Art Reviews
Alice Ripley dazzles with rock/pop Broadway solos
on September 03, 2012
Going from conjoined identical twins in the 1997 musical "Side Show" to the suburban housewife Diana Goodman struggling with bipolar disorder in the 2008 musical "Next to Normal," singing actress Alice Ripley certainly gets the most interesting roles being dished out on Broadway these days. It's no wonder: She is a highly sensitive actress with the vocal goods for the current rock/pop-based musicals on Broadway.

After a short introduction by the ever-passionate host Seth Rudetsky, Ms. Ripley began the performance with the powerhouse song, "As If We Never Said Goodbye," from the 1994 Andrew Lloyd Webber Tony award musical Sunset Boulevard.

As she reached for the microphone, Ripley took on the mannerisms of the insecure, ego-driven Norma Desmond and delivered a polished performance that brought the audience to the front edges of their seats.

What makes the Broadway at the Art House series hosted by Seth Rudetsky unique are the dialogues between Seth and his guests.

The stories that Ms. Ripley shared of the out-of-town tryouts, the canceled Broadway contracts, and winning of the coveted Tony Award that fill us in on the amazing but complicated world of professional show business.

After explaining that when Patti LuPone sang "Evita" on Broadway in 1997, no one sang with her thrilling high belt sound that is the norm today, Ms. Ripley then launched into the second act showstopper "Rainbow High" from "Evita" and proved that she too has the pipes to sing the role.

Ms. Ripley and Mr. Rudetsky had an extensive conversation on the emotionally draining "Next to Normal," for which Ms. Ripley won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a leading Actress in 2009. She told us how dedicated the audience members were to her and the show.

She took time after each performance to connect with the back stage fans who needed to share their stories with her. Her singing of "I Miss the Mountains" from "Next to Normal" was filled with courage, hope and tears.

Ripley is a keen guitar player and seemed most at home with the instrument nestled in her lap. She often accompanied herself throughout the 90-minute performance and was particularly appealing singing "Beautiful Eyes," which she wrote. Her singing took on a Melissa Etheridge quality in this funky blues number.

The series continues next weekend with another Broadway favorite, Judy Kuhn and Andrea Martin in mid-September. If you have not had the opportunity to see any of the performers this summer, this is your invite to great Broadway on Commercial Street in Provincetown.
Christine Ebersole: a star shines in Provincetown
on August 23, 2011
PROVINCETOWN — For my birthday in the fall of 2006, my partner, John, took me to the Broadway production of "Grey Gardens" with Christine Ebersole, who later won her second Tony Award for her performance. It was a thrilling evening.

It was my turn this past weekend to return the gesture for his birthday with tickets to a Christine Ebersole concert at the Art House in Provincetown. Again, the evening was memorable in concert

The program was hosted by the multi-talented Seth Rudetsky. Rudetsky put together an event that was part interview show (acting both as the narrator and interested audience member), part cabaret concert, and part "This Is Your Life."

We learned that Ebersole's first Broadway job was in a revival of "Oklahoma!" playing the part of Ado Annie, choreographed by dance legend Agnes de Mille. Soon after, she starred in a 1980 "Camelot" revival with Richard Burton. Her film and television credits include a leading role in Peter Shaffer's "Amadeus" and a season on "Saturday Night Live" when Eddie Murphy also was a cast member.

Between the chatty and interesting dialogue, Ebersole would move to the microphone, while Rudetsky changed seats to be in front of the keyboard. This was when the tremendous talents of Ebersole wowed us. Am I to praise the honest and sincere acting first or the "dead-on" beautiful singing? It doesn't matter. When Ebersole began to sing, we were transformed. With tasteful and elegant lighting changes, we forgot there were no sets, costumes or orchestra. Our attention went straight to her beautiful face and deep into her eyes to feel, hear and experience the song as she feels and sings it.

Her repertoire came from standard Broadway: "I Cain't Say No" from "Oklahoma!" "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood" from "Camelot" and "Send in the Clowns" from "A Little Night Music." When I heard the introduction to the classic Stephen Sondheim "Send in the Clowns," my first thought was, "Well, I'll be glad when this song is over." But I was sincerely moved and reluctantly went into Ebersole's lonely, desperate world. Her performance of the Rodgers and Hart standard "To Keep My Love Alive" was full of nuance and humor.

Tracing through Ebersole's resume, it is not difficult guess this performer's age. At a time when some singers-actors are in vocal decline or "phoning in" performances, it was a delight to hear a voice that was fresh and expansive in range and color, while skillfully working the text for both comedy and tragedy. The 7:30 p.m. performance Sunday was her third of the weekend and second that day. There was no sign of fatigue, and her rich soprano had the shine of a 20-year-old.
Rudetsky was a gifted accompanist, driving the music and allowing his singer the time and space she needed for vocal phrasing. He was also a thoughtful interviewer, posing interesting questions and sharing his observations.

However, the evening belonged to Ebersole. Whether she was singing, talking or just "being," it was almost impossible to take your eyes and heart away from her.

Hopefully, there will be many more birthdays for John and me, and I am looking forward to sharing them with Christine Ebersole.
Unusual blend pays off for Cape symphony
on October 10, 2011
HYANNIS — When I considered popular guitarist John Pizzarelli with his trio performing on Cape, I must admit, it seemed like a stretch to ponder them sharing the stage with the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra.

Of course, both are well-respected and accomplished, but each has its own repertory and style. Still, I attended the performance with an open mind, and I am delighted to report that this unconventional union created a lovely affair for all who attended the shows on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

The program opened with Rodgers and Hart's ballet music, "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" from "On Your Toes." Arranged by the legendary Broadway orchestrator Hans Spialek, this tone poem shifts from one intriguing melody to the next. The performance sparkled with Maestro Jung-Ho Pak on the podium. (This 1936 composition premiered on Broadway eight years after George Gershwin's "American in Paris." Where are these splendid American melodies for Broadway audiences today?)

John Pizzarelli's warmth and humor invite the audience onto the stage with him. He has crafted a career that has the name recognition usually afforded just to singers.

How many jazz guitarists can you think of besides B.B. King or perhaps John's father, "Bucky" Pizzarelli? John Pizzarelli is not only a seasoned entertainer who jokes with us between musical offerings, but is a passionate and highly inventive guitarist.

Pizzarelli brought a program of familiar tunes, yet his arrangements were full of surprises that could entertain both the novice and the longtime listener.

A highlight of the first half was the pairing of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "You've got to be Carefully Taught" from "South Pacific" with Stephen Sondheim's "Children Will Listen" from "Into the Woods." Pizzarelli's simple and sincere singing enhanced the pairing of melodies.

After intermission, the Cape Cod Symphony began a Duke Ellington tribute with a medley of his hits. Oboist Elizabeth Doriss played the classic "Sophisticated Lady" melody splendidly.

The Pizzarelli quartet followed with more Ellington tunes. The pairing of "Don't get Around Much Anymore" and "East St. Louis Toodle-oo" was not as successful as the earlier pairing, but I applaud him for his willingness to look at classic melodies from a new angle.

The performance concluded with a tribute to Benny Goodman. A highlight was an extended drum solo by Tony Tedesco that brought an outburst of excitement from the audience.

Alone, John Pizzarelli could easily entertain as an accomplished and charismatic performer. With Pizzarelli and his trio plus the Cape Symphony, the performance became a memorable and joyous celebration of our American music.

A final note: The Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra is the largest performing arts institution on the Cape with its Classics and Pop series, and now with an educational department through the merger with the Cape Cod Conservatory. It is time that we have a proper performance arena for them and others.

As serviceable as the Barnstable High School auditorium is for the orchestra and its audience, it is not a fitting home for a highly respected group. The acoustics do not complement the excellence of the CCSO's players, and the auditorium certainly doesn't have the elegance of Boston's Symphony Hall or even the New England Conservatory's smaller Jordan Hall.

"The continued growth and improvement of the CCSO requires a renewed commitment to bringing a performing arts center to Cape Cod," Kevin Howard, executive director of the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod, said recently. "One can only imagine the possibilities of a visual experience and space that matches the quality of the performances."

Perhaps, one day soon we will have a proper venue to see and hear the symphony and visiting performers.
Cape Symphony excels in season finale
on May 04, 2009
HYANNIS — The Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra's season began with great anticipation — Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart and Mahler were some of the offerings.

It is interesting that many of our favorite composers lived in Vienna. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Vienna was a center for economics, politics, literature, poetry and science. It's only natural that music should flourish there also.

This past weekend maestro Jung-Ho Pak and the orchestra celebrated the conclusion of the season with sensitive and sometimes bold performances of Mozart and Mahler.

The program began with the overture from Mozart's first opera, Apollo et Hyacinthus. Composed by Mozart at the age of 11 in 1767, it is certainly not the master Mozart of 10 or 15 years later; however, the roots of his genius are clearly in place.

It was an agreeable way to begin the program. The orchestra approached the work with a delicate simplicity.

The concert continued with the evening's featured soloist, pianist Adam Neiman. According to conductor Pak, "Mr. Neiman is a pianist's pianist."

A glance through his substantial performance credits assured us that we were going to be treated to a fine interpretation of Mozart's Concerto No. 21 in C Major. A close colleague of mine recently noted that all of the great pianists today have wonderfully strong techniques.

This is certainly true of Neiman. Rather than only impressing the audience with his mastery of the keyboard, which he certainly did, he quickly enchanted us with his playful and dance-like quality at the keyboard. The orchestra supported the soloist with equal verve.

The major contribution to the program was Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D Major. The last time the symphony presented this majestic symphony was in the 2001 season, and the excitement for this music was clearly heard throughout the audience as well as on the stage. This is a symphony lover's symphony, filled with the harmonic richness of the late 19th century.

It is a favorite of orchestras everywhere. There are of course many fine recordings on the market today, and each fan of the symphony has his favorite. The thrill of experiencing the melodies and various solos from this fine orchestra cannot be compared to a recording.

In a performance that excelled on all levels, special praise must be given to Pak for his bold and often courageous direction. The orchestra sang under his baton.

This weekend's dynamic performances concluded the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra's 2008-09 Classics series. In a pre-concert address, it was shared with us that the Cape Symphony sold more than 80 percent of its tickets for this season. We all look forward to seeing what maestro Pak and the orchestra are planning for next season.

John Murelle teaches voice and music appreciation at Falmouth Academy and at his voice studio in East Sandwich.