On Stage Extra: Chesco actress has key role in Anastasia

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times


When the national tour of the hit musical “Anastasia” visits Philadelphia next week for a six-day run at the Merriam Theater from November 23-28, an actress from Chester County will be playing one of the lead roles.

The show, which is presented by the Kimmel Cultural Campus in partnership with The Shubert Organization, will feature West Chester’s Madeline Raube in the role of Countess Lily.

When “Anastasia” opened on Broadway in 2017 and had its run at the Broadhurst Theater, it received two Tony Award nominations and nine Drama Desk Award nominations.

“Anastasia” is a musical with music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and a book by Terrence McNally. Based on the 1997 film of the same name, the musical adapts the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, who could have escaped the execution of her family.

Years later, an amnesiac orphan named Anya hopes to find some trace of her family by siding with two con men who wish to take advantage of her likeness to the Grand Duchess.

In St. Petersburg, Russia in 1918, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna comforts her youngest granddaughter, five-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia, who is saddened by the fact that her grandmother is moving to Paris, France. Before leaving, the Dowager Empress gives Anastasia a music box as a parting gift.

Nine years later, Anastasia is attending a ball with her family when the Bolsheviks invade the palace. As the Romanovs attempt to escape, Anastasia tries to retrieve her music box, only to be shot at and captured, along with the rest of her family. The Dowager Empress later receives word in Paris that the entire family has been executed.

Ten years later, Gleb Vaganov, a general for the Bolsheviks who now control Russia, announces to the gloomy Russians that the now-poor Saint Petersburg has been renamed Leningrad, and he promises a bright and peaceful future. The Russians protest this change but are uplifted by a rumor that Anastasia may have survived the Bolsheviks’ attacks.

Two wanted con men, the handsome young Dmitry and an ex-member of the Imperial Court named Vlad Popov, hear the rumors and brainstorm “the biggest con in history” — they will groom a naive girl to become Anastasia to extract money from the Dowager Empress.

Madeline Raube

“The auditions for the tour took place pre-pandemic in early 2020,” said Raube, during a phone interview Thursday morning from a tour stop in Columbia, South Carolina.

“Then the pandemic stopped everything. There were more video auditions from January-March 2021. The final callback was in person in July in New York City.

“The role that I have is the one I was auditioning for right from the start. Years ago, when I was watching the movie, she was the role I liked. Her name in the movie was Sophie and in the play it’s Lily. Getting it was a dream come true.

“What I love about Lily is that she is a mix of everything. She’s funny. She’s really confident onstage and she provides comic relief.

“She had big back-to-back numbers. It’s also an important role. She is the Dowager-in-Waiting.”

Raube, who got an undergraduate degree in classical voice and opera at Oberlin College in Ohio, gets to show off her vocal chops in several numbers.

“I have three big numbers,” said Raube, who also got a master’s degree in musical theater at New York University.

“The first is ‘Land of Yesterday’, which is a solo number. It’s followed by ‘The Countess and The Common Man,’ which is a duet with Vlad. That number brings down the house.

“My final number is ‘Press Conference.’ That’s where they realize Anya is real. I also do four different ensemble roles in Act One.”

This tour provides two “firsts” for Raube – first time experience with the musical version of “Anastasia” and first national tour.

“I saw the movie ‘Anastasia’ but I never saw the musical onstage until this tour,” said Raube. “I knew the music from the original Broadway soundtrack.

“This is also my first national tour. I love being able to travel. And I love the theaters and the audiences.”

The national tour schedule was also serendipitous for Raube.

“It’s really nice that I’m in my home area with the show during the holiday week,” said Raube. “I get to spend Thanksgiving with my family in West Chester.

“It’s also special for me because I performed at the Kimmel when I was in sixth grade. It was an all-star choir event, and we sang ‘America the Beautiful.’”

Video link for “Anastasia” – Anastasia21_Montage_HD.mov (dropbox.com).

The show at the Merriam Theater will run from November 23-28.

Ticket prices start at $39.

On November 21, the Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present a show by a band featuring a quintet of legendary musicians.

The Immediate Family

Known as The Immediate Family, the band’s line-up features guitarists Danny Kortchmar and Waddy Wachtel, drummer Russ Kunkel, and bassist Leland Sklar have come together, along with guitarist Steve Postell.

These names might not be familiar to the average listener. But, for music fans who have vinyl records on their shelves, it is almost certain that they have albums on which these musicians have played key roles.

The Immediate Family is a unique group of iconic musicians who have played together for decades but never as their own band.

They have long, illustrious careers backing up Hall-of-Fame artists such as James Taylor, Keith Richards, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Carole King, Stevie Nicks and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The list also includes Warren Zevon, Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, Harry Nilsson, Glenn Frey, Randy Newman, Don Henley, Mick Jagger, Bob Seger, J.D. Souther, Joni Mitchell, Rod Stewart, Hall & Oates, and Bonnie Raitt.

Sklar and Kunkel met Kortchmar in 1971 at sessions for James Taylor’s album, “Sweet Baby James in 1971 and have been friends ever since.

“Waddy and I have been playing together for 45 years,” said Kortchmar, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Windsor, Connecticut. Russ, Leland, Waddy and I — we all love each other very much.

“When we’re playing, we just know how to stay out of each other’s way. We all have very different styles.

“Backing James Taylor back in the early 70s was our first tour. We went out with James on tour in 1971 – with Carole King on keyboards. Russ, Leland and I have been playing together for more than 50 years.”

These guys have been in-demand session musicians in Los Angeles for decades. Playing on their own, the started with the name Mellow Mafia and then became The Section with the addition of keyboardist Craig Doerge in 1972.

“The Section was more of a rock-fusion band,” said Kortchmar. “The Immediate Family is all about songs and singing.”

“I’ve always written lyrics. I’ve been working for 10 years writing my own songs. I think I’m representing it well.

The Immediate Family’s new album contains 12 original songs, including Waddy Wachtel/Warren Zevon’s “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead” and two bonus live tracks — Zevon’s “Johnny Strikes Up the Band” and the Kortchmar/Jackson Browne collaboration “Somebody’s Baby.”

“We’re a cover band that does all originals,” said Kortchmar. “There are songs that were hits for other people, but they are songs that we wrote.”

Video link for The Immediate Family — https://youtu.be/aZzPQiZ5kAI.

The show at Ardmore Music Hall on November 21 will start at 8 p.m.

Ticket prices start at $30.

Other upcoming shows at the Ardmore Music Hall are Boombox ft. Backbeat Brass on November 19, Tommy Conwell on November 20, and Splintered Sunlight on November 24.

Tommy Castro

Tommy Castro and his band The Painkillers will return to this area for a show on November 21 at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

The show will be a double treat for blues fans because it’s a twin bill of Alligator Records artists. The opening act is blues veteran Carolyn Wonderland.

Tommy Castro & The Painkillers — bassist Randy McDonald, drummer Bowen Brown and keyboardist Michael Emerson — are touring coast to coast beginning in September 2021 and moving into early 2022.

Castro is celebrating the release of his trailblazing new album, “Tommy Castro Presents A Bluesman Came To Town.”

The album is a raucous, multi-song tale of a young man bitten by the blues bug. It is a striking collection of songs that tell the story in vivid lyrics and are brought to life by Castro’s patented roadhouse rock, soulful ballads and deep, greasy grooves.

“I’m always interested in new sounds and trends,” said Castro, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from a tour stop in Connecticut.

“With the new one – I said, ‘what am I going to do now?’ It’s a rock opera but it’s like a blues opera.

“I ran it by Bruce (Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer) and he didn’t hate it. We jumped over that hurdle.

“I still had to decide if I was biting off too much. Rock operas had songs that were very different – and a story to listen to from front-to-back. I moved on to producer Tom Hambridge and he thought it was a really good idea.”

On his website, Castro wrote, “I try to keep my music fresh by taking different approaches and writing and recording different types of songs. I want to stretch out musically, but I always want the songs to be my most authentic, to remain true to myself and my art. This time, I felt the need to do something I’ve never done before.

“With ‘A Bluesman Came To Town,’ what I have for you is a record of songs that tell a story. It’s the story of a young man from a small town. One day a guitar-playing bluesman comes to his town. From that point on, the young man’s life will never be the same. It’s based on a classic hero’s journey — the odyssey of a musician’s life.

“I brought in the big guns this time and collaborated with legendary producer Tom Hambridge. I co-wrote most of the songs with him. In telling the story, I’ve tried to touch on the many different styles of music that I love. I’m excited for you to hear it!”

Castro created his most ambitious project ever.

“It’s about a kid from rural America who saw his life laid out for him,” said Castro. “He had other dreams. A bluesman came to town, and it changed his life.

“The bluesman told the kid that he was good and that he should go out. He did and played his music – and had to deal with drugs, alcohol and women. Through the process, he finds out what’s important in life. That was the treasure.”

Over the course of his four-decade career, Castro, who is a six-time winner of the prestigious Blues Music Award-winner, has played thousands of shows to hundreds of thousands of fans.

Castro, one of San Francisco’s veteran music acts, has put together a top-flight band. The Painkillers feature bassist Randy McDonald, keyboardist Michael Emerson and drummer Bowen Brown.

“I started the Painkillers a few years ago,” said Castro. “Randy (McDonald), who has been with me for over 25 years. My music isn’t so much about guitar as it is about songs. I’m probably more a singer than a guitar player. I like a good hook and I want songs that people remember.”

Now, Castro and his band are touring in support of the album and making a return visit to the Sellersville Theater.

“We’ve played the Sellersville Theatre a number of times and always had a lot of fun. It’s a great place to play. We’re looking forward to it. It has good sound, good food and great audiences. We always had good shows there”

Video link for Tommy Castro — https://youtu.be/BmBfrPIjxdU.

Carolyn Wonderland

Award-winning Texas guitar slinger, singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Carolyn Wonderland is celebrating the release of her Alligator Records debut album, “Tempting Fate.

The new LP, which is Wonderland’s 11th album, was produced by famed master roots musician Dave Alvin, and features Wonderland’s signature, blistering six-string and lap steel playing, her intense vocals and her original songs melding blues, rock and Americana.

On November 16, tastemaker UK magazine MOJO released its influential Best Blues Albums Of 2021 list and three Alligator Records artists were selected. Christone “Kingfish” Ingram’s “662” topped the list at #1. West Coast bluesman Chris Cain’s “Raisin’ Cain” followed at #3, and Wonderland’s label debut, “Tempting Fate,” earned the #7 position.

Wonderland has been playing guitar in John Mayall’s band on tour since 2018. She also recorded with him on his 2019 Forty Below Records release, “Nobody Told Me.”

After being in John Mayall’s band for a couple years, I decided it was time to do some recording on my own,” said Wonderland, during a phone interview Wednesday morning.

“I was in Woodstock with my friend Cindy Cashdollar, who is a great lap steel player. She asked me who I’d like to do the album with and I said – Dave Alvin. She called him and he said yeah.”

Wonderland and her band — Kevin Lance and Bobby Perkins – tracked the album in their hometown of Austin, Texas at Stuart Sullivan’s Wire Recording with Dave Alvin producing.

“I’ve been a fan of Dave Alvin since I was a kid,” said Wonderland. “I’m a huge fan. I love him.

“We made the album at Wire Recording in January 2020. We just captured the joy in less than a week.”

The album featured a lot of top-flight guests.

According to Wonderland, “We were super lucky to have Dave, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Red Young, Cindy Cashdollar, Marcia Ball, Shelley King, and Jan Flemming all lend their extreme talents in the studio.”

The timing was right.

“The magic trick was that it was January when most of these musicians weren’t on tour. Even Cindy (Cashdollar) was in town.”

Wonderland, who was born Carolyn Bradford in Houston, has been making music her whole life.

“When I was a kid, music was the only thing that would hold my attention,” said Wonderland. “My mom had a guitar, and my aunt had a trumpet. I learned to play and then started doing shows. My first gig was in Houston when I was 14 or 15.

“I just played Sellersville Theater a month ago in John Mayall’s band. He’s 88 and keeps touring and I’m still in his band.”

Video link for Carolyn Wonderland — https://youtu.be/wS26pxbs8So.

The show at the Sellersville Theater on November 21 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $29.50.

Other upcoming shows at the Sellersville Theater are Joe Conklin on November 20, and Kategory 5 on November 24.

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