Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Side Man" hit just the right notes for the Jazz Fest

Dan Smith, Michael Harbach, Jamie Howard, and Richard Bradbury in a scene from "Side Man."
By Cheryl Thornburg
Whether you love jazz or up-close and personal theater, Shoestring Production’s “Side Man” delivered the best of both worlds as it helped kick off the annual Berks Jazz Fest last week.  Unfortunately there were only five performances, so those of you who missed it, will have to hope that the show is reprised for next year’s festival.
The Tony Award-winning play tells the story of Gene, a multi-talented jazz musician, as seen through the eyes of his son, Clifford. As rock ’n roll takes center stage and the demand for jazz musicians fades, Gene and his family and fellow musicians try to cope with the new reality.
Director Kirk Lawrence assembled a phenomenal cast to bring these complex characters to life. At the heart of the story are Gene, his wife, Terry, and his son, Clifford.
Richard Bradbury is incredible as the detached  Gene, who only seems to come to life when he’s playing. His interpretation was so real, that I felt I was eavesdropping on his life.
Countering his aloof calm is Tama McConnell as the outgoing and in-your-face Terry, who gradually slips into alcoholism as their relationship crumbles. McConnell is dynamic on stage whether she’s being playful and funny in the early years, or frustrated and angry after the marriage falls apart.
Dallas Mugno is so believable as the product of these two that you feel his insecurity as he tries to mediate between them. His is a sensitive and poignant interpretation of Clifford.
The remaining cast is equally talented, bringing depth, color and humor to this exquisitely written play. They create an inside look at the unique world and lifestyles of the jazz era.
Michael Harbach is fun to watch as the irrepressible Ziggy who seems to survive everything with a smile and a joke.
Jonesy, on the other hand, played by Dan Smith, represents the dark side of the lifestyle with its drug abuse. Smith delivers his lines, which often elicit laughter, without losing sight of the man beneath the stereotype.
Rounding out the band is Jamie Howard, a relative newcomer to the stage, as the easy-going Al. Howard easily keeps up with his more seasoned cohorts.
Flirting with him – and every other man around – is Patsy, a horn-player groupee, played to the hilt by Kathleen Newville. She brings a warmth to this character and fits right in with the gang.
The conversations flow easily, the friendships seem real and the characters ring true.  Warren Leight’s script is brilliant and it is delivered brilliantly by this cast.

What made this show even more special was the setting.  Building 24 in Wyomissing was converted to a jazz club atmosphere and prior to the show, the Ken Blekicki Five, set the tone and the mood with tunes that took me back to some smoky basement jazz clubs in Boston in the ’60s. It was a great entertainment package, well-worth the $25 ticket price.
Though the curtain has closed on “Side Man,” the Berks Jazz Fest continues through April 1.   For more on remaining performances, see below:


The 22nd annual Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest, presented by the Berks Arts Council, continues through April 1 and features an array of musical styles including contemporary and traditional jazz, blues and world music. More than 130 events at major venues, clubs and restaurants throughout Pennsylvania’s Greater Reading have made this a truly unique music festival. 

This week, Pat Martino Night at the Miller Center for the Arts, Tuesday, March 27. The evening kicks off with a screening of his documentary, "Martino Unstrung: A Brain Mystery" at 7 p.m., followed by a concert with Pat Martino and his trio at 8 p.m.. He will sign copies of his new autobiography, "Here and Now! The Autobiography of Pat Martino" after the show.
Wednesday, March 28, Tommy Castro's Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue featuring Castro, Magic Dick, Joe Louis Walker and Deanna Bogart is at the Crowne Plaza Reading at 7:30 p.m.; Greg Hatza ORGANization is at Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base at 7 p.m.
Thursday, March 29, at 8 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza brings our very popular Berks All-Star Jazz Jam with Rick Braun, Chuck Loeb, Gerald Veasley, Mindi Abair, Andy Snitzer, Gerald Albright, Jeff Golub, David Benoit, Brian Culbertson, Nick Colionne, Dean Brown, Brian Bromberg, Lionel Cordew, David Pack, Karen Briggs and Matt King -- and more!

The weekend kicks off Friday, March 30, at 7 p.m. with Boney James at the Scottish Rite Cathedral and The Dean Brown Group at Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base. At 7:30 p.m. is piano2piano with Brian Culbertson and David Benoit at the Miller Center, and for blues fans, the Joe Krown Trio plus Debbie Davies Band at the Inn at Reading. Minas is bringing Brazilian Carnaval to Berks at 9 p.m. at Reverb @ 1402 N. Ninth St.
For late-night jazz fans,  Mindi Abair, David Pack and Jeff Golub perform at 10 p.m. at the Crowne; Dean Brown Group at Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base for a second show at 10; followed by the very popular 'Round Midnight Jam with Gerald Veasley & Friends at the Base.
Jazz on Saturday, March 31, kicks off at 2 p.m. with Spyro Gyra plus Nick Colionne at the Crowne Plaza, followed by two shows of Chuck Loeb's Plain 'n' Simple at Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base at 7 and 10; Will Downing and Gerald Albright at 7 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Cathedral; New Faces of Jazz: Anat Cohen plus Eldar at 7:30 p.m. at the Miller Center; blues
with Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers and Clarence Spady at 7:30 p.m. at the Inn at Reading; the Groovemasters at 9 p.m. at Reverb @ 1402 N. Ninth St., Incognito featuring Maysa at 10 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza; and the final 'Round Midnight Jam at the Base.
The final day of the Boscov's Berks Jazz Fest, Sunday, April 1, features a 10 a.m. brunch/11 a.m. show with Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo at the Inn at Reading; RnR with Richard Elliot and Rick Braun at the Crowne Plaza at 2 p.m.; and an evening with Chick Corea at the Miller Center at 7 p.m.
The 22nd annual festival closes with Brian Culbertson at 7 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Cathedral.
For more information, including ticketing, artist bios and archived releases, visit the Berks Jazz Fest website, www.berksjazzfest.com


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