Mitch Traphagen captured another great night of entertainment at Tuesday’s Artists Without Walls’ Showcase. The next Showcase is on Tuesday, May 22nd, 7:30pm at The Cell, 338 West 23rd St., NYC.
Mitch Traphagen captured another great night of entertainment at Tuesday’s Artists Without Walls’ Showcase. The next Showcase is on Tuesday, May 22nd, 7:30pm at The Cell, 338 West 23rd St., NYC.
by VINNIE NAUHEIMER
The audience at the Artists Without Walls’ presentation of “Crossing Boroughs” was treated to a scrumptious mix of singing, dancing, music, and history last Sunday afternoon at the Museum of the City of New York. Weaving together the intricate blend of the music, dance, history and culture that defined each of New York City’s boroughs, “Crossing Boroughs” showcased the magnificent tapestry that defines New York City. Combining a superb narrative, slideshows, singing, dancing and monologues, the show transported the older members in the audience back to the days of their youth, while giving the younger folk a glimpse into New York City’s past.
The opening slideshow presented visual snippets of New York City, which provided the backdrop for Niamh Hyland who sang “Midnight in Harlem” with enough soul to rock a congregation. Charles R. Hale picked up from there, narrating a brief history of Manhattan and its past, his words accenting and explaining the slides flashing across the screen. This background material led to a duet, “Manhattan,” a song written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart and performed by Niamh and David Raleigh.
Jack O’Connell, while holding a Spalding, known as a “spaldeen,” recounted Brooklyn born Pete Hamill’s description of “stickball” as he knew it growing up in Brooklyn, including the fact that Spaldings were not manufactured during WWII because of the rubber shortage caused by the war effort. Growing up in the Bronx, I can attest to the fact that stickball was played with the same rules across boroughs.
Stickball transitioned to baseball when Charles shared a personal story…his father taking him to his first baseball game at Ebbets Field. It was his first chance to see the Dodgers and Charles recounted the game and the chance meeting with Jackie Robinson at a stoplight as Charles and his dad drove home from the game. This personal touch, acknowledging the importance of the father-son bonds that were formed over the game of baseball, drew the audience in as they reflected on their ties to baseball. To add to the realism of the baseball moment, midway through Charles’ story, Jack O’Connell, to the sounds of a ballpark crowd, walked down the aisles dressed as a ballpark vendor: “Peanuts, popcorn, cracker-jacks….getcha cold beer…cold beer here….soodaaa, soodaa.”
From Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, we were transported to Coney Island when Jack O’Connell (Man of a Thousand Faces) appeared as a carnival barker from the Midway where he pitched the various sideshows that were flashing on the screen behind him. This seamlessly transitioned into the story of another carnival barker, Billy Bigelow, from the 1945 Broadway show “Carousel.” Niamh Hyland once again wowed the audience with her rendition of “If I loved You,” Julie Jordan’s thoughts on her relationship with Billie
Moving from Brooklyn to Queens, Charles took the audience to the 1939 World’s Fair and the introduction of nylon stockings, which led to the opening dance number, “Nylon Stockings.” David Raleigh sang the song, which featured the very talented young dance duo, Laura Neese and Johnathan Matthews.
Continuing through Queens, Charles once again brought the audience into his early life as he recounted his fond memories of Saturdays at one of the five New York Metro “Loew’s Wonder Theaters.” A short video depicted the grandeur of those theaters, which struck a solid chord with all who had the opportunity to spend time at those theaters, regardless of which borough they hailed from.
From Queens, the show moved over to the Bronx where once again, Laura and Johnathan traversed the floor in magnificent style, dancing the Lindy Hop to Dion and the Belmonts, “I Wonder Why.” The dance scene was followed by a fascinating narrative in which Charles combined the opening of the Triborough Bridge with the concurrent history of the Randall’s Island stadium, located beneath the Triborough, and the part it played in selecting the runners who represented the United States at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
Every show has its highlight: This shows highlight was Niamh Hyland’s performance of the Etta James’ song “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Niamh nailed it, boxed it and delivered it to an audience that devoured every note. At the end of her song, thunderous applause spontaneously erupted as several members audience jumped to their feet paying tribute to the superb performance they had just witnessed.
Once again, back in Manhattan at McHale’s Bar, Jack O’Connell took the stage to give us a sobering portrayal of a bartender speaking to an invisible customer (or the audience?) while reciting Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” A poem that perfectly describes the seedier side of life–desolation–in New York.
As we headed out to the final borough, Staten Island, footage from the Staten Island Ferry with the Manhattan skyline in the background filled the screen. Accompanying the visual, David and Niamh sang “Leaving New York.” The entire experience was made complete by the accomplished musicians who provided the musical accompaniment led by renowned guitarist Shu Nakamura, drummer Shirazette Tinnin, keyboardist Steve Okonski and bassist Mary Ann McSweeney.
For this Bronx boy, who has lived and worked in New York City most of his life, this was a terrific afternoon. It is not very often you see a show that skillfully combines New York City nostalgia, song, dance, music, and fun into one package. Kudos to Charles Hale Productions and everyone that contributed to making “Crossing Boroughs” a most enjoyable show.
Crossing Boroughs was created and written by Charles R. Hale. Charmaine Broad directs the show and Niamh Hyland, in addition to being the show’s lead vocalist, is its musical director.
Photos by Mitch Traphagen
The Soul of an Artist Without Walls
by Mitch Traphagen
Billy Joel performed his 37th consecutive sold-out monthly show at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 11, 2017. When he began, he said he would keep playing until people stopped showing up. There is no sign of that happening. His 41st concert was just announced.
It would be hard to argue that he needs the money. He is among the best selling recording artists in history. But he is a New Yorker through and through. Born in the Bronx 67-years-ago, Madison Square Garden is in his hometown; it’s his backyard. And for many artists, Madison Square Garden represents the high bar of a goal of which dreams are made. It is a venue known around the world. Performing there places one in a very rarified club.
Now entering my third year as a member of Artists Without Walls, I’ve seen a number of artists that could be playing at Madison Square Garden. For those artists, having seen them perform at an AWoW monthly showcase, the stretch to MSG is not a long one from my outside perspective. But for the artists, it may well appear differently. For them, it is a matter of choosing the path of the heart, and making the sacrifices, often far more than most people could bear, in reaching that stage.
Billy Joel made sacrifices. He was busy performing and didn’t actually graduate from high school until…1992. Was it worth it? In terms of wealth and fame, no doubt it was for him. But he has also long suffered from clinical depression, including after September 11, 2001. And yet he continued. He wants to perform. He wants to play until people stop showing up.
What determines what is “worth it” is the soul of the artist in many cases. Some are lucky financially. Sometimes the sacrifice is simply too much, when living indoors and having regular meals must be chosen over someday dreams of 21,000 people at MSG cheering you on.
Many years ago when I played in a rock band at the tail end of the disco era, we used to joke that dinner for musicians meant going into a diner, ordering a bowl of hot water and grabbing the ketchup bottle on the table. For too many artists today, that probably isn’t far from the truth.
During the concert Billy at times would stop and ask, “Do you want hear this song?…hitting a few keys…or this song?…hitting different keys — but both songs iconic for millions of people encompassing generations.
He spoke of his songs and albums. At one point, he mentioned an album from the mid-70s and asked the crowd if anyone had it — and quickly followed up with, “Don’t worry. It wasn’t one of my best. I don’t even have that album.”
In the end he played for two and a half hours. There were songs that he likely felt he had no choice but to play — the audience was surely expecting them. But he also mixed it up with some Stones and Led Zeppelin. He has long been a Led Zep fan.
There are any number of artists with AWoW who either have or will someday play on that stage or one equal in stature. There are any number of artists who will perform at the Richard Rogers Theatre on Broadway or in front of movie or television cameras, who may one day change lives while playing at the Rockwood Music Hall or Cafe Vivaldi.
There is a reason Billy Joel is performing monthly shows at MSG and it probably doesn’t have much to do with money. There is something else; there is pure, driving passion and there is an “it” factor. Artists Without Walls’ cofounder Charles R. Hale understands it; he is himself an artist, after all. And thus there is a reason such talent takes the stage at the Cell every month for the AWoW showcases. There is a reason such talent exists at all.
From Billy Joel to the many artists with AWoW, from MSG to the Cell, walls don’t matter. The words, the music, the talent…it is in the souls of the artists.
“Performing at Artists Without Walls is a deep privilege and a pleasure. To appear as part of a lineup of such talented artists is simultaneously thrilling and humbling. I always leave AWoW with a soaring spirit, full of gratitude for the gifts of my fellow artists, and newly energized and encouraged in my own work. Mille Grazie to Charles Hale and Niamh Hyland for creating this warm, welcoming community.” Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, poet/author
A witty and humorous beginning to the evening as Giovanni Villari, Janine Hegarty, and Paul Eisemann entered the stage to perform a scene from David Loughlin’s play, “Millennial Discourse.” Soon, ripples of laughter were coming from the audience as David’s comedic look at contemporary relationships began to unwind. Commitment-phobe Emma (Janine) feels as if she’s stuck between a rock and a hard place when her cat-loving work-partner, Anthony, (Giovanni) asks her to marry him. And when the grouchy, eaves-dropping Old Guy (Paul) tells her his tale of commitment-phobe woe, she’s left to contemplate the possibility of moving to Alaska and spending the rest of her life with Anthony. Is this what she wants? Whoever thought an afternoon ride on the New Jersey Transit could tell us so much about how we think and feel?
Singer/songwriter Janet Burgan brought three of her newest songs to the Showcase. With her Guild guitar glinting in the lights, she sang about love…all aspects of love. In “Snow Moon,” she told the story of a love that “freezes my soul in endless gloom.” She followed that with a song only a few weeks old, “So Why Am I Crying?,” a funny, in your face song about the end of a relationship. She closed her performance with a screening of her music video, “Seize The Day,” the first single from her new album, Nothing But Love Songs, which you can view by clicking here. High energy, precise and talented, Burgan is the real deal. Go see her the first Tuesday of the month at Bar Chord, 1008 Cortelyou Street in Brooklyn at 9:30PM. Click here for Janet’s complete performance schedule. Don’t miss her!
Eliana Gonzalez captivated the audience with a touching rendition of the song “She Used to be Mine”, by Sara Bareilles. Her sensitivity and grace shone through her performance. The joy was palpable during “Andar Conmigo”, the song we all tried to sing along to in Spanish. Martin Fuks, acclaimed producer and composer, skillfully accompanied this singer and actress with a flawless domain of the acoustic guitar. These two Argentinian-born performers are, no doubt, a perfect blend.
The cast from Peter Welch’s Autumn Stage performed an excerpt from scene two of the first act, and was enthusiastically received by the audience. The playwright and actors Mary Tierney and Larry Fleischman received dozens of compliments about the work afterward. A number of Artists Without Walls’ folks immediately bought tickets to see the show, which will premiere in two weeks, running from September 4th to September 11th at Theater for the New City’s Dream Up Festival. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.
Anana Kaye and Irakli Gabriel were joined at the end of the evening by the world renowned violin virtuoso Deni Bonet and captivated the audience with passionate original compositions – a beautiful ballad “Broken”, funky rocker ” Ain’t Dead Yet” and a particularly poignant “American Smile”, the last two co-written with the acclaimed songwriter Freddie Stevenson. Anana and Irakli, who are originally from Republic of Georgia, are not only first rate songwriters and performers, they are also talented photographers and videographers. They recently released a beautifully crafted an EP “Sentient,” which contains five original songs and is accompanied by music videos which they directed, filmed and edited themselves. You can click here to see them.
Zhana Roiya,….is one of the newest additions to Artists Without Walls. When actor Sedly Bloomfield asked her to be part of an emotional excerpt from the the Play “Fences” by August Wilson, she jumped at the chance, an opportunity to home her skill in a more intimate setting. This exerpt of the play, takes us on a journey of betrayal, trust and lust, taking the audience on an emotional roller coaster of torment, pain agony defeat and surrender. The passion felt by these two dynamic actors was riveting, an electric clash of two titans….each expressing themselves in ways that left the audience wanting to see more.
Artists Without Walls next event will be a performance as part of Origin Theatre Company’s 1stIrish Fest, called “New York City: A Shining Mosaic.” The performance will take place at Pier A, Harbor House, Battery Place in Manhattan. For further info click here. For tickets, which are $15 in advance with a small convenience fee, click here.
Photos by Mitch Traphagen
This past Thursday, Lehman College: The City and Humanities Program and the CUNY Institute for Irish-American Studies sponsored a performance of Charles R. Hale’s “Musical History of the Lower East Side,” celebrating the music of a neighborhood from which many of our nation’s ethnic groups can trace their origins.
In the 1840s, almost half of America’s immigrants were from Ireland. Often leaving behind famine and poverty, the Irish would often sing ballads steeped in nostalgia and self-pity, and despite the troubles they’d left, singing the praises of their native soil. The Irish also brought Celtic music. Melodies common to fiddlers throughout Scotland and Ireland were transferred nearly intact to the American fiddle tradition. Deni Bonet performed one such tune that has remained a bluegrass fiddler favorite, “Red Haired Boy.”
Stephen Foster, who’s often referred to as “the father of American music,” moved to the Bowery in 1860. Foster was primarily known for his parlor music and minstrel music. Niamh Hyland, with accompaniment from Deni and Noah Hoffeld, sang two popular Foster tunes, “Hard Times Come Again No More,” 1854, and “Slumber My Darling,” 1862.
A steady stream of Italian immigrants began arriving in America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Italians from Naples and Southern Italy brought with them a traditional form of singing called Neapolitan music. In New York City, Italian tenors Enrico Caruso and Beniamino Gigli popularized such songs as “O Sole Mio,” “Funiculi Funicular” and “Non ti Scordar di me,” which was performed by soprano Ashley Bell. Italian immigrants also helped popularize the Metropolitan Opera, which debuted a number of Italian operas, including Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi in 1918. Ashley performed the opera’s most popular aria “O Mio Bambino Caro.”
The Lower East Side is especially remembered as a place of Jewish beginnings in America. Between 1880 and the start of World War I in 1914, about 2 million Yiddish speaking Jews left Eastern Europe and Russia where pogroms and persecution made life unbearable. While Jewish composers, many of whom lived on the Lower East Side, were influential in creating the American Songbook, they also brought a great deal of European music with them as well. Basya Schechter and Noah Hoffeld captured the spirit of the past with two Yiddish songs, “Oyfn Pripetchik” and “Shnirele Perele”
George and Ira Gershwin were composers who were raised on the Lower East Side. George’s classical music such as Rhapsody in Blue, his opera Porgy and Bess and his many show tunes remain popular today, but he also teamed up with brother Ira to write “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love” and “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which was performed by jazz pianist and vocalist Mala Waldron with accompaniment from fiddler Deni.
In the mid 1950s many artists and musicians were drawn to the neighborhood around the Bowery by cheaper rents. The Five Spot Café, a jazz club located between 4th and 5th Streets, staged jam sessions with some of the giants of jazz: Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, and Lower East Side resident, Charlie Parker. Waldron, accompanied once again by Deni, performed a Parker favorite “Embraceable You.”
In the 1940s and 50s Latin Jazz began to take hold in New York City. At the same time, there was the first great migration of Puerto Ricans entering the country. Shortly, Dominicans and other Spanish groups followed. Latin jazz musicians, guitarist Yuri Juarez and percussionist Jhair Sala, performed a tune that was popular in the Latin community, now known by its Spanglish name, Loisaida, in the 1940s and 50s, “Night in Tunisia,” written by jazz great Dizzie Gillespie.
The music of the Lower East Side has continued to evolve from garage band to punk to alternative rock and yet, each year, the Loisaida Festival continues to evoke the spirit of its immigrant past, as did Yuri and Jhair with the last song on the program, “La Bikina.”
A big thank you to all the artists who participated in the “Musical History of the Lower East” and to Lehman College: The City and Humanities Program and the CUNY Institute for Irish-American Studies for sponsoring the event.
Photos by Mitch Traphagen.
Mitch Traphagen’s photos from Charles R. Hale’s “Musical History of the Lower East Side,” at Lehman College. The event was sponsored by “Lehman College: The City and Humanities Program and the CUNY Institute for Irish-American Studies.
Mitch Traphagen’s photos from AWoW’s Showcase at Sid Gold’s, March 29, 2016.
Superb night of entertainment at Artists Without Walls’ Showcase this past Tuesday night at The Cell Theatre. Some familiar faces as well as some new and all extremely talented. Singer/songwriters Izzy Levine and Ella McDonald, high school students from Montclair New Jersey, made their New York City debut, displaying beautiful vocal harmonies and poise. The talented team performed three songs in front of an enthusiastic, full-house audience. Remarkable musicians! I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about them in the future.
Ron Vazzano opened the night with a series of seven poems, collectively entitled Notes on Slumming Through the Continuum, which was accompanied by a dramatic visual presentation. The poems were said to be inspired by a quote of his own making, “Time waits for no man in its mad rush to infinity” (to which he noted, “Yes, in a ‘Trumpian’ fit of self-adoration I’m actually quoting myself”), it was highly applauded by an audience that seemed to hang on every word.
The Mountain Maidens, including Lorraine Berger, Candice Baranello and Marie Mularczyk O’Connell, captured the Awow audience with tight modal Appalachian harmonies wonderful energy and spirit. The room soon became a magical “sing along,” with old familiar mountain tunes and high energy remincent of a Pete Seeger concert. The audience loved the ancient sounds, particularly the “magical two sisters’ sibling rivalry” and its funky lyrics.
Laughter filled the room as David Loughlin and Mary Tierney took the stage in David’s play, THE SENIOR CASE MANAGER. Mary’s touching, yet comedic portrayal of a woman’s desperate need for love, and David’s beleaguered civil servant, who clings to his sanity in a world where the sane don’t always survive. Their quest for love touched our hearts, and made us laugh—what more could one ask for on a cold winter night?
Multifaceted performer Richard Stillman and guitarist Flip Peters gave us a wonderful taste of Jazz Age Vaudeville. Richard started off with a story about Moishe Fiedlespieler and the All Star Klezmer Hot Shots and then went into a tap dancing hat trick dance. Then he wove the narrative into an Irish theme and broke into an Irish step dance while simultaneously playing jigs and reels on the mandolin. The final song was about an old time song and dance man in need of a bit of rejuvenation. Richard’s mix of storytelling, singing, instrumental music and tap dancing always leaves AWOW audiences with a warm glow in their hearts. Richard and Flip will be performing their Spirit of Vaudeville show in Brooklyn, NY on Feb 16, in Montclair, NJ on Feb 21 and in Watchung, NJ on Apr. 16. For details click here.
Craig MacArthur, actor and Fitzmaurice voice work instructor, made his AWoW debut on Tuesday with a riveting performance from “Misterman” by Enda Walsh. Using multiple voices and dialects Craig held the audience rapt with a stunning performance. The full show, which runs 85 minutes, had its Western Regional premiere in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, last year. Upcoming roles for Craig include Kaffee in A “Few Good Men” by Aaron Sorkin.
The next Artists Without Walls’ Showcase–its Anniversary Showcase, which will be a great evening of entertainment–is on Tuesday, February 23rd at The Cell Theatre. Also, next Thursday, February 4th, keep in mind “Marty Plevel and Artists Without Walls presents “A Night at Sid Gold’s.”
Photos by Mitch Traphagen.
Mitch Traphagen’s photos from Artists Without Walls’ Showcase at The Cell, 1/26/16.
“AWoW dips into the magic of New York City each month and unfurls it on the stage for the lucky audience. Huge gratitude to Charles R. Hale and Niamh Hyland who come up with one compelling Showcase after another.” Brendan Connellan
“The artistic directors of Artists Without Walls have helped so many incredibly talented people do remarkable things — they give them a stage in the center of the universe, something only a select few would otherwise see.” Mitch Traphagen
The evening was off to a great start when native New York poet Justin Colón-Rabinowitz recited his poetry with grace and authority. Justin shared a number of powerful and intimate poems in front of the standing room only audience, many of which spoke about his family members’ emigration from Puerto Rico to New York City, their ephemeral joys and pains, and the resiliency they showed while adapting to life in the borough of the Bronx. Justin will be graduating from Hofstra University’s MFA program in December, 2015, and he will be reading his poetry at the KGB club in Manhattan on Friday night, December 11th.
The very popular–with good reason–Celtic-jazz songstress Tara O’Grady jammed with the extraordinary guitarist Justin Poindexter from the band Silver City Bound (formerly The Amigos) who accompanied Tara on her original blues and folk songs. The pair have collaborated on three of Tara’s cds including “Good Things Come to Those Who Wait” (2011), “A Celt in the Cotton Club” (2013), and most recently, “Irish Bayou” (2015).
When Stella Pulo started, the audience started laughing. And they didn’t stop! Stella is quirky, hilarious, entertaining and, at times, poignant. With “Shrimp Shells in Her Cleavage,” she transported the audience to a place where she once was, vacuuming cockroaches and rabbit pellets from the bed of a “Dolly Parton” knock-off. Stella is an wonderful writer and performer, Sophie Kinsella and Tracey Ullman rolled into one.
When the silence gets thick enough to eat with a spoon, you know something good is happening on stage. Faye Franzini and Tue Hoe bared their own hearts and ripped each other’s in a scene from Brendan Connellan’s “Kill the Bid.” Two people can love each other very much but, sadly, it doesn’t mean they always agree. Wonderful courage from both actors to risk putting it all out there.
Richard Deane returned to the Artists Without Walls’ stage with an emotionally provocative reading of the opening scene from his novel in progress, “When Yesterday Comes.” His use of poignant atmospherics and straight to the heart exposition pulled the audience into the midst of the dramatic conflict between his vividly constructed characters. Richard’s unabashed exploration into an uncomfortable subject was both captivating and moving.
How does someone who has spoken a different language all their life, write such evocative tunes in their second language? Martina Fiserova, Prague born singer songwriter does just that, delivering heart felt songs in spell binding performances as she did on Friday night. Martina performed a number of songs from her new CD “Shift”, which she is currently promoting. With the support of highly experienced soundman Paul Bevan, Martina captivated the audience; Her music was the evening’s icing on the cake. “Thank you for having the angelic Martina Fišerová on the bill last night – as always, her performance brought me to tears,” said Suzanne Bernier.
The next Artists Without Walls’ Showcase at The Cell Theatre will be on December 22. Hope to see you there for AWoW’s “Holiday Showcase.”
Photographs by Mitch Traphagen.