Tap Dogs – Nederlander Theater – April 21, 2019

What better thing to do on Easter than see Tap Dogs, as Easter reminds me of the movie Easter Parade, which reminds me of Fred Astaire tap dancing to Stepping Out With My Baby. But more on him later.

My love of tap dancing has been well-documented in my blogs about Aladdin, Something in the Game, 42nd Street, The Book of Mormon, Anything Goes, and Holiday Inn, and by the numerous times (like this one) I have gratuitously mentioned Sutton Foster.

But Tap Dogs takes the obsession to a whole new level. No, there aren’t actually dogs tap dancing (darn), though that was about the only thing missing. Think Stomp meets The Nicholas Brothers, except the Tap Dogs were in t-shirts, not tuxedos, and didn’t do painful-to-look-at splits down a staircase.

Backed by a couple of ferocious women drummers, the six male dancers did everything from splash dancing on a construction site set (think Singing in the Rain meets the Village People) to tap dancing upside down while hoisted up wearing a harness and dangling just below a fake ceiling, which reminded me of Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling in Royal Wedding, except here there were no special effects.

And the action was nonstop (these guys are in shape!) – 90 minutes with no intermission. My legs are sore just from watching, but my heart rate should be back to normal in no more than a day or two.

There was some comic relief scattered throughout, and one of the dancers incorporated several famous nontap dance steps. And, while I admit that I prefer that my tap dancing include mixed chorus lines in more traditional dance costumes, and a little lower decibel level, my hearing appears to be unharmed and my feet are still keeping the beat hours later. Dance on!

Boston Typewriter Orchestra – ONWORD – American Writers Museum Annual Benefit – Four Seasons Hotel – April 9, 2019

The ONWORD event featured, on display, eight typewriters from the forthcoming Tools of the Trade exhibit, opening in June at the American Writers Museum. There were typewriters that had been used by Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, and Hugh Hefner, among others.

Working off the theme of the exhibit, the entertainment was the Boston Typewriter Orchestra. I’m not sure what makes the Boston Typewriter Orchestra an orchestra, which is normally thought of as consisting of instruments from different families, such as strings and woodwinds, as opposed to an ensemble of, in this case, only percussion instruments. My guess is that it’s because the name sounds more pretentious.

Nevertheless, the idea of a typewriter orchestra sounded interesting, as it turned out, more interesting than the orchestra sounded. Keep in mind, I’m not talking about someone playing Leroy Anderson’s famous Typewriter on a typewriter with The Brandenburg Symphony Orchestra. That’s two minutes of fun.

I think the all-typewriter Boston group should have combined their music with a literary theme. For example, with a nod to the earth’s monkey population, they could have read whatever they typed as a result of their “music” to see if their compositions resulted in Shakespeare.

Or, they could have taken a piece of written work and tunefully typed it out in a manner that reflected the substance of the work. Maybe, even make it a name that tune, or rather book, game. Listen to the typewriters and try to guess what book they’re typing. That would have kept everyone’s attention longer than the 15 seconds that the actual performance did.

I wonder what the museum will do next year.  Perhaps they’ll bring in the Chicago Metamorphosis Orchestra Project and its Paper Orchestra.  Or, what about a fountain pen orchestra, making different sounds with different colors of ink? Too subtle?

Culture Like a Local at the Chicago Association of Specialized Museums Kickoff Event and Gallery Opening – Cards Against Humanity Theater – April 5, 2019

The Chicago Association of Specialized Museums is a self-described “coalition of small and quirky institutions throughout Chicago.”

Each museum invited its members to the party to introduce them to the other museums. Unfortunately, the space at the Cards Against Humanity Theater was too small to allow for a real appreciation of the visual presentations on the walls, though it did make it easy to mingle. All you had to do was turn around or try to scratch your nose.

What I did appreciate, however, was that, as at the opening of the American Writers Museum Bob Dylan exhibit, there was Heaven’s Door whiskey available for tasting. Also, the Fat Shallot food truck had excellent sandwiches.

The Chicago Gadhon Ensemble provided the Javanese gamelan background music on bamboo flutes and xylophones. I would have preferred Lionel Hampton and a jazz selection, but he hasn’t been available for quite a while.

I’ll mention a few of the museums. You can look the rest of them up on the association’s website. I was invited as a member of the American Writers Museum, which I love and have written about many times.

The Museum of Broadcast Communications is great. I get there regularly because it’s an early voting location and they let you roam around the museum for free if you go there to vote.

I’ve walked past the Poetry Foundation a million times, and if I ever figure out where the door is, I might check it out.

I also have never been to the International Museum of Surgical Science, but I see that they have an upcoming Nerd Night, for which they suggest that, after that night’s three featured talks, one of which is titled “Fecal transplants: Real science or a load of crap?”, you grab a drink at their bar and look at the exhibits because “everyone will be too drunk to mock you for reading every letter of every plaque!” Sounds like fun.

Icons Gala – Porchlight Music Theater – Ritz Carlton – March 31, 2019

Porchlight Music Theater’s Icons Gala fundraising event included silent and live auctions and a tribute to director and choreographer Jerome Robbins.

While the tribute included some dancing, I doubt that it was original Robbins choreography. There was much more singing, with performances from Robbins shows such as Gypsy, On The Town, The Pajama Game, Bells Are Ringing, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, and A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum.

The inclusion of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at an event featuring an auction was particularly appropriate. The first recorded auctions were in Greece around 500 B.C., though oddly, the word auction derives from the Latin word that translates as an increase.

The main items sold at early Greek auctions were daughters, sold to be brides. Courtesans also were sold, as in A Funny Thing Happened, which was set around 200 B.C., although, fortunately for me, Porchlight produced a 2015 version that I was around to attend, as I was unavailable in 200 B.C.

Porchlight offered a variety of items for purchase at the gala, 59 in the silent auction, and 6 in the live auction, but, fortunately, unlike ancient Greece, none of them involved the transfer of people, although there were a few that involved people agreeing to subjugate themselves by preparing dinner for the winning bidders. In the hope that someone, anyone really, would prepare a dinner for me, I bid vigorously on one such item, but, alas, came up short.

Bill Kurtis and Donna La Pietra served as emcees for the introductions of the live auction items, or rather she did as he stood by her side looking legendary, before they turned things over to a real auctioneer, who put on a show of his own, compete with flashing lights, but no courtesans.

Spring Forward – International Music Foundation (IMF) – Union League Club – March 27, 2019

As Master of Ceremonies Robbie Ellis informed us, the IMF event we were attending was to raise money for the International Music Foundation, which puts on the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts, the Rush Hour Concerts, the Do-It-Yourself Messiah, Make Music Chicago, Live Music Now!, and coming this summer, concerts with Gallagher Way Chicago; not for the International Monetary Fund (also IMF), which apparently is doing okay without the need for a fundraising event, as its website says it currently has one trillion dollars available to lend to its member countries.

Perhaps the International Music Foundation should give up its 503(c) status and resurrect itself as a country to qualify for a loan. Unless, and maybe even if, the Music Foundation attempted this by ceding its physical space (i.e. offices) in order not to impinge on U.S. territory (though I wonder if the offices could be turned into a consulate – query, can you have a consulate without a physical home country?), the Music Foundation might not be able to declare independence without United Nations approval. I’ll let the lawyers work that out.

Becoming a country could add a second fundraising technique to the Music Foundation’s arsenal, however, as displayed in the book and movie The Mouse That Roared, wherein the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, on the verge of bankruptcy, declares war on the United States, with the expectation of a rapid defeat that would lead to the inevitable post-war aid from the U.S. to help the Duchy rebuild.

Until the Music Foundation can implement my suggestions, however, it will have to rely on fundraisers. This one included performances by Marguerite Lynn Williams (harp), Richard Lin (violin) with Chin-Yi-Chen (piano) Diana Newman (soprano) with Brian Locke (piano), and Ellis, with Locke on piano, performing his own Symphony No. 1 in Eb, a comedic performance that I cannot do justice in trying to describe, but highly recommend you listen to as providing a perfect ending for this recap.

Noises Off (Nothing On) – Windy City Playhouse – March 17, 2019

I think the cast of Noises Off did a really good job (as opposed to the squabbling, irresponsible cast of Nothing On, the play within the play), but how would I know? The breakneck pace of Noises Off, which tells the story of an incompetent acting company, allows for the possibility of the cast doing almost anything they want, going off script and improvising, and having it seem like it’s part of the play.

Once again, as it did with Southern Gothic, the Windy City Playhouse does things a little differently. In traditional productions of Noises Off, the Nothing On stage is turned around in the second act to reveal the backstage deterioration of the show. But Windy City leaves the stage as is and takes the audience around back for the second act, which is still the first act of Nothing On, except on a different night, then returning the audience to their original seats to watch the third act, still the first act of Nothing On, except on yet another night, as that show falls deeper into theatrical hell.

Some of the audience gets to climb a ladder to sit on a second level landing during the second act, with their feet hanging over the backstage. I’m not sure whether this is considered prime seating, but it is voluntary. Maybe next time.

Special mention to Rochelle Therrien, as Brooke Ashton, as Vicki, or really to Vicki, who never drops a line in Nothing On no matter what mayhem is going on around her to cause the line to no longer make any sense whatsoever, which would be confusing to the Nothing On audience, but is priceless to the Noises Off audience.

And to Ryan McBride, as Garry Jejune, as Roger Tramplemain, for the best live pratfall I’ve ever seen at the theater, giving no regard for life or limb as he careened down a staircase. He could make a lot of money doing that as part of an insurance fraud scheme.

Diderot String Quartet with Harry Bicket, Harpsichord – Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts – Chicago Cultural Center – March 13, 2019

Lovely concert. Shouldn’t that be enough? No, because I was sitting in the front row, only a few feet from the performers. So I couldn’t help but notice that the members of the quartet weren’t using chin rests or shoulder pads and that something seemed different about their bows. Can of worms!

Going in, the only thing I knew about violins was what Emily Litella taught me about them on Weekend Update.

Now, having researched the issues, I understand that a baroque bow has a slightly different curvature than a modern bow.  So when it’s bent, it’s baroque, not broke.

Shoulder pads, while useful, can be problematic, because of several issues related to proper fitting. I don’t mean the kind of shoulder pads that Joan Crawford made famous. I mean the kind that attach to the stringed instrument to keep it stable.

Chin rests, which protect the instrument’s varnish and provide a secure and comfortable place for the jaw, also must be properly fitted.  A proper chin piece can help the musician play with a proud sternum, which is apparently a thing among violinists.

So why weren’t these musicians using chin rests? As Pee Wee Herman so famously said in his Big Adventure, “everyone I know has a big but. . . . let’s talk about your big but.”

The big but for chin rests is in regard to baroque violins, which are different in several ways from their more modern counterparts, in particular in regard to the tailpiece, which I knew was a part of a car, but had no idea was also a part of a violin.

Coincidentally, I found a video that discussed baroque violins and chin rests in terms of downshifts and upshifts, which I also knew related to cars, but not violins.

Next thing you know, I’ll discover an organization of mothers against drunk violin playing.

 

 

Music Under Glass: Alonso Brothers – Garfield Park Conservatory – March 10, 2019

I lived the first six months of my life within a half mile of the Garfield Park Conservatory, and yet didn’t remember anything about it when I returned for the Alonso brothers concert.

A conservatory, according to Merriam-Webster, can be a greenhouse or a music school, which made it appropriate to place these two powerful pianists among pots and plants to present their pleasurable program.

Fortunately, the room was comfortably climate-controlled, cooler than other parts of the conservatory, corresponding to the captivatingly cool Caribbean music of the concert, which bore no relation to that which was elicited from students by that famous alleged ought 5 graduate of the Gary, Indiana Conservatory, Harold Hill.

Breaking from a scheduled playlist that was to include Brahms and Debussy, the Alonso brothers concentrated on pieces related to their Cuban heritage, some of which were familiar to the audience, such as Malaguena and Oye Como Va, the composer of which, Tito Puenta, actually was Puerto Rican, but was inspired to write the piece by Cuban composer Cachao, originator of the mambo. In any event, the Santana version of it helped get me through my senior year of college.

In addition to changing their playlist, the brothers informed the audience, during their enthusiastic, informative, and humorous song introductions, that they originally had been scheduled to play their duets upon a single piano, but asked for a second, while hoping that this added expense wouldn’t be taken out of their paychecks.

Both brothers read their music off tablets, a practice that I’ve written about before, but about which I’ve found additional information, in particular about page-turning, using a foot pedal, when using a tablet, a trend that explains why page-turner is not listed among the fastest growing occupations by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Blood, Sweat & Tears -The Villages – March 1, 2019

The lead singer did a decent David Clayton-Thomas impression and the musicians were excellent, especially the drummer, whose featured solo was a showpiece for his lightening-fast hands. But I wondered how the front man for the band calling itself Blood, Sweat & Tears (pursuant, I assume, to an array of legal agreements) could keep a straight face talking about “we” when referring to the band’s hits and accomplishments, including winning the 1970 Grammys Album of the Year over Abbey Road.

What made this braggadocio cringe-worthy for me is that only one of the current members of the band joined it before 2010, and even he joined 10 years after the last of the original members left. Did they really think the elderly audience was so senile that they would believe that these clones were the real thing?

Or perhaps the band was counting on an audience that had indulged in one too many of the omnipresent happy hours in The Villages. The local paper is filled with notices about them, right before the pages filled with notices about AA and Al-Anon meetings.

In The Villages’ three town squares, happy hours are accompanied by local bands playing golden oldies for free for the resident golden oldies, which begs the question as to why the residents pay to see a faux Blood, Sweat & Tears. Maybe it’s for the uncomfortable folding chairs in the Savannah Center.

Or maybe it’s for the chance to see surprise guest performers, like sports commentator and interviewer Roy Firestone, who was there plugging his book and forthcoming show, telling anecdotes, and doing speaking and singing impressions. I have to admit he wasn’t bad, but his act seemed so out of place that a lot of people sat and squirmed until the band appeared to do its impressions.  At least that was my impression.

Chopin in the City Festival – Svetlana Belsky – Consulate General of the Republic of Poland – February 22, 2019

I saw Svetlana Belsky play the piano as part of the EStrella Piano Duo at a Fourth Presbyterian Church lunch hour concert last year and was very impressed with her skills and wit. So, upon finding out that she would be performing the opening concert of the 3rd Chopin in the City Festival at the Consulate General of Poland, I casually mentioned to anyone who would listen (invoking Rule #1 – “It can’t hurt to ask” and Rule #2 – “It only takes one.”) that it sure would be great to get an invitation to the private event.

And so, having been successful in my quest, I found myself at the concert and reception, having a lovely conversation with a member of the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China, who informed me, my free drink in hand, that he and members of the other consulates in town regularly make the rounds of each other’s events.

It was shortly thereafter that I learned that, despite the attraction of the party-hopping, I was not cut out for the diplomatic service, as the gentleman seemed to lose interest in our discussion after I informed him I knew where his Chicago headquarters were located because I had seen picketers marching outside of it.

The concert itself was wonderful, once it got started after seemingly interminable opening remarks by a woman who seemed to be practicing an Oscar speech as she thanked everyone she had ever met, or hoped to meet, for helping to make the evening possible.

Belsky played beautifully, with energy, grace and skill; a twinkle in her eyes, and the occasional impish grin that she made a part of the music. And her commentary between pieces once again exhibited her wonderful sense of humor. I hope to crash another of her performances in the near future.