On Stage: Finding Neverland

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By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

Finding Neverland

Casual fans of touring Broadway shows are usually very happy with a season line-up that includes standards and old favorites. Give them a roster of shows such as “Phantom of the Opera,” “Annie,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Cats” and they’re satisfied.

More serious fans look for new shows each season – shows that have never toured and played the area before.

Fortunately, the Kimmel Center’s 2017-2018 season has options to keep both camps happy.

The line-up includes familiar shows such as “Kinky Boots,” “Stomp,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Rain” and “Les Misérables.” It also features for national tours of shows that have never been presented before in Philadelphia.

One of the new shows has arrived this week.

Now through November 26, the Kimmel’s Broadway Series is presenting “Finding Neverland” at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333, www.kimmelcenter.org).

“Finding Neverland” is a Broadway musical that tells the fascinating story of how Peter became Pan. Based on the Academy Award®-winning film of the same name, it has been brought to extraordinary life by the team behind “Shakespeare in Love,” “Chicago” and “Pippin.”

The show follows playwright J.M. Barrie, who needs a big hit to save his floundering career. He finds the inspiration he’s been missing when he meets the beautiful widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four young sons — Jack, George, Michael and Peter.

Delighted by the boys’ hilarious escapades, Barrie conjures the magical world of Neverland and writes a play unlike any the high-society London theatergoers have ever seen. It’s a tremendous risk, but as Barrie himself has discovered—when you believe, you can fly.

With a little bit of pixie dust and a lot of faith, Barrie takes this monumental leap, leaving his old world behind for Neverland, where nothing is impossible, and the wonder of childhood lasts forever.

Tony Award® winner Diane Paulus (“Pippin,” “Hair”) directs this innovative new musical featuring an original score by noted songwriter/composer Gary Barlow and Grammy Award® winner Eliot Kennedy, with a book by celebrated playwright James Graham.

Starring in the show are  Lael Van Keuren as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and Billy Harrigan Tighe as J.M. Barrie.

“I started off in the ensemble for this show,” said Van Keuren, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“I was also the understudy for the role I’m playing now. I did about eight months with the tour and then went back to New York to keep auditioning. “The producers of the tour called me and asked me to audition for the role of Sylvie and now here I am.

“I saw the show once on Broadway and I loved it. It was so beautiful.”

The production went through some changes when it went on the road.

“The tour is different,” said Van Keuren. “They took the first 20 minutes and reworked it – revamped it and added new songs. Still, it’s equally magical to the Broadway production.”

Many fans might already be familiar with “Finding Neverland” from the movie of the same name.

“The musical is similar to the movie,” said Van Keuren. “It tells the same story – how J.M. interacts with the Sylvie and her family.

“It’s very much a show about the power of belief…of imagination…of never growing up….and of flying. It’s childlike in that way. For adults, it takes them back to their childhood – back to more innocent times. It’s also a good ‘date show’ because it’s a love story.”

Van Keuren was born in the far northern part of New Jersey and followed her muse when she was very young.

“My mom and I moved to New York when I was in eighth grade so that I could go to a performing arts middle school,” said Van Keuren. “But, she’s not a stage mom – she’s a real estate broker. I went to school at the Professional performing Arts School in Manhattan.

“When I was young, my mom was a dancer and she sang at church. I was always an animated child so musical theater was a natural fit. I started acting professionally when I was still in high school and got my Equity Card a few days before I graduated.

“I was in the original Broadway cast of ‘Sister Act’ and then went out with it on national tour. We played Philadelphia in 2012 and it’s still one of the top three cities I’ve visited.”

Now, Van Keuren is back in Philly with a major role.

“Playing Sylvie is an emotional role,” said van Keuren. “There are a lot of highs and a lot of lows. I like her character so much. She’s so courageous – raising three children by herself. Her focus in life is making her children happy.”

Van Keuren also is pumped about bringing a new show to cities across America.

“There’s something exciting about seeing something that’s new. This show is set in 1903 but it has a contemporary feel.

“Audiences love it. The story of Peter Pan is so fascinating and so beloved. What child doesn’t dream of flying? And, it’s a really simple tale – simple but beautiful.”

Video link for “Finding Neverland” – https://youtu.be/FEc0ZIkL73E.

The show is running at the Academy of Music now through November 26. Ticket prices range from $25-$139.

Another highly entertaining and whimsical show – and a show in which people fly — has touched down in Philadelphia for a run through the end of the holiday weekend.


Now through November 26, Cirque du Soleil’s “Varekai” will be presented at the Liacouras Center (1776 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, http://www.liacourascenter.com).

In the Romany language, “Vare-” is a prefix that corresponds to the English language suffix “ever”. “Kaj” or “Kai” is the Romany word for “where”. Put them together and you have “Varekai” — which means “wherever”.

In the fantasy world of Cirque du Soleil, a land called Varekai exists at the summit of a volcano deep within a forest. From the sky, a solitary young man (Icarus) falls into the shadows of a magical forest and sets off on an adventure. In keeping with its name, this production pays tribute to the nomadic soul of the Romany gypsies and to the art of the circus tradition.

In “Vareki,” a young man falls from the sky and the story begins. Parachuted into the shadows of a magical forest, a kaleidoscopic world imbued with fantastical creatures, a young man takes flight in an adventure both absurd and extraordinary.

On this day at the edge of time, in this place of pure and undiluted possibility, begins an inspired incantation to a life rediscovered and to a newly found wonder in the mysteries of the world and the mind.

According to the show’s Director Dominic Champagne, “’Varekai’ is a furious, flamboyant celebration inspired by those artists who, every single day, no matter where the wind carries them, risk their life to challenge the laws of gravity, to jump and dance over the volcano — to tell the old world that something else is possible.”

“Varekai” features an international cast of more than 50 artists representing an array of countries including Brazil, Canada, China, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

One of these artists is Jamison Lindenburg, one of the show’s featured singers.

“I’m the singer and I’m also a character in the show,” said Lindenburg, during a recent trans-Atlantic phone interview from a tour stop in Stockholm, Sweden.

“I play the father – the patriarch of the forest. I sing most of the show. I’m on stage for 80 per cent of the two hours.

“My singing partner is Isabelle Corradi. Her sister Violaine Corradi wrote the music for the show. So, if I have a question about show, I just call her sister.”

Lindenburg got into music as a young boy. He used to mimic American Soul singers of the 60’s and 70’s. His mom heard him sing in the shower and decided to put him in theater classes.

“I grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida and went to Pinellas County Center for the Arts,” said Lindenburg. “Then. I went to New York to study voice and acting at Marymount Manhattan University. I had done Broadway and national tour. In 2008, I went to an open call for Cirque du Soleil in New York City.”

Lindenburg first got in contact with Cirque du Soleil when he was a teenager in Florida.

“When I was 16, Cirque du Soloeil came to Tropicana Field in St. Pete,” said Lindenburg. “I got a job as an usher for ‘Quidam’ while it was touring in the U.S. It was my first real job.”

Then, years later, Cirque du Soleil offered Lindenburg the leading singing position on “Quidam.”

“I spent eight years with ‘Quidam,’” said Lindenburg. “It was a full circle. Then, I jumped to ‘Varekai’ two years ago,” said Lindenburg.

“I had seen ‘Varekai’ a few times before I joined. I saw the show a few times when it was being performed in a tent. But, I had never seen it in a theater – just a tent.

“It’s nice to do the show in a theater but I miss the intimacy of the tent. ‘Varekai’ retired from the tent in 2013. Since then, it’s been all in arenas. The arena shows are more like rock concerts – especially for the singers. It’s a huge P.A. system.”

In “Varekai,” Icarus descends into a populated forest full of curious creatures and is ensnared by a net, stripped of the wings that gave him flight, and hoisted high above the forest floor. In escaping his harsh enrapturement, Icarus flies once again across the heavens in celebration.

But, as he touches the ground he finds himself face to face with a beautiful young creature. Unable to communicate, they begin to mime each other and then fall in love.

Video link for Cirque du Soleil’s “Varekai” – https://youtu.be/YKxyhNQkarc.

The production will be staged at the Liacouras Center now through November 26. Ticket prices start at $46.

On November 22, the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com) will host an interesting triple-bill featuring the Chris Paterno Band, Gooch and the Motion, and Nalani & Sarina.

The Chris Paterno Band

The Chris Paterno Band is a rollicking Philadelphia-based eight-piece that was formed in 2015 by Chris Paterno. Gooch is Ryan “Gooch” Nelson, a guitarist who fronts a kick-ass blues band. Nalani & Sarina are dynamic twin singer-songwriter-rockers from New Jersey.

The Chris Paterno Band was formed in May 2015 by Chris Paterno (lead vocals, acoustic guitar). Two months later, nine-time Grammy-winning producer Joe Nicolo saw them play at Chaplin’s in Spring City. He quickly signed them to his label, BlacBird Productions, where the band began recording its debut EP.

“It all started when I was asked to play a big show at the Pavilion (Villanova University) back in 2015,” said Paterno, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from his home in Philadelphia.

“The first person I contacted was Doug Parsons, my high school English teacher who also played and taught drums. He was all in. So, we gathered some other people and did the show.

“It worked well. The next show we did was at Chaplin’s. Joe Nicolo was there to hear us play. Right after the show, he invited us to come see his place.”

According to Nicolo, “I love the way Chris mixes the 70’s horn sound with rootsy folk. People will have a love/hate relationship with his voice, and I mean that as a true compliment. You want to sound unique. Saying that you don’t sound like anyone else is probably the biggest compliment I can give an artist.”

Soon, the Chris Paterno Band and Nicolo were working together.

“Our first recording was our eponymous EP,” said Paterno. “It had five originals and one cover. We recorded it at Studio 4 – Joe’s studio in Conshohocken. We cut it in the fall and winter of 2015/2016. My favorite track is ‘Unfaithful’ and ‘Pressure’ is a close second.

“This year, we cut a new EP at MilkBoy Studio in Philadelphia. We went in the studio with a camera crew and did five tracks live. We tracked each tune and filmed it. We’ve released two singles from that EP. The first was ‘Gorgeous.’ The second was ‘Brighter Days,’ which we just released.”

The Chris Paterno Band has been selling out its Philly-based shows and has been performing up and down the East Coast. Paterno was recognized by both the SongDoor International Songwriting Contest (top 12 portfolio) and the USA Songwriting Competition (1st Runner Up, SXSW Showcase).

“I am the songwriter in the band,” said Paterno, who graduated from Episcopal Academy and Boston College. “I’m also the band’s booking agent. I do all the organizational stuff. I sing and play acoustic and electric guitar, but the songwriting is the most important to me.”

Video link for the Chris Paterno Band – https://youtu.be/XhZva0cpkTs.

Ryan “Gooch” Nelson

Ryan “Gooch” Nelson, is a singer/songwriter from New Jersey – but far from your typical singer/songwriter.

Nelson is also a quadriplegic who has been diagnosed with cancer.

A horrific car accident in 2004 left him paralyzed from the neck down. Things got even worse when he was diagnosed with cancer a few years later.

“Music saved my soul” may be a cliché or a song title but for Nelson, it’s a statement of fact. The versatile guitarist has used music to provide him with inspiration and optimism.

Nelson is now playing shows in support of his debut album “Comin’ Home,” which was produced by Joe Nicolo and released on Nicolo’s BlacBird label.

Video link for Gooch and the Motion — https://youtu.be/lnLtq3tOtm0.

Nalani & Sarina

Nalani & Sarina have been building a huge fan base in the Mid-Atlantic region for the last five years. The duo has performed at a variety of venues around the area — including Kennett Flash, the Eagleview Concert Series in Exton, World Café Live at the Queen, and the Ladybug Festival.

The highly-talented twins, who are in their early 20s, have already established themselves as top-flight vocalists, songwriters, and multi-instrumentalists.

They have self-released several well-crafted albums and singles. Now, they are ready to take it to another level.

“We’ve been in and out of the studio,” said Nalani Bolton, during a phone interview Monday from her home in central New Jersey.

“lately, we’ve been finishing up mixing and mastering – putting the finishing touches on our latest project.

“We record with our engineer Julian Herzfeld and Greg Thomas at Julian’s studio in Wayne and also at Carriage House Studio in Stamford, Connecticut.

“We’re going to have enough material for a full-length. We’ll probably do a couple single releases and that will lead to a full-length. It’s a singles-driven world and we’ll be trying to build momentum through the singles.”

Sarina Bolton said, “We’ve been recording a lot. We’re taking a pretty relaxed approach — doing it piece-by-piece…song-by-song. There are no deadlines and that makes it a lot less stressful.

“With the songwriting, we had a new approach this time. The songs on our last album were based on personal experiences. This time, it’s other people’s stories — more of a world-wide approach. It’s observational writing geared to people our age

“It’s a combination of first person and third person. We’re writing about people our age – observing other people’s stories. It’s like a story about kids’ lives from their early to late 20s – love, first relationships, work.

“The songs are about what life is like for people our age. But, people of all ages can relate to these songs. We’ve had older people tell us that they can identify with these songs.”

Nalani and Sarina’s fans can expect new material soon after the holidays.

“We have everything lined up,” said Nalani. “We do have a timetable for the singles. But, there won’t be any official announcement quite yet.

“We did just sign a distribution deal with AWAL. They’re a good company for independents because you keep your rights and you keep control. AWAL is part of Kobalt, which is a label servicing company that handles publishing, licensing and a ton of services.”

With roots based in rhythm-and-blues, soul, rock and especially funk, the sisters create vocal harmonies that only twins can make.

“We’re identical twins,” said Nalani. “We graduated early from Hunterdon Central High a few years ago and we’ve been doing music ever since. We both started playing classical piano when were six and then studied operatic vocals when we were in sixth grade.

“Classical music and opera provided good basics for us. Our mom was a folkie so we listened to a lot of folk music when we were young — great songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. And, we’ve listened to a lot of classic rock.

“We always have the funk. It’s impossible for us to keep the funk out. We’ve always had funk in our blood. We play shows with just the two of us, it always sounds more singer-songwriter. When we do shows with our band, it gets more funky.”

Video link for Nalani & Sarina – https://youtu.be/OMe0lVy6eMM.

The show at the World Café Live on November 22 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.

Other upcoming shows at the World Café Live are Moonchild and Taylor Kelly on November 22; Flightschool, Denizen and mMatt Kelly on November 24; Beru Revue on November 25; Mardi Hub & The Sprockets on November 25; CupcakKe, Raw Elementz, and Tron Sagas on November 28; Loudon Wainwright III and Lucy Wainwright Roche on November 29; and Intersect: The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia with Andrew Lipke on November 29.

The UniverSoul Circus (52nd Street and Parkside Avenue, Philadelphia, 800-345-7000, www.universoulcircus.com), will run through November 26, is offering something different for circus fans. The performances, which will be held in the UniverSoul Big Top next to the Mann Music Center, blend traditional circus attractions with urban culture, hip hop tunes and world beat music.

Celebrating its 24th anniversary in Philadelphia, UniverSoul Circus has come full circle in its influence in the international entertainment marketplace — garnering the distinction of being known as a one-of-a-kind, must see attraction. Since its first performance in 1994, UniverSoul Circus has presented more than 10,000 performances to live audiences and has been seen in more than 60 million households on both local and national television networks.

UniverSoul Circus connects with progressive, upwardly mobile, urban pop cultures from around the world. Celebrating more than two decades under the big top, UniverSoul Circus features music, theatrical performances and incredible circus acts.

Returning by popular demand are the viral internet sensations The Fresh Clownsss. Hailing from Detroit, The Fresh Clownsss and their energetic and infectious dance moves have won over audiences and become a YouTube sensation with their popular dance, “JuJu On That Beat,” garnering millions of views.

Also appearing at UniverSoul are the Xtreme Bikes fromChicago and the Bone Breaking Contortionists from Guinea.

Families will witness an amazing array of international human and animal talent including Elephants (USA), Teeter Board & Hand Vaulting (Gabon, Guinea, Ethiopia), Mixed Animal Act (Mexico) featuring Zebras and Camels, Horses (Gabon, Guinea, Russia), and perennial favorites Caribbean Dancers (Trinidad and Tobago).

Leading the charge this year is Ringmaster Lucky Malatsi of South Africa, a multitalented entertainer who brings his unbridled energy to center ring. Malatsi has been with UniverSoul Circus in a wide range of capacities during his 15 years with the company – from contortionist and hip-hop dancer to trapeze artist. Joining him will be the pint-sized Ringmaster’s Sidekick extraordinaire, Zeke.

UniverSoul Circus is rated as one of the top two circuses along with Cirque du Soleil. UniverSoul’s fresh approach to family-friendly live entertainment has garnered it a coveted spot as one of Ticketmaster’s top ten most requested family events, along with other shows including Sesame Street Live, Disney on Ice, and Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

Video link for UniverSoul Circus — https://youtu.be/ht5EsnrW9uQ.

The circus will be in town now through November 26 at its site in Fairmount Park. Ticket prices range from $11-$35.

November 23 is Thanksgiving – a day known for lavish dining feasts and non-stop football games on television. It is also a holiday known for its parades and one of the best parades in the country is Philadelphia’s annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is celebrating its 98th anniversary this year.

The parade, which traverses a 1.4-mile route along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is the oldest Thanksgiving Day Parade in the country. As always,

Guests making special appearances this year will Mickey and Minnie, Tweety Bird, Cat in the Hat, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Curious George, The Grinch, Mr. Potato Head and more.

This is an event that should definitely be experienced live – at least once.

Spectators can head down to the Center City Philadelphia on Thanksgiving and watch the parade from any number of good vantage points. The parade starts at 20th and Market streets at 8:30 a.m. It then moves toward 16th Street, where it turns left before turning left again onto Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It then follows the Parkway all the way to its conclusion at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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