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Iambic Your Pentameter Tonight!

Much Ado From Nothing: Improvised Shakespeare
Much Ado From Nothing: Improvised Shakespeare

I feel that I can wax philosophically about William Shakespeare with authority, having recently seen Workshop Theatre’s production of “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)”.

I suspect actual scholars might challenge me on that, but they will find me slippery and elusive.

If you tend to prefer your Shakespearean improv information more from the horse’s mouth so to speak, or at least from a reputable representative of say, The Kinkonauts, I offer you a brief Q & A conducted earlier by email with actual Kinkonaut Ryan Sheedy:

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1) The last presentation (An Improvised Tarantino) was a blast – and standing room only – are you already finding pre-sales brisk for Shakespeare?
Despite having his little bardy hands influence so much in the world of literature and theatre, the Tarantino garnered a bit more interest prior to the show itself. However, our audience last night was very healthy, and pre-sales have been great!
2) Was there ever any consideration for “An Improvised Willie”???
We’d performed AISP as Much Ado From Nothing last season, and the name stuck, but I see what you did there! Shakespeare is inherently cheeky, so there will no doubt be puns and wordplay galore in the show!
3) For people that may not be familiar with the concept, the night opens with some warm-up improv before the main feature, and then guests can decide to stay (and pay??) to stick around  for MixTape, which I was unable to last time – but features the cream of Calgary’s improv troupes?
 
Yes! At 10PM after our early ASIP show, there are individual players from Loose Moose, Dirty Laundry, Notorious, The Kinkonauts, and Obviously Improv playing as The Mixtape Improv Party. It’s been a great showcase for the incredible talent that Calgary has in its improv community, and has allowed those separate troupes to come together as a part of that larger community. The show will match up players with people they rarely or never have a chance to play with, and features musical accompaniment to inspire scenes!
4) What’s the costume budget for AISP? IS there a costume budget for AISP? 
 
Luckily enough our friends at The Shakespeare Company were kind enough to lend us some costumes, but, being thespians ourselves, we usually have a tickle trunk filled with some costuming goodies and tights.
5) If you had to place a bet, which Shakespeare references do you expect to get the most of this weekend – what would be your guess for the most unlikely?
 
It’s difficult to be too referential to written Shakespeare since not everyone might be ‘in’ on the joke, so the references we’ll get the most out of will probably be to the story made that night! That said, it’s possible someone will drop a ‘To be, or not to be?’ in there somewhere, or some Romeo and Juliet since that and Hamlet are very popular and/or mandated in the Provincial English Language Arts curriculum. Typically the improvised sonnets are quite impressive since they are so challenging!
6) Is it reasonable to expect a few high school English teachers be to in the audience, just to see if younger attendees even know a Shakespeare reference?
 
Yes. In fact, several English teachers have promised immediate B-grade marks for students if they come to the show, and A’s if they ‘get’ it. In all seriousness, AISP will be a zillion times funnier than reading Shakespeare in class, and we would expect that even younger students would really get a kick out of it.
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Tonight also wraps up the current season, so if you want to get in on the fun along with a lass and poor Yorick, “Much Ado From Nothing: Improvised Shakespeare” gets underway at 8:00 PM at the Bird & Stone Theatre, followed by The Mixtape Improv Party in the very same room at 10:00 PM

Micah Barnes’ “New York Stories” (reviewed)

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Opening up with the title track of his new album, Micah Barnes foreshadows the intricate sounds that pervade every moment of his lush latest release New York Stories. Unlike a bevy of contemporaries that have chosen to interpret the classic American songbook, Barnes sets about establishing his own foothold in the genre – with considerable authority.

Building on the opener’s atmosphere that frankly sets the bar well over the moon, After The Romance then transports listeners back to an intimate piano bar or nightspot of yesterday, when you still had smoke swirling around the candles on the tables. While times have happily changed enough to see the tobacco smoke gone, it is a testament to the strength of this genre that the timeless music is still so very welcome today.

Starting Tomorrow is the sort of classic that Elvis might have included in his latter ’60’s cover selections, as he moved towards interpreting broader influences outside his own rock and country roots. Harlem Moon showcases Barnes’ vocals, and the shuffling I’m Going Back To My Used To Be is the sort of song that Tony Bennett would have worked up one side and down the other, had he the opportunity to have done so.

I’ve only just mentioned half of the ten tracks, but each one goes forth to validate the prudent decision for Barnes to recreate the era, rather than cover Fly Me To The Moon for the umpteenth time.

Quoting a snippet from a press release, it didn’t take long for listeners and critics alike to embrace this collection. “Following the release of the title track and the first single in April 2014, New York Story reached Number One in Canada and Top 20 on the U.S. iTunes jazz charts, which resulted in Barnes being named the Toronto Indie Music Awards as best Jazz Act of 2014. The full release debuted at Glenn Gould Studio, May 3, 2015.”

The authentic feel is certainly reinforced by the inspiration for the project – while Barnes was romancing his partner (who was working on Broadway at The Palace Theatre) they lived in an  apartment on Lenox Avenue in Harlem, right on the site of the legendary Savoy Ballroom, just a few blocks from the Apollo Theatre. Barnes went a step further by renting an hourly piano studio off Times Square to sketch the songs that would become New York Stories. The results speak for themselves, as the piano players and crooners of the day did back then.

In short, the recording oozes the legendary musical heritage of a New York City that spoke on behalf of an entire country, if not the globe, along with the era that it pays ample tribute to. Whether you’re a fan of modern day jazz artists like Diana Krall or the original signatories to the enduringly popular soundtrack of America, Barnes proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he belongs in the company of any of the greats in his genre.

By the time I’ve Been Awake Too Long comes along, you will wonder which of these songs will be lovingly covered by another artist in the decades to come.

Micah Barnes, New York Stories

Ringo At The Palms

OK, in my defence, I had been following the latest All-Star Band tour details from Ringo’s site, and the LAST DAY of his 2015 tour was supposed to be at the Palms in Vegas, which is why we decided to go catch it there. I’ve missed him before, most recently in Calgary a few years ago, and I wasn’t about to miss out again.

Two days after we get back to Alberta, dates are announced for Edmonton, and…freakin’ Calgary – go figure?

Well, who knew?

I had approached his publicist to try and line up a brief interview while I was there, but no response. I’ve got a broader piece for my Calgary Herald blog, reflecting on his first solo release post-Beatles, and his upcoming Postcards From Paradise.

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Ringo Starr, the only other surviving Beatle I had yet to see perform live, and man, he did not disappoint, not even one iota. An amazing show – actually a bit like going to a festival of sorts, with his All-Starr Band bringing together a stellar lineup of classic rockers and artists I would have happily seen otherwise. Todd Rundgren, Santana co-founder Gregg Rolie, Toto’s Steve Lukather, Mr Mister’s Richard Page, Gregg Bissonette & Warren Ham – each getting to showcase several of their own biggest hits alongside Starr’s catalogue from the past 40+ years – astounding!

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The setlist is available online, but the show itself clocked in around 2.5 hours – Ringo only snuck off during one song, the rest of the time he was singing himself, or drumming along to classic rock hits like Evil Ways, Africa, Love Is The Answer, Hold The Line and so many more.

From his own library (as well as from his time with The Beatles and Rory Storm & The Hurricanes) we were treated to It Don’t Come Easy, Boys, Honey Don’t, and the rousing singalong Yellow Submarine.

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For a longtime fan, you couldn’t complain, let alone coming away with the added bonus of some of the biggest hits of the 70’s and 80’s from the original artists. Pretty darn cool by any standard.

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Steve Lukather was killer on guitar riffs and his own hits with Toto – Africa, Rosanna and Hold The Line. In our VIP box we had a group of young fans that were really getting into the show themselves, and towards the end one of the guys confided that his one friend there was Lukather’s daughter.

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Gregg Rolie was at the top of his game on hits from Santana, where he was the original vocalist – Evil Ways, Black Magic Woman, and Oye Como Va – a big part of my teen years’ listening!

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We had also missed Todd Rundgren when he was here in Calgary a couple of years ago, but he did some fine work on I Saw The Light, Bang The Drum All Day and Utopia’s Love Is The Answer

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I’ve read reviews that griped about Mr. Mister’s Richard Page being part of this ensemble, but he was terrific, and it was fun to hear Broken Wings, Kyrie, and a more recent solo track, You’re Mine. Kudos also to Warren Hamm and Gregg Bissonette!

 

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It may have been a long wait, but the show was unreal and surreal. Big part of my musical history came alive. Thanks Ringo – I’ll have a broader piece soon to link to…

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“Me & The Mrs” CD Release Party, a review, photos – and a surprise podcast

Me & The Mrs
Me & The Mrs

Made my way out to Rosebud, Alberta last night for the CD release party of Me & The Mrs “The Frogs Sang Symphonies”. Although I wasn’t able to stay to the end, what I did see was really a delight, having enjoyed their new CD very much since getting an advance copy before interviewing them for a feature in my Calgary Herald blog.

Paul Zacharias
Paul Zacharias

On that, I also discovered over the weekend that my recording of that phone interview worked out to have some pretty good sound quality, so I have added that to my podcast series – I hope they don’t mind 🙂

The Frogs Sang Symphonies is the result of the couple (Paul & Heather Zacharias) getting a RAWLCO radio grant to support the cost of recording, which took them to my hometown of Winnipeg to make the CD with John Paul Peters of Private Ear Recording.

Heather Zacharias
Heather Zacharias

The outcome from that session is a heartfelt effort with lush and varied instrumental additions that don’t overpower their sound.  Lonesome pedal steel sounds that would be right at home on a Hank Williams track back their patriotic reflection of touring in Oh Canada. A Prophet Has No Honour bursts into a rising crescendo of  horns above the traditional folk sounds.

Their harmonies are perfect on the beautiful Yours Anyway – the melodies as captivating as the lyrics, songs like that particular one keenly reflecting their deeply rooted folk influences. Throughout the entire disc really, the two reflect back their life in the sights and sounds of a smaller community, with eyes that have seen the rest of the country and its people with insight and commonality. Lyrically, Zacharias has a gift of the storyteller and the composer – a nice combination to bring to your craft in this sort of career endeavour.

Having attended the launch for the new CD, I forgot completely having previewed their first release The Ghosts Of What Became from their website (you can order both albums there directly, and the latest is a digital download in iTunes). My misfortune, I failed to snag a copy.

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From that disc at the show last night, they told the story behind Listening To That Sound, a poignant enough track as it is, but even more touching when you know where it came from.

The release party also featured a couple of additional musicians (banjo & violin) backing Me & The Mrs to help recreate the sounds on the CDs, and three warmup performers, Cassia Schramm, Travis Friesen and Natalie Inga – there must be something in the water out there in Rosebud – too bad I didn’t have a chance to try a glass myself before I headed back to Calgary…

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Check out my pre-launch feature from the Calgary Herald blog by clicking that hyperlink above, and listen to the audio podcast as well. You can also download that for free in iTunes (ThatDanGuy’s Podcast).

Visit Me & The Mrs online to find out even more – you will not regret picking up either of these albums of rising Canadian folk talent.

In & Around Cowtown: March 6, 7, 8

Looking to catch some live entertainment this weekend?

How about:

Woody  – the story of an adult Pinocchio and what happened to the puppet who wanted to be a boy after the blue fairy granted his wish. For more info visit Birnton Theatricals website. Runs tonight and tomorrow (afternoon and evening) at Arts Commons, formerly The Epcor Centre For The Performing Arts.

MG3 (Montreal Guitar Trio) – internationally acclaimed guitar ensemble appearing at Bragg Creek Performing Arts. Click here for my preview and interview with member Marc Morin. Times and ticket info on the BCFA website.

Me & The Mrs. – CD launch party in Rosebud Sunday night. On their website, click to “Shows” for more information. Click here for my preview interview.

Steven: The Steven Truscott Story – continues at The Pumphouse, presented by Workshop Theatre. A compelling story of the Canadian justice system’s shameful treatment of a wrongfully accused teenager, and his 48 year battle to clear his name. Links to interviews, preview and review. NOTE: most nights sold out.

And Then The Lights Went Out – continues at Stage West Calgary. A popular fiction writer battles a heat wave and writer’s block in this Alberta-based comedy thriller. Click here for review and interview links.

Awesome Allie First Kid Astronaut – Storybook Theatre presents an adventure that’s out of this world – a normal kid heads into outer space! Visit Storybook’s website for times and tickets, opens tonight!

That’s a handful of what’s going on in and around Calgary – get out and support live theatre and live music!!

MG3-ma préférée

Steven Truscott Story @ Workshop Theatre

L-R: Ryan Truscott, Louis B. Hobson, Steven Truscott
L-R: Ryan Truscott, Louis B. Hobson, Steven Truscott

The Steven Truscott story is familiar to many Canadians, going back over 40+ years when a young teenager (Truscott) was wrongfully accused of killing his female classmate, and sentenced to hang – this goes back to 1959.

Over the ensuing years, well…if I tell you everything here, that may discourage you from going to see the show – so I won’t 🙂

However, I did sit down and chat with Louis B. Hobson, a noted reviewer, playwright and in this case – co-director for Steven: The Steven Truscott Story, a play that makes a return to Calgary at Workshop Theatre over the next few days.

Listen to my podcast interview, and read the feature that appeared in my Calgary Herald blog. He also sheds considerable light in his own column.

In addition, I recently sat down with two actors that portray Mr. Truscott over the length of those 40+ years, Ciaran Volke and Fred Krysko.

Watch that video interview on my YouTube channel. Apologies, I was using new gear and the low light conditions made the resulting video grainy, even having been shot in HD…

I’ll have a review once I’ve been to see the show!!

North Star Falling – Maybe, But Album Filled With Heights

North Star Falling

Jeffery Straker either has an old soul, or all my musical references are an indication of my age.

Either way, Straker’s brand- new cd North Star Falling has traces of some of the best piano-based singer/songwriters of the past 40 years, couched in his inimitable and effervescent style of folk/alt-pop influences.

Disclaimer: I go into this review already a big fan of Straker’s music. Be it the bang-on uplifting melody behind the New Orleans sounds on Slings & Arrows, or the warm, personal lyrics behind story songs like The Wonderful Mrs. Bell. Don’t even get me started on Oh God, I’m Cinderella – this man can write music and lyrics that stand up there with the best examples in his genre. He’s already been compared by reviewers to Elton John, Billy Joel, and Carole King.

Above all, Jeffery Straker conjures up the great Leon Russell in that combination he seems to excel at, marrying insightful lyrics to compelling melodies, which make you want to listen to his recordings over and over. North Star Falling is no exception, and indicates his continued growth as an accomplished artist.

Breaking down a few personal highlights from the disc (admittedly, personal taste may dictate your own), Calling It Quits laments the difficult decision to finally say no, with “this time, it’s for good”.  Step Into The Fire is Straker’s sprawling Rufus Wainwright moment, filled with softness and cresting waves of grandeur.

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I Wanna Go Back There evokes Eartha Kitt, or Peggy Lee at their sultriest.  Nowhere Heart feels like early Beatles, while You Make Me Want To could be a John Lennon track. Above all though, for my money, Gravity is my new favourite Jeffery Straker song, which is an achievement in and of itself, given his catalogue.

As I mentioned earlier, either Straker has an old soul, or my references are in need of updating. That said, if you’ve ever seen Lady Gaga step out of her character and play some of her most amazing music, or heard album tracks from Christina Perri (whom Straker has opened for), his music is as current as it is classic. It’s that classic sound that makes these tracks broader in their appeal.

The lead-off single released on iTunes January 27th is Like It’s The Last One, an uplifting ode to ekeing everything you can out of life. Whatever you are able to eke out, at the very least it should include a copy of North Star Falling…

Check out the video for Like It’s The Last One here…

Visit Jeffery Straker online, and check out his albums on iTunes.

Sold Out House For CD Release Party

It was an impressive turnout at the Ironwood Stage & Grill last night for Calgary singer/songwriter Jenn Beaupré’s CD release party – a sold-out house filled front to back, side to side…

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Backed up for her first set with a full band, Beaupré was able to recreate the studio sound of her latest CD “Reach Out” for the audience, complete with a 3-piece horn section, backup singers, and a solid rhythm section that allowed her to focus on singing those songs.

The Ironwood is a great venue on its own, but when a powerhouse vocalist takes to the microphone, there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house. Well, I may be a bit biased, I was right up front. However her flawless vocal range was proof that listeners to the CD weren’t being fooled by studio coverups – Beaupré hits her notes with confidence and experience.

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From Motown-flavoured original songs like “Sunburn“, “Reach Out” and “Eyes All Over“, to her heartbreaking ballad “Angel Who’s Lost“, where she had a violinist accompany her pianist, this third album is likely to get serious attention, if the audience reactions and standing ovations last night are any indication.

She writes relatable songs that often have some great, fun lyrics, like the aforementioned “Eyes All Over“.

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Her second set (after performing every song on her new album in the first one) was solo acoustic, aside from some accompaniment from a guitarist on a few songs.

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In this set, Beaupré had fun covering songs (and a few originals), but gave no short change to quality control in performing hits from Ed Sheeran (Thinking Out Loud), Amos Lee (Colors), Joni Mitchell ( A Case Of You), and even a bit of inspired Whitney Houston, along with the crowd-pleaser them from Frozen, “Let It Go“, although to be fair, she did warn anyone that had kids in advance, in case of a possible overdose of the uber-popular Disney song.

 

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Reach Out is available now in iTunes, or if you are able to catch her performing live, I would highly recommend you do so. If you can catch her in a smaller, more intimate venue, you should take certainly advantage of that opportunity.

I caught up with Jenn earlier, before this show. You can read the feature interview in my Calgary Herald blog by scrolling down a post or two in this site,or by clicking here. You can also view the companion video podcast here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Strings And A Goat Skin @ Calgary Folk Club Tonight

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The folk/traditional fusion trio out of Prince Edward Island hit the stage tonight here in Calgary, and I chatted with fiddle player Rowen Gallant.

Read the feature that appeared in my Calgary Herald blog, and listen to the podcast, or download it from iTunes (ThatDanGuy’s Podcast)

Review tomorrow!

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