Articles by Rita Charleston

Crossover quartet blends four unique voices

The classical crossover quartet comprised of the Swiss tenor Urs Buhler, baritone Carlos Marin of Spain, French pop artist Sebastien Izambard, and American tenor David Miller first came together in 2003, the culmination of an exhaustive search by music producer Simon Cowell to find four singers of distinctive individual gifts who could, as a group, create musical magic.“Simon wanted a group that he could enjoy listening to, and scoured the planet looking for a group of guys whose voices and personalities would blend well, and whose work ethic would be over the top,” said Miller. “And so here we are today, nine years later, and known collectively as Il Divo.”But it took some time to work out the kinks, said Miller, now joining his fellow Il Divo members in a world tour that will take the stage at the Mann Center on June 9.“In the beginning, our voices and our temperaments didn’t mesh, but the work ethic was always there,” added Miller. “And eventually we learned how to blend our voices and ourselves, and throughout the process we were able to pair that with what we call our locker room sense of humor [and] that has helped get us through the most stressful times.”Although from different backgrounds, English is the language that has become their main mode of communication. “Everyone’s vocabulary has gotten up to speed, although we all speak a smattering of all other languages in which we sing — mainly French, Italian and German,” he said.Indeed, when Il Divo first emerged, the group presented a problem for those who felt a need to pigeonhole their music. Was it opera? Pop-opera? Musical theater?“Actually, we don’t touch an operatic repertoire,” Miller said. “Purists would have our throats if we did. We have varied backgrounds, from doing opera to musical theater. But I think we are the originators of the term pop-opera, and one of the forerunners of the classical crossover genre. We have taken our four individual styles and experiences and tried to blend them seamlessly so that’s you can’t really quantify exactly what we do. But we, and our audiences we hope, do seem to enjoy it all.“Suffice it to say,” Miller continued, “we are not like anyone else. Others have tried to copy what we do, but there’s something quite unique about the combination of our voices and the style in which we present our songs.”With more than 25 million albums sold so far — including 150 gold and platinum discs, and the only crossover classical album to date — Miller said the only challenge the group faces is to communicate effectively with its audience.“I think that’s our primary responsibility,” Miller explained. “Our main priority is to convey the sense of emotion of the song we are singing. There is, of course, a certain comfort in singing in the language of the country we are visiting. But once you start listening to the lyrics you are not in your emotional space. So we make sure we sing in several languages to avoid that from happening.”The response to their music has been overwhelming, Miller said. ”In the beginning, nobody thought the huge success we are enjoying today would happen. We were simply groping in the dark. But it worked. And now, we’re just trying to continue to evolve and bring something new to our audiences. I think that’s really our biggest challenge.”For times and ticket information, visit

Rockin’ reprise of Buddy Holly’s music, life story

It’s been seen by millions around the globe, and now Philadelphia audiences get to relive the magic of the music of Buddy Holly, the brilliant musician who changed the face of popular music and paved the way for the next generation of rock ‘n’ rollers.

Rockin’ reprise of Buddy Holly’s music, life story

It’s been seen by millions around the globe, and now Philadelphia audiences get to relive the magic of the music of Buddy Holly, the brilliant musician who changed the face of popular music and paved the way for the next generation of rock ‘n’ rollers.With Christopher Sutton in the title role, Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story continues at the Walnut Street Theatre through July 15.The story follows the superstar’s meteoric rise to fame, from his humble country music roots to the top of the record charts, to his untimely death in a plane crash in 1959.Sutton is no newcomer to the role of Buddy Holly. A three-time Barrymore award nominee for Blood Brothers and Singing in the Rain, he won the award for The Buddy Holly Story in 1999.“And it feels so good to be back,” Sutton said. “I’ve done the role in several other theaters since playing it at the Walnut, but this production really captures my heart.”In fact, Sutton added, acting in general captured his heart ever since he was a little boy. “I always loved reading, and when I discovered and read Shakespeare as a kid it made me want to become an actor. I liked the chameleon aspect of acting, and this show at the Walnut allows me to do just that.”Although Holly’s music became popular in the ’50s, and Sutton admitted to just being in his mid-30s today, he nevertheless grew up with the music of that era — thanks to his parents who had all Holly’s records and played them all the time at home.“I still love the music, and so do audiences, which I think is one reason why they keep coming back to see the show,” Sutton said. “There’s truth and honesty in the show, and a joy in the music you can’t help but love and react to.” In the audience, Sutton added, “we have 12 year olds who never heard of Buddy Holly, and 90    year olds who will never forget him. They’ll all be dancing in the aisles once they hear such classic favorites as Peggy Sue, Oh Boy, Maybe Baby, That’ll Be The Day, La Bamba and others.”Sutton, himself a musician as well as an actor, is a great admirer of Holly’s music and his life‘s story. “I think Holly was way beyond his years as far as the music he wrote. The songs are almost like poetry, and so powerful that you wouldn’t think someone so young could have written them.”And even at the time he was writing and performing, Sutton added, “Holly was so idolized by so many that even the Beatles took their name because they admired Holly and the Crickets so much.”In this show, Sutton will be acting, singing and dancing, as well as joining other actors on stage making music. There is no orchestra pit in this show. Rather, Sutton said, “when you hear the music of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, it’s just me playing the guitar, another actor on the bass, and another on the drums.”Over the years, Sutton has won several other awards, and appeared in many shows, including the national tour of Monty Python’s Spamalot, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, Me and My Girl, Carousel and others.“Of course I have favorite roles, but I will say this one is right up there on my list, mainly because Holly was a real person and I find doing roles like that very interesting and a lot of fun,” Sutton said.For times and ticket information, call 215-574-3550.

Tracy Morgan, real life

By Rita CharlestonFor the TimesGrowing up in the rough neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, and enduring a tough childhood wouldn’t lead many men to comedy. But in the case of Tracy Morgan, it did.“I was always a funny kid,” said Morgan, 43, who is set to take the stage at the Keswick Theatre on Saturday. “I think comedy was always in me, so I don’t think I picked it. I think it picked me.”Really, said one of the stars of NBC’s Emmy- and Golden Globe Award-winning 30 Rock, “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else in life. Sure, everybody has a rough beginning, and I did too. I’m not Paris Hilton and I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. But I’m all right. I’m far away from those early days. I’m a grown man now. You live and you learn. Life is complicated, but we try.”And Morgan certainly did try. Spurred on by a good friend to try comedy, Morgan began doing stand-up, building his act on the difficult situations he’d dealt with in his life. It was during one of those stand-up performances that Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels saw Morgan and decided to audition him for the popular TV show.Morgan’s humor landed him a spot on the show and he stayed for seven years before moving on to other things. In 2003, Morgan left SNL to headline his own show on NBC, a sitcom called The Tracy Morgan Show. Although the show didn’t last long, Morgan was able to turn his talents to other pursuits, landing significant roles in a handful of feature films.And in 2006, Morgan found his niche on 30 Rock, the sitcom created by fellow SNL alumna Tina Fey. A longtime friend and admirer of Morgan’s, Fey wrote the character of Tracy Jordan specifically for Morgan. “Tina came to SNL three years after me and we always had a good time working together,” Morgan said. “We are professionals and we work well together. There’s a chemistry there that’s always been there.”In 2009, Morgan received his first Emmy nomination for his role in 30 Rock in the Supporting Actor category. He’s also been nominated for a Supporting Actor NAACP Image Award, and has won the Screen Actors Guild Award for “Outstanding Performance in an Ensemble in a Comedy Series.”Among the other heights he reached in 2009 was the release of his book, I Am The New Black, a compilation of anecdotes and some of the more serious moments that shaped him and his career.“I wanted to tell my own story rather than have someone else tell it,” Morgan explained. “I’ve never been the kind of person who asks ‘why?’ but rather, ‘why not?’ I’m somebody who came from the ghetto and learned how to make it. Somebody had to, so why not me?”Morgan has also been heard lending his voice to the animated film RIO, tackled a role in the drama The Son Of No One, and rounded out his list of great comedic achievements with his first HBO special, Black & Blue.And when he takes the stage at the Keswick, he said he hopes his audience will realize that his stand-up is unlike what they see him do on television.“When I get on stage,” Morgan said, “I just want to spread my love and do it live. What I do on TV is for TV. But this will be live entertainment. It’s straight up, with no chaser. Sometimes, when people come to comedy shows they come expecting to see what they see on TV. But this is live. This is life. This is the real stand-up. This is the real me.”For show times and ticket information, call 215-572-7650.