British TV loves Young@Heart
April 14, 2006
By FRED CONTRADA
NORTHAMPTON - They've rocked them in Rotterdam, awed them in Australia, and nudged them out of their seats in Norway. Now The Young@Heart Chorus, a group of musical seniors that makes even The Rolling Stones look like pups, is about to take the British airwaves by storm with its own documentary.
Director Stephen Walker and producer Sally George of Bluebird Films Ltd. will be in Northampton for the next four weeks filming Northampton's favorite group of over-70 performers as they rehearse their latest show and put on a series of local concerts. Although the documentary does not yet have a title ("The Last Waltz" is already taken and is too sedate anyway), the 90-minute film is already scheduled to air Sept. 29 on Channel 4, an English station established by an act of Parliament to encourage innovation and experimentation in television.
Northampton Arts Council director Bob Cilman, who was then working for Highland Valley Elder Services, organized the chorus in 1982 by recruiting seniors from the Walter P. Salvo House. From the beginning, the chorus eschewed old chestnuts like "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" in favor of edgier material. Over the years, the chorus has performed songs by the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Clash and OutKast.
The surreal spectacle of octogenarians howling "Louie Louie" has made The Young@Heart Chorus a cult favorite in Europe, where they have done numerous tours over the last decade. Last year, a couple of English theater moguls caught the troupe's show "Road to Nowhere" in Rotterdam and brought it to London. That production featured such songs as "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" by The Animals and "Paint It Black" by The Rolling Stones.
Walker was in the audience of one of those London shows.
"I was a little skeptical at first, I have to say," he admitted during a break in filming this week at the Florence Community Center, where the chorus was running through the Allen Toussaint number "Yes We Can." Whatever his original misgivings, Walker is a believer now.
"They're just amazing, aren't they?" he said.
Walker and producer George have a host of awards and credits between them. Both have been involved in projects for the British Broadcasting Corporation as well as for Channel 4. In addition to this week's rehearsals, the documentary will include footage from a series of local concerts. Among other venues, the chorus will perform on May 3 at the Hampshire County House of Correction and on May 4 at Northampton High School. Walker said he will return in the summer to film a series of music videos, which he will incorporate into the film.
Cilman is taking his show on the road again in August when Young@Heart will travel to Zurich. Although it originally consisted solely of Northampton seniors, the chorus has expanded over the years to include elders from Springfield, Chicopee and other Western Massachusetts communities. At present, there are 25 members who range in age from 70-93, Cilman said. Their current show, "Alive and Well," can been seen by the public at The Academy of Music on May 13.
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