Theatre Review: ‘Hitmakers: Origins of Classic Rock’ at JCC CenterStage

The team at the JCC CenterStage Theatre has done it again with Hitmakers: Origins of Classic Rock! Picking up where last year’s British Invasion tribute left off, this year’s production explores what happened to rock and roll from the late ‘60s through the ‘70s. The cast delves into the spirit of this genre, belting out songs that were the anthem to so many of our lives. I may be a decade short from truly “growing up” during this time, but these were the songs of my childhood. By the time I came around to truly knowing this genre, it’s name had changed from Rock (having dropped the roll when it became much edgier) to the Classic Rock we all know and love today. The cast, both new and returning members, does not disappoint in their renditions!

As the audience makes their way to their seats, songs like “Helter Skelter” by the Beatles and “Crazy on You” by Heart play in the background, prepping us for the awesomeness that is about to ensue. The band makes its way on stage, followed closely by the performers giving us a background into the show. We find out how after the British Invasion, American rock and roll changed from the single performer to the group, Americans taking their cue from the success of bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Rock and Roll dropped the “roll” and as returning cast member Rich Steele tells us, it became a “time to be Wild!” He breaks out into a fantastic Steppenwolf tribute of “Born to be Wild” and this heady ride begins, keeping the audience rocking right up to the final song. The lineup explores music from The Doors, Jethro Tull, The Doobie Brothers, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and so many more.

As always, the cast is fantastic, but before I get to them, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the band. Headed up by conductor, piano and keyboards player Casey L. Filiaci the musicians in this production bring down the house! Mark Balestra on guitar, Dave Cohen on drums, Mark Terranova on bass and Leah Zicari on guitar, banjo and mandolin are phenomenal! They all played off each other well, are cohesive and collaborative. Without them, this show would not have been as kickin’ as it was.

Now onto the cast! Newcomers Melissa Boyack, Sarah Del Favero, Courtney Weather Schutt and Eric Schutt enhance the voices of returning members Marc Cataldi, Darren Frazier, Rich Steele and Josh Wilmot. Although each rendition/tribute feels like it’s better than the last, there were a few stand out pieces for me. Boyak’s, Del Favero’s and Weather Schutt’s rendition of The Weight has a soulfulness in it that adds to The Band’s original version. Cataldi’s Whipping Post by the Allman Brothers Band was spot on and his and Frazier’s Your Song by Elton John was phenomenal. Wilmot’s version of Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love was awesome and I LOVED Schutt’s version of The Door’s People are Strange!

Last year’s show was phenomenal and I think this year’s is even better. Bring a friend and rock out to the perfect way to heat up a cold February evening!

Run time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission

Hitmakers: Origins of Classic Rock  is playing at the JCC CenterStage Theatre until February 16th. Get your tickets at https://jccrochester.org/events/special-events/centerstage-theatre

Theatre Review: ‘Hitmakers – The British Are Coming!’ at JCC CenterStage Theatre

The British are coming! The British are coming! Or at least they are in the JCC CenterStage cover band version. For the fifth year, CenterStage creates their take on a rockumentary, this time focusing on the British Invasion of the 1960s. The writing and directing team of Jack Garner, Esther Winter, Casey Filiaci and Ralph Meranto definitely hit this one out of the park.  Although I’m a bit young to have experienced this music in its original live form, this was the music of my formative years. The coming of age music for my parents, The Beatles, The Kinks, The Animals and The Rolling Stones were frequent background music to my early childhood, so I was excited to see this show. I was not disappointed when I looked at the lineup, knowing about 98% of the songs listed.

. . .go see this show, sing along, clap your hands and get up and dance!

Performing with a live band and screen projections of album covers of the era, the nine performers in “Hitmakers” do an excellent job entertaining the audience and singing covers of some of the most famous rock songs of this period. Although all of the performances were done well, there were some that really stood out. Janine Mercandetti’s performance of The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” was phenomenal! Her powerful voice adding a depth of soul and grittiness that is necessary for this song to be a success.  Laura Jean Smillie Diekmann’s rendition of “Downtown” could have been mistaken for Petula Clark herself, and Jordan Bachmann and Marc Cataldi’s version of The Beatles “Blackbird” was spot on.

Interspersed throughout the production are historical tidbits which were nice breaks between songs and genres. The audience is told how the American 1950s Rock-n-Roll made its way across the pond to England in the form of bootleg albums and radio broadcasts picked up from passing ships by British teenagers. We learn how the Brits formulated their own version of Rock-n-Roll starting with The Beatles, who eventually made their way back across the pond to the United States in the 1960s. The back and forth, and evolution of this art form including the Blond Blue-eyed Soul Movement with Dusty Springfield, the “satirizing” groups like the Monkees and John Fred and His Playboy Band, and ending with the psychedelics of the late ‘60s helped to spread Rock-n-Roll worldwide.

This is a fun, upbeat performance and definitely one to check out for anyone who loves this music genre. A few of the renditions were a bit kitschy, “Wild Thing” by The Troggs and “My Generation” by The Who come to mind, but over all added to the show as a whole. My only complaint would be the lack of audience enthusiasm. I don’t know how you hear these songs and this music and not sing along, or get up and dance in the aisles! This, of course, was not due to any lack of trying on the performers parts. All of them frequently tried to get the audience clapping or singing along, with little success. (This has been a frequent observation of mine at many musical performances in Rochester, so I don’t think it’s unique to this show in particular.) My advice if you go see this show, sing along, clap your hands and get up and dance!

Run time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission

“Hitmakers: The British are Coming”  is playing at the JCC CenterStage Theatre until February 17, 2019 in Rochester. For more information, click here.