On Stage: Book of Mormon returns to Philadelphia

Also: Post-Thanksgiving club scene rocks

By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

mormon denee-benton-cody-jamison-strand

“The Book of Mormon” is back in Philadelphia and will run at The Kimmel Center through Dec. 27.

It’s been almost five years since “The Book of Mormon” made its debut at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in New York. During its first year, the show was consistently one of the top five best-selling shows on Broadway and set 22 new weekly sales records at the O’Neill Theatre.

The lively musical, which was seven years in the making, met with immediate critical acclaim and won numerous theater awards including nine Tony Awards (including Best Musical) and a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.

The immensely popular show made its Philadelphia debut last year and ran from July through September at the Forrest Theatre (1114 Walnut Street, Philadelphia 866-276-2947, www.kimmelcenter.org/broadway) as part of the Kimmel Center’s “Broadway Philadelphia” series.

Now, “The Book of Mormon” is back — once again with a multi-week run as part of the Kimmel Center’s “Broadway Philadelphia” series. It opened on November 24 and will run through December 27.

Right from its opening night on Broadway on March 24, 2011, the show has drawn rave reviews with the New York Times calling it “the best musical of this century.” The Associate Press said “The Book of Mormon” manages to offend, provoke laughter, trigger eye-rolling, satirize conventions and warm hearts, all at the same time.”

The show currently is running on Broadway and in London’s West End. It also has two tours out in America — one on the West Coast and the other on the East Coast.

The talent-laden cast of the show that just arrived in Philly features David Larsen as Elder Price, Candace Quarrels as Nabulungi, Cody Jamison Strand as Elder Cunningham and James Vincent Meredith as Mafala Hatimbi.

“This tour has been out for three years and I’m approaching two years in the cast,” said Larsen, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “I closed a show on Broadway — ‘Hands on a Hardbody’ — and auditioned for ‘The Book of Mormon’ the next week.

“I got the role but had to wait for five months to join the tour. I saw the show during its first year on Broadway and really enjoyed it. I was always a big fan of ‘South Park.’ But, I never imagined I’d ever be in the show.”

The Book of Mormon features book, lyrics, and music by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone. Stone and Parker were the creators of the animated comedy “South Park.”

“This show is a very well-constructed musical,” said Larsen. “It’s written really well. It’s a religious satire but people aren’t offended by it. People are less offended when something is done well and this show is done really well. Nothing is off-limits. Like ‘South Park,’ it’s equal opportunity offensive.”

“The Book of Mormon” tells the story of two young, inexperienced Mormon missionaries who are sent to Africa. It is set in a remote village in northern Uganda. In the village, which is about two hours north of Uganda’s capitol Kampala, a brutal warlord is threatening the local population. The primary antagonist is the superstitious General, who does not like the missionaries and views them as a threat.

The show has a wonderful message of community and demonstrates how religion is formed through storytelling. The narrative is linear — and it’s educational.

“Some of the show’s high points are the number ‘Turn It Off’ and the opening number — ‘Hello’,” said Larsen. “The opening number really sets the tone for the rest of the show. It gets the audience members laughing and they keep laughing for the remainder of the show.

“‘Spooky Mormon Hell Dream’ is another great number. It’s so ridiculous. Audiences also really like the zany storytelling. But, what surprises people is that his show has heart.”

Video link for “The Book of Mormon” — https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=OKkLV1zE8M0.

Ticket prices ranges from $67-$177.

george winston

George Winston

The Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577, www.thegrandwilmington.org) will be keeping things lively along Market Street over the next week-and-a-half.

The line-up for the Grand features George Winston (Nov 27), Clifford the Big Red Dog (Nov 28), Itzhak Perlman, Evgeny Kissin and Mischa Maisky (Dec 1) and Straight No Chaser (Dec 2).

The Grand, which also puts on shows at the Playhouse on Rodney Square (10th and Market streets, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-888-0200, www. duponttheatre.com), will present the Glenn Miller Orchestra on November 28 and the hit musical “Annie” from December 1-6.

With its Christmas party celebration serving as one of the high points of the show, the hit musical “Annie” is a great show for the holidays.

The original production of “Annie,” which opened on Broadway in 1977, won seven Tony Awards and ran for six years, featured Andrea McArdle as Annie.The show has gone on numerous national tours and featured notable cast members such as television/movie/stage/rock band veteran Mackenzie Phillps as Lily St. Regis.

The current production features Issie Swickle as Annie, Gilagmesh Tagget as Oliver Warbucks and Lynn Andrews as Miss Hannigan.



“Annie” has had numerous incarnations over the years including several revivals of the original stage musical. There have also been a number of related stage shows such as prequels as well as a few movies.

Directed by original lyricist and director Martin Charnin for the 19th time, this production is a brand new physical incarnation of the iconic Tony Award-winning original.

 “The show ‘Annie’ is something that people hold close to their hearts,” said Andrews, during a recent phone interview from her home in San Diego. “It’s not my personal goal to make it new again. I just try to play the part as true as I can.

“There is no way to please everybody. You’re coming to see ‘Annie.’ It’s still the same show — same songs — the dog — Christmas. Audiences have loved it for a long time and they still love it. It is dated in some ways. Some references go over the heads of people under 30.

“It taps directly into the nostalgia vein. It’s New York. It’s Christmas time. It’s about hope. The whole show is seen through the eyes of a kid who has no reason to be bitter. It’s a great family show. You can bring kids to it. At times, I see three generations of the same family attending the show together.”

Andrews has the unenviable — or enviable — position of playing a villain — Miss Hannigan, the woman who runs the orphanage where Annie lives.

“I think it’s far more fun to be the villain,” said Andrews, a native of Denver, Colorado. “This is a silly villain. She’s not doing anything too horrible. I get on great with the kids. We love to tease each other. And, if you’re playing a villain, if you’re in a bad mood, you don’t have to pretend to be otherwise.

“One challenge playing Miss Hannigan is walking a line between cruelty and comedy. There are also physical challenges. I like to toss my body around. Last year, I got whiplash playing in ‘Annie.’ It is a very physical role so I have to take care of myself. I have to stretch before every show.

Even though Miss Hannigan is a ‘villain,” Andrews finds her likeable.

“I can relate to her in a lot of ways,” said Andrews, who, when not acting, is one-third of the girl group The Shirtwaist Sisters. “Everything she does is pretty logical. If I had seven kids, maybe I would be a drunk.”

Video link for “Annie” — https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=2gD_Gq8chFU.

The show will run from December 1-6 — Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets range in price from $40-$90.

George Winston is many things – a highly-respected solo pianist who has developed a loyal following around the world, a musician who doesn’t follow trends, an excellent composer, an artist who likes to interpret other musicians’ songs and a musician who is keen on charity work. All of these facets will come into play when Winston performs in Wilmington this week.

Since 1986, Winston has been raising money for food banks and service organizations and will continue to do so by working with a local food bank in every tour market to hold a canned food drive at the show and also by donating 100% of proceeds from the sale of his merchandise to the organization.

“As with all my shows, I’m also collecting donations for the local food bank,” said Winston, during a phone interview Tuesday as he drove through South Carolina on the way to a show in Richmond. “So, I’d like to ask people to bring non-perishable food donations for the Emmanuel Food Bank.”

Making albums has never been a high priority for Winston with only 13 albums in more than 40 years. But, there are patterns – albums featuring the music of Vince Guaraldi, albums made as benefit records for flood-ravaged New Orleans and albums representing each of the seasons.

His most recent albums are “Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions 2–A Louisiana Wetlands Benefit” (2012) and “Love Will Come-The Music of Vince Guaraldi Vol 2.” (2010).

His next solo piano album, “Spring Carousel – A Cancer Research Benefit,” will be released in 2015.  These solo piano melodic songs were composed in 2013 while he was recovering from his bone marrow transplant at the City of Hope Village. He is dedicating 100% of his artist royalties to benefit cancer research.

“I was staying at the City of Hope from mid-September 2012 until early March 2013,” said Winston. “I was there because of myelodysplastia — a condition with low platelets. Now, I just get checked every four months.

“There was a piano there that was available 24 hours a day. I went there every night for hours. That’s why I’m doing a benefit album for the City of Hope. It will come out in the spring of 2016.

“It’s a double-CD which is already recorded. I just have to put it all together. There are compositions about 20 carousels along with 10 ballads that I call ‘bouquets.’ The music on this album is influenced by Steve Reich’s music — very much so with the circular motion…swirling circular repetition.”

Three of Winston’s albums have dealt with the seasons – “Autumn” (1980), “Winter into Spring” (1982) and “Summer” (1991). And, his album “December” (1982) also is season-related.

“This is a fall-winter summer show,” said Winston, who grew up in Montanaand Mississippi and now lives in California. “I do select material by the seasons but it’s more based on what I played the last time I was in a particular town. The priority for me is to be able to switch. I’ve done summer shows in November and winter shows through May.

“As time goes on, I’ve gotten more flexible. It is nice to have snow outside when I’m doing my winter show but I make my own musical calendars. It took awhile to get that flexibility.

“My music is like the weather. I just watch it and it tells me what to do. I just say — yes, I’ll do what you tell me. I’m just the servant.”

Video link for George Winston — https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Ff3QQ0QEclU

The show at the Grand will get underway at 8 p.m. Tickets are $36.

This is the weekend when college students return home for a long weekend and family members gather for a holiday feast. Frequently, Thursday night is family night while Friday and Saturday nights are the evenings for parties and concerts.

The concert schedule for Friday and Saturday is loaded with good shows at almost every venue around the Delaware Valley.

One of the most interesting — and most rocking — shows in the area will be the Smash Palace CD Release Party on November 27 at the Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com).

Smash Palace

Smash Palace

Smash Palace —Stephen Butler (lead vocals and guitar), Fran Smith (bass guitar, vocals), Cliff Hillis (rhythm guitar, vocals), David Uosikkinen (drums) and Wally Smith (keyboards) — will be officially launching its new CD “Some Kind of Magic,” which is the band’s 11th recording overall and seventh for Zip Records.

“We recorded the album this spring,” said Stephen Butler, during a recent phone interview. “We made it at Gradwell House studio in Haddon Heights (NJ) with William Wittman as the producer.

“It was the first time we used an outside producer since our first record, which was 30 years ago. He asked to be involved. With the current LP, it was just the five of us in the band. Brian and I still write together a lot.”

Brian is Butler’s brother Brian Butler, who was the original lead vocalist of Smash Palace, one of Philly’s best power pop bands over the past few decades.

“Brian and I put Smash Place together,” said Butler. “Originally, our band was called Quincy and we had an album out on Columbia Records. Then, we started Smash Palace and signed with Epic Records in 1984.”

Smash Palace has had a number of different lineups over the years. Stephen Butler is the only constant but original rhythm guitarist Phil Rizzo remained on board until just a few years ago.

“The band went into hibernation from 1987-1998,” said Butler. “My brother and I were doing staff writing jobs at publishing companies. My brother and I were always really close — especially with music. Around 1999, I built a studio and we started writing together again. Out of that, we got a record deal with an indie label — Imagine Records.”

That resulted in the “Fast, Long and Loud” album — the band’s sophomore album just 14 y ears after the group’ self-titled debut.

“We still have a lot of our older fans who have been with us for 20-30 years,” said Butler. “We’re also getting a lot of new fans because the record is being played around the country.

“We’re playing all the new songs in our live shows and we still go back to songs from all our albums. It starts at the beginning and goes to the end but I’ve never thought of us as a nostalgia band. All the songs still work together. “

Video link for Smash Palace — https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=F7YXIFzVhgc.

The show at Steel City will start at 8 p.m. and will also feature Cliff Hillis and the Forward Thinkers. Tickets are $20 in advance and $23 day of show. On November 27, Steel City will present Jeffrey Gaines with Ben Kessler.

When Thanksgiving week arrives each year, there are certain traditions on which you can almost always depend — especially on Thanksgiving Day itself.  Some of these traditions are a day off from work, big dinners (usually with turkey and filling and with family), football games on television and the arrival of Black Friday (which has already wormed its way back to a start midway through Thursday).

From a musical standpoint, there are also very strong traditional events at the Keswick Theatre (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) — two events that are well into their second decade.

On Thanksgiving Eve, Hot Tuna — Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen — leave their California homes behind and head to Glenside for an annual concert that has been going on longer than either veteran musician can remember.

the machine

The Machine

On the night after Thanksgiving, which is November 27 this year, The Machine returns to the Keswick Theatre for a concert that is billed as the “Annual Thanksgiving Weekend Show.”

The Machine — Joe Pascarell (lead guitar, vocals), Scott Chasolen (keyboards, vocals), Ryan Ball (bass, vocals), Tahrah Cohen (drums) — is a Pink Floyd tribute band that has been performing the music of the British classic rock act for more than 20 years.

“We’ve been playing the Keswick on the Friday after Thanksgiving for at least 10 years in a row already,” said Cohen, during a phone interview from the band’s home base in Manhattan. “It’s a given for the venue and a given for us. The date is always held.

“‘It’s a special event. It definitely is a big tradition. People make it a family event. We recognize a lot of people who have been coming every year. And, they keep bring new people — their friends and relatives.”

Joe Pascarell, one of The Machine’s founding members said in a phone interview last week, “The Thanksgiving show at the Keswick is always one of our favorite shows every year. That show always feels like a big family get-together.”

Over the course of its decades-plus history, The Machine has developed a repertoire that covers Pink Floyd’s entire career — from 1967’s “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” to the “new” Pink Floyd album “The Endless River,” which was just released last year.

“For the most part, it’s the same group of songs people want to hear,” said Pascarell. “They don’t want to hear something new and we honor that. We play songs like ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ ‘Comfortably Numb’ and a number of songs from ‘The Wall.’ Some songs are always there — songs that you hear on the radio a lot.

“It’s always fun to play theme. There are times we can leave them out — but not often. Those are times when we do special concerts throughout the year. We do things like symphonies and, from time to time, we do acoustic shows.”

Pascarell is a founding member of the band — and the newest member to join the line-up.

“I had a leave of absence,” said Pascarell. “I turned 50 and sort of re-evaluated my life — what I wanted to do. I had been in The Machine for 30 years. I wanted to find out more about me.

“The first year was fun. Then, I realized how important The Machine was to me.  A little while ago, the guy who replaced me left and the band asked me to re-join. The biggest difference is how I feel. The band means something different to me. I came back in September. I’m the phase now of re-acquiring the repertoire.”

Video link for The Machine — https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=emmlx766s3M.

The show at the Keswick will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $27.50 and $32.50.




A few years ago, guitarist Cameron Neal and bass player Cody Fowler headed north from their homes in the Dallas Metro area and moved north to study music at college. It didn’t take long until the pair had formed a band that was rocking out in Oklahoma City.

Neal and Fowler teamed up with Alex Coleman (guitar, keyboards), Alberto Roubert (drums, percussion) and Zach Zeller (guitar, keyboards) to form the current lineup of Horse Thief.

The band made its area debut in July 2014 with a show on the Upstairs Stage of Philly’s World Café Live. On November 27, the quintet returns to the city to share a bill with Elle King at Union Transfer (1026 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, 215-232-2100, www.utphilly.com).

“We’ve been together almost three years,” said Neal, during a recent phone interview. “Me and the bass player started in Denton (Texas). We’ve been playing together for eight years. We moved to Oklahoma City to attend ACM@UCO (The Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma). I was a guitar major. We met the other three guys in the band there. All of them are from Oklahoma.”

Horse Thief released its debut album “Fear in Bliss” last year on Bella Union Records.

“The record that came out last year was our first full-length,” said Neal. “We went to L.A. to record it with producer Thom Monahan.

“We started working on our new album in May and June in L.A. There is definitely a change in our music. The first record was written when we had only been together for about four months. We did it very quickly.

“This time, we went in the studio with about 30 demos. It’s cleaner — and we’ve been growing. It’s a little more intense lyrically and sonically. And, it’s more organic. The band knows each other better. We know what to expect from each other.”

Horse Thief’s music has drawn a variety of descriptions from American rock to jam band to roots rock.

“Our music is a wide variety,” said Cameron. “It’s straight-ahead rock. I don’t think we were ever worried about genres. We just want to write songs to make people feel good.

“The songs from the first album are a little different live. We definitely wanted the live show to be different from the album.

“It’s a different experience. A lot of things change. Sonically, there are parts we build on. In the live shows now, we play three or four new songs and most of the songs from ‘Fear in Bliss.’ The songs definitely get bigger live. We’ve always been a live band first.”

Video link for Horse Thief —


The Horse Thief show will get underway at 8:30. Tickets are priced at $17. Other upcoming shows at Union Transfer are Vacationer (Nov 28), Dance Gavin Dance (Nov 30) and Vince Staples (Dec 2).


The Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will present Joe Bublewicz and Chris Coccia (Nov 27) and The Nik Everett Band and Angelee (Nov 28).


Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will have Mo7s and Psychskunk (Nov 27) and Redtail Court, Nose Goblins and Seption (Nov 28).


The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic (Nov 27), Splintered Sunlight — Grateful Dead Tribute (Nov 28) and Mr. Greengenes (Dec 2).


The Valley Forge Casino (1160 First Avenue, King Of Prussia, 610-354-8118, www.vfcasino.com) will present 38 Special (Nov 27) and Burnt Sienna (Nov 28).


Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com) will host Andrea Nardello and Matt Duke (Nov 27), and The John Grecia Band and Drew Nielands (Nov 28).


Melodies Café (2 East Ardmore Avenue, Ardmore, 610-645-5269, www.melodiescafe.com) will host Craig & Aislinn Bickhardt, Beaucoup Blue, Jesse Terry and Lizanne Knott & Ciara (Nov 28).


World Café Live at the Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, 302- 994-1400, www.queen.worldcafelive.com) will have Jubilee Riots (Nov 27), Spokey Speaky (Nov 27), Wilmo Rock Circus 2015 (Nov 28) and San Fermin (Dec 2).



The Scottish Rites Theatre (315 White Horse Pike, Collingswood, N.J., http://www.collingswood.com/entertainment/theater-and-ballroom) will present Will Downing on November 28.


The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will have Martin Sexton (Nov 27), Almost Queen (Nov 28), A Rat Pack Christmas (Nov 29), Iron Butterfly (Nov 29), and Nik Turner’s Hawkwind with Hederslebend (Nov 30), Forlorn Strangers (Dec 2) and Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. (Dec 3).


The World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, philly.worldcafelive.com) presents Breakwater (Nov 27), Deb Callahan (Nov 28), Beru Revue (Nov 28), Arturo Stable (Nov 29), Z Big Band (Nov 30), Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear (Dec 1)


Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150, www.thefillmorephilly.com) will present Robin Schulz (Nov 27), Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, New Politics, The Griswolds and Lolo (Nov 28), Niykee Heaton (Nov 29 and 30 — Foundry) and Panama Wedding (Dec 2).



Tin Angel (20 South Second Street, Philadelphia, 215-928-0770, http://www.tinangel.com) will have a pair of shows by Susan Werner — November  27 and 28.


The Theatre of the Living Arts (334 South Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1011, http://www.lnphilly.com) has a line-up featuring August Burns Red (Nov 27) and Flightschool with The Burgeoning (Nov 28).


Kung Fu Necktie (1250 N Front St, Philadelphia, 215-291-4919, www.kungfunecktie.com) will host Nik Turner’s Hawkwind and Hedersleben (Nov 27); BOOGALOO! with RK$TDY (Nov 27); and GRIP and Caustic Casanova (Nov 30).


Fire (412 West Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, 267-671-9298, thefirephilly.com) presents Flux Capacitor, The Royal Noise, Chronicles of Sound and The Jawn (Nov 28); and Resilient, Alright Junior, Young Fox and The Loud Company (Nov 29).

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