INTERVIEW: Six Questions with RAIN Creator Mark Lewis

A scene from "RAIN."

A scene from RAIN.

It isn’t the first time that the wildly popular touring Beatles tribute show RAIN is playing in Philly, and it won’t be the last. The concert, which features band members who look and eerily sound like the real Fab Four, has origins in the ’70s when Mark Lewis, a trained pianist and musician, helped transform the group formerly known as Reign into one of the most authentic Beatles cover bands in the world. I sat down with Lewis before his iconic show returns to Philadelphia at the Merriam Theatre this February to discuss his early inspiration, the new features of the concert, and why seeing RAIN might be better than an actual Beatles concert.

I’ve read multiple times that you claim you owe a lot of your inspiration to the original Ed Sullivan broadcast when the Beatles were introduced to America. It really was one of the most iconic pop culture moments in American history. What about that moment on the Sullivan show do you remember the most?
I was really into music, and I was only 12 years old when The Beatles performed on the Sullivan show. I was into the Four Seasons and I had an older sister who was into the early rock ’n’ roll. The Beatles came out on Sullivan, and I wasn’t even watching it at that moment. My mother was watching in the other room, and she came in and said, “You have to come in and watch this group!” I thought it was going to be some sort of Liberace-type thing. I went right out and bought the Meet the Beatles! album in stereophonic! I remember being blown away with these multiple guys who sang, who played their own instruments, and the way they looked and talked. After I got the album, I remember figuring out that they were writing their own music. It was so different. It was so far from anything I’d ever seen, plus there were all of these girls going nuts in the audience. You really hadn’t seen anything like this since Elvis Presley. Every song was great. Usually when you buy an album, there’s a hit record, and a bunch of stuff that sounds like the hit record, but every song on that Beatles album was great. It was a life altering moment for me. Read more »

Project Turns Military Uniforms Into Paper and Vets’ Experiences Into Triumph

Keefe, center, with participants at a Combat Paper NJ workshop.

Keefe, center, with participants at a Combat Paper NJ workshop.

David Keefe holds a MFA with a speciality in printmaking and painting, and is a practicing artist in New Jersey.

He’s also a Marine vet, who served in Iraq, 2006-2007.

Needless to say, when the Printmaking Center of New Jersey suggested he cut up his old military uniform and transform it into paper, he had to think about it.

“I decided to go ahead with it because it was a good way for me to tell my story, my complex vet experience,” he said. “Once I did it, it was an immediate transformation on my part. It was something that I wanted to communicate, and a lightbulb went off.”

In a nutshell, Keefe teamed up with co-director Eli Wright to establish a New Jersey branch of Combat Paper, which offers workshops all over the Mid-Atlantic region, providing military vets and community members a chance to not only make paper out of their old uniforms, but create something much more profound. Read more »

INTERVIEW: Our Chat with Beef, the Chief Feline Officer of Kawaii Kitty Cafe

Beef rocking the latest trend in feline hats.

Beef rocking the latest trend in feline hats.

Sure, Philly has been all abuzz with the word that Kawaii Kitty Cafe — the city’s first cat-friendly coffee shop were you’ll be able to get a drink and hang out with a ton of furry friends — will be opening its doors in February, but has anyone stopped to think about the felines who are running things behind-the-scenes? We were able to land an exclusive interview with Beef, whose human companion, Kristin Eissler, is the face of Kawaii Kitty Cafe. But, make no mistake: It’s the cats who are really running the show, as Beef clearly shared with us during our chat.

When did you meet your human, Kristin? Was it love at first sight?
We met about seven months ago. I had been looking to adopt a human for a while now. When she walked by my cage she was happily munching away on a snack. Since I base all my friendships on food, I knew she was the one. Plus I wanted a bite of that sandwich.

What was your first reaction when you heard your human was opening a cat cafe? Any jealousy?
Well, and this is off the record of course, but the cafe actually belongs to the cats. The humans are only there to serve us. Haven’t you noticed cat cafes are popping up all over the world? It’s all part of our super evil super secret plan for world domination. Read more »

INTERVIEW: Curtis Alumni Gabriel Cabezas

Gabriel Cabezas

Gabriel Cabezas

Chicago-born Gabriel Cabezas isn’t afraid to call Philly a second home.

“I graduated from Curtis in 2013, so I haven’t worn out my welcome just yet,” he said. In fact, the highly in-demand cellist, who has been praised for his versatile style and sound, has a plethora of Philly engagements this season, including his upcoming concert with Sandbox Percussion for LiveConnections at World Cafe Live. He later returns for performances with yMusic at the Kimmel Center, the Dolce Suono Ensemble, and with Ben Folds at The Fillmore. We chatted with the talented musician about how Philly helped shape his craft, and what listeners can expect from his upcoming projects.

I always like to ask Curtis grads how that institution shaped them as artists.
It’s really insular. It’s a closed experience in a very positive way, which was a good because I could focus and learn music. It was a great place for me because, like most people, in college you discover new things that you didn’t know you liked. I started listening to different kinds of music and playing music that I wouldn’t have normally have looked at. Read more »

Choral Arts Philadelphia Offering Hump Day Bach Concert Series

Members of Choral Arts Philadelphia.

Members of Choral Arts Philadelphia.

Sometimes you’re looking for a little culture, but just a little. Let’s face it, a three-hour concert can seem like a daunting commitment compared to a lazy Netflix binge. For the last few years, Choral Arts Philadelphia has been stacking the deck in their favor with the monthly Bach@7 concert series which features world-renowned talent at a great price that will get you home at a reasonable hour.

Organizers aim to keep all of these Wednesday night shows to an hour or less. That doesn’t mean that the music isn’t top quality: In fact, this spring they’ll be presenting a world premiere from Philadelphia-based composer Andrew Lipke based on his 2011 album The Plague.

It’s why the ensemble has called their spring series Something Old, Something New. The program will feature works by Bach, along with numbers by modern composers such as Mark Rimple, Ross Edwards, Philip Moore, Jonathan Dove, and more. Each concert is pay-what-you-wish (a minimum donation of $20 is suggested), and there are beverages and refreshments after each performance, plus a chance to mingle with the artists. Read more »

Factory Girls Offers a Fresh Take on the Industrial Revolution

11th Hour REading

A scene from a previous 11th Hour Next Step Concert.

It doesn’t seem like subject matter for a rock musical: The drudges of the Industrial Revolution are about as far as lyrical as one can imagine. Yet, leave it to writers Sean Mahoney and Creighton Irons to craft a show not only on the Industrial Revolution, but one with a female focus.

“We knew we wanted to write a show that spoke to the unnatural mechanization of humanity and allowed us room to meld our musical sensibilities,” said Mahoney. “We searched for a powerful, relevant story from American history.” Read more »

Five Best Bets for PIFA 2016

Further details about Kimmel Center’s PIFA 2016 were released late last week, including the unveiling of the festival’s signature installation, The Kinetic Tree, at Commonwealth Plaza. There’s quite a lineup of announced performances, and tickets for all of the gigs are currently on sale via the Kimmel website. However, the huge selection of shows can be somewhat overwhelming for those who aren’t quite sure how to navigate the offerings. We hand selected five best bets for PIFA presentations that should be on everyone’s to-do list, including both free and ticketed shows for kids and adults. Take a look at the preview gallery below, and book your tickets by visiting this link.

Isabel Leonard: Philly’s “It Girl” For 2016

Photo: Becca Fay

Photo: Becca Fay

Before the lights come up at some of the world’s biggest opera houses, you can hear Isabel Leonard‘s voice backstage. But you won’t catch her singing a tune from her wide classical repertoire, ranging from Mozart to Poulenc. She’s singing lullabies to her son over the phone.

“My son is older now and his new question is, ‘Mama, when are you gonna stay at home and work here forever?'” Leonard told me. “It’s like someone stabs me with a knife! I think he gets that Mama has to work. If you were to ask me what the most important thing in my life is, I’d say it’s my son and my work, because work is how I can give everything to my son.” Read more »

Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2016-17 Season Highlights Diversity of Sound

orchestra preview

Clockwise from upper left: Yannick Nezet-Seguin, Susan Graham, E.T., Simon Rattle

The Philadelphia Orchestra truly remains the city’s only A-list organization so far as attracting world-class classical music talent to the region, and their 2016-17 season, which was announced late yesterday afternoon, solidifies their ability to present diverse and wide-ranging programming… even the entire score of E.T.

In a statement, the Orchestra’s Musical Director, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, suggested that the upcoming season demonstrates the close bond that he has developed with the musicians throughout his tenure with the organization. Read more »

SNEAK PEEK: Our Behind-the-Scenes Tour of the New Drake

A mural by Aaron Krolikowski depicting Omar Sharif's bridge competitions at The Drake.

A mural by Aaron Krolikowski depicting Omar Sharif’s bridge competitions at The Drake.

“God knows there are a lot of theaters in this town. Our purpose is for this to be a hub.”

That’s what InterAct Theatre Company‘s Producing Artistic Director Seth Rozin said about the highly-anticipated opening of their new space at The Drake during my behind-the-scenes tour. The massive space is, indeed, designed to be quite a hub, with two brand new theater spaces, plus two lobbies, a conference room, a green room that’s actually green in color, dressing rooms, gender-neutral restrooms, plus a super unique mural.

Jason Lindner, InterAct’s marketing director, explained that the subject of the mural, Omar Sharif, used to host bridge competitions at The Drake in 1971. The mural depicts what these gatherings would look like, and features plenty of open space for visitors to make their own mark. Lindner will install a bucket of Sharpies for guests to “sign” the mural, leaving a little piece of themselves at The Drake. Read more »

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