Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Flashdance The Musical Celebrates 30th Anniversary of Academy Award-winning film with national tour

Special to Dwight The Connoisseur

FLASHDANCE-THE MUSICAL,  the stage adaptation of the 1983 Academy Award winning film that starred Chicago/Hyde Park native Jennifer Beals, is making a final stop in Chicago before a second company begins an open-ended engagement on Broadway, to celebrate the Paramount Pictures film's 30th anniversary. The Chicago engagement is for a lmited two week run through August 18, 2013. The touring company continues, opening in Memphis September 17 and Indianapolis October 1.

A stellar cast, with strong singing voices, electrifying dance moves and explosive multi-media sets and lighting, made this Broadway In Chicago presentation one of the most seamlessly polished offerings of the season.

FLASHDANCE tells the story of spunky Alex Owens (a mesmerizing Jillian Mueller), one of the few, if only female welders at a Pittsburgh steel mill, who is also an exotic bar dancer by night. With dreams of hitting the big time as a legitimate stage dancer and attending the prestigious Shipley Dance School, she butts heads and eventually falls in love with the boss's son, Nick Hurley (a sylvan voiced Matthew Hydzik), who tries, against stubborn Alex's wishes, to use his influence to help her get an audition at the dance school, and who also wrestles with the moral challenges of being the heir apparent in a family business that he has no desire to enter.

The dancing is stupendous, among some of the best on any Broadway stage and the characters are well drawn and leap off the stage to grab the audience by the heartstrings.  All of the hit songs and dance numbers from the film are presented with panache and sung with a verve and enthusiasm that makes it seem as if we're hearing them for the first time. FLASHDANCE, the original movie, won an Academy Award for the title song "Flashdance-What a Feeling" and the songs "Maniac," "Gloria,", "Manhunt," and "I Love Rock and Roll" all became Top Ten hits on the radio. The film revolutioned pop culture and grossed over a 150 million dollars, making it the third highest-grossing film of 1983. The soundtrack won the Grammy Award.

The current touring production of FLASHDANCE THE MUSICAL captures all of the original explosive energy of the film and with the use of brilliant lighting effects, imaginative costumes and craetive use of digital images and sound effects and kinetic dancing.

Some of the standout performances include Mueller, in the title role, who dazzles with some gravity defying dance moves, including the famous show-stopping shower dance scene and the highly emotive audition dance scene, in which she moves with rare abandon. She was even able to elevate some of the more talkie lines of the lengthy vocal soliloquy in the second act to a spine-tingling finale. Matthew Hydzik used his bright. flexible voice to great advantage, navigating the tricky octave jumps with ease and infusing them with an almost mystical, haunting quality that made the believability to his character even more so. DeQuina Moore as Kiki, rocked everyone's collective world with a sassy rendition of Manhunt that brought to mind the great Grace Jones.

Chameleon Girls, which opened Act Two, showed off the collective dancing and vocal skills of the slithering, acrobatic female performers and set the stage for the thrilling roller coaster ride that brought the evening to its glittering climax and thunderous applause from the appreciative audience. What A Feeling!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Mostly Mozart at Lincon Center: Emanuel Ax in pensive, precise Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 2

 Emanuel Ax at the keyboard in the throes of rapture
Andrew Manze at the podium

Lincoln Center Presents Mostly Mozart, Emanuel Ax in precise Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 2

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere August 2, 2013

NEW YORK---Grammy Award-winning piano virtuoso Emanuel Ax rendered a precise elucidation of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, with British violinist and conductor Andrew Manze on the podium with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra at Lincoln Center.

In a program of compositional "heavyweights" that more resembled an evening at The Proms or at the Royal Festival Hall in London, no doubt familiar territory to Manze, this was a night that promised much and, indeed, delivered on all counts.

 Rather than featuring anything by Mozart, as one would expect at a Mozart festival, the night's program was all about Beethoven, with his highly evocative Symphony No. 6, "Pastoral," to conclude the evening after the interval. Emanuel Ax began by performing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the artist playing Beethoven's original cadenzas. Ax's reading of this oft-played piece was precise, but layered with emotion. The arpeggios and sustained trills of the left hand were as crisp and brilliant as points of light in the constellations in the opening Allegro con brio. The Adagio showed Ax's brilliant command of Beethoven's  towering vision of the work, with both he and Manze leaning into the work with depth of feeling, without going overboard into Schmaltz. The concluding Rondo: Molto allegro saw Emanuel and Manze kick things into high gear, while retaining a modicum of constraint that allowed the contrapuntal themes repeated by Beethoven from the earlier movements, to ring through the intricate netting of new motifs that were sprinkled throughout this delightfully exuberant masterpiece.

Andrew Manze's interpretation of the Symphony No. 6, "Pastoral" was true to
Beethoven's vision of the piece as, in the composer's words, "more an expression of feeling than painting." Although one of his most unabashedly  programmatic works, it still stands as one of Beethoven's great achievements of structure and daring content in symphonic form.  Depicting a walk in the country,  the composer's encounter with a group of dancing peasants, a quiet reflective moment by a brook, and then his survival of a raging storm and a concluding song of thanksgiving, the much-beloved "Shepherd's hymn," Manze and the festival orchestra practically danced through this riveting piece. Tempos were bright and unhurried. Manze was careful to bring out the composer's underlying themes, while letting melodic configurations soar above the dense orchestrations with majesty. The Shepherd's hymn read like a benediction of hope and redemption that resonated beyond the work's conclusion.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Lincoln Center Presents Mostly Mozart with a Hefty Dose of Beethoven and Debussy

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere July 31, 2013

NEW YORK--Music audiences never seem to tire of the music of Mozart and Beethoven. Place the names of any of the "big three," Mozart, Beethoven and Bach, on a symphonic program, and its almost guaranteed to sell tickets. Such was the case with the Opening Night programs of Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival July 27-August 24, 2013. This year's festival features the music of Ludwig Van Beethoven whose musical genius was said to have been inspired and molded by Mozart's towering presence. 

Now just a few years shy of celebrating a half century of existence, this year's edition of  the Mostly Mozart Festival is blessed with the return of its spirited Music Director, the esteemed French conductor Louis Langree', and the collaboration of two outstanding soloists, the voluptuously voiced mezzo-soprano Alice Coote in two of Mozart's dramatic arias, and fellow Frenchman Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.4 in G major.

Adding to the aura of excitement was the innovation of thrusting the stage out into the audience seating area and surrounding the orchestra with seating onstage, which made for both an illusion of intimacy in the vast expanse of Avery Fisher Hall and a rare, if at times, overly revealing display of the Mostly Mozart Orchestra's considerable strengths and forgivable weaknesses.

Conductor Langree' and the orchestra dispatched the opening selection, Beethoven's Overture to the tragic play Coriolan, with ease and authority. Langree' brought out the flashier elements of this short (8 mnutes) but lively piece, by punctuating the high notes of the horn section and the rumbling lines of the bass. The contrast made for a thrilling performance. 

The lovely Alice Coote brought a smooth, luscious approach to Mozart's concert aria Ch' io mis scordi di te...Non temer, amato bene (that I forget you? Fear not, my dearest beloved). At times, Maestro Langree's interpretation seemed a bit rushed, and didn't allow for the kinds of pauses and constructive silences that Ms. Coote could have brought to bear. Perhaps the conductor was in a hurry to get to the centerpiece of the evening, the effervescent pianism of Mssr. Bavouzet.

Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major is on the short list of towering works that continues to grace the piano repertoire of many of the finest soloists on the concert stage. Beethoven himself played his own premiere of the work and it has not left the roster of seasonal offerings by professional orchestras since that august evening. Maestro Langree'  attacked the opening bars with an assured hand.  Soloist Bavouzet seemed un-phased by the inherent majesty of the moment and eased into his own highly-stylized interpretation, contrasting moments of brilliance with torrents of notes played with quicksilver sharpness and introspective, moody, almost evocative passages that took the audience on a parallel journey into the complex psyche of both the composer and his interpreter.

Ms. Coote at times seemed to be drowned out by the sumptuous orchestrations of Mozart's  aria
Parto, parto, ma tu ben mio (I go, but, my dearest, make peace again with me) from the opera La Clemenza di Tito (the pardoning of Titus). This perhaps owed to the extremely "live" acoustical situation fostered by the unusual configuration of the orchestra thrust so prominently into the audience proper.

An unfortunately timed after hours concert in the Kaplan Penthouse across the street, entitled "A Little Night Music" with Mr. Bavouzet in an intimate solo piano concert of Debussy's Preludes, Book 2, forced many to scurry from the auditorium just as the closing notes of the dramatic first movement of Beethoven's mighty Symphony No. 7 in A major waned into silence. An errant, over-reaching note from the brass section marred what otherwise was a breathless, rapturous finale to this majestic work. No matter, this was, after all, a festival and the effusive spirit  that  permeated the evening certainly prevailed.

Bavouzet's performance at "A Little Night Music" was the revelation of the evening and ranks in the mind of this reviewer as one of the most captivating interchanges in recent memory between a performer and his audience. Bavouzet shared his  enthusiasm for Debussy in a highly enlightening description of his work and the significance of his then unorthodox compositional approaches. He pointed out, for example the use of a D flat motif that concluded the third composition in his Preludes, Book 2, La puerta del vino (the wine gate), which served as the beginning notes of the opening piece, Brouillards (Fog), and was repeated several times throughout the wide ranging work. At times, Bavouzet used self-deprecating humor to further ingratiate himself to the audience and to draw them closer to his luminous vision of this great composer. His playing, after nearly twenty minutes of explication, only served to further cast his enchanting spell. The combination of his warm , emotive playing, the intimate setting, with its caberet-style tables, and the dramatic view of the lights of the midtown Manhattan skyline, and the presence of glasses of complementary William Hill wines and Pellegrino sparkling water, which were served to each of the hundred or so fortunate guests, only served to heighten the amber glow of the experience.
 Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in conert
 Mezzo-soprano Alice Coote
 Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in a solo concert

Mostly Mozart Renee' and Robert Belfer Music Director Louis Langree'