Sharing thoughts about Taylor Hicks and concert travels and other musical musings!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Those Summer Nights - A "Grease" Review



After returning from a fast trip to the Big Apple, the words kept going through my brain, “Those Summer Nights” (all 3 syllables of summer) followed by the quick beat of “You’re the One That I Want”! The more it played, the more I began to see a pattern – a blog title! So how I would I write such a recap of the week-end, seeing the musical twice in a span of eight hours?

Just like the words imply, the one I wanted to see was Taylor Hicks, of course, giving me one last week-end of bliss watching him sing “Beauty School Drop-Out” and doing the hand jive in the finale. And to catch up with friends who would be in the city for the same reason!

Our flight was on time, our hotel shuttle was prompt, and with a quick freshen up and clothes change, the bellman flagged a black town car to take into Manhattan, arriving just in time to hear the 5-minute to curtain call chimes. We had no matinee tickets purchased so we quickly finagled two seats in Box A for the price of two back row Mezzanine seats and hurried inside the Brooks Atkinson Theatre to take our places. Box seats, hovering just a few feet above the left side of the stage! Box seats! What a perspective that would give, and quite a contrast from our floor seats for the evening performance!

The steps and entrance to Rydell High on the screen touching the stage floor soon lifted and the stacks of lockers representing the inside of the high school opened up to produce the guys and gals of Class of 1959 singing the opening number and title song, “Grease”. As I watched Kenickie (Matthew Hydzik), I felt I was watching James Dean from the same period. Same suave moves, long thin legs, and sandy hair in a pompadour style. Yes, if Taylor Hicks could channel Elvis and Ray Charles, Kenickie was certainly channeling James Dean!

The rest of the guys, Doody (Ryan Patrick Binder), Roger (Will Blum), and Sonny (Jose Restrepo) finished out the opening set as the gals, Rizzo (Janine DiVita), Marty (Robyn Hurder), Frenchy (Kirsten Wyatt) and Jan (Christina Sivrich for the matinee and Lindsay Mendez for the evening performance that day) took their places inside the open lockers. Each time I’ve seen the musical I’m drawn to Rizzo and Frenchy as they shimmy inside the doors – it’s something you have to see live to understand – with their energy and glow that quickly lets you know they enjoy their parts. As they finish the scene, cafeteria and front door steps are moved into place

The gals of the Pink Ladies meet Sandy (Ashley Spencer) for the first time. She joins them for lunch as blonde Pink Lady wanna-be Patty Simcox (Allison Fischer) makes her entrance. She’s quick to pretend to be flattered to be nominated as Vice-President of the student council and then eyes Sandy as a contender for the cheerleading squad. While the gals continue lunch, the guys, Roger and Doody, are on the front steps eating their brown bag lunches.

Kenickie soon joins them with his lunch of what appears to be a pink snowball (a pink sugar-coated marshmallow treat). Sonny soon join them, and declares he’s not going to take any crap from anyone, particularly the English teacher he’s had for more years than he’d like. As he finished, Miss Lynch (Susan Blommaert) opens the doors and wants to know why Sonny isn’t in class. With a trembling body, he heads inside the doors and then comes back out to tell the gang to ‘shut up’ as they raze him about ‘taking no crap’! Danny comes up and they start digging into his summer love life!

“Those Summer Nights” begins the story of their summer romance, down by the beach, where both Danny and Sandy found young love. Sandy sings of their innocence while Danny suggests maybe something more. As the song ends, the girls can’t believe Danny Zuko was such a gentlemen and takes Sandy off to find the guys. When they do, Sandy is thrust out the main entrance into Danny’s waiting arms where they hug. That is until Danny sees his friends watching him and drops the embrace to act all ‘big man’! Sandy is mystified as the reception in the end.

The guys head off to the locker room when Doody comes in swinging his guitar. He’s been taking lessons, and when they ask him to sing, he starts a little number where he’s calling out the chord names before taking the spotlight to sing “Those Magic Changes”. We watch as he becomes a seasoned musician, playing the crowds, looking more like Elvis than Elvis, right on down to the gold lame jacket. As they finish the song, Miss Lynch grabs Doody by the collar and he’s quickly returned to reality.

The gals have gathered at Marty’s house for a sleep-over. They quickly realize that Sandy lacks any sort of experience and decide to see what she capable of doing, from choking on a cigarette, drinking a bit of wine and maybe having her ears pierced with Marty’s ‘virginity pin’! Now Marty is a Marilyn Monroe look-alike from the blonde hair right on down to the fur-trimmed high-heeled glass bedroom slippers. She announces she has a boyfriend, a Marine, who sent her not only a beautiful silk robe, but a diamond ring as well. Marty tells in song, “Freddy, My Love” what she writes in her letters to him. After the song, the girls fall asleep, and as Sandy comes out of the bathroom, Rizzo is leaving to catch up with Kenickie.

The guys take the stage with some nice shiny hubcaps freshly stolen off a beat up convertible. As they try to figure out how to fence the goods, the car comes up with Kenickie behind the wheel, driving his soon-to-be jazzed up “Greased Lightning”! As the guys are razing Kenickie, Rizzo finds the guys on the street corner. Rizzo makes plans to meet Kenickie and takes her leave. Kenickie tells of his plans for the car as the mechanics appear and with the help of the guys, the car is transformed into a sleek driving machine! With all the guys, and Kenickie in the lead, “Greased Lightnin’” is the song of the scene, and a real show-stealer.

It’s the next day, and Sandy is doing her cheer practice when Danny walks by. Their private time is quickly interrupted by Patty Simcox who tries to hide her own infatuation with Danny. Danny, in a macho moment, declares that he can do anything the jocks can do, and says that he will go to the next try-outs to prove he can! That just gives Patty her in to getting Danny to the track team try-outs the next day, much to Sandy’s dismay. As Danny leaves the stage, Sandy and Patty have a duet with the “Rydell Fight Song” and it’s obvious that Sandy is much ticked at Patty, and maybe even Danny!

The gang heads to the ballpark for a late night rendezvous. Roger and Jan get into a discussion of their not-so-flattering nicknames and Roger defends his reputation as being the mooning champ of the school! At first Jan is disgusted until she lets it slip that she wished she had been there to see him moon a little old lady or teacher. With that, Roger and Jan sing “Mooning” which more like mooning over the love of the other person. Sandy comes along on a leaf hunt with the school nerd, and quickly leaves to go find more leaves with Sonny! Sonny thinks Sandy may have the ‘hots’ for him!

As they leave, Rizzo begins to chide Danny about his little ‘Sandra Dee’, pure as snow, and just as annoying to her. Rizzo immortalizes Sandy in her rendition of “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”. The gangs is enjoying her play with the song until Sandy returns and blasts them for making fun of her, and Danny not standing up for her. Rizzo and Kenickie have a fight, and Rizzo asks Danny to be her date for the dance on Saturday night. Kenickie, her regular steady, has a date from across town. Before the scene ends and the curtain falls for the intermission, the guys and gals sing “We Go Together”, the rama-lama-dinga-shoobop sha wadda-shebop song that leaves you wondering how they string all those words together in the right order and still keep time to the music!

Once intermission is over, there is an intensity in the air, anticipation of waiting for an ice cream cone that holds the Teen Angel, or a gray pompadour haired Taylor Hicks! Sitting in the box seats have given me a whole new look at the musical, just like sitting in the mezzanine a few weeks ago did. While I like the orchestra section, the opportunities to sit in other places has afforded me with views that I might not have otherwise had. Close proximity to the stage and facial expressions of the actors being the main one for the box seats, and the ability to take in the entire stage including the orchestra pit from the mezzanine. You have to try it to understand!

Act II begins in the school gym for the dance and Sandy’s bedroom as she listens to the radio broadcast from the school gym. Vince Fontaine (Josh Rouah for today, Jeb Brown usually) is the DJ of the evening. Along with Miss Finch, he will judge the dance contest later, but starts things rolling with “Shakin’ at the High School Hop”. He flatters Marty by asking if “her parents knew he came into her bedroom at night” and she flirts right back with him! Later he introduces the talent winner, and as Patty heads towards the steps, Jan is announced the winner. While Sandy in her bedroom at home, she and Jan perform “It’s Raining on Prom Night”, a song of teen frustration at missing the big dance due to the flu and a drenched dress.

Kenickie soon makes his entrance with Cha-Cha DiGregorio, a snobbish student from a private school where she is the queen of the Cha-Cha! Her complaints about the decorations drive Kenickie away and back to Rizzo where they kiss and make up. As it’s time for the dance competition, Danny is left to partner with Cha-Cha. Everyone participates, including Miss Lynch. The hand jive and “Born to Hand Jive” is a real audience pleaser, and even gets a few laughs as Miss Lynch tries to figure out the hand moves. When the dance is over, Danny and Cha-Cha are announced as the winners. Everyone except Patty is pleased. Danny and Cha-Cha leave just Sandy arrives at the school’s steps. She watches them walk away and sings “Hopelessly Devoted to You”, a song of love’s hurt and hopelessness when the love seems to be one-sided.

As the Burger Palace is moved into place and the ice cream cone makes it debut, Frenchy is outside lamenting her situation as the guys arrive and tell her to go inside because a rumble is about to take place. Seems Danny was with the steady girlfriend of a rival school’s gang leader, and he was out for blood. Danny jogs by as the guys tell him they need his help to defend their honor. He’ll be back later after the race is over. The guys take attempt to hide their fear – Kenickie with a stick, Doody with a chain, and Sonny with a gun. Now Sonny is so scared that the gun actually rattles, and the audience gets a chance to enjoy a good laugh. Roger arrives with a broken antenna but the guys decide that perhaps a good mooning would be better to end the battle.

Frenchy comes outside just as they drop Roger’s pants and the guys run away. Frenchy laments about how to tell her friends she’s dropped out of beauty school and wishes she had a ‘guardian angel thingy’ to tell her what to do. As she finishes, the ice cream cones lights up and it’s doors open to reveal Taylor Hicks as her Teen Angel. Dressed in a royal blue ‘silk’ suit with lots of sequins, Taylor sings “Beauty School Dropout”, telling Frenchy to go back to high school. Riding down the elevator to the floor, Taylor makes facial expressions designed to get laughs, cheers, woos, and applause! Dancing around the stage and singing to Frenchy, and then strutting back to the cone to leave, reprising the song as the elevator returns him to his position high above the stage, Taylor pulls out his harmonica and does a bit before finishing the song and leaving the stage.

At the Drive-In Movie, Danny is trying to make up to Sandy but she’s not so forgiving. Finally Danny takes off his ring and gives it to her and all is forgiven. At least until Danny starts to kiss her and take a few liberties that Sandy is ready to give. It’s another scene stealer with Danny wanting to place his hands you-know-where but won’t until he finally gives in and clutches his own chest. Sandy is repulsed and jumps out of the car, dropping his ring on the car seat as she goes. Danny realizes that he has deep feelings for Sandy as he sings “Sandy”.

The show is winding down as we see the gang minus Danny in Jan’s basement recreation room. Doody and Roger are singing “Rock ‘n’ Roll Party Doll”. Rizzo is not at all happy and when Marty asks if she’s having her ‘visitor’, Rizzo says she ‘late’ but asks Marty to keep it a secret. Concerned that Kenickie is the father, she tells him, and then Kenickie blurts out the news. Rizzo stuns him with he doesn’t know the ‘father’ and Kenickie leaves. Soon the others do as well. Sandy is left to gather up her records and tells Rizzo she’s sorry. Rizzo jumps Sandy as if a lecture is coming, but when that doesn’t happen, Rizzo sings a griping song of “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”. As Rizzo leaves, Sandy reprises “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” before making her decision and calling Frenchy for help.

The guys are gathering at the Burger Palace and just settling in as the gals arrive and make the announcement for Danny to look at the new Sandy. Danny gets all excited and with Sandy and cast, sing “You’re the One That I Want”. Sandy has been transformed from a pony-tailed innocent into a curly-haired leather sporting babe! When the number is over they leave the Burger Palace and head for the bleachers where the final song “We Go Together” is reprised. As they finish, the curtain falls for only a moment.

The entire cast comes out one and two at a time to take their bows. The audience applause raises a few decibels when Taylor Hicks makes his quick run and bow, generally with a wave and sometimes a Ray Charles sway. After Danny and Sandy take their much earned bows, the entire cast returns to reprise several of the songs, “Grease”, “Born to Hand Jive” and “You’re the One That I Want”. Taylor Hicks gets to do a solo in the beginning and after some hand jive, helps to close the show with more harmonica. As he sucks and blows, the cast is glowing as they watch him, and the audience enjoys wild applause. The orchestra is saluted and the cast takes a final bow while the orchestra finishes up. Soon the house lights are up and the audience is ushered outside the theatre.

After the show many fans of the cast, including Taylor Hicks, quickly head for the stage door to find a place near the barriers already set up. As the cast leaves the theatre, many stop to chat and sign Playbills. Everyone is patient until their favorite comes out and the squeals signal someone important has exited the theatre. This continues until people get what they want and leave or until Taylor Hicks makes his appearance. The squeals then can be deafening! As I watched, I chatted with the husband of a woman standing near the front. He was amazed at how she reacted and when he found out I too was a Taylor fan and had flown up for the day to catch two performances, I think he decided maybe his wife was saner than he thought! I moved into the crowd to try to capture a quick shot, but being short, heads kept getting in my way. A few people moved so I could get closer, but that didn’t help much.

Anyway, I got what I came for in the first place: two chances to catch the musical and watch Taylor Hicks perform on the Broadway stage. I left satisfied and must tell you that the entire cast is very good. All are very talented singers and dancers in their own right, and have much to be proud of in their roles! Contrary to what might be thought to be a cheesy musical, “Grease” is very entertaining! Each time I’ve seen it there have been additional nuances in each show. This week-end Taylor Hicks was cupping his hand at his ear as he ascends back into the ice cream cone so that the audience appreciation goes up several notches. I noticed several times in the earlier scenes that a couple of guys pulled up the skirts of the girls as they were singing and dancing to harass them. It all made for a fun and wonderful theatre experience!

As I was studying Taylor Hicks from the box seats, though, I couldn’t help but wonder if that pompadour was all his hair or if some hair had been added to give it body! Maybe sometime I’ll get the right answer! Ah, those summer nights in New York City, walking along Broadway, seeing Taylor Hicks' name up in lights! The Soul Patrol has had a great summer, and Taylor has had a great Broadway debut! Whatever the next adventure is, you can bet the Soul Patrol is ready!

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Taylor Hicks and "Early Works"

On August 12, 2008, Taylor Hicks fans were able to purchase “Early Works”, a compilation of pre-America Idol recordings previously only available from limited sources. If you weren’t lucky enough to know about Taylor Hicks before he claimed the Season 5 American Idol crown in 2006, weren’t a bidder on eBay or didn’t attend any concerts during Taylor’s first solo national tour, where these early recordings were often available, now is the chance to own a piece of musical history.

“Early Works” has been released as a Target Stores exclusive with some distribution available from Best Buy and Amazon (at least from Amazon International). After the initial pre-sale on Amazon and later its removal, fans clamoring for the CD were aghast at what had happened. With the announcement that Target would have the exclusive sale of “Early Works”, fans settled down to wait for the Taylor Tuesday drop this past week. Yes, I was in the rush myself to get my copy before there was any chance of a sell-out at my local Target.

Once home with my treasure, forget that I already had copies of these early CDs, I proceeded to open the package and carefully place the disc in my CD player. I was primed to hear what had been promised as remastered tracks of the original songs. For those unfamiliar with the term, remaster, it means that the original recording is enhanced using current technology to improve the sound.

According to the history of these recording, the original “In Your Time” CD, recorded in 1997, was actually recorded during a live performance. When listening closely to several of the tracks, you can actually hear the audience applause and chatter. At the time of making this CD, having written four original songs for the CD, Taylor Hicks was nineteen years old. “On Broadway”, a rather prophetic song for its time, didn’t make it to “Early Works”.

Eight years later, in 2005, “Under the Radar” was recorded in a studio setting with Taylor Hicks and his musically talented buddies, with all seven of the songs written by Taylor Hicks himself. The only song from that CD to not make it to “Early Works”, “”Hell of a Day”, was released as a bonus track for Taylor’s first major CD, “Taylor Hicks” which was sold exclusively at Wal-Mart with the bonus track.

With that said, as I listened to the latest version of the songs, I closed my eyes to enjoy the rich warmth of Taylor’s voice. The remastering of the early recordings seemed to have lifted his voice up and make it front and center for “Early Works”. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, nor do I really care, I just liked the clarity of the music and Taylor’s voice.

I tried to picture what must have been going on in Taylor’s life that led to the lyrics of many of his songs. What must he have been feeling as he wrote the words, where he saw his career heading, and what he expected musically for himself? I tried to imagine what it was like in the early days when the bar crowds might be small or almost non-existent. Did he feel like giving up? Would he be able to hang in there until success would someday be his?

So much has happened since those early days, those early works. We now know what Taylor Hicks has experienced as success, and now we get to watch how this new national release of his “Early Works” will pan out.

In looking at the songs on the CD, the way they are arranged, mixing them up between the original recordings, it reminds me of perhaps sitting in a bar, watching Taylor Hicks perform with some friends, singing his original music with a couple of covers thrown in for good measure.

“Soul Thing” starts the CD set, setting the stage for what’s to come. It has sufficient beat with its jazzy sax and guitar twang to make you want to dance as well as just sit back, sip your drink slowly, and just listen. “Soul Thing” would later be re-recorded for “Taylor Hicks”, Taylor’s first major release. “The Fall” follows with a slowed down tempo and string fret, that when you realize Taylor Hicks wrote this song before he was twenty, you can’t help but wonder about the heartbreak he must have felt as he ‘climbed the ladder’ while his lady love ‘took the fall’ as he sings this song almost apologetically to her.

The tracks come back to a later time with “Hold on to Your Love”, “The Deal” and “Heart and Soul”. All three songs make you feel good, wanting to sit back, and reflect on those around you, such as that special man or woman in your life. The clarity of the recordings is there, and the instruments are in fine tune with Taylor’s voice. “The Deal” was also re-recorded and made part of “Taylor Hicks”, Taylor’s 2007 major release.

The tracks take us back in time again to “In Your Time”, a song that winds up with another song embedded within it. If you’ve stopped imagining yourself in a bar, this song brings you back quickly when your realize Taylor is doing his famous tagging. Back to the future, with “West Texas Sky”, my favorite, with its Spanish feel and finger cymbals or castanets.

It’s the next track, “Somehow”, that truly shows Taylor’s talent as a songwriter. A truly perceptive 19-year old writer, looking to figure out how to get by and knowing he will do so ‘somehow’. If a single is to be released from this compilation, this song is definitely the one to be that single. With its country flair, it would make a great cross-over song between easy listening and country.

Sometimes in live performances Taylor has gone off in different directions with his music and “Tighten Up” is just another example of that happening. He introduces the song, not verbally spoken, but a sing-song way. Here he lets you know who the musicians are as he gives each a solo spot to show their talent. Not one of my favorites, but with the remastering of the track, it’s growing on me.

“Son of a Carpenter” brings us near the end of the set. As a song that appears to have a message but not one that can be clearly defined, some think it has a religious meaning while others proclaim it’s about his father (who is really a dentist). And then the set end with “My Friend”, a jazzy, New Orleans, blues sound. By the time it’s over, we too are ‘sharing that smile’!

But it doesn’t end there, because like a live performance, there is often an encore, and this particular track has been performed by Taylor in just that way. I imagine this song, much like the familiar scene at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta, Taylor Hicks is sitting a chair, Billy Earl McClelland with his guitar is sitting beside Taylor, as Taylor closes his eyes, channels Ray Charles and sings “Georgia”. It’s a beautiful way to end a beautiful night of music.

When it’s over and I come back to reality, I’m ready to restart the CD, relive my dream and listen again to the crisp voice, to enjoy it all over again. And with some of these songs, I have the opportunity to remember concerts where Taylor Hicks has performed these songs, such as “The Deal”, “Soul Thing” and “My Friend”. Other songs, such as “The Fall” and “Somehow”, were reserved for encores where Taylor would accompany himself with a guitar and sometimes still on a stool.

Perhaps the release of the CD is to whet our appetites for the next major CD to be released later in the fall. Maybe it’s to help bring in new fans that have the privilege of seeing Taylor perform the role of Teen Angel in the Broadway musical “Grease”. Whatever the reason, I’m glad it’s out there. It’s a great way to combine two early CDs into a single compilation that gives a flavor to what Taylor Hicks is all about.

If you haven’t already gotten your copy of “Early Works” by Taylor Hicks, head on over to your local Target to pick one up. In the mean time, if you’d like to hear samples of the songs, stop by The Taylor Hicks Community’s Discography (http://www.thetaylorhickscommunity.com/discography) and select your CD to hear!

ETA: string fret - that scraping metalic sound you hear when the guitar strings are rubbed harder than plucked or strummed.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

It's Show Time! "Early Works" Now at Target!

By the time you read this, "Early Works" will be sitting on the displays at your local Target!

Hear Taylor Hicks sing his own original music as well as a few covers. Notice the gravelly voice of a young Taylor and the bluesy soulful voice of Taylor just before his American Idol audition. As you listen, close your eyes and envision yourself sitting in a small, smoke-filled bar as Taylor Hicks performs these songs. Some of the tracks were actually recorded live.

Celebrate with Taylor Hicks the national release of his "Early Works"! Let's make this CD is a big seller for Taylor Hicks and Target! Be sure to get your copy today!

video

Buy an extra copy and send it to:

Taylor Hicks Proud of Our Troops Drive
http://www.jewelrysprout.com/taylor-hicks-cd-drive.html

Taylor's Angels, in partnership with Taylor Hicks Community, for international fans who have no access to purchase the CD
http://taylorconnections.com/forum/359053/

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Some of My Favorite Pictures