Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Is smaller better? Find out with Buster Keaton
at a local N.H. Grange Hall on Friday, April 28

Original promotional material for 'The Cameraman.'

When introducing movies, I often point out that silent films were made to be enjoyed by a large audience.

Pacing, story organization, narrative arc—all of it was geared from the ground up for a big crowd to respond to.

Even if the turnout is just eight people, I usually point out that's still more people than can fit in my living room. And off we go!

But I have to say: some of my most memorable silent film experiences have not been with dependent on heavy turnout.

And now I realize there's another key variable in the formula: the size of the room.

I've seen it happen many times now: turnout might be, say, 40 people for a screening in a small town.

But if the venue is small enough to create a "standing room only" feeling, there's an energy present that equals what happens in a truly large and packed theater.

There's a good chance to see this dynamic in action with a program coming up on Friday, April 28.

It's a double-feature of Buster Keaton comedies at Antrim (N.H.) Grange #98. Showtime if 7 p.m.

'Sherlock Jr' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928) will be shown, in part to honor the recent 100th anniversary of Buster's first appearance on a movie screen.

But the main objective is to just laugh. And if it's anything like screenings I've done in other Grange Halls and small rural venues, we'll be doing a lot of that.

Also, for years 'The Cameraman' was MGM's comedy training film. If anyone at the studio was going to work on a comedy, he or she had to watch 'The Cameraman,' regarded by studio bosses as the perfect comedy.

So just the other day, I watched 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World' (1963). And I'll be darned if it isn't full of Keaton references I'd never picked up before, including some from 'The Cameraman.'

Example: when Sid Caesar and Edie Adams are trapped in the cellar of a hardware store, at one point Caesar stands on a raised platform that collapses to the ground, sending him sprawling.

It's exactly what Buster did during the Tong War sequence in The Cameraman, although on a grander scale.

Someone ought to compile all the Keaton references in 'Mad World,' in which Keaton himself has a cameo. (Ironically, Keaton's role was originally more prominent, but got cut during editing.)

More info about 'Sherlock' and 'Cameraman' in the press release below. Hope to see you there!

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Buster Keaton and co-star in 'The Cameraman' (1928).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Buster Keaton double feature at Antrim Grange #98 on Friday, April 28

Classic silent film comedy masterpieces to be screened with live musical accompaniment

ANTRIM, N.H.—He never smiled on camera, earning him the nickname of "the Great Stone Face." But Buster Keaton's comedies rocked Hollywood's silent era with laughter throughout the 1920s.

See for yourself with a screening of 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928), two of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Friday, April 28 at 7 p.m. at the Antrim Grange #98, 253 Clinton Road, Antrim.

The films will be shown with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer regarded as one of the nation's leading silent film musicians.

The public is welcome to attend. Suggested donation for this family-friendly event is $5 per person to help defray expenses.

In 'Sherlock Jr.,' Buster plays a small-town movie projectionist who dreams of working as a detective. But then Buster's romantic rival frames him for stealing a watch from his girlfriend's father. Fortunately, the situation mirrors the plot of the movie currently playing at Buster's theater. Inspired by the movie, can Buster find the real thief and win back his girl?

'The Cameraman' tells the story of a young man (Keaton) who tries to impress the girl of his dreams (Marceline Day) by working as a freelance newsreel cameraman. His efforts result in spectacular failure, but then a lucky break gives him an unexpected chance to make his mark. Can Buster parlay the scoop of the year into a secure job and successful romance?

Both films focus on exploring the potentials of the motion picture, then a brand-new medium.

In 'The Cameraman,' Keaton uses the movie business itself to create comedy that plays with the nature of film and reality.

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands as one of the three great clowns of the silent screen. Many critics regard Keaton as the best of all; Roger Ebert wrote in 2002 that "in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, (Keaton) worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies."

As a performer, Keaton was uniquely suited to the demands of silent comedy. Born in 1895, he made his stage debut as a toddler, joining his family's knockabout vaudeville act and learning to take falls and do acrobatic stunts at an early age. He spent his entire childhood and adolescence on stage, attending school for exactly one day.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions ranging from sadness to surprise. In an era when movies had few special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents meant he performed all his own stunts.

All those talents are on display in 'Sherlock Jr.' and 'The Cameraman,' which was selected in 2005 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

"These films are audience favorites, and people continue to be surprised at how engrossing and exhilarating they can be when shown as they were intended: in a theater, and with live music," said Rapsis, who accompanies more than 100 screenings each year at venues around the nation.

Rapsis improvises live scores for silent films using a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra.

"It's kind of a high wire act," Rapsis said. "But for me, the energy of live performance is an essential part of the silent film experience."

The Antrim Grange #98 will present Buster Keaton in 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928) on Friday, April 28 at 7 p.m. at Antrim Grange #98, 253 Clinton Road, Antrim. The public is welcome to attend this family-friendly event, which features live musical accompaniment for both films. Suggested donation is $5 per person to defray expenses.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Join Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan
for 'The Kid' on Saturday, 4/22 in Ludlow, Vt

This weekend, I bop up to Ludlow, Vt., home of Okemo Mountain.

But the ski season is over, so I'll be creating live accompaniment for a silent film program.

It's kind of similar to being on the slopes, wouldn't you say?

Featured is 'The Kid' (1921) starring Charlie Chaplin and a very young Jackie Coogan. It'll be preceded by Chaplin's short 'A Dog's Life' (1918).

I've often wanted to pair Chaplin's 'The Kid' with Buster Keaton's short comedy 'The Goat,' but once again the opportunity will slip by!

If you're in the area, come check out Chaplin's breakthrough feature—"a story with a smile, and perhaps a tear"—the way it was meant to be seen: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

Showtime is 7 p.m. See you there! For more info, check out the press release below:

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Charlie Chaplin's 'The Kid' to screen on Saturday, April 22 at Ludlow Auditorium

Landmark silent film comedy/drama about Little Tramp raising an orphan to be presented with live music at historic venue

LUDLOW, Vt.—Silent film with live music returns to Ludlow Auditorium with a screening of Charlie Chaplin's classic comedy/drama 'The Kid' (1921) on Saturday, April 22 at 7 p.m.

The special program will be presented with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. The screening is free and open to the public.

Sponsored by FOLA (Friends of the Ludlow Auditorium), the program enables audiences to experience silent film in the way its makers originally intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

Chaplin was already the world's most popular comedian and filmmaker when he produced 'The Kid,' his first feature-length project.

The movie, with its daring mix of intense drama and slapstick comedy, proved an instant sensation and marked one of the high points of Chaplin's long career.

'The Kid' follows the story of a tramp (Chaplin) who attempts to raise an orphaned boy on his own. It includes several classic scenes, and is highlighted by a sequence in which Chaplin battles authorities attempting to return the child to an orphanage.

Co-starring with Chaplin in 'The Kid' is five-year-old Jackie Coogan, who turned in what many critics rank as the best child performance of the entire silent film era. Chaplin himself worked closely with the young Coogan for more than a year to develop the youngster's acting abilities.

Coogan went on to a long career that much later included the role of "Uncle Fester" in the popular 1960s Addams Family television show.

The screening of 'The Kid' provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in restored prints, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put pieces of the experience back together again, it's surprising how these films snap back to life," said Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who creates music for silent film screenings at venues around the country. "By showing the films under the right conditions, you can really get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies."

In creating music for silent films, Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

'The Kid' will be preceded by 'A Dog's Life' (1918), one of Chaplin's earlier short comedies that helped establish his worldwide popularity.

'The Kid' (1921) starring Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan, will be screened with live music on Saturday, April 22 at 7 p.m. at Ludlow Town Hall Auditorium, 137 Depot St. in Ludlow, Vt.

The screening is sponsored by the Friends of Ludlow Auditorium. Admission is free; donations are encouraged. For more information about the FOLA and its events, visit or call (802) 228-7239.


“Chaplin's first real feature mixes slapstick and sentiment in a winning combination, as the Tramp raises a streetwise orphan. Wonderful film launched Coogan as a major child star, and it's easy to see why.”
– Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

If you like zebras, you're in luck! DeMille's 'King of Kings' on Thursday, 4/13 in Plymouth, N.H.

From 'King of Kings': the blind child before meeting you-know-who.

Hippity, hoppity, Easter's on it's way. So it's high time to resurrect a big silent Biblical epic for a screening near you.

Near you, that is, if you're near the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. That's where I'll be doing live music on Thursday, April 13 for a screening of 'The King of Kings,' Cecil B. DeMille's 1927 crucifixion extravaganza.

Just like the Catholic church, Cecil knew what made a good show. So whatever your feelings about Easter or religion, there's nothing quite like this mix of spirituality and showbiz schmaltz.

Plus, if you like zebras, you're in luck!

Hope you can join us in the pews of the Flying Monkey cathedral to worship the silver screen. Details in the press release below.

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The Last Supper, recreated in 'The King of Kings.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'King of Kings’ to be screened with live music on Thursday, April 13 at Flying Monkey

The perfect prelude to Easter: 1927's silent film Biblical blockbuster about the life of Jesus features cast of thousands, giant earthquake

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—It was the original big-screen blockbuster, an epic movie on a grand scale depicting the greatest story of all: the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille and featuring a cast of thousands, ‘The King of Kings’ (1927) stands as one of the sensations of Hollywood’s early days.

In honor of this year’s Easter season, a restored print of ‘The King of Kings’ will be screened with live music on Thursday, April 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

The screening is a chance to experience this landmark film as it was intended to be seen: in a high quality print on the big screen, with live music and with an audience. Live music will be performed by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist.

Tickets are $10 per person.

As a movie, ‘The King of Kings’ was designed to push the limits of Hollywood story-telling. Director DeMille, already famous for over-the-top historical epics such as the original ‘Ten Commandments’ (1923), demanded and got a then-astronomical budget of $2 million, which he used to construct massive sets, hire thousands of extras, and stage an enormous earthquake at the film’s climax.

“The monumental devastation unleashed by Christ’s crucifixion dwarfs even the cataclysmic Holy Grail finale of ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,’ ” wrote film historian Charles Musser in 1992, observing that “raw material and non-union labor gave more bang for the buck in 1927.”

The film was considered daring as the first mainstream Hollywood picture to depict the actions and life of Jesus on-screen in great detail, paving the way for future generations of filmmakers.

Although the movie’s title cards quote directly from scripture, ‘The King of Kings’ was not a scholarly depiction of scenes from the Bible. Rather, it was created to emphasize drama and conflict, prompting DeMille to change many aspects of the story as traditionally related in the New Testament Gospels. DeMille even spiced things up by including teams of zebras and other exotic non-native creatures in the film.

Because of this, 'The King of Kings' was regarded as blasphemous by some, and proved “as controversial in its day as Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ was in 1988,” Musser wrote. “Although DeMille made his film under the pious supervision of clergy, he managed to titillate audiences with the same heady mixture of sex and moralism that had made...earlier films so successful.”

In just one example, DeMille opens the film with the character of Mary Magdalene leading an orgy, though she is quickly rescued from debauchery by an encounter with Jesus.

Outrage or not, audiences flocked to the 2½-hour epic, which was released in May 1927 and quickly broke box office records for attendance in the U.S. and around the globe. Audiences regarded it as grand entertainment.

The cast included early Hollywood star H.B. Warner as Jesus Christ, winning plaudits for his portrayal of the lead role. (Warner’s later roles included druggist Mr. Gower in Frank Capra’s 1946 Christmas classic ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’) Peter is portrayed by character actor Ernest Torrence, famous as Captain Hook in the original version of ‘Peter Pan’ (1924); the role of Judas is acted by Joseph Schildkraut, already a Hollywood veteran who later went on to play Nicodemus in ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ (1965), a much-later Hollywood epic on the same topic.

‘The King of Kings’ was also noted for technical breakthroughs. It featured state-of-the-art movie lighting techniques, including a glowing halo that surrounded Christ whenever he appears on screen. ‘The King of Kings’ was also among the first mainstream Hollywood pictures to use color in several sequences.

Cecil B. DeMille, master showman, pioneer director, and image consultant for Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

To enhance the film’s spiritual underpinnings, during production DeMille arranged for a Catholic Mass to be celebrated each morning before shooting started. In a publicity ploy, DeMille also made his stars enter contracts that prevented them from doing anything “unbiblical” for a five-year period; prohibited activities included attending ball games, playing cards, frequenting night clubs, swimming, and riding in convertibles.

The film’s sets ended up being so massive that they simply weren’t torn down, and so wound up appearing in several other pictures. A giant gate built for ‘The King of Kings’ was later used in 1933’s ‘King Kong.’ Some of the original sets were finally lit ablaze in 1939 for the burning of Atlanta in ‘Gone with the Wind.’

Critics remain impressed by the film’s epic sweep, although they often dismiss how DeMille pandered to a mass audience. “It’s a stupendous exhibition by any standard, though you can practically smell the sawdust and greasepaint,” wrote critic Peter Matthews in 2004. “Despite the baloney (or because of it), ‘The King of Kings’ captures the fervor of na├»ve devotion. On that level, the movie is a genuinely uplifting experience,” Matthews wrote.

'King of Kings' will be screened with live music performed by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

Rapsis, who uses original themes to improvise silent film scores, said great silent film dramas such as 'King of Kings' used their lack of dialogue to create stories that concentrated on the "big" emotions such as Love, Despair, Anger, and Joy. Because of this, audiences continue to respond to them today, especially if they're presented as intended — with a live audience and live music.

"Dramas such as 'King of Kings' were created to be shown on the big screen as a communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, they still come to life as their creators intended them to," he said.

'King of Kings' is the latest in a monthly series of silent films presented with live music at the Flying Monkey. The series provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in good-looking prints, with live music, and with an audience.

Upcoming events in the Flying Monkey's silent film program include:

• Thursday, May 18, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: 'Speedway' (1929) starring William Haines, Ernest Torrance. Fasten your seat belts! We mark the traditional Memorial Day running of the Indianapolis 500 with a vintage race car drama filmed right on the famed track—at speeds topping 115 mph!

‘King of Kings’ (1927) will be shown on Thursday, April 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. Admission is $10 per person. For more info, call (603) 536-2551 or visit For more info on the music, visit

See? I told you there were zebras!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Keaton's 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' launches new silent series at Capitol Theatre, plus 'The Wind' on Sunday, April 9 at Somerville Theatre

Buster and Ernest Torrence in 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.'

Starting tonight, there's a new venue in the Boston area for enjoying silent films with live music and an audience.

It's the Capitol Theatre in Arlington, Mass., which is launching a new monthly series tonight (Thursday, April 6) with a screening of Buster Keaton's comedy 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.' (1928).

Showtime is 8 p.m. (and not 7:30 p.m., as I had listed earlier), the Capitol is at 204 Massachusetts Ave. in Arlington, Mass. Check it out online at Admission is $12 per person; $10 students/seniors.

This is the one that finds Buster caught up in a cyclone. Fittingly, the forecast this evening calls for heavy rain!

The Capitol's exterior on Mass. Ave. in Arlington.

The Capitol is sister theatre to the venerable Somerville Theatre, not far away in Davis Square in neighboring Somerville.

While the Somerville runs a monthly "Silents, Please!" program using 35mm prints, not all great silents are available in this format.

So Ian Judge, who manages the theaters, felt it would be worth starting a separate series at the Capitol for silents on other media—meaning mostly DVD transfers.

We tried a dry run at the Capitol last Halloween, when I accompanied Lon Chaney in 'The Unholy Three' (1925), a film that just isn't available in 35mm.

I'm not sure "dry" run is the right term, as it was pouring rain that evening as well.

But it was successful enough for management to greenlight a monthly mini-series of silents at the Capitol, starting this month with Keaton's 'Steamboat Bill' and running through the summer.

Here's what's also on the bill:

Thursday, May 11, 2017, 8 p.m.: "The Winning of Barbara Worth" (1926) starring Gary Cooper, Ronald Coleman, Vilma Banky. Epic Western about the settling and irrigation of California's Imperial Valley, once a wasteland but now an agricultural paradise. Shot on location by director Henry King in Nevada's Black Rock desert, one of the first films to take audiences to the wide open spaces of the great American West. With a young Gary Cooper playing a key role.

Thursday, June 22, 2017, 8 p.m.: "The Kid" (1921) starring Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan. Chaplin's landmark comedy/drama about a man who raises an infant against all odds. As the film tells us: "A story with a smile, and perhaps a tear." Highlighted by amazing performance of four-year-old Coogan, who matches Chaplin pratfall for pratfall. Bonus Chaplin comedy: "A Dog's Life" (1918).

Thursday, July 6, 2017, 8 p.m.: "The Lost World" (1925) starring Wallace Beery, Bessie Love. First-ever movie adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary tale of British explorers who discover pre-historic creatures still thriving atop a remote South American plateau. Great entertainment; ground-breaking special effects by the same team that later created 'King Kong' mesmerized early movie audiences and remain impressive today.

Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, 8 p.m.: "Grandma's Boy" (1922) starring Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis. A cowardly young man must learn to conquer his fears before dealing with a larger menace to his community. Riotous small town comedy that helped propel Harold Lloyd into the most popular movie comedian of the 1920s. Bonus Lloyd short comedy: "Never Weaken" (1921).

One bonus for me: the family-oriented Capitol (which even has baby-friendly matinees) has its own in-house ice cream shop, the Capitol Creamery, in the theater lobby.

Can you guess where you'll find me before the show?

Speaking of the Somerville Theatre: after a few months of, well, silence, the 'Silents, Please!' series restarts on Sunday, April 9 with Lillian Gish in 'The Wind' (1928).

Showtime is 2 p.m. The theater is in Davis Square in Somerville, Mass.; admission is $15 per person, $12 students/seniors.

A chance to see this legendary film in 35mm with an audience in a theater is an experience not to be missed.

It's especially worth seeing because for some reason, MGM hasn't released 'The Wind' in any format for home viewing since a version came out on laser disc back in the late 1980s!

So other than firing up the laser disc player, the only way to experience 'The Wind' is just like when the film was released in 1928: by going to the theater.

For more details on 'The Wind' and other upcoming 'Silents, Please!' screenings, here's the press release that went out about the screening:

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Lillian Gish in 'The Wind.'

For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Somerville Theatre announces 2017 'Silents, Please!' series

Starting with 'The Wind' (1928) on Sunday, April 9; monthly screenings of silent film masterworks shown in 35mm with live music scoring

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—Great films that caused early audiences to first fall in love with the movies will once again grace the big screen in this year's 'Silents, Please!' series at the Somerville Theatre.

The series features monthly screenings of legendary titles shown as originally intended: in 35mm on the big screen, in a real movie theatre with an audience, and with live musical scoring.

Upcoming titles in the 2017 season include Eric von Stroheim's epic drama 'Greed' (1924); Harold Lloyd in 'Safety Last' (1923); and the recently rediscovered original big screen adaptation of 'Sherlock Holmes' (1916).

"With silent film, if you put all the pieces back together again, you can really understand why people found early movies so entertaining," said Ian Judge, the Somerville's general manager.

All films in the series are shown via archival 35mm prints—the original format for theatrical movies. Today, 35mm prints of films are often very difficult to obtain and screen properly.

Live music for each program is provided by New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

First up in the series is Lillian Gish in 'The Wind' (1928), an intense MGM drama often rated as one of the best films from any era.

In 'The Wind,' Gish plays a frail young woman from the east moves in with her cousin in the west, where she causes tension within the family and is slowly driven mad while in an isolated cabin.

'The Wind,' directed by Victor Seastrom, will be screened on Sunday, April 9 at 2 p.m. General admission is $15 per person/$12 student and seniors.

Additional titles in the Somerville's 2017 'Silents, Please!' series include:

Sunday, May 14, 2017, 2 p.m.: 'Greed' (1924), directed by Erich von Stroheim. Legendary director Von Stroheim's great masterpiece brought silent film drama to new heights of intensity, and also inspired huge behind-the-scenes battle over control of final cut. Rare chance to see this film in 35mm on the big screen with live music.

Sunday, June 18, 2017, 2 p.m.: 'So This Is Paris' (1926). If you like your 1920s sex comedies light and frothy, then director Ernst Lubitsch is your guy. This madcap romp, set among the sophisticated elite in the City of Light, buzzes with energy on the dance floor and elsewhere. Plus it helped popularize the Charleston!

Sunday, July 9, 2017, 2 p.m.: 'Safety Last' (1923). Ambitious young Harold Lloyd heads from small town to big city to make his fortune, with unexpected results. The iconic image of Lloyd dangling from the hands of a downtown clock is only one small piece of a remarkable thrill comedy that has lost none of its power over audiences.

Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, 2 p.m.: 'Get Your Man' (1927) starring Clara Bow, Buddy Rogers. Long-lost Clara Bow feature only recently rescued and restored by the Library of Congress. Bow is Nancy Worthington, a liberated (of course) American in Paris who meets cute with French nobleman Robert Albin (Rogers) while on vacation by herself. Robert and Nancy fall hard for each other, but an arranged, politically motivated marriage stands in their way. Nancy scams her way onto the family estate, and complications ensue.

Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, 2 p.m.: 'Sherlock Holmes' (1916) starring William Gillette. Recently discovered in France after being lost for nearly a century, see this original 1916 adaptation of Sherlock Holmes stories as performed by William Gillette, the actor who created the role on stage. Holmes does battle with arch-rival Prof. Moriarty in an amalgam of several stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

All screenings will be via 35mm prints and with live musical scoring created by New Hampshire silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Rapsis achieves a traditional "movie score" sound for silent film screenings by using a digital synthesizer to reproduce the texture of the full orchestra.

'The Wind' will be screened in 35mm with live music on Sunday, April 9 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theater, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. Admission is $15 adults, $12 students/seniors; general admission seating. For more information, call (617) 625-5700 or visit For more info on the music, visit