Although summer officially begins this week, June has been bustin’ out all over the Upper Delaware Valley, and I have hit the ground running, with the wonder dog in tow. For me, summertime means many things—among them is the curtain going up at the Forestburgh Playhouse (FBP), which happened last Tuesday with the debut of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple.” It’s difficult to not conjure up images of the classic 1968 film, starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, or the equally memorable television show with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall in the starring roles, and the stage play is still funny. In this incarnation, veteran actor Kevin Confoy literally stole the show as fussy neurotic Felix Ungar, while the rest of the cast did their darndest to keep up. The audience cheered enthusiastically and I had a good time, but it’s the musicals that the FBP produces each season that excite me most, so I’m really looking forward to what’s yet to be. For a complete listing, visit the website (www.fbplayhouse.org ) and make reservations, since the playhouse packs ‘em in.
For the second year in a row, I was tickled to be asked to be a judge in the local leg of the 32nd Annual Texaco Country Showdown, sponsored by Thunder 102 radio and held on the grounds of the beautiful Lazy Pond Bed and Breakfast in Liberty, NY. Billed as “America’s largest country music talent show,” it’s “designed to find the most promising country music talent in the nation and to give these performers a chance to launch their professional music careers” (www.texacoshowdown.com .) Comprised of all-female semifinalists this year, the talent impressed and the setting (www.lazypond.com ) was idyllic. Thirteen year-old Mikki Zip took home the crown and will move forward in the competition, but I suspect we’ll hear more from the other finalists, Stephanie Hendricks, A.J. Jansen, Dani-Elle and country duo Pearls and Poison, all of whom displayed style and flair against the backdrop of torrential rain, which abated in time for a barbeque and bonfire that everyone thoroughly enjoyed.
One of the judges, country crooner Ryan Broshear, entertained after the competition and boy howdy, this guy blew the roof off the place with (IMHO) amazing vocal prowess and an incredible stage presence more electrifying than the weather. Although I was previously unaware of Broshear, I will be following his career now (www.ryanbroshear.com ) and I suspect that it’s only a matter of time before he hits the main stage at Bethel Woods, making the ladies swoon and grown men cry. I’ve been wrong before (on occasion), but mark my words—this guy is gonna be huge.
Another sure sign that summer is here is opening night at Bethel Woods (www.bethelwoodscenter.org ), which occurred last Saturday with another attraction that has escaped my attention up to this point—“Celtic Woman.” More than a musical act, this show is a production of epic proportions. Conceived and assembled by Sharon Browne and David Downes (a former musical director of the Irish stage show “Riverdance”), the extravaganza has embarked on their 2013 tour and has sold millions of albums worldwide. While I enjoyed the spectacle, I was surprisingly unmoved.
The women are gorgeous, and the lighting and staging absolutely sumptuous. Pitch-perfect harmonies, combined with flawless choreography and a talented ensemble filling the stage should have been enough to make anyone happy to experience the show, but for some reason, I found the show to be too perfect, too rehearsed and too mechanical for my taste. Over the years, the group’s lineup has changed repeatedly, and the website (www.celticwoman.com ) says that none of the ladies actually knew each other prior to the show being conceived, which could explain the clinical experience that left me cold. One of the great aspects of Bethel Woods is the diverse roster of entertainment offered each season, so while the ladies might not have won me over, there is a wide variety of shows to come.
Back in my neck of the woods, I ambled over to the Old North Branch Inn to check out the Karen Hudson River Band debut its new album “Sonic Bloom.” Hudson (www.karenhudson.com ) entertained a large, enthusiastic crowd and I was delighted to see the place (www.theoldnorthbranchinn.com ) hopping. Proprietor Victoria Lesser has “big plans” for the season (and beyond), and Hudson’s original, autobiographical songs were heartfelt combinations of bluegrass, country and rock. The band (Homeboy Steve, Tom Curiano and Skip Ward) was hot, joined by local hero Darren Wiseman on the harmonica, and I had a blast. I guess it should come as no surprise that I’m more at home in a cowboy hat than clogs and that “Danny Boy” is not on my playlist at home, but “Nine to Five” is... and coming to a playhouse near you. Potato/potahto? Yee-Haw.