Stay­ing alive

Pen­sion­ers singing rock num­bers is more than just a cute idea. The Young@Heart group is a world-tour­ing sen­sa­tion, singing mind-al­ter­ing, floor-shak­ing ver­sions of Rolling Stones, Ra­dio­head and Outkast songs. Belinda McKeon saw them re­hearse for their Iri

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

IT looks like ev­ery com­mu­nity cen­tre in the world. On the cor­ner of two busy roads out of Florence, a sub­urb of a sub­urb of Spring­field, Mas­sachusetts, it sits with its win­dows and doors open to the neigh­bour­hood – and most of the neigh­bour­hood speed­ing past it. It looks wor­thy and worth­while, but also a lit­tle bit dull with mommy-and-me groups, de­coupage sales and old peo­ple shuf­fling around, do­ing old peo­ple things.

In fact, to­day there are some old-seem­ing peo­ple sit­ting in groups inside the win­dows, stand­ing be­side an up­right pi­ano, look­ing like they’re get­ting across a good vol­ley of grumbles in be­tween what­ever gen­tle num­bers they’re croak­ing their way through.

And then a roar­ing blast into David Byrne’s Road to Nowhere breaks onto the hu­mid morn­ing air, a blast of en­ergy so loud and so po­tent that it’s ut­terly star­tling and not a lit­tle un­set­tling, and all no­tions of the fusty and the in­nocu­ous are van­quished. Th­ese folks sure aren’t play­ing bridge. Charged and vis­ceral and force­ful, Byrne will segue into the Stones, into the Ra­mones, into Ra­dio­head and Sonic Youth and Outkast. The floors will thud. The walls will shake. The in­nards of that old pi­ano will take a lick­ing they’ll never for­get.

The Young@Heart Cho­rus is warm­ing up. By the time they get to Ire­land next month for their per­for­mances at the O’Reilly Theatre in Dublin (as part of the Ul­ster Bank Dublin Theatre Fes­ti­val) and at Glór in En­nis, they should be truly on fire.

“My kids say, Mom, you’re not do­ing that song!” says Jéan Flo­rio, 85. “They say, get out of here, you can’t be do­ing The Clash. And we say, oh yes we are.”

“In the old days we would have just turned th­ese songs off the ra­dio,” says Jack Sch­nepp, 77. “We would have just turned down the noise. Now we know the words. We know there’s al­ways a good beat in them. Now we en­joy them; they’re all good songs.”

“Well, the only thing I won’t lis­ten to is hip-hop,” says Jéan. “I don’t care for that.” “Or hard rock,” adds Jack. “No, no, some hard rock is pretty good.” Pen­sion­ers singing pop and rock num­bers – that’s a cute idea, but in it­self it won’t carry far be­yond the ini­tial dose of cute­ness. The Young@Heart Cho­rus has been go­ing strong since the early 1980s and has grown to be­come one of the big­gest deals in in­ter­na­tional theatre, tour­ing the world and fill­ing venues, win­ning de­lighted, as­ton­ished ova­tions wher­ever they go. Young@Heart shows go far be­yond a set-list, even though the per­for­mances of the songs are mind-al­ter­ing, riv­et­ing and mov­ing.

The con­certs are the­atri­cal vi­sions, black-edged, in­tel­li­gent and deep; com­plex in their chore­og­ra­phy and provoca­tive in their world­views, de­mand­ing of the ensem­ble mem­bers that they bril­liantly act as well as mem­o­rably sing, de­mand­ing from them a whole-body, whole-spirit, whole-life per­for­mance that is as up­lift­ing as it is pow­er­fully un­set­tling, as in­tox­i­cat­ingly funny and en­liven­ing as it is poignant, beau­ti­ful, and pro­found.

The quiet des­per­a­tion of Fake Plas­tic Trees, the jagged ma­nia of Schizophre­nia, the volt­age of Spring­steen, the in­so­lent lu­nacy of Hey Ya . . . to watch all of this wo­ven into a med­i­ta­tion – phys­i­cal and mu­si­cal and vis­ual and emo­tional – on ag­ing and ex­is­tence and iden­tity.

“What a drag it is get­ting old,” the cho­rus hollers on the Rolling Stones’ Mother’s Lit­tle Helper. “I can’t con­trol my fin­gers, I can’t con­trol my brain,” they moan (Off­spring’s I Wanna Be Se­dated). “We’re one, but we’re not the same,” in­tones Louise in a ver­sion of the U2 song that would put Bono to shame. “They’re com­ing to take me away, ha­ha­he­hegi­gagi­gagi­gagi­gagi­gagi­gagiga,” jab­bers 87-year-old Len, in a reprisal of the con­tro­ver­sial Napoleon XIV hit from 1966.

Never a dull mo­ment. All those oh-my­ach­ing-back ges­tures, you quickly come to re­alise, are strictly for ef­fect. This place is as about as stiff and creak­ing as a mosh pit.

Young@Heart had mod­est – in­deed, po-

ten­tially dead-end – be­gin­think that re­ally res­onates.” nings; in 1983, a young “In terms of a theme, with this show, we coun­cil em­ployee named were think­ing about older peo­ple who just Bob Cil­man was charged never get to stop work­ing,” says Bob Cil­with re­spon­si­bil­ity for man. “And it’s a real phe­nom­e­non here; the lo­cal se­nior cit­i­zens’ there are just old peo­ple who never get to mu­sic group. All he had re­tire. You see them work in places like in mind at the time, he McDon­ald’s and those places, so that was says now (he re­mains the idea, of peo­ple who are sort of stuck in the com­pany di­rec­tor) what they have to do all the time.” was “a way to kill the It’s some­thing the cast un­der­stands; al­time”. He gained, early though they’re all re­tired now, they on, an in­ter­est­ing side­worked long ca­reers in jobs that must kick in the form of have some­times seemed as though they Roy Fau­dree, an ac­would never end. tor and di­rec­tor who “None of us were show­biz peo­ple,” says has long had a close Brock Lynch, 83, who has been to more as­so­ci­a­tion with the than a dozen coun­tries with the cho­rus. Wooster Group; He even met the king and queen of NorFau­dree’s own way on one trip. “We may have been con­group, No Theatre, nected with the theatre, but we never was lo­cal to Mas­samade a liv­ing at it. So the ar­gu­ment of amachusetts, es­tab­teur ver­sus pro­fes­sional is moot; we had to lished with Shee­be­come pro­fes­sion­als.” na See in 1974. The show will be per­formed by the cast When they got to­gether to pool in var­i­ous work­place uni­forms, on a set their ideas, some­thing unique – and de­cid­which will be an ex­act re­pro­duc­tion of the edly avant-garde – was formed. com­mu­nity cen­tre where they re­hearse.

The first staged show came in 1984, a colThis is mostly to con­vey the “play­ful­ness”, lab­o­ra­tion with lo­cal break­dancers, and the “the­atri­cal­ity” of the re­hearsal room, when an el­derly singer per­formed a ver­says Fau­dree, where, ac­cord­ing to Cil­man, sion of Man­fred Mann’s at all the most ex­cit­ing things hap­pen. It’s an Aids ben­e­fit a cou­ple of years later, Ci­lalso partly, how­ever, in­tended to off­set man re­calls, “the whole thing went crazy”. the phys­i­cal risks and in­con­ve­niences Soon af­ter­wards, Fau­dree ar­ranged for the posed by an unfamiliar set to a mostly sep­cho­rus to per­form at a fes­ti­val in Rot­ter­tu­a­ge­nar­ian and oc­to­ge­nar­ian cast. dam, and a world tour­ing sen­sa­tion was The min­i­mum age of en­try to the cho­rus born. is 73. (Pat Cady, a re­tired po­lice of­fi­cer The group’s first ma­jor show was called who is the youngest of the group at 72,

a glim­mer-in-the-eye ce­le­says she lied about her age to get in, and bra­tion of the riches of old age; the new you’re not en­tirely sure that she’s jok­ing). show, does more than Its make-up changes reg­u­larly as new just cel­e­brate. It ques­tions, it crit­i­cises, it mem­bers join – and depart. Some of the re­veals. voices that, on pre­vi­ous tours, made num-

“With the last show,” says Roy Fau­dree, bers like and mag­nifi“it came right down the mid­dle, where sud­cently their own are now silent for­ever, denly the au­di­ence was sort of caught off and th­ese losses have to be ac­cepted and guard and there no longer was any clown­in­te­grated; the show does goes on. ing. This one flip-flops back and forth, from “It’s all like one fam­ily,” says Jack com­plaints about the prob­lems of be­ing old Sch­nepp, and the other cast mem­bers and the work­ing sit­u­a­tions of be­ing old, to around him mur­mur in agree­ment. “You re­flec­tions on where you get your power lose some­body, they’re still there.” and your en­ergy and your love for life. And “The spirit of the group,” says See, “is it keeps zip­ping back and forth on that.” about al­ways mov­ing and con­tin­u­ing on.”

“I think it’s in­ter­est­ing in that it gives And about shak­ing things up as it goes. the group a chance to be an­gry,” says sheena See. “You don’t get to see, I mean, old peo­ple are al­ways so sweet, aren’t they nice, aren’t they cute, and here you get them see­ing peo­ple who have prob­lems and com­plaints that they get to voice with en­ergy and with anger.”

The em­pha­sis is not on vaudeville, on “gotta-make-’em-laugh”. “Even just hear­ing them singing about love lost, in a real se­ri­ous way,” says See, “re­ally has a dif­fer­ent res­o­nance than hear­ing some 20-yearold com­plain about his lost girl­friend. I

Road to Heaven,

Do Wah Diddy

Road to Nowhere,

Ruby Tues­day

One

Black-eyed, in­tel­li­gent, deep: Young@Heart in re­hearsal. Pho­to­graphs: Tina Bar­ney, cour­tesy Janet Bor­den Gallery New York

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