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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Late Night Catechism Las Vegas-Sister Rolls The Dice

     If you've never been to one of these Late Night Catechism shows, you've truly missed something special.  This past Saturday, Late Night Catechism arrived at The McPherson Opera House.  While not sold out, there is usually always a big crowd in attendance for one of these shows.

     To describe this show, think interactive comedy.  Sister, and there are several women who tour the country portraying sister in a variety of different shows, provides instruction regarding the Catholic Church and it's customs, but you don't have to be Catholic to get the jist of what Sister is talking about.  At one point in the evening she brought a late audience member down front, produced a ruler and asked Gwen to hold out her hand.  Gwen did and then shrank back as Sister slapped her on her wrist with a ruler bracelet.  Sister laughed and said, "Gwen, it's just a slap bracelet, I don't want you to get your lawyer down here and sue me".  The audience roared with laughter.

     The first part of these shows are usually more of a stand up routine and then after the intermission Sister gets the audience involved.  On this night, it was Las Vegas casino games.  She brought a woman up out of the audience and had her play the part of Vanna, a Vegas showgirl, complete with a sparkly orange headdress and a pink feather boa.  She encouraged her to bring the beer she was holding with her, and Vanna spent quite a bit of the time she was on stage drinking her beer which only added to the hilarity of the situation.  When it was time to play BlackJack, Sister, in full habit, donned a red eye-shade hat and became a Black Jack dealer.  It was funny to see a nun in full habit wearing a Black Jack dealer's hat.

     A truly unforgettable evening.  But these shows are fun with a purpose.  When the social security system was put into place, the Catholic Church opted out for Sisters.  So now that many nuns have become old enough to draw on social security and have some sort of retirement funds, these are not available to them.  At the end of these shows, the woman playing Sister always explains these facts to the audience and  passes the hat to collect funds for those sisters who have nothing to fall back on. Since these shows have begun,and they've been running for many years, over three million dollars has been collected for Sisters nationwide.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Midtown Men

     The 1960's were alive and well this past Thursday night when The Midtown Men made a stop at The Fox Theatre in Hutchinson.

     There was a lot of interest in this show from the time it was announced as part of the regular 2015/2016 season. This show did not disappoint.  Opening to a sold out audience, The Midtown Men wowed everyone with classic 1960's songs that appeared fresh and new, even though everyone in the audience knew all the words.  Singing along was expected and encouraged.

     I enjoyed the backdrops on the stage, the layout of the guitars, drums, brass instruments, and keyboard.  The outfits were vintage 1960's complete with skinny ties.  A class act through and through, as much fun to watch as to listen too.  A video screen at the back of the stage played a variety of vintage black and white video of various groups whose songs were being sung on stage as well as video of The Midtown Men at photo ops and on the streets of New York which lent an air of fantasy and a Broadway feel to the overall production.  Truly the audience was no longer in Kansas anymore.

     Hutch audiences have a history of leaving at intermission or a break in the action.  On this night, not a single person left the venue.  In fact, when the music started back up at the break, people left whatever line they were in, be it concessions or bathrooms, to return to the auditorium and their seats.  No one wanted to miss a single note that was played or sang on the stage.  The Midtown Men had captivated the crowd!

     At the end of the evening, The Midtown Men exited to the lobby to sign autographs, meet and greet the patrons, and take photos with anyone who requested one.  Even with an early departure time the following day, the group stayed until the last person left the lobby.  

     The Midtown Men have several private performances lined up after their show at The Historic Fox Theatre.  The next performance that they have planned for general audiences will by December 15 in Avon Park, Florida.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Preview-The Nutcracker Ballet

      On December 2nd The Moscow Ballet will bring The Nutcracker to life on the stage at The Stiefel Theatre in Salina.  Before the show premieres. I got a chance to step behind the scenes to learn insider secrets about the ballet.

     The Moscow Ballet version is unique, not only in the name change of the main character from Maria/Clara to Masha, but in Act II, which usually finds the main character in the traditional Land of Sweets, Masha will arrive in the land of Peace and Harmony.  A large dove will greet Masha and the Nutcracker Prince; this dove will consist of two dancers each carrying 20 foot feathered wings.  Masha and the Nutcracker Prince will also by escorted through the land of Peace and Harmony by Father Christmas and the Snow Maiden in a Russian Trioka Sleigh.  Truly a feast for the eyes.

     A full company of dancers, 36 in all, will grace the stage several times during the performance.  I've been assured that the choreography is such that the audience won't be overwhelmed with the amount of dancers or action on the stage.  This ballet should be quite easy to follow along with the story line and keep all the parts in perspective.    

     Costumes were designed by Arthur Oliver, an American designer, who traveled to St. Petersburg to oversee the creation of the costumes.  They'll be a lot of flash, decoration, and detail.  There are even Swarovski crystals on Masha's tutu.  I can't wait to see that outfit.

     The backdrops will be Rousseau-inspired scenes, especially for the second act.  They'll be fanciful Russian animals and birds, as well as a rainbow and angels.  All of this set to Tchiakovsy's original musical score. 

     It's taken lots of hard work to bring this ballet to life.  The dance company will be recruiting and training 40 children from the Salina area to perform with the company on stage.  Rehearsals begin usually a week or more in advance.  The Moscow Ballet will be on tour throughout the United States bringing The Nutcracker Ballet to life for two months, and the run began this month of November.

     The Nutcracker has survived down through the ages as one of the happiest of all ballets and Tchiakovsky's music only adds to this delightful ballet.  There are a variety of endings to this ballet.  Spoiler alert, although I'm sure it's not that much of a surprise, but the ending will  be a happy one, as the boy and girl fall in love in the end.  What better way to end the ballet and especially at Christmas time.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Wrinkle Neck Mules

     Back Porch Buddha, Bryan Master and Dennis Harden, kicked off the evening with original tunes that had the audience fired up from the first chord stroke of the guitar. Each and every song was memorable and fun.  However, the song that stole the show was the final one of their set, Mona Rigby's Houseboat.  Truly hilarious.  We've all done crazy things, drunk or not, and those barely remembered times are so funny when you recall bits and pieces, then try to piece together the rest of the story.  This song had all those elements and more.  The audience was laughing so hard that many were in tears.  Plus the fact that the beer and wine was flowing freely and many in the audience already had a good buzz going, didn't hurt a bit either. 

     As soon as Back Porch Buddha finished their set they were off to another gig in Wichita.  These guys had a busy Saturday night ahead of them, but the audience at The McPherson Opera House thoroughly enjoyed the performance and the time they took to be there.  Check out their website for upcoming performances at:

     Then it was time for the nights headliner, The Wrinkle Neck Mules.  Yes, there is a story behind their name or maybe not, the group was mum on whether there was a story or not.  In fact, during the evening's interview, when the question was asked, they looked uncomfortable and changed the subject, make of it what you will.

     Yes, that is the black cat firework symbol on the wall at the back of the stage.  The first song they sang was Firework Stand which paid homage to that staple of every childhood 4th of July, Black Cat Firecrackers.  This group was more than enthusiastic while they played and sang their songs.  I don't know if they were standing to close to the mics or just weren't enunciating their words or what was going on on this night, but I could not understand a single lyric they sang.  I wasn't alone.  I polled those around me and they also said that they couldn't understand what they were saying.  Even without the lyrics, the music was great and the fellas played with gusto, as these fans can attest too.

     The band joked during the interview that one of their favorite songs that they were going to play on this evening was I Never Thought It Would Go This Far. The entire band cracked up when this song was mentioned during the interview before the show.   
     Wrinkle Neck Mules were headed home after this show and don't have any upcoming dates in the near future.  Concert season is winding down at this time of the year.  If you can't get enough of the Wrinkle Neck Mules, check out their website here: 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Mike Steinel Quintet

     The McPherson Opera House played host to two different acts this past weekend.  On Friday, there was The Mike Steinel Jazz Quintet and on Saturday, the featured act was The Wrinkle Neck Mules. 

     Friday night began with a performance by The McPherson College Jazz Ensemble.  The opener continued with a performance by The Smoky Valley High School Jazz Band.  Then it was time for The Mike Steinel Jazz Quintet.

     The quintet performed about nine different pieces.  Many of the song were originals compositions written by the band members.  There was Broadway, followed by Beto Junction (an original tune), We Will Meet Again, and a favorite of the evening, an original tune entitled Mr. Hooper's Find It In A Minute Book, written by Rosana Eckert, who provided vocals throughout the show.  Another stand out, and a song that has always been a favorite of mine, The Windmills of Your Mind.  Rosana did a terrific job singing this song.  I believe she did a better job than Dusty Springfield who made this song famous.  Rosana's voice is so rich and warm, the audience could just sink into the song, and wrap up in it like a warm blanket.

     This show had it all; the fast flying fingers of Pat Coil on the piano, the cool laid back groove of bass player Jeff Eckels, a jazzy beat provided by Steve Barnes on the drums, Rosana Eckert's smooth vocals, and last but not least, that groovy brass trumpet sound provided by Mike Steinel to round out the group.

     On Saturday, the quintet traveled to Wichita to play at The Roxy and then it was off to Oklahoma for a show in a restored train station.

     Mike Steinel, is originally from Marion, Kansas, is now an educator at the University of North Texas.  He brought his jazz quintet to McPherson to participate in the second annual Jazz Festival at McPherson College.  The festival featured 22 different high school bands as well as The McPherson College Jazz Ensemble.