Theater Artists Making Beautiful Music in NY and Philly

The theater community contains a wealth of multi-talented artists who are not only gifted actors, but also highly skilled singers, musicians, and composers. From cabaret performances to club concerts to a CD launch party, fans in New York and Philadelphia can enjoy some of their favorites from the theatrical stage making beautiful music in an array of upcoming events.

The Nimble Cats

The Nimble Cats

First up this Saturday is The Nimble Cats, headlining a full night of musical acts in the Mad Music Mix at 1fiftyone gallery + performance space in Old City Philadelphia. The band originated with actors Cindy Spitko and Ed Swidey, who appeared together in EgoPo’s 2014 production of Gint. Set in Appalachia, the pre-show featured live bluegrass-style folk music performed by the couple and their cast mates, which Spitko selected and arranged. Swidey recalls:

When Gint wrapped, she and I had a bunch of songs under our belts and started looking for casual places to play together. . . We ended up doing some theater benefits as a duo, with Cindy on ukulele and me on guitar . . . and jamming with Josh Totora (who can play just about any instrument you can think of) on banjo.

The Nimble Cats was born, and soon Kevin Chick joined on bass, and Rob Flom (the group‘s “token ‘muggle’—our only non-theater band member”) came in recently on percussion. In addition to doing covers (while trying “to stay away from current hits or overdone songs”), Swidey, Spitko, and Totora also write their own original songs, which, they are gratified to note, have been very well received by their audiences. Though juggling their separate theater commitments can be challenging, they meet weekly to rehearse, and plan to schedule even more gigs in the future. [1fiftyone gallery + performance space, 151 N. 3rd St., Philadelphia] March 14; www.reverbnation.com/thenimblecats.

Lindsay Lavin and Ilana Gabrielle perform “It’s a Man’s World” at 54 Below (Photo credit: Jeffrey Auger)

Lindsay Lavin and Ilana Gabrielle perform “It’s a Man’s World” at 54 Below (Photo credit: Jeffrey Auger)

In New York, Ilana Gabrielle, who appeared as Magda in Erik Ransom’s Coming: A Rock Musical of Biblical Proportions in the 2014 Fringe NYC (a role originated by The Nimble Cats’ Spitko in Philadelphia’s 2011 world premiere), takes the stage with Lindsay Lavin for a late-night show at Broadway’s new state-of-the-art supper club 54 Below (under the legendary Studio 54). Gabrielle and Lavin, both graduates of Boston’s Berklee College of Music, will be belting out songs originally sung by men in their new act It’s a Man’s World, while asking the questions, “Why do girls always sing songs about boys–‘Where is my man?’ ‘I love my man,’ and ‘Stand by your man’–while guys sing about fun things like . . . ambition, success, and dreams?” Backed by a killer rock band (Elliott Klein, Neko Soto, Kenny Hildebrandt, and Drew Wutke, who also serves as music director) and background vocals by Elliot Aguila, DJ Bucciarelli, and Saum Eskandani, these two petite women with giant voices will bring a new female perspective to hits by the Beatles, Bruno Mars, Rascal Flats, and more. [54 Below, 254 W. 54th St., NY] March 28; www.54Below.com.

Found Theater Company’s CD release party (Photo credit: Design by Matt Lorenz)

Found Theater Company’s CD release party (Photo credit: Design by Matt Lorenz)

On the same night in Philadelphia, Found Theater Company presents a CD release party of original songs from its past three Fringe shows: Electric Jungle (2012); This Is the Twilight Kingdom (2013); and Deep Blue Sleep (2014). Hosted by company member Matt Lorenz, the evening will feature live performances of Found’s haunting music, guaranteed to transport you to a different realm. Co-Founder Sean Lally reveals that the audience will also get a sneak peek at the new ensemble-devised piece the group is working on for this September’s Philadelphia FringeArts festival, City of Woes–a mysterious film-noir-style journey through hell inspired by Dante’s Inferno and directed by Alison Hoban–from which Found will perform two of its brand new songs. The $10 admission includes your choice of a CD; for $20 you get entry to the party and all three discs. [1fiftyone gallery + performance space, 151 N. 3rd St., Philadelphia] March 28; www.foundtheatercompany.com.

Jawbone Junction in the 2012 Philadelphia Fringe Festival (Photo credit: Plate 3 Photography)

Jawbone Junction in the 2012 Philadelphia Fringe Festival (Photo credit: Plate 3 Photography)

Another popular crossover act in Philadelphia that combines theater and music (and for which The Nimble Cats opened at Quig’s Pub in January) is Jawbone Junction. In 2012, while appearing in Lantern Theater Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet, actors Jake Blouch and Charlie DelMarcelle discussed the idea to create a Southern-rock-‘n-roll band for that summer’s Philadelphia Fringe Festival. The concept was that each of the members would assume a fictional persona from Arkansas, along with a backstory; the results were characters Ricky Lake Jackson, Randy Champlain, Cottonmouth Wells, Trixie Tahoe, and Perry “Woodchuck” Ibanez. Self-described as “Lynyrd Skynyrd meets Spinal Tap,” these “legends of the Arkansas Delta pool halls and juke joints” and “Mozarts of Americana” are played by Damon Bonetti (he hates everyone), Sarah Gliko (the dumb one), and Tabitha Allen (the sexy one), along with DelMarcelle (the drunk), and Blouch, who writes the songs and arranges the band’s covers of real Southern-rock hits. As with The Nimble Cats, the busy actors have to coordinate their individual theater schedules with their group gigs, but Bonetti assures us that Jawbone Junction is soon to announce its next highly anticipated event.www.facebook.com/JawboneJunction.

Jess Conda (right) performing with the Peter Matthew Bauer band (Photo credit: Kate Devlin)

Jess Conda (right) performing with the Peter Matthew Bauer band (Photo credit: Kate Devlin)

And Philadelphia powerhouse Jess Conda brings her brand of in-your-face “theater that rocks” to BRAT Productions, where she serves as artistic director. But in addition to creating, co-devising, and performing in some of BRAT’s original alternative hit musicals (Eternal Glamnation; Always Coming Soon: The Future), she also takes to the cabaret stage with Philadelphia’s Red 40 & the Last Groovement (fronted by Martha Stuckey) and recently sang backup vocals on a concert tour with indie singer/songwriter/musician Peter Matthew Bauer and his “good old-fashioned rock-and-roll band.” http://petermatthewbauer.com.

Conda, who has a BFA in Acting and grew up singing in church and school choirs, explains that she always wanted to do musical theater, but:

When I started professional auditioning, I had a hard time landing musical theater gigs and I kept hearing this phrase socially: “You’re too ‘musical theater’ for rock-and-roll and too rock-and-roll for musical theater.” So I chose to make my own work that fuses both of those . . . I think that theater and rock-music performance fuel and inform each other so well because both are about listening; yes, to the text and the music that is being performed, but also to the rhythms and energy in the room, from the audience, from the other performers on stage. These principles are universal and carry over from music to theater. I always learn something about the way I listen as an actor when I’m performing as a musician, and vice versa.

You can listen to Conda in late-night concerts with Red 40 & the Last Groovement in residence every First Friday at FringeArts. [Le Peg Stage, FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Blvd., Philadelphia] April 3; www.facebook.com/Red40AndTheLastGroovement.

 

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About the author

Debra Miller

Debra holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware and teaches at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ. She is a judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent for Central Voice, and has served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and President of the Board of Directors of Da Vinci Art Alliance. Her publications include articles, books, and catalogues on Renaissance, Baroque, American, Pre-Columbian, and Contemporary Art, and feature articles on the Philadelphia theater scene.