Saturday, February 21, 2015

"Duets" by Alive & Kickin' at the Varsity Theater

Alive & Kickin' is billed as "the Twin Cities' premiere rockin' senior ensemble group." I'm not sure there's a whole lot of competition in that category, but the women and men of Alive & Kickin' are most definitely awesome. For the past five years, Michael Matthew Ferrell (Theater Latte Da's resident choreographer) has led this talented group of singers ranging in age from 60s to 90s, with music direction by Jason Hansen. With talent like that behind them, this group is no joke. They sing a variety of classic rock and pop songs, or as this musical theater geek likes to call them, Glee songs. In fact, Michael Matthew Ferrell is a little like the Mr. Schuester of senior citizens. I imagine them gathered in their choir room every week, learning a life lesson through the music of Queen or Katie Perry or Lady Gaga. Except in this case, it's the seniors who are the teachers with their years of life experience. One of Alive & Kickin's goals is to give voice to senior citizens, an important but often ignored segment of our society. This week they performed at the Varsity Theater with some of the Twin Cities' top talent from the world of music and theater, sponsored and emceed by myTalk 107.1, to raise money for a permanent choir room, er... rehearsal space.

Highlights of the show include:
  • The rock songs like "Stayin' Alive" and "I Love Rock and Roll" are fun, but the quieter "Blowin' in the Wind" really showcased the talent of these singers, joined in beautiful harmony. The epic song "Bohemian Rhapsody" was also a treat!
  • In addition to singing, two of the senior shared their inspirational stories that remind us just how much we still have to learn from our elders, including one man's experiences in Vietnam in 1969, and a woman growing up in the segregated South.
  • It's a near impossible task to upstage the hilarious powerhouse Erin Schwab, but 90-year-old Katherine did just that in their duet of "Rehab." Later, Erin took the stage alone in a very funny "dirty song" about a dentist.
  • Damn that Ben Bakken can sing! I almost forget, until I see him again, what a powerful rock voice he has, in this case on the Glee songs "Dream On" and "Somebody to Love." I wonder if he's ever played Roger in RENT? I bet his "One Song Glory" is quite something.
  • A couple of music/theater crossovers in Lisa Pallen (of Belladiva) and Michelle Carter wowed with such songs as "I Wanna Know What Love Is" and "A Change is Gonna Come."
  • Two greats from the local music scene, neither of which I've seen live before but both of whom I've heard of, loaned their considerable music talent to the event. Brian Leighton (aka GB Leighton) is kind of like Minnesota's Springsteen, singing an original song and a cover of "Lean on Me" with the ensemble. Allison Scott has a gorgeously soulful and sultry voice, singing "Waterfalls" and "Piece of My Heart," back by the Alive & Kickin' women.
  • The band, led by Jason Hansen, is pretty awesome too. Sax, electric guitar, tambourine, so much enthusiasm and great support of the singers!
  • A big part of the fun of watching Alive & Kickin' is Michael Matthew Ferrell's unique direction style. Part interpretive dance, part cheerleader, part expressive conductor, and all energy. It's obvious he cares a lot about his seniors and making them look and sound the best they can.
If you're interested in supporting this wonderful ensemble, visit their website for more info. You can also find details about their next performance, Winds of Change at Bloomington Civic Theatre this June.