“Sadly, I kind of liked it,” I hear the guy behind me say to his friend as the closing credits of Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest outrageous, tongue-in-cheek (and that’s the most appropriate of places) social satire begin to roll. “Is that bad?”
Under the Streetlamp is a new act storming the nation that presents audiences with a vocal performance spotlighting what they call the "American Radio Songbook." The ensemble took its classic approach and turned it into a full production that has been drawing packed houses all over. Under the Streetlamp is currently barnstorming across the country on the heels of its PBS special and debut self-titled album, which showcases UtS's strong Doo-Wop/Pop/Motown/Rock & Roll-oldies sound.
CityBeat recently spoke with one of the vocalists, Michael Ingersoll, of Jersey Boys fame, and discussed the rise and evolution of the group as well as where the sights are set for the future. Under the Streetlamp performs at the PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Music Center on Sunday night.
CityBeat: You guys have been around for a couple years but you are a fairly new group. Can you tell me the story of how Under the Streetlamp formed?
Michael Ingersoll: Absolutely. The four of us met when we were doing a play called Jersey Boys. Chris Jones and I did the first national tour of Jersey Boys and then he went off on his way and I met the other two fellows in Chicago and we did the production there. While we were in Jersey Boys, on our nights off we were putting together these concerts for clubs and local theaters to sing other music besides musicals, like things from The Beach Boys, The Drifters, The Beatles and songs like that.
After the show closed in Chicago, the momentum for us was actually following this band; this "side-gig" took off so we decided to pursue it rather than pursuing our individual career as actors. So we took advantage of that momentum and submitted a five-minute demo of what we were doing to (PBS outlet) WTTW in Chicago and they said they were interested in helping us develop this project.
That is the really short version. Once PBS was on board, we were able to book a 27-city tour, which is pretty ambitious for a new group.
CB: What is the biggest difference between performing in Jersey Boys on stage and the Under the Streetlamp group?
MI: Well, Jersey Boys, first and foremost, is a musical with a story and a book. We are a band; we are a concert. There is nothing Broadway about us at all. We have full artistic control over everything we do. This is a project that we guide. This is a project that we own.
That was really one of the big motivations for doing this because our acting careers where we were doing pretty well in the acting business.
It is a concert and we have a lot of fun with each other. We have a lot of the fun with the audience. We take the music very seriously but we don’t take ourselves very seriously at all and the audience seems to enjoy that.
CB: I have been listening to the album this weekend. How did you pick these particular songs to perform or put on the album?
MI: The four of us — each of us is a lead singer. It is actually pretty rare for a band to have four lead singers. We wanted to lead with our strengths, our individual personality.
Michael Cunio, for example, has a crazy high singing voice so he did Etta James “At Last” in Etta’s original key and it is always a big surprise to the audience when it is coming. Chris (Jones) has got a very powerful, kind of balladeer voice so we sing “I Come For You” for him. I am kind of a Folk Rock/Rockabilly guy. Shonn (Wiley) is an incredible tap dancer and Broadway showman so we do “When You’re Smiling” for him.
So basically we just chose the songs as it suited our strengths and flowed for the evening. We also chose artists that are in that same genre that we learned when we were in Jersey Boys. So that’s where we get The Beach Boys and The Drifters and The Beatles.
Our music is fun, it is life-affirming, it is joyful, it makes people feel good. That is probably the biggest criteria for how we choose.
CB: I know your family was an influence musically to you growing up. I also know that you are from Dayton, so you are a local to us. Did you have a good music program in Dayton growing up or did your family give you private lessons? How did you develop musically?
MI: Well, there are two major factors. My grandfather was a professional Jazz pianist and so there was always music around in that environment. He taught me to play piano by ear and really get into Jazz primarily.
There is also an amazing arts program called Muse Machine in Dayton, Ohio. It is a program where kids come from all over — high schools from probably a 30-, 40-, 50-mile radius and every year they put on a musical and they bring in Broadway caliber directors and choreographers and producers. I was lucky enough to be cast into one of those shows and that is really where my interest exploded in performing and what led me to go to college and study acting.
Check out the Muse Machine website, you can learn all about it, it is an amazing organization. I would credit them with the biggest influence, the biggest push.
CB: You are on the road now. You said you were doing 27 cities, which is a lot to take on. Is there anything about home or here you miss when you are on the road?
MI: Obviously my family is there, but who doesn’t miss Graeter’s ice cream and Skyline Chili and the Cincinnati Reds. I love those things. Those are the things I do as soon as I come back. I usually go to Skyline Chili and Graeter’s and try to catch a Reds game. I am a huge Reds fan and Bengals fan. I live in Los Angeles now so I miss the change of seasons in Ohio, but (there are) good, friendly folks there and it was a wonderful place to grow up.
Cincinnati has a vibrant and rich arts community so we just can’t wait to play. I also did a year at the Cincinnati Shakespeare (Company). That was my first actual professional acting job to work there for a year, so I got my start in Cincinnati.
CB: Where do you see yourself in five years?
MI: I think that we are on track to be a top tier act in the Adult Contemporary market, with Michael Buble, Norah Jones, Diana Krall and artists like that. I think we have a product that makes people happy. I think we have a got a very powerful team with PBS and our management. We are determined to take this to as many people as will possibly let us do it. We are doing every single thing we can to make sure we are here to stay. As long as we make people happy, we are optimistic that will happen in big ways.
CB: You said you play piano, but do you guys play any instruments during the show or is it just singing?
MI: No, we are four singers and we have a seven-piece band of incredible world-class musicians. These are folks that have played with Sinatra and Frankie Valli and huge, huge names. We have a rhythm section and then three horns. That horn section helps kind of give it that "streetlamp" character. It helps with that distinctive sound.
CB: Tell us, in summary, what can the fans expect to see in the show?
MI: There is a lot more music we perform live than on the DVD for the folks that are familiar with us from PBS. There is a lot more music and people come away from it often saying, “I can’t believe I laughed that much” or “I didn’t expect the show to touch me emotionally like it did.”
I think people are going to laugh a lot. Hopefully they get up and dance a lot. When they leave, hopefully they feel better than when they came in from listening to this great, joyful music performed by people who really care about them having a good time.
And also, if you have got time, just check out the Under the Streetlamp Facebook page because our fans comment on there after every single show, and really their comments, and there are tons and tons of them, say it all.
CB: That was one of my next questions — are you guys using social media to promote the band?
MI: Absolutely. We have a great website and great designer. We use Facebook, we use Twitter. Any way that we can possibly interact with our fans, we do so. We answer our own e-mail. We maintain our own Facebook page. We spend a lot of time talking to our fans. Anybody that writes in and asks us a question or comments on Facebook, we interact with.
Without them, we are nobody. We make sure they not only feel welcome at the shows but feel welcome in the cyber universe 24/7.
CB: What music are you currently listening to or what is inspiring you right now?
MI: It is funny, a lot of the music that I listen to outside of the band is not music that has anything to do with what we do.
CB: That is pretty common though. I talk to Metal people all the time and they never listen to Metal music. It is really an interesting dynamic. I always find it interesting to see what people really listen to when they are not playing.
MI: Right now I am listening to Foo Fighters latest album, Wasted Life, (and) Ben Folds latest album.
Now here’s a reality TV show that will probably raise a few eyebrows. And the good news is that it doesn’t humiliate anyone in the process.
CityBeat's inauguration page now includes a link to our alt weekly colleagues in D.C., the Washington City Paper, which features a huge inauguration guide for the millions of people already descending on their city. City Paper staffers are sending out constant updates on Twitter and a group blog, Inbloguration, including this multimedia gem from about an hour ago: "Here's a semi-live feed from my basement in Petworth, where whiskey-swilling guests collaborated on an unconscionably patriotic version of 'The Weight.' "
For its 33rd iteration, the Humana Festival of New American Plays offered as many works that were based on ensemble and imagery as it did traditional dramatic plays. By the luck of the schedule during the weekend I recently attended at Actors Theatre of Louisville (ATL), I saw three works (Wild Blessings, a selection of writings by Kentucky poet Wendell Barry; Ameriville, a piece of performance art by UNIVERSES, a Hip Hope ensemble; and Under Construction, a script by avant-garde writer Charles Mee performed by the equally experimental SITI Company directed by Anne Bogart) that lacked traditional narrative form.
Let me just give you a run down on why grapes are so awesome. Grapes are by far one of the most versatile and delicious fruits on this wonderful planet we call Earth. Grapes are used in jam, juice, jelly, vinegar, wine and oils, which are the bases for many tantalizing treats we consume on a regular basis.
Elhassan worked for P&G through XLC Services, a Cincinnati-based company that provides manufacturing services and warehouse management to other companies, at P&G facilities in Guilford County, N.C.
The lawsuit charges P&G and XLC with religious harassment, religious discrimination, failing to accommodate after religious discrimination in the workplace, national origin discrimination, sexual discrimination, two counts of retaliation, negligence, unfair and deceptive trade practices, assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The lawsuit tells the story that led to the charges as follows: Elhassan, who wears a hijab and wedding ring for religious reasons, was employed at P&G’s facilities through XLC between 2004 and Sept. 16, 2011. During her employment, Elhassan followed P&G rules and regulations and kept “a performance record which was satisfactory or better.”
However, Elhassan was unaware of a company policy that
banned jewelry in the workplace, even jewelry of religious significance.
This policy was mostly not a problem for Elhassan because, as the lawsuit
claims, “Other employees of different religions and national origins
routinely wear jewelry under clothing and/or protective wear and are not
punished or searched.”
That is until a woman named Ernestine Wilson allegedly approached Elhassan, forcibly searched Elhassan for her wedding ring and removed Elhassan’s hijab in front of coworkers, including men, according to the suit. Under Islam’s rules, a woman uses a hijab, which is a religious head and neck wrap, to maintain sexual modesty, and being exposed without a hijab to men who are not family is a major offense and source of humiliation.
Elhassan reported the forced search to higher-ups at XLC. After a few meetings, Wilson provided an apology, according to the lawsuit, but Elhassan claimed the apology was insincere because Wilson kept telling coworkers that she hoped Elhassan was fired. After Elhassan refused to accept the apology, she was suspended then fired, allegedly under the orders of P&G.
The lawsuit suggests that Wilson's actions were potentially connected to another workplace incident. The lawsuit says Elhassan was sexually harassed in the past by George (no last name provided), a man with whom Wilson was allegedly “engaged in a friendly, physical, and/or romantic relationship." Elhassan reported the incident, which got George fired. The lawsuit claims Wilson’s actions were in retaliation to George’s termination.
Since Wilson did work for P&G through XLC, Elhassan blames both P&G and XLC for the damages. The lawsuit claims she was unfairly fired in retaliation for not accepting Wilson’s apology. It also alleges that XLC forced Elhassan to sign a document she did not understand upon her termination without her lawyer present, even though Elhassan asked to have her lawyer read the document. The document, which P&G officials were supposedly aware of, allegedly sought to release P&G and XLC of any wrongdoing related to the termination.
Mary Ralles, spokesperson for P&G, responded to the lawsuit in an email: “As a matter of company policy, we do not comment on pending litigation, but I did want to make one correction. The individual was not (or ever) a P&G employee.”
The distinction Ralles made is that Elhassan was not officially employed by P&G, but she did work for P&G through her employment at XLC.
XLC could not be immediately reached for comment. This story will be updated if a comment becomes available.
After shooting the rapids of downtown’s Friday night to get to the Sundresses’ affair (in which I played the part of the kayak), it was my fervent hope that the skies would clear and remain free of precipitation for MidPoint’s final slate of shows on Saturday. It certainly looked good at 7:30 p.m. as I sat in the car going over my schedule before hitting the sidewalk. Who knew then that the metaphorical storm clouds generated by Cadillac Ranch would be bigger than the literal batch that Mother Nature whipped up for us midway to the end of MidPoint?
So what the heck happened at the concert by the always dazzling Neko Case at the Taft Theatre last night? Case's biggest show ever in the Cincinnati area was musically solid, but didn't go as smoothly as planned thanks to flared tempers, the proliferation of smartphone cameras and some angry and/or obnoxious audience members. It's safe to say that you can add Case to the increasingly growing list of performers who are losing their patience with omnipresent smartphone use at concerts.
Case is fairly prolific with her Twitter account, but her tweets from yesterday showed no clear indication of the kerfuffle. Earlier in the day, she praised Iris Book Cafe for their hospitality and good grub and, post-show, she tweeted "Thank you, Cincinnati, you are kind folks," followed by some heart symbols. (Sarcasm?)
CityBeat contributor Keith Klenowski was there to photograph the show (not on his phone; he was credentialed) and says the problems started during the second song of the night, when Case stopped the show and asked everyone to stop taking photos with their phones because the flashes were bothering her. Things calmed down, people seemed to oblige and the show picked up again.
Several songs later, according to Klenowski, Case stopped the show again and appeared to be talking to a fan near the front of the stage about putting their phone away. Case made a comment about happily refunding tickets, adding, "Just put away the cameras. It isn't going to kill you, but it might kill me" and "You can boo and call me a spoiled Rock star. I am." Case claimed there were signs about cameras posted around the venue, though Klenowski says he didn't see any.
Case's reaction was met with a mix of cheers and boos; some people got really bent out of shape about her protestation. "I (saw) people put on their coats and walk out," Klenowski says. "One guy (flipped) her the bird and storms out."
He says that not long after the second stoppage, a woman came down the aisle towards the stage and took a photo before immediately being escorted out by security. Before the band returned for an encore, Klenowski says he saw another skirmish that involved a man arguing with security as he was being kicked out.
"Neko looked tired and even admitted at the start that it was time to wake up or something like that," Klenowski says, adding that the singer was apologetic to the non-heckling/non-photo-taking fans throughout the show and at the end of the night. "I got her frustration, but I have never seen anyone threaten to leave and stop a show because of it."
As a final installment for this shopping guide adventure, I leave you with the Greater Cincinnati area's chain and department store options. If you aren't new to the city, many of you probably already know of these locations — but, hey, it's always nice to be reminded!