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Archive for the ‘New Brunswick, NJ’ Category

[ATTENDED: April 5, 2017] Shaolin Warriors

When I first saw this listing in the State Theatre calendar, I knew I had to get tickets for the four of us.   I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew that it would be different from the acrobats, and yet have that same inspiration behind it.  I sort of imagined simple displays of strength, focus and cool Shaolin spirituality.

I did not expect that there would be a “story.”  And indeed there was one.  We follow two children as they make their way into the Shaolin temple and grow and develop into Shaolin adults.

The only compliant I have is that the program notes state this: “Shaolin Warriors, highly acclaimed as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” live on stage, is definitely a must-see for family audiences and martial arts lovers alike.”  By invoking Crouching Tiger, it suddenly set my expectations way too high. That film is mind-blowing, a visually stunning production.  And this production is nothing like that.  Rather, they could have described it as a Jackie Chan film come to life, and that would be more accurate (and still impressive). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 24, 2017] Pippin

Pippin has been Sarah’s favorite musical for years.  And as a special treat, she is guest co-authoring this post with me.  I have highlighted her part in a Pippin-inspired purple.

She has seen it once before in a decent sized production.  And we saw it together at a community theater version.  Strangely, I don’t remember much about that production (I was more fascinated by the building).  Anyhow, this touring production of Pippin is the newly redesigned version.

As I said I don’t remember all that much about the previous version, but I can tell you it was nothing like this one.  This new version was utterly spectacular, with an emphasis on spectacle!

SD: You know how the books from your childhood or the movies you watched over and over as a teenager are the ones you know by heart? Pippin is like that for me. My mom loved this musical and I grew up listening to the soundtrack (Original Broadway cast recording) over and over again. I know every bit of the album (and when I grew up and got a dog, I named him Pippin.) The thing about knowing a show by the soundtrack and not the performance is that you might make up what some of the plot is. I remember being surprised at the previous performances I’ve been to (one very good, one, as Paul said, not so great community theater) to find out what the songs really meant in context!  Anyway, the songs and the show are special to me and I couldn’t wait to see this. 

The story of the musical is fairly simple.

Pippin is the son of King Charlemagne (that much is true, but the rest is totally made up).  Pippin has just come back from college, but he is full of ennui.  He knows that he is an extraordinary person (he even sings about it), and is certain that there has to be something that will fulfill him.   Pippin wants to impress his father so he insists that he join his father and step son in fighting the Visigoths.  Charles reluctantly agrees but Pippin finds it less than satisfying.  From there he runs to his grandmother who tells him to enjoy the physical pleasures in life–which he does!  But that proves empty as well.  Finally seeing how much of  tyrant his father is he decides to fight tyranny and take over as King. But he finds that he has to resort to tyranny as well and asks for a do-over.

What’s left?  Art?  No.  Religion?  No.  No No No.  All that is left is despair.  While lying in the road, Catherine finds him.  She is a widow with a son and she tends to him.  He is reluctant, but eventually comes around to her care.  He spends a year with her, fixing the house, tending the farm, doing very ordinary things.  But he is extraordinary!  He can’t live a life like that.  How can he make his life (or death) special?

Fairly straightforward, right?  Well, this production takes this story and tweaks it in an amazing way. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: January 11, 2017] Cirque Éloize: Saloon

salooonI was pretty excited to see that Cirque Éloize was coming back with an all new show.  Their previous show Cirkopolis was phenomenal–wonderfully constructed and very cool to look at.  This show was very different, both in theme and production, but it was still amazing.

Indeed, I had mistakenly believed that this production was by Cirque Alphonse (another troupe from Montreal), who did a lumberjack-themed show last year.  But no, it was from the folks who did CirkopolisCirkopolis proved to be so different from Saloon, that it’s even more impressive that the same company created both shows.

This show was designed to be set in an old timey-salooon.  And while most Cirques perform the same basic routines, it was really fun to see how they were able to modify them for this new setting and “story.”  I also loved that they were all dressed like the old west–with chaps, and suspenders and hats–the kind of clothes that you really never see people performing this kind of material in (although I’m sure there must have been leotards underneath, right?). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 8, 2016] Blue Öyster Cult

2016-12-08-21-26-13I saw a whole bunch of concerts this year. I didn’t expect to end my concert year with Blue Öyster Cult.  But, I enjoyed them when I saw them last, and when I saw they were playing at the State Theater in New Brunswick (and I was able to score a 4th row seat) I decided to see them again.

I didn’t realize that Blue Öyster Cult was also the first band I saw this year (back in January).  So, it was a year bookended with BÖC.

While I enjoyed the previous show, I thought it seemed like the guys were getting a little creaky (understandable since they are in their late 60s).  But they seemed much more “on” during this show.  Eric Bloom was chatty and fun, his voice sounded great and he seemed a lot more energetic than last time.  And that made the show much more fun.  As did sitting really close–I was able to actually see the BÖC on his guitar. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 8, 2016] Jefferson Starship

2016-12-08-20-07-51I had no interest in seeing Jefferson Starship, but they were opening for Blue Oyster Cult and, heck I love White Rabbit, so why not check them out.

This incarnation of Jefferson Starship is pretty hilarious because the only person in the band who was in the band when they were Jefferson Starship is guitarist David Freiberg (vocals, guitar) (almost–the drummer has a tenure there too, see below).  It’s particularly amusing because Freiberg was in Jefferson Airplane for their final tour, and then they broke up.  When Jefferson Starship began a couple years later, he was a part of the band until they went on hiatus in 1985.  But when Paul Kantner reunited the band in 1993, Freiberg wasn’t included (apparently because Freiberg didn’t leave immediately when Starship formed, like Kantner did).  They made up in 2006 and Freiberg and Kantner had been touring as Jefferson Starship.  Kantner died earlier this year, so Freiberg is the only person connected with the original band left.

Interestingly, he left when Jefferson Starship became Starship, (but not as quickly as Kantner) because he didn’t like the direction the band was going (and Grace Slick considered him “dead weight”).  So he didn’t do “We Built This City.”  However, Donny Baldwin, the drummer at our show played with Jefferson Starship for two years (when Freiberg was there, too) in the 1980s and moved on to Starship and DID play on “We Built This City.”  When they reunited, they had a different drummer, but Baldwin came back in 2008.  So, when they play “We Built This City,” and they do, the drummer is the only one who was responsible for it in the first place.  Crazy.

Incidentally, Freiberg more or less left because of “We Built This City.”  According to Wikipedia: He became frustrated with the sessions because all the keyboard work in the studio was being done by Peter Wolf (lead singer of the J. Giels Band who had played on the sessions for Nuclear Furniture and briefly joined the band on the road for the follow-up tour) and keyboards were the instrument Freiberg was supposed to be playing.  He left the band and the album (with “We Built This City” which was written by written by Bernie Taupin, Martin Page, Dennis Lambert, and Peter Wolf) was finished with the five remaining members.

2016-12-08-20-23-29How’s that for a convoluted history. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 26, 20162016-10-26-19-47-23] The Monkees

Like most people of my age I used to watch The Monkees on TV.  I was never a huge fan, but I liked the show a bunch and used to sing the theme (and pretend to be The Monkees when at the beach).  But I never really gave them much thought as a musical act (especially when I got older and learned that *gasp* they didn’t even play on the songs!).

Then I learned that there are some people who really really like The Monkees.  My college roommate was a huge fan, and a fellow I’ve met through another friend is an even bigger one–Craig, good luck on that book, man!  I also found out that Sarah and her fried Joanna used to watch the show all the time and were mega Monkees fans (without the album buying).

So when the band announced their 50th (FIFTIETH!) Anniversary tour, I thought it would be fun to go and thought Sarah would really enjoy it.  Sarah saw them on a previous anniversary tour (25, maybe?), where Peter, Micky and Davy were presence (Mike doesn’t typically do this sort of thing).  Of course, with Davy passed on, we wondered just how much of a Monkees show this would be.

Well, I never realized that Mickey sang most of the songs.  It makes sense now that I think of it, he is the voice of the Monkees after all, but I’d assumed it was a bit more democratic.  So as long as Mickey’s there it is still a Monkees gig.  Having Peter there lends it some credibility (Mike did perform a couple of shows when the tour went through California). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 7, 2015] Punch Brothers

punchChris Thile is a member of Nickel Creek whose last album I loved.  He’s also appeared multiple times on Tiny Desk Concerts (with several different bands).  And that’s where I saw Punch Brothers for the first time.

Punch Brothers are five guys–Chris Thile (mandolin), Gabe Witcher (fiddle/violin), Noam Pikelny (banjo), Chris Eldridge (guitar), and Paul Kowert (bass).  They play a sort of bluegrass, but with a lot of elements of classical music (their debut has a classical suite on it and now they cover Debussey live).  Other labels given to the band include “bluegrass instrumentation and spontaneity in the strictures of modern classical” as well as “American country-classical chamber music.”

That all goes a long way to not really describing what the band sounds like.

The five guys stood around one old timey microphone (like in the poster).  ANd they blew us all away. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 7, 2015] Gabriel Kahane

2015-12-07 20.42.05After seeing Punch Brothers on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, I found out that they were playing at State Theatre in New Brunswick (a great venue that often has amazing bands, but also has seats so its, you know, dignified).

I found out the day before the show that the opening act was Gabriel Kahane.  I was under the impression that I had never heard of him.  Well, technically I had never heard of him, but I had heard him as he has done arrangements for Loudon Wainwright III and Sufjan Stevens.  And, it turns out he wrote a song that Punch Brothers sing on their new EP.

Anyhow, I got to the stage about one minute late, so I missed the proper introduction.  I walked in as Kahane was standing on stage with his guitar.  And what he played sounded…nice.  He has a pleasant voice and was playing interesting chords.

I anticipated 40 minutes of pleasant, if unremarkable, solo songwriting stuff.  Then he sat at the piano. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: May 3, 2015] Camelot

camelot2I have been raving about every show that I’ve seen lately, so it’s really about time that I wasn’t head over heels by something, right?

Sarah and her mom love Camelot, the musical–Sarah grew up listening to it.  When I saw that it was being staged at The State Theater, it seemed like a great Mother’s Day present for both of them.  Well, a last minute change of plans meant that Sarah’s mom couldn’t go. So we took Tabitha, who enjoyed Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

I don’t know the Camelot story at all, in fact, despite my (what I assumed was good) knowledge of King Arthur, I was not aware of the love triangle with him Guinevere and Lancelot (I guess I just liked the fighting). I also had no idea that Arthur was trying to set up a law by court rather than a law by might.  Which is pretty interesting.  Sarah said I should read The Once and Future King which the musical is mostly based on.

The set was fascinating.  Gigantic metal “waves” on the right side that represented a forest and/or a tree and/or other things dominated the scene.  The left side of the stage had various set that dropped from the rafters–a kingly backdrop, a bed, and other items. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 27, 2014] Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

josephSarah and her mom love Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  So when I saw that it was playing at the State Theatre for $7/ticket (as part of the Plays in the Park program) I decided to get tickets for all five of us (why not subject the kids to musicals as well?).

I knew the music a little from Sarah playing it, but I didn’t know it that well.  I always thought it was very funny that someone made a huge production out of what is a rather short Bible story.  But it’s a good story and one that I remember from my religion classes, so it seemed like a good afternoon of fun.

And it was.  This was the company’s 20th production of the show (who knew?).  And many of the people had been with the show for many many years.  So it was like a well-oiled machine.

The only thing that we all agreed we didn’t like so much was Joseph (Michael Ferlita). Not that he was bad, but that he was a bass.  And Joseph isn’t a bass.  It was weird, and at times hard to understand–it came across as more operatic than musical-y.  The rest of the performers were very good (as was the orchestra).  I was also delighted that the many of the men were kind of chunky–something you don’t often see on stage. (more…)

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