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Audience favorites, new offerings to make up CityStage and Symphony Hall 2014-2015 season

June 17, 2014
(As originally seen on MassLive by Keith O'Connor)

When CityStage and Symphony Hall begins its 2014-2015 season in September, they will be bringing back some crowd pleasers from years gone by alongside many new shows from Jingle Babes for the holidays to a mop top tribute called Yesterday & Today: The Interactive Beatles Experience.

"We are giving our loyal patrons the return engagements they have been asking for, but we are also bringing in new and unique entertainment like the vocaldente group from Germany and The Wellington National Ukelele Orchestra," said Tina D'Agostino, president of CityStage and Symphony Hall.

"I'm also thrilled that we finally landed a date on the Love, Loss and What I Wore tour. I saw the show a few years ago in New York and thought it was perfect for CityStage. I've been making offers on it for a couple of years, hoping to bring it to Springfield ever since I saw it. It's so rewarding when things finally work out, especially when the audiences are receptive," she added.

D'Agostino said she is excited about the eclectic mix of shows, noting comedies and tributes are very popular at CityStage.

"I am looking forward to the return engagement of The Male Intellect: an oxymoron? and CityStage's favorite Elvis, Matt Lewis, and Ted Vigil who delivers an amazing tribute to John Denver. All of those shows had great box office records, and we've had people come back time and time again, but these are also great shows for a first time experience at the venue. The Male Intellect is a funny show about relationships and really gets to the root of what women want. Some of us on staff still quote our favorite lines from the show, it's that memorable and incredibly funny," she said.

According to D'Agostino, CityStage is "a versatile space, and a great place to see live music, comedy and theater."

"At the start of the season, the focus is truly on music. Guitar aficionados will have the opportunity to see the 'phenomensemble' of The California Guitar Trio and Montery Guitar Trio performing original compositions and new arrangements of rock, world, jazz and classical music. Then, the following month we are bringing in Tavares, one of the most memorable soul groups of the 70s and 80s," she said.

D'Agostino noted the new season is going to be a crucial year for Broadway at Symphony Hall.

"Many touring productions simply won't fit in the building, but the two that we've booked this year, 'Jekyll & Hyde' and 'Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story,' have played there before and were amazing shows. I am hopeful that we can continue to bring in large productions like this, and that these shows attract a lot of people," she said.

For those who want a little more variety rolled into one show, Symphony Hall will play host to a couple of concerts featuring the music of Broadway and popular hits from the 1960s. "Neil Berg's 100 Years of Broadway" showcases the most popular Broadway songs, from classics to contemporary and The Midtown Men are four stars from the original cast of "Jersey Boys" returning to Symphony Hall.

The new season wil also include family-friendly programming during the school vacation weeks. In addition to The Magic of Bill Blagg in February at CityStage with matinee and evening performances, there will be a matinee performance of the Popovich Comedy Pet Theatre at Symphony Hall in April.

"Personally, I am most looking forward to The Wellington National Ukelele Orchestra, I think it's going to be a very unique and uplifting show that is also family friendly," said D'Agostino. She said they are also looking at other concerts and will be announcing their stand-up comedy series later in the summer.

Tickets for all shows go on sale to members on June 18. Tickets to The Midtown Men go on sale to the public July 21 and the rest of the season shows go on sale to the public beginning September 8.

SYMPHONY HALL 2014-15
Sept. 19 – The Midtown Men
Oct. 10 – Broadway's Jekyll & Hyde
Nov. 1 – Neil Berg's 100 Years of Broadway
Nov. 22 – Medium Lisa Williams
Jan. 10 – The Wellington International Ukelele Orchestra
Jan. 18 – Broadway's BUDDY – The Buddy Holly Story
April 22 – Popovich Comedy Pet Theatre

CITYSTAGE 2014-15
Oct. 11 – A Tribute to John Denver with Ted Vigil and Steve Weisberg
Oct. 16 – California Guitar Trio + Montreal Guitar Trio
Nov. 21 – Tavares
Dec. 12 – Jingle Babes – a holiday version of The Four Bitchin' Babes
Feb.12-14 – The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron?
Feb. 20 – The Magic of Bill Blagg
Feb. 28-29 – Vocaldente - Germany's Most Successful A Cappella Export
March 6-7 – Yesterday & Today: The Interactive Beatles Experience
April 9-11 – Love, Loss and What I Wore
April 23-25 – Long Live the King - A Tribute to Elvis, starring Matt Lewis

Bud Light presents STAND UP Comedy Series Comedians to be announced soon.

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'Suddenly Mommy!' to offer comic look at motherhood

April 29, 2014
(As originally seen on MassLive by Keith O'Connor)

It's a show about mommies for mommies or anyone thinking about becoming a mommy. And, yes, daddies are welcomed, too.

"Suddenly Mommy!" – which opens at CityStage in Springfield for three nights beginning May 8 – is a one-woman comedy from Anne Marie Scheffler about going from "hey, sexy" to "suddenly mommy."

"I see it as a girl's night out for sure, a good drinking night. It's not so much that there is a lot of male bashing in the show, but what you see is what we as mommies go through. There are husbands who are dragged to the show by their wives, who you can hear saying to them, 'See, I told you this is what I go through, why I haven't showered, this is my life.' And, I do see grandparents in the audience, too, whose kids are having children now," said Scheffler.

During Sheffler's new comedy, based somewhat on her own true-to-life experiences, audiences will meet an ill-prepared heroine who falls for a single dad. They get pregnant, they get married and before you know it, she is a step-mom, a mom of two little boys of her own, and a very desperate housewife. She is the people pleaser who worked for decades to come into her own, only to lose herself to her children. Overtired but inspired by role models such as Celine Dion and her own mother, Scheffler redefines the role of motherhood, in order to have it all.

"I took a left turn at Albuquerque and woke up five years into it saying to myself, 'Look at these cute babies who are consuming me 24 hours a day,' and asking myself, 'What did I do before this?' So, I was turning 40 and gave myself a birthday present. I wrote 'Suddenly Mommy!', said Scheffler about getting herself back into the world she once knew.

Scheffler, a professional actress, writer and comedian, has created and toured seven one woman shows across North America. Her play "Not Getting It" was made into a one-hour comedy special for CTV and The Comedy Network, for which she was nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award. She is a Second City Alumna with a long list of film and television credits who is currently developing a television series based on her live comedy with reknown Emmy-winning writer Rosie Shuster of "Saturday Night Live." The comedian pulled from her previous body of work when looking for a way to begin her new show.

"I open 'Suddenly Mommy!' spoofing a television commercial I once did, and I've done over 60 of them. I played a mom in some of them, but becoming a mom is nothing like the moms I've played in television commercials," said Scheffler.

"I'm a comedian, so I like to spoof life. A lot comes from what I really went through and that makes the show quite universal. Of course, some stuff is totally exaggerated to honor the me that loves to write. I've written seven show and there are exaggerations to make this a good play," she added.

As for Scheffler citing Celine Dion and her mother as role in models in the show's description, she imitate both in her show.

"Celine is the mother who has it all and she chides me for not being strong enough to own my role as mother, and to remain true to myself," said Scheffler.

"My mother, too, a traditional Polish mom, gives me guff on stage to 'stop being a baby, and start being a mother!' Really, the show focuses on how you lose yourself to motherhood because it's expected that you drop everything, which I personally did. But there is wisdom in being your fullest, bestest, most successful self, like Celine Dion does, and just be bigger and better than ever before….turning the traditional role of mother on its head," she added.

Scheffler is also the co-writer and co-star of Spank! The Fifty Shades of Grey Parody which has played to sold-out crowds and rave reviews in over 60 cites cities across the United States and Canada, which made its debut at CityStage.

"I'm hoping that those who came out to see our 'Spank' debut will come see my new show," she said.

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'Etta May to bring 'Southern fried' comedy to CityStage

April 29, 2014
(As originally seen on MassLive by Keith O'Connor)

Is she a redneck or not?

Etta May, who is appearing at CityStage on May 2 as part of their Bud Light Presents STAND Up Comedy Series, is maybe a little of both.

Although her bio proclaims "Etta May will take you on a redneck ride through the Deep South," and refers to her as the reigning Queen of South Sass, the comedian said otherwise in an interview with The Republican.

"About rednecks, here's the thing. I'm white trash, and it's different from being a redneck. You Yankees don't understand the difference. Rednecks have jobs and a truck. White trash have food stamp, a bus fare, and chain smoke. Believe me, I'm below Larry the Cable Guy," said Etta May.

She gave yet another example, citing redneck men who will buy a Ford F-150 truck then spend tons more money on tires and souping it up, then call it Big Foot which rolls over and crushes other cars.

"White trash buys a tickets to see that and we support it by buying the t-shirts on the wall," said Etta May.

According to her laugh-filled bio, Etta May met her husband, Delbert, an aspiring truck driver, at a friend's kegger. From across the yard, reportedly, their eyes locked in a love look. Nine months later, she was blessed with a boy, followed by a girl and two more boys.

"That's where my comedy comes from. I just wait for my husband or kids to do something stupid, and then I write it down," she said.

Etta May has won the prestigious American Comedy Awards: "Stand-Up Comic of the Year," and has appeared on Oprah, Comic Strip Live, and MTV. Etta May headlines the all-female "Southern Fried Chicks Tour," which has been selling out theaters across the country. She has appeared on CMT's "Comedy Stage," plus co-produced "Southern Fried Chicks" for CMT.

Etta May said when taping "Southern Fried Chicks" for CMT, they had a plant in the audience, a "gorgeous 20-something I was supposed to go to." Instead, out of the corner of her eye, Etta May said she saw a normal couple in their 30s, not "fancy yancy, just good Kentucky people."

"I said to myself 'to hell with this,' and drove the camera folks crazy because they weren't ready for me to go to this particular couple. I asked the woman where her stud boy got her ring. She covered her face and doubled over before responding, 'from Sam's Club.' Those were my people….Sam's Club. And the entire audience loved it. It was one of those magical moments in my career, and is my best ever outtake," said Etta May, who noted it never made the final cut.

She was also the subject and first female comic ever on the biography show, "Comedy Club," joining the company of three men - Ron White, Larry the Cable Guy and Jeff Foxworthy, who are also featured in this series.

"I think when anybody thinks of comedy, in general, they think of men, that's the bottom line. I don't blame them. Because you know, unfortunately, women, and especially nowadays these younger girls who are doing comedy – for them 'it's all about me.' It's 'let me tell you how much of a whore I am.' And they're getting television shows on Comedy Central," she said.

In addition to television, Etta May is a regular on the syndicated Bob & Tom radio show and a regular on XM and Sirius Radio's comedy channels.

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Kevin MaC takes break from college tour for CityStage stop

April 22, 2014
(As originally seen on MassLive by Keith O'Connor)

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Kevin MaC, currently on a college-wide tour, is taking time out from his "academic" schedule to stop at CityStage on Thursday night, May 1, to bring his eclectic mix of his genre-defying country music with a twist to Springfield.

"The college market takes indie artists very well and I wanted to play in that game – and I've been batting one thousand and rebooking dates," said MaC in an interview with The Republican.

Although MaC's roots are in country music and his original music is decidedly country, he is far from being boxed in to just one type of sound. He loves to surprise audiences with his own spin on hip hop, classic rock and sometimes even a boy band hit or two. Equally at home performing any of these styles, MaC coined the term "Southern Swag" to describe his unique brand of music, saying it's "a cool country sound where hip-hop and country styles combine to create a fresh, sexy vibe."

MaC has opened for industry heavy hitters such as Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride, Phil Vassar, Darryl Worley, Trace Adkins, Colt Ford, LeAnn Rimes, Kip Moore, The Band Perry, Missy Elliott, Blacksreet, T. Mills, Timbaland, J. Cole and Ashanti. He re-recorded a "Southern Swag" version of the 1990s hit "No Diggity" with mega producer Teddy Riley, and he has written and collaborated with some of the most accomplished songwriters in the business, including hitmakers for Rascal Flatts, Diamond Rio, Beyonce, Britney Spears and The Statler Brothers.

Born in King George County, VA, MaC was bred on country/bluegrass music and raised in the church. He began his career as a radio personality and deejay in Virginia, which led to opportunities for him to perform.

"I'm a rockabilly kid. My mom used to bring me to country music shows….she was always listening to country music. And my dad always listened to fifties music and oldies and loved Lynryd Skynyrd. I began playing music in church and while growing up kept playing music through high school and college and learned that I could make a living performing…it's what I really love to do," said MaC

Asked about some of his own favorites and who most inspired and influenced him over the years MaC said:

The Statler Brothers – "I grew up listening to them and loved gospel music. In fact, I've actually writer songs with Jimmy Fortune, one of the Statler Brothers."

Keith Urban – "He just blows my mind, every since I've been a kid and listened to him. And, I've also actually written with his bass player Jerry Flowers."

Jerry Lee Lewis – "I just loved his attitude. He always wanted to put on one hell of a show for his audiences. He was the king of his castle, an originator and he and Elvis played some great rockabilly."

"She's one of my home girls. She is an artist, not just a great singer. To me, she is like Johnny Cash, she has her own style and she has a publishing deal with Big Machine (Taylor Swift's label)."

"I could make a great living players covers," said the singer-songwriter," "but if you really want to go somewhere, then you have to bite the bullet and step our of your comfort zone and take some gambles. And, it's been really successful for me so far," said MaC.

The up-and-coming artist noted he is on the verge of signing a major publishing deal, hopefully followed soon by a release on a major label.

"I'm a simple guy. I feed off of the energy from the crowd and I love to tell a story. There's nothing that makes me happier. I just try to be a good man, be kind and not take the gift I've been given for granted. If I can make one person smile and forget about their problems then I've done something great," said MaC in his industry bio.

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O Sole Trio to bring sounds of Italy to CityStage

April 14, 2014
(As originally seen on MassLive by Keith O'Connor)

Their name alone – O Sole Trio – should hint at what audiences are in store for on April 26 when the lights dim at CityStage and the show begins.

The answer is everything Italian in a unique show capturing the essence of Italy during two performances at 3 and 8 p.m.

The New York-based ensemble of O Sole Trio features the lush voices of soprano Erin Shields and baritone Giuseppe Spoletini, as well as the versatile and virtuosic David Shenton on piano and violin. Offering up a show that mixes serious music in Italian and English with humor along the way, their program showcases a cornucopia of beloved Italian opera arias, Neapolitan songs, as well as jazz and pop standards made popular by such singers as Louis Prima, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Connie Francis and Andrea Bocelli, breathing new life into these familiar favorites with their unique and innovative arrangements.

It all began when Shields, who is married to Shenton, was asked to sing at a restaurant in Connecticut the day before Halloween.

"The three of us had been talking about working together. I called Giuseppe and asked him if he was interested in putting together a show where we would do our own solos and also duets. The Italian thing came about when David and Giuseppe, who are punsters, came up with the name O Sole Trio for us. Then, because our group name is Italian and Giuseppe is Italian and I'm half Italian, we decided to try to lace the show with more Italian themes. Giuseppe has great stories about growing up and his mom coming over to America from Italy….all very personal stories. So, it just seemed like the right thing for a show and singing in Italian is most fulfilling to me," said Shields.

A typical O Sole Trio program features an eclectic mix of songs arranged by David Shenton from "O Sole Mio," Puccini's " O mio babbino caro," "Mambo Italiano," a medley of "Figaro" paired with "That's Amore," to "Time to Say Goodbye" made famous by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli. The show also displays Shenton's show-stopping instrumental performance of the Neapolitan song "Torna a Surriento" which he plays simultaneously on both the violin and piano.

The trio later received a commission to create an educational, as well as fun, show at Lincoln Center based around some of the songs they were already performing along with others.

"As we put the show together, it was fascinating to learn how many Italian-American contributions there were to the making of pop music. Starting out with 'O Sole Mio,' the show becomes a history of Italian music from the beginning when Italian Americans came to America with their Neapolitan music, which was a huge part of their heritage. We then go from Enrico Caruso, who brought Italian opera to town, to Luis Prima, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and others, including the doo-wop era with Johnny Maestro and The Crests, groups like the Four Seasons and ending with Madonna, an Italian, who gave one of her songs, 'Mi abbandono a te/Me abandono a ti' to Italian singer Laura Pausini," said Shields.

Today the trio has many champions in their corner, including Hillary McAndrew Plate from the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. After their appearance at the popular performing center, she wrote: "Our audiences and our staff raved about the show. Your choice of combining virtuosic pieces with contemporary pieces with which the audience identified, drew everyone into your story swiftly and easily. So many attendees connected to each of you as you broke the 4th wall and reached out to them in humor, storytelling, and most importantly in song."

Their most recent credits include a performance on the Columbus Day broadcast of Fox 5s Good Day New York with Rosanna Scott and Dave Price, as well as their standing room only engagement at their Lincoln Center debut at The David Rubenstein Atrium with their show from Prima Donna to Post-Madonna: How Italy and Italian Americans Influenced American Popular Music. In addition, O Sole Trio was chosen to perform for New York State comptroller John Liu and guests for an event honoring Italian American Heritage and Culture.After completing a 10-month residency at The Metropolitan Room in New York City, O Sole Trio was named as ambassadors to the Italian American Museum in New York City by its president and CEO, Dr. Joseph Scelsa.

In conjunction with O Sole Trio's performance at CityStage, there will be a separate Una Bella Notte – Italian Holiday Raffle event to benefit CityStage/Symphony Hall. Beginning at 7 p.m., participants can sample Italian cuisine and wines from Rome, Venice and Florence. There will be live entertainment in the lounge and luscious pastries and desserts will be served. Tickets for this special event only are $35 or $60 including the O Sole Trio performance. Raffle tickets – for a seven-day tour of Italy donated by Trafalgar – are $20.

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'The Fantasticks' to go Steampunk at CityStage

April 1, 2014
(As originally seen on MassLive by Keith O'Connor)

When placed alongside other major credits such as a play's director, writer, or even costume designer, the lighting director somehow doesn't seem as important.

But, whoever is filling that role – like Herman G. Montero for the steampunk version of "The Fantasticks" which brings an edgier, more modern-day interpretation of the classic to CityStage on Friday, April 11 – has some important shoes to fill.

"Obviously, I'm going to be biased when it comes to the huge difference it can make in a production. Lighting has a way of influencing your mood. It supports what is going on in a scene. The proper lighting can intensify a somewhat frightening moment and make it scary, or take an innocent, tender moment and make you really feel the emotion," said Montero. "We don't travel on the road with our own lights. So, as you can imagine, I come across a wide range of diverse sizes of equipment in the theaters we visit. It's my job to ensure that the lighting design stays as true to tits original intent in all theaters, so that the audience is seeing and experiencing as close to the same thing as they would in every venue," he added.

The steampunk genre, which gained prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s, incorporates elements of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, and speculative fiction. It involves a setting where steam power is widely used – whether in an alternate history such as Victorian era Britain or "Wild West"-era United States, or in a post-apocalyptic time that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology, or futuristic innovations as Victorians might have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art.

Through the creative minds of director Carl Beck, costume designer Georgiann Regan and scenic designer Jim Othuse, the fresh new steampunk adaptation lends a whimsical Victorian-industrial look to this classic musical.

"It's not an intrusive concept," Beck said of the steampunk concept. "It seems like the allegoric-quality can blend with the fantasy, giving it a quasi-period feel and making for a stronger statement than [The Fantasticks] usually gets."

The story was not rewritten or changed. Outside of the costumes, set and props, this show is the original.

"It's classical simplicity. It's not a contemporary character tale," Beck said. "It's about a boy who is overly in love with a girl whose fathers are trying to keep them together by pulling them apart. Steampunk seems to lend itself to this story by finding beauty among the broken pieces."

Written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, "The Fantasticks" opened off-Broadway in 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse with stage, film and television actor Jerry Orbach in the leading role. The production went on to play a record-breaking 17,162 performances before closing in 2002, making it the world's longest-running musical and the longest continuously-running production of any kind in the United States. It features such memorable songs as "Try to Remember" and "Soon It's Gonna Rain."

It was steampunk fate, along with some clever marketing, that resulted in "The Fantasticks" making its way to Springfield.

"It's really important for CityStage and Symphony Hall to collaborate with other Springfield cultural organizations, and it was simply a case of great timing when I learned about the Springfield Museums plans for a steampunk exhibit. Within a few days of that, I became aware of the touring production of the steampunk version of 'The Fantasticks,'" said Tina D'Agostino, precisents of

"So it seemed like a natural fit to book the show, knowing that we would have the opportunity to cross promote our events and become part of what is now Steampunk Springfield. I think it's great that people can visit the steampunk exhibits at the Springfield Museums or the Springfield Armory and also see a steampunk-themed show at CityStage. I'm sure many people haven't ever heard of steampunk, but that's what makes it so exciting. It's trendy and fun, and a chance to have a unique experience at several venues in the city," she added.

"The Fantasticks" tour is produced by the veteran theatrical touring company, the Nebraska Theatre Caravan and is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI).

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News Directory 'Suddenly Mommy!' to offer comic look at motherhood

'Etta May to bring 'Southern fried' comedy to CityStage

Kevin MaC takes break from college tour for CityStage stop

O Sole Trio to bring sounds of Italy to CityStage

'The Fantasticks' to go Steampunk at CityStage

CityStage Tickets
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