“Chicago” Pops and “All That Jazz” at the Thomaston Opera House

Chicago

Pop. Six. Squish. Uh-Uh. Cicero. Lipschitz.

“Cell Block Tango” is the number in “Chicago” every dancer and actress wants to be in and every audience member wants to see.

Audiences flocking to Landmark Community Theatre’s production of “Chicago,” closing this weekend at the Thomaston Opera House, have it coming with a dynamic show from the dances to the music.

And the six merry murderesses of the Cook County jail — Velma (Janina Gonzalez), Annie (Katie Brunetto), June (Malie Louise Grasmere), Liz (Martha Martin), Mona (Jean Marie-McGrath) and Leanna Scaglione (Hunyak the Hungarian) live up to and exceed expectations in their rendition of the “Cell Block Tango.” Each brought their own character (and accents) to their roles, letting their individuality shine and pop while maintaining cohesion as a dance team. There were no actual cells and black chairs were the only props/set worked into the number, but those decorations were not missed and it honed in on the dancing and acting.

That was true for the whole play, which has a black box theater feel to it with little set, eliminating distractions sometimes caused by set moves. The bare stage challenged the audience to rely on their imaginations to set the scene. The stage has levels to it with stairs down the middle, the orchestra visibly on either side in bleacher-style seating and a ladder to a high balcony platform downstage right. In true Fosse fashion, all of the performers wore black and the actresses wore various Burlesque-style outfits, never changing costumes whether they were one of the “Cell Block Tango” girls, a reporter or other character.

The show seemed more like a series of acts that each tell their own story, pieces of the overarching plot, as opposed to having a linear storyline. It had a refreshing, Vaudeville night club vibe to it that worked well.

Gonzalez is a triple threat on stage with the trifecta of a killer voice, strong dancing and exceptional acting. Her saucy attitude and tough spunk as Velma made her character stand out on stage.

Emily Diedrich plays Roxie Hart, the newest inmate on murderess row after shooting her lover. At first, her innocent persona was a little flat, but she added sizzle and excelled when she emoted sex appeal, attitude and strength in later dance numbers as her character craves more attention and strives to be the star she had always dreamed of being.

While she and Gonzalez hit all the dance steps in their final duo, they were a little off from each other in the number, however, Gonzalez’s dancing prowess drew your attention so it didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the act.

“Cell Block Tango” may have been the number people came to see, as one of many big hits like “All That Jazz” that was jam-packed into the first act, but another highlight that surprised me was “We Both Reached for the Gun.” That was Diedrich’s strongest act as she portrayed a limber dummy while Roxie’s attorney, the razzling and dazzling Billy Flynn (Tom Chute) puts words in her mouth to try to win the press over to give Roxie celebrity status so she can be a famous performer when he hopefully clears her name in court. Her movements and facial expressions as a doll were just one example of how dance was so important in storytelling in this play.

The cast was lucky enough to work with Carolyn Kirsch, who was in 15 Broadway productions over 21 years and who worked with “Chicago” choreographer Bob Fosse. She also toured nationally in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” “Sweet Charity” and “Chicago,” playing Velma Kelly, Roxie’s rival who wants Billy Flynn to focus on making her famous so she can book big dance gigs. The Thomaston production includes her master class choreography in two dance numbers. 

Speaking of razzle dazzle, Chute charmed the audience with his coyness, charisma, humor and powerhouse voice, not to mention how long he can hold a note!

Carletha Hawley also had a standout voice as Mama Morten, the prison warden. She was not only a strong singer, but was also exceptional at putting the character into her songs.

Chuck Stango won the audience’s heart as Amos Hart, drawing people’s pity and sympathy as Roxie’s husband, especially in his number about feeling invisible, “Mr. Cellophane.” By the way, his name’s Amos!

The cast really utilized the fact that the orchestra was on stage, talking to music director and pianist T.J. Thompson, who either did or didn’t respond to them, adding humor even though he wasn’t a character. 

There’s something that never seems to fail to draw laughs in theater and that’s a man in drag. D. Beaudoin was impressive as reporter Mary Sunshine, blond wig and all, particularly when he belted operatic soprano notes in falsetto that were higher than many of the female voice parts.

Caitlin Barra’s Go-to-Hell Kitty act was separate from “Cell Block Tango,” but had a similar feel and purpose as another possible murderess explaining why “he had it coming.” As a stand-alone act, it was pivotal to the plot and redirected the story when Roxie’s moment in the limelight seems fleeting and in danger of burning out.

All of the dancers really committed to this show portraying oozing seductresses.

If you’d have been there, if you’d have seen it, I bet you would have said the same.

And you can still see it as the cast gets ready for closing weekend. Final shows are May 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. and May 3 at 2 p.m.  You can call the box office for tickets at (860) 283-6250 or visit http://www.landmarkcommunitytheatre.org for more information.

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Guitarist Jamie Moses on Playing With Queen: “All My Christmases Came at Once”

Anglo-American guitarist Jamie Moses has played with many music greats in his day, but after playing a night of Queen music in Bristol, Connecticut, he reflected on an experience that was a true gift to him — playing with Brian May of Queen.

“It was an honor. It was just fantastic, it was great,” Moses said in the Green Room after playing with tribute band Celebrating Queen and Tommy Williams of the Hooters at Memorial Boulevard Theatre.  “I’ve played with some people in my time. But Brian’s always been one of my favorite guitar players in the world. So, all my Christmases came at once when I got that gig. It was great.”

He started playing with May’s band and the surviving members of Queen in 1992, the year after the world lost arguably one on the most talented rock vocalists of all time, Freddie Mercury, Queen’s lead singer. Though, he did have the fortune of playing with Mercury in his career, according to his website.

“I started out with the Brian May band and did many tours with that band and then that stopped at the end of the 90s,” said Moses, who played second guitar to May when he was in the band.

Listening to Celebrating Queen, if you closed your eyes, the guitar was on par with the real Queen, possibly because Moses played a stint as one of them. But ask him what it takes to be a Queen guitarist and he’s quite humble. Despite playing with Queen, he still gives all the guitar credits to May.

“He’s the only real Queen guitarist. I just help him out a bit, that’s all,” Moses said. “You just have to get in Brian’s head a little bit, which I supposed to do a bit. I don’t know. I just love the way he plays.”

May’s band is now touring with Adam Lambert. There’s no second guitar needed in that, but Moses said he was recently invited to play with May and Queen again in southeast London.

“He’s still a very good friend and I saw him a few weeks ago and they invited me onto their London gig at The 02,” Moses said.

Moses said “Under Pressure” is most likely his favorite Queen song to play, but he plays with such ease with exceptional energy and range that can either blend or stand out depending on when it’s necessary to harmonize and when it’s time to solo.

Born in England to a Bristish mother and American father and raised in the United States and Japan, Moses began teaching himself how to play guitar when he was 10 years old, according to his website, www.jamiemoses.com. He performed everything from Hendrix and James Brown covers to The Beatles at U.S. Air Force bases when he was 13, and also appeared on local television and radio shows, his bio on his website states. Then he moved to England with his family and plays freelance guitar/vocals with numerous artists.

The list of musicians Moses has worked with aside from Mays and Queen is vast and includes Corinne Bailey Rae, Queen Latifah, Annie Lennox, Olivia Newton-John, The Pretenders, Lionel Richie, U2 and Amy Winehouse to name a few, according to his website.

So what brought rock royalty to a former middle school and small-town theater in Bristol? Tribute band Celebrating Queen has three Bristol natives in it — lead singer Joe “JJ Midnight” Archambeault,” his brother, Carl “CJ Midnight” Archambeault and Shawn Fitzgerald, so that may have had something to do with it. Moses’s humility and sheer passion for music shines through as no venue is too small for him.

“They find me and sort of seek me out and they say, ‘Do you want to come play with us?’ because of my history with the band,” Moses said. “And I do. I’m happy to do it.”

Moses didn’t have much of a chance to see much of Bristol before the concert.

“Well, I’ve seen my hotel room and I’ve seen the lobby and the bar and the restaurant and it’s alright,” he said with a smile.

But he sure saw the audience, likely packed with Bristol residents.

“Terrific, great, lovely crowd,” he said.

And Bristol was happy to have him.

You can find out more about Jamie Moses on his personal website, www.jamiemoses.com.

Memorial Boulevard Theatre Finds Some Music to Love as Queen Guitarist Rocks Bristol

BRISTOL, CONNECTICUT — All hail the Queen. Or in this case the Queen celebration as a piece of rock royalty and a Queen tribute band featuring Bristol natives rocked Memorial Boulevard Theatre Saturday night for the first concert of its kind at the refurbished theater.

Anglo-American guitarist Jamie Moses started playing with Queen’s surviving members like Brian May the year after Freddie Mercury died in 1992. After touring with the band for several years, he was back playing the iconic rock music when he collaborated with internationally touring tribute band Celebrating Queen and Tommy Williams of The Hooters, who has played with Bob Dylan.

Bristol natives Shawn Fitzgerald and brothers Joe “JJ Midnight” Archambeault and Carl “CJ Midnight” Archambeault are members of Celebrating Queen. Joe Archambeault, the front man and lead singer for the tribute band, said it was special to be back performing at Memorial Boulevard, where he attended seventh grade.

Queen favorites like “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “I Want It All,” “Fat-Bottomed Girls” and “This Thing Called Love” reverberated through the auditorium of the nearly sold out house from the floor to the balcony. Archambeault worked the crowd, roaming the aisles and engaging the audience.

Love filled the theater for one of the most memorable moments in the show — “Somebody to Love.” But instead of taking the lead for the whole thing, Archambeault came down to the audience’s level and invited everyone to sing the opening, pointing the microphone to the crowd. He sang with Bristol pride, not forgetting his roots. His stutter step dancing during the “Got no feel, I got no rhythm/I just keep losing my beat” line brought priceless, humorous storytelling to the song. And with sweat trickling down his face by the end, his stage presence never lost energy.

Moses blended in with the band, producing guitar backing on par with the real Queen, perhaps because he was one of them, and sometimes singing harmonies. But Celebrating Queen also made sure to give him his featured moments and recognition as he stepped forward for impressive, impassioned guitar solos, including one of the best guitar solos of all time, in my opinion, in “Somebody to Love.”

And you can’t have a Queen concert without “Bohemian Rhapsody,” so, of course, that’s what Celebrating Queen closed with before singing “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” for the encore. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was the song that got me hooked on Queen. The first time I heard it, I was confused what message the band was trying to get across (and I still don’t entirely know!) and thought it was strange. But then, my sister, Jamie, who has a knack for comedy whether she intends to or not, sang it a cappella in the dark, only lit by flashlight, once when we lost power at our Farmington house to entertain us and had me almost on the floor laughing. Then I started listening to more and more Queen and was hooked, mesmerized by the complicated, layered guitar riffs and the range of the vocals and harmonies. It became my favorite band. I even saw Queen’s “We Will Rock You” musical in London, which is the only musical I’ve ever seen get the audience on its feet dancing like it was a concert. “Bohemian” has since become my go-to karaoke song, which certainly gives you a lot of floor time because it’s about eight minutes long, but it doesn’t get boring or repetitive because it has so many diverse parts to it. If they hadn’t played it, I would have been disappointed, but this band doesn’t disappoint regardless and they came through to close out a fantastic night of rock in Bristol.

It was Memorial Boulevard Theatre’s first rock concert, so the show had more meaning than simply celebrating Queen. The concert celebrated art as the theater group works to bring more plays, concerts and shows to the town-owned former middle school to help bring thriving art to Bristol and this portion of Connecticut. When you start with royalty that sets the bar high, but it leaves no doubt there are great things to come from this growing theater initiative.

For more information about Celebrating Queen, you can visit their Facebook page, YouTube channel, My Space page, Reverb Nation page and on ustream.com. Jamie Moses and Tommy Williams also have personal websites. More information about Memorial Boulevard Theatre is available on the organization’s website, http://www.memorialboulevardatc.org and on Facebook under Memorial Boulevard Arts & Technology Center.

Grammy-Nominated Pianist Uses Music to Tell Mother’s Story of Escaping Nazis

Music tells a story.

That’s certainly the case with “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” featuring Grammy-nominated pianist Mona Golabek at the Hartford Stage.

The show is a poignant must-see production because it is more than a play. It is history and it is personal as Golabek plays her mother, Lisa Jura, who was one of the Jewish children sent by her family on the Kindertransport to from Austria to London to escape the Nazis and have a better life. Jura had a gift at playing the piano, so her parents risked parting from their daughter so she could have a chance at pursuing her dream of being a professional pianist.

It’s based on Golabek’s book, “The Children of Willesden Lane: Beyond the Kindertransport” A Memoir of Music, Love, and Survival,” which she co-wrote with Lee Cohen, telling the story of her mother and grandmother, Malka. Director Hershey Felder (George Gershwin Alone) adapted the story to the stage.

Mona Golabek plays her mother, Lisa Jura in "The Pianist of Willesden Lane" at the Hartford Stage and tells her story of escaping Nazi-riddled Vienna on the Kindertransport to pursue her dream of being a pianist. She also plays piano interludes throughout.  Credit: Hartford Stage

Mona Golabek plays her mother, Lisa Jura in “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” at the Hartford Stage and tells her story of escaping Nazi-riddled Vienna on the Kindertransport to pursue her dream of being a pianist. She also plays piano interludes throughout. Credit: Hartford Stage

“An expression of hope and the life-affirming power of music, The Pianist of Willesden Lane tells the true story of a young Jewish musician who was sent from Nazi-rulled Vienna to the relative safety of London during the Blitzkrieg,” the Hartford Stage said to describe the show.

While I appreciate classical music, contemporary music with words is usually what holds my attention the most, however, I found myself charmed and enthralled by the music as Golabek played the classics because it was a focal point in her mother’s story and accompanied the spoken words exquisitely. Even without words in the music, you could feel the emotion and find your own individual meaning in the songs.

The one-person production is intimate and feels more like Golabek sitting us down in her living room, as her mother, and telling us her story as if we were close friends with interludes of classical piano music. While it doesn’t have a plot, per se, or much action, I envisioned it through her words and the music and pictured where Jura was and what she experienced through the oral narrative.

Golabek impressively also voiced the different people that her mom encountered on her journey, which helped captivate the audience. When asked what it was like to play her mother and multiple characters, Golabek said it was hard to come up with a short description, but said it was definitely “wild.”

Visually, the set was simple but beautiful. A grand piano was, of course, the center piece on a platform with steps on either side leading to the floor and a wall backdrop with frames. The production made use of modern technology to project historic videos and photos/paintings into the pictures, changing to match the story throughout the play.

Golabek is a recording artist, radio host and concert pianist with international prestige. She founded the non-profit, Hold On To Your Music. In addition to being nominated for the Grammy Awards, she has been honored with the Avery Fisher Career Grant and the People’s Award of the International Chopin Competition. PBS has featured her in many television documentaries like More Than Music, which won the grand prize at the Houston Film Festival in 1985, and Concerto for Mona. Golabek has also played concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Royal Festival Hall and internationally.

Her best-selling CD, Carnival of the Animals features the voices of Audrey Hepburn, Ted Danson, Lily Tomlin and other celebrities. Other recordings include Ravel’s Mother Goose featuring Salisbury, Connecticut resident and Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep and the Piano Trios of Arensky and Tchaikovsky.

Golabek signed autographs after the show and her book and CDs were available for purchase.

Trevor Hay and Felder make up the creative team behind the production, who also designed the set. Jaclyn Maduff designed the costumes, Christopher Rynne was the lighting designer, Erik Carstensen did the sound, Andrew Wilder and Greg Sowizdrzal were the projection designers and Cynthia Caywood served as dramaturg. Robinson & Cole LLP was the main sponsor for the production.

The show runs through April 26. Ticket prices start at $25. You can call the box office at 860-527-5151 for more information or visit www.hartfordstage.org.

Gallery: Queen Guitarist Jamie Moses Rocks Bristol With Tribute Band

The music of Queen filled Memorial Boulevard Theater on Saturday, April 11 to open the season and raise money for the theater.

Celebrating Queen, a Queen tribute band touring internationally, made a stop in Bristol, Connecticut for a show featuring guitarist Jamie Moses, who has played with the surviving members of Queen dating back to 1992.

Queen Guitarist to Rock Bristol in Tribute Queen Concert Fundraiser

It’s good to be the king, or in the rock world, Queen. And Bristol — no, not England, Bristol, Connecticut — will witness a piece of rock royalty on Saturday night as an acclaimed guitarist who has played with Queen — yes, the real Queen — joins a popular international tribute group for a charity concert celebrating the music of the legendary rock band.

The Central Connecticut Chamber, task force for the Memorial Boulevard Theater and the Everybody Sings Project are hosting the concert to raise money for the theater.

Jamie Moses, who has played and toured with the surviving members of Queen dating back to 1992, and tribute band Celebrating Queen are stopping at Bristol on their mini U.S. and Europe tour. Moses is performing at the Memorial Boulevard Community Arts Center with Tommy Williams of The Hooters and Bristol natives JJ Midnight (Joe Archambeault), CJ Midnight (Archambeault) and Shawn Fitzgerald.

“This was something that was talked about a few years ago with Jamie Moses, Spike Edny of Queen with Neil Murray from Whitesnake….then came a phone call that upper management did not really like the idea…..but this is Bristol, first show MBS, so many citizens went to school there, this is a chance to remember the greatness of that theater, and experience the rich future shows like ours exemplifies,” Joe Achambeault said.

Moses has also played with Led Zeppelin, The Who, U2 and other rock icons.

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 11 at the Memorial Boulevard Theater at 70 Memorial Boulevard in Bristol. It’s recommended to buy tickets in advance.