cassie schauer

Review: Mandy Gonzalez: Fearless

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By Cassie Schauer, Guest Blogger

Who needs to fight for Hamilton tickets when Mandy Gonzalez is in town?  Currently starring as Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton on Broadway, singer Mandy Gonzalez chose Lone Tree for the closing night of her week-long tour to promote her debut CD, Fearless. In her words, this CD and tour are a “dream come true.”

I have never heard her sing live, so I was immediately blown away with the power of her jazzy voice. She opened with the classic “On a Clear Day” sung with a sultry Latin beat. Her voice is huge — I imagine it could be heard from the parking lot.  Mandy created an intimate connection with the sold-out audience throughout the performance, waving to the people in the balcony and sharing her connection to each of the songs she chose to perform for us. By the end of the evening, I felt I had been listening to someone whose career I had been following for years.  She was so excited and genuine and having so much fun.

She added a personal twist to each song she performed and referred to several as being “from her first album.”  Her rendition of “I Only Have Eyes For You…and you…and you…and you…” was performed with a playful Latin beat.

As an original cast member of  Lin-Manual Miranda’s In the Heights, “Breathe” is arguably the first song that Mandy is known for.  She told us how returning to the Richard Rodgers Theater for Hamilton brought back such good memories, as if she’d never said goodbye to the theater.  “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard paid tribute to that time in her life.

Mandy sang “Get Ready Cuz Here I Come” in honor of her father’s singing career. It was the first song she remembers hearing him sing. She followed with “Born to Run,” an ode to her husband’s New Jersey roots.  Next was “Life is Sweet,” which she performed on her CD with original Hamilton cast member and her In the Heights co-star, Christopher Jackson.

She then told us the tale of “the Green Girl,” Elphaba from Wicked: the 20 pound dress, the raked stage. Would she ever do it again? No, she said, the green doesn’t come off!  She followed with a tongue-in-cheek rendition of  “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” before singing the powerful “Defying Gravity” from Wicked.

The Fearless CD tour began in Florida. Performing so soon after the shooting in Parkland, Mandy decided that she wanted to honor and celebrate every city she performed in by inviting a community choir to sing with her. For tonight’s show, Mandy was joined by a group from Denver’s award-winning Phamaly Theater Company, comprised of performers with diverse disabilities of every nature. “Starts Right Now” is a powerful ballad about the ups and downs in life, about being fearless, and about having the courage to let go.  The result was strong and positive, the performers clearly enjoying their time to perform together.

Finally, Mandy performed the title song from Fearless, written for her by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It was inspired by the story of how her mother and father overcame huge personal obstacles and found the courage to stand up for forbidden love. She ended the performance with a very passionate rendition of “Que Sera Sera,” her grandmother’s favorite and her best advice.

Mandy was backed by a talented group of musicians. Seeming like old friends who had been playing together for years, they provided a rich and energetic compliment to her voice.  Lead by pianist and musical director, John Deley, the band included Richard Hammond on bass, Abe Fogel on drums, and Oscar Rodriguez on guitar.

There is something different about a Broadway singer performing on her own. A different vibe. Different connection with the audience. Mandy seemed somewhat in awe of her position now as a solo artist. She was having a blast and so were we.

Review: Riders In The Sky

By Cassie Schauer, guest blogger

group4x5250dpiOn a cold, windy January night on the Colorado range, the Riders In The Sky brought their funny musical tribute to the Wild West to the Lone Tree Arts Center. My mom and I were excited to see them perform the songs made famous by her childhood favorite Roy Rogers and The Sons of the Pioneers. We were not disappointed.

The Riders In The Sky are a group of four very talented musicians including guitarist Ranger Doug the “Governor of the Great State of Rhythm,” fiddler Woody Paul the “King of the Cowboy Fiddlers,” and accordionist Joey who is “The CowPolka King.”  Standing in for bassist Too Slim was Blake Macklemore, who seamlessly picked up on the songs and jokes despite having joined the night before. The band’s playful ribbing about their age reminds you that they have been together for over 40 years.  They are perennial favorites on the state fair circuit and have won a Grammy for their album Woody’s Round Up from Disney’s Toy Story 2.

The show opened with scenes from The Roy Rogers Show including sidekick Gabby Hays, cowgirl Dale Evans, and of course, Roy riding his horse, Trigger. As the lights came up, Riders In The Sky appeared dressed in colorful Western shirts, lighting their cellophane flame on the campfire surrounded by toy armadillos and cacti.  Proclaiming, “In a logical world, men would ride side saddle,” the first set featured a variety of cowboy standards.  Ranger Doug awed us with his impressive yodeling skills, hitting the high notes yet singing with a smooth baritone voice. “Sky Ball Paint” featuring the “Lone Tree Yodel” brought out whoops from the crowd. Sprinkling the set with witty comments and silly jokes, the band invited us to sing along to “Don’t Fence Me In” and “You Are My Sunshine.” The set lighting turned red like the hot desert sun when the band sang “Cool Water,” a favorite of The Sons of the Pioneers. Joey drew lighthearted dirty looks from his bandmates when he threw in a “Diet Pepsi” in place of the “water” echo.

The second set included “Blue Shadows on the Trail” from the 1948 Disney cartoon “Melody Time,” sung complete with wind and howling coyotes.

Woody showed off his various cowboy talents.  As a member of the National Fiddler Hall of Fame (per Ranger Doug, in the “living” category), he dazzled us with his fast fiddling and dancing skills.  Schooling us on the difference between “Country” and “Western” styles of music (“Country” means you take the mike out of the stand), he got down on his knees at center stage, swinging his hips to “You’re Wearing Out Your Welcome  Matt,” an ode to Gunsmoke’s Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty. After jumping off the stage to high-five with the audience, he went on to show off his lassoing skills. Claiming all of his mistakes are real and not rehearsed, he performed the donut trick as a “favorite of the Lone Tree Police.”ritssunset4x5250dpi

Taking a break from the cowboy tunes, local saxophonist Eric Stehle joined the band for a rousing rendition of jazz standard “Sweet Georgia Brown.”  Featuring a solo by each of the five musicians, the group showed off the depth of their musical talents and was a fun change.

The band rounded out the show with audience requests including Tex Ritter’s “Blood on the Saddle” and perennial favorite “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” Ending on a perfect note with another audience sing-along to “Happy Trails to You” and the sage advice to “never drink downstream from the herd,” the band road off into the sunset. Riders In The Sky, a fun and talented group of entertainers, warmed up a cold night on the range with a performance that my mom and I were glad we didn’t miss.