Category Archives: Music

On Stage: A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline

Growing up I didn’t listen to much Patsy Cline. My parents were more into Johnny Cash and Roger Miller. So I spent a lot of time listening to Johnny Cash and Roger Miller.

My father-in-law spent a lot of time listening to Patsy Cline and Marty Robbins. Which meant my wife spent a lot of time listening to Patsy Cline and Marty Robbins.

So Laurie was much more excited about going to see “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline” than I was, but I was familiar enough with her music to assume that it would probably be a good show.

Sometimes assumptions are correct.

 

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Julie Johnson as Patsy Cline in “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline,” now playing at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza. Photo courtesy of Mark Bell Presents

Julie Johnson gives a stellar performance as the country music legend. Backed by a solid four-piece band (Jerry Matheny on electric guitar, Rocky Gribble on acoustic guitar and banjo, John Kerry Huckaba on bass and bass guitar, and D Garrett Roper on drums), Johnson sings and yodels her way through many of Cline’s big hits.

Steve Barcus ties the narrative together as a radio disc jockey hosting a musical tribute to Cline. Barcus plays seven other roles in the course of the show and also serves as the band’s pianist.

Born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932, Patsy Cline began her musical career as a teenager, first singing on a local radio show and then in bars and talent shows. She had her first hit with “Walking After Midnight” in 1957 and went on to find success on both the country and pop charts. She died in a plane crash at age 30.

“A Closer Walk” covers all the high points of Cline’s musical career — from radio to nightclubs to the Grand Ole Opry to Las Vegas to Carnegie Hall. It deals with her personal struggles as well. All while performing songs that have become pop music standards — like “I Fall To Pieces,” “She’s Got You” and “Crazy.”

But this isn’t strictly a concert show. Barcus and the band keep things lively with olde tyme comedy bits and classic commercial jingles.

“A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline” is a terrific show. The music is great, the musicians are great, the leads are great and the comedy’s a bit corny — but that’s keeping in the spirit of the times. The Playhouse is also a fine venue for such a program — small and intimate.

“A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline” runs through May 6 at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza. www.playhouseatwestport.com/

 

 

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Gone: Pat DiNizio

I’ll say anything you want to hear
I’ll see everything through
I’ll do anything I have to do
Just to win the love of a girl like you

You told me, baby, you had time to kill
But then you tossed me out like an overdue bill
You left in a hurry with a guy from the band
On a one-way ride to the promised land
Top of the pops

Blue period, black comedy
Such a joke I’ve played on me
I let you go
And now I know a world of uncertainty

She held a bass guitar and she was playing in a band
And she stood just like Bill Wyman
Now I am her biggest fan
Now I know I’m one of many who would like to be your friend
And I’ve got to find a way to let you know I’m not like them

Now I lie in bed and think of her
Sometimes I even weep
Then I dream of her behind the wall of sleep

The blues before and after
I get the blues before and after I’m with you

71nf2Yg9y9L._SX355_This is the house we used to live in
This is the place I used to know
This is the house we used to live in
Where I felt I could always go

House that we used to live in
House where I left my heart
House that we used to live in falling apart

You won’t break my heart
No matter what you do
My love is especially for you

And then it starts all over again

Maybe I won’t be afraid to love somebody new
Maybe I can open up my heart
Then I won’t drown in my own tears
Drown in my own tears

I’ve been waiting for you all my life
And now that you are here I can’t believe
How wonderful it is to be here by your side
To see you in the light

In your evening dress tonight

See me walking with someone new
It makes no difference
‘Cause everything I have is blue

Too much passion is not enough

Smoked my last cigarette
Sat in bed for a while
Thought of your face, and it brought me a smile
Wanted another one
Fell back asleep, instead
Woke and found you sitting there on the bed

Cigarette, cigarette,
Burning up time
Cigarette, cigarette
Watch the smoke climb
Cigarette, cigarette
Wasting away
Just like this cigarette
Our time is running down
Only one hour til you’re leaving this town

Take me away when I’m done with my afternoon tea

On Stage: Evil Dead – The Musical

When I asked The Wife if she wanted to join me for “Evil Dead – The Musical,” I did not get the response I was expecting.

“Sure, I’ll go.”

I’m pretty sure Laurie has never seen an “Evil Dead” movie. I don’t believe that she would like one if she’d seen one. I didn’t mention it was a horror movie, but I figured that was self-evident from the title.

So I could only assume that she was going as some kind of penance for all those years of Shakespeare and opera that I’ve been subjected to.

Hey, works for me.

And so it was that Thursday night we made our way to the Grandel Theatre in St. Louis for opening night of “Evil Dead – The Musical.” We did not have seats in the “splatter zone,” but watching it from the balcony was perfectly fine. I’ve got Laurie this far, no need to push it.

“The Evil Dead” began life in 1981 as a horror comedy by director Sam Raimi and starring Bruce Campbell as Ash, a store clerk who fights demons with a shotgun and a chainsaw. It hellspawned more movies, a TV series, video games, comic books, and in 2003 — a musical.

EvilDeadv2Written by George Reinblatt with music by Reinblatt, Melissa Morris, Frank Cipolla and Christopher Bond, the show mixes and mashes characters and story lines from the various “Evil Dead” movies. The result is a campy, vulgar, bloody, strange brew that is sure to please its target audience. My wife is definitely not the target audience but she didn’t run screaming from the theater and we did stay past intermission so maybe there is some broad, general appeal as well.

Trent Mills stars as Ash, who has decided to spend Spring Break at a secluded cabin in the woods with his girlfriend Linda (Michelle Nash), little sister Cheryl (Saphire Demitro), best friend Scotty (Christopher Fulton) and Shelley (Merritt Crews) — a woman Scotty picked up along the way.

Ash doesn’t actually own the cabin, or even know the owner, they’re just going to break in and spend a few fun-filled days. It turns out the cabin was owned by an archaeologist who had gone to the cabin to study an ancient book — the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, a.k.a. The Book of the Dead.

Unfortunately, during his research the archaeologist lets loose some Candarian demons and now the cabin, the woods, and eventually all of Ash’s companions become possessed by evil. Joining the melee in the second act are the archaeologist’s daughter (also played by Merritt Crews), her boyfriend (Andy Ingram) and their local guide — good old reliable Jake (Jonathan Shaboo).

“Evil Dead – The Musical” wants to be the new “Rocky Horror Picture Show” but it doesn’t have the chops — at least not musically. There are a couple of catchy, clever tunes but the music is the show’s weak link. “Do The Necronomicon” will never replace “The Time Warp.”

The actors are fine and the story is weird, strange, creepy, crude and often inappropriately funny. Just like it was meant to be.

“Evil Dead – The Musical” runs through Oct. 22 at the Grandel Theatre. http://www.kranzbergartsfoundation.org/the-grandel/

On Stage: The Bodyguard

The Fox Theatre launched its 35th season this week with “The Bodyguard,” or as it could be better titled — “The Whitney Houston Musical.”

Musicals based on the catalogue of pop stars is nothing new — the most popular are likely “Mamma Mia!” and “Jersey Boys.” So it was probably inevitable that someone would take the 1992 film “The Bodyguard,” which starred Houston and featured and a number of her songs, and expand it with even more of her tunes and bring it to the stage.

“The Bodyguard: The Musical” opened in London in 2012 and follows the story of the romantic thriller it is based on, with some changes. It includes all the songs Houston sang on the film soundtrack — including the hits “I Will Always Love You,” “I’m Every Woman” and “I Have Nothing.” They are joined by 10 other Houston favorites, such as “How Will I Know,” “Greatest Love of All” and “One Moment in Time.” The show ends with a rousing version of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”

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Deborah Cox and company in a scene from “The Bodyguard.” Photo by Joan Marcus

Deborah Cox stars as Rachel Marron, a wildly popular singer and actress, who is promoting a new album while also aiming at an Academy Award nomination. When her life is threatened by a stalker, her manager brings in professional bodyguard Frank Farmer (Judson Mills).

Rachel doesn’t want Frank interfering in her life. Frank doesn’t want to deal with Rachel’s diva attitude. It is this kind of manufactured Hollywood tension that will eventually lead to them falling in love.

There’s not a lot of meat to this story. It all plays out as you’d expect, even if you haven’t seen the movie. There’s an interesting subplot brewing with Rachel’s sister Nikki (Jasmin Richardson) but it gets cut short. This isn’t a show to see for its deep character development or intricate plot.

But then, that’s common to many musicals. Where the show works is with the musical numbers and the powerful vocal performances by Cox and Richardson. If you are a fan of Whitney Houston’s music you will probably love this. I am not a Whitney Houston fan but this show gave me a better appreciation of her talent.

Wisely, the show doesn’t try to shoehorn the songs into the plot the way “Mamma Mia!” does. There is a decent balance of drama, romance and comedy. The scene at the karaoke bar is a highlight.

This high-energy musical boasts colorful costumes, pulsating light shows, and some inventive set designs. The story may be weak but the other elements make up for it.

Gone: Tom Petty

There’s a southern accent, where I come from
The young ‘uns call it country, the yankees call it dumb
I got my own way of talking, but everything gets done
With a southern accent, where I come from

It’s alright if you love me
It’s alright if you don’t
I’m not afraid of you running away
Honey, I get the feeling you won’t

Oh yeah, all right
Take it easy, baby
Make it last all night

If you’re making me wait, if you’re leadin’ me on
I need to know

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part

Everybody has to fight to be free, you see, you don’t have to live like a refugee

Into the great wide open
Under them skies of blue
Out in the great wide open
A rebel without a clue

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She wore faded jeans and soft black leather
She had eyes so blue they looked like weather
When she needed me I wasn’t around
That’s the way it goes, it’ll all work out

There were times apart, there were times together
I was pledged to her for worse or better
When it mattered most I let her down
That’s the way it goes, it’ll all work out

It’ll all work out eventually
Better off with him than here with me

It’ll all work out eventually
Maybe better off with him than here with me

Now the wind is high and the rain is heavy
And the water’s rising in the levee
Still I think of her when the sun goes down
It never goes away, but it all works out

Don’t come around here no more
Don’t come around here no more
Whatever you’re looking for
Hey! Don’t come around here no more

Workin’ on a mystery, goin’ wherever it leads

Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out
Hey I will stand my ground
And I won’t back down

Well I know what’s right, I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground and I won’t back down

Quit jammin’ me

Two gunslingers, walked out in the street
And one said “I don’t want to fight no more”
And the other gunslinger thought about it
And he said, “yeah what are we fighting for?”

I’m takin’ control of my life,
I’m takin’ control of my life
I’m takin’ control of my life now,
Right now, oh yeah

Well the crowd that assembled
For the gun fight were let down
Everyone hissed and booed
And a stranger told his Mrs.
“That’s the last one of these gunfights
You’re ever gonna drag me to”

I’m takin’ control of my life,
I’m takin’ control of my life
I’m takin’ control of my life now,
Right now, oh yeah

Well the two gunslingers
Went ridin’ out of town and
Were never heard from no more
And there ain’t been a gun fight
For a long time, maybe never
But nobody knows for sure

Oh, my my, oh, hell yes
Honey, put on that party dress
Buy me a drink, sing me a song
Take me as I come ’cause I can’t stay long

Coming down is the hardest thing

People come, people go
Some grow young, some grow cold
I woke up in between
A memory and a dream

So let’s get to the point, let’s roll another joint
Let’s head on down the road
There’s somewhere I gotta go
And you don’t know how it feels
You don’t know how it feels to be me

You and I will meet again
When we’re least expecting it
One day in some far off place
I will recognize your face
I won’t say goodbye my friend
For you and I will meet again

I wanna glide down over Mulholland
I wanna write her name in the sky
I’m gonna free fall out into nothin’
Gonna leave this world for awhile

And I’m free, free fallin’
Yeah I’m free, free fallin’

Joelfest 2017, Part II (Part II)

The Main Event: Life Went On No Matter Who Was Wrong Or Right

To be fair, there were other reasons to attend the Billy Joel concert besides making The Wife happy (although that’s all the reason you need).

  1. My musical idols are dying right and left these days, so I might as well catch him one more time because it may be the last time.
  2. I’m probably never going to win the lottery and take Laurie and Liz to New York to see him at Madison Square Garden. Especially since I don’t play the lottery.
  3. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Joel play “Miami: 2017,” a song he released in 1976, in 2017.
  4. I really needed a break from the unending depression of watching “The Vietnam War.”

The show was supposed to start promptly at 8 p.m. and due to security concerns we were told to get there early. We got there before the protesters arrived and left after they’d gone home so all went down without incident. No long line to get in so we spend 90 minutes in the stadium, checking out the souvenir stand and cursing the unseasonable heat.

Now you might think that $300 floor seats would mean primo viewing. For that much money I should be able to touch The Man and feel his sweat as he pounds on the keyboard. Nope. We were so far away that Joel looked like a speck on the stage. We would be watching the show mainly off the video screens, just like the people in the rafters.

My main objection with floor seats is that people on the floor feel some uncontrollable need to stand throughout the entire show. I don’t feel that need and resent having to stand just so I can see that speck way, way, away on the stage. Still, as I look around me at all the people even older than myself, some with canes, I’m thinking maybe this won’t be so bad.

The show starts — not promptly at 8 p.m. but close enough — with the theme music from “The Natural” (hmm, this seems familiar). Then The Man takes to the piano and begins playing some Beethoven (hmm, this seems familiar) and then he breaks into “My Life.” (Yep. It’s a Billy Joel concert, alright).

Everyone stands, and as I feared, remained standing throughout the show. Fine. I had resigned myself to this when I bought the seats. And as expected, everything I hate about concerts was concentrated in my section.

Behind me were a trio of women who WOULDN’T SHUT UP. In front of me were a couple of guys who figured it was OK to light up as long as they blew their smoke up in the air. People kept going back and forth to the bathroom or wherever, even though there was no room between rows for people to walk. For the love of God, why can’t people stay in one place for 2.5 hours? And be quiet?

And then there’s the all-new, 21st Century concert annoyance: Cellphones.  Live in the moment, people! You don’t need to videotape the moment! I can’t see the little speck on stage with you holding your damn phone over your head so you can get a blurry image that you can share on social media so you can brag to your friends how cool you are because you’re at the Billy Joel concert!

Despite the distractions, a good time was had by all, especially The Wife, which made it all worthwhile.

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Random thoughts on Billy Joel at Busch Stadium, 2017:

It was a solid 26-song set, heavy on the hits with a few well-known non-hits thrown in as well.

The audience made all the right choices during the Fielder’s Choice segment: Vienna over Just The Way You Are; Zanzibar over Big Man on Mulberry Street; Billy the Kid over Downeaster Alexa; And So It Goes over Leningrad. I especially enjoyed “And So It Goes” as that was the only time during the show when Joel was singing that the crowd in my section sat down.

Joel freshened things up a bit by adding videos to some of his tunes. They weren’t as good as the ones The Who used on their last tour, but they were much better than the ones Ann Wilson used. I don’t know what she was thinking with some of those vids.

Every time I look in a mirror and regret how badly I have aged, I look at Billy Joel and feel better. Remember when Joel had multiple keyboards and he would run around from one end of the stage to the other to play them? Now he has 1 piano which rotates for him. When they started to play “Big Shot,” Laurie asked if I thought Joel would get up on the piano and dance around like in the old days. We laughed and laughed.

Three highlights of the show were not related to Billy Joel’s repertoire. One came when Joel performed “A Day in the Life” as a tribute to the Beatles. As that was the one song I had not heard Joel perform before, it was a highlight for me. The second came when one of his roadies came out and did a rousing performance of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” (That bit I had seen before).

The third special moment (and this was more a Laurie moment than a Ronnie moment) was when Joel’s guitarist Michael DelGuidice sang Puccini’s “Nessun dorma.” Laurie loved it because it was opera and DelGuidice had an amazing voice. I loved it because it was the second time and last time that everyone in my section sat down.

Joel did not perform “Prelude/Angry Young Man,” a staple of his live shows. Probably a good decision, given the mood outside the stadium.

Joel did not end the night by encouraging us to not take any shit from anybody. Does this mean we are supposed to take shit fom people now?

 

Joelfest 2017, Part II (Part I)

Sound Check: The Only Times I’ve Ever Known

Several months ago it was announced that Billy Joel would be performing in September in St. Louis.

“Are you going to the Billy Joel concert?”

“No”

“Why not?”

“Are you going to the Billy Joel concert?”

“No”

“Why not?”

“Are you going to the Billy Joel concert?”

“No”

“Why not?”

“Are you going to the Billy Joel concert?”

“No”

“Why not?”

Sometimes it’s not easy being perceived as the No. 1 fan of a popular musician. Yes, I love The Man and his music but I’ve seen him many times. In fact, I’m not sure how many times. There was the first time in Columbia, then in St. Louis, then I think in Kansas City, then again in St. Louis, then when he opened the Savvis Center, then with Elton John at Riverport, then with Liz that last time… so 6 or 7 times. Maybe 8.

He puts on a good show. But it’s pretty much the same show – heavy on the hits, a few album tracks, songs from whatever new album he’s promoting. But he hasn’t had a new album in 24 years. And I don’t need to hear him perform “My Life” one more time.  So I am pretty much done with Billy Joel Live. Especially since concert tickets are more expensive than they were when I paid $5.50 to see him the first time.

So I had made my peace about Joel being in town and me not being there, despite constant questioning by people — including my wife, who would ask me on a weekly basis if I wanted her to get me tickets.

And then some cop shot some black man and some judge didn’t toss him in jail and all hell broke loose in St. Louis.

As a result, the U2 concert was canceled. The Wife had been looking forward to that show for some time, and it’s true what they say — If Laurie ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

So to make it up to her — and because her constant questioning me about whether I wanted tickets to Billy Joel was clearly as much about her desires as it was about mine (you learn these things after 29 years of marriage) — I figured I’d better scrounge up some concert tickets.

But the show is 2 days away and sold out. As luck or fate or whatever would have it, someone at work had a pair of tickets he wanted to unload. The bad news is they were floor seats, and I hate floor seats. The worst news is they were $150 each (plus a $40 service fee, which he wasn’t going to charge me, but once you’ve blown $300 on concert tickets, what’s another $40?)

Now, if my father were alive and he heard that I’d spent $340 on concert tickets, he would take his belt off and beat me with it. And he would be right to do so. But pa is no longer with us, so now it’s just a question of : Do I love my wife enough to spend $340 on concert tickets?

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Looks like I’m going to the Billy Joel concert!

 

…To be continued