Monday, November 27, 2017

Paramount Theatre creates holiday magic with "Elf: The Musical"

Photo by Liz Lauren

The Paramount Theatre's production of "Elf: The Musical" is everything that a holiday musical should be – and more.

Brightly colored sets, catchy songs, sparkling choreography and a stellar cast combine to create a joyful production that leaves audience members full of good cheer.

The musical is based on the 2003 movie "Elf." For those not familiar with the story, "Elf: The Musical" tells the story of Buddy the Elf, who finds out that is actually human and goes to New York City in search of his father.

In her director notes, director/choreographer Amber Mak took note of the challenge to live up to the audience's expectations, given the film's popularity. In her capable hands, Mak puts a fresh face on the production, as she did in presenting stellar versions of "The Little Mermaid" and "Hairspray."

Kyle Adams, who is new to the Paramount stage, captures some of that wild-eyed enthusiasm that Will Ferrell brought to the role of Buddy in the film "Elf." He also has the vocal power and strong stage presence the role requires.

We discover his love for Christmas during the rousing opening number, "Christmastown." But the production is full of outstanding performances, including Roger Mueller's hilarious take as Santa Claus. Samantha Pauly also turns in a fine performance as Jovie, Buddy's love interest.

Pauly understands the complexity of her role as she transforms from someone who is not a fan of Christmas to one that embraces the wonder of the holiday. Kudos also go out to 14-year-old Oliver Boomer, who makes his Paramount debut in the role of Michael Hobbs. He already has an extensive theater resume under his belt, and his performance in this production will hopefully lead to bigger roles in the future.

Sometimes, theatrical productions can suffer from a drop in energy level, with the second act not living up to the energy of the first act. That is not the case with this production.

It's almost like the first act was just a warm up for the cast. Case in point – the rousing song and dance number "Nobody Cares About Santa," which opens the production's second act.

Start off your holiday season right by seeing "Elf: The Musical" at the Paramount Theatre."

"Elf: The Musical" is being presented at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora, through Jan. 7. For tickets, go to or call 630-896-6666.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Blues musician James Armstrong releases new album, will play at Buddy Guy's Legends


Decades after he first broke into the music business, the blues continue to be good to James Armstrong.

Armstrong, 60, formed his first band in the 7th grade, and by age 17 he was touring around the country. On his latest release, "Blues Been Good to Me," the Springfield resident works with legendary producer Jim Gaines.

Gaines, who serves as associate producer on the album, helped Armstrong rediscover himself after he was stabbed in a home invasion in 1995 that resulted in permanent nerve damage to his left hand.

Amstrong will perform Dec. 2 at Buddy Guy's Legends, 700 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago.
Chicago musician Paul Filipowicz also is on the bill.

The show starts at 9:30 p.m. There also is a free acoustic set from 6 to 8 p.m. featuring Nigel Mack.

Tickets to the show are $20 and are available by going to

I had the chance to talk to him about the new CD.

Q – I imagine that you will be playing a lot off the new CD at your upcoming show.

Armstrong – Right. The new CD is called "Blues Been Good to Me." Right now, I think it's #6 on the Living Blues radio charts.

Q – Are you surprised that it's doing so well?

Armstrong – I really am, I really am. You always hope that they do well, but this one is doing well and better than we all expected, so we are really happy with that.

Q – Of course, the CD is called "Blues Been Good to Me." Is there a story behind the album's name?

Armstrong – Yeah, there really is. A friend of mine named Andrew Blaze Thomas, who is an incredible drummer and is playing drums on this CD, was asked one day about playing the blues.

Him and I, like many other players, have traveled the world, we make money, and life is really good. So it's not all about having a bad life playing the blues. A lot of people think the blues is depressing and not any fun.

But for us, it's been pretty successful. The blues have been really good to us.

Q – So the album title kind of sums up your career?

Armstrong – Exactly. 

Q – And I know that Jim Gaines was associate producer on the album. And I guess he really pushed you, huh?

Armstrong – Yeah, Jim is just great. I had another CD called "Guitar Angels" that he co-produced. After my injury, there were a lot of things that I literally thought I could never do again. And I just stopped trying.

He had me start to try them again, and we were able to pull some of them off. He inspired me very much to just try new things.

Q – I noticed on the song "Second Time Around" you start out with a riff from "Secret Agent Man." Is there a story behind that?

Armstrong – When we recording, just in between songs, the rhythm guitar player, Johnny McGhee, he did that lick and I don't know, a couple of hours later, the drummer said, "I've always wanted to put that lick in a song." And so we kind of picked the song and a place to put it. We just decided to throw it in right there.

Q – The transition is cool.

Armstrong – Yeah. 

Q – I understand that in making the CD, you were much looser than you usually are.

Armstrong – I'm really anal when it comes to recording. I like to have everything in order. 

But at the beginning of the year, we were in Europe a lot and we were extremely busy. So I didn't have time to prepare with demos as much I usually do. 

I didn't have things in mind head like I wanted them and I was really nervous. I wasn't sure how it was going to come out.

We just went in and played it by ear, in a way. It was like, "Let's try this, let's try that." And I had never done that before.

Q – You are quoted as saying that this was the most exciting album you have done in years. Do you think that approach was the reason why?

That's one of the main reasons. Like I said, I kind of always have an idea how it's going to turn out in my head. On this album, I had sort of an idea, but not much.

So when we were recording, it was so much freer. When we sat down to listen to everything afterwards, it just turned out to be so much looser. 

We were all kind of having fun with it, compared to some of my other projects, where it's a little more serious. 

Q – You have a very soulful voice.

Amstrong – It's interesting. My music gets called soul-blues a lot, but I never thought of that.

I think the reason I get called soul-blues is because of the voice. I'm not a screamer, and I think a lot of blues guys yell and scream, and I never did that.

I didn't start off playing blues. I started off playing country. And then I went to rock. I wanted to be Jimi Hendrix when I was young. I didn't want to be B.B. King or Albert King.

But over the years, I realized how important the blues was to me, and so I just kind of wanted to bring it back to the table. 

I hear all different types of genres in my music, but everything I do, I think it sounds bluesy to me.

Even if it's a country song, I try to make it bluesy.

Q – On the album, you cover Robert Palmer's song, "Addicted to Love." Was it just the right time to do the song?

Armstrong – Yeah, because I had been doing it live for a little bit. I wasn't totally sure we were going to put it on the CD, but it's been coming off really well live. It was perfect timing to have that one on the CD.

Q – And of course, you also cover the song "How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You."

Armstrong – Yeah, and it's interesting. Marvin Gaye made a hit out of it, and so did James Taylor.

But I remember James Taylor's version more than I remembered Marvin's. It was just really nice for me to put a swing on it. It was a lot of fun.

Q – And you also do a new version of your song "Sleeping with a Stranger." What made you want to do a new version of the song?

Armstrong – "Sleeping with a Stranger" was my debut song when I got hired by HighTone Records.

I've been asked to do that song probably a few thousand times, and I just never did. I wanted to retrack and see how it turned out. I wasn't sure if we were going to use it.

Q – How do you think this version stands up to the original version?

Armstrong – It's cool. It swings a little but more. The other version has more of a pop-rock feel, and this one, it swings a little bit more.

It has a little bit more of a blues feel to it. The lyrics were always really strong, and I think I wrote a really good groove back in the day, so it still works today.

Q – Of course, several blues legends have unfortunately passed away in the last several years. What do you think the future of the blues is?

Armstrong – Let's put it this way. It seems like the face of the blues is changing.

That's evolution. Everything does change. Rock is not the way it used to be, country's not the way it used to be.

Blues is a guitar based music, as we all know. And it seems like a lot of the guitar is changing to rock style, and it's more speed than feeling.

That kind of bothers me. It's not that I can't play like that anymore, but it's the point that the whole feeling of the music is changing.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Local musician Greg Boerner releasing fifth album, will perform at Kiss The Sky in Batavia

Photo by Chuck Bennorth

On his fifth album, "Solid Sender," local musician and Aurora resident Greg Boerner veers in a slightly new direction.

While his past albums have been somewhat sparse musically, he opted for a fuller sound on his latest CD. Boerner will celebrate the release of the album – as well as his 50th birthday – by performing at 7 p.m. Nov. 29 at Kiss The Sky record store, 180 W. First St. in downtown Batavia. Joining Boerner on stage will be Patrick Moynihan on upright bass, Justin O'Connell on drums and Mary Lou O'Brien on vocals.

I had the chance to talk to Boerner about the new CD.

Q – You produced "Solid Sender" with Patrick Moynihan and recorded, mixed and mastered the CD at his Waveform studio in Batavia. What was the process like working with him? 

Boerner – I am not a big fan of the studio. I enjoy playing live and I enjoy the freedom of that. The studio is a little bit of a chore to me, because I'm pretty critical of what I'm doing.

I like it when it's all done. I love listening to the results, particularly if I think I've done a really great job. Patrick was great in the studio as far as keeping it loose and keeping it fun.

He was a great cheerleader, to keep me going and to keep me feeling good about what I was doing. And that's hard, because there are times where you can easily get down on yourself. It's nice to have someone in your corner rooting for you.

He was just as invested in this CD as I was, and that's a beautiful thing. Most engineers and producers and that kind of thing are not always as invested. How can they be? 

Q – I understand that with this CD, you were trying to create more of a fuller sound. 

Boerner – I've always had those ideas, but with this one in particular. I wanted to add stand up bass, and I wanted to add some background vocals that I didn't really have before.

I didn't want rock drums, but I wanted somebody on brushes or something similar, kind of moving the songs along but not overtaking the songs. And then Patrick had a Fender Rhodes electric piano from the '70s era. 

I love that sound, and it really fit on a couple of my tunes. We picked our moments.

I don't need a Fender Rhodes electric piano on every song. I didn't need extra guitars on every song.

But some songs just seemed to beg for it, and others seemed to say, "Nope, live me alone. This needs to be a solo piece."

So there's a nice mix. There's about seven tunes with certain accompaniment, either full or slightly augmented, and then there's like four that really don't have anything. It's just me and the guitar.

Q – The CD does seem like a good mix of folk and blues and a little jazz too. 

Boerner – Yes, it's kind of all those things. The new catchall word is Americana. If someone asks me what my genre, that's what I would say. 

Q – So you will be moving to Nashville soon. 

Boerner – In the middle of January, I'm moving to Nashville. And it's nothing really to do with music. 

I reconnected with my friend, Annie. We had always been friends, nothing more, and romance blossomed over the phone.

And she says, "I need you here in Nashville." And I said, "I'm on my way." It's as simple as that. 

Q – You will have to come back for the Blues on the Fox festival in Aurora. 

Boerner – My plan is to come back kind of every three to four months. I planning on coming back because I do have gigs here and let's face it, I don't know about making a living in Nashville. I don't know how that's going to go. We'll see.

I will feel the need to come back here and reconnect with fans, people who are interested in what I do, and also make a little bit of money. I think it might be a better thing, because if you are here in the Fox Valley area and you're playing every weekend, people tend to kind of take that for granted.

They don't come out to see you because they can always see me the next weekend. But if I'm gone and four months later, I come back for one night, I'm hoping that maybe people will think that's a bit more of a special thing and will show up for that.

That's what I hope.