Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ben Harper Rocks the Flynn!

posted by Lani Stack
Flynn Marketing Manager, Editor

As one of Northern New England's largest performance venues, the Flynn occasionally has the opportunity to rent out our historic Flynn Theatre to other performing arts presenters in the community (on nights which we don't have our own shows, of course). One such partnership is with South Burlington's Higher Ground, which has brought major headline performers such as Ani DiFranco and Feist to the Flynn's own MainStage in the past year. Last night, Higher Ground presented Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals at the Flynn—hot on the heels of Harper's sold-out performance at NYC's Radio City Music Hall on Saturday and a studio recording for Late Night with Conan O'Brien (to air tomorrow)—and Burlington couldn't have been more excited.

The sold-out show was everything I expected: Harper's powerful, eloquent, and familiar lyrics blended with his masterful playing on the electric, acoustic, and slide guitars, as well as the piano; the excited energy of friends and fellow Harper fans nearby lent an added charge to the air. There was some dancing, (I glanced behind me several times to watch my friend Janet boogying in the first row of the balcony), and a little hollering, (after several fans shouted out song requests, one magnanimous patron shouted "Just play what you want, Ben!"), but the crowd primarily just sat back and appreciated the man, his band, and their talents. (See the Burlington set list.)

Always the gentleman, Harper was nattily dressed in a tailored gray three-piece suit, and his talented five-member band was equally swanky in suits and hats. He spoke with a quiet, serene voice and seemed truly appreciative of the audience's enthusiasm. As my friend and colleague Flynn Box Office Agent Chaim Rochester said today, "I was impressed with his level of humility and grace. It's nice to see that still happens."

Harper interrupted the show at least four times to praise the Flynn's historic Art Deco decor—enthusiastic and charming observations that I found particularly profound, as I also love and am awed by this spectacular space. Visibly wowed, he memorably asked his lighting crew to swing the stage lights out into the concert hall "so I can see this beautiful theater," adding, "There aren't many like these left any more." He also pointed out details such as our large, restored Art Deco facades, which flank the stage. His own simple set of lighted chandeliers was the perfect complement to the Flynn's elegance.

The showstopper, and the piece which cemented my own appreciation for Ben Harper, was his heart-wrenching a capella solo of Where Could I Go, sung without a microphone! Every person in each of the theater's 1,453 seats fell silent, breath held, before erupting into a standing ovation upon his completion.

I think everyone who attended last night's show will join me in this invitation: Ben, you can always come back to Burlington!

all photographs surreptitiously taken (sans flash, of course) by Lani Stack

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

We Work Hard and We Play Hard

posted by Lani Stack
Flynn Marketing Manager, Editor

Many of us who work for the Flynn not only love to watch the performing arts but also delight in taking the stage ourselves. We have talented actors, musicians, dancers, and multi-media artists on our administrative, Box Office, and facility staff—as well as folks who moonlight for community arts organizations as directors, stage managers, and videographers. (We also have several visual artists and crafters!)

I occasionally hear word of performances, exhibits, and other events in which my fellow Flynnies participate; however, I was still stunned to see a prominent photo of my friend and colleague, the lovely Odele Peter (Flynn Development Database Coordinator), upon opening Sunday's edition of the Burlington Free Press. The photo outed Odele as a contestant in Red Square's Air Guitar Hero contest, held September 13. (See Odele and her Addicted to Love bandmates strum their stuff.) Did they claim the prestigious Air Guitar Hero title? Sadly, no. "We got disqualified because Rachel (in center) works at Red Square and helped organize the contest," explains Odele. "We cried foul, however."

Odele rallied from her disappointment in time to dress up and smile widely for her role as a glamorous Wine Auction Hostess at the Flynn's Fine Wine and Food Festival at Shelburne Farm's Coach Barn on Sunday afternoon. I'll post photos from that wonderful event soon.

I've now worked for the Flynn for just over a year, and my colleagues never cease to surprise me. I look forward to discovering (and revealing) more about them in the year ahead.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Raves for Weston's "Master Harold"

Burlington writer and theater critic Dan Wolfe recently traveled to southern Vermont to see the opening of Weston Playhouse Theatre Company's "Master Harold"... and the boys, which will come to the Flynn's MainStage on Friday, October 5 at 8 pm, as part of Weston's New England tour and the Flynn's new "Identities" theater series.

Wolfe's subsequent review of the show in the Vermont Times-Sentinel was chock full of with high praise for this "outstanding performance." (Click on the newspaper clip below to read the full review.)

"If you think you can only go to see one play, one production, during this 2007-2008 season," Wolfe writes, "I tell you without any reservation that this is the play and this is the production of the play that you should see—indeed, must see."

Winner of the New York Drama Desk and London Critics Circle awards, this compelling autobiographical tale by acclaimed playwright Athol Fugard celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Set in a family-owned South African tearoom on a rainy afternoon, the touching coming-of-age story tells the autobiographical story of a white boy, Hally (the young Fugard), and his complex relationship with two black waiters, the lighthearted Willie and the noble, introspective Sam—whom Hally views as a surrogate father figure.

"A good friend of mine calls this play 'the greatest play of the second half of the 20th century,'" writes Wolfe. "And I tend to agree."

Of Weston's production, Wolfe says it's "typical of the best that the Weston Playhouse has to offer. The set is simplicity itself, it contains every visual necessity that the script requires, yet it transcends all of this as the three actors make use of it. The direction by Hal Brooks is spot on. The production team of Wilson Chin, Kirche Leigh Zeile, Stuart Duke, and Kimberly Fuhr have given the actors just what they need, a Tiffany setting for their diamond-hard, multi-faceted performances." The talented cast includes Guiesseppe Jones (Weston’s Fences and Of Mice and Men) as Sam, Wendell Franklin (Illinois Shakespeare Festival, TV’s Law and Order) as Willie, and Clifton Guterman (Berkeley Rep., Arena Stage, Alliance Theatre) as Hally.

“Fugard is a master storyteller,” Brooks says in Weston press release for the show. “This special play depicts an incident in his life which scarred and haunted him. In this deeply personal story of fear and caring in apartheid South Africa of the 1950s, we join Hally, Sam, and Willie as they grapple with the reality of their lives while tenaciously clinging to their dreams.”

Hailed as “shattering” by the New York Times, “stunning” by the New York Daily News, and “a triumph” by the New York Post, Fugard's “Master Harold” is considered a modern classic. The Weston production is deeply theatrical, featuring masterful dialogue, an onstage rain shower, ballroom dancing, and an unforgettable emotional climax.

Wolfe advises readers to check in with the Flynn to see if we will offer a pre-performance talk—(indeed, we will. Steve Stettler, Weston's producing director, will speak on the artistic and political impact of the play, as well as the choices made in Weston’s production of this classic but relevant masterpiece, in the Flynn's Amy E. Tarrant Gallery at 6:30 pm the night of the show. The lecture is free.)—"That should be a must-see also," Wolfe says.

photograph of Weston actors Guiesseppe Jones, Wendell Franklin, and Clifton Guterman by Hubert Schriebl

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Zumba's Here!

posted by Lani Stack
Flynn Marketing Manager, Editor

Zumba has arrived at the Flynn! I just returned from FlynnArts' first ever Zumba dance class, led by certified instructor Deb Matthews. This dynamic Latin-dance and fitness class features high-energy moves set to spicy Latin music, helping participants maximize fat burning and total body toning while learning fast-paced steps can be used out on the town.

According to Matthews, Zumba began in the mid-1990s when Colombian fitness trainer "Beto" Perez one day walked into the aerobics class he was about to lead and realized that he had forgotten his usual music. He went to his car and grabbed the tapes he loved to listen to while driving–the traditional Latin salsa and merengue music with which he had been raised. His students loved Perez's last-minute improvisation and requested a dedicated class—which soon became most popular class at his fitness facility. A fitness revolution was born.

In today's class, Matthews mixed salsa, mambo, cha-cha, and merengue steps with hip-hop and aerobics. While perhaps not all of us knew the basics of these steps, most of us recognized much of the music—including the always-popular Tequila. (I'm hoping that future classes will incorporate this song and forever break me from associating it with Pee Wee's Big Adventure.)

Whenever I begin a new dance class, I'm haunted by the memories of a French-accented scolding from my childhood ballet instructor: "Lani, my little wiggle worm, aim to keep your body straight and long." ...Can I help it that my hips move independently of the rest of my body? I've learned that I'm happiest when taking bellydancing, hula, or Latin dance instruction—not that these styles are free-form by any means, but they usually give me more latitude to wiggle and shimmy without feeling too foolish or restrained. I can already tell that Zumba will meet my expectations. I left the class feeling exhilarated and confident, if awfully sweaty.

One of the best benefits for working for the Flynn is that we're encouraged to take FlynnArts classes at discounted rates (or even for free!). To my delight, five of my fellow Flynnies joined me in the Flynn's on-site dance studio for this lunchtime class, along with five other participants. This 12-week class still has room for a few more people, so get moving on Thursdays from noon to 1—and dance alongside some of the folks who keep the Flynn running! (Early risers can join FlynnArts' morning session of Zumba, beginning tomorrow from 7:30 to 8:30 am.) The fall term began this week and we are still enrolling students in dance, theater, and music classes—contact FlynnArts now to enroll!

Latin dance enthusiasts who prefer to watch the pros in action shouldn't miss the spectacular Ballet Folklórico de México on the MainStage on Thursday, October 4 at 7:30 pm. The Latin-themed fun continues on the MainStage Thursday, October 25 at 7:30 pm, when the luminous Brazilian contralto Virgínia Rodrigues—the diva of Afro-Bahian song—wraps her beautiful voice around samba, classical sounds, and the deeply spiritual music of Bahia’s candomblé sect.