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Laying Rubber in London

by Johnny Memphis - The Daily Hampshire Gazette
November 17, 2005

The notoriously nasty British press were falling all over themselves praising the recent 12-show run of the Young At Heart Chorus' 'Road to Nowhere' at London's Hammersmith Lyric Theatre.

Quite the most delightful show of the year, said the Evening Standard. 'The most moving gig of the year,' gushed the Mail on Sunday. 'Unmissable,' said The Observer. 'Something truly fantastic,' said the International Herald Tribune. 'Once again eliciting British bravos,' said Variety, referring to the Young at Heart's four Hammersmith Lyric shows in 2000.

These glowing pull quotes will look great in the Northampton-based Young at Heart's next press release and some longer excerpts give you a sense of the British perspective on this elder troupe's unique magic. The Mail on Sunday surmised, 'Today's old people are natural rockers because they are often marginalized and frustrated like teenagers in The Fifties.'

Time Out called the show 'a wonderful celebration of those who refuse to dwindle away in front of daytime TV. What do they put in their cocoa and can we all have some?' The Sunday Telegraph said the 'shrewd selection of post-Presley pop ... is transformed into a profound haunting drama, a musical celebration of life on the edge of losing it.'

The Evening Standard quipped, 'Here's a solution to Britain's looming pensions crisis: organize groups of senior citizens into mixed voice choirs and send them off on acclaimed world tours. Just make sure that they are as fine as the Young at Heart Chorus from Northampton, Massachusetts.'

Bob Cilman, the director of the Young at Heart, is especially happy about the great reviews in London because the chorus worked extra hard on 'Road to Nowhere,' which was not a proven crowd-pleaser like it's predecessor, 'Road to Heaven.'

'It was a risk. It's a darker piece,' said Cilman. The new show featured members of the Drunk Stuntmen rock band and songs by Radiohead, The Clash, The Beatles, Lou Reed and Outkast. Some chorus members wanted to keep performing the very successful 'Road to Heaven.'

'The attitude was 'If it's not broke don't fix it,' but I was thinking we've done it so many times it's like 'Cats' already. It's boring,' said Cilman.

Speaking of the popular Broadway musical 'Cats,' I asked Cilman whether there were any plans for a Young at Heart show in New York City, since they were now the toast of the London theater.

'You would think it would have to happen at some point. If it's meant to be, it will. We've learned that if you try to force these things it won't work,' said Cilman, who noted that the chorus has recently gotten some national coverage in Time magazine, on the 'CBS Morning Show' and on MTV news.

'It's not like we're ignored here,' said Cilman.

One person in the chorus who got special attention in London was Eileen Hall, a 92- native Londoner, who lived there during the Blitz, the bombings of the city during World War II. Hall also survived a near-fatal car accident in Massachusetts last year, but was back performing with the Chorus, bringing the house down with her version of 'Ruby Tuesday,' 'Should I Stay or Should I Go' and 'Maybe Because I'm a Londoner.' '

'She's an incredible person,' said Cilman.

The Young at Heart has plans to head out in August on their 14th international trip to perform 'Road to Nowhere' at the Theaterspektakel in Zurich, Switzerland. Zurich is not too far from Ghent, Belgium, where the chorus stores the set for 'Road to Nowhere.' The set is an exact replica of the Florence Community Center space where the chorus rehearses.

You can see the Young at Heart Chorus a lot closer to home tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. at the Great Room in the Blanchard Campus Center at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley. The chorus will be performing musical selections from their shows including songs from 'Road to Nowhere.' Tickets are $20 for the general public and free for the Mount Holyoke community.

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