Monday, November 26, 2012

Playlist: "Classics" Sunday 25th November 2012

Jimmy Lunceford and His Orchestra-"Lunceford Special" Columbia LP CL 6344-"Lonesome Road", "Uptown Blues," "Well, All Right Then," "What's Your Story Morning Glory?" w/Willie Smith, as-Joe Thomas,ts-Sy Oliver, tp.-Trummy Young, tb., voc

Harry James and His Sextet-"1940s The Small Groups: New Directions" Columbia LP CJ 44222-"Tuxedo Junction" w/ James, tp-Smith, as-Edward Ross,cl-Bruce McDonald,p


Harry James and His Orchestra-"Harry's Choice" Capitol LP T 1093-"Willow Weep For Me" James,tp-Smith, as-Jack Perciful, p

Harry James and His Orchestra-"The New James" Capitol LP T 1037-"Just Lucky" w/James, Smith-Jackie Mills, dms 

The Dave Brubeck Quartet-"Dave Brubeck-Time Signatures: A Career Retrospective" Columbia Legacy C4K 52945-"Perdido" w/ Brubeck,p-Paul Desmond,as

"The Dave Brubeck Quartet-The Last Time Out" Columbia Legacy 88697-81562-2-"La Paloma Azul" w/ Brubeck, Desmond-Eugene Wright,b-Joe Morello, dms


"Paul Desmond with the Modern Jazz Quartet-The Only Recorded Performance" Finesse LP FW 37487-"Jesus Christ Superstar," "Bags' New Groove" w/ Desmond, as-John Lewis, p-Milt Jackson, vibes

"Paul Desmond-Pure Desmond" CTI LP 6059 S 1-"Nuages," "Squeeze Me" w/Ed Bickert, g-Ron Carter, b


Payton-Anderson-Martin-Thomas-Blade-New Orleans Collective" Evidence ECD 22105-2-"New Orleans Revival" (by Anderson) w/Wessell Anderson, as, sopranino sx-Nicholas Payton, tp-Peter Martin

"Wynton Marsalis Septet-Live at the Village Vanguard" Columbia C7K 69876-"Play the Blues and Go" (by Duke Ellington) w/Wynton, tp-Anderson, as-Victor Goines, ts, cl-Wycliffe Gordon, tb-Eric Reed, p

"Wessell Warmdaddy Anderson-Live At The Village Vanguard" Leaning House BB 008-"Star-Crossed Lovers" (by Billy Strayhorn) "African Cowboy" w/ Anderson, as-Irvin Mayfield, tp-Xavier Davis, p-Steve Kirby

Playlist: "The Best of Broadway" Sunday 25th November, 2012

This was abbreviated due to a preceding basketball game broadcast.

Jule Styne: music & Leo Robin: lyrics-"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (2012 New York City Center Encores cast) Masterworks Broadway 88725-44451-2-excerpts w/Philip Attmore, Jared Grines, Megan Sikora, Charles Thorell, Megan Hilty, Rachel York, Aaron Lazar, Deborah Rush-Rob Berman, music director

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Theatre review: "South Side Stories" at City Theatre for Sunday 2nd December 2012

I’ve lived in Pittsburgh since 2001 and have been covering theatre every year since then. Which means I’ve often gone to the South Side, especially to City Theatre. But, coming out of the theatre after witnessing Tami Dixon’s South Side Stories, I felt as if I was seeing the neighborhood for the first time, no longer a generic preponderance of narrow streets and tightly-packed row houses. I suppose you could say “Duh,” as if I had never thought about the people before. You’d be right. But what grabbed me from what Dixon put on the stage was how the same streets, the same houses immediately felt different even without people. She makes the place alive.

Dixon channels the inhabitants in a narrative in which they speak for themselves. She also has the insight and perception to choose the best and most special of what they had told her, shedding light not only on their stories but on how they speak, making it clear that every day citizens can be eloquent without intending to be.

In an hour and a half she conjures up a variety of residents, using their words in a series of portraits, most of which stand alone. I have no idea how many people she represents. Counting them serves no purpose; there’s no need to justify praising virtuosity. Dixon has come up with a cumulative effect which transcends any individual component, herself included. This isn’t about her. It’s about her community and the people whom she clearly holds dear.

There’s much in there about family, family memories of the past. And you learn about how neighbors become a kind of family. Lots of the residents have endured time and change. This is mostly about them and not the newer arrivals. Whoever they are, they become real. Dixon’s performing artistry makes it so.

David Pohl has created an impressive, imaginative array of projections on the wall behind her, sometimes, wonderfully, as if his images and Dixon’s movements have been choreographed to reflect each other. Matt M. Morrow directed; certainly his input has made everything come together superbly.

I don’t intend to tell you about most of the components of this marvel nor of specifically how well Dixon portrays so many different characters, sometimes in multi-person narratives, some amusing, some sweet, some touching. Yet she never pushes.

Dixon makes one especially memorable choice, weaving into and out of a story of woman who, unintentionally, comes across a dead body near where she lives, calling the body “empty,” knowing that the soul has moved on. Later that living woman finds new wonder in the South Side.


Beautiful. 

South Side Stories continues through December 16th at City Theatre. 1300 Bingham Street, South Side (of course) 412/ 431- CITY (2489) or citytheatrecompany.org

Monday, November 19, 2012

Playlist: "Classics" Sunday 18th November 2012

Thomas Newman-"Skyfall" (movie score) Sony 88765410402-excerpts w/Newman conducting

John Williams-"Lincoln" (movie score) Sony 88725446852-excerpts w/ Chicago Symphony Orchestra- Charles Bisharat, fiddle-George Doering, mandolin-Williams, conducting

John Williams-"Memoirs of a Geisha" (movie score) Sony Classical 82876747082-excerpts w/ Yo-Yo Ma, cello-Itzhak Perlman, violin-Williams conducting

Christopher Gordon-"Mao's Last Dancer" (movie score) Sony Australia-excerpts w/Clemens Leslie, piano-Michael Dauth, violin-Chai Chang Ning, flutes-Tuang Zhang, erhu-Julian Smiles, cello-Jane Rosenson, harp-Gordon conducting

Abel Korzeniowski & Shigeru Umabayashi-"A Single Man" (movie score) Relativity Music Group RMG 1006-1-excerpts w/ Roger Wilkie, violin-Arigat Orchestra-Korzeniowski conducting

Osvaldo Golijov-"Youth Without Youth" (movie score) DGG B0010309-02-excerpts w/Kalman Balogh, cimbalom-Michael Ward-Bergeman, accordion-Bucharest Metropolitan Orchestra-Radu Popa, conductor

Jerome Moross"The Big Country" (movie score) Silva Screen FILMCD 030-excerpts w/The Philharmonia Orchestra-Tony Bremner, conductor

Playlist: "The Best of Broadway" Sunday 18th November 2012

Maury Yeston: music & lyrics-"Phantom" (1992 cast) RCA Victor 09026-61660-2-excerpts w/ Glory Crampton, Paul Schoeffler,Jack Dabdoub, Richard White-Jonathan Tunick, music director

Robert Wright, George Forrest, Maury Yeston: music & lyrics-"Grand Hotel" (original Broadway cast) RCA 09026-61327-2-excerpts w/Michael Jeter, Brent Barrett, David Jackson, Danny Strayhorn, Karen Akers-Jack Lee, music director

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Theatre review: "Good People" at Pittsburgh Public Theater-Sunday, 18th November 2012

Pittsburgh Public Theater offers another lightweight play, Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire. A shallow set-up dominates the first act and you have to wait until the second act for substance. There, genuine character development, significant by-play and, in this production, two solid performances give you something worth your attention. One of Pittsburgh’s best directors, Tracy Brigden, doesn’t seem to have found ways to make it work better.

Lindsay-Abaire has gained a major reputation for imagination about and perception of emotional ups and downs among families, most notably in his Pulitzer Prize winner The Rabbit Hole superbly performed at the Public in 2008. This 2011 play also touches on domestic malfunction. But principally it most looks like a fulfilling a desire to write about his old neighborhood and the people in it, in this case South Boston, aka “Southie.” His dialogue contains a lot about local legends, traditions, and practices, delivered in regional accents decorated by other presumed color. Most of it seems ordinary to me, though, not particularly special or amusing given the first act reliance on trivial gab, often watching people sitting, not a dynamic choice.

Later, revelations emerge about the three principal characters, making for dramatic confrontations, lively dialogue and a few nuggets of thought to ponder, although most of this comes across as more personal than universal.

Lower middle-class Margie has trouble keeping menial jobs. When she loses her latest, she learns that a teenage boyfriend, Michael, (“Mike” ) has triumphed over Southie origins and become a successful doctor living in an upscale Boston neighborhood. She tries to get him to help her find work, eventually inserting herself into his home when only his wife, Kate, is there with him. The couple has been discussing their continuing need for counseling. When Margie arrives Michael is seriously uncomfortable. Kate is friendly and wants to know more about her husband’s past, possibly as a tough kid. The subject of racism enters the room. So does the long-ago relationship between Mike and Margie.

Margie mostly seems tough and pushy, with a compulsion to talk too much and say too many unfunny, wrong things. Yet dialogue sometimes describes her as a good person. That contrasting quality remains hard to see, given visiting actor Kelly McAndrew’s performance. No soft interior shows. She and director Brigden never make the woman as sympathetic as she could be. In the good people category, Michael at first seems sincere and reasonable, David Whalen making the most of that. Later, when Michael’s other sides come out, Whalen remains completely convincing, making the role a thorough portrait. His reactions too always add to the impression of a totally alive and aware person. Meanwhile January LaVoy, also from out of town, gives warm and solid dimension to Kate.

There are only three other characters in this two-act, two- set play, possibly conceived in ways to not stretch producers’ budgets. It needs more of something but could also stand trimming, especially when people talk too long about minor issues. And these three neighborhood types seem penciled in to fill space around the more colorful center of the story. But this is what the cast and director have been given and they do what they can and do it well. Lindsay-Abaire has done better before.

Good People continues through December 9th at Pittsburgh Public Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, downtown. 412/ 316-1600 or ppt.org

Friday, November 16, 2012

Theatre review: "Warhorse" at Benedum Center in the Broadway Series

The PNC Broadway Series presents something different from most of its visiting offerings, a drama, not a musical, a remarkable and unusual stage work in which puppets have major roles. It is Warhorse which originated in England and is derived from Michael Morpurgo’s children’s novel of the same name, recently adapted into a Steven Spielberg film. The stage version surpasses that.

Adapter Nick Stafford, directors Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris have made this an enduring work of art, involving Handspring Puppet Company evoking life-size replicas of horses, striding amid something extraordinary, something bound to stir hearts and minds of people of any age. The creators have devised a modern link to the thousand year old Japanese theatre tradition of Bunraku, wherein you see the puppeteers’ magic. This reaches across the ages, as well it should; the horror of war remains the inheritance of more than those one thousand years.

And, if you look at how the word WARHORSE is laid out, note that the first part is the color of blood. So, although the main focus is on the bonds between animals and humans, this also confronts how humans break bonds across boundaries and kill each other. The play powerfully reminds us of what it means for 
innocent young men and innocent creatures to die in battle.

The production honors its audiences by immediately jumping into the subject without exposition, at the same time reaching into ritual and fable, colored by songs that sound as if they belong to everyday people. Overhead, expressive projections frame the scenes, but in fragments, even as the story-telling gives us  all we need to know without having to fill in every detail. Suggestions of scenery and of other creatures seem like living bold strokes of Japanese brush painting. And, to start, a beautiful suggestion of a sweet, fragile colt stands unsteadily in the center of a noisy crowd.

And from there the story moves on. Young Albert Narracott, who lives on a farm in Devon, England, falls in love with that colt which he names Joey. When the First World War begins, Albert’s father sells Joey to the British cavalry. The story then follows Joey and Albert on and off battlefields. Joey is saved from danger several times, especially by a German officer, Captain Friedrich Muller.

Directors Elliott and Morris’ visual concepts, interpreted by tour director Bihan Shelbani, stay amazingly effective with what seem like simple means. They keep the focus where it should be, on humans and animals rather than on effects. At the same time, the magnificent, massive cast is called on to not only portray many different characters but also to manipulate horses, other creatures and scenery. Within this impressive ensemble, Andrew Veenstra always stands out as Albert, with touching innocence and vulnerability. Likewise memorable, Andrew May’s version of Captain Muller has all the passion and war-weariness to superbly define the role. By the way, Andrew May has performed several times at Pittsburgh’s City Theatre, including, about a year ago, in Time Stands Still which also deals with the emotional wounds of modern war.

Accents abound. There are those of English people including natives of Devon as well as various others within the Army ranks. The Germans and French speak as if mirroring their own languages, implying that they are not speaking English. You may have trouble understanding everything said, despite good amplification in the sound system at Benedum Center. But what you see tells you everything essential.

You see a masterpiece.

Warhorse continues through Sunday, November 18th at 6:30 at Benedum Center, downtown. Tickets at the Box Office at Theater Square, 655 Penn Avenue, at 412/456-4800 or TrustArts.org. More information also at www.WarHorseOnStage.com.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Playlist: "Classics" Sunday 11th November 2012

Alan Hovhaness-"Fran Angelico"/"Requiem and Resurrection-Hovhaness" Poseidon Society LP 1002-"Fra Angelico" w/The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra-Hovhaness, conductor

"Kamran Ince-Symphony No. 5 "Galatasaray" Naxos 8. 572533-Symphony No. 5: 2nd and 5th movements w/ Tulay Uyar, sop-Levent Gunduz, ten-Anil Ktrkytlduz, boy sop-Turkish Ministry of Culture Choir-Bilkent Symphony Orchestra-Ince, conductor

William Grant Still-"Still-Afro-American Symphony-Africa" Naxos  8.559174-Symphony No. 1 ("Afro-American") w/Fort Smith Symphony-John Jeter, conductor

"Karl Berger-Strangely Familiar" Tzadik 8075-"17 Miniatures for Piano Solo" #3, 5,9,13-Berger, piano

"Stephen Barber: Astral Vinyl" Navona NV 5850-"Conversatio Morum Movement I" /"Elvis and Annabelle Movement I" w/American Repertory Ensemble/ The Boiler Makers


Christina Rusnak-"Slices" Navona NV 5874-"Kyripo" w/unidentified pianist

"Nico Muhly;A Good Understanding-Los Angeles Master Chorale-Grant Gershon" Decca B 0014741-02-"Expecting The Main Things From You: I Hear America Singing" w/Claire Fedoruk, sop-Drea Pressley, mezz-sop.-Kimo Smith, organ-Los Angeles Master Chorale etc,-Grant Gershon,conductor

Playlist: "The Best of Broadway" Sunday 11th November 2012

Benj Pasek & Justin Paul: music & lyrics-"A Christmas Story-The Musical" (studio cast) Sony Masterworks Broadway 88725 45981 2-excerpts w/John Bolton, Clarke Hallum, Matthew Lewis, River Aguirre, Dexter Johnson, Tom Wopat, Liz Callaway-Ian Eisendrath, music director

Kenward Elmslie: lyrics & Claibe Richardson: music-"The Grass Harp" (original Broadway cast) Varese Sarabande VSD 6010-excerpts w/ Carol Brice, Barbara Cook, Max Showalter-Daniel Saidenberg, music director

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Playlist: "Classics" Sunday, 4th November 2012

Alan Beeler "Slices" Navona NV 5874 Flute, Clarinet,Viola & Piano Quartet No. 2 w/Lisa Hennessy, fl-Yhasmin Valenzuela, cl-Mark Berger, viola-Karolina Rojahn, p.
 
Ellen Taafe Zwilich 
"Zwilich: Violin Concerto-Rituals" Naxos 8.559268-"Rituals" w/ NEXUS & IRIS Chamber Orchestra-Michael Stern, conductor
 
Stuart Sankey "The Louisville Orchestra-Fox: Night Ceremonies-Sankey: Variations for Orchestra -Endo" Louisville LP 780 "Variations for Orchestra" w/ Louisville Symphony Orchestra-Akira Endo, conductor
  
Armando Bayolo "Jeffrey Weisner-Neomonology" innova 833 "Mix Tape: Kid's Got The Beat/Turn Around/AVery Brief Meditation on the Nature of Parentheses/Room to Lay The Law" w/Jeffrey Weisner, double-bass

Ronald Perera "Coro Allegro-Awakenings" Navona NV 5878 "Why I Wake Early" (poems by Mary Oliver): "Morning at Great Pond," "Summer Poem," "White Night"  w/Lisa Brooke, Sonja Larson,vns-Sandra Norter,viola-Reinmar Seidler,cello-Darryl Hollister.p-Joanna Taylor.sop.-Leah Souder.mez-sop.-Brian Abascal,ten-Kevin Verrette, bass-Coro Allegro-David Hodgkins,director

 "Jeremy Beck-Ionsound Project" innova 797 Sonata No. 2 for Cello and Piano w/Elisa Kohanski, cello-Rob Frankenberry,p  & 'September Music: "Retrospect" w/ Peggy Yoo,fl-Kathleen Costello, cl-Laura Motchalov,vn-Kohanski, Frankenberry

Playlist: "The Best of Broadway" Sunday, 4th November 2012

Frank Wildhorn: music & Leslie Bricusse: lyrics "Jekyll & Hyde" (2012 "concept recording" cast) Broadway Records BR CD00512 excerpts w/ Constantine Maroulis, Deborah Cox, Teal Wicks-Jason Howland, music director  

Frank Wildhorn: music & Jack Murphy: lyrics "Wonderland" (original Broadway cast) Sony Masterworks Broadway 88697 88669 2 excerpts w/ Carly Rose Sonenclar, Danny Stiles, Kate Shindle, Darren Ritchie, Janet Dacal-Jason Howland, music director

Theatre review: "Fahrenheit 451" from Prime Stage Theatre Company-Sunday, 4th November 2012

Prime Stage Theatre Company has committed its resources and energy to a major project, seeking to evoke drama and provoke thought in Ray Bradbury’s 1988 re-working of his 1953 science-fiction novel Fahrenheit 451.

Bradbury did not make it easy; permutations and ideas wander all over the territory inhabited by sketchily-developed characters. Director Justin Fortunato does well in keeping the action moving and making several disturbing moments vivid, getting solid, convincing performances from his cast. They capably articulate well-verbalized ideas but stay stuck with simplistic, sometimes na├»ve dialogue. Fortunato might have made some better choices to clarify the story and the nature of Bradbury’s future society while more clearly illuminating hopeful moments.

Bradbury’s major premise continues along the trail blazed by George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World where regimes suppress dissent. Bradbury takes up the theme of book-burning and, in so doing, touches on the pages of history that go as far back as papyrus; Egyptian priests set the precedent eradicating anything that contradicted the ruling class’s versions of truth.

In this instance, a modern society, well-furnished with intricate technology, has become a place where people are kept in the dark by firemen whose flames have demolished any written thing which could spark and illuminate thought. Moreover they deal harshly with citizens who cling to books. Montag, at first, is one such fireman but his underpinnings are dislodged during encounters with people whose behavior might threaten the rules. One person is young Clarisse whose grandfather, Faber, has been living in perilous ways.


Montag discovers what it means to read literature instead of poring over sports statistics. His boss, Fire Chief Beatty, dangerously knowing a great deal about books and what they contain, sees where Montag is heading and tries to steer him along the straight and narrow path.

The major themes here are worth exploring and Bradbury has many trenchant things to say about how modern life could evolve, foreseeing developments looming on the horizon. Some of what he feared has indeed come to pass. A remarkable first-act peroration by Beatty, superbly interpreted by Monteze Freeland, deals with where we may have been going and how those trends could permute into eventually barren existence. Bradbury also makes eloquent use of famous writing by Charles Dickens, Matthew Arnold and others.

Yet the play most looks like a vehicle for what Bradbury wants to say and, by turning that into a stage work, he has tried to create a swiftly compelling plot which doesn’t have enough depth while also calling for some potentially difficult visual effects. Although Fortunato’s imaginative opening tableau disturbingly makes firemen look menacing, he has a problem representing a new Fire Department invention, a terrifying automated hound which can sniff out heretical pages and maul the person who keeps them. The image and the concept do not become clear. Moreover Fortunato’s choice of a deliberately cluttered, fragment-filled stage designed by John Michael Bohach works against the idea that this time and place are empty and sterile. Fortunato has also cut essential dialogue from the final moments where, attempting to represent hope for the future, characters speak lines from books. In a truncated scene, the cast confusingly seems to be doubling for such characters for no evident reason.

Justin Patrick Mohr succeeds in making Montag innocent and vulnerable while also conveying his developing strengths. As Chief Beatty Monteze Freeland has a compelling presence and delivers his best speeches with urgent truth. But I found Ken Lutz’s version of Faber full of overdone quirkiness, out of sync with more simple and direct playing by cast members.

Although TV sound-bites slice and dice meaning as Bradbury observed and TV has become an opiate of the people, it has not shoved literature into the dustbin of history as he foresaw. That, he said, was the prime impetus for his original novel. People do still read books in a complex, intricate world where unfettered, media-generated ideas and opinions come at us from all directions. 


Despite Bradbury's limited intention, he has touched on many significant themes, saying much to merit your attention and thought. A differently conceived production might be able to overcome some of the problems in what he wrote, but such a daunting task remains a major challenge.

I wonder what Bradbury thought of how some people have given up paper, printers ink and binding to look at words on Kindle.

Fahrenheit 451 continues through November 11th at New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square E, North Side. Tickets: 1-800/718-4253 or primestage.showclix.com and www.primestage.com