(As originally seen on MassLive Blog by Lee Chambers)
CityStage and Symphony Hall have some terrific shows lined up in the months ahead, so if you're stuck for holiday gift ideas, you can purchase tickets for these (or other) shows on their roster. If you find it hard to pick one, purchase gift certificates! To purchase tickets or get additional information, call 413.788.7033.
1. Bud Light Comedy Series "6-Pack" – This package includes a Bud Light cooler and two tickets to see Paul D'Angelo (March 28 at 8pm), The Irish Comedy Tour (March 2 at 7pm) and Etta May (May 2 at 8pm) at CityStage. $149.
2. Bud Light Comedy Series "2-Fer" – For $99 you will get a Bud Light cooler, and two tickets to see Paul D'Angelo & The Irish Comedy Tour at CityStage.
3. Bud Light Comedy Series "Etta May Holiday Pack" – When you purchase this package, you get a Bud Light cooler, two tickets to see Etta May at CityStage and free popcorn. $48.20.
4. "Dinosaur Train Live!" - Join in the fun at Symphony Hall on January 10 at 6:30pm when the hit PBS show comes alive as only The Jim Henson Company can do, through spectacular interactive multi-media, music and puppetry. Join the Pteranodon family on an all-new musical adventure created just for the stage! A perfect gift for families with kids 2-6 years old.
5. "Suddenly Mommy" – Lots of laughs for the ladies May 8 – 10 when the talented Anne Marie Scheffler returns to CityStage in her one woman show, "Suddenly Mommy!" In this comedy about a self-confessed bad mom, our ill-prepared heroine falls for a single dad. They get pregnant, they get married and before you know it, she is a step-mom, a mom of two little boys of her own, and a very desperate housewife. She is the people pleaser who worked for decades to come into her own, only to lose herself to her children. Overtired but inspired by role models such as Celine Dion and her own mother, Anne Marie redefines the role of motherhood, in order to have it all, whatever that means!
November 17, 2013
(As originally seen on MassLive by Keith O'Connor)
If you're a fan of the Motown era when those unforgettable, toe-tapping, finger-snapping, perfectly crafted songs dominated the radio, then "Stop! In the Name of Love!" and make your way to CityStage, where the Masters of Motown will relive those popular tunes of yesteryear.
"The show will bring audiences back to the good old days when life was simpler and people were in a happy time of their lives," said John Hodges, Masters of Motown leader.
"We've been doing Motown since it came out. Our TFC Dance Band got together in the '70s and decided to create a tribute act after hearing so many people wonder when all that good music was going to return," said Hodges.
Motown Records was founded by Berry Gordy back in early 1959, when the young songwriter and music producer borrowed $800 from his family to help make his dream a reality. Since its first release back on Jan. 21, 1959 by Marv Johnson, Motown has racked up more than 180 "No. 1" hit songs.
"Berry took that early '60s four-part a capella sound that you could hear on every street corner in the U.S. back then, and put danceable rhythm and blues music behind it," said Hodges.The Master of Motown leader promised a "little bit of everything and everyone," as they hit the stage non-stop to perform the songs of The Supremes, The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Jackson Five, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Mary Wells, and Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell and countless other Motown greats.
"What we do is pretty much try to duplicate these act and their music as closely as possible to the way the masters performed them, complete with all those wonderful harmonies, flashy uniforms and choreography," said Hodges.
But, don't look for any story with the show like you get with Broadway's newest sensation, "Motown The Musical."
"Our show is, mainly, just the music. No explanation necessary. Once we get rolling and the audience hears, 'Ladies and gentlemen, the Masters of Motown proudly present a tribute to The Temptations,' people are already on the edge of their seats grooving to the songs or standing and dancing," said Hodges.
"Many people can relate to these songs from back in the day when Motown tunes were hitting all the airwaves, and many can remember what they were doing when they heard a particular song. Maybe they were with the first love of their life, who they might no be with now and had their heart broken, the stories go on and on," he added.
Hodges said they've changed the show from the last time they were in Springfield adding "new songs, new uniforms and new choreography."
"The show is 90 minutes with an intermission. So people can get up for 15 minutes to stretch their legs and come back for our second act. We're going to be here for three nights, so if you miss our first two shows, there's always Saturday night," said Hodges.
(As originally seen on MassLive by Keith O'Connor)
Comedian Bobby Collins, who is bringing his laugh fest to CityStage in Springfield on Saturday night as part of the Bud Light Presents STAND UP Comedy Series, is an interviewer's dream come true.
Not only does "the people's comedian" make the interviewer feel as if he's known him for years, but he provides a free mini-performance. Who could ask for more?
"Massachusetts, they're just nice people. They wear their hearts on their sleeves. I live in LA, one of the phoniest cities in the world," Collins said.
Of course, he might just say the same thing to any interviewer in any state, but he's so genuine on the phone that you just have to believe him.
And, he throws jokes in that somehow just seem to fit into the conversation naturally, telling you it's his job as a comedian to cut through all the bull and to education his audience along the way. Like haphazardly making reference to the recent government shutdown, and then telling you, "I didn't even know it was open."
Collins was named after legendary comedian Bob Hope, his father's favorite performer, perhaps hoping his son would one day follow in the popular entertainer's footsteps. He did, but not until 1980. That's when the native New Yorker decided to "go for it" and leave behind his lucrative position as vice president of Calvin Klein to pursue his unique brand of observational comedy based on everyday life and his travels around the country.
Eventually, the laugh-inspiring performer – who was just on the Jimmy Fallon Show a couple of weeks ago, was given his own Showtime specials and became Rosie O'Donnell's – he calls her a good friend – predecessor to host VH1's Stand-Up Spotlight. He has also opened for such names as Cher, Dolly Parton, Julio Iglesias and Tony Bennett and has been nominated for a CableACE Award, as well as for the American Comedy Awards "Stand-up Comic of the Year."
Along with live stage performances across the country – from New York City to Las Vegas and Atlantic City – he has also appeared in five feature films and numerous television shows.
Comedy albums by the likes of comic greats Bill Cosby, The Smothers Brothers, Allan Sherman and others had their heyday, but comedians like Collins continue to churn out their own in a limited market today for the genre and its compact disc format. He has released six comedy CDs, "On the Inside," "Out of Bounds," "You're Not Coming With Us," "Mr. New York," "I Wanna Go Home" and his latest, "I'm on the Boat: Women and Children First," which was nominated for a Grammy.
"Don't tell anybody, but I lost," laughed Collins. At least he could laugh about losing. The inspiration for the album's title, as Collins tells it, came from a gig on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, which he and singer Tom Jones were asked to christen. We were backstage on the ship before a big gala that we were to perform at. We were just having a good laugh for ourselves about some of the people we saw come onboard. Then, Tom just happened to catch a glance of a woman's wig, high heels and a pocketbook in the bag I had with me. So, he asked what that was all about. I told him that on a ship it's 'always women a children first,' and if the ship goes down the outfit goes on and I'm in one of those little boats," said Collins.
Today, Collins can add "author" to his list of accomplishments after writing his first book, "On the Inside: Witisms & Wisdomisms," published in May.
"I'm very pleased with the results and how it is selling. Everyone who has read the book and knows me has said they could hear my voice when reading it. And, that's just what I wanted. I didn't want to lose how I am on stage, and that came through," said Collins.
"Even my wife, who is a tough critic, said to me, 'This is really good.' After all, I wasn't out to change the world, I'm not Hemmingway," he added.
But he did want to instill some life lessons, along with some humor, in his writings. "I took those sayings I had been told as a kid, like 'What goes around comes around,' 'God first, family second and work third,' principles that I was brought up on, but never really applied until my journey in comedy," said Collins.
As for his earlier proclaimed love for Massachusetts, it's not hard to believe the comedian.
"How about those Sox?" proclaimed Collins, who then proceeded to talk heartfeltedly about performing at Boston's Wilbur Theatre just after the Boston Marathon bombing.
"I was handed a note during my performance to tell the audience that the suspect, who had been hiding out in a boat, had been captured."
(As originally seen on MassLive by Keith O'Connor)
Canadian actor Jake Stern put the stage before college when offered the lead in "Godspell."
Stern was in his senior year in high school when offered the role of Jesus at the Victoria Playhouse Petrolia.
Now, the Toronto resident has put his college dreams on hold – he hopes to pursue a career in the performing arts – as he travels with the Canadian touring show which comes to Symphony Hall in Springfield on Thursday.
Answering the call to portray Jesus in the revamped 2011 revival version of "Godspell," which ended its run on Broadway in June 2012, was a no-brainer for the 19-year-old Stern.
"My dad was a pastor as I was growing up, and Christianity is still a big part of my life," Stern said. "Now I get to play a really fun and youthful kind of quirky all-loving Jesus, who is there to enjoy the community he is with."
Stern has been writing music and playing guitar since he was 16 and has two songs on iTunes, "You're the One, which has been a top song played song on several Christian radio stations and "I Need You, which was co-written by Michael and Scott Bannerman after winning the 2010 Stratford Star competition.
He was in Drayton Entertainment's "High School Musical" in 2010 as the P.E.P. Squad Captain for eight shows, and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's "The Merry Wives of Windsor" as a town child. He was also a part of David Hogan and David Rogers "Starbright Christmas Concert" tour in Sarnia at the Imperial Theatre and in Stratford at the Festival Theatre, performing as one of the central tenors and a soloist.
Based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, "Godspell" is composed of numerous musical parables as Jesus Christ, during his travels on Earth, assembles a group of followers and teaches them to "spread the good news" through lessons incorporated in song and dance.
"To me this is a show about love ... the love Jesus has for his community ... it's really the grace side of Jesus as he exudes his love and grace," said Stern.
Asked to compare the show to the Broadway smash musical "Jesus Christ Superstar," Stern said "Superstar" tells a darker story, while "Godspell" is "more fun."
"While 'Jesus Christ Superstar' focuses on Jesus' rise to fame and his relationships with Mary Magdalene and Judas, for us it's all about the telling of parables," said Stern.
Featuring a score by Stephen Schwartz – the Grammy and Academy Award-winning composer of "Wicked" – and a book by John-Michael Tebelak, the play features the international hit, "Day by Day," as well as such memorable numbers as "Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord," "Save the People," and "Learn Your Lessons Well." "Godspell" opened off-Broadway in 1971 and later began a run on Broadway in 1976. It was turned into a film starring Victor Garber – recently seen on film as the Canadian ambassador in "Argo."
Stern said they are seeing a new audience for the popular play, which opened its current tour in New Haven at the Shubert Theatre on Oct. 25, from young to older fans.
"The story of 'Godspell' is timeless, but we've updated the current production with a more pop-rock edge to the songs and plenty of references to modern-day pop culture with an entire parable based on Donald Trump, and we even mention Lindsay Lohan," said Stern about the new production which also references Facebook and iPhones.
"I'm also a stylish Jesus wearing white from head to toe. And, while I don't have a beard and can't grown one, I came to the role with long hair, which was a nice touch to have ahead of time," he added.
(As originally seen on MassLive by Keith O'Connor)
If you've ever dreamed about being a Broadway mogul, you might just get your chance to create the next hit musical to appear on the Great White Way.
When the award-winning improvised musical comedy awards show, "Broadway's Next H!T Musical," comes to Springfield's CityStage for two performances on Friday and Saturday, you might just get your wish as audience members have a hand in creating the improvised musical comedy.
"Broadway's Next H!T Musical" features improv artists Deb Rabbai, Rob Schiffmann, Robert Z. Grant, Kobi Libii, Stefan Schick, Rebecca Vigil, and host Greg Triggs.
The show's first act is an award ceremony spotlighting songs from four "Best Musical" nominees, while the second act is the entire musical based on the winning song from act one.
According to Rob Schiffmann, all the fun begins before the show even starts.
"As the audience arrives in the lobby, it will be like attending the Tony Awards. There will be celebrity sightings and red carpet interviews. And, before entering the theater, you will be asked to write down on a slip of paper a made up song title," Schiffmann said. "We never see them ahead of time. They are placed in a fish bowl and brought up on stage. Then, the lights go out and when they come back on, there will be a host who will work the audience before announcing the first presenter for Broadway's Next Hit Musical Awards, or was we jokingly refer to them, the Phony Awards," he added.
Schiffmann improvised over the phone in an interview with The Republican how it all works.
"Let's say I pick from the bowl someone's suggestion for a song called 'Seven-Thirty Phone Call.' I might go on to tell the audience the song comes from the espionage musical called 'The Spy I Loved,' about a spy who gets caught up in a romantic situation that distracts him from taking down and international criminal. I would then go on to explain what the title means – that he must choose between a meeting on a street corner to potentially nab the criminal, or call this woman he just met and madly fell in love with, both at 7:30 p.m. We then improvise the scene and lyrics right on the spot, along with a melody, as our pianist also improvises the accompanying music," Schiffmann said.
A very short intermission follows the selection of the award-winning song . Schiffman said people are always curious about what transpires backstage before they return to create an entire musical around their earlier improvised scene for the audience's selected song.
"We go backstage and put on costumes, while the host of the show works the audience again before we come back onstage to perform the entire musical. While we're backstage, I like to say that we allow ourselves only to look backwards, not forwards. In other words, we refresh our memories on names and the comedy bit we used for that winning song. But, we never say 'What if...' as a way to suggest ideas for the musical we are about to create onstage. Improve works best by discovery and being in the moment, and creating a plan ahead of time would only confuse us when we return to the stage," said Schiffmann.
Schiffmann has worked and toured as a professional improviser and musician for over 17 years. He is a two-time Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs Award winner and the recipient of the 2011 INNY (Improvisation News) Award for Best Improv Coach. He has taught and directed improv at the School for Film and Television, Weist-Barron, and the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Schiffmann performed regularly with Chicago City Limits before joining "Broadway's Next H!T Musical" in 2001. Schiffmann's partners in crime onstage started their success at the New York City cabaret club Don't Tell Mama, as well as with the New York Musical Theater Festival. He became co-artistic director in 2009, and continues to perform with the troupe throughout the country and at their resident theater The Triad in New York City.
When he's not thinking about his next line, Schiffmann spends his time singing with the New York-based acoustic-pop band, The Hillary Step, for which he is the main writer, lead singer, guitarist, and music director.
"I love the art of discovery. There's nothing as exciting to me as opening yourself up to the moment and embracing it. Improv is the ultimate team sport. I tried standup and it is fun, but nowhere near as fun as being onstage and discovering together," Schiffmann said.
(As originally seen on MassLive by Keith O'Connor)
When author Larry Smith wrote his New York Times best-selling book "Beyond Glory," the popular author never dreamed that his oral history of living Medal of Honor winners would translate to the theatrical stage.
On Sunday, award-winning playwright, stage, and screen star Stephen Lang – who has been recognized for his film portrayals ranging from Stonewall Jackson in "Gods and Generals" to Col. Quaritch in the groundbreaking film "Avatar" – will bring his one-man play "Beyond Glory" to CityStage in Springfield.
"It's just me and a trunk on stage. Different items of clothing come out and go back in. A stool comes out, so does a thermos of coffee, a pair of eyeglasses, whatever I need. And, I don't need a lot. I wanted it to be as pure theater as possible," said Lang about the play which celebrates the larger-than-life battlefield sacrifices of eight men awarded the nation's highest honor for valor in combat.
The oral histories of these men are brought to life through Lang's commanding performance along with a backdrop of video screens, which occasionally evoke the turmoil of combat. He subtly moves through each man's story with a slight alteration of posture and vocal coloring to suggest a new personality.
"It's a quicksilver transformation right in front of the audience. In a sense, it turns the whole idea of acting on its ear, because you never want the acting to show," said Lang.
After a fateful day back in 2003 that set the stage for the book's transformation into a theatrical piece, the show has since enjoyed a celebrated run on Broadway and in Chicago's Goodman Theatre before Lang took "Beyond Glory" on a coast to coast tour.
"I played basketball with Larry for years, Sunday morning games where you sometimes don't know a whole lot about the folks you are playing with," said Lang.
"One day we were lacing up our sneakers together and I asked Larry what he did. He told me he was the retired managing editor of 'Parade' magazine and that he had a book coming out the next month about Medal of Honor recipients," he added.
Lang, who had a longtime interest in military history, told Smith he would "love to look at it."
"The following week Larry pulled an uncorrected copy of the book out of his gym bag and gave it to me. That night while reading it, something clicked…..there was just something so authentic in their voices, these firsthand accounts of 24 men talking about who they were, what they did, and how they lived their lives," said Lang.
"I took the chapter on John Finn, who was stationed at Kaneohe Bay when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and began noodling around with the 25-page chapter. What I did was to turn it into a bouillon cube of theater. Then, the next day I took my written piece to my wife and read it to her at the dining room table. She began to weep, and I knew that I had something. So, I continued to work on it and a piece of theater began to emerge," he added.
"Beyond Glory" the play presents the stories of eight veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, rendering first and accounts of valor, resulting in the nation's highest military award, the Medal of Honor.
"I sometimes think the choices of men made themselves and, in a way, they did. I wanted a diverse range of wars and ethnicity of men. I also knew that I needed a sustainable time for the play without an intermission, because once I dive in I don't come up for air and 80 minutes felt right," said Lang about whittling down the 24 oral histories to eight for the stage.
The resulting work was one he said that Smith "loved and was delighted with."
"We have become good friends and Larry has been a great advisor and supporter , and, of course, the play helps him to sell books," laughed Lang.
As a tribute to fallen soldiers, Lang has performed the show on military bases, and gave a command performance on the floor of Congress with Medal of Honor recipient Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii in attendance.
There is one performance only, Sun., Oct. 20 at 3 p.m. Call (413) 788-7033 for tickets.
(As originally seen in The Reminder by G. Michael Dobbs)
SPRINGFIELD – Actor Stephen Lang may be familiar to millions of movie fans as the villainous military man in "Avatar," but the stage and screen vet drew positive reviews well before the blockbuster film with his one-man show "Beyond Glory."
Lang is once again performing the show – he hasn't undertaken it since 2007 – in a tour that includes a performance at CityStage on Oct. 20.
Speaking to Reminder Publications, Lang explained the genesis of the show.
"I had a basketball buddy who was the managing editor of Parade magazine, Larry Smith, who gave me an uncorrected copy [of his book 'Beyond Glory']," he said.
Smith's book tells the stories of Medal of Honor winners and Lang was transfixed by what he read.
"I heard the voices so clearly," he recalled.
With Smith's permission, Lang took one chapter and started "to shape it into a bouillon cube of theater."
He adapted the chapter and then began developing the play at the renowned Actor's Studio in New York City. Lang said he would work on one character and then add another until he reached the point of telling the stories of eight of the men.
He completed the work in May 2003 and in March 2004 he produced and performed it at a theater in Arlington, Va. – the start of 400 performances he gave through 2007.
That run included producing the play on Broadway, which yielded positive reviews.
Christopher Isherwood praised the play in his New York Times review, saying, "With his chiseled physique, commanding square jaw and sharp buzz cut, Mr. Lang might almost seem carved from a block of granite. But he individualizes each of the eight portraits here with precision and economy, a new man by a subtle adjustment of posture that alters his physical presence, evoking a new personality through the coloring of his voice."
Lang readily admitted that becoming eight different characters on stage was "a challenge to revisit."
He added the men's stories are "as timely as they are timeless."
Part of that challenge is being on the stage alone.
"So much of acting has to with listening [to fellow performers]," Lang said. "You create an energy between them."
In a show such as this one, he explained, "It all falls on your shoulders. You are more aware of your relationship with the audience."
An actor, Lang said, "never wants your 'acting' to show." In this play, the audience sees Lang change characters before them in "a very quicksilver way."
Unlike so many Broadway extravaganzas "Beyond Glory" is "a lean show in its way – the characters are so rich," he said.
Lang has spent much of his career in the theater – he was nominated for a Tony of his work in "The Speed of Darkness" – but he has been in many films and television shows. He enjoys both film and theater and said, "I love working. I love a good part. Both in their own way [they] deliver so much fulfillment for an actor."
In theater, Lang said there is "an immediate response form the audience. You get to do the A to Z of a story … it gets richer and deeper in repetition."
With film, an actor "can go into world only imagined on stage."
He added, "I feel fortunate to have crossed over those frontiers."
With a steady stream of film work in the past few years, Lang said, "I haven't done a play in five years and it was time to carve out time to do one."
When asked if he predicted the kind of box office success "Avatar" received when he read the script, Lang said, "I knew it was a great story. I knew it was a terrific role. I knew it was as ambitious as can be. I never doubted James Cameron's ability to transfer it to the screen, but no one predicted the global phenomena."
Lang's portrayal of the villainous Col. Miles Quaritch in the film was memorable, but Lang said he has suffered from typecasting.
"I've done a lot of military guys. I do get offered my share … I don't mind if I'm being thought of [for such] roles as long as I get the opportunity to do others."
He cited his new film, "A Good Marriage," in which he co-stars with Joan Allen. He plays a "broken down detective."October 5, 2013
(As originally seen on MassLive by George Lenker)
It may be hard to believe, considering all the legendary bands that have preceded them, but Boyz II Men are the biggest-selling male R&B group of all time.
Hits such as "End of the Road" "I'll Make Love to You," and "On Bended Knee" rocketed the group to stardom, and while they no longer grace the covers of teen magazines, the band has stuck together and made longevity, coupled with talent, work for them. The band will perform at Symphony Hall in Springfield on Thursday night in a concert presented by MGM Springfield.
Founding member Shawn Stockman recently discussed the band's success, longevity and fashion sense.
You're the best selling male R&B group of all time. Considering all the great groups that came before you, how does that make you feel and did you ever expect to be in that position?
It's been an incredible journey. Just marking our 20 year anniversary has been amazing - longevity in the music industry doesn't come easily, and I think it's a testament to all we've been through together as a group. We marked it with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, released our album "Twenty," and currently we have a residency at the Mirage in Las Vegas through 2014, we have a publishing deal with BMG and we've also been working on some new music which we will be able to share with the fans. It's been more than we ever could have imagined and we just feel blessed and excited about what's to come.
You guys of been around long enough to see a lot of changes in the music industry. What changes have you seen that have been beneficial to groups and which ones have a negative impact?
In a lot of ways, the playing field has been leveled by social media and technology, which is a beautiful thing- anybody can record and upload a video on YouTube in their bedroom and be the next Justin Bieber. There's a lot of talent out there and now everyone is able to get their music out there and in front of people. I think that's definitely positive and beneficial. As for negative impact: We've been lucky enough to create enduring albums that we're proud of, and to have the label support to create quality work, but in many cases with the music industry, the emphasis now is more on the single than on the album as a whole. That, I think is a negative. Fewer and fewer groups are creating the kind of albums you can listen to from start to finish- it's more a couple of smash singles and the rest is filler.
One of your best songs, in my opinion, is, "On Bended Knee." Some people see that as a love song others see it as almost a hymn. Talk little bit about that and how that song came together?
"On Bended Knee" is a special song for us. It's a relationship song a lot of people can relate to. It's just about wanting things to go back to the way they used to be and wanting so badly to make it work. It's become a fan favorite I think partly because it's such a universal theme and it's something a lot of people go through.
I don't know if you saw this or not, but supermodel Gisele Bundchen (Tom Brady's wife) recently said that she learned to speak English by listening to your records back in the 1990s. Do you have anything to say about that?
I didn't know that! But that's very cool if our songs can double as English classes!
You all started out when you were still in high school, and yet the band has lasted a lot longer than most teen romance relationships from high school. To what do you attribute your longevity?
It really comes down to a core philosophy- as artists, we are committed to making timeless music, we are willing to work hard, and everything we do is for the fans. That's how we've always approached our careers and I think the industry and the fans have responded to that. We don't take success for granted, and I think that has absolutely contributed to our longevity.
You guys are known for rather unique and funky fashions throughout the earlier part of your career. But now you seem to move on to more classic chic style. Can you talk a little bit about the ideas behind the early looks --like cardigans and bow ties --and are you graduated to your more modern look?
We really just wanted a cool, classic style that would set us apart as a group. So fashion was really important to us early in our career- and it still is, even if we don't always wear matching outfits or bow ties. But we loved that preppy look in the '90s. It was a bit of a throwback and the look was meant to complement our sound. Now we're more mature, so we've toned it down a bit. But we still love to look sharp on stage.