On Stage: Something ‘Better than Bacon’

By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

Better Than Bacon

Vegetarians looking for a breakfast choice will tell you that anything is “Better Than Bacon.”

Fans of comedy throughout the Delaware Valley will tell you that “Better Than Bacon” is a top-flight improvisational comedy act.

For the last eight years, Better Than Bacon has been generating laughter at its shows and has become a local favorite with its monthly residence shows at the Uptown and Kennett Flash.

On November 24 at the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, http://uptownwestchester.org, 610-356-ARTS), Better Than Bacon is presenting is a special “Bacon Gives Back” performance benefiting Act in Faith of Greater West Chester, an interfaith organization that provides support for unemployed and under-employed members of our community.

The cast includes comedians Lauren Burawski, Bob Curran, Jack Dibeler, Brett Heller, Lauren Henry, Amy Hitchcock, Gerry Kniezewski, Steve Murphy, Susan Price and Dan Stabb.

“It all started as a happy little accident in 2010,” said Stabb, during a phone interview Wednesday afterno0on.

“I was teaching an improv class at Chester County Night School in West Chester. Jack Dibeler was signed up for another class and came to mine by accident. The other class wanted to start a troupe but didn’t have a director.  So, Lauren Harvey reached out to me to see if I’d be interested.

“In March 2011, we had our first show at the Great Valley Nature Center. All the members from the troupe then are still with it and we added one more member. We’ve stayed with 11 for years – but we’ll only have 10 at the Uptown.

“We’ve had a residency at the Kennett Flash since June 2011. We started a residency at Uptown this year and at Penn’s Place in New Castle, Delaware in 2015.

In a fashion similar to the TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” the members of the troupe make up every single word and perform every single action completely on-the-spot…and it’s all driven by audience suggestions. Every show is a brand-new experience.

“We still rehearse after all these years – two or three times a month,” said Stabb, who is a director at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr. “We’re always trying to hone our craft.

“All improv games are rooted in improv fundamentals – two main words…’yes’ and ‘and.’ We try not to say the word ‘no.’ It’s all about agreement and building. Each improv game has a gimmick inherent to the game.

“We use ‘blind line’ a lot. Two actors leave the stage. Then, we get a line of dialogue from the audience. The actors come back on stage and have to use that line of dialogue. We also use ‘three things,’ which is a guessing game.

“Our shows are always different. We know what game we’re going to play but that’s where the knowledge ends. To be funny, we have to listen to each other.”

Video link for Better Than Bacon – https://youtu.be/Y5sem4ZDsl4.

The show at the Uptown will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Other upcoming shows at the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center are Dueling Pianos on December 7, the Uptown! Speakers Series featuring photographer Ted Goldman on December 19, Uptown!’s “Third Thursday Jazz” with a holiday concert on December 21, and the “New Year’s Eve Gala” on December 31.

From December 15-31, The Resident Theater Company will present “A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play” with the audience playing the role of an old-time radio show’s live audience — just like radio shows of the early 20th century. Charles Dickens’ holiday classic will come to life as six actors perform a live 1940s radio broadcast, with vintage commercials and live sound effects.


One of the more interesting shows this weekend should be the concert by the Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha. The quartet, which is based in Kyiv (Kiev), will perform at the Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577, www.thegrandwilmington.org) on November 25.

The veteran foursome includes Marko Halanevych (vocal, goblet drum, tabla, didgeridoo, harmonica, accordion, cajón), Olena Tsybulska (vocal, percussion instrument),Iryna Kovalenko (vocal, djembe, flute, buhay, piano, ukulele) and Nina Harenetska (vocal, cello). All of the members are graduates of the Kyiv National University of Culture and Arts.

The group’s name derives from Ukrainian verbs Давати and Брати, meaning “give” and “take.” DakhaBrakha is world-music quartet that blends elements of sound and soul to create what it calls Ukrainian “ethnic chaos.”

“A lot of our songs can be traced back to pre-Christian times,” said Halanevych, during an interview through an interpreter the last time DakhaBrakha played Delaware.

“Every song has a traditional source – traditional lyrics about nature and harvest and things like that. Some songs get changed from traditional through unusual arrangements and some do not change much at all.”

DakhaBrakha was created in 2004 at the Kyiv Center of Contemporary Art “DAKH” by the avant-garde theatre director – Vladyslav Troitskiy. Theatre work has left its mark on the band. In addition to experimenting with Ukrainian folk music, DakhjaBrakha has added rhythms from around the world in its music.

The band’s discography includes “На добраніч” (2005), “Ягудки” (2007),”На межі” (2009), “Light (2010), “Хмелева project” (2012) and “Шлях” (2016). DakhaBrakha also has three soundtracks to its credit – “Bitter Harvest” (2017 film, Canada), “Mavka. The Forest Song (2016, Ukraine) and “Fargo” (2017, TV series, United States).

Accompanied by Indian, Arabic, African, Russian and Australian traditional instrumentation, the Slavic foursome’s powerful and uncompromising vocal range creates a trans-national sound rooted in Ukrainian culture.

DakhaBrakha’s three female vocalists have spent many summers traveling around Ukraine’s villages collecting songs and learning from elder women in remote areas. Like these village tradition-bearers, they have spent years singing together, a fact that resonates in the beautifully close, effortlessly blended sound of their voices.

“The core of our music is Ukrainian folk music,” said Halanevych. “And, we try to mix in other styles of music – different styles of folk music. We like different styles of music – especially world music.

“We also like classical 20th-century minimalist music like that of Philip Glass. That style of music had also influenced us a lot. The methods of minimalism helped us with our approach to traditional folk music. But, the main element is always the Ukrainian folk tradition.”

Video link for DakhaBrakha — https://youtu.be/1a5ktK5xTkY.

The show at the Grand will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30.

Other upcoming shows at the Grand are “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” on November 26 and Melissa Etheridge “Merry Christmas, Baby” on November 29.

West End Blend

On November 24, West End Blend will bring its movement-inspiring music to MilkBoy Philly (1100 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 215- 925-6455, www.milkboyphilly.com).

Since the band’s formation, funk/soul band West End Blend has been playing its version of the music styles in venues all over the Northeast.

The band’s line-up features Erica T. Bryan (vocals), Sam Horan (drums), Tom Sullivan (bass), Paulie Philippone (keyboards), Jesse Combs (guitar),
Mike Dipanfilo (guitar), John Mundy (trombone), and Mike Bafundo (trumpet, vocals).

“The band is based out of Hartford, Connecticut,” said Horan, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from his Connecticut home.

“We formed the band right after college five years ago. We were students at the hart School of Music at the University of Hartford. I was studying jazz drumming and music management.

“I called some friends and asked them to start a band with me. We began by playing basement shows and local bars. After a while, we started getting dates outside the state.

“Three of us were really tight friends from previous bands we played in. It was an indie-rock band with jazz influences. We had gigging experience from doing shows around Hartford with that band. I met the rest of the band members through music school.

“West End Blend’s first show as a band was at Sully’s Pub in Hartford’s West End five years ago. There, I met a club owner who was opening a new club in downtown Hartford. I was in my senior year and needed a music management project. Me and him worked together opening the club and then West End Blend had a residency there every Thursday night for a year straight. That helped us cultivate a big following in Hartford. And, it helped us get our performance chops.”

West End Blend released its debut album, “Rewind”, in fall 2015. The album was recorded at Telefunken Studios with Grammy Award winning engineer, Brendan Morawski.

“We had a record out before that called ‘What It’s All About’ that came out in 2014,” said Horan. “Then, we released ‘Say Hey’ in 2016 and we just put out our fourth album on October 30 – a six-song EP called ‘Attitude.’

“It was recorded at the Carriage House studio in Connecticut last January. We did all the instruments in the same room together. It was almost like a live show. It was recorded digitally but we were shooting for an analog sound the best we could.

“We originally started with13 members and now we’re at eight. Over the years, we started to refine our sound. Our original music is written by a number of people in the band with the majority by our singer Erica and our keyboard player Paulie.”

Video link for West End Blend – https://youtu.be/rLI_34NY9xU.

The show at MilkBoy, which also features Nik Greeley & The Operators, will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.

The other show at MilkBoy this week features Soraia, Cold Roses, Lito and the Shepherds and The Hess Brothers on November 25.

Joe Deninzon

Another show on November 24 featuring a band that gets its groove going big-time will be Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

The New York-based band Stratospheerius plays a style of music that defies categorization — a blend of straight-up rock, jazz, folk, fusion, prog-rock and funk. The group’s founding member Joe Deninzon describes the band’s sound as “psychojazz trip funk.”

Deninzon & Stratospheerius is now touring in support of their new album “Guilty of Innocence” with a line-up featuring Joe Nardulli (guitar in Ad Astra), Paul Ranieri (bassist, Mark Wood), Tobias Ralph (drums, Adrian Belew) and Deninzon on electric violin, mandolin and vocals.

“Guilty of Innocence,” which is available through Melodic Revolution Records, also features special appearances by Alex Skolnick (Testament), Rave Tesar (Renaissance) and Randy McStine (The Fringe).

“Guilty of Innocence” highlights include a reimagined cover of muse’s “Hysteria,” a 12-minute prog epic titled “Soul Food” (which features Tesar, McStine and Skolnick), and “Dream Diary Cadenza,” a solo electric violin extravaganza by Deninzon.

“Making this album was a long process,” said Deninzon, during a phone interview Tuesday from Long Island, where he was rehearsing with the band.

“We had a new approach. Usually, we’d get 10 or more songs together and book a studio. This time, we did one of two songs at a time and released them as singles. And, we revisited stiff from 2014 and tweaked it. It was cost-effective – a single here and there. Also, it allowed us to make each song the best it could be. We let it evolve naturally. The only real challenge was to make the album sound cohesive – and it does. Nowadays, people expect you to come up with new stuff all the time. But, as a musician, you want your music to be goo – and that takes time.”

There were other differences with Deninzon’s approach to the new album.

“I wanted to try some different engineers whose work I liked,” said Deninzon. “The first four songs I had different people mix them. I ended up mixing a lot of the songs with Alex Saltzman. We tracked two songs at Alex’s studio and a few other songs at Rave Tesar’s studio.”

Deninzon, who plays a special seven-string Trident electric violin known as The Viper, has a diverse music background and a long history with his band Stratospheerius.

“I’ve had the band for quite a while now — in a lot of configurations,” said Deninzon. “I recorded my first CD when I was in Cleveland. It was called ‘Electric/Blue’ and it was a jazz fusion album. Over the years, I wanted to go in a more rock direction.

“When I moved to New York, I formed the Joe Deninzon Band and it later became Stratospheerius. I’ve always loved rock and folk music. Back then, I had two things going — playing guitar and singing in coffee shops and playing jazz music with my band.

“I looked at artists like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and John Popper — bands that were instrumentally great and were fronted by a vocalist. I was also influenced by progressive rock bands from the 19780s such as Yes, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and King Crimson.”

Deninzon’s current lineup could blow away audiences without a single line of vocals — but that’s not what he wants to see happen.

“I’m a big rock fan — always have been,” said Deninzon, who was born in St. Petersburg (Russia) and moved to Cleveland when he was a boy and his father landed a position as violinist for the Cleveland Orchestra.

“I studied jazz in college but rock is what I wanted to play. Vocals are important. We have a lot of instrumentals but 70 per cent of our songs feature vocals. With all the different genres, I was finding my way over the years.

“A lot of the stuff I write about is a mix of politics and personal life. ‘Guilty of Innocence’ came from my stint on jury duty. We’re quick to point our fingers but not so quick to look inside. Political and societal problems work their way into all my writing. Some of the songs are more personal – things like a lovers’ quarrel or missing my kids when I’m on the road.

“Stratospheerius has grown into a progressive rock band — a progressive rock band with cool vocals. Our stuff has gotten more structured. But, I also like the element of freedom. I never play a song the same way twice.”

Video link for Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius – https://youtu.be/RKp89PxikpQ.

The show at Sellersville, which also features Gary Hoey, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and $39.50.

Other upcoming shows at the Sellersville Theater are Almost Queen on November 25 and Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone with AM Radio on November 26.

Postmodern Jukebox

On November 25, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox will make a tour stop at the Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com).

Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox is a genre-busting, rotating collective of musicians and vocalists that reimagines modern pop hits in the style of jazz, ragtime, and swing classics of the 1920s-1950s. As arranger and producer, Bradlee has assembled a multi-talented group of performers who rework versions of popular modern songs.

The music videos of these collaborative covers have become viral sensations with millions of views on YouTube. An act that crosses all musical boundaries and generations, Postmodern Jukebox has developed a niche all its own, and performs a live show unlike any other – a must-see for anyone who loves jaw-dropping live performances.

Postmodern Jukebox is now touring in support of “The New Classics,” a 12-track album that was released on November 17 via Concord Records and Postmodern Jukebox Records. The album is the companion piece to a PBS special taped live at a Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) show in Las Vegas, which will air nationally in late November and will also be available on DVD initially through PBS.

Bradlee is the only constant in a band that has featured more than 100 semi-permanent and guest musicians. One of the current vocalists is Dani Armstrong.

“I joined the band one-and-a-half years ago,” said Anderson, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from a tour stop in Reading, Pennsylvania.

“I was performing at a club in L.A. – the Dave Koz Lounge –and sang one song. The Postmodern Jukebox manager heard me. He contacted me the next day and asked if I wanted to join Postmodern Jukebox. Obviously, I was interested and here I am.”

PMJ originally found massive success online, with new videos added weekly that continually find inventive new ways to put Bradlee’s trademark vintage twist on modern pop hits.

That “anything can, and will, happen” vibe is fully captured on “The New Classics,” which features lively performances of a wide range of reimagined hits in the party-like atmosphere that has come to characterize the band’s shows. These include everything from the grunge rock of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” to the teen-like pop of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” — from Cyndi Lauper’s classic ‘80s ballad “Time After Time” to the disco anthem “I Will Survive.”

The unique result of pianist/arranger Bradlee’s novel concept has generated over three million subscriptions to PMJ’s YouTube channel since its 2013 inception, not to mention over one million Facebook likes and nearly 850 million views.

With over one million views in its first week – and four million in its first year — Robyn Adele Anderson’s cover of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” (2012) was Postmodern Jukebox’s first viral music video. This success was followed by her cover of Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” in 2013.

“One of the biggest has been PMJ’s version of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ single,” said Anderson, who has lived in Los Angeles for the last 20 years

“The video for that song has already had more than 40 million views. The first video I shot with them was ‘Roxanne’ and I’ve been with them ever since. I also do Sia’s ‘Chandelier.’ I also sang on the live PBS special.

“I’m from Detroit and both of my parents are musicians. I grew up as a jazz fan and that’s a reason I like this band so much. Also, Postmodern Jukebox is all live. The fact that it is all in-the-moment really attracted me to the music.”

That live feel is captured beautifully of PJM’s new disc “The New Classics.”

According to Bradlee, “‘The New Classics’ was all recorded live in front of an audience in the middle of the tour, so everybody got to know each other really well and feel the energy and camaraderie.

“Listening to it now, it sounds like an amazing radio broadcast from Carnegie Hall from many years ago — a journey through all the vintage styles, whether it’s 1920s hot jazz or ’50s doo-wop or ’60s soul and everything in between. So, it’s a great way to experience PMJ if you haven’t been to a live show, with some extraordinary performances by some of our best-known performers as well as some newer ones.”

As any of their legion of fans can tell you, the PMJ live experience is never the same twice, with new songs, new sounds, and new members added to the ever-growing family each time around.

“On the road now, we have a five-piece band, tap dancers and five singers,” said Anderson. “And, it’s a different show every time you see it. It’s even different form night-to-night.”

Video link for Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox — https://youtu.be/mphD90urEp4.

The show at the Keswick will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices start at $39.

Other upcoming shows at the Keswick are “The Machine performs Pink Floyd” on November 24 and Olate Dogs on November 26.

Finding Neverland

Now through November 26, the Kimmel’s Broadway Series is presenting “Finding Neverland” at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333, www.kimmelcenter.org).

“Finding Neverland” is a Broadway musical that tells the fascinating story of how Peter became Pan. Based on the Academy Award®-winning film of the same name, it has been brought to extraordinary life by the team behind “Shakespeare in Love,” “Chicago” and “Pippin.”

The show follows playwright J.M. Barrie, who needs a big hit to save his floundering career. He finds the inspiration he’s been missing when he meets the beautiful widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four young sons — Jack, George, Michael and Peter.

Delighted by the boys’ hilarious escapades, Barrie conjures the magical world of Neverland and writes a play unlike any the high-society London theatergoers have ever seen. It’s a tremendous risk, but as Barrie himself has discovered—when you believe, you can fly.

With a little bit of pixie dust and a lot of faith, Barrie takes this monumental leap, leaving his old world behind for Neverland, where nothing is impossible, and the wonder of childhood lasts forever.

Starring in the show are Lael Van Keuren as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and Billy Harrigan Tighe as J.M. Barrie.

“I saw the show once on Broadway and I loved it. It was so beautiful,” said Van Keuren, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Cincinnati, Ohio. “The tour is different. They took the first 20 minutes and reworked it – revamped it and added new songs. Still, it’s equally magical to the Broadway production.”

Many fans might already be familiar with “Finding Neverland” from the movie of the same name.
“The musical is similar to the movie,” said Van Keuren. “It tells the same story – how J.M. interacts with the Sylvie and her family.

“It’s very much a show about the power of belief…of imagination…of never growing up….and of flying. It’s childlike in that way. For adults, it takes them back to their childhood – back to more innocent times. It’s also a good ‘date show’ because it’s a love story.

“There’s something exciting about seeing something that’s new. This show is set in 1903 but it has a contemporary feel.

“Audiences love it. The story of Peter Pan is so fascinating and so beloved. What child doesn’t dream of flying? And, it’s a really simple tale – simple but beautiful.”

Video link for “Finding Neverland” – https://youtu.be/FEc0ZIkL73E.

The show is running at the Academy of Music now through November 26. Ticket prices range from $25-$139.

Another highly entertaining and whimsical show – and a show in which people fly — has touched down in Philadelphia for a run through the end of the holiday weekend.


Now through November 26, Cirque du Soleil’s “Varekai” will be presented at the Liacouras Center (1776 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, http://www.liacourascenter.com).

In the Romany language, “Vare-” is a prefix that corresponds to the English language suffix “ever”. “Kaj” or “Kai” is the Romany word for “where”. Put them together and you have “Varekai” — which means “wherever”.

In the fantasy world of Cirque du Soleil, a land called Varekai exists at the summit of a volcano deep within a forest. From the sky, a solitary young man (Icarus) falls into the shadows of a magical forest and sets off on an adventure. In keeping with its name, this production pays tribute to the nomadic soul of the Romany gypsies and to the art of the circus tradition.

In “Vareki,” a young man falls from the sky and the story begins. Parachuted into the shadows of a magical forest, a kaleidoscopic world imbued with fantastical creatures, a young man takes flight in an adventure both absurd and extraordinary. On this day at the edge of time, in this place of pure and undiluted possibility, begins an inspired incantation to a life rediscovered and to a newly found wonder in the mysteries of the world and the mind.

In “Varekai,” Icarus descends into a populated forest full of curious creatures and is ensnared by a net, stripped of the wings that gave him flight, and hoisted high above the forest floor. In escaping his harsh enrapturement, Icarus flies once again across the heavens in celebration.

But, as he touches the ground he finds himself face to face with a beautiful young creature. Unable to communicate, they begin to mime each other and then fall in love.

Video link for Cirque du Soleil’s “Varekai” – https://youtu.be/YKxyhNQkarc.

The production will be staged at the Liacouras Center now through November 26. Ticket prices start at $46.

The UniverSoul Circus (52nd Street and Parkside Avenue, Philadelphia, 800-345-7000, www.universoulcircus.com), will run through November 26, is offering something different for circus fans. The performances, which will be held in the UniverSoul Big Top next to the Mann Music Center, blend traditional circus attractions with urban culture, hip hop tunes and world beat music.

Celebrating its 24th anniversary in Philadelphia, UniverSoul Circus has come full circle in its influence in the international entertainment marketplace — garnering the distinction of being known as a one-of-a-kind, must see attraction. Since its first performance in 1994, UniverSoul Circus has presented more than 10,000 performances to live audiences and has been seen in more than 60 million households on both local and national television networks.

UniverSoul Circus connects with progressive, upwardly mobile, urban pop cultures from around the world. Celebrating more than two decades under the big top, UniverSoul Circus features music, theatrical performances and incredible circus acts.

Leading the charge this year is Ringmaster Lucky Malatsi of South Africa, a multitalented entertainer who brings his unbridled energy to center ring. Malatsi has been with UniverSoul Circus in a wide range of capacities during his 15 years with the company – from contortionist and hip-hop dancer to trapeze artist. Joining him will be the pint-sized Ringmaster’s Sidekick extraordinaire, Zeke.

UniverSoul Circus is rated as one of the top two circuses along with Cirque du Soleil. UniverSoul’s fresh approach to family-friendly live entertainment has garnered it a coveted spot as one of Ticketmaster’s top ten most requested family events, along with other shows including Sesame Street Live, Disney on Ice, and Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

Video link for UniverSoul Circus — https://youtu.be/ht5EsnrW9uQ.

The circus will be in town now through November 26 at its site in Fairmount Park. Ticket prices range from $11-$35.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org)  will have Francis Dunnery (solo performance) on November 24, Joe Trainor & Friends present an Evening of Billy Joel on November 25,

“Whiplash – Films & Words at The Flash” and Bruce Klauber on November 26.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host Cliff Hillis’ Friendsgiving and Corin Ashley on November 25.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will present Dads Wardrobe on November 24.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will have Cabinet —

Mason Porter, Gatos Blanco featuring Pappy, Dylan Skursky, John Kimock, and Al Smith & Justin Mazer on November 24, and

The Stanley Clarke Band and Dave Bakey on November 25.

The Tower Theater (69th and Ludlow streets, Upper Darby, 215-922-1011, www.thetowerphilly.com) will host Kirk Franklin & Ledisi: The Rebel, The Soul & The Saint Tour on November 24.

World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com) will have Flightschool, Denizen and Matt Kelly on November 24; Beru Revue on November 25; Mardi Hub & The Sprockets on November 25; CupcakKe, Raw Elementz, and Tron Sagas on November 28; Loudon Wainwright III and Lucy Wainwright Roche on November 29; and Intersect: The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia with Andrew Lipke on November 29.

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