On Stage: Cirque Dream Holidaze at the Merriam

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Cirque Dream Holidaze

“Cirque Dream Holidaze” is what you get if you pair the magic of a circus performance with the excitement of a holiday production.

From 26-29, “Cirque Dream Holidaze” will visit the area for an eight-show run at the Merriam Theater as part of the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Philadelphia series (250 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, www.kimmelcenter.org)

The show, which was created and directed by Neil Goldberg, is a stage spectacular that takes Christmas entertainment to a whole new level. “Cirque Dreams Holidaze” has an international cast of over 30 talented performers performing old and new Christmas numbers.

Set in a multi-million-dollar wonderland of elaborate scenes and dozens of original holiday production numbers, this spectacular show celebrates the most wonderful time of the year as they experience over 300 spectacular costumes and 20 of the world’s most astonishing acts.

Broadway singers perform original music along with a new twist on seasonal favorites such as “Deck the Halls,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “Jingle Bell Rock.” On the edge-of-your-seat acrobatics are performed by toy soldiers, snowmen, penguins, candles, reindeer, gingerbread, carolers, Santa, plus colossal ornaments flying, balancing, and stretching imaginations in this groundbreaking holiday stage spectacular.

“The production is even bigger than ever,” said Goldberg, during a phone interview last week from his home in Fort Myers, Florida. “We’re always adding new songs, has new acts — and a lot of new music by Jill Winters.

“It looks and feels like a Broadway musical. There are great songs and big Broadway-style production numbers along with all the fun and pageantry of a holiday show. This is our 12th season with this show, and we have six productions out on the road.

“Each production has 300 costumes unique to that production. But each production has the same premise – celebrating Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas and New Year’s

Goldberg is the founder and creative force behind Cirque Dreams, an American theatrical production company. The company has a number of spectacular shows on the road, including “Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy”, “Cirque Dreams Rocks”, “Cirque Dreams Coobrila” and “Cirque Dreams Splashtastic.”

“The concept for this show evolved from my being a collector of Christmas ornaments,” said Goldberg. “I have a collection with thousands of ornaments from all over the world. I was so inspired by these ornaments.

“I thought they’d make great character costumes. There are over 300 costumes used in each performance. The performers’ skills have been put into holiday themes. There are contortionists as candy canes and acrobats as cookies.

“The show has an amazing new ‘Deck the Halls’ scene. This is a high energy, very fast-paced show with two acts — each about 50 minutes long. It’s a holiday stage spectacle that puts smiles on people’s faces.”

Performances are scheduled for December 26 and 27 at 2 and 7 p.m., December 28 at 11 a.m., and 3 and 8 p.m., and December 29 at 3 p.m.

The show is recommended for ages 5 and older. The listed age is a recommendation, but please use discretion when making a decision for young theatergoers.

Video link for Cirque Dreams Holidaze — https://youtu.be/05jPfTOpA3s.

The show at The Merriam Theater will run from December 26-29. Tickets range from $40-109.

If you’re familiar with Bob Dylan or Americana music, then you surely are familiar with The Band. Unfortunately, The Band lost two members who have gone to the other side and now no longer exists as a band.

The Weight Band

In case you’re not familiar with Bob Dylan’s first foray into electric rock music and his performances with The Band, The Weight Band will help you learn this piece of American music history – actually American/Canadian music history.

“The Weight” is a song by The Band. The Weight Band is a band named after The Band’s song “The Weight.” The Weight Band is a music group put together to keep alive the music of The Band.

On December 27, The Weight Band will visit the area for a Point Entertainment show at the Colonial Theatre (Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610- 917-1228, www.thecolonialtheatre.com).

The Band was a Canadian-American rock group featuring Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson. In 1965, Dylan hired them as his touring band when expanded for a solo folk artist to a folk-rock musician with a group behind him.

After a while, Roberston left to pursue a solo career and then later Manuel died. The remaining three members continued to tour and record albums with a succession of musicians filling the departed members’ roles. The final line-up included Richard Bell, Randy Ciarlante and Jim Weider.

Danko died of heart failure in 1999, after which the group broke up for good. Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998 and continued to perform until cancer won the battle in 2012. A passing wish of Helm was for the music and spirit of The Band to live on. The Weight was formed to do just that. The Weight came into existence to bring a live performance to fans of The Band — but not as a tribute band.

Replicating the music of The Band is a tall order but interpreting the music of The Band is an art.

Performing songs of The Band, The Weight Band is keeping the spirit and the music alive that helped define an era.  Members of The Weight Band were either actual members in The Band or are directly and deeply connected to its legacy.

The group features Jim Weider from The Band; Brian Mitchell of the Levon Helm Band; Albert Rogers, who shared the stage with Levon Helm and Garth Hudson in The Jim Weider Band; Michael Bram, who played with Jason Mraz; and Matt Zeiner , who was a member of the Dickey Betts Band.

“A few years ago after we lost Levon, Randy Ciarlante and I put The Weight together with a couple other musicians,” said Weider, during a phone interview from his home in Woodstock. “We did songs of The Band and the shows sold out.

“Then, we got Marty Grebb. We did a few shows and it really started to take off. We added Brian Mitchell and Byron Isaacs. Now, Byron has left the group and we pulled in a new bass player — Albert Rogers. He had played in my band — the Jim Weider Band — in the ’90s.

“We’ve been going out in spurts — three shows and then come back. It’s on and off. We’ve done shows in Florida, California, Tahoe — and New Years’ Eve in San Francisco. But we don’t want to go out for weeks at a time. We do nice rooms on three or four-day tours — five days at the most.”

The members all have other projects, but it is the music of The Band that binds them together.

“I started playing with Levon in the early ’80s in the Levon Helm Band,” said Weider. “Randy was in the band too. In 1985, when Richard and Garth moved to Woodstock, we toured with Crosby, Stills and Nash. We went out as The Band. That really changed my life.”

This show at the Colonial Theatre is not just another concert by The Weight Band. It is a special celebration of The Band’s historic 1972 live concert album “Rock of Ages,” featuring The Weight Band along with the The King Harvest Horns.

At this special “Rock of Ages,” The Weight Band will perform arguably rock’s greatest live album of all-time with hits such as “The Weight”, “Up On Cripple Creek”, “Rag Mama Rag”, and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

“We went to Norway with the King Harvest Horns and did some shows in New York with them,” said Weider. “They’re all top-notch horn players. There are four of them playing saxophone, trumpet, trombone and tuba.

“We’re playing all the great tracks from that album — including some Dylan outtakes from ‘Rock of Ages.’ We’re playing this show at the Capitol Theater in New York before we come down there, so we’ll really be ready.

“I was there at the concert in 1971 and saw the Band play with horns for the first time. It was a groundbreaking show. So, whenever we play a ‘Rock of Ages’ show, it’s always a special event. It’s a fun show.

Video link for The Weight Band — https://youtu.be/3OW_sLK3uc4

The show at the Colonial Theatre will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices start at $27.50.

The Underground Thieves

get to be home for the holidays this year. The Philadelphia-based band will have two shows in town during the holiday break when it opens for The Struts on December 28 and 29 at Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150, www.thefillmorephilly.com).

The Underground Thieves are an independent rock band from Philadelphia led by artist, songwriter, and producer Nick Perri. The group features Perri on vocals and guitar, singers/songwriters Anthony and Michael Montesano, bassist Brian Weaver, keyboardist/songwriter Justin DiFebbo, and drummer Zil Fessler, all of whom originate from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“We’ve been together for about two years,” said Perri, during a phoner interview last week from his home in Philadelphia.

“Essentially, it started as this idea – I’m going to call my closest friends and we were going to combine our talents. It was to be this big musical family kind of thing.”
This band is truly a Philly area band.

“Brian and I are from Northeast Philly,” said Perri. “I went to Father Judge High School and then graduated from Bensalem High while Brian went to Archbishop Ryan.

“The Montesano brothers are from Springfield and they live in West Chester now. Justin is from Royersford and Zil lives in Norristown.”

“At first it was an eight-piece band and then a 10-piece band,” said Perri, who formerly was a member of Silvertide.

“Then, it finally settled on a line-up of six people form Philly who grew up together. Now, it feels lean and man. It was a natural evolution. It took a little while and then it happened.”

The band has an album release in its future. Its earlier release was an EP titled, “The Capistrano EP.”

“The earlier EP had five songs,” said Perri. “Basically, we just put out to have something to sell at our shows.”

Perri and his band have been following the popular new model for a band’s release of music – releasing a series of singles rather than an LP or an EP.

“We’ve been putting out singles to stay in people’s minds – and also to not make people wait. I don’t want fans to have wait for music anymore — especially for long periods of time,” said Perri. “I don’t want a long gap between material. I want us to be able to share our music as it comes to fruition.

“We’ve got the material written to do a full-length – or maybe an EP. We’ve recorded all over the place – especially Philadelphia and California. I married a California girl, so I have a home studio in Southern California.

“We did tracks at Fishtown Studio in Orange County and at Sunset Sound. We also did some recording at Quarry Sound in Philadelphia, And, our keyboard player has a home studio in Royersford. We hope to have the record out early next year.”

Video link for the Underground Thieves — https://youtu.be/AbSlVDQKOQs.

The show at the Fillmore will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35.

Other upcoming shows at Fillmore Philadelphia are “The War On Drugs: Another Drugcember to Remember” on December 30 and “DRAKE NIGHT: So Far Gone – NEW YEAR’S EVE EDITION” on December 31.

Guerilla Toss

On November 15, Guerilla Toss released its new EP, “What Would The Odd Do?,” and followed with a four-city tour with Battle. Now, Guerilla Toss is on the road again as the opener for Rubblebucket on a four-city tour that arrives here on December 28 for a show at the Theatre of the Living Arts (334 South Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1011, http://www.lnphilly.com).

Guerilla Toss — singer Kassie Carlson, drummer Peter Negroponte, guitarist Arian Shafiee, keyboardist Sam Lisabeth, and bassist Stephe Cooper – formed in Boston in 2012 and is now based in New York City.

If Carlson were a cat, she would have definitely already have used up two of her lives.

The first life would have been claimed by a serious heroin addiction. Most of the time, such addictions result in death or, if luck intervenes, a lengthy jail sentence. There also is a very painful withdrawal process involved.

The second life would have been used when Carlson experienced a near-death experience following an opiate addiction that caused her to need open heart surgery.

“It’s been more than two years since I quit opiates,” said Carlson, during a phone interview las week from her home in Livingston Manor, New York. “I had a Vivitrol shot and that really helped.”

Vivitrol (naltrexone) blocks the effects of opioid medication, including pain relief or feelings of well-being that can lead to opioid abuse. An opioid is sometimes called a narcotic. Vivitrol is used as part of a treatment program for drug or alcohol dependence.

Vivitrol injection is used to prevent relapse in people who became dependent on opioid medicine and then stopped using it. Naltrexone can help keep an addict from feeling a “need” to use the opioid.

“Back in 2017, I was sick and sweating and thought I had the flu,” said Carlson. “I went to the emergency room and they said – you can’t leave. I had open heart surgery to remove a dangerous blood clot and was in the hospital for six weeks.

“Everything Is fine n ow. I look back and it was a really awful time. I can’t believe I made it out. It’s hard to explain. You can see death.

“I had been a bike messenger in New York City and was at peak fitness. After surgery, I didn’t ride the bike. Right now, I’m just doing the exercise and building muscle again.”

Now, Carlson has found a new joy in life. She has since moved to Upstate New York with her partner and Guerilla Toss drummer, Peter Negroponte, and has never felt more inspired.
According to Carlson, “Only recently have I really begun to open up about everything that’s happened to me in the last few years. These songs mean a lot to me; anyone in recovery knows that going through an opiate addiction and beating it is a big deal. I am living proof that it can happen to anyone.

“I’ve always written abstract lyrics that have eluded to my personal struggles, but this time I try to provide context to my metaphors and allegories. In this way, I hope to help other people who are struggling, and anything else that is a result of a corroded society that has left so many people in the dust — especially women. Drugs are such a dude-associated thing, which has made it even harder for me to talk about.

“I felt gross, other-ed, and alone. I didn’t think anyone would be able to understand or relate. Experiencing severe trauma as a child creates different parameters for normalcy, and inclusion. Statistically, women are more likely to hide addiction and keep feelings inside, making it potentially much more festering and toxic. Drugs affect people of all backgrounds, regardless of race, class or gender. Addiction hits us all, and it hits hard.”
According to Carlson, “It was very intense. Had I not had Medicaid I would have been completely screwed. I’ve never had money – I grew up poor – with a single mother in sketchy neighborhoods living paycheck to paycheck – sometimes one never came. We lived in motels and run-down homes until we got kicked out, never staying in the same place for very long. My father died suddenly and unexpectedly when I was a teenager.

“As a child, I never had financial help and usually held down multiple jobs while still attending school. At the time of my surgery, my income was low enough that I qualified for full coverage of all medical expenses, including a six-week stay in the hospital. My muscles were gone, and I had to re-learn how to walk. Even simple tasks made me exhausted, but I have since greatly recovered.”
Guerilla Toss’ origins are somewhat unusual. They started as an experimental art-rock project at the prestigious New England Conservatory in Boston. When Negroponte met Carlson at a DIY show in Allston singing in a metal/hardcore band, he quickly asked her to join Guerilla Toss and they played their first show together a week later at the infamous Death By Audio in Brooklyn.

“They had a band with a sax player and no vocalist,” said Carlson. “They asked me to join Guerilla Toss. I play violin sometimes and some synth bus mostly I just sing.

“The new EP was written about a year ago. Peter and I were working on it at our home. Then, we recorded it up here at the Outlier Inn in the summer of 2019.”

The Outlier Inn is a bucolic 12-acre property in New York state’s southern Catskill mountains, 90 miles from NYC.  The Inn offers a peaceful and inspiring respite from life in the Big City.  It is a retreat center, an event/workshop/location space, a fiber and vegetable farm, and a world-class recording studio.

“That was fun,” said Carlson. Peter and I had worked on the songs for a few months. Then we brought them to the rest of the band. They all live in Queens. They liked it and added their own spin.

“For me, writing these songs was definitely cathartic – here goes nothing. It’s been good.

“It’s crazy how fast it all came back once I stopped using. I didn’t expect my friends to be so forgiving, but things are back in full swing and have never been better. So many things keep me from going back to that dark place. But most of all its the music, being creative and getting to perform.

“I live a truly interesting life. Breaking the cycle of addiction is more than just stopping. It’s more about fixing your environment, getting deep into your brain and figuring out what creates that thick dark cloud of depression.”
“What Would The Odd Do?” is based on Carlson’s journey to the dark side of addiction and how she found her way back. A portion of the proceeds from the album will go to the Harlem Harm Reduction Clinic in an attempt to further the reach in the opiate crisis battle.
Video link for Guerilla Toss — https://youtu.be/zthlGxeHTJU.

The show at the Theatre of the Living Arts on December 28 with Rubblebucket will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $20.

Other upcoming shows at TLA are Simxsantana and Friends on December 27 and The Record Company on December 31.

Guerilla Toss

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will present Jeffrey Gaines on December 27, Steal Your Peach on December 28, “Films & Words – Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool” with guest lecturer Matt Cappy on December 29, and New Year’s Eve with Steve Forbert & The New Renditions Trio on December 31.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host Ben Arnold on December 28.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will host Revelation, The Moon Illusion and Liz Greene on December 27.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will host RFA on December 26, Splintered Sunlight on December 27, Start Making Sense on December 28, The Soul Rebels on December 30 and “Roaring 20s New Year’s Soirée with High-Energy NOLA Brass from The Soul Rebels” on December 31.

The Living Room at 35 East (35 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, https://thelivingroomat35east.com) will present “Chris Schwartz of Ruffhouse Records Presents A Revolution of Noise” on December 27 and “Greg Farnese Presents Resolutions of The Great American Songbook” on December 28.

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985,  hosts The Philadelphia Jug Band on December 28.

118 North (118 North Wayne Avenue, Wayne, www.118northwayne.com) will have WheelHouse, Molly Martin and Matthew Fair on December 27, Greenfield County Fair (Classic Rock tribute) on December 28, Dylan Hepner on December 29, and NYE Bash with PhillyBloco (16-piece Brazilian/Funk Dance Party) on December 31.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) presents The Genesis Show on December 28 and Dead on Live on December 31.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) presents Raymond The Amish Comic on December 26, Lotus Land (RUSH Tribute) on December 27 and 28, Live Wire (AC/DC Tribute) on December 29, Bruce Katz Band & Giles Robson on December 30 and AM Radio on December 31.

The Locks at Sona (4417 Main Street, Manayunk, 484- 273-0481, sonapub.com) will present “John Byrne does Shane McGowan and the Pogues” on December 28 and “Hank Williams Tribute!” on December 29.

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