The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Lexington native and resident, when he’s not touring the nation on his bike, Ben Sollee made his Lincoln Center debut Saturday night in the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse as part of the Center’s American Songbook series.
Kevin Dearinger, who splits his time between New York and Lexington, was in the audience and sent along a note to brag on Sollee:
“I have been following Ben’s career since he was in high school and playing backup (brilliantly!) for WoodSongs (Old-Time Radio Hour),” wrote Dearinger, author of The Bard in the Bluegrass: Two Centuries of Shakespearian Performance in Lexington, Kentucky. “Even then he stood out as a shy but definite star.
“He was great on Saturday — inventive, charming, touching, funny, original, and musically extraordinary. He is very generous with his audience and a great partner with his musicians. There was so much music that sparked with call and response. He spoke of Kentucky again and again with great pride, and I was full of Kentucky pride watching and listening to him. The crowd was eclectic and very enthusiastic. Ben is pretty irresistible. His son was dancing in the aisle next to me. I wanted to dance in the aisles, too, but it was Lincoln Center. My feet never stopped tapping.”
Also in the audience was New York Times critic Stephen Holden, whose review appeared online Sunday and in Monday’s paper. He wrote:
“Appalachian mountain music gave way to the blues, and one song was appended with a fragment from a Bach cello suite, beautifully played,” Holden wrote. “More often than not Mr. Sollee preferred plucking the instrument to bowing it.
“He affectionately recalled being introduced to the cello in elementary school and described the pleasure of bike trips, in which he pedals from gig to gig. In the hypnotic instrumental Fiddle Tune, Mr. Ellis tapped on the cello as Mr. Sollee evoked the euphoria of finding a comfortable groove while whizzing down the road. Joy peeked through the music like rays of sunshine in the Kentucky woods.”
Trumpeter Caleb Hudson, a Lexington native who first turned heads in the Bluegrass before heading off to the Interlochen Academy and the Julliard School, has officially joined the Canadian Brass, arguably the world’s best-known brass ensemble.
Hudson’s appointment came in a surprise announcement at a March 15 concert at Goucher College in Baltimore that was played on SiriusXM Pops. Hudson, 25, had been billed as a guest artist, but then was announced as the Brass’ newest member. He will be joining the Brass for an eight-month tour of North America, Europe, Asia and South America.
Before last Friday, Hudson had already been making headlines with appearances such as his solo debut with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center performing J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 and at the Aspen Music Festival, where he was soloist with pianist Vladimir Feltsman in a performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano, Trumpet and Orchestra. Last year he graduated from Julliard with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He is a performing and teaching artist with The Academy, a program of Carnegie Hall.
Hudson attended Paul Laurence Dunbar High School for his freshman and sophmore years, was a member of the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras, and went to the Governor’s School for the Arts in the Summer of 2005. Later that year, he returned from Michigan as a soloist with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra.
At the pre-concert lecture for that performance, Hudson’s trumpet teacher Rich Byrd said the first thing that struck him about Hudson was his work ethic.
“Never in my 20 years of private teaching have I ever had a student as serious and hard working as Caleb Hudson,” Byrd, an Eastern Kentucky University trumpet professor, said. “No matter what I assigned Caleb, he always returned to me with his lesson completed exactly as I asked, and often would prepare more than I asked.”
Hudson, at Byrd’s urging went on to enter and win at the National Trumpet Competition multiple times.
Brooklyn, 7, will be an understudy for five roles including Molly, the littlest orphan who has several featured moments in the classic 1977 musical by Charles Strouse, Thomas Meehan and Martin Charnin.
Annie is the first hit in several months of auditioning in New York for Brooklyn and her older sister Sydney, 9.
Their mother, Angie Shuck, says that all three of their daughters, including 6-year-old Raleigh, have shown a knack for musical theater and worked with the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s Academy for Creative Excellence, a musical-theater training program for school-age children. Brooklyn was seen recently in the UK Opera Theatre’s Grand Night for Singing showtune revue in June and singing I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus at last month’s Celebration of Song at Victorian Square.
With the experience Brooklyn and Sydney were gaining, Angie Shuck said they decided to take a shot at New York stages under the guidance of Lexington-based manager Peggy Stamps and her SquarePeg management group.
“They went up there, and they were naturals,” Angie Shuck says. “So we decided we would give them that opportunity.”
Stamps says the girls have been auditioning for 10 months and made it into the final rounds of auditions for several shows, including The Grinch and Godspell 2032.
Shuck says she was called last month about the Annie audition and had 22 hours to get Brooklyn to New York.
Brooklyn is a second grader at Garden Springs Elementary School, but of course will have to move to New York, at least while she is in Annie.
After 26 years, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera is coming to Lexington in a production by the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre.
The iconic Broadway musical is still playing in New York and on national and international tours, usually circumstances that keep producers from licensing shows for other theaters to produce. But Monday morning, UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey said that Kentucky has joined a short list of colleges, including Brigham Young University and Elon College, that have been authorized to produce the show. The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, which administers rights to the show, began licensing Phantom to colleges and high schools in 2009.
National tours of Phantom have played Louisville and Cincinnati, but they have never come to Lexington because the Lexington Opera House’s stage house is too small to accommodate the touring show’s massive set, including the chandelier that crashes to the stage at the end of Act 1.
“The chandelier will fall, the boat will go, it will be a full production,” said UK Opera program director Joan Rue.
UK had to meet some stringent requirements get rights from Rodgers and Hammerstein, including that it be an all-student cast and orchestra. McCorvey says the production’s leading actors have been triple cast to accommodate a marathon of 10 performances Oct. 5 to 14.
Tickets to Phantom go on sale Monday to people who subscribe to the rest of the UK Opera season: Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro March 1-3 and It’s a Grand Night for Singing June 7-9 and 13-15. Per the rights agreement, tickets will only be available in person at the Lexington Center Ticket Office or by phone at (859) 233-3535. There are no online sales of Phantom tickets.
Kentucky’s latest Broadway star can get used to reading his name written this way: Tony Award nominee Steve Kazee — it even rhymes. The Ashland native, who discovered a love for musical theater while he was a student at Morehead State University, is a nominee for best actor in a leading role in a musical for his performance in Once, the stage adaptation of the surprise hit 2006 film.
Kazee plays Guy, an Irish musician who falls in love with his musical soulmate Girl, played by Cristin Milioti. The actress’ name also came up for best actress in a leading role in a musical, making two of the 11 nominations the show received, including best musical, best direction of a musical for John Tiffany and best book of a musical for Enda Walsh.
That makes Once the top nominee this year.
On Broadway World, Kazee reflected on his and the show’s nominations: “It has been a crazy year for me and to have it culminated this way with 11 Tony nominations for the show makes me speechless. To see everyone get recognized who has worked so hard on creating this piece is just unbelievable and I’m so excited to get the theater tonight to give everyone a hug and say congratulations. It makes me so proud to be a part of something that I can call art that is also having success commercially.”
Kazee also reflected on his mother, Kathy Kazee, who died last month saying, “this nomination it a bit bittersweet since she can’t experience this with me.”
Once is closely followed by two shows with 10 nods: the Gershwin-tune-filled Nice Work if You Can Get It and The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which also has Kentucky connections. Andrea Jones-Sojola is playing the Strawberry Woman and understudies the roles of Clara and Serena. Phumzile Sojola is Peter, The Honey Man and understudies the role of Robbins. Both were prominent singers in the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre in the last decade and the Lexington-based American Spiritual Ensemble.
Porgy’s nominations include best revival of a musical and leading actor and actress in a musical for Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald in the title roles.
In addition to Lewis, Kazee’s competition includes Jeremy Jordan for Newsies and Danny Burstein and Ron Raines for Follies. So, if Kazee triumphs over that crowd, he’ll have to change that reference to “Tony Award winner Steve Kazee,” which does not rhyme as well, but that probably wouldn’t bother him.
Click here for a complete list of Tony nominees. The awards, which should feature performances from both Once and Porgy and Bess, will be at 8 p.m. June 10 on CBS, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris.
Also, Steve Kazee’s Twitter feed is well worth following.
Steve Kazee’s first Broadway lead looks to be a hit with critics whose reviews are coming in after Sunday’s opening night performance of Once, the new musical based on the surprise hit 2006 film. Kazee, who was raised in Ashland and graduated from Morehead State University, plays Guy, an Irishman who falls in love with Girl, played by Cristin Milioti, when they discover they literally make beautiful music togther.
The big kahuna of the critics, The New York Times’ Ben Brantley, said the musical’s move from Off-Broadway to Broadway had been good for the show.
” … The greater distance between stage and audience that comes with a move to a Broadway house softens the edges of its exaggeration. And what was always wonderful about “Once,” its songs and its staging, has been magnified. In the meantime its appealing stars, Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti, have only grown in presence and dimensionality,” Brantley wrote. He added that Kazee, “manages to find a soulful, quietly erotic energy in his passive character, and his singing voice shifts by stealthy degrees from tuneful plaintiveness to howling pain.”
The Associated Press’ Mark Kennedy wrote that Once, “is a study in how to beautifully adapt a movie to the stage. In many ways, in fact, this Once is better than the original Once.” He added, “Kazee adopts a convincing Irish accent and he has a great voice, especially when he strains with emotion. He’s pretty good looking, too, in just jeans, an undershirt and a vest.”
The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones also called it a textbook example of taking a story from film to stage and said Once is a rare wise musical.
“Once offers a rush of new understanding of how those who succeed in life and love often do so because an unselfish someone either talked them into getting out of bed in the morning or removed some great boulder lying in the way. Kazee and Milioti … are so precise and specific to a particular time and place that they become potent representatives of every moment of the heart in every stubborn locale.”
Forbes’ Roger Friedman called the show “a knockout,” the likely winner of the Tony Award for best musical and a star maker.
“Ready for his walk of fame for a long time, I’d say, is Steve Kazee … Kazee plays guitar and sings like a legitimate rock star. He reminded me less of Bono than of another Irish folk rocker, Luka Bloom. And Kazee–who told me after the show that he’s played guitar since age 12–comes from Kentucky. How does he come by such a good stage accent? “I just slip into it,” he says with a shrug.”
Kentucky native Steve Kazee has enjoyed modest success on and off Broadway since he discovered acting when he was a student at Morehead State University in the mid-1990s. His turns have included starring opposite Audra McDonald in Roundabout Theatre’s revival of 110 in the Shade and replacing Hank Azaria as Lancelot in Spamalot.
Sunday (March 18) will be the biggest night of Kazee’s career as he takes the stage of Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York as the lead in Once, a new musical based on the 2006 movie that boasted the Oscar-winning song Falling Slowly. The show tells the story of an Irish musician and Czech immigrant drawn into a complicated relationship by their mutual love of music. The film was adapted to the stage by playwright Enda Walsh and the original Once musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová.
The latest evidence of Kazee’s rising star is he was featured in Sunday’s New York Times Style magazine sporting polka dots – of course, very fashionable, stylish polka dots.
But you need look no further than Kazee’s Twitter account to see he is still in touch with his old Kentucky home. Following Sunday’s loss in the SEC Championship game, he tweeted: “I am actually happy UK lost. Need to get their damn heads out of their asses and play like the beasts they are. Number 1 ain’t s—.”
Here’s hoping Kazee has a great weekend in a variety of ways.
When The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess opens on Broadway tonight, two University of Kentucky graduates will be on stage. Andrea Jones-Sojola is playing the Strawberry Woman and understudies the roles of Clara and Serena. Phumzile Sojola is Peter, The Honey Man and understudies the role of Robbins.
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess stars four-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald as Bess and film star David Alan Grier as Sporting Life. Fort Knox native Suzan-Lori Parks, whose numerous awards include the Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award and MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant, wrote the book for the Broadway version which is directed by Diana Paulus, who brought the Public Theatre’s revered revival of Hair to Broadway in 2009. The production has been the subject of some controversy for alterations to the original music and book by George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose and Dorothy Heyward.
While at UK, Louisville native Jones-Sojola sang roles with the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre such as Laurie Moss in Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land and Despina in W.A. Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte. Sojola, a South Africa native, sang Pinkerton in Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Don Jose in Georges Bizet’s Carmen. They met and married while they were at UK as students of Everett McCorvey and have sung in McCorvey’s American Spiritual Ensemble. Sojola sang in the Off-Broadway show Three Mo’ Tenors, and Jones-Sojola appeared in its female counterpart Three Mo’ Divas.
The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess is the Broadway debut for both singers.
Opera, and the question of whether it is only for the well-heeled, made it into the Occupy Wall Street debate last week.
NPR Music posted an item Wednesday highlighting two New York Times stories. In one, food critic Sam Sifton went on with rich operatic analogies in his review of a restaurant where dinner started at $295, pointing out that orchestra seats to the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore ran $330 — both excluding wine.
The culture clash in a story that the Met had set a fund-raising record of $182 million came in the comments section.
“At least some of those sickening Wall Street bonuses are going to good use,” one commenter posted. Another said, “Just as drug money built the Miami skyline, the corrupt nature of New York’s financial center will continue to fund the monuments of their success.”
There were numerous references to “the 1 percent,” meaning the wealthiest people in the country whose income far exceeds that of the rest of the nation — “the 99 percent,” as Occupy Wall Street folks refer to themselves.
With that context, NPR Music asked, “Is opera stuff (that only) rich people like?”
The real question seemed to be is: “Is the Metropolitan Opera stuff (that only) rich people like?”
Most opera companies do not charge $80 to $415 a seat, which is what it would have cost to get into all but the top tier at the Met for Friday night’s performance of The Barber of Seville. By comparison, the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s production of Roméo et Juliette, which opens Friday for a two-weekend run, is $40 for adult tickets. Tickets to The Marriage of Figaro by Louisville’s Kentucky Opera, Nov. 18 to 20, are $28 to $95.
Even at those prices, a night at the opera is real money to most households, but it’s probably doable if you love opera and want to go.
And really, that’s the thing with any upper-level live entertainment: Most people will put their money where their passion is.
May9Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Downtown Arts Center, Eastern Kentucky University, Lexington Opera House, Lexington Philharmonic, Music, Musicals, New York, Paragon Music Theatre; Tagged as: Actors Guild of Lexington, Berea College, Diana Evans Pulliam, Eastern Kentucky University, Gypsy, Katie Owen, Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Paragon Music Theatre, Robyn Peterman-Zahn, Ryan Shirar, She Loves Me, The King and I, The Sound of Music, Tracey Bonner, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music
Coming Thursday on LexGo: Mama Rose came at the right time for Katie Owen, though at first it did not seem that way.
For years, Lexington musical theater artists have wondered how long Central Kentucky could keep Ryan Shirar.
A multitalented musician, Shirar played in a wide variety of formats and locations, wrote orchestrations that enhanced productions of some of the great musicals of the American stage, and showed songs in new lights. He ultimately brought Lexington something it had not had for years: a theater company dedicated to presenting traditional Broadway-style musicals.
But with Paragon Music Theatre‘s presentation of Gypsy next weekend, the question has been answered. Shirar, 29, will leave his posts as executive and music director of the theater to pursue a master’s degree in orchestral conducting, specializing in theater, at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
The prestigious music school scouted out Shirar and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“It’s a free degree,” Shirar said Monday over lunch. “It’s a full-tuition scholarship, plus stipend. So it’s very hard to turn down an offer to a conservatory for that.
“Ultimately, I love what I do now in Lexington, but even if I stay here and do what I’m doing, I need a graduate degree in order to have a little more stable job. It was the perfect time and perfect opportunity. Things had lined up, and it was almost like … ‘I put it all together for you. You’ve just got to go.’”
Robyn Peterman-Zahn, Paragon’s stage director, says, “Ever since I came here to work with Ryan — and I came because I am so blown away by his talent — I’ve been telling him he needs to leave.”
Peterman-Zahn, who has national stage and film work on her résumé, says Shirar’s talent rivals that of musicians she has worked with across the nation, including New York and Los Angeles.
“Ryan has a musicality you just can’t learn,” she says. “It’s a really special gift.”
Along with choreographer Diana Evans Pulliam, Peterman-Zahn and Shirar formed a trio that helped drive Paragon to some great heights, including a spring 2009 production of The King and I and last summer’s presentation of The Sound of Music.
The company started in 2004 with a production of State Fair, with Tracey Bonner as stage director. Read the rest of this entry »
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich