On Stage: ‘SMALL’ opens at People’s Light

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Robert Montano in SMALL

“SMALL,” which opens this week at People’s Light (39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, www.peopleslight.org), is a one-man show that look at this man’s life from playground to paddock, from playhouse to publishing…to People’s Light.

“SMALL” is written and performed by stage, film, and television star Robert Montano (“Cats” on Broadway, “Barcelona” at People’s Light).

Bullied for his size, a boy from Long Island finds purpose and respect atop a racehorse in this wild autobiographical ride,

As the young jockey starts to literally outgrow his childhood dream, he resorts to more and more extreme measures to remain “small” before ultimately finding freedom in a new path. From Belmont Park to Broadway stages, Montano’s vivid and highly entertaining coming-of-age story explores the complex realities of pursuing a dream at all costs.

Montano tells his coming-of-age story about Bobby, a teen from Long Island who enjoys musical theatre but becomes fascinated by the world of horse racing and aspires to be a jockey.

“It’s a one-man play – and a very physical play,” said Montano, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from the theater in Malvern.

“As a jockey, there is movement with me riding — along with an amazing sound design that Brian Ronan and I brought together.

“Ronan, the show’s sound engineer, supplies the nearby racehorse whinnying. I’m portraying 24 different characters – all with different voices.

“We started working here on the 18th (December 18). I went home and came back on the 27th. We were supposed to start again on the 28th but Gloria, my mother, was ill. I didn’t return again until five days ago.

“She passed away two days ago. I perform her character in the show. It’s different. I decided to keep going with the show. I know she wouldn’t want me to postpone it. Gloria would have said – don’t you dare.”

The story starts with a young Montano.

When only entering his teenage years, Montano, known to his family as Bobby, fell in love with “West Side Story” and, in particular, with the character of Bernardo. He was stopped in his youthful ambition by his size. Just over five feet, he had retreated into timidity as a response to being regularly picked on at school.

Behind his father’s back, his mother took him to Belmont Park.

“We went to church together one Sunday and then went over to Belmont Park,” said Montano, who was born in Bayside, Queens, and raised in Hempstead, LI. “I fell in love with the place and the horses.”

Montano started regularly going to Belmont Raceway with his neighbors who work there.

“I had a newspaper delivery route with the L.I. Press,” said Montaro. “At one of the houses, I talked to the people about the mulch they were using. They said it wasn’t mulch – that I was probably smelling the horse manure from the car’s tires.”

His newspaper customers were Bob and Sue Duncan, who were major figures at Belmont Park.

“I begged them to take me with them to the track,” said Montano.

At Belmont Park, Montano was confronted by jockeys, especially by Robert A. Pineda. Impressed at the powerful Pineda presence, Montano switched from wanting to grow to wanting to remain small so he could pursue a career as a jockey.

Montano became determined to become a jockey. Eventually, Pineda became his mentor.

“My mom sold jewelry to Robert Pineda,” said Montano. “He took me under his wing and taught me how to ride.”

Unfortunately, his dreams of remaining a jockey blew up. Montano continued to grow physically – from 5-foot, 4-inches to 5-8 and 110 pounds.

The day before riding Sow & Reap in a major race, Montano weighed in at 116 pounds. He had to shed 12 pounds overnight. What he had to do to accomplish is a main part of the plot.

“I did all kinds of things to keep my weight down – black beauties, coke, flipping food on daily basis,” said Montano.

By the time he was 18, Montano had outgrown his silks.

“When I couldn’t make it as a jockey, it was ‘small’ because I’m not,” said Montano. “When I couldn’t ride anymore, I didn’t have anything to do with my life.

“I had to transfer disciples from jockey to dance. I knew I had to work – and I had to work hard.”

Montano had dancing skills he developed when he was young, so he decided to delve further into dance. He applied to Adelphi University’s dance department at age 20 without any prior training. He was accepted and offered a full scholarship.

“When I applied to Adelphi, I had never taken a dance class in my life,” said Montano. “I had to choreograph a four-minute piece. They liked it and gave me a scholarship.

“One week before graduating, I got a role in ‘Cats.’ On Broadway, had the role of Pouncival and was the understudy for Mr. Mistofelees. I did that for four-and-one-half years.”

His career was successful from the start, and he worked with great directors and choreographers such as Hal Prince, Rob Marshall, and Jerome Robbins. He has also worked with Chita Rivera in “Kiss Of The Spiderwoman, sang and danced with Peter Allen in “Legs Diamond,” and starred as Ozzie in “On The Town” (directed by the legendary George C. Wolfe).

Montano’s creativity now has spanned genres. The multitasker ventured into plays, film, and television.
In television, he guest starred in Showtime’s “City On A Hill,” “Bull,” “Prodigal Son,” “Blue Bloods,” “NCIS: New Orleans,” “Elementary,” “Search Party,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Sex In The City,” “CSI: Miami, Law & Order,” and HBO’s film “Undefeated” (directed by John Leguizamo).

His film credits include “Shame” with Michael Fassbender, playing opposite Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix in “The Yards” and partnering with Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Chicago.” Other notable works include “Hustling,” “The Strike,” “Center Stage,” “It Runs in The Family,” and “Passionada.”

“SMALL,” which is directed by Jessi D. Hill, is celebrating its area debut with the run at People’s Light’s Steinbright Stage – and the first date of its 2024 national tour.

“This will be my third show at People’s Light,” said Montano. “The first was ‘Fallow’ in 2012 followed by ‘Barcelona’ in 2012. I really enjoy working here at People’s Light.”

Video link for “SMALL” – https://youtu.be/DlzN88yAn8o.

“SMALL’ will run now through February 4. Tickets are $47.

Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations

The Kimmel Cultural Campus and The Shubert Organization are hosting the first national tour of “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations” for the first time in Philadelphia. The Broadway smash hit musical will play at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, www.kimmelculturalcampus.org) now through January 21 as part of the 2023-24 Broadway series.

Featuring Grammy®-winning songs and Tony®-winning moves, “Ain’t Too Proud” is the electrifying new musical that follows The Temptations’ extraordinary journey from the streets of Detroit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The musical received 12 Tony nominations and won the Tony Award for Best Choreography at the 73rd Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on June 10, 2019.

With their signature dance moves and unmistakable harmonies, they rose to the top of the charts, creating an amazing 42 Top Ten Hits – with 14 reaching #1 – and being voted the greatest R&B group of all time by Billboard Magazine in 2017.

The rest is history — how they met, the groundbreaking heights they hit, and how personal and political conflicts threatened to tear the group apart as the United States fell into civil unrest. This thrilling story of brotherhood, family, loyalty, and betrayal is set to the beat of the group’s treasured hits, including “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination,” “Get Ready,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” and so many more.

The Temptations released a series of successful singles and albums with Motown Records during the 1960s to early 1970s. The group’s work with producer Norman Whitfield, beginning with the Top 10 hit single “Cloud Nine” in October 1968, pioneered psychedelic soul, and was significant in the evolution of R&B and soul music. The band members are known for their choreography, distinct harmonies, and dress style. Having sold tens of millions of albums, the Temptations are among the most successful groups in popular music.

Featuring five male vocalists and dancers (save for brief periods with fewer or more members), the group formed in 1960 in Detroit under the name the Elgins. The founding members came from two rival Detroit vocal groups: Otis Williams, Elbridge “Al” Bryant, and Melvin Franklin of Otis Williams & the Distants, and Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams of the Primes. In 1964, Bryant was replaced by David Ruffin, who was the lead vocalist on a number of the group’s biggest hits, including “My Girl” (1964), “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” (1966), and “I Wish It Would Rain” (1967).

Ruffin was replaced in 1968 by Dennis Edwards, with whom the group continued to record hit records such as “Cloud Nine” (1968), “I Can’t Get Next to You” (1969), and “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” (1970). The group’s lineup has changed frequently since the departures of Kendricks and Paul Williams from the act in 1971. Later members of the group have included singers such as Richard Street, Damon Harris, Ron Tyson, and Ali-Ollie Woodson, with whom the group scored a late-period hit in 1984 with “Treat Her Like a Lady” and in 1987 with the theme song for the children’s movement program “Kids in Motion.”

The group’s popularity is ever-increasing, and they are one of the most iconic, bestselling brands in the entertainment world today. In 1989, The Temptations were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

While the group has evolved over the years, Dr. Otis Williams has continued to lead the group and carry the torch forward for the next generation of Temptations’ fans. Williams, the sole surviving, original member of The Temptations, turned 80 on October 30, 2021.

Stepping into the role of Otis Williams in the musical will be original first national tour cast member, Michael Andreaus, and joining the tour from the Original Broadway Company is E. Clayton Cornelious as Paul Williams. They join the current Classic Temptations Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks, Harrell Holmes Jr. as Melvin Franklin, and Elijah Ahmad Lewis as David Ruffin.

This was a mic drop moment in Williams’ iconic career. It was The Temptations’ first #1 million copy chart hit. “My Girl” would become the group’s magnum opus, and it was inducted into The Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998, and in 2018 it was entered into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.

Dr. Otis Williams and The Temptations are still lighting up concert stages around the world. The Temptations embarked on a national concert tour in 2022 that crisscrossed the U.S. They also headlined concerts in fall 2022 in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Williams and the current Temptations lineup will perform locally twice in spring 2024 – May 4 at the American Music Theater in Lancaster and May 9 at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington.

Video link for “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations” – https://youtu.be/cdrUhqleHxI.

“Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations” will run now through January 21 at the Academy of Music.

Ticket prices start at $27.

Gabe Stillman

Gabe Stillman is transitioning from 2023 to 2024 in style – with shows at two of his favorite venues.

On December 30, the blues guitar ace from central Pennsylvania played a hometown show in Williamsport — the Annual New Year’s Blues Bash at the Pajama Factory

This weekend, Stillman will be performing at his second-favorite Keystone State venue. On January 12, Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985,www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) will host a headline show by Stillman.

Stillman, an accomplished blues guitarist from Williamsport, seems to have found a home-away-from home in Delaware County. This will be his fifth concert at Jamey’s in the last year-and-a-half.

“I’ve stayed busy all through the last year-and-a-half,” said Stillman, during a phone call from his home in the birthplace of Little League Baseball.

Stillman was busiest during a two-week period in April 2021.

“I went to Austin in April and recorded my first album,” said Stillman. “It was produced by Anton Funderbergh at Wire Recording.”

Funderbergh is top-flight guitarist and the bandleader of Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets since 1978. Their style incorporates both Chicago blues and Texas blues. He is also one of the most respected producers in Texas’ capitol city.

“I met Anton at the International Blues Challenge a couple years ago,” said Stillman. “I’ve been a fan of his since I was a teenager. He’s in my top 10 list of blues players. And I loved his production work with other people.”

Stillman’s album, “Just Say the Word,” was released in August by the Vizztone Label Group.

“It’s a 15-song album – 13 originals and two covers,” said Stillman. “The covers were Bill Withers’ ‘Friend of Mine’ and Bobby Blue Bland’s ‘I’ll Take Care of You.’

“When the album came out in August, it debuted at Number 10 on the Billboard Magazine Blues chart. It was also named one of the top blues albums of 2021 by Roots Music Report.

“I brought my rhythm section Bassist Colin Beatty and drummer Ray Hangen – down to Austin. In the studio, we used Taylor Streiff, a piano player from St. Louis, Austin’s Texas Horns and had Sue Foley and Anton playing guitar on one track.”

It was a big step forward for Stillman, who has been studying guitar for almost a decade-and-a-half.

“I started taking guitar lessons when I was 11,” said Stillman. “I’m 25 now so I’ve been playing for 14 years.

“When I started out, I wanted to play heavy rock and heavy metal. Listening to guitarists in those genres, I realized that their playing was very fast and technically complicated. A teacher told me to learn rock by getting into the blues.

“So, I started listening to a lot of blues guitarists like B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert King, Buddy Guy and Elmore James. I was also listening to guitarists such as Duane Allman and Derek Trucks. I realized – hey, I can do this. I got hooked on blues and R&B – and jazz. When I was 13 or 14, I started to perform live.”

A key stage in Stillman’s development came at the Uptown Music Collective in Williamsport.

For 20 years, the Uptown Music Collective has been providing exceptional modern music education grounded in traditional educational principles. Its programs engage students through an emphasis on modern genres including rock, pop, soul, blues, country, R&B, and funk.

“I studied at the Uptown Music Collective when I was younger,” said Stillman. “I also taught there after I got out of college.”

Stillman spent his college years in Boston where he got a degree in “Professional Music” with an emphasis on guitar performance and songwriting.

“I started my band in 2015 after graduating from Berklee,” said Stillman, whose honors include making it to “Final Eight” of the 35th Annual International Blues Challenge in Memphis Tennessee.

“My band has been primarily a trio but at the Blues Challenge, I made it to the finals with the addition of a harmonica player in the group.

“My bass player Colin Beatty, who is also from Williamsport, has been with me the whole time. We’ve had different drummers come in and out. Right now, our drummer is Ray Hangen from Buffalo, New York.

“With the trio, we play mostly blues and American rock. There also is a little mix of R&B in there.”

Video link for Gabe Stillman — https://youtu.be/QGIJgb51Kw8.

The show on January 12 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door.

On January 13, the stage at Jamey’s will belong to Blues People.

Blues People released two singles in 2022 — “The Skin I’m In” and “Troubled Times.” Now, the band is busy in the studio finishing up its much-anticipated debut album, “The Skin I’m In.”

These seasoned veterans have certainly paid their dues. As individual sidemen, they have supported a who’s-who of touring “A-listers”, including Sue Foley, Josh Smith, Ruf’s Blues Caravan and Michael Hill’s Blues Mob.
Blues People musically explores the effects of the blues on modern American culture on many universal levels… and is a modern chronicle of four “real-life blues brothers” living in this time in America… while surviving the NY/NJ-Metro urban landscape.

The show on January 12 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

Jamey’s features a popular “Jazz at Jamey’s” on Thursday featuring many of the best singers in the region performing a set from 7-8 p.m. with the backing of the Dave Reiter Trio and occasional guest musicians.

Every Sunday, Jamey’s presents “SUNDAY BLUES BRUNCH & JAM” featuring the Philly Blues Kings.
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