On Stage: Tom Rush comes to the Colonial Theater

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Tom Rush

Tom Rush, one of America’s most revered folksingers, is a New Englander through and through. However, in recent years, he has built a connection with Chester County.

One of his last live shows prior to the COVID pandemic was a concert at the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center. Tonight, Ruch is returning to the area for a show at the Colonial Theatre(227 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, thecolonialtheatre.com).

His last three albums – “What I Know” in 2009, “Celebrates 50 Years of Music” in 2013 and “Voices” in 2018 were all released via West Chester-based Appleseed Records.

“‘Voices’ is my last record – not my last but my most recent album,” said Rush, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from a tour stop in State College.

“I’m actually going back in the studio next month. Matt Nakoa found a studio in Connecticut, and I trust his taste.”

Rush has worked with Nakoa in the past and is using him as his sideman for the current shows.

“I’ve been working for eight years with Matt,” said Rush, who now lives in Southern Maine on the New Hampshire border.

“He steals the show. He plays piano and sings like an angel. He’s also a monster guitar player.

“Somehow, he’s turned into a record producer. Now, he booked us a studio and lined up some dates to work on a new album.

“I have a bunch of new songs – many which were written during the pandemic. I also have a lot of older songs.

“I don’t know where the songs come from. They’re happy and sad – basically emotional whiplash. I have 18 songs ready to record but I’ll probably ditch a few.

“I’m not quite sure why I’m making an album. With Spotify, the royalty I make for 1,000 listens is one cent. The good news for me is that I’ve always made my living on stage.”

Rush released his first album, “Tom Rush at the Unicorn,” in 1962.  “Voices” was released in April 2018. Altogether, Rush has put out 26 albums in 60 years – and just eight since the turn of the century.

Fortunately, he is much more active when it comes to live performances. Rush is a consummate performer who always delivers an entertaining show when he takes the stage to perform his songs and choice songs by other artists.

He will be performing a number of songs from “Voices,” an album that has its own special niche in Rush’s long discography.

Over the course of his 50-year-plus career, one of Rush’s defining gifts has been his ear for the faint voices of significant new songs by little-known writers. The New England-based singer-guitarist was among the very first to record future standards by then-fledgling performers Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Jackson Browne on his 1968 album “The Circle Game.”

Rush brought a later generation of singer-songwriters such as Nanci Griffith and Shawn Colvin to wider audiences as part of his tours. James Taylor and country music superstar Garth Brookshave both named him as a major influence.

Until “Voices,” Rush has been heard only sparingly as a songwriter, with only a few tantalizing handfuls of originals – about 20 – spread out over eleven studio albums.

“Voices” is the first album ever of all-Rush originals – 10 relaxed, warmhearted, amused and sometimes thoughtful songs that perfectly reflect his wry persona.

“A bunch of songs all of a sudden came out,” said Rush.

“Our daughter was going away to college, so we were moving from Vermont but didn’t know where. We moved to southern New Hampshire and rented a farmhouse from our friends Bob and Laura about three years ago.

“It was a peaceful countryside exterior, but it was in some ways boring. That’s where the songwriting started. I kept getting ideas for songs.

“Sometimes, songs take a long time for me to write. These songs came rapidly because I didn’t have anything else to go.”

There might have also been another reason and the veteran singer had a theory.

According to Rush, “It might be some musical equivalent of epicormics branching, where a tree that’s stressed or elderly starts putting out shoots in great profusion.”

Whatever the reasons, the results were enough to bring smiles to fans’ faces everywhere.

“I always wrote on guitar,” said Rush. “Every song came differently. A lot of times, it’s a phrase – just a few words that suggest a melody. Sometimes, it starts with a melody. There is no pattern.

“My pattern is to write too much. Each song tended to end up too long. You find that out when you take them in front of a live audience.”

Rush explained the process for making “Voices.”

“I was taking audio notes on my cell phone,” said Rush. “Once I had enough to go in the studio, I’d set up with a mic going into a computer. Then, I’d send what I had recorded to my producer Jim Rooney.

“I had all the songs written before I went in the studio with Jim — and then I wrote one more in the sessions. We were wrapping up and I only had 11 songs. Jim said we needed a 12th track. He insisted on it.

“So, I had to write another in my hotel room, and I wrote ‘If I Never Get Back to Hackensack.’ We recorded the album in May 2017 at The Butcher Shop – a studio in Nashville.

“Jim brought in some really great studio musicians to play on the album – players who are known as ‘Rooney’s Irregulars’ including Matt Nakoa on piano, Sam Bush on mandolin and fiddle along with Kathy Mattea and Suzi Ragsdale on background vocals.”

It has been more than a half-century since Rush made people take notice with one particular song — “Urge for Going,” which was written by Joni Mitchell and recorded by Rush in 1968. It quickly became one of Rush’s signature songs.

“Urge for Going” is something that seems to happen to Rush when November arrives — especially if the destination is the Delaware Valley.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the veteran singer-songwriter established a tradition of performing a series of shows over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend at the now-defunct Main Point in Bryn Mawr.

“I always played the Main Point at Thanksgiving,” said Rush. “I probably did that at least six years in a row. The first show would be Thursday night and it was always a groggy show. People were showing the effects of eating a big Thanksgiving dinner. I did two shows a night on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“I enjoyed those days of doing multiple nights. And the Main Point was a great place to play. Jeannette (Main Point owner Jeanette Campbell) was the patron saint of the Philadelphia folk scene.”

Video link for Tom Rush — https://youtu.be/AWSWUD5soGM.

The show at the Colonial Theatre on March 16, which also features Loudon Wainwright III, will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $32.50, $42.50 and $49.50.


For area theater fans, this will be the final weekend to catch performances by two impressive stage shows – “Cats” at the Miller Theatre in Philadelphia and “Thurgood” at People’s Light in Malvern.

The cats in the show that the Kimmel Cultural Campus’ Broadway Philadelphia series has brought to Philly for a six-day run from March 14-19 at the Miller Theatre (250 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-893-1999, www.kimmelculturalcampus.org), are a different breed. Not just stray cats, they are Jellicle cats who sing, dance and tell their own stories in the record setting musical.

Numbers associated with “Cats” are also very impressive.

“Cats” is a sung-through musical based on “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by world-famous poet T. S. Eliot. The musical tells the story of a tribe of cats called the Jellicles and the night they make the “Jellicle choice” — deciding which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life.

Directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Gillian Lynne, “Cats” first opened in the West End in 1981 and then with the same creative team on Broadway in 1982. It won numerous awards, including Best Musical at both the Laurence Olivier Awards and the Tony Awards. By 1994, the musical had grossed over $2 billion worldwide. The London production ran for 21 years (1981–2002; 8,949 performances) and the Broadway production ran for 18 years (1982–2000; 7,485 performances), both setting new records. As of 2018, it is the fourth-longest-running Broadway show and the sixth-longest-running West End show.

The national touring production has been revived for a new generation.

In this tour, Tayler Harris plays Grizabella, Hank Santos plays Rum Tum Tugger, Sam Buchanan plays Macavity, Brian Criag Nelson plays Mungojerrie and Erica Lee Cianciulli plays Bombalurina.

“Cats,” which has maintained a high level of popularity, is easy to enjoy but not really that easy to figure out.

It’s an understandable situation because “Cats” doesn’t really have a plot. Audience members can see “Cats” several times and never really know much about the show except for the costumes, the actors’ athleticism, the popular songs – and the elaborate sets.

Audience members who have seen several productions often gain familiarity with the different cats in the show and their diverse personalities – the cocky Rum Tum Tugger, the mischievous Mr. Mistoffelees and the wise Old Deuteronomy.

There are also several lesser-known cats in the show – all with their own distinct personalities. There is Victoria, the little white kitten; Cassandra, the aloof brown-and-cream Abyssinian queen; and Alonzo, the young male who is just beginning to assert himself.

Bombalurina is a flirty and confident red queen. She is best friends with Demeter and the two share an intense hatred for Macavity.

“While there is no plot, there is a story line,” said Cianciulli, who grew up in Montgomery County. “The story line is redemption – redemption for Grizabella.”

Video link for “Cats” — https://youtu.be/DYmryQkHdXM.

“Cats” will run at the Miller Theatre from March 14-19. Ticket prices start at $40.

Now through March 19, People’s Light (39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, www.peopleslight.org) is presenting a riveting play called “Thurgood.”

Thurgood Marshall was an American civil rights lawyer and jurist who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1967-1991. He was the Supreme Court’s first African American justice.

Prior to his judicial service, he was an attorney who fought for civil rights, leading the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Marshall was a prominent figure in the movement to end racial segregation in schools.

Marshall won 29 of the 32 civil rights cases he argued before the Supreme Court, culminating in the Court’s landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which rejected the separate but equal doctrine and held segregation in public education to be unconstitutional.

President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Marshall to the Supreme Court in 1967. A staunch liberal, he frequently dissented as the Court became increasingly conservative.

Marshall has a strong connection to Chester County. He was a graduate of Lincoln University.

Lincoln University is a public state-related historically black university (HBCU) near Oxford. Founded as the Ashmun Institute in 1854, it has been a public institution since 1972 and is the second oldest HBCU in the state after Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Marshall attended Lincoln University and the Howard University School of Law. At Howard, he was mentored by Charles Hamilton Houston, who taught his students to be “social engineers” willing to use the law to fight for civil rights. Marshall opened a law practice in Baltimore but soon joined Houston at the NAACP in New York.

“Thurgood” was written by playwright George Stevens, Jr. The play is directed by People’s Light Associate Artistic Director Steve H. Broadnax III. and the title role is played by Brian Marable. In this one-act play, Marable captures Marshall’s signature poise, wit and storytelling skill.

First appearing on Broadway in 2008, “Thurgood” explores the historic life of Justice Marshall. From watching trials at the Baltimore courthouse with his father as a child, to winning all but three of 32 civil rights cases he argued in the Supreme Court as an NAACP lawyer, Justice Marshall is credited with paving the way for young African American leaders. The play is a testament to the hard work and dedication that earned Marshall his Supreme Court nomination in 1967 and how his legacy still resonates today.

Before the show, attendees can also enjoy scratch cooking and theatrical sensibilities in the laid-back atmosphere of the Theatre’s newly renovated on-site restaurant, The Fern & Fable. Located just steps away from the Leonard C. Haas Stage, the restaurant occupies three rooms of a 1700s farmhouse, complete with two working fireplaces and plenty of historic quirks.

“Thurgood” is running now through March 19. Ticket prices start at $47, including fees.

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