Saturday, April 19, 2014

Standing ovation for Ted Neeley and cast of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ at Rome opening!

Opening night at Il Sistina
There was a buzz of excitement in the air in the packed foyer of Teatro Sistina in Rome yesterday evening. Some forty years after appearing as Jesus in Norman Jewison’s big screen version of the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Jesus Christ Superstar, and thousands of stage performances in the role, Ted Neeley was about to tread the boards in those famous sandals for the first time ever before a European audience.

Italian rock group Negrita were to play live on stage throughout the show, with the band’s frontman Pau in the part of Pontius Pilate, so I wasn’t too surprised to see so many young faces in the audience, but as the curtain went up it became clear that people of all ages were there to see its star, Ted Neeley, whose first appearance on stage elicited a huge cheer. When he started to sing, in a voice made richer and deeper by the passage of time, but with all the power and range of a man half his age, the audience cheered even louder. So electrifying, in fact, was his performance that the musical was quite literally brought to a halt on several occasions by spontaneous applause, with an extraordinary protracted standing ovation mid-song during Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say).

There were also some fine supporting performances from fellow cast members – I particularly enjoyed Shel Shapiro and Paride Acacia’s moments together on stage as Caiaphas and Annas, Pau’s languid Pilate's Dream, and Emiliano Geppetti’s turn as Simon the Zealot. The revelation of this production, however, was surely newcomer Feysal Bonciani as Judas, whose vocal dexterity and charismatic stage presence were reminiscent of the late, great Carl Anderson.

The production boasts some ingenious set designs by Giancarlo Muselli and Teresa Caruso, which make excellent use of the limited stage space available at Teatro Sistina, and through the use of large projected images skillfully introduce the anachronistic elements common to all productions.

The audience reaction was ecstatic at the close of the show, with a standing ovation lasting 15 minutes and even an encore sung by Judas. Truly amazing!

This special twentieth anniversary production of the Italian stage version of Jesus Christ Superstar, directed by Massimo Romeo Piparo and presented in English, will run until 1st June 2014 – catch it if you can if you’re in Rome over the next few weeks. It’s a must see!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Gregory Porter’s Liquid Spirit in Rome

Auditorium Parco della Musica - 10 April, 2014

Liquid Spirit CD autographed by Gregory Porter in Rome
When I first heard Gregory Porter singing Be Good on YouTube I fell in love with his voice in a heartbeat. While I was born too late to see Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye or Ray Charles perform on stage, I now feel truly privileged to have seen Gregory Porter – whose own jazz-meets-soul voice seems to combine something of all three – in concert. Hearing that glorious baritone voice live on Thursday evening at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome convinced me that he may well possess the greatest voice of our time. Porter has released three albums so far, Water, Be Good, and the recent Grammy-winner Liquid Spirit, but as he opened with Painted on Canvas from his second album, it became instantly clear that these recordings, as great as they are, pale in comparison to the sheer immensity and warmth of his voice in concert.

Gregory Porter is a hugely charismatic performer. From the second this gentle giant of a man appeared on stage wearing his ubiquitous “jazz hat”, smiling in acknowledgement of the spontaneous cheer from the audience, he completely seduced us - not only with his voice, but also by his elegant stage presence. Together with his extremely talented quartet of musicians - Chip Crawford on piano, Yosuke Sato on alto sax, bassist Aaron James, and drummer Emanuel Harrold, who all performed captivating solos during the show - Porter cast a magic spell in Rome, and transformed the thousand-seater Sala Sinopoli concert hall into an intimate jazz club.

Ostensibly in Rome to promote Liquid Spirit, there were plenty of songs from this album. Presenting the title track early on in the evening, he invited the audience to “Clap your hands on the two and the four and if you want to wiggle in your seats, that would be okay too...” . Rome audiences are some of the most enthusiastic clappers-along I’ve ever known, and indeed this proved a sure fire way of ratcheting up the atmosphere to a peak of enthusiasm that never seemed to diminish throughout the entire show. Rome clearly loves Gregory Porter, and he rewarded his Roman fans with an impromptu nod to Sam Cooke and a tantalizingly brief lyric from Rome wasn’t built in a day.

In such a consistently perfect performance from an artist with such an enormous range of moods, and a dextrous ability to shift across genres mixing gospel, blues, and soul influences into his jazz, it is extremely difficult to pick any single highlights. Certainly Wolfcry, which saw Porter alone on stage with only the accompaniment of Crawford on piano, was mesmerising; Lonesome Lover segued brilliantly into Hit the Road Jack and was an enormous crowd pleaser; No Love Dying, Work Song and Be Good featured impressive solos from the band; and the impassioned civil rights anthem 1960 What? with an a cappella audience singalong at the end was the perfect choice after Musical Genocide, Porter’s condemnation of disposable market-driven pop.

Back on stage for an encore after thunderous applause Porter eased the evening to a close with a lovely Real Good Hands, before greeting fans and signing autographs in the Auditorium Bookstore after the show. Getting to meet and shake hands with the man himself was the perfect end to a wonderful evening. As Nat King Cole once sang...Unforgettable.

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