On Stage: Classic vocalists portrayed at People’s Light

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Bethany Thomas

Fans of classic female vocalists as well as theater patrons will both find something to their liking in Chester County starting this week – and it’s the same show.

People’s Light (39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, www.peopleslight.org), currently is presenting a show that features the music of Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Édith Piaf, and Maria Callas – all great singers and all very different.

The show is the critically acclaimed production “Songs for Nobodies,” which was written by Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith.

Making this show extra-special is that all five singers are portrayed by the same woman. The one-woman show stars actress and singer Bethany Thomas.

In “Songs for Nobodies,” Thomas appears as 10 characters — the five culture-defining divas and the five titular “nobodies” who propel the play through stories about their unlikely encounters with each singer. The show is directed by Rob Lindley and runs from April 26-May 21, with 27 performances presented on the Leonard C. Haas Stage, a 340-seat performance venue housed in an 18th-century stone barn.

“Songs for Nobodies” demonstrates the power of music to create profound connections in everyday life. The show follows five women who work uninspiring jobs, beset by self-doubt and unfortunate circumstances, before experiencing unexpected encounters with the musical icons they idolize.

“This is my third time performing this role,” said Thomas, during a phone interview last week prior to a tech rehearsal at People’s Light.

“I did the U.S. premiere at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre in 2018 and then later did the show at Chicago’s Northlight Theatre in 2021.

“In 2021, they were going to bring it to this theater. It was going to be a co-production with People’s Light that July.  Then, it was put on hold because of COVID.

“It’s been ready for five years. Finally, we actually got to do it in September 2021 in Chicago. It was one of the first shows to come back with live audiences. It went well but it was still in a time when people were hesitant to coming to the theater.”

Thomas is a Chicago-based singer, actor, and writer known for work at The Goodman (“A Christmas Carol”), Writers’ Theater (“Once,” “Into the Woods”), Chicago Shakespeare (“The Tempest”), Milwaukee Rep (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “The Color Purple”), and more. As a singer/songwriter, she recently toured and recorded with Jon Langford and released two albums of original music – “Material Flats” (with Tawny Newsome) and her solo effort “BT/She/Her.”

The show’s director Rob Lindley was enthusiastic about the opportunity to direct “Songs for Nobodies” for People’s Light and promised audiences that Thomas’s performance “will leave your jaw on the ground.”

According to Lindley, “I can’t think of another performer who could pull off this massive show beside Bethany Thomas.

“As theatre artists, we are used to putting our hearts and souls into something and then letting it go. This production gives us a rare and exciting chance to revisit this beautiful piece and make it even better.

“Bethany and I had such a great experience bringing ‘Songs for Nobodies’ to Chicago audiences, and I can’t wait to revive, re-tool, and re-calibrate our show for People’s Light audiences.”

Thomas said, “The space that we’re doing the show here is a lot different. It’s the largest space. At Milwaukee, it was a cabaret space. In Chicago, it was a thrust stage with three sides.”

In theatre, a thrust stage (also known as a platform stage or open stage) is one that extends into the audience on three sides and is connected to the backstage area by its upstage end.

“At People’s Light, I can make it bigger,” said Thomas. “I can make it reach the back of the theater.

“There are five different sections. In one, there is a lady bathroom attendant at a very fancy place. Judy Garland came in and they talked.

“With this role, I play the nobody. I play the artist. I sing the songs. And we talk to each other.

“I portray Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Édith Piaf, and Maria Callas. It’s all over the place chakra-wise. “

Featuring timeless classics such as “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Crazy,” and “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do,” Thomas deftly brings each of these performers to life as she rotates through singing styles and genres accompanied by a live band.

“As a singer, I’ve always sung in a lot of genres and styles,” said Thomas. “I’m able to access a lot of parts with my voice, which is mostly on the soprano-to-baritone range.

Video link for “Songs for Nobodies” – https://youtu.be/M5e0O6-B_ag.

“Songs for Nobodies” will run now through May 21 at People’s Light.

Tickets start at $47, including fees.

Lili Añel

Lili Añel has been making interesting soulful music for more than three decades – going all the way back to her debut album, “Laughed Last,” which was released in 1994.

Born and raised in South Bronx, New York, Añel has been a fixture in the Philadelphia music scene for almost as long. She has performed in venues all around the Delaware Valley, including Kennett Flash, Steel City Coffee House, outdoor venues in Kennett Square and Burlap & Bean.

On April 28, Añel will make a return visit to one of her favorite area venues — Jamey’s House of Music  (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985, www.jameyshouseofmusic.com).

“I love playing Jamey’s,” said Añel, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from her home in Philadelphia. “The sound is impeccable, and the food is outrageously good.”

Gastronomically, Jamey’s holds the distinction of being the first restaurant in Lansdowne to sell alcoholic beverages since prohibition in the 1920s. The kitchen, which is open from 6-9:30 p.m. on show nights, offers an eclectic and delicious made-to-order menu of Asian inspired American fare with plenty of vegetarian options along with yummy desserts, fresh brewed coffees from Green Street Coffee Roasters, assorted espressos, and cold drinks.

Similarly, Añel’s sound is impeccable, and her music is outrageously good.

Right now, Añel’s most recent album is “Better Days,” which was recorded in 2018 and originally released in 2019, and then released again on October 1, 2021 as “Better Days (remastered).”

“The album was originally released on a small, independent label – Winding Way Records,” said Añel, who was the winner of three New York Music Awards — Best Singer-Songwriter, Best Jazz Album and Best Female Jazz Vocalist. “Then, the pandemic came, and everything disappeared.

“I recorded the album with Dale Melton. He’s an excellent engineer. He played keyboards, co-produced it and engineered it.”

The album has a Chester County link – or two. When “Another Place, Another Time” came out in 2017, she did a CD release show at the Steel City Coffee House in Phoenixville. Her last few albums have been recorded in a Dale Melton’s studio in Chester County.

“We recorded ‘Better Days’ at Dale’s studio out in the country called Sandbox at Buck Hollow Farm,” said Añel. “It’s a really quiet place near Coatesville.

“Back in 2007, I performed an outdoor show in Kennett Square (Anson B. Nixon Park Concert Series). I was promoting my album, ‘Dream Again.’ I met Dale. We exchanged numbers and became friends. At the time, I was doing my recording at Morningstars Studios (Norristown) with Glenn Barratt.

“Around 2011, Dale said to come check out his studio. At first, I saw the barn and I said – O.K. I didn’t expect much. Then, I went in and it was great. It was a real studio with a lot of great equipment.

“By this point, we had started performing together. I had a bass player and a drummer and added Dale. We got together and it worked really well. Dale plays Hammond B3, piano, Wurlitzer – anything keyboard-related.”

The organ – especially the legendary B3 – already had a place in Añel’s heart.

“When I was a kid, the first instrument I really liked was the organ,” said Añel. “The song ‘Whiter Shade of Pale,’ was great and then there was Percy Sledge’s ‘When a Man Loves a Woman.’ When I was a child in the South Bronx, I sang in church to organ music. That sound has been in my heart aways.

“When I was a kid, my twin sister Barbara was the first musician in the family. She played piano. A little while later, my mom bought me a guitar.

“We still have the twin vibe. Even now, when I write a song, I play it for her and she’s my litmus test.”

With the second version of “Better Days,” improvement was the main goal.

“We took all the tracks and remastered them,” said Añel, who was a nominee for the prestigious PEW Center for Arts and Heritage Fellowship in 2018. “We edited each of them and Dale did the mastering.

“We added two new tracks to the original. One was a live version of ‘Got Me Thinking,’ which was recorded at WRTI in Philadelphia. This track had never been publicly heard before.

“The other bonus track, ‘Climb the Wall,’ is from my album ‘I Can See Bliss From Here.’ We loved the song.

“I talk about the downturn of the economy in ‘Climb the Wall,’ the album’s opening track. I sing — ‘It can all be gone forever in the blink of an eye, lose your job, lose your car, lose your house, lose your mind.’”

But she maintains hope and finishes the song with the verse “Climb the wall, get to the other side, scale the hurt, leave it behind, find the answers.”

Añel’s music shows influences of jazz, folk, Latin, pop and blues. Añel, who is a New York-born Cuban-African American, came by these influences naturally.

“I’ve never referred to myself as jazz but I have jazz inclinations based on people I listen to,” said Añel, who grew up in the multicultural environment of the South Bronx. “I like sophisticated harmonic structures. My music is very varied including songs that are straight-up folk songs and others that are Latin jazz.”

Even the same songs from the same album can sound varied – if you remix them.

“With remixing songs, you make a recording and like everything,” said Añel, “Then, if you go back and listen a few months later, you think – we could have done this better.”

At Jamey’s Friday night, Añel will be accompanied by Sam Nobles on acoustic bass and Jonathan W. Whitney on percussion.

“I’m always working on new songs,” said Añel. “I have a lot of new material. The pandemic showed us that we can work with our own time.

“For the show at Jamey’s, we’ll be playing songs from ‘Better Days’ and adding some new material. I’ll be doing songs from all my records.”

Video link for Lili Añel — https://youtu.be/7Q8vQK7MWRg.

The show at Jamey’s on April 28 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $15 Advance Online and $20 at the Door.

The show at Jamey’s on April 29 will feature Tattar Tucker Moog Martin.

The seasoned quartet is dedicated to honoring the root of music exploration. Whether it’s traditional Blues, Ragtime, Rock ‘n Roll, Swing or Boogie-Woogie, it all comes back to the root.

Tattar Tucker Moog Martin takes audiences with them on a trip through the American roadhouse of beat, melody and honest musical expression.

The show at Jamey’s on Saturday will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $15 Advance Online and $20 at the Door.

Jamey’s House of Music is a prime destination to hear folk, jazz and blues music every Thursday through Sunday.

The “Thursday Night Jazz Jam” and the “Sunday Blues Brunch & Jam” are regular features on Jamey’s calendar while Friday and Saturday night shows feature national and regional acts.

The Dave Reiter Trio lays down the backing for some out of this world jazz to happen, and you never know who might show up to join in. Reiter is a long-time jazz pro and is equally at home on the seven-string guitar, Nord keyboard or the venue’s top of the line Hammond organ setup. Bill Marconi is on drums; his name is known to jazz aficionados around the world. Holding down the bottom is first-call Philly bassist, George Livanos.

The guest singer tonight will be Khadija Renee. Hailing from Chester, Renee is a gospel and jazz singer with a powerful voice that recalls the jazz greats of a bygone era.

Music gets underway at 7 p.m. and there is a $10 cover charge.

The Candlelight Theater (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) presents a series of stage productions every season – most of which are musicals. The theater also has one Candlelight Comedy Club show each month.

On April 29, the dinner theater in northern Delaware will host a special event – “The Candlelight Theater Presents Broadway’s Tyler Hanes in Concert,” which is billed as “a concert to benefit education programs at Candlelight.”

Tyler Jonathan Hanes is an American actor, singer, dancer and choreographer best known for his work in Broadway musicals.

Hanes started dancing at the age of seven after following the influence of his sisters. He attended Pebblebrook High School, The Cobb County Center for the Performing Arts, as well as Carnegie Mellon School of Drama.

Hanes was discovered by Ann Reinking while attending Broadway Theater Project in Tampa, Florida. She cast him in the first national tour of the Tony Award-winning musical, “Fosse.” He left the tour to attend Carnegie Mellon University but left after a year to make his Broadway debut in the 2002 Broadway revival of “Oklahoma!”

Soon after, he appeared in the original Broadway companies of “Urban Cowboy,” “The Boy From Oz,” “The Frogs,” “Sweet Charity,” and as Larry in the original revival company of “A Chorus Line.” Hanes also appeared in the Broadway companies of “Hairspray,” and “On the Town.”

Off-Broadway, Hanes has starred in the musical “Juno” and Stephen Sondheim’s “A Bed And A Chair: A NY Love Affair.” Hanes also starred as Rum Tum Tugger in the Broadway Revival of “Cats.”

As a choreographer, his work includes “Dancing with the Stars,” Kristin Chenoweth’s “Some Lessons Learned” World Tour, the Latin American premiere of “El Chico De Oz” in Lima, Peru, “Kristin Chenoweth: For The Girls on Broadway.”

The show on April 29 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $45 and include hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar.

The Candlelight Dinner Theatre will begin its next production, “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940,” on May 13. The show will run through June 25.

Years ago, many of the top blues guitarists were either Chicago-based or had roots in the South…in states such as Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas.

In the last 50 years, Texas has blossomed as a breeding ground for blues guitar greats with a lineup that includes Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmie Vaughan, T-Bone Walker, Freddie King, Albert Collins and Billy Gibbons.

Clay Melton

Now, there is another blues axeman from Texas waiting in the wings to join the illustrious list – Clay Melton.

Blues-rock prodigies are a special breed.

They live and breathe the fiery swagger of electric guitars and the irresistible allure of rhythm-soaked sounds. That’s Clay Melton’s musical calling in a nutshell.

Just 28 years old, the Louisiana-born and Texas-based blues-rocker has already spent 15 years performing live. His powerfully raspy voice and wicked guitar licks leave no doubt he’s grown up in the school of barroom blues-rock.

Melton’s 2022 release, “Live in Texas,” which includes 10 original songs and one cover, received serious airplay in the U.S. and abroad. His riveting cover of ZZ Top’s, “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” climbed to the #1 song in the world on the Roots Music Blues Rock chart in June 2022. The album boasts production and engineering credits by five-time Grammy winner Malcolm Harper (The Black Keys, Mary J. Blige, Keith Urban and many others) as well as Clay himself.

“Live in Texas” is Melton’s follow-up to 2021’s critically acclaimed release, “Back to Blue,” where the title track also climbed to the # 1 song in the world on Roots Music Blues Rock chart while the album reached the #9 position. “Back to Blue” is Melton’s follow-up to 2017’s critically acclaimed, full-length debut Burn the Ships which climbed the charts to #5 on Billboard Heatseekers.

“My first exposure to music was when my dad gave me his cassettes – Willie Nelson, ZZ Top, classic rock,” said Melton, during a phone interview last week.

“When I was 10, he played me Jimi Hendrix’s ‘All Along the Watchtower.’ I vividly remember the slide solo.

“I got my first guitar when I was 11. I was listening to ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

“That’s when I started getting into players from an earlier generation. Buddy Guy was one of the first I really got excited about. My dad was nice enough to take me out to a blues jam when I was 13.

“Early on my listening was pretty blues heavy. I wasn’t listening to what was popular on the radio. I was listening to Robin Trower, Albert Collins, Freddie King and Wes Montgomery.”

Melton’s more straight up blues playing reveals him to be a fiery, inventive player that also shows off an introspective and reflective side of his personality.

“When we lean into the rocking side, it’s because of Zep,” said Melton. “We’re a trio. We keep trying to push the envelope with the three of us.

“My drummer Zach Grindle has been with me for nine years. I’ve been friends with my bass player Zachary Cox since middle school. We played together in a hard rock band in high school.”

Melton is currently working on a new album. The first single, “Alive on a Wire,” was released back in February and the new one, “Runner,” came out two weeks ago.

“We’re looking at a spring 2024 release for the album,” said Melton. “We’re working in a different way.

“Our previous albums were done in a studio with a producer present. On this one, we’re using our home studio – no fancy mics but it sounds great. Wee still work with our producer remotely.”

Video link for Clay Melton – https://youtu.be/B0_AtUi4xHU.

The show at the Sellersville Theater on April 28, which also features Murali Coryell, will start at 8 p.m.

Ticket prices start at $29.

Other upcoming shows at the Sellersville Theater are John Doe Folk Trio on April 27, Suzanne Vega on April 29, Jeff Allen on April 30, Lee Ritenour on May 2 and Carbon Leaf on May 3.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will present Arlen Roth on April 28 and Pat Bianchi on April 29.

Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, www.uptownwestchester.org) will present “Live and Unplugged: Nirvana” on April 28.

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