Sunday, April 24, 2011

TITO warming up to free season

The curtain is about to open on a new reality for Theater in the Open: The company, which has been performing at Maudslay State Park for most of its three-decade-plus existence, will be launching its first-ever free season, when the temperatures get up just a little higher. The season will include a little something for everybody: one of those pantos, a free-form, improvisational production with a little song, a little dance and maybe a little seltzer down your pants; a Steven Haley take on old Jean-Paul Sartre's “The Flies,” and an original adaptation of Grimm Brothers stories written by Gregory S. Moss. And, of course, free seasons don't come cheap. So, before the season officially gets under way, there's Spring Thaw, a fundraiser that will serve as a launching pad for what TITO artistic director Edward Speck hopes will be "the first of many, many years of community-supported, open theater." The show, which takes place April 28 at the Firehouse Center, will include Kristen Miller's soundtrack to a short movie by avant garde filmmaker Maya Deren; Exit Dance Theatre's "Famished," a Bugs Bunny-esque mix of slapstick and ballet centering around three people's lust for a doughnut (ummmmmm, doughnuts ...); and Haley's production of a Samuel Beckett play called, well, "Play," a 20-minute piece that deals with themes of fidelity, mortality and, despite our constant, endless jabbering, the species' failure to communicate. The company will try to keep the evening light with two short David Ives pieces, "Sure Thing," directed by Beth Randall, and "Phillip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread," which Speck will direct.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Locals making short, bloody small screen debut

Oh, bloody hell, there they are again. Not in the lobby or in the shadows of a darkened theater, where you usually find them, but on the small screen, in a gory, gross-out horror flick. At least they will be next week. Granted, you don’t want to close your eyes during the feature presentation, even though you desperately want to close your bloody eyes, because, if you do, you could very well miss them. The actors, not your eyes. “I'm little more than a dot in a large, dark mob of hungry, hopping — yep, Chinese vampires hop — vampires with glowing red eyes," says the guy we usually call Port playwright Ron Pullins because we love alliteration. His wife and sometimes-writing partner, Leslie Powell, fares a little better, at least from a performance point of view. She plays a little old lady who is sweeping her doorstep and then, a couple of minutes later, all that remains of her is, um, entrails that are unceremoniously tossed out the door.  But at least she gets a speaking role, albeit brief.  She says "Hi, dear" to Frank, an assassin and the unfortunate fellow who tangles with the vampire, while she is sweeping the stairs. We get a second peek at her a little later in the film, in a montage, she flashes on the Powell and, um, her guts, "because sadly I've been eaten by the Vampire," she says. "Yes these guys eat you, blood isn't enough for them.") The film which will premier at 8 p.m. April 30 on what used to be WNDS. Remember the slogan? The winds of New England. Now it’s called MYTV. Used to be Channel 50, we're not sure what Comcast, that evil corporate giant, calls it. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Now here's an exhibit to get jazzed about

Once upon a time — and, relatively speaking, it wasn't  that long ago, just 50, maybe 60 years ago — the lower-case gods walked among us. Jazz gods, a pantheon of now-legendary players  like Armstrong, Parker, Gillespie, then just working stiffs. Not only walking among us, but also playing across the street from each other. Not just a street, of course, but The Street: 52nd, between 5th and 6th, in a confluence of clubs, unrivaled anywhere, except, arguably, New Orleans. You just never knew who would walk through the door and take the stage. A case in point: 1947. Dizzy Gillespie was playing Three Deuces with his new band, which included Milt Jackson and the core of what would become the Modern Jazz Quartet, then in walked Ella Fitzgerald. She wasn't working. No, the Queen of Song was there to see bassist Ray Brown, her fiance. Gillespie cajoled her onto the stage, and William P. Gottlieb, the writer/photographer who documented the scene for the Washington Post first, and, later, DownBeat,, moved into position. But this was not the shot he wanted. He wanted Gillespie in the frame. According to Gottlieb, he made a gesture with his shoulder and Gillespie, one of his favorite subjects over the years — and a guy who did not mind mugging for the camera — knew what needed to be done. He swooped into frame and assumed an angelic expression — "making like a fawn in the background," is how the photographer described it during an interview with the Library of Congress, which acquired the collection in 1995. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Japan benefit: Fun, funny, helpful

The big Japan benefit concert went off without a hitch yesterday. Unless you count that two — count 'em, two — times  The Fools blew out the power at Ipswich Town Hall, where the hometown heroes first played back in 1946, as the opening act for Teddy and the Pandas. At least that's the story Fools' frontman Mike Girard remembers it. Maybe the story's in  “Psycho Chicken & Other Foolish Tales,” his new book which chronicles the band's 30-year (so far) run, and which he shamelessly flogged from the stage. Available at Amazon, by the way. It's all his fault anyhow. The power went out before he sang a single note. The singer had just asked the tech guy to make the mike sound "more manly." The adjustment proved to be, well, perhaps just a little bit too manly, transforming that special moment into the sonic equivalent of erectile dysfunction. Power was restored a couple of minutes later, only to tank seconds later — again, without a single Foolish note played. Leading the singer to suspect foul play. A conspiracy is how he put it. But a conspiracy that had good consequences for the audience. "We look better in the dark," he said. There's really no arguing with that, is there?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ovsepian's last-minute magic at the Musical Suite

Used to be that his family got shortchanged. Vardan Ovsepian lived and worked in Newburyport, and got out to see the folks and his sister in Cali-Cali once, maybe twice a year. These days, he lives on the left coast, in Los Angeles, with the family, and gets here once, maybe twice a year and, like everyone on the wrong side of the short end of the stick, you've got to be ready to drop everything else when you get the word that he's around. Which is why I lit the fuse and blew up my schedule when we got a last-minute email saying Ovsepian, a jazz pianist with four Fresh Sound-New Talent albums under his belt, as well as two independent projects, would be blowing through New England, playing three shows in less than a week, before heading back to the coast.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The name game: Banding together for Japan

The final schedule for Help Japan: A Benefit Concert for Japan Disaster Relief is locked in place and the organizers could not be happier for three reasons: 1) They're sick and tired of revising the poster 2) There's no longer any danger that the font sizes of the band names will shrink any further, meaning readability will be maintained and 3) They can move on other other technical issues, like how they're going to get 14 bands on and off the stage in, like, five hours. The event will feature Gary Shane and the Detour; Willie "Loco" Alexander, in a rare performance off the island of Gloucester; Robin Lane, performing solo acoustic; Asa Brebner and Friends; and Imojah and the Skylight Band, featuring ex-Cultural Roots singer Wade Dyce. Also performing will be the Silvertones, Alan Laddd and the Abashed, Shane Champagne, Andy Levesque, Pastor Derek, Peter Lavenson, The Beaners, Adam Sherman and the Souls and Rusty Compass. The press release says "and more," but that's not too likely and it would be, um, foolish to speculate whether anyone will jump in at the last minute to back anyone up, or whether Asa and Robin will team up in some sort of impromptu Chartbusters reunion, not with the previously mentioned time pressures. The concert takes place from 4 to 9 p.m. April 17 at Ipswich Town Hall, 25 Green St., Ipswich. Tickets are $10. Nobody besides Global Giving, the non-profit organization, is making a cent from this. The musicians are working for free. The Town of Ipswich has donated the space. All proceeds will be donated to relief efforts in Japan. And, by the way, the Global Giving is more than happy to take private donations for their work. You can do that by clicking here. There's more information about the concert at Pictured, clockwise from top, left, Robin Lane, Wade Dyce, Willie Alexander and Gary Shane.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

'Crazy' community: Maggy, friends at Firehouse

You’d think that with all the stuff going on in his life over the past year — first rebranding, then undertaking a huge expansion of Whole Music, bringing the former Pine Island Music Resource to the historic Carriage Mill Building in downtown Amesbury, and launching an ambitious artist development series, partnering with former WBOS program director Dana Marshall.... You'd think that E.J. Ouellette, well, that he's got a screw loose or something. And he's not necessarily going to argue the point. "I ought to have my head examined,” says Ouellette, the frontman for Crazy Maggy and a fixture on the North Shore music scene for decades, who, aside from his preoccupation with work that borders on obsession, seems to be a regular guy. But, leaving stubborn mental health issues to the side, for now, anyhow — there are trained professionals for that —  the question becomes, is all work getting in the way of the "real" work, the personal vision, the creative stuff? And the answer is, sort of ... well, not really.