance, or the pair of scientists who inform us that we are part of their experiment. At one point, our guide delights us with a salty parody of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark.’ The pieces are linked loosely around a theme. …

“ ‘A lot of us are trying to make work that is like a gift, rather than a performance for [the audience],’ says Sophie Wood, one of the founders of the ‘Surrealist Cabaret.’ The project started in 2007, when Wood and a group of artist friends decided to perform some of their works-in-progress at a farm in Amherst. They mounted the production in a big barn and served the audience dinner. …

“The collective goes by the name the Royal Frog Ballet, and it has mounted weird and whimsical performances every year since its founding. … This fall, the theme is ‘hope and joy.’ …

“ ‘It feels like an old tradition,’ says Leah Sakala. … ‘It feels like we’re partaking in something, the kind of art that’s been made for a very long time, but at the same time it manages to be very relevant.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Sarah Ledbetter for WBUR
A performance of the “Surrealist Cabaret” in Essex, Mass., in October.

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I was delighted when Will McMillan asked me to review his Blame Those Gershwins CD, with music composed by Steve Sweeting, who also is on piano.

I think the first time I became aware of singer McMillan was in a production of the musical Tortoise, in which he played a sweet, low-key guy unimpressed by the hectic modern world. But I may have seen him in television ads when he was a little boy. He’s been performing that long.

I’ve listened to this CD several times now, and I’m really loving it. The title song playfully borrows themes from the greats — the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, and more. It tells the story of a fan who finds more comfort in the American Songbook than in the unreliable world of romance (but who is also able to poke fun at himself).

I ought to think twice;/Should I really be relying on Kurt Weill for advice?/Life doesn’t rhyme like lyrical knowledge/You get from Rodger and Hartenstein College.

The lyrics for that song are written by Sweeting, who wrote the words for several of the other songs. The joyful “Bounce to the Wave,” with words by Betina Hershey, had me thinking of swing dancing but may suggest other bouncy activities to you, including children jumping on a new mattress. One tune was created for a lovely ee cummings poem that I wish we had known about when Suzanne and Erik got married. The cummings poem we chose was more obscure. In fact, I told the congregation, “We don’t know what it means, but we like the way it sounds.” (“Not even the rain has such small hands.)

McMillan wrote the lyrics to several songs, including “Stuff,”  in which he ponders his good fortune in experiencing the beauty and peace of nature and compares those wonders to other “stuff” we collect in our getting and spending world. He asks, “What have I done in some other life, to be blessed with this stuff,” reminding me of an uncharacteristically plaintive Elaine Stritch singing “somewhere in my youth and childhood/I must have done something good.”

Sweeting’s gentle, wistful persona in “Wait” is self-critical for hoping that something wonderful will happen without action on his part — and for being so resigned. “I sit and watch a year or ten just slip away/I let life come to me,/If it doesn’t,/Say it wasn’t meant to be.”

I really loved each song for its different strengths: the carefree “Let’s Go to the River,” the hopeful “What Am I Doing Alone,” the wise and accepting “Let It All Go,” in which Sweeting suggests that if a poem fails to flow and a friend fails to know when you need a friend, “Maybe the answer/is to love a poem and to write a friend.”

This is music for the thinking music lover. It is thoughtful without being cerebral. It doesn’t talk down to the listener. The questioning, patient vibe suggests a tentativeness that is a kind of strength, a self-knowledge that is OK with not having all the answers and an openness to receiving the joy that is offered. Amazon has the CD. And iTunes. It’s going to be my companion in the car at least until I have all the lyrics memorized.

Oh, and kudos to Doug Hammer, McMillan’s longtime piano collaborator, for the recording and mixing on this one.

McMillan and Sweeting’s launch party is October 2 in Somerville, Mass. Call 617 628 0916. Or check Brown Paper Tickets online.

Will McMillan and Steve Sweeting, the guys behind the jazzy, bluesy CD Blame Those Gershwins

Will McMillan & Steve SweetingA

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Did you enjoy Will’s post on flying, the entry that I just reblogged? You might like to follow him, too.  He often embeds music in his entries.

I think I first became aware of Will’s “musical life on planet earth” when he took the role of the Tortoise in Jeff Flaster’s charming little musical Tortoise, about taking your time to enjoy life. Since then my husband and I have been to many of Will’s cabaret performances in the greater Boston area (often with the inimitable Doug Hammer on the piano).

In fact, you could catch them this coming weekend. He writes, “Doug and I have been happily rehearsing for our upcoming performances on Friday and Saturday, October 17 or 18, at Third Life Studio in Union Square, Somerville — supported in part by a recent grant from the Bob Jolly Charitable Trust.

” ‘Songs About Parents & Children’ will feature two sets of songs — divided by an intermission with lots of refreshments from Trader Joe’s — and will include music by Joni Mitchell, Stephen Sondheim, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Jerry Herman, Jimmy McHugh & Dorothy Fields, Stevie Wonder, Jones & Schmidt, Cole Porter, Maltby & Shire, Weill & Brecht, as well as a couple of originals. …

“There is free parking in a nearby bank’s lot. Third Life Studio is also accessible via the 85, 86, 87, 91 and CT2 bus lines (click here for more details).

“You can click here to buy tickets for Friday, 10/17/14. Or you can click here to buy tickets for Saturday, 10/18/14.”

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My husband and I are big fans of Broadway music and also of Boston area singer Will McMillan, who gave a free concert in the Brighton library today.

The show was centered around the composer Harold Arlen, beloved for songs such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “Blues in the Night,” “Let’s Fall in Love,” and “That Old Black Magic.” Interspersed with his songs, Will gave a delightful rundown on Arlen’s life, work, and main collaborators (Ted Koehler, Johnny Mercer, and Yip Harburg).

For my money, no one puts over a song with the emotional truth of Will McMillan. He becomes the story. In fact, he almost skipped a beat on the little-known intro to “Rainbow,” when the words seemed to carry special meaning for him. And I really liked how he tied the words of “If I Only Had a Heart” to an important goal in his life: “to be a friend to the sparrows and the boy with the arrows.” Or, to see all sides.

Joe Reid, a fine jazz improviser, accompanied Will on the piano and got “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe” in his honor.

Read more at Will’s blog, here, where you can listen to his MP3s, too. Catch him and frequent collaborator Bobbi Carrey at Scullers November 14.

Cabaret singer Will McMillan with a fan after his show in Brighton today.


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Here’s a tip for anyone planning to be in London in late fall. A cabaret festival, said to be the first ever, will take place in locales around the city.

Matthew Hemley writes at The Stage, “Comedian Alexander Armstrong and US singer Michael Feinstein are among the performers lined up to appear as part of the first London Festival of Cabaret.

“The festival will run from October 22 until November 15 with events taking place in a variety of venues across London.”Other acts taking part include Elaine Paige, Maria Friedman and Barb Jungr.

“Armstrong will appear in Alexander Armstrong and his Band Celebrate the Great British Songbook from October 28 to 31 at the St James Theatre, where Friedman will give a master class in performing cabaret on October 25.

“Friedman said: ‘Cabaret is a unique way for an artist to hone their communication skills, allowing the audience an up-close, concentrated, in-the-moment experience.’ ”


My husband and I enjoy cabaret music. We like to catch Will McMillan when he performs, whether it’s in Jeff Flaster’s original musical Tortoise or on the terrace in front of Cambridge Adult Ed.

Are you going to London, Will? These London guys need to see the show you put on with Bobbi and Doug, don’t you think?

Photo: Willsings.com

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I was driving home from Rhode Island Sunday, when I paused the radio at WGBH. A terrific audio essay was on, hosted by Nina Simone’s daughter.

Nina Simone was among the most important voices of the sixties for me, right up there with MLK Jr., JFK, and Joan Baez. Her blend of jazz, blues, and folk was underpinned by powerful emotion. I think I had all her albums back then. A classically trained pianist, Simone had a distinctive voice that was full of caring and pain, even though her personality was often described as abrasive. (And as far as that goes, she had her reasons.)

The best thing about the WGBH broadcast was the selection of the songs. Brought back memories. I was also interested to learn about her connections to Langston Hughes, Odetta, and Lorraine Hansberry.

Hear some of her music at NPR.

Photograph of Nina Simone and her daughter, indiewire.com

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I met Mary Driscoll in playwriting class last summer.

Mary has had a lifetime focus on social justice for marginalized people. She has traveled to foreign countries to work with refugees. For people with HIV, she has taught pilates and the healing art of telling one’s stories. She has performed with mission-oriented theater troupes. And she is the founder of  OWLL, On with Living and Learning, which helps ex-offenders build new lives after prison.

At Mary’s invitation, my husband and I found our way last night to what is a virtual artist colony in the long-abandoned but reemerging warehouse district of South Boston. In Mary’s loft apartment, one of the artists she has drawn into her orbit presented a wonderful cabaret show to raise money for OWLL’s production of Generational Legacy about mothers and children after prison.

Michael Ricca interpreted songs by Michel Legrand with great humor and feeling (including the theme song of our wedding, “What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life?”). Ricca is performing the songs and others by Legrand at Scullers in March.

My husband and I enjoyed talking to Mary’s guests  — artists, actors, musicians, social activists, old  friends. We’re especially keen to keep an eye on the doings of the Fort Point Theatre Channel in the Midway Studios building, where Mary  lives and works. The collaborative productions in the Black Box Theatre sound intriguing and offbeat. We like offbeat.

Phot0 Credit: OWLL

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