Beach Boys’ concert exceeds expectations

Reviewed by Rebecca Sheriff

I must admit I went into the Beach Boys’ concert Wednesday night (Aug. 24) at BinghamtonUniversity’s Anderson Center with a few preconceived notions. My experience with the Beach Boys had been hearing my mom’s old LP when I was very young, and bits and pieces of their songs throughout the years on television (including commercials and the ’80s program Full House). So my expectation was to hear some mellow, vaguely familiar songs by a once popular band. I wasn’t expecting to be so captivated by the atmosphere and the music.

Arriving at the concert I was a little frazzled as the parking situation was quite difficult for those with limited mobility and limited knowledge of the university campus. However, I was immediately calmed after being seating by very helpful ushers. The summer night was breezy and cool, and the stage was inviting with plant life, surfboards and colorful lighting. The large crowd was enthusiastically participating in the experience, waving cell phones and glow sticks, and the Beach Boys were happily performing their classics with their signature harmonies and catchy melodies.

Some of the songs were, in fact, mellow, lending well to the breezy night and soothing curvey atmosphere of the Anderson Center. Other songs, however, were upbeat and fun in their simplicity. Almost every time a song started I found myself saying, “Oh yeah” as I recognized song after song, solidifying the true impact and legacy of the band. Songs such as “California Girls,” “Help me, Rhonda,” “Surfing USA,” “Barbara Ann” and “Good Vibrations” quickly came back to my memory. Mike Love, the original singer, seemed genuinely happy to be performing the timeless classics, dancing a bit on stage. Longtime keyboardist Bruce Johnston and the touring musicians perfectly captured the classic Beach Boys sound.

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Sedaka hits woven seamlessly into CRT musical comedy

Reviewed by David L. Schriber

High-energy acting, strong vocals, flawless choreography and lighting, and a clever stage musical combined to showcase songs of Neil Sedaka as the Chenango River Theatre in Greene presented “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” (seen Friday, Aug. 19, as part of the show’s final weekend). The Eric Jackson-Ben Winters musical comedy,which  premiered in Albany in 2005, wove in 16 of Sedaka’s songs so well that one would think they were written expressly for this show.

It’s summer 1960. Marge Gelman (Leah Monzillo) arrives at Esther’s Paradise Resort on Loch Sheldrake in the Catskills. It’s supposed to be her honeymoon, but her fiancé left her at the altar, so she’s accompanied by her best friend, Lois Warner (Kim Morgan Dean), who’s determined not to let it “snow on her parade” and to help Marge get her groove back. Esther’s headliner crooner is narcissistic Italian stallion Del Delmonaco (Richard Rella Jr.), whose act drips with charm and testosterone. Marge doesn’t think much of Lois’ notion to finagle their way into the act as backup singers … until a backstage glimpse of shirtless Del convinces her that she too wants to be “Where the Boys Are.”

Del feigns a romantic interest in Marge, whose father, he believes, can advance his career, but it’s Del’s handyman cousin, Gabe Green (Joe Lehman), who has more in common with Marge. He’s also the ghostwriter of Del’s songs, and he needs to write a big one, because a Dick Clark talent scout will be in the audience Saturday.

Such a notable visitor puts pressure on resort owner and widow Esther Simowitz (Lourelene Snedeker) and her long-time emcee and comic, Harvey Feldman (John Felix), to spruce up the somewhat past-its-prime resort.

“Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” but Del has no trouble dumping Marge when he finds out her father is not a talent manager. Marge is devastated again, but Lois has a plan to get revenge while exposing Del for less than he seems and Gabe for more than meets the eye.

Rella played his character to the hilt, with fine vocals and body language that Elvis would have been proud of. He even got the audience lady in front-row center into the act, bringing her on stage to serenade her with “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen.”

Lehman was convincing as geeky, gawky cabana boy Gabe,whose fantasies of Marge gave clues of his metamorphosis-to-come. His tenor/soprano duets with Monzillo blended nicely.

Monzillo played the twice-jilted Marge believably. Some of her more introspective vocals started very quietly, but probably could still be heard throughout the intimate theater. In her duets with Dean she proved herself quite capable of filling the house with song. Dean played the self-assured Lois with verve, full-throated vocals and provocative vamping.

Felix was a perfect supporting actor, never upstaging the principals (well, OK, there was Mr. December in “Calendar Girl”). Patiently awaiting his moment in the plot, he showed the slap-happy Harvey’s vulnerability as he struggled to find a way to confess his love for Esther. Snedeker gave a solid supporting comedic performance as the slightly ditsy Esther, who kept having to make matter-of-fact announcements about the resort’s poison ivy and food poisoning.

The principals showed their versatility in a show demanding acting, singing and dancing. Mark Scherer’s choreography was carefully and confidently executed in the compact space. Julie Duro and Bill Brower’s lighting transitioned scenes clearly and focused attention well in busy scenes, especially when the focus was off-center stage. The four-piece band was tight with the flow. The whole cast and crew worked smoothly together with good pacing, never losing momentum or energy. Direct eye contact from the actors and occasional audience participation drew the audience right into the show. One would not have thought this cast came together from so many different places — New York, Chicago, and Florida — with much of the production staff (diector, music director, costume designer and stage manager) from West Virginia’s Greenbrier Valley Theatre.

Two hours seemed to fly by. In the end, with changes of fortune — some predictable, some surprising — all of the characters got what they deserved, and even Harvey and Esther discovered that “Love Will Keep us Together.” On so many levels, this was a thoroughly enjoyable show!

Food for thought: Is director of Broadway-bound ‘Porgy and Bess’ tinkering — or tampering — with a classic?

Proposed changes to “Porgy and Bess” before its Broadway revival range from replacing recitative with dialogue to brightening up the ambiguous ending. Supporters say this new, “Bess-centric” version fixes the original opera’s thematic problems. Detractors, including Stephen Sondheim, complain of disloyalty to Gershwin’s classic. (Check out this link to The New York Times: http://tinyurl.com/3ula3jn). What do you think?

EPAC’s ‘Tempest’ survives and surpasses many storms

Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

I was very eager to see EPAC’s summer Shakespeare production, The Tempest, at Endicott’s George W. Johnson Park. It’s my favorite Shakespearean work — I love how it explores fantasy, spirituality and forgiveness — so my expectations were high, and they were well met.

Director Tim Mollen offered a unique interpretation of this work, blending modern music without losing the classical style of the play. He simply brought together old and contemporary life, giving us the best of both worlds. There were several stunning moments when real life combined with comedy, and the result were amazing.

I cannot write this review without mentioning some of the obstacles that Mollen and his cast had to overcome. They had to: replace two lead actors less than week before the opening, adjust to losing their set and costumes and contend with severe thunderstorms. I woud have understood if the production had fallen flat, given the seemingly insurmountable challenges at hand. Yet, Mollen pulled his cast together and did not let the setbacks prevent us audience members from enjoying the play.

Of course, the resilient cast had much to do with the success of this show. Chris Nickerson stole the show as Caliban, the unnatural monster who inhabits the island. He truly connected with his “inner beast,” delivering a top-notch performance. Josh Sedelmeyer as Ariel, Prospero’s top fairy spirit, had less than three days to learn this large and integral part, yet one would never know that from how effortless he played it. He embodied Ariel well, making him both comic and poignant. I must tip my hat to him. He was so adept that one is left to think that him playing this part, while unintended, was a most happy accident.

Brett Nichols stepped into the role of Prospero at the same time as Sedelmeyer, and although Nichols uses a script, he wac charming, and his journey as Prospero really happened before our eyes. Simply amazing. I must mention Dustin Crispell, who played Trinculo, the drunken sidekick in drag. He brought sassiness to Shakespeare, and the result was wonderful and unforgettable.

I would like to take a moment to tell the cast that I really could write something complimentary about all of you. You all are troopers, and your triumph in the face of adversity is tremendous. You all deserve a round of applause for coming together the way you did. Everyone involved — cast, crew, and director — made this happen. You remind me that, no matter what happens, the show must go on! Congratulations to you all on a job well done!

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EPAC’s ‘Hair’ was perfect summer entertainment

Reviewed by Rebecca Sheriff

Last weekend I took a break from reviewing local bands to see the Endicott Performing Arts Center’s performance of Hair, the rock musical. The performance was outside at the Stage at Little Italy, the perfect venue for this dynamic show. Hair is a controversial musical that debuted in 1968 with themes of the 196’s including the Vietnam War, drugs and the sexual revolution. The use of rock music for a musical was revolutionary at the time of its debut. This performance featured a seven-piece band, and the outdoor setting allowed for the audience interaction typical of the show — cast members moved out into the audience several times, even offering beads and lollipops to the crowd at intermission.

The large ensemble cast delivered a great performance. The whole cast (or tribe, in the parlance of the show) was on stage for most of the performance. The actors constantly reacted to what was going on through their own improvised comments, gestures and even dance moves. The cast kept up with the fast pace and seamless transitions between scenes and musical numbers. The choreography was well suited for the show from small dance move, to larger numbers, and the cast interaction and movements evoked a real tribe feeling.

The enthusiasm and passion from a mostly young cast that was not alive in the ’60s was astonishing, although the music itself inspires passion with such classics as “Aquarius” and “Let the Sun Shine.” There were a few times where it was difficult to make out the sung words if you were off center of the speakers’ sweet spot, but overall the entire performing was a moving experience

If you missed Hair, you will have another chance this summer to see an outdoor performance by EPAC. Shakespeare’s The Tempest runs through Sunday (Aug. 7) at the Stage at Little Italy at George W. Johnson Park on Oak Hill Avenue, Endicott.

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Thought you’d like to know: Reviewers check out Brunhilde in buckskin

As BAMirror mentioned earlier, acclaimed Wagnerian soprano Deborah Voigt is returning to her first love — Broadway — this summer with performances as Annie Oakley in the Glimmerglass Festival production of “Annie Get Your Gun.” Here are links to an “Annie” review in The New York Times and the whole Cooperstown season at the Web site theperacritic.com. If you’ve seen “Annie” or any other Glimmerglass show this season, please join in the conversation.

In Memorium: Genevieve Cerwonka

The community has lost a great talent and a huge spirit with the passing of artist Genevieve Cerwonka.   Please take a moment to share your remembrances of her life and her work.