On Stage: Shakespeare comes to life at Phoenix Theatre

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

The Tempest

If you’re looking for a different and interesting way to celebrate the holiday weekend, you can celebrate the opening of Chester County’s newest cultural attraction – the opening weekend of the Phoenix Theatre (The Phoenix Theatre at SALT Performing Arts, 1645 Art School Road, Chester Springs, https://www.thephoenixtheatrepa.com).

Most new theater companies would choose to introduce themselves with a safe opening production – a hit musical like “Legally Blonde” or “Cats.” The Phoenix Theatre has chosen a path less obvious.

In residence at SALT Performing Arts in Chester Springs, this brand-new company dedicated to re-envisioning classics, producing bold contemporary pieces, and forging new works, debuts with a production of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” with a run from July 5-21. Official opening night is July 6 at 7 p.m.

The theater’s mission statement is – “The Phoenix Theatre is a professional, non-profit theatre company dedicated to building and inspiring community.  We strive to tell stories that encourage our audiences to see the world in a new light and rise to action. We are committed to making people laugh, cry, and cheer by re-envisioning classics, producing bold contemporary pieces, and forging new works.”

It has long been a dream of the company’s founders — Artistic Director Seth Reich, his wife Development Director Jessica Myhr Reich and Managing Director Michael Hajek — to run their own company. This production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” is being directed by Reich.

“In the back of our minds, we knew we would eventually start a theater,” said Seth Reich, during a phone interview last week.

“We moved from New York – Long Island City – two years ago to Chester Cunty. We wanted to come to a community that supported the arts and welcomed art.

“I didn’t know we were going to start it now. It happened because of my uncle Marc Adelman who teaches at the Performing Arts Studio in West Chester. I thought I’d take my time and just teach at the studio. My wife has her own image and branding business. But my uncle pushed us to start now.”

The Phoenix Theatre’s production of “The Tempest” is a contemporary re-imagining of Shakespeare’s final play utilizing modern design concepts to create magic along with strong movement work and dynamic music. A full immersion experience of Prospero’s island, where creatures, spirits and people alike crave connection and understanding — reminding audiences of the many strengths and fragilities of being human.

“We’re re-invigorating Shakespeare,” said Reich, who has worked with numerous theatre companies and educational institutions including Actors’ Shakespeare Company, the American Repertory Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, Classic Stage Company, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Theater with a View, Columbia University, Emerson College, New York Film Academy, and New York University.

“We want to bring it back to life – trying to keep it light with music and visuals. And, to keep it to about two hours.”

Hajek plays the role of Prospero and Myhr Reich is Ariel. The cast also features Lorenzo Landini as Stephano, Lydia Joy Carswell as Caliban, Dani Joy Foley as Alonso, Trina Tjersland as Antonio, Katrina Hall as Gonzalo, and Tiffany Bacon as Sebastian. Another key member of the crew is Resident Designer Stephan Moravski.

The Phoenix Theatre’s inaugural season will feature two productions. The second will be Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” from January 17-February 2.

“‘The Tempest’ and ‘The Glass Menagerie’ are perfect for the concept of this season – ‘Season of Dreams’,” said Reich.

“We ain’t your mama’s Shakespeare. It’s very contemporized. Part of our mission is to re-invigorate the classics – jealousy, ambition and love…these things are never going to go away in our culture.

“‘The Glass Menagerie’ fits perfectly with ‘The Tempest.’ The Phoenix Theatre – rising from the ashes – give this classic work a rebirth. We’re taking a lot of liberties with concept and design. We’re creating experiences you can’t capture on video.

“Phoenixville is a great place to bring art to. We fell in love with the community. In the end, we’re all about the community.”

Tickets for “The Tempest” are $25 for adults, $17 for students and seniors, and free for anyone under 18.

Another act playing the area this weekend has looked to the past for inspiration on modernizing works from long ago.

Just as the Phoenix Theatre is bringing Shakespeare back to life with a new look, Joanie and Matt are reaching back to the Jewish Bible to find song material.

Joanie and Matt, who are performing on July 5 at World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com)

Joanie & Matt

Joanie & Matt (JAM) is made up of NYC-based award-winning singer/songwriters Joanie Leeds and Matthew Check.

Between them, they have earned an Emmy nomination, won various songwriting awards and have been featured in People Magazine, the New York Times and Washington Post.

Back in 2008, Joanie & Matt co-wrote a collection of songs for a Jewish Children’s Bluegrass album during their daily lunch breaks while working at Central Synagogue, one of NYC’s largest synagogues. “Challah, Challah,” the first “Jewgrass” children’s album, was born.

The duo toured nationally with their own individual projects over the past decade. Now, Joanie & Matt have reunited and are taking their musical collaboration to the next level — music for grownups.

“We first started playing and writing together in 2008,” said Check, during a phone interview last week. “After our first album, Challah, Challah,’ we took a songwriting break for about a decade.”

Leeds said, “We worked well together but we were both busy doing our own projects.”

Leeds started a kids’ rock band called Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights for which she was a winner of a Gold Parents’ Choice Award and a NAPPA Gold Award. She was also a finalist in The USA Songwriting Competition and The John Lennon Songwriting Competition as well. Further accolades from that period include multiple features in People Magazine, Parents’ Magazine and The New York Times. 

Check’s banjo playing meanwhile was captured on an Emmy-nominated song. He also launched The Bluegrass Kabbalat Shabbat Experience which he brought to different parts of the U.S. and the U.K. 

Life kept happening.

Leeds was married in 2012 and had a daughter in 2015. Check finished a memoir in 2017 about his life as a Jewish banjo player while continuing to produce both albums and music videos for other musicians. 

During this era the songs from “Challah, Challah” took on a life of their own. They enjoyed national success both on Jewish radio stations as well as in the homes of families through PJ Library. 

“We unexpectedly got back together as a songwriting team,” said Leeds.

Check suddenly returned home early from India and Southeast Asia after his relationship came to an end with his girlfriend and traveling partner. Leeds, whose marriage was coming to a close, moved back to Manhattan.

“We found that we were living 10 blocks apart in Manhattan,” said Check. “Joanie was interested in stories from the Hebrew Bible. I had wanted to write songs about the Hebrew Bible for a long time.”

Leeds said, “We wanted to challenge ourselves as songwriters. We wanted to modernize these stories from the Hebrew Bible.”

The songs for Joanie and Matt’s new album, “Sterling,” which will be released on July 19, are inspired by stories and characters from ancient texts. The album artfully showcases story songs inspired by the Bible but retold through a modern, feminist lens controversially embodying themes like the #MeToo movement, female empowerment, substance abuse, the LGBTQ community and more.

The song, “Sterling,” was inspired by the story of Tamar, who was raped by her half-brother Amnon in 2 Samuel. Joanie & Matt’s song, sung from Tamar’s viewpoint rather than the Bible’s third person, is #MeToo timely, sung from the perspective of both a woman and a victim — a voice that’s not at all found in the Bible and other ancient religious texts.

“Tamar was King David’s daughter who was raped by her half-brother,” sad Leeds. “Tamar didn’t have a voice. The King didn’t want to have anything to do with it. We wrote it first person – in Tamar’s voice. It was the first song we co-wrote in a decade.

“The song, ‘How Far the Mighty Have Fallen,’ is about Jonathan and David. We used it to bring relevance to the LGBTQ community.”

Check said, “I have a master’s degree in Jewish education and my Hebrew is really good. When we worked on the songs, we read it in English. For some passages, we would go to the Hebrew.”

This weekend’s show is the New York duo’s first out-of-state show – and a homecoming for Check.

“I grew up in Bucks County – in Newtown,” said Check. “I went to high school at The George School and then went to college at the University of Pittsburgh.”

Video link for Joanie and Matt – https://youtu.be/o4khlg5U0kA.

The show at World Café Live, which also features Matt Wheeler & Vintage Heart, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.

Other upcoming shows at World Café Live are “HYPE! Presents Love Fest” on July 6, Better Than Ezra on July 7, Philly Is Dead on July 9 and Gilbert O’Sullivan on July 10.

In 2012, fans of Static-X had good reason to believe that the end of recordings and shows from the band had arrived.

Group members fell out of synch with each other and Static-X disbanded in 2013.

Any hopes for a reconciliation and reunion were dashed when front man Wayne Static died at age 48 in November 2014.

But Static-X still had more life left.

In October 2018, original member Tony Campos revealed plans for Static-X to reunite with the other half of the original lineup — Koichi Fukuda and Ken Jay — to release a new album in 2019 called “Project Regeneration.” The album will include previously unreleased tracks with Wayne Static’s vocals.

The trio also had talks about a tour which resulted in Static-X’s “20th Anniversary Wisconsin Death Trip Tour.” The tour brings the band to the area for a show on July 7 at Reverb (1402 North Ninth Street, Reading, 610-743-3069, www.reverbconcerts.com).

“We talked about the tour after we figured out that we were going to celebrate some anniversaries,” said Campos, during a recent phone interview.

“It’s the 25th anniversary of ‘Wisconsin Death Trip’ and it’s also the 25th anniversary of the band. When we got together, things just snowballed. We began finding old demo tapes.

“At first, it was just these five tapes that Wayne had given to a producer friend of ours before his passing. Then, we discovered these other eight vocals that Wayne sang on. What was funny about the stuff we found later, a lot of it was just Wayne’s vocals. He was using two machines to record his vocals and guitar.

“We had to write music for a lot of it. Wayne’s vocals – he was singing a lot more on the vocals. Wayne didn’t sing melodically too often but, when he did, he sang well.

“We made ‘Project Regeneration’ using Wayne’s vocals. We’re now in the process of finishing up the tracks to send to producer Ulrich Wilde. We’re hoping to have all the tracks finished before the tour and he’ll have time to work with them.”

Featuring an unnamed vocalist wearing a Wayne Static mask, the band is touring in celebration of its debut album “Wisconsin Death Trip.” The masked front man is simply known as “Xer0.”

“Live, we’ll be playing the majority of ‘Wisconsin Death Trip’ and the rest of the set will be our quote/unquote hits,” said Campos, who also is now or was a member of Fear Factory, Ministry, Asesino, Prong, Soulfly, and Possessed.

“When we started rehearsing, all the stuff from ‘Wisconsin Death Trip’ and ‘Machine’ came back amazingly well. We’re playing almost all the songs from our first album and some form the second.”

Fans will hear “Wisconsin Death Trip” performed live just as they remember it.

“We’re going to present it live,” said Campos. “This is not Static-X with a new singer. We’re not trying to come back with a new singer. We want it to be pretty close to what it felt like.

“We want to pay ultimate respect to Wayne and to celebrate the music that has been in all of our hearts for more than 20 years. Xer0 know Wayne so, for him, it’s almost as personal. He’s wearing the mask and playing all Wayne’s parts. He’s stepping up to the plate.”

Video link for Static-X — https://youtu.be/_340zcRUO5g.

The tour features co-headliners and metal giants DevilDriver and will also feature support from heavy mainstays Dope, Wednesday 13 and Raven Black.


DevilDriver is an American heavy metal band from Santa Barbara, California, formed in 2002, featuring vocalist Dez Fafara (the only remaining original member), guitarists Mike Spreitzer and Neal Tiemann, drummer Austin D’Amond, and bassist Diego “Ash

DevilDriver’s last full-on metal album was “Trust No One,” which was released on Napalm Records in 2016. The band did release “Outlaws ’til the End: Vol. 1” last year but that was an outlaw country covers record rather than a full blast of DevilDriver’s intense music.

Now, DevilDriver has a new album ready to be unleashed on the world. Actually, two new albums are in the works.

“We just got the album mastered,” said Spreitzer, during a recent phone interview from a tour stop in Richmond, Virginia.

“It’s two different records. We’re going to be staggering the release. We’ve got 20 songs ready that we recorded with producer Steve Evetts in his studio in Garden Grove. Dez finished his vocals in June. It’s all been a big blur.

“Neil and I started writing for this two years ago. There is quite a bit of diversity in the songs. We’ve ventured int areas we’ve never gone before – but it’s still DevilDriver. I don’t think we’ve ever strayed away from heavy metal. Even the ‘Outlaws’ album was definitely heavy metal.

“Doing a double record was a bigger undertaking than we expected – especially the guitar playing. We had to do so many layers

“Trust No One” was DevilDriver’s first with the current lineup.

According to Tiemann, “We recorded ‘Trust No One’ in California a few years ago. It was the first album with the band for me and drummer Austin D’Amond. We both joined DevilDriver in 2015. I had been friends with Dez for a while before I joined the group.

“We first hooked up through our wives. They met on Instagram because they’re both into Harlequin Great Danes. That was the connection. The first time we all got together, Dez and I hung out listening to Pantera albums.

“Fortunately for me, DevilDriver’s old guitarist quit and I jumped right in. Austin came on a little later. Producer Mark Lewis told us – you’ve got to use Austin.

“An interesting thing about making the album was the circumstances. Usually, a band has time to rehearse and play. This time, we wrote the songs before we even played together. It really just started with writing. Mike and I and Austin write all the music and Dez does the lyrics.

“At the beginning, we’d write a little on our own and then get together at Mike’s. As the songs developed, some were collaborations and some we wrote on our own. It was a lot more democratic than I expected.”

The band recorded and released the “Outlaw” album and then Tiemann and Spreitzer turned their focus to the new music.

‘Technically, Neal and I went into this record with the idea of slowing it down a little,” said Spreitzer. “It’s still really heavy.

“I’ve had a propensity to write songs that were faster. I didn’t do it this time. There are about five songs in our set that we speed up live but most are close to the original. We’re not doing any ‘Outlaw’ songs on this tour.”

Video link for DevilDriver — https://youtu.be/hlDPWmwO7SU.

Theatrical metal band Raven Black has given fans a teaser of its upcoming 2020 release “Black” with the just-released single “Risen from the Ashes.” The single was produced by Ulrich Wild (Buckcherry, Static-X, Deftones), and continues Raven Black’s story, as told in the first installment of the band’s ongoing comic book series, “A Dark Metal Carnival – The Beginning,” and the upcoming issue, “A Dark Metal Carnival – We Came Across the Darkness.”

The comic book series lays out Raven’s past, where a voodoo doctor finds a lost, scared young girl and uses his dark magic to turn her into a doll. The spell did not work and left Raven as a half-human/half doll creature. Through her life with the Doctor, Raven secretly studied his magic, and eventually used it to conjure up a demon named Muppet. Muppet became Raven’s eternal protector, trapped inside of her heart. Along with the Doctor, Muppet then created a character named Stitches to seek out other looking to join their dark metal carnival world.

In addition to Raven on vocals, the lineup of Raven Black features the three other main characters from the books — Muppet (Drums/Vocals), The Doctor (Lead Guitar/Vocals) and Stitches (Bass).

Video link for Raven Black — https://youtu.be/S1M8AgxFHt0.

The all-ages show at Reverb featuring Static-X, DevilDriver, Raven Black, Dope, Wednesday 13, Husk, 1818, It Is Written, and Syrin, will start at 6 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Other upcoming shows at Reverb are Set It Off on July 5 and L.A. Guns on July 12.

Better Than Ezra

On July 7, another band that had to deal with the death of a key member and show the resilience to rebound is coming to Philly. On Sunday night, World Café Live will host Better Than Ezra.

Better Than Ezra is an alt-rock band from New Orleans. The band was formed in 1988 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by vocalist and guitarist Kevin Griffin, lead guitarist Joel Rundell, bassist Tom Drummond, and drummer Cary Bonnecaze. The current lineup features Griffin and Tom Drummond along with Michael Jerome (drums).

Rundell died in 1990. The remaining three members of the band took some time off to reassess its future following Rundell’s death. Then, Griffin, Drummond and Bonnecaze reunited Better Than Ezra as a trio by the end of 1990 and continued playing house parties and fraternity shows across southern United States during the early 1990s.

After self-releasing the first album “Deluxe” in 1993, the band drew interest from major labels. But it wasn’t until after two years of touring and creating an intense loyal fan base that dubbed themselves the “Ezralites,” that Better Than Ezra signed with Elektra Records. Elektra rereleased “Deluxe” and its single ‘Good’ which reached the #1 position on the Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart driving the album sales to platinum status.
Better Than Ezra band quickly became a staple in the ’90s pop/rock scene immediately releasing two new albums within three years of being signed. “Friction, Baby,” released in 1996, and “How Does Your Garden Grow?” in 1998, produced hits “Desperately Wanting, “King of New Orleans,” and “At the Stars.”

Better Than Ezra released its eighth album, “All Together Now” in 2014. The album is still the band’s most recent release.

“The next Better Than Ezra album will come out in February,” said Griffin, during a phone in interview from San Francisco last week. “I’m putting out a solo record in October.

“We all do so many things that it takes us a while to get together. I live in Franklin, Tennessee. Tom lives in New Orleans and Jerome lives in L.A.

“We have been in the studio writing. We’ve got 13 tracks together and we will do more. We’re in the process of writing songs and recording the ones we love. Usually, the songs reveal themselves. They have a funny way of letting you know what’s best.

“I like having songs that no-one has heard but we always play new ones. When we play at the World Café, we’ll only play a couple new ones. It’s been a while since we released an album, so we know that on this tour we have to play some new songs.”

Better Than Ezra has been around long enough that they don’t have to rely on new singles to draw an audience.

“We’re at a point in our career that we’re not really going after a radio hit,” said Griffin.

“Our new album is going to be more of a rock record – more live sounding…more raw. I still love ‘All Together Now.’ It was our last shot at being a pop band.”

A solo album will be a different venture for Griffin, who has also produced, written, and co-written songs for other artists, such as Sugarland, James Blunt, Christina Perri, Taylor Swift, Train, Howie Day, Missy Higgins, Augustana, Debbie Harry, Josh Radin, Tristan Prettyman, Shinedown, and Hot Chelle Rae.

“I’ve never put a solo album out,” said Griffin, who co-wrote a Christmas song with the Beach Boys’ Mike Love last year.

“I finished recording the last song yesterday and sent it to be mixed. I couldn’t be more proud of it. It’s very satisfying.

“I made the record at Pink Deer Studio, which is my studio in Franklin, Tennessee. I wanted to build a studio where I don’t have to leave. I made the conscious decision that it had to sound different than Better Than Ezra.

“I was inspired by Dylan and Nick Drake. It’s still my voice and my songwriting but it’s more acoustic – more Americana sound. But I still like pop music.”

Video link for Better Than Ezra – https://youtu.be/JdzegXdk4Ak.

The show at World Café Live, which has Andrew Duhon as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $36.

Cassidy Catanzaro

Cassidy Catanzaro has performed many times in this area over the last 10 years – in different venues, with different names and in different bands.

Cassidy, who had area gigs as a member of the all-female band Antigone Rising from 1999-2008, is back for a show on July 6 at The Living Room at 35 East (35 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, https://thelivingroomat35east.com) sharing the bill – and the stage — with Robinson Treacher.

“Robinson and I connected,” said Cassidy, during a phone interview Wednesday morning. “We just wanted to do a cool tour together.”

In 2012 as a solo artist, she headlined a show at the sadly-departed Tin Angel using the moniker Bohème – a name she shared with an opera by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini.

“When I was in Antigone Rising, I was just Cassidy,” said Cassidy. “In the years in between, the rapper named Cassidy came out and was huge. I couldn’t believe Cassidy would be a name for a rapper.”

Cassidy eventually decided to use Bohème for her musical projects — the first of which was her debut album “Follow the Freedom.” The album’s title track featured reclusive frontman Steve Perry of the band Journey. The second solo album, “Cassidy and The Music” came out in 2014. Her most recent album, “What Is Real,” was released four years ago.

“For my new album, I’m doing it a little backwards,” said Cassidy. “I’m going out to test the water – to see what people want. Then, I’ll go back in the studio to make the record.

“My last album – ‘What Is Real’ – came out in 2015. ‘What Is Real’ was great. I’m super proud of it. I’ve been going through growth spurts since Antigone Rising. I wanted to spread my wings. ‘What Is Real’ set the stage for what is to come. My new music is more focused – more about what is happening in my life.”

Two of those things are “Women Rock” and her current tour with Treacher.

“Women Rock is a stage production starring 2017 Grammy Award Nominee singer/songwriter Cassidy Catanzaro, star of “A Night with Janis Joplin” Katrina Rose Dideriksen, and the Broadway, TV and Jazz vocal star Shayna Steele, who most recently starred in “Hairspray Live” on NBC. The show features the music of Holly Knight, Carole King, Irene Cara, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Minnie Riperton, Heart, Pat Benatar, Joan Jett and Tina Turner.

“For ‘Women Rock,’ I got called in to audition in New York,” said Cassidy. “It’s a great opportunity to sing Carole King in front of an audience – and an opportunity to sing in front of a 55-piece orchestra. It’s a really exciting show with Katrina Rose Dideriksen and Shayne Steele – and we get to perform in these really beautiful theaters.

“The show in Ardmore is in a small room so it will be a nice intimate show. Robison and I met at a show about a year ago at Burlap and Bean and just put this eight-show tour together. I play my songs. He plays his and we play some together. It’s more a show than separate sets.

“I’m trying out a bunch of new songs from the album I’ll be recording at my studio later this year. The new songs are soul and alt-country. I was living in Louisiana for a while and that’s an influence. I love to explore genres.”

Video link for Cassidy – https://youtu.be/pCZVSfRfb4Y.

The show at The Living Room at 35 East will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Joshua Chase Miller

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will have Open Mic with guest host Joshua Chase Miller  on July 7 and The Zheroes, Cameron Schultz and Congrat on July 9.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host “Magic Sunday with Steve Friedberg” on July 7.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will host Brand New Crescent Moon, Hempwick and Kings Arms on July 5 and CPTime, Trent Thomas, Marc Sherfield, Roi Lush and Rose Savage on July 6.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will host “Dead White & Blue:

3 Nights of Splintered Sunlight” from July 4-6, and “A Night with Mary Fishburne” on July 9.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will present Dan May with Lizanne Knott & Special Guest Ciara Grace on July 5, Almost Queen on July 6, and Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters: The Speck Tour with Dominy on July 7.

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