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Highlights: Versatile Ventriloquist Performs in Claremont

  • Backed by a salsa trio, musician and storytelling pioneer David Gonzalez brings "Cuentos: Tales from the Latino World" to Sapulding Auditorium in Dartmouth College's Hopkins Center for the Arts on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 15, 2017, at 3. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Comedian, ventriloquist, musican and magician Andy Gross brings his act to Claremont Opera House on Saturday night, Oct. 14, 2017. (Courtesy photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, October 12, 2017

Did you hear the one about the professional racquetball player who transformed himself into a performance artist?

Maybe Andy Gross will tell you about perhaps his biggest feat of prestidigitation on Saturday night at the Claremont Opera House, while trading barbs with a few of his dozens of ventriloquism puppets or cracking jokes or pulling rabbits out of hats.

“It’s still kind of a work in progress,” the 49-year-old Gross said last week, during a telephone interview from his home in California. “It keeps the audience kind of on their toes: ‘What’s he going to do next?’ ”

Gross was asking himself the same question in the early 1990s, after retiring from, of all things, the southern-California racquetball tour. The St. Louis native started playing for a living in the early 1980s, at the height of the boom in the sport, during which complexes of courts went up around the country. Gross won a number of tournaments over the next decade, and was making a good living until the George H.W. Bush-era recession hit not only the economy but the recreational version of the sport and the endorsement contracts on which many players relied.

“They couldn’t knock down facilities fast enough,” Gross recalled. “At 26, I was asking myself, ‘Omigosh: What am I going to do for the rest of my life?’ ”

Turns out he’d been preparing since the age of 9, when he took up magic tricks and ventriloquism as hobbies. Already a collector of vintage puppets, Gross started taking some of them to open-mic nights in California, and developed a brand of humor more observational than topical.

“Once in a while I’ll talk in general about technology and social media, not too much about politics,” Gross said. “If you have the right puppet, you can get away with it. Mine don’t get too much into that stuff. I keep it pretty straight.”

Among the puppets Gross brings from his collection of dozens, many of them antiques, is Steve the Customer Service Guy.

“I believe Steve will be there” for the show in Claremont, Gross said. “I always use an audience volunteer I turn into a human puppet. That is a lot of fun.”

While he packs light for his road trips, Gross wouldn’t be averse to adding to his collection if an audience member brings the right one to the show.

“A lot of them find me when I travel,” Gross wrote in a follow-up email. “People show up and tell me stories of an old uncle or someone who was a ventriloquist and they have the dummy and sell it.”

Gross’ ventriloquism skills have earned him a number of on-screen gigs over the years, starting with a 1995 episode on the teen melodrama Beverly Hills 90210 and a 2003 episode on the relatively short-lived series Las Vegas.

Gross has gained a number of talk show appearances, including comedian Ellen DeGeneres’ syndicated show in 2013, with another form of illusion: In his “Split Man” trick, which went viral on the internet, he creates an optical illusion in which he appears to sever himself with his upper and lower bodies continuing to move.

In the course of diversifying his overall act, Gross went from a series of long tours at comedy clubs and ocean cruises to a 50-50 split between appearances at corporate conventions and shows such as this week’s in Claremont, part of a swing through the Northeast.

“It’s better to have this mix, now that I have four kids, two of them still at home,” Gross said. “Now I get back from the road, and they barely know I’m gone.”

While he continues to fine-tune his presentation, Gross said he feels as though he’s hitting his stride now.

“There was one stretch where I was doing a show for line-pullers — blue-collar guys with mud on their boot, old jeans — in Michigan, and two days later, I was doing one for top orthopedic surgeons, all decked out in their Armani suits,” Gross said. “I was a little intimidated at first, but I did pretty much the same exact act, and I got the same reaction.

“This stuff really crosses over.”

Andy Gross blends music, comedy and ventriloquism at Claremont Opera House on Saturday night at 7:30. To reserve tickets ($22) and learn more, visit claremontoperahouse.org or call 603-542-4433 or drop into the box office at City Hall. Gross also will perform Friday night at 7:30 at the Flying Monkey Performing Arts Center in Plymouth, N.H. For tickets ($20 to $30) and more information, visit flyingmonkeynh.com or call 603-536-2551.

Best Bets

Toting his fiddle, mandolin, cello, banjo, guitar and steel guitar, South Newbury, Vt., musician Patrick Ross brings his Traveling Sound tour back to the Upper Valley this weekend, with performances on Friday night at 7 in Tunbridge Town Hall; on Saturday night at 7 in Hartland’s Damon Hall; and on Sunday afternoon at 3 at the Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon. For tickets ($20) and more information, visit rockfarmer.com or call 802-866-3309.

Storyteller Antonio Rocha spins tall tales at two Upper Valley locations on Saturday, as part of the Hopkins Center’s series of admission-free HopStop shows aimed at families. He first takes the stage at Dartmouth College’s Alumni Hall in Hanover at 11 a.m., then high-tails it to the CSB Community Center in Claremont for a 3 p.m. show.

The California-based ensembles Zofo and the Del Sol Quartet perform contemporary chamber music from the Pacific Rim, including works of Dartmouth College music professor Kui Dong, at Rollins Chapel in Hanover on Saturday night at 8. General admission at the door is $17 to $25. In advance of the performance, Zofo members Eva-Maria Zimmerman and Keisuke Nakagoshi will lead a master class for young pianists at the Upper Valley Music Center’s new headquarters in Lebanon this afternoon from 3:30 to 5; the public is welcome to observe the class at no charge.

Grafton fiddler and mandolinist Skip Gorman joins forces with fellow New England folk musicians David Surette and Susie Burke in downtown Lebanon on Saturday. Their parade begins with an open jam session at the Salt hill Pub between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

From 1:30 to 2:30 and from 2:45 to 3:45 at the Upper Valley Music Center’s new headquarters in downtown Lebanon, the trio will lead workshops on playing the fiddle, the mandolin and the guitar. And from 4 to 5:30, the musicians will perform a concert at the music center.

Admission to the jam session at Salt hill is free. To reserve seats for either or both of the workshops ($20 each) and for the concert ($20), visit uvmusic.org.

Mixing song and storytelling, David Gonzalez performs “Cuentos: Tales from the Latino World” at Dartmouth College’s Spaulding Auditorium in Hanover on Sunday afternoon at 3. For tickets ($12 to $23) and more information, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-727-3304. The performance caps a week during which Gonzalez and his band will share the cultures of Latin America with students in Upper Valley schools.

The Vermont-based Viva La Musica VT opera company performs Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Telephone on Monday night at 7 at the Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon. After completing the opera, in which a constantly ringing telephone keeps a young man from proposing to his sweetheart, soprano Allison Devery and baritone Stephen Falbel will sing popular tunes of the 1940s with Lindsey Warren. Admission costs $15 for members of Seven Stars and $20 for others. To learn more, call 802-763-2334.

Looking Ahead

The three-woman Americana ensemble Lula Wiles will perform at Alumni Hall in Haverhill on Oct. 20 and at Chelsea Town Hall on Oct. 21. Both concerts start at 7 p.m. To reserve tickets ($20) and learn more, visit rockfarmer.com or call 802-866-3309.

Caravan of Thieves will play gypsy folk music at the Bellows Falls, Vt., Opera House on Oct. 21, in a concert benefiting the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. The Americana duo The Meadows Brothers will open the concert, scheduled to run from 7 to 11 p.m. For tickets ($15 to $20, plus service fee) and more information, visit caravanofthieves.com/tour.php or call 802-463-3964.

Theater/Performance Art

Northern Stage continues its production of A Doll’s House with shows this afternoon at 2, tonight at 7:30, Saturday afternoon at 2 and Saturday night at 7:30. The new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s groundbreaking drama runs through Oct. 29. To reserve tickets ($13.75 to $57.75) and learn more, visit northernstage.org or call 802-296-7000.

The ArtisTree Music Theatre Festival stages The Marvelous Wonderettes at the Grange Theatre in South Pomfret with performances tonight and Friday night at 7:30, on Saturday afternoon at 3 and Saturday night at 7:30, and Sunday afternoon at 2. The production and the festival conclude on Oct. 22. For tickets ($15 to $25), visit artistreevt.org or call 802-457-3500.

Comedian Juston McKinney, a former deputy sheriff in southwestern Maine, performs at the Lebanon Opera House on Friday night at 7:30. General admission costs $25. For tickets and more information, call 603-448-0400, or visit lebanonoperahouse.org or stop by the box office at City Hall.

Music

The Upper Valley Music Center is inviting the public to observe the master class that New York-based baritone Richard Lissemore will teach to aspiring singers at the center’s new headquarters in downtown Lebanon, on Saturday night at 7. Admission is $20.

The 21st-century incarnation of The Wailers fills the Lebanon Opera House with reggae beats on Sunday night at 6. For tickets ($25 to $45) and more information, call 603-448-0400, visit lebanonoperahouse.org or stop by the box office in City Hall.

Dance

Students of the White River Junction-based Dancers’ Corner perform the studio’s annual recital, “space,” at the Lebanon Opera House on Saturday afternoon at 4. To reserve tickets ($12 to $21) and learn more, visit lebanonoperahouse.org or call 603-448-5825 or stop by the box office in City Hall.

A triple dose of contra dancing at Norwich’s Tracy Hall on Saturday evening begins at 5 with Revels North’s Band of Fools playing the music and with Revels North artistic director Nils Fredland calling the steps. And after a potluck dinner that starts at 5:30, Fredland returns to the mic at 6:30 to call the steps for a community dance. As part of Revels North’s monthly Traditions Day, Fredland and guest leaders will host a dance for teens starting at 12:45 in the afternoon. Admission prices, payable to Revels, depend on how many of these events dancers attend.

Finally, at 8, Fredland emcees Muskeg Music’s Second Saturday contra dance, for which pianist Gordon Peery, flutist/fiddler Deanna Stiles and fiddler Jane Orzechowski set the rhythm. Admission costs $6 to $10.

For all sessions, dancers should bring a change of clean, soft-soled shoes. Dancers for Muskeg Music’s evening session are encouraged to bring snacks for a potluck.

Bar and Club Circuit

The Americana ensemble Still Hill pulls into Windsor Station tonight at 7:30.

Singer-songwriter Andrew Merzi performs at the Skinny Pancake in Hanover tonight starting at 7:30. Subsequent performers over the coming week are the roots-rock quintet Dan & The Wildfire on Friday night at 8:30 and Bow Thayer with his weekly session of Americana music, Wednesday night at 7.

Singer-songwriter Jim Hollis plays the tavern at Jesse’s restaurant in Hanover on Friday night at 5.

Singer-songwriter Ben Fuller kicks off the weekend of music at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon on Friday night at 8. The jam-rock trio Totally Submerged performs Saturday night at 9.

Guitarist Ted Mortimer brings his trio to Salt hill Pub in Newport on Friday night at 9. Singer-songwriter Ben Fuller performs Saturday night at 9.

Better Days sets the nostalgic rhythm for dancing on Friday night at 9 at the Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

Saxophonist Mike Parker hints that Soulfix will play Stevie Wonder’s Superstition during their appearance at the Crossroads Restaurant and Bar in South Royalton on Friday (the 13th) night at 9. Richie Hackett plays pop and country favorites on Saturday night at 8.

Open Mics

Jim Yeager directs traffic for an open-mic in the Hayloft at ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret tonight at 7.

Ramunto’s Brick & Brew Pizza in Bridgewater hosts an open mic starting at 7:30 on Thursday nights. Participants get a free large cheese pizza.

String players of all ages and abilities are welcome at the weekly acoustic jam session at South Royalton’s BALE Commons on Friday night from 6:30 to 10.

Al Carruth and EJ Tretter lead the monthly open mic in the basement of the Sunapee Methodist Church in Sunapee Harbor on Friday night at 7.

Joe Stallsmith leads a weekly hootenanny of Americana, folk and bluegrass at Salt hill Pub in Hanover on Monday nights at 6.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

Correction: General public admission to the master class that baritone Richard Lissemore will teach to aspiring singers on Saturday night at 7 at the Upper Valley Music Center's new headquarters in downtown Lebanon is $20. A previous version of the Entertainment Highlights column in the Thursday Valley News gave an incorrect admission and starting time.