Staff Favorites of 2016: Concerts and stage shows

“Chasing Rainbows - The Road to Oz” at the Goodspeed Opera House made The Day’s list of favorite performances of 2016. (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)
“Chasing Rainbows - The Road to Oz” at the Goodspeed Opera House made The Day’s list of favorite performances of 2016. (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)

Boris Berman, Toshi Shimada and the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra; Oct. 22

The ECSO opened its 70th season in October with guest soloist Boris Berman weaving a wisely affectionate reading of Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3. The 68-year-old, Moscow-born Berman seemed to project the wisdom of many decades (not to mention the grand Russian tradition of pianism) in his calm musicality in this most lovable of Bartók’s works. Especially in the slow movement, in which conductor Toshi Shimada bathed the hall in calm as the quiet nocturne spread like a balm to soothe Berman’s deep emotion in the hymn-like melody, this was a performance from the heart. Too many piano concerti and too many pianists rely on keyboard athleticism, not artistry. In October’s performance, Berman and company played with a near-reticence, making a big work intimate and opening the landmark ECSO season with the sort performance that we used to leave town to find.

— Milton Moore 

Bruno Mars at Mohegan Sun Arena, Oct. 7

Short and sweet. No, I’m not talking about Bruno himself (although that description certainly could apply). I’m talking about his Oct. 7 gig at Mohegan Sun, his only concert of the year. It was part of the Sun’s 20th anniversary celebration, and it was a blast of funked-up fun. It was nice, too, to later see a little backstage footage from the Sun show included in the “60 Minutes” profile of Mars.

— Kristina Dorsey 

Jane Lynch at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, June 28

Who knew the comedienne had such a good singing voice? So, yes, she sang, but she didn’t lose her comic touch (Lynch’s uptight version of Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” was priceless). Her cohorts, including Kate Flannery from “The Office,” provided sterling support. The concert was taped for the CPTV series “The Kate,” and the episode will air at a to-be-announced date in 2017. Watch it.

— Kristina Dorsey 

“Million Dollar Quartet” at the Garde, April 1

This show rode a wave of infectious energy from the performers, especially Jason Cohen as Jerry Lee Lewis. Goodness, gracious!

— Kristina Dorsey 

Louis C.K. at Foxwoods, May 25

The unexpected: He wore a suit. The expected: He was hilarious.

— Kristina Dorsey 

Sergio Franchi Memorial Concert, Aug. 27

On a gorgeous, sunny day, we sat on the vast lawn of the lovely Franchi estate in Stonington. We listened to renowned opera singers perform, and we laughed with irrepressible hostess Eva Franchi. This event was, as always, such a pleasure.

— Kristina Dorsey 

Ravi Coltrane, the Side Door Jazz Club, March 25

The Side Door is such a wonderfully intimate place to see a show, and Coltrane and his band dazzled, as they played off each other with fluidity and style.

— Kristina Dorsey 

“Arsenic and Old Lace,” Flock Theatre, February; “Avenue Q,” Chestnut Street Playhouse, April; “Little Shop of Horrors,” Groton Regional Theatre, November

Let’s hear it for irreverent comedies! Fun, fun, and fun.

— Kristina Dorsey 

“Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House September-November

Think a show about Judy Garland would feel old hat? Not at all. This new musical was a fresh, utterly involving look at her pre-”Oz” years.

— Kristina Dorsey 

“Man of La Mancha” at Ivoryton Playhouse, September

David Pittsinger brought his world-class voice — and we do mean world-class, since he’s performed on the best opera stages around the globe as well as on Broadway — to the role of Don Quixote. To experience his singing in a venue as small as the Ivoryton was a wonderful opportunity.

— Kristina Dorsey

Ghost, Revolution Rock Festival, Foxwoods, September

Outdoors on a lovely pre-fall day, toward the end of a 16-band bill of extremely loud metal, thrash and hard rock acts, Sweden’s Ghost continued its march to the top of the genre’s heap. Yes, their costumed presence — singer with desiccated skull makeup and a band full of anonymous, devil-headed “ghouls” — has been done by Kiss, King Diamond and Alice Cooper and more. But Ghost, with incredibly great melodies and song structures channeling the “Flaming Telepaths”-era greatness of Blue Oyster Cult, are also so irresistibly great they make their retro shtick seem fresh and cutting edge. Energized recitations of “Cirice,” “Square Hammer,” “Absolution” and “Mummy Dust” only emphasized the timeless quality of their work. Oh, and worth noting from 10 hours of mostly fine performances: Volbeat was terrific.

— Rick Koster 

Bill Maher, Grand Theater, Foxwoods, October

Looking back, part of the wonderfulness of Maher’s snarky, hilarious and mostly brilliant 90-minute set of late-October standup was that, not only did the comedian believe Hillary Clinton would be the next president, so did almost the entire sold-out crowd. In that aura of expectation, it was easy to laugh at Maher’s scalpel-sharp attacks on Big Donald because, ultimately, the Republican nominee was harmless, right? Whoot! Not so funny, now, is it? Well, actually, it WAS funny no matter what happened. Maher didn’t spare Clinton, either, and part of the majesty of the evening was seeing what someone as intelligent and witty as Maher could do to nuance and expand the scope of easy-target punching bags.

— Rick Koster 

The Killers, Mohegan Sun Arena, July

It’s hard not to think of this Las Vegas alt-rock band as anything other than singer Brandon Flowers and, ah, some other guys who happen to be onstage at the same time. “Hey, look! There are musicians up there with Brandon! Who knew?” While that’s not particularly fair, it’s nonetheless true of this incredibly tight band’s presentation. Spinning from one buoyant pop anthem to the next, keeping the arena happy and rocking, The Killers demonstrated in-the-pocket grooves and melodic instinct — and simply let the handsome-but-slightly-goofy Flowers supply the charisma and focal point.

— Rick Koster

Marillion, The Royale, Boston, November 

The old “if the mountain will not come to Muhammad” saying is a metaphor, but, in the case of British band Marillion and their very occasional American tours, sometimes you have to travel to see them. In support of their “F.E.A.R.” CD — my fave album of 2016 — Marillion played an early and abbreviated show owing to, of all things, a curfew. I could complain about being cheated out of some material, but the trade-off — that they started early and we got back before midnight — was almost worth it. With stunning videos to support the sorrowful message of “F.E.A.R,” which is an eerily prescient concept album that foretells Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, Marillion performed a haunting and beautifully-played set. Fans are rapturous about their distinctive sound — part lush soundscape, part majestic rock — and vocalist Steve “H” Hogarth is one of the best front men in rock. 

— Rick Koster

Bruno Mars performs during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game. Mars put on a memorable show at Mohegan Sun Arena on Oct. 7 this year. (Paul Sancya/AP Photo)
Bruno Mars performs during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game. Mars put on a memorable show at Mohegan Sun Arena on Oct. 7 this year. (Paul Sancya/AP Photo)

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