Concert Review: Foreigner, Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience

Foreigner, Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience
Starlight Theatre, Kansas City MO
August 15th, 2017

Review By: J.R. Deeter

“KHIT Radio….all the Hits, all the Time!!!” Don’t you just hate it when you attend a concert and the bands give you some of their hit songs, the ones you know from radio airplay growing up. Or from the constant hours you spent listening to the albums and cassettes you bought at Musicland? But instead they also play a bunch of songs you do not know….”Here’s one from our 3rd album”….ummm, yeah….time to hit the bathroom and concession stand. Well, there was none of that for the Foreigner 40th Anniversary tour stop at Kansas City’s Starlight outdoor venue (weather was great – just about perfect). If you got out of your seat at all, you missed out.

The show began with the Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Experience, appropriately starting with “Rock N Roll,” “Black Dog,” “Over the Hills and Far Away”…straight through for a total of nine of Zeppelin’s biggest hits, wrapping it up with “Whole Lotta Love.” No “Stairway to Heaven” (thank you). I’ve never been a huge Zeppelin fan, but it was entertaining, with lead singer James Dylan holding his own on vocals and of course, Jason Bonham in charge from behind the drum kit.

Up next, in my honest opinion, the best part of the whole evening, Cheap Trick. They took the stage, opening their show as always with “Hello There,” then rocking through classics like “Big Eyes” and “Ain’t That A Shame.” They threw in a couple for the ladies, “If You Want My Love” and “The Flame,” then broke out the BIG HITS including “I Want You To Want Me,” “Dream Police” and “Surrender.” The band wrapped up their set with “Auf Wiedersehen” and “Goodnight.” Robin Zander’s vocals: still got it. Tom Peterson on Bass: doing fine. Rick Nielsen ROCKS and yes, his son Daxx Nielsen is still the drummer. And, yes, I still miss Bun E. Carlos.

40 years is a long time in the world of rock and roll…most bands never see that kind of longevity. Even with a few years of missing from radio, with no new music, if you’ve ever been on top with monster hits your fans will keep those songs alive. Foreigner is just that kind of band. They brought the best of their best for this show, opening with “Double Vision,” “Head Games” and “Cold as Ice.” They kept going and going, mixing power ballads like “Waiting For A Girl Like You” with rockers like “Dirty White Boy,” “Urgent,” and of course, “Jukebox Hero.” They closed the show, assisted on backing vocals by a choir from the local Saint Thomas Aquinas High School, with their biggest hit to date, “I Wanna Know What Love Is” followed 1978’s “Hot Blooded.”

I enjoyed it all…..while Mick Jones is showing his age at 72, his guitar playing is exceptional. Lead vocalist Kelly Hansen, apparently attempting to channel Steven Tyler, can work the crowd well and delivers vocally.

NOTE: Lou Gramm is playing a few shows on the 40th Anniversary tour, but alas, KC was not one.

Kansas City Theater Review: “An American in Paris”

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
July 11, 2017

It’s one of the most beloved film musicals of all time, winner of six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and was often referred to by its star, the great Gene Kelly, as his favorite of his films. I’m talking, of course, about 1951’s “An American in Paris,” which introduced a new generation to the music of George and Ira Gershwin.

Paris. World War II has just ended and American G.I. Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox), an aspiring painter, has decided to stay in the City of Lights in hopes of gaining new inspirations to put brush to canvas. He meets fellow soldier Adam (Etai Benson), who delivers the story to the audience. He also meets Henri (Nick Spangler), an aspiring performer. The three men are anxious to remove all memories of the war and begin whatever great adventure life has planned for them. Things go well until they meet the beautiful Lise (Sara Esty), a young ballet dancer. While Adam’s relationship with LIse is professional, both Jerry and Henri fall in love with her, with complications aplenty.

First off my sincere thanks for the marvelous performance turned in by the entire cast on a night where, as the curtain rose, the temperature was near 90 degrees. Thankfully there was a nice breeze all night because the night went by swiftly. Director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has embraced the ballet aspect of the story, with much of the on-stage movement based on that form of dance. The graceful movements of those involved were perfect accompaniments with the musical score. No wonder Mr. Wheeldon was nominated for the Tony Award for both his directing and choreography, winning the award for the latter.

The four leads were in fine voice, breathing fresh life into such well known standards as “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love” and “‘S Wonderful.” The costumes were bright and colorful and the set design, though a little dark, evoked Paris in the late 1940’s.

Again, the video screens were a little distracting but I will give Starlight credit for using mostly wide-shots of the stage (“Mamma Mia” utilized a lot of close-ups, meaning those watching on the screens were missing a lot of the dancing), giving the audience a complete view of the award-winning choreography.

Theater Review: “Jersey Boys” – Kansas City

Jersey Boys
Starlight Theatre, Kansas City MO
June 27, 2017

Review By: J.R. Deeter

If you are of a certain age, you certainly know the musical history of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. From the early 1960’s with breakthrough hits like “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man,” the hits just kept coming…..few bands consistently gave their fans hit after hit on the Billboard Pop Chart.

What most people may not have known, and do not realize, is the story of how four boys from Jersey came together, from lowly beginnings and backgrounds while dealing with constant band name changes (they finally settled on The Four Seasons, borrowed from a local bowling alley) to struggle and then soar to the highest levels of success, before falling completely apart. One member removed, one member walked away, with two left to try again….and succeed again. It really is a great American rags to riches story and two and a half hours of pure entertainment.

Starlight Theater is a beautiful outdoor venue in Kansas City and the theater can be a very enjoyable experience, when the weather is nice. For our performance it was “Oh What A Night”!

The cast did a fantastic job, both musically and in portraying their respective roles, picking up after what seemed like a few stumbled moments during the opening scenes. Aaron De Jesus shines as Frankie Castelluccio, soon to become Frankie Valli, with an “i”. His voice was the best part of the show by far leading and hitting the high falsetto notes Valli is most famous for.

Matthew Dailey as Tommy DeVito, Keith Hines as Nick Massi, and Cory Jeacoma as Bob Gaudio were also very entertaining, as each member gets to tell his version of the story. As the show moves through the hit songs and the personal experiences of the guys, you can get a feel for what it was like for them, although I do think there is just enough embellishment for entertainment value. The supporting cast held their own, the female members handling many different roles and pulling it off easily. The Jersey Boys Orchestra was top notch and the music was fresh and crisp.

Note to Starlight: While I can appreciate the offer of the large screens installed this season about mid level up on the left and right side of the stage for the benefit of the folks in the back, I did find myself drawn to keep looking away from the performance on the stage. I feel it is more appropriate for a concert event….let’s keep theater events theater.

“Rock Hall Three for All” Concert Review

Cheap Trick/Joan Jett/Heart
Starlight Theater
August 15, 2016

Our score: 4 out of 5 Stars

This year the good people at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame righted some wrongs by inducting, among others, Cheap Trick, Joan Jett and Heart into it’s realm.

Some brief “Mike” history: I was in a band in high school and the first song we played together as a group was “Surrender,” so Cheap Trick is a band I’ve seen on many occasions. Like me, Joan Jett is a big fan of the Baltimore Orioles so naturally I’d seen here in the past. The only unknown entity on the bill was Heart, a band I enjoyed listening to as a young adult, especially their rocking 70s stuff.

Cheap Trick took the stage first, with lead singer Robin Zander dressed in white (basically wearing the same outfit as the band wore on the “Dream Police” album cover). Zander was in fine form vocally, sounding much better on the higher notes than he did last year. The band played a few songs off of their new album, “Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello” and the crowd seemed to enjoy them. I know I did. They also did some of their classic hits, finishing up with “Surrender.” Musically the band was tight with a special shout out to drummer Dax Nielsen. The son of lead guitarist Rick Nielsen, the drummer very capably filled the shadow left behind by Bun E. Carlos.

Next up was Jett who, at age 58, can still look amazing in a body suit. Like Cheap Trick, Jett and the Heartbreakers played a few new songs as well as some classics, with Jett reaching as far back into her catalog to include “Cherry Bomb,” her hit when with the Runaways. The group finished with a great version of Sly and the Family Stones’ “Everyday People.”

Last but not least was Heart. Ann and Nancy Wilson have been doing this a long time and their rapport worked to their advantage. Too bad their sound people didn’t. For whatever reason, the band sounded terrible. The sound pretty much drowned out Ann’s vocals, which are, of course, one of the reason’s to attend the show. For whatever reason, Ann Wilson’s microphone sounded under-miked, which made it difficult to hear and understand. Oh well, at least if I ever get asked I can say that I’ve “seen” Heart.” Just don’t ask me if I’ve ever heard them live!

Set Lists:

Cheap Trick
1. Hello There
2. Big Eyes
3. California Man
4. Tonight It’s You
5. When I Wake Up Tomorrow
6. If You Want My Love
7. Baby Loves to Rock
8. Stop This Game
9. I’m Waiting for the Man
10. The Flame
11. I Want You to Want Me
12. Surrender

Joan Jett and the Black Hearts
1. Bad Reputation
2. Cherry Bomb
3. Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)
4. TMI
5. You Drive Me Wild
6. Light of Day
7. Soulmates to Strangers
8. Love is Pain
9. Fake Friends
10. Any Weather
11. I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll
12. Crimson and Clover
13. I Hate Myself
14. Everyday People

Heart
1. Wild Child
2. Magic Man
3. What About Love
4. Bebe Le Strange
5. These Dreams
6. Two
7. Straight On
8. Kick It Out
9. Beautiful Broken
10. Alone, Crazy on You
11. Barracuda
ENCORE
12. The Immigrant Song
13. Stairway to Heaven

Theatre Review: “The Bridges of Madison County” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
June 14, 2016

Our score: 4 out of 5 stars

Theatre Review By Mike Smith

1965. In small town Winterset, Iowa, Francesca (Elizabeth Stanley) sees a stranger coming down her driveway. With her husband and children off to show their prize steer at a fair in Indiana, she is at first apprehensive about the man’s arrival. But from the moment she first meets Robert (Andrew Samonsky), a photographer for National Geographic who has lost his way, her life will never be the same.

Based on the novel by Robert James Waller, which also inspired the very popular film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, “The Bridges of Madison County” is a faithful adaptation by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning playwright Marsha Norman, opened up a little to provide for more characters and a little humor, which comes courtesy of the various neighbors who can’t help but notice the handsome stranger and his spending time with the married lady.

Winner of two Tony Awards, including Best Original Score, the show boasts some excellent songs that not only set the mood of the show but progress it along. The cast, from top to bottom is well cast. My one problem was Ms. Stanley’s accent. Francesca is supposed to be from Italy, but she is played as a combination of Meryl Streep from “Sophie’s Choice” and Madeline Kahn in “Blazing Saddles,” where “Like” is pronounced “Lock” and “Play” sounds like “Ply.” A small squabble, to be sure, but it was something I really noticed.

As a bonus for our Kansas City readers, you yourself can visit the real Bridges of Madison county by heading north on I-35 for 2 hours. You’ll find Winterset to be a nice little town where you can go into the same restaurant used in the film and sit on the same stool that Clint Eastwood rested his butt on (I’ve done it). It’s also the hometown of John Wayne so men, while you’re lady is looking at the bridges you can visit the birthplace of the Duke! Like the show, a good time is guaranteed for all.