Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Theatre on Mt. Tom, Holyoke, Mass. - Calling for Interviews

Comedy and Tragedy on the Mountain:

70 years of Summer Theatre on Mt. Tom, Holyoke, Massachusetts

By Jacqueline T. Lynch

1895-1930s: Vaudeville and operetta
1930s WPA Theatre
The Pioneer Valley Drama Festival - 1940
The Valley Players – 1941 – 1962
Casino-in-the-Park 1963
Mt. Tom Playhouse – 1964-1965

I'm currently writing a book on theatre on Mt. Tom - from the late 1800s to 1965.  I'd to interview anyone with connections to The Valley Players, or the Mt. Tom Playhouse -  actors, staff, ushers, or members of the audience with any memories they’d like to share.  I hope to have the book out by the end of the year.

Jacqueline T. Lynch at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com...or write to:

PO Box 1394

Chicopee, MA 01021.

I’d be happy to interview you in person (in the western Massachusetts, northern Connecticut area) , or over the phone, at your convenience.    You can also just drop me a note with anything you have to say, if you’d rather not be interviewed, but please include your name.

Thank you.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Cape Playhouse Celebrates 90th Season - Dennis, Massachusetts

The Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts is celebrating its 90th season this year.

Founded in 1927, it was the workplace, and for many, a training ground, for so many famous stage and screen actors. 

Have a look at this previous post on my Tragedy and Comedy in New England blog on Ruth Gordon's impressions of performing at the Cape Playhouse in the 1930s.

Here is the remainder of the 2016 season:

Book, Music & Lyrics by Meredith Wilson
July 5-23, 2016

by Molly Smith Metzler
July 26-August 6, 2016

Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb
August 9-20, 2016

by Agatha Christie
August 23-September 3, 2016

Congratulations to this historic playhouse, with a fond wish for many more seasons to come. See their website for more info.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Big Band Swinging in Springfield, Massachusetts

JT Lynch photo

The joint was jumping on Saturday night at for the Springfield Armory Reunion and commemoration of  the 1943 Benny Goodman concert that was held on the Armory grounds. The war workers got a special treat that day in 1943, and so did the visitors to the Springfield Armory National Historic site when Dan Gabel and the Abletones recreated a 1940s Big Band concert.

It was fantastic.

Though inclement weather drove the concert indoors this year (it’s usually an outdoor celebration), and while unfortunately, band leader Dan Gabel was not in attendance, the show was a delightful success.

The orchestra delivered a variety of peppy ditties, slow romantic ballads, and jubilant jazzy hits of the golden age of the big band era that moved some to dance, some to sing, and all to marvel at the excellence of this tight group of musicians.

Their vocalist (in the old days it was “girl singer”) is Elise Roth, who looked the part in a period gown, rhinestone necklace and bracelet, bold lipstick, and her hair coiffed appropriately. More than illusion, the most exciting and charming aspect of her performance is that she sang in the style of the 1940s big band songstresses.  This is an attention to detail that is worth noting and marveling over; for this is not mere mimicry, but a demonstration of educated interpretation of a music genre that is intricate and complicated.  Ms. Roth has her roots not only as a jazz vocalist, but also as a classical vocalist, who studied at the New England Conservatory of Music.

Dan Gabel, whose knowledge and appreciation of big band music is something wonderful, has gathered into this 18-piece orchestra colleagues, friends, and former students like a pied piper (he plays the trombone himself), and he clearly picks only the best. Craig Robbins, recent magna cum laude graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston, plays jazz trombone and also sang two numbers, the lovely ballad, “The Way You Look Tonight,” and the swinging, “The Lady is a Tramp.”  Jim Gancarz, drummer, belted out the beautiful, “Berkeley Square” (“boy singers”), and did a mean Gene Krupa imitation throughout on the drums.

These three singers are young, as, indeed are most of this orchestra, and if the first surprise is seeing young people so gloriously talented, so knowledgeable, and so comfortable performing this music which has ceased to hit the popular music charts a couple of generations ago—the second surprise is suddenly realizing their age doesn’t matter.  It’s the music that matters, and they drew a standing ovation from the crowd last Saturday for their truly thrilling musicianship.

JT Lynch photo

John Clark on bari sax and clarinet took on the role of leader and emcee in Dan Gabel’s absence, and he provided humor, and a pleasant ease of guiding the audience, as much as the musicians, from one song to the next.

I was especially looking forward to this event because I’ve followed Dan Gabel and his bands (he also helms the High Society Orchestra which plays music of the 1920s), and always hoped to have an opportunity to catch one of their gigs—which play mostly in the eastern part of the state.  Having him come out to western Massachusetts and the Springfield Armory National Historic Site was a joy, and I was determined not to miss it.  I’ll remember it for a long time to come.

You can learn more about Dan Gabel and the Abeltones here at the website, and at the Facebook page. The orchestra has also produced some CDs.  Look for his upcoming events here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dan Gabel and the Abeltones Coming to the Springfield Armory

This coming Saturday, July 9th is an auspicious day for western Massachusetts, as Dan Gabel and the Abeltones are coming to the Springfield Armory.

Mr. Gabel is a young man whom I have not yet had the pleasure to see perform in person, but whose career and music events in eastern Massachusetts I've been following on his Facebook site.  A big ban enthusiast (who has his own big band, as well as other smaller combos), a scholar on the work of singer and bandleader Vaughn Monroe, and a high school music teacher, Gabel is a marvel of energy, enthusiasm, and rich in talent.  The evening promises to be a real treat for lovers of swing music and an appreciation for one young man who is preserving it.

Details on the Armory event from this press release:

SPRINGFIELD — On Saturday, July 9, the Springfield Armory National Historic Site will commemorate the 1943 Benny Goodman concert which was held on the Armory grounds. Attendees will enjoy the sounds of Dan Gabel and the Abletones, hear rousing vocalists, and swing on the dance floor after free swing lessons. Admission is free.

The evening will begin at 5:30 p.m. with free swing-dance lessons from instructors Michele and Bob Barker. Pre-concert and intermission shows will feature the Small Planet Dancers of Springfield, performing World War II-era dance routines.

The main concert, running from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., will feature Dan Gabel and the Abletones, an 18-piece big band. Gabel played with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and Tommy Dorsey, and is considered an expert on big-band-era music. The ensemble features lead vocalist Elise Roth.

Attendees are invited to bring a chair or blanket and enjoy a picnic supper or purchase items from the food vendor on site. The museum, which is wheelchair-accessible, will remain open during the concert. In the case of rain, the concert will move into Building 2 (Scibelli Hall) of Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), where it will be held in the gymnasium.

The Springfield Armory National Historic Site commemorates and preserves the site of the nation’s first armory, established in 1794. Managed with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, STCC, and the National Park Service, it is the home of the world’s largest historic American military firearms collection. The site is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission is free. For more information, call (413) 734-8551 or visit www.nps.gov/spar.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

AUDIO BOOK - Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star.

This is to remind you of my upcoming AUDIO book version of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star.  I expect it to be available for purchase very soon. I will offer a free copy to the first eight people who agree to review the book on Amazon in exchange for a copy.

Los Angeles area actress Toni Lewis is doing the narration, and her work is brilliant.  She kindly participated in an interview with me, and here’s what we discussed:


JTL:  I was struck by your adopting different “voices” and adding personality to the many quotes in the book.  I had never heard that done in an audio book before, and I marvel at what an acting challenge that must be—to find the element, the key in a passage to give you a hook to the character of that voice.   I like the lower, dryer tone of speech for Madge Tucker, as if illustrating this is a kindly, genteel, but harried woman dealing with children on live radio, with a touch of New York businesswoman inflection. There is playfulness in your characterizations, including the funny “Bert Lahr” voice for the mountie he played in Rose Marie, and so many occasions where your reading of a quote stands out from the narrative and gives splashes of color to this rather long book.  Speeding up the speech of the old Hollywood critics and gossip columnists, to emulate the staccato radio news delivery of the day, I thought was pretty neat.  Some line readings brought me to tears, or shocked me.  You mentioned to me about the script that you “treated it like a piece of music with shading and tempo,” which is delightful.

The voice you use for Ann is chosen very wisely, I think.  The tone is quiet, demure, but not an attempt at an exact imitation of her voice—which I think is appropriate.  And practical—because I don’t think it’s really possible to imitate her. She displayed such a keen ability to change her voice from film to film that she never had any vocal “tics” that one could caricature.  Katharine Hepburn, or Humphrey Bogart come to mind as films stars who were always easily imitated by comics who exaggerated the peculiar speech habits of these actors.  Your “Ann” in the audio has a clean sound, is a lovely example of sensitive and judicious narration.  Was her voice a particular concern or challenge to you?

TL:  For the most part (except for Ann Blyth), I didn't go out of my way to listen and study the real person's voice, because it was more fun to create the voice myself.   After being introduced to Ann through the book, I sought out a few interviews online to get the feel of her personality.  I was able to find some excerpts of Mildred Pierce and watched Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid in its entirety (but she didn't speak!).  Her softness was balanced by her faith and confidence (both powerful and firm), which gave her the strength to navigate the rough waters of Hollywood.  A person gets a sense from the book that acting was her destiny.  I wanted to convey all of that in the voice I gave her.  She was and still seems to be a calm and steady force.

JTL:  You mentioned in an email to me that you were sorry to come to the last chapter because you had fallen in love with Ann Blyth, and were  a new convert to Turner Classic Movies.  That really touched me, and I hope you enjoy many years of discovery of old movies.  I would not be surprised if you knew very little about her career before you started narrating the book, because since her last movie was made decades ago, she has fallen off the radar in pop culture—though in the late 1940s and 1950s she was as famous as anyone could be in Hollywood.  You are an actress yourself, you’ve played roles on television.  I think that gives you an insight, an appreciation of the challenges of her career that I don’t have, that many of our listeners/readers won’t have.  You’ve gone on auditions, performed, rehearsed, and worked with directors, technical crew, dealt all the business aspects to the career.   Do you agree that your familiarity with the acting profession may give you empathy in your approach to your narration on the career of this actress that a non-actor might not have?

TL: You're right.  I knew nothing about Ann Blyth before this book came along.  As an actress, I could totally relate to her career and the challenges she faced as a woman in this business.  She faced it all with grace and I admire her for it.  At times I saw myself in her shoes.  I'm a singer as well, so her musical theatre experience is something I relate to strongly.  While reading, I could visualize the environment because of my experience on stage and in front of the camera.  I recognize the desire to keep your private life just that…private.  Her approach to the craft and her work ethic is an example of how hard work pays off and I'm struck by how successful she was, while not allowing the Hollywood machine to change the essence of who she was.  As with many projects in the course of a career like this, you grow attached to your subject matter.  It was bittersweet to see my time with Ann draw to a close.  I got choked-up.  I had spent so much time walking in shoes that resembled mine it felt more personal.   A career is what you make it.  She made a wonderful career and was one of the lucky few to do that.  It's great to see a woman have it all or at least as much as she wants.

JTL:  Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is a big book.  I’m so impressed by how you navigated some of the ridiculously long sentences (listening to you has really made me see my faults as a writer).  I have a tendency to begin very long compound sentences, plunking in a semicolon, and then go have a cup of tea or bring in the mail, or have the oil changed in my car—and then I come back to finish the sentence.  No, really.  That’s why they ramble on like that.  Is fiction different for you as a narrator than non-fiction, does it require a different approach or a different set of muscles, so to speak?

TL: Yes, a different set of muscles is right.  I find that non-fiction books require more of a smile in the voice and a little higher register in order to hold the attention of the listener.  This produces a more pleasant experience, especially for long-form books. Because fiction is often suspenseful, a lower register is used to draw the listener in.  I just finished a novel by Warren Adler called CULT.  It was like night to the daylight of Ann Blyth.  Both amazing projects but performed from opposite ends of the spectrum.

JTL:  How did you get into audio book narration, and what are some of the challenges and pleasures of doing this kind of work?  Can you describe what it’s like to narrate a book?  Do you use a local studio, or do you have a home studio with the technical wizardry to record and edit tracks?

TL:  Like Ann Blyth, I am no longer twenty-something and I wanted to continue to perform and create, so after years of pounding the pavement, I thought I would combine my love of reading with my love of acting.  I set up a sound booth in my home and started auditioning in my pajamas.  It's been so wonderful.  The freedom of performing and producing books gives me such joy!  I usually record in the evening because of daily environmental noise.  I do the recording myself in sessions that usually last five to six hours each.  Before recording, I read the book, make notes, breakdown the characters and try out different vocal registers for each.  Sometimes a voice will just come to me.  Others, I have to play around with to make sure they have their own sound/accent. The hard part is keeping the voices consistently vivid.  Some days the environment affects the voice, so I have to do a longer warm-up and keep the vocal tea flowing.  I use a wonderful editor who is a wizard at making me sound great. My life is happier and I have a calm I've never felt before.  This work just fits my lifestyle.  I'm happy and my family is happy.

JTL:  Are there any upcoming projects you’d like to share, either as an actress or narrator?

TL: I mentioned Warren Adler's book CULT.  It should be coming out soon on Amazon as well.  That was a fun project with a lot of voices (mostly men).

JTL:  Please feel free to any anything you’d like to discuss that I may not have touched upon.

TL:  I could tell that Ann Blyth was a labor of love for you and after four months, I love her story as well.   My hope is that I was able to bring another dimension to the work and help listeners of the book feel uplifted and more knowledgeable about that time in Hollywood's history.  Who better to give us that perspective than someone like Ann Blyth who came out on the other side happy and prosperous?
My deepest gratitude to Toni Lewis for her marvelous performance as narrator on Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star., and for sharing her sensitive and articulate comments here.  I feel extremely lucky to have been able to work with her on this audio project, and I am in awe of her talent.


Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is, of course, already available in eBook and in paperback from Amazon and CreateSpace.

A star of films, stage (including Broadway), television, radio, nightclubs and concerts, Ann Blyth is a stellar example of talent and professionalism, and her journey through the entertainment industry of the twentieth century is colorful and fascinating.

The most interesting aspect about her acting is that unlike most stars of the day she was not content to play the same kind of roles over and over again. She swam against the powerful and unrelenting current of studio typecasting. It was usual for studios at that time, which controlled the kinds of movies that their actors played in, to promote an actor in a particular kind of role and to assign them similar roles thereafter.  An actor was marketed to the public as a heavy or the hero, or weepy heroine, or a stumbling foolish comic. Usually they played the same character over and over again.

Today we have someone like Meryl Streep, who is very versatile and we expect that of her.  When we go to see a Meryl Streep movie, we expect her to sound different and look different.  She’s working in an environment today where she is free to adopt that kind of versatility.  Indeed, it’s become her calling card, her trademark, but back in the day when Ann Blyth was one of the most famous stars of her era, her versatility was certainly admired and appreciated, but I don’t think it was used to its best advantage by the studios.  A confounding set of circumstances has made Blyth’s unique career largely unfamiliar among younger classic film fans

To appreciate how ironic that is we need to note that back in the late 1940s and 1950s she was one of the most famous stars of her day, featured on countless magazine covers, pursued by columnists, receiving thousands of fan letters every week.

Ann Blyth remains a mystery to newcomers to classic film who know little about her, perhaps for two reasons: she made 32 movies in her career but most of them are not on DVD and most of them are not being shown on Turner Classic Movies.  This is because most of the movies you see on Turner are Warner Bros., or MGM movies, or Columbia -- many different studios, but a lot of Ann Blyth’s movies were made for Universal and Turner does not show a lot of Universal movies or a lot of Paramount movies.  Today, Turner Classic Movies is pretty much the main channel that we would go to watch a classic film.  We have hundreds of channels on our cable television, but very few show old movies these days.

My hope is Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. will help newcomers to classic film discover the work of this marvelous actress, and to remind those of us more familiar with the classics not to overlook this quiet, lovely champion -- who toured New England in many different theatre productions, including the national tour of the Broadway hit, Watch on the Rhine.

The AUDIO book will be soon available through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.  It runs some 18 hours long (it’s a hefty book), but is delightful and entertaining thanks to actress/narrator Toni Lewis. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Summer Theatre - 2016 Season at The Cape Playhouse, Dennis, Massachusetts

Time for Summer stock!  Here's the 2016 season at The Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts...

by Neil Simon
June 7-18, 2016
by Lanford Wilson
June 21-July 2, 2016
Book, Music & Lyrics by Meredith Wilson
July 5-23, 2016
by Molly Smith Metzler
July 26-August 6, 2016
Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb
August 9-20, 2016
by Agatha Christie
August 23-September 3, 2016
The Cape Playhouse
820 Route 6A
Dennis Village, Massachusetts 02638
Box Office 508.385.3911
Administration 508.385.3838