Sunday, January 30, 2011

The 'X' Factor: Novax, Sax and Lux

Interesting band, Lux. Crazy instrumentation: Drums. Two saxes, an alto and tenor. Guitar, but no bass. The bass isn’t needed because the guitar is no ordinary guitar. It’s a Novax: Eight strings, three bass, five standard, everything but the low E, an instrument that allows the guitarist to double. And the guitarist? Studied with Stacey Pedrick, founding member of The Fools. Still considers these knuckleheads of North Shore rock one of his all-time favorite bands. A guy who studied classical before switching to jazz performance, a guy with the nerve to submit a straight arrangement of Verdi’s “Requiem,” more or less, without a nod or wink toward improvisation. And got away with it. A guy who, when he returned home, started a funk band. Yeah, a funk band. We’re talking about Port guitarist Todd Clancy and his band Lux, a name that, perversely, suggests a softer sound, something classical, maybe medieval. But, no, not even close. The quartet, features Amy McGlothin, who, like Clancy, teaches at Salem State University, and PJ and Jared Holaday. Yes, sons of former Fools bassist Joe Holaday, now with Beatlejuice, and Donna Holaday. Yup, the mayor. The band has just released a new CD — “The Left One Alone.” A funny story about the CD title, one that Clancy believes we won’t tell. But, of course, we will. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rocking Renaissance: Round, round, get around

Chances are you’re rock-solid when it comes to the 800-pound gorillas of the era, the rockstars of the Renaissance, the bigwigs of the arts and sciences of the period. Which is to say, chances are good that you’re down with da Vinci and Michelangelo and that old sourpuss Galileo — maybe even Raphael. But if the Jeopardy category was music of the Renaissance instead of superstars, you’d probably be wishing you were on Cash Cab and could use a mobile shout out, because, for most people, including your shout out candidates, the category is a virtual black hole. History has all but swallowed up the composers of the era, with the possible exception of William Byrd, and that’s a stretch. Even Josquin des Pres, who helped create the  polyphonic musical form that would influence the future of all musical harmony at the same time that Leonardo turned the worlds of art, science and philosophy on their heads, has washed up on the shores of who-dat?  “It’s true, I’m not sure why, but it’s true,” says Charles Bradley, a tenor who leads Primal Polyphony, a Renaissance singing group that  promises to get all medieval, musically, on the audience as it pursues its mission  — to open up the music of the period —  when it pulls into the Port this weekend for a benefit for the Actors Studio.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cold Comfort: Hot pianist's Port performance

Yeah, I know, I know: You hoped that you would be able to swoop in at the last minute and snatch up a couple of tickets for Natalie Zhu’s  “The Romantic Piano” concert, which, one hopes, perhaps vainly, will take the winter’s chill out of our bones. Fat chance of that, or getting a ticket to this show, for that matter. The pianist, of course, is a monster, a Philadelphia-based musician who has walked away with every award worth having, who toured for nearly a decade with renowned violinist Hilary Hahn, whose playing has been described as nothing short of emotional and pianistic pyrotechnics. The program will include Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-Sharp Major and some preludes by the late-to-the-Romantic party Rachmaninoff, including Opus 3, No. 2, the “Bells of Moscow,” but the emotional core of the program is Liszt’s transformative B minor Sonata, one of the titanic pieces in the piano repertoire, famous both for its passion and the terrible technical demands it makes. Apparently the Mozart Fantasia, (D minor, K. 397) has been dropped. A pity. It’s an interesting piece, a little gem with unusual rhythms and constantly changing tempos. And seeing her perform at the The Carriage House, a lovely space with amazing acoustics, well, folks should be leaving that intimate space feeling pretty jazzed.

Friday, January 21, 2011

All dressed up for New Works

Funny thing is “Entree Gold,” the John Minigan play that won top honors at this year’s New Works Festival — a piece that will likely raise more than a few eyebrows when it finally hits the stage next week, seeing how it looks at fallout from the complete emotional collapse of a cross-dressing Catholic pedagogue (a word conjuring up another — pedophile — because of the context, which also figures into the background), and a production so powerful that both the organizer of the festival and one of its judges both virtually called dibs on it — has been languishing in the author’s desk drawer for almost 15 years. It wasn’t until the playwright saw the call for submissions, specifically for one-act plays — a new New Works category this year — that Minigan decided to dig out and dust off this old piece of his  “and see if it made more sense” than it did back in 1995, when he “gave up on it.” It did. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Port filmnaker focuses on dino-star wars

So, the toe bone's connected to the foot bone  and the foot bone's connected to the ankle bone, right? But the dinosaur bone? Well, the dinosaur bone’s connected ... to an ugly, fascinating and, ultimately, from a purely psychological point of view, sadly illuminating scientific-commercial  battle royal between paleontologists — and you know what they can be like when you ruffle their feath .... er, bones. We’re talking about the “bone wars,” a Civil War-era knock-down, drag-out cage match between paleontological superstars  Edward Cope and Charles Marsh — a battle royal that eventually destroyed them both. Port filmmaker Mark Davis will “shake dem skeleton bones” in a new documentary for PBS’s "American Experience."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

In the Cards: Films to benefit stage

My favorite moment in a Charles Card film comes near the end of “The Good Samaritan,” when the vampire (Jack Rushton) bares his fangs, ready to feed, for better or worse, on the life blood of that vapid party girl (Nicole Foti) who had disgusted him a few minutes earlier when they met at a cafe that looks just  like Stella’s, the former Middle Street Foods, and little Miss Pretty (vacant) looks up at him and asks, “You’re not from around here, are you?” It’s not the first vampire flick for the Newbury biochemist-turned-filmmaker. That would be “Natural Selection,” a character-driven story about a sad, self-loathing and desperately lonely night stalker who is sickened by what he is and what he has to do to stay alive.  And it probably won’t be his last: He remains intrigued by the kind of “multilayered, tortured” characters vampires tend to be. Besides, the undead will never be dead. Not in this culture. Vampires — and zombies and the whole array of creatures that haunt the night — are huge and “will never lose their appeal totally,” he says. “There will always be vampire movies around in some form.” But, while intrigued by the genre, the filmmaker is not stuck on it, as anyone attending the screening of his work this weekend at the Actors Studio will see. He’ll show the vampire films, but will also screen two comedies, an action martial arts film and even a music video, now in post-production, for prolific Amesbury songwriter Andy Pratt, best known for his mid-'70s hit “Avenging Annie."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

New year, busy year for New Works winner

It’s feast or famine out there in theater land, right? Sometimes — and that, of course, means usually — you can’t even give your stuff away, and sometimes ... well, sometimes things really start to groove. Just ask Ann Marie Shea, the Worcester-based playwright who is starting the new year in a big way, with three productions  — one full-length play and a couple of 10-minute shorts. On the same weekend, of course. And in different parts of the state: Her full-length play “Last Word,” which looks at the unraveling of a hotshot poet and lit professor’s life, kicks off this year’s New Works Festival, and “Old Friends, New Benefits,” a Shea short about a sudden, undeniable and inconvenient love in the over-60 set, gets a reading the following day. All of this happening while Turtle Lane Playhouse in Auburndale  stages “Family Archive,”a one-act play, and as Shea prepares to take her one-act, one-woman show “Madame Secretary Frances Perkins,” about Franklin Roosevelt’s  controversial secretary of labor — and Worcester native — on the road.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A parade of plays at New Works

A lot of new faces at this year's New Works Festival, the two-weekend play series focusing on new works by local and regional playwrights, but also a  lot of familiar faces, too. Like James McLindon, the Northampton-based scribbler who has taken home top honors in three of the last four years. This year, however, he’s playing a supporting role instead of his more familiar position as the festival’s top playwriting dog, landing a spot on the lineup with “Japanese Schoolgirl Night,” a short that sounds like a show you might find on one of those pay-per-view channels, but, the author assures us, is most definitely not a porno — despite the proximity of Jell-O shots, schoolgirls and a prestigious all-girls college. And the Girard-Faria machine continues to roll, with the Newbury playwrights — and New Works regulars — Steve Faria and Deirdre Girard taking two spots at the two-week festival. Other locals on the playbill include Bruce Menin, who’s back at the Firehouse festival after a five-year absence with a dark comedy about infidelity, murder and forgiveness, and Exit Dance Theater founder Fontaine Dubus, who contributes a short about two techies who sort out a bit of personal business in between cue calls at a dance recital. 

Menin's unexpected New Works entry

Surprise, you’re in the New Works Festival! Um, thanks … huh? That’s how it happened, more or less, at least for Bruce Menin. The school committee member, you see, is an inveterate, although not especially detail-oriented scribbler. Last summer, he looked at the calendar and noticed it was like five minutes to deadline for the New Works Festival, so, he rifled through the old desk drawer and found  a 10-minute play he had written almost three years ago. A couple of tweaks and, for better or worse,  the thing was in the mail. He didn’t think too much of it, just kind of wrote it off. “It was such an afterthought, that I completely forgot about it,” he says. Until he ran into one of the festival organizers, who congratulated him for landing a spot in the festival, a two-weekend celebration of new plays by local writers. ”Much to my embarrassment, I had to ask him for what,” says Menin. “ When he told me that I had been selected for New Works, to my further embarrassment, I had to ask him which play I had submitted.”