By David Dow Bentley III
“The People’s Critic”
- [NOTE: This review was first published October 3, 2022, but temporarily disappeared due to a technical error].
It was an electrifying way to start the Fall Season at Peekskill’s magnificent 1920’s movie palace, The Paramount. The main event would be the 20th Anniversary Tour of BENISE, the world renowned classical Spanish guitarist. The program opened to the resounding chimes of distant church bells. The first cast members made a spooky entrance amid explosive and fiery background music that was sadly over-amplified, but four lovely and graceful Spanish dancers quickly arrived onstage, dressed in traditional black flamenco dresses, each elegantly edged in gold. With foot-stomping high heels, and whirling velvet capes to add to the excitement, the ladies moved freely about the stage as the star arrived to join them, guitar in hand, weaving among them during the exciting opening number. Two talented percussionists would add to that excitement throughout the evening, with a traditional drum ensemble on the left of the stage, and a more exotic percussion set-up on the right of the stage, with conga drums, chimes, bongos etc. Colorful and whirling projections on the backstage wall would further accent the music, as Benise and two talented supporting guitarists offered up delights of Salsa from Cuba, Flamenco from Spain, and Samba from Brazil. And how timely it all was as the Paramount had scheduled the event for presentation during national celebrations of Hispanic Heritage Month.
At this concert I was fortunate to be in the company of a family member, who, with ample justification, thought himself to be a considerable authority on the world’s finest guitarists. Just minutes into the program, while observing Benise’s extraordinary fingering on the instrument, he leaned over with a look of amazement, and whispered in my ear, “I’ve never seen anything like this!” Indeed, neither had I! The astonishing fluidity with which Benise literally flew across the instrument’s strings, would at times, leave many of us in the audience quite breathless, while at the same time, the rapidity and precision of the fingering had to be seen and heard to be believed!
The musical delights to follow included an exquisite performance of Beethoven’s beautiful MOONLIGHT SONATA, that was greatly enhanced by a graceful and delicate ballet from one of the companies four gifted dancers, all of whom energize the production in every number. Special effects of thunder and rain are done very well for such a traveling production.
Then it was on to Benise’s romantic and enchanting performance of his original piece, “Monserrat.” Readers might like to sample that online at https://youtu.be/zEMKoUEdAog. Then it was on to the Bullfight segment with all three guitarists joining forces for the fiery excitement of the flamenco dancing and whirling red cape of the toreador.
A beautiful guitar rendition of the “Ave Maria,” accompanied the Cathedral scene that followed. The dancer depicting the Madonna, with a rose in her hair and lavish long crimson gown, brought slow-motion grace and fluid arms as she seemed to float across the stage as though under water. During intermission I did overhear one audience member comment that the gown should have been white rather than red, in representing the purity of the Blessed Virgin.
Act II offered the hoped-for Spanish classic, “Malaguena,” featuring our four gorgeous dancing senoritas in magnificent ruby-satin dresses, black Spanish fans in hand. Then came the breezy, “Santa Barbara,” with the guitar threesome leading this salute to the group’s Southern California roots, as projected images of surf and seagulls floated across the stage. Speaking of “roots,” Benise also shared his affectionate, “To My Son Badhi,” a tribute he composed while on the road 6 years earlier, in celebration of the birth to his child. Finally, it was time for the opulent full cast finale, “The Havana Club.” The shapely gals, now in tattoo-style body suits, with glittering feathered headdresses and gold shoes, send us off with a colorful and dazzling Rockette-style dance line finale, as the enthusiastic audience supplied the hand-clapping standing ovation, before heading to the lobby to mingle with the stars.
The columns of David Dow Bentley III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.comE-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com