Big, bold and vibrant, CLASSIC ROCK presents rock n’ roll standards

In the program for the Maine State Music Theater’s second 2022 concert series, the Pickard Theater vibrates with the bold and vibrant musical energy of Joe Boucher and his band, singers and a seventeen-piece orchestra, offering a playlist of classic rock and roll from the 1970s and 1980s to enthusiastic audiences. Boucher, who managed to sell the house even during 2021’s pandemic-era performances, returns triumphantly with his talented instrumental ensemble and two charismatic lead singers who collaborate with Ben McNaboe and the MSMT Orchestra to create a rich and unforgettable sonic tapestry.

Visceral sound is at the center of this program with Boucher playing keyboards and acoustic guitar – finger-floating, exuberant and outgoing – in covers of songs by Benatar, Boston, Styx, Queen, Kiss, Stevie Nicks, Toto, Heart , Asia, Meatloaf, Kansas and others. He is joined by three other dynamic rock musicians who harmonize in a thrilling way in the multi-textured orchestrations of Chris Eastburn, who also plays bass guitar. A brilliant Gary Backstrom on guitar and an electric Steve Hodgkin on drums add to the virtuoso mix. Susie Pepper and Johnny Martinez perform the lion’s share of the vocals with Boucher covering two songs. Pepper and Martinez are vocal powerhouses. Pepper has a dazzling range capable of reaching exciting heights, and Martinez sings with a passion and penchant for improvisational choreography – which, on this occasion – had her leaping smoothly across the pit to the catwalk or run down the aisles and jump on empty seats. The chemistry between the two is evident, as is their sly sense of humor and ability to dramatize songs, especially as a duo.

Perhaps what makes this program so unique is the perfect combination of electronic instruments with the acoustic timbre of the symphony orchestra. Rather than seeming at odds with each other, the two soundscapes fit together beautifully, using the contrast of styles to their advantage and finding hidden nuances in the music. Music Director Ben McNaboe directs the forces on stage with confidence, clarity and commanding style.

The program includes nineteen evergreen standards, arranged in an attractive sequential flow. The performers’ engagement with the songs and their composers is palpable and contagious. Among this reviewer’s personal favorites were: Pepper and Martinez in a full-throated rendition of Styx’s “Come Sail Away” with lush full-orchestra accompaniment; Pepper and Martinez’s deliciously characterful rendition of Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”; Boston’s catchy hit “More Than a Feeling” performed by the entire company; Martinez’s melancholy reading of Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind”; and Boucher’s performance of the Electric Light Orchestra’s “Sweet Talking Woman”.

MSMT’s production team expertly handled the visual and technical aspects of the concert with the musicians, instruments, speakers and equipment all arranged in the main show setting of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT – which , with its hieroglyphic panels as a backdrop, gives an exotic flavor. Lighting in deep oranges, mauves, greens and other fluctuating colors adds a kinetic dimension to the musicality, and the sound is perfectly balanced – no small feat here with so many musicians and singers in a sometimes offbeat space.

Like PIANO MEN last year, Boucher knows how to program a captivating concert and engage his audience. He serves up nostalgia combined with a freshness of layered sound and a raw honesty of emotion that speaks directly to the senses and the heart, gripping his cheering, cheering audience and holding them in awe.

Photo courtesy of MSMT

CLASSIC ROCK runs for three performances July 10-11 at MSMT’s Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin Campus, 1 Bath Road, Brunswick, ME 207-725-8769

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