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O Sole Trio to bring sounds of Italy to CityStage

April 14, 2014
(As originally seen on MassLive by Keith O'Connor)

Their name alone – O Sole Trio – should hint at what audiences are in store for on April 26 when the lights dim at CityStage and the show begins.

The answer is everything Italian in a unique show capturing the essence of Italy during two performances at 3 and 8 p.m.

The New York-based ensemble of O Sole Trio features the lush voices of soprano Erin Shields and baritone Giuseppe Spoletini, as well as the versatile and virtuosic David Shenton on piano and violin. Offering up a show that mixes serious music in Italian and English with humor along the way, their program showcases a cornucopia of beloved Italian opera arias, Neapolitan songs, as well as jazz and pop standards made popular by such singers as Louis Prima, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Connie Francis and Andrea Bocelli, breathing new life into these familiar favorites with their unique and innovative arrangements.

It all began when Shields, who is married to Shenton, was asked to sing at a restaurant in Connecticut the day before Halloween.

"The three of us had been talking about working together. I called Giuseppe and asked him if he was interested in putting together a show where we would do our own solos and also duets. The Italian thing came about when David and Giuseppe, who are punsters, came up with the name O Sole Trio for us. Then, because our group name is Italian and Giuseppe is Italian and I'm half Italian, we decided to try to lace the show with more Italian themes. Giuseppe has great stories about growing up and his mom coming over to America from Italy….all very personal stories. So, it just seemed like the right thing for a show and singing in Italian is most fulfilling to me," said Shields.

A typical O Sole Trio program features an eclectic mix of songs arranged by David Shenton from "O Sole Mio," Puccini's " O mio babbino caro," "Mambo Italiano," a medley of "Figaro" paired with "That's Amore," to "Time to Say Goodbye" made famous by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli. The show also displays Shenton's show-stopping instrumental performance of the Neapolitan song "Torna a Surriento" which he plays simultaneously on both the violin and piano.

The trio later received a commission to create an educational, as well as fun, show at Lincoln Center based around some of the songs they were already performing along with others.

"As we put the show together, it was fascinating to learn how many Italian-American contributions there were to the making of pop music. Starting out with 'O Sole Mio,' the show becomes a history of Italian music from the beginning when Italian Americans came to America with their Neapolitan music, which was a huge part of their heritage. We then go from Enrico Caruso, who brought Italian opera to town, to Luis Prima, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and others, including the doo-wop era with Johnny Maestro and The Crests, groups like the Four Seasons and ending with Madonna, an Italian, who gave one of her songs, 'Mi abbandono a te/Me abandono a ti' to Italian singer Laura Pausini," said Shields.

Today the trio has many champions in their corner, including Hillary McAndrew Plate from the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. After their appearance at the popular performing center, she wrote: "Our audiences and our staff raved about the show. Your choice of combining virtuosic pieces with contemporary pieces with which the audience identified, drew everyone into your story swiftly and easily. So many attendees connected to each of you as you broke the 4th wall and reached out to them in humor, storytelling, and most importantly in song."

Their most recent credits include a performance on the Columbus Day broadcast of Fox 5s Good Day New York with Rosanna Scott and Dave Price, as well as their standing room only engagement at their Lincoln Center debut at The David Rubenstein Atrium with their show from Prima Donna to Post-Madonna: How Italy and Italian Americans Influenced American Popular Music. In addition, O Sole Trio was chosen to perform for New York State comptroller John Liu and guests for an event honoring Italian American Heritage and Culture.After completing a 10-month residency at The Metropolitan Room in New York City, O Sole Trio was named as ambassadors to the Italian American Museum in New York City by its president and CEO, Dr. Joseph Scelsa.

In conjunction with O Sole Trio's performance at CityStage, there will be a separate Una Bella Notte – Italian Holiday Raffle event to benefit CityStage/Symphony Hall. Beginning at 7 p.m., participants can sample Italian cuisine and wines from Rome, Venice and Florence. There will be live entertainment in the lounge and luscious pastries and desserts will be served. Tickets for this special event only are $35 or $60 including the O Sole Trio performance. Raffle tickets – for a seven-day tour of Italy donated by Trafalgar – are $20.

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'The Fantasticks' to go Steampunk at CityStage

April 1, 2014
(As originally seen on MassLive by Keith O'Connor)

When placed alongside other major credits such as a play's director, writer, or even costume designer, the lighting director somehow doesn't seem as important.

But, whoever is filling that role – like Herman G. Montero for the steampunk version of "The Fantasticks" which brings an edgier, more modern-day interpretation of the classic to CityStage on Friday, April 11 – has some important shoes to fill.

"Obviously, I'm going to be biased when it comes to the huge difference it can make in a production. Lighting has a way of influencing your mood. It supports what is going on in a scene. The proper lighting can intensify a somewhat frightening moment and make it scary, or take an innocent, tender moment and make you really feel the emotion," said Montero. "We don't travel on the road with our own lights. So, as you can imagine, I come across a wide range of diverse sizes of equipment in the theaters we visit. It's my job to ensure that the lighting design stays as true to tits original intent in all theaters, so that the audience is seeing and experiencing as close to the same thing as they would in every venue," he added.

The steampunk genre, which gained prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s, incorporates elements of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, and speculative fiction. It involves a setting where steam power is widely used – whether in an alternate history such as Victorian era Britain or "Wild West"-era United States, or in a post-apocalyptic time that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology, or futuristic innovations as Victorians might have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art.

Through the creative minds of director Carl Beck, costume designer Georgiann Regan and scenic designer Jim Othuse, the fresh new steampunk adaptation lends a whimsical Victorian-industrial look to this classic musical.

"It's not an intrusive concept," Beck said of the steampunk concept. "It seems like the allegoric-quality can blend with the fantasy, giving it a quasi-period feel and making for a stronger statement than [The Fantasticks] usually gets."

The story was not rewritten or changed. Outside of the costumes, set and props, this show is the original.

"It's classical simplicity. It's not a contemporary character tale," Beck said. "It's about a boy who is overly in love with a girl whose fathers are trying to keep them together by pulling them apart. Steampunk seems to lend itself to this story by finding beauty among the broken pieces."

Written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, "The Fantasticks" opened off-Broadway in 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse with stage, film and television actor Jerry Orbach in the leading role. The production went on to play a record-breaking 17,162 performances before closing in 2002, making it the world's longest-running musical and the longest continuously-running production of any kind in the United States. It features such memorable songs as "Try to Remember" and "Soon It's Gonna Rain."

It was steampunk fate, along with some clever marketing, that resulted in "The Fantasticks" making its way to Springfield.

"It's really important for CityStage and Symphony Hall to collaborate with other Springfield cultural organizations, and it was simply a case of great timing when I learned about the Springfield Museums plans for a steampunk exhibit. Within a few days of that, I became aware of the touring production of the steampunk version of 'The Fantasticks,'" said Tina D'Agostino, precisents of

"So it seemed like a natural fit to book the show, knowing that we would have the opportunity to cross promote our events and become part of what is now Steampunk Springfield. I think it's great that people can visit the steampunk exhibits at the Springfield Museums or the Springfield Armory and also see a steampunk-themed show at CityStage. I'm sure many people haven't ever heard of steampunk, but that's what makes it so exciting. It's trendy and fun, and a chance to have a unique experience at several venues in the city," she added.

"The Fantasticks" tour is produced by the veteran theatrical touring company, the Nebraska Theatre Caravan and is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI).

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News Directory O Sole Trio to bring sounds of Italy to CityStage

'The Fantasticks' to go Steampunk at CityStage

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