Cricket's Notebook by Larry Stark

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide



entire contents copyright 1997 by Larry Stark

Wednesday, 9 July '97 --- An Evening with Ben & Brad

I am blessed with the most generous friends in the world.

Last night I was given a ticket to a concert --- not in the hope that a favorable review from me would increase the paying audience for the performers, but simply because people who know me had discovered something they knew I would enjoy, and something so little publicized I would have missed it without their help. It's not the first time, and I know it will keep happening. Hell, in a sense everything I've out into The Mirror is an effort to tell others about things I like that they might overlook without my pointing them out.

In a very real sense, that's how pianist Bradford Connor and singer Benjamin Sears operate --- they keep finding "new" songs from that golden age between the two world wars that haven't been heard in decades, but ought to be. And with all their researches and rehearsing and recording and giving concerts, it's amazing that they both keep day-jobs to support it all.

Ben and Brad, along with their Artistic Advisor June Judson, are "Theatre in Progress" --- a group dedicated to unearthing or creating works for the American musical theater. For the AMERICAN CLASSICS series they have given concerts everywhere, from a living room to a church --- the Swedenborg Chapel, near the old Busch-Reisinger Museum at 50 Quincy Street in Cambridge, where I found them doing songs by the Gershwins and by their contemporary Kay Swift. They'll finish the series on a bill with The Camptown Ladies, Margaret Ulmer, and pianist Robert Humphreville at the chapel on 30 July.

People with better musical ears than mine are amazed that Brad Connor plays the piano in several historical styles, from early rag-time to late Broadway, and slips in subtle references to other tunes just for the sly few. He also takes an occasional turn at singing duets or --- in cases like Kay Swift's where she was as well known for clasical piano pieces as for show-tunes --- straight serious soloing.

I'm told there are always new songs in a Ben & Brad program, and sometimes they have gone back to hand-written manuscripts in order to get things right. Anyone that dedicated could easily turn out to be empty of small-talk or stultifying bores, but that is not the case. In performance, they are proud of their work, but dedicated more to letting the music and lyrics speak for themselves than to trumpeting their own key roles in bringing to back to an eager public.

They're also enjoyable table-partners. After the performance, once they had shucked out of their white tuxes and done some obligatory backstage business, Benjamin and Bradford showed up in tee-shirts and shorts at Grendel's Den to have shameless desserts with friends, who were my friends as well, and never appeared to be either celebrities or or scholars. If questioned, they of course had stories to tell, but they were interesting stories, not the only things on their minds. They're enthusiasts, but never bores. And that enthusiasm is as informative as it is unassuming.

It's nice to have generous friends, isn't it!


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide