On stage (Bonus): Pau Kelly sings about…death

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By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

Paul Kelly and Charlie Owen

Over the years, there have been a variety of songs devoted to death including tunes that were hits for Johnny Cash (“Cowboy’s Lament – Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie”) and Hank Williams (“Six More Miles (To the Graveyard).”

Last year, Australia’s legendary singer/songwriter/rocker Paul Kelly released a whole album of songs focusing on death – “Death’s Dateless Night.”

Now, Kelly is touring North America in support of his new music — a tour that touches down locally with a show on May 15 at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com)

“Death’s Dateless Night,” a collaboration with the highly-regarded Australian multi-instrumentalist Charlie Owen, contains songs that they have played at various funerals.

Featuring a mix of covers, traditional tunes and a few Kelly originals, the album’s vibe is actually far from funereal. The spare, stirring set has been hailed as a “powerful meditation on life, death and the mess we make in-between.”

In 2016, Kelly also released a mini-album titled “Seven Sonnets & A Song.” On this record, Kelly re-worked William Shakespeare’s love sonnets into songs.

Owen, a veteran of several Australian bands including the Divinyls, will be accompanying Kelly on this tour, which started on May 6 in Chicago and will conclude on May 31 in Portland.

“I recorded my last two albums at Charlie’s place,” said Kelly, during a recent phone interview from his home in Melbourne, Australia.

“We pick the songs and then rehearse for a while. We’re well prepared by the time we go into the studio to record them. The last song – ‘Angel of Death’ – was recorded on my phone.

“The recording of ‘Sonnets’ was a bit more piece-meal. I had been reading some of Shakespeare’s work.  It was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death so I started a project of putting music to his sonnets.”

Kelly has stated that Shakespeare is his favorite writer. “Seven Sonnets & A Song” features Kelly singing lead vocals on six of Shakespeare’s sonnets — and a song from “Twelfth Night.”

“I think I initially got little intimidated by Shakespeare from what I learned in school,” said Kelly, who has been inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association’s Hall of Fame and recently was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for his distinguished service to the performing arts.

“The sonnets are challenging. There are 154 of them and I chose the ones I liked the most. You can go to a play without having read it all. The sonnets have compressed language. Some are very dense.”

Tunes about death and tracks based on Shakespeare’s works call for a special type of performance. Kelly is spending the month of May performing intimate shows across America and Canada.

“On this tour, we start of the show with most of the songs from ‘Death’s Dateless Night,’” said Kelly.

“We also play five of the sonnets and some of my older songs. It’s a good mix. The older songs we’re playing were chosen to complement the other songs we perform.

“2013 was the last time I toured North America so it’s been the longest gap in a while. I’m touring with my daughters. They’re in their 20s and they haven’t been to America since they were kids.

Kelly and Owen will be joined on stage by Kelly’s daughters, Madeleine Kelly and Memphis Kelly. The two, who have their own music careers, both appeared on “Death’s Dateless Night.”

“Maddie is 25 and Memphis is 23,” said Kelly. “I also have a son Declan who is a musician. He’s involved with electronic music.”

Ironically, Kelly is following the release of “Death’s Dateless Night” with an album to be released later this year titled “Life Is Fine.”

“I have the new record ready to go,” said Kelly, who has recorded more than 20 studio albums since his debut album “Talk” in 1981. “I made it with an upbeat rock-and-roll band.

“It’s quite a contrast to my previous two records. ‘Life Is Fine’ – it’s a philosophical meditation. It’s ready to be released in August. I’ll be back in the states with a band in October –with an eight-piece band.

“It’s expensive to tour the states with a band. That’s why for the last 10 years when I play shows in the states it’s just been me or a duet with Dan Kelly. I’m really looking forward to bringing the band over.”

Kelly’s albums rather than songs will be the focus in each of the tours — “Death’s Dateless Night” and “Seven Sonnets & A Song” on the current tour and “Life Is Fine” on the tour in the autumn.

“I make albums – something to be listened to as a whole,” said Kelly. “I think in terms of albums rather than just a collection of songs. I like the songs to be linked to each other.”

Video link for Paul Kelly — https://youtu.be/Fvsu4huw-2I.

The show at the World Café Live, which has Lily Mae as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Dirty Dancing

“Dirty Dancing” began as a romantic dance drama film in 1987 which featured Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in the lead roles. The cast also featured Cynthia Rhodes and Jerry Orbach.

Originally a low-budget film, “Dirty Dancing” became a massive box office hit – and a pop culture classic. It was the first film to sell more than a million copies on home video.

The “Dirty Dancing” soundtracks were both multi-platinum albums and featured multiple hit singles — including “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life“, which won both the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Original Song, and a Grammy Award for best duet.

Now, the show is a stage musical that is touring North America. From May 16-21, “Dirty Dancing — The Classic Story On Stage” will play the Kimmel Center’s Merriam Theater (250 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-893-1999, www.kimmelcenter.org).

The production is part of Broadway Philadelphia, presented collaboratively by The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts and The Shubert Organization.

Written by Eleanor Bergstein, who also wrote the screenplay, the stage musical has all of the well-known songs from the movie, as well as some new ones that Bergstein was never able to use in the hit film.

The famous choreography (including the dance lift made famous by Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey) and many scenes from the movie are also incorporated into the musical.

Christopher Tierney of Broadway’s “Spiderman” will star as Johnny Castle alongside Bronwyn Reed as Frances “Baby” Houseman. Jennifer Mealani Jones plays the role of Penny Johnson.

“We started rehearsals in August in New York City and then did a tech week in West Lafayette, Indiana,” said Jones during a phone interview last week from Seattle, Washington. “We opened in September in Memphis.

“I joined the ensemble last year in April on the previous tour. It was my first time to see the play. Prior to joining the cast of the national tour, I had only seen the movie.

“Actually, it had been such a long time since I saw the movie, I had forgotten a lot about the story. I was curious to see how they were going to do everything the movie had. But, they did it with a lot of color and movement. And, Eleanor put in all the scenes she couldn’t put in the movie.

“There are more scenes showing Johnny and Baby’s relationship and more scenes of baby’s family and their relationship dynamic. And, you see more of baby’s sister Lisa. I’m Penny – the one who gets pregnant.”

Penny is very strong-willed. She comes from the other side of the tracks. She’s been through the wringer so she’s tough. She and Johnny are partners. They take care of each other.

Then, Penny sees Johnny taking an interest in a young rich girl and doesn’t approve. Penny is a dancer and is pregnant so her livelihood is at stake.

“I love Penny’s character,” said Jones. “She gets hit with a lot. She falls in love with the wrong guy. But, she’s a fighter and has a lot of grit. I think I have a good bit of grit too.”

Jones is a native of Ellicott City, Maryland with her own history in Philadelphia. She graduated from the University of the Arts with a degree in jazz dance.

While living in Philadelphia, Jones performed with Philadanco, was featured on “So You Think You Can Dance” (Season 10), and was an NBA 76ers Dream Team dancer.

“I’ve been living in L.A. for the last two-and-a-half years and I’m so excited to be coming back to Philly,” said Jones. “I lived in Philly for six years from 2009-2015 and I have so many things to do when I come back for a week.”

Tierney and Reed lead a company of 26 that includes Matthew Amira as Robbie Gould, Jordan Edwin André as Billy Kostecki/Singer, Alyssa Brizzi as Lisa Houseman,  Rachel Bell Carpenter as Marjorie Houseman, Jerome Harmann-Hardeman as Tito Suarez, Gary Lynch as Max Kellerman, Jon Powell as Dr. Jake Houseman, Alan Scharf as Mr. Schumacher, and Matt Surges as Neil Kellerman.

The production’s book is written by Eleanor Bergstein and the North American tour is directed by James Powell with choreography by Michele Lynch based on the original choreography by Kate Champion.

According to Bergstein, “The company that we have assembled for our North American tour is beautiful and truthful. I originally wrote the movie because I love to dance.

“And since the movie first appeared, the open-hearted audience response has made me believe that everyone has a secret dancer inside them, one they feel could connect them to the physical world in the way they dream.

“If that was true, then its natural form was theater – live audiences watching live bodies dancing and singing here and now. I have added 20 more new scenes, 36 numbers of live music, and an eight-piece band onstage.

“It’s been a deep pleasure for us to watch audiences around the country respond as this extraordinarily talented group of people brings ‘Dirty Dancing’ home to North America.”

Jones said, “Most of the people coming to the show have seen the movie and they loved it. We’re a group of professionals. Knowing that people already know the story, we give them more. It keeps us on our toes.”

It’s the summer of 1963, and 17-year-old Frances “Baby” Houseman is on vacation in New York’s Catskill Mountains with her older sister and parents.

Mesmerized by the racy dance moves and pounding rhythms she discovers in the resort’s staff quarters, Baby can’t wait to be part of the scene, especially when she catches sight of Johnny Castle, the resort’s sexy dance instructor.

Passions ignite and Baby’s life changes forever when she is thrown in to the deep end as Johnny’s leading lady, both on-stage and off.

“Audiences love this show because the story is so relatable,” said Jones. “I always related to baby. Fans also love the show because of the time period, the music and the dancing. It’s a great show.”

Video link for “Dirty Dancing” – https://youtu.be/0FhRIJO-7Cg.

The show at the Merriam will open on May 16 and run through May 21. Ticket prices start at $40.

Airpark

Airpark, an alternative rock/pop duo from Nashville, just released its debut EP “Early Works, Volume 1” on March 3 via Eugenia Hall Records and are now on the road touring in support of the new disc.

The three-month tour brings the band to Chester County on May 17 for a show at Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org).

The members of Airpark have known each other –  and played music together– for a long time. That’s because Michael Ford, Jr. and Ben Ford are brothers. They took the band’s name from a long abandoned private airport in Nashville.

“I’m 28 and Ben is 30,” said Michael Ford, during a phone interview last week from Williamsburg while enjoying a day off in Brooklyn.

“We’re brothers and we get along really well. We got all of our fighting out when we were teens. We can be honest with each other and not get mad at each other. We work really well together.

“We grew up outside of New Orleans – in Mandeville on the North Shore – and started playing music together when we were in middle school. At first, we tried to go the sports route but neither of us excelled at any sport.

“When I was 11, our dad took us to a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in New Orleans. I watched the show and said – that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.

“When we moved to Nashville in 2005, there were people around who could help a band succeed. We got positive reaction. We both went to Belmont University.

“Ben graduated in 2009 and I graduated in 2011. I had taken time off because The Apache Relay did a lot of touring from 2009-2015.”

Inspired by minimalism, melody and groove-heavy percussion, the Ford brothers started Airpark in 2016 — one year after their previous project The Apache Relay rode off into the sunset.

“We started writing demos about a year-and-a-half ago,” said Michael Ford. “When The Apache Relay broke up, we woodshedded in our basement and started building up songs.”

Raised in New Orleans, the Fords grew up surrounded by music – by New Orleans’ swirling, deeply-infused blend of jazz, blues, funk, rock and soul. The initial result of their influences is “Early Works, Volume 1.”

“That record came out in March,” said Ford. “In the midst of touring, we’re working on our next EP. It’s wheels to the pavement for now.

“When we finish this leg of the tour, we’ll go back to Nashville to do some more recording and then go back out on tour. We take advantage of our central location in Nashville. There are a lot of markets within an eight-hour drive from Nashville.”

Video link for Airpark – https://youtu.be/UbhBxSIHr14.

The show at Kennett Flash, which also features The Susquehanna Floods, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.

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