Highlights: Valley Improv Keeps the Show Moving at Briggs Opera House

  • During a Valley Improve show in Springfield, Mass., Rick Peck performs a simultaneous operation on Biff Simpson and Adam Bristol (bottom). Members of Valley Improv will perform at the fifth annual FaLaLa Holiday Revue at the Briggs Opera House on Friday evening. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon begins its 27th year with a performance Sunday by Rhode Island tenor saxophonist Dan Moretti at the Center at Eastman in Grantham. See 'Best Bets' for more information. (Courtesy photograph) Tomoji Hirakata photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/6/2018 12:04:55 AM
Modified: 12/6/2018 12:05:04 AM

For the fourth December in a row, David Briggs plans to introduce the performers at the start of the FaLaLa Holiday Revue at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction on Friday night.

Then, per tradition, he’ll pass the emcee’s microphone to the nimble skit-meisters from Valley Improv, and get the heck out of the way while they keep the annual variety show from flying into space from sheer centrifugal force.

“They’re the glue,” Briggs said last week. “They’re the people who make it a seamless production.”

But first, a bit of mayhem.

“We start with showing people where the exits are, making a skit out of it,” Valley Improv president Biff Simpson, of Canaan, said this week. “Last year, instead of saying, ‘Here’s how you get out,’ we made it as if everybody was on an airplane at the end of the flight.

“We like to take people by surprise.”

The audience, and Briggs, can rely on Simpson and three or four more of Valley Improv’s 14 members to weave four routines — as opposed to the seven the troupe typically performs at stand-alone, hour-long appearances — among the performances by belly-dancers from the Raq-On Studio, instrumentalists from the Upper Valley Music Center playing yuletide tunes, dancers from the White River Valley Ballet Academy, and screenings of a set of three short, holiday-themed films.

“This format came out of a spontaneous moment where the ballet school didn’t have enough material to do a whole performance,” Briggs said. “Now every discipline gets 15 to 20 minutes.”

Simpson credits his predecessor, Becky Byars, with setting the template for the show, and Briggs with giving them a long leash.

“Dave really set us up to succeed,” Simpson said. “He says, ‘All I want you to do is make sure that things flow.’ So the action never stops.”

With the improvisers outlining the general premise of each routine, or “game,” Simpson added, the people in the seats are encouraged to provide more detailed suggestions to drive the action.

“I know what games we’re going to play, but not the topics,” Simpson said. “Some of the suggestions we get are pretty wacky.”

Heaven knows, then, how wacky Friday’s show might get while the improvisers mix the audience’s suggestions into a routine inspired by the 2000 movie Memento, in which the protagonist, suffering from short-term memory loss, reconstructs the murder of his wife by flashing back through time one scene at a time.

“You do the last scene first, then the next to last, then No. 2, then No. 1,” Simpson said. “It gets really tricky. You can’t kill anybody off in the first scene and then have them appear in the last at the beginning. You’ve got to complete everything.”

Proceeds from ticket sales this year will go to Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity, which is building a new home for a family in Sharon.

“We probably do two paid shows a year, and the rest are benefits, and we really enjoy this one,” said Simpson, a retiree who volunteers at the Upper Valley Haven. “It’s a lot of fun, and you feel good twice for every show.”

The Briggs Opera House in White River Junction hosts the fourth annual FaLaLa Holiday Revue on Friday night at 7. For tickets ($15), visit tututix.com/wrba or drop by the box office the day of the show, To learn more, visit uppervalleyhabitat.org.

Best Bets

Cirque Mechanics returns to Dartmouth College’s Hopkins Center this weekend with three weekend performances on the theme of “42FT — A Menagerie of Mechanical Marvels.” For tickets ($13 to $40) and more information (the Hopkins Center reported near-sellouts of tonight’s and Friday night’s shows), visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

■The Conniption Fits provide the soundtrack to Vital Communities’ open house on Friday night at The Engine Room in downtown White River Junction. The gathering, which opens the nonprofit’s yearlong celebration of its 25th anniversary, runs from 5:30 to 10, with the music beginning at 8. Admission is by donation. To learn more, visit vitalcommunities.org.

■Devotees of The Nutcracker can choose from two interpretations of Tchaikovsky’s Christmas ballet in the Upper Valley this Saturday and Sunday — or even take in both.

City Center Ballet tackles the Clara’s Dream sequence of the holiday classic at the Lebanon Opera House on Saturday afternoon at 1 and 4, and on Sunday afternoon at 3. For tickets ($9 to $38) and more information, visit lebanonoperahouse.org or call 603-448-0400.

Meanwhile, The Dance Factory stages the full ballet at Springfield (Vt.) High School on Saturday night at 7 and on Sunday afternoon at 2. Tickets cost $8 to $13, with proceeds benefiting the high school’s drama club.

■ Along with the annual parade of horses, carol-singing and other outdoor activities on Saturday, Woodstock’s Wassail celebration offers a couple of warming musical options in the evening.

At 7:30, cellist Eugene Friesen, a longtime performer with the Paul Winter Consort, plays at the North Universalist Chapel. Admission is $15.

And at 8, the Cape Breton Island quartet Coig plays holiday-themed Celtic music at the Woodstock Town Hall Theatre. For tickets ($20 to $40) and more information, visit pentanglearts.org or call 802-457-3981.

To learn more about other Wassail offerings through the weekend, visit woodstockvt.com/events/wassail-weekend.

■Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem fill Randolph’s Chandler Music Hall with roots rhythms and lyrics, on the theme of “Wintersong,” on Saturday night at 7:30. Admission is $25 in advance and $28 at the door. To reserve tickets and learn more, visit chandler-arts.org or call 802-728-6464.

■Tenor saxophonist Dan Moretti kicks off the 27th season of Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon concerts this weekend at the Center at Eastman in Grantham. Each of the concerts, scheduled mostly for alternate Sundays, starts at 4. Admission is $18 to $20 per show; season passes cost $144 to $160. To reserve tickets and learn more about the series, visit josajazz.com or call 603-763-8732.

■The Hopkins Center screens the HD recording of a live performance of The King and I, from the London Palladium, on Sunday afternoon at 4 at Loew Auditorium in Hanover. The revival stars Ken Watanabe and Kelli O’Hara in the title roles of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic. For tickets ($10 to $23) and more information, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-727-3304.

Looking Ahead

Revels North will kick off the Christmas Revels, on the theme of “A Venetian Celebration of the Solstice,” at Dartmouth College’s Spaulding Auditorium next Thursday night at 6. Admission is $7.50 to $46 on opening night, and $10.20 to $48 for the subsequent five performances. For tickets and more information, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

Theater/Performance Art

Boston-based stand-up artist Tricia Auld headlines the monthly Comedy Club session, tonight at 8, at The Engine Room in White River Junction. Admission is $5 to $10.

■With a number of dates for its production of Matilda the Musical at or near the point of selling out — including the matinees this afternoon and Sunday afternoon at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction — Northern Stage has added a performance at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 16. The musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s book runs through Jan. 1. For tickets and more information, visit northernstage.org or call 802-296-7000.

■Shaker Bridge Theatre raises the curtain on its production of the dysfunctional-family comedy Over the Tavern tonight at 7:30. For tickets ($16 to $28 plus $2 for online purchases) and more information, visit shakerbridgetheatre.org or call 603-448-3750.


Grammy Award-winning guitarist Ed Gerhard plays the Sunapee Community Coffeehouse on Friday night at 7, in the basement of the Methodist church in Sunapee Harbor. Admission is by donation.

■Singer Linda Boudreault and guitarist Ted Mortimer perform jazz, blues, soul and country in Chelsea on Saturday night at 7 during North Common Arts’ monthly Coffeehouse Cabaret. Admission is $10.

■The Boston-based Borromeo String Quartet plays works of Haydn, Beethoven and Gyorgy Ligeti at Randolph’s Chandler Music Hall on Sunday afternoon at 3. For tickets ($15 to $42) and more information, visit chandler-arts.org or call 802-728-6464.

■Guitarists Draa Hobbs and John Stowell perform jazz classics at ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret on Sunday afternoon at 4. Admission is by donation to Twin Pines Housing. To learn more, visit artistreevt.org.

Holiday Hollers

Pianist Annemieke McLane, soprano Julie Ness, accordionist Jeremiah McLane and piper Tim Cummings perform music of the season on Friday night at 7 at the United Church of Strafford. Admission is by donation, 20 percent of which goes to the Manheim Fund for upkeep of the church steeple.

■The Pine Hill Singers tackle an eclectic array of winter songs during their seasonal concert on Friday night at 7, at Court Street Arts’ Alumni Hall in Haverhill. Admission is by donation.

■The Bel Canto Chamber Singers throw their voices into concerts at the First Congregational Church of Lebanon on Saturday night at 7:30 and on Sunday afternoon at 4. Admission is $10 to $15 to each performance, which will range across secular and sacred music of the season. To learn more, visit belcantosingers.org/concerts.html.


Atlantic Crossing fiddler Peter MacFarlane and guitarist Rick Klein set the rhythm and David Millstone calls the steps for Muskeg Music’s contra dance on Saturday night at Tracy Hall in Norwich. Before the dancing begins in earnest at 8, there will be a walk-through at 7:45 for newcomers and rusty dancers. Admission is $8 to $12.

Bar and Club Circuit

Singer-guitarist Joseph Stallsmith, bassist Phyllis Shea, drummer Robin Weisburger and multi-instrumentalist Ford Daley play rock, folk and classic country at Peyton Place Restaurant in Orford tonight at 6.

■ Ascutney’s Greg Goedewaagen leads a parade of friends into Windsor Station to play a set of Americana and roots music tonight at 7, and Soulstice mixes R&B with holiday themes on Saturday night at 9:30.

■The all-woman folk trio Lula Wiles performs tonight at 8 at Flying Goose Brewpub and Grille in New London. To reserve tickets ($25) and learn more about the Flying Goose’s music series, visit flyinggoose.com or call 603-526-6899.

■Rory Loughran and Terry Cantlin sing roots music at the Public House in Quechee on Friday night from 7 to 10.

■Bassist Peter Concilio, pianist Bob Merrill and drummer Tim Gilmore perform the annual jazz holiday party at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners on Friday night at 9.

■SIRSY plays a set of rock at Salt hill Pub in downtown Lebanon on Friday night at 9, and singer-songwriter Amanda McCarthy appears on Saturday night at 9.

■Tirade frontman Toby Moore performs at Salt hill Pub in Hanover on Friday night at 9. Arthur James sings and plays the blues on Saturday night at 9.

■Chris Powers performs a set of rock at Salt hill Pub in West Lebanon on Friday night at 9.

■The Repeat Offenders rock Newport’s Salt hill Pub on Friday night at 9, and Flew-Z frontman Alec Currier plays there on Saturday night at 9.

■Sonny Saul plays jazz at the On the River Inn in Woodstock on Saturday and Wednesday nights from 6:30 to 9.

■Saxophonist Katie Runde and guitarist Ted Mortimer play Babe’s Bar in Bethel on Sunday evening from 5 to 8.

■Saxophonist Mike Parker and singer-guitarist Alison “AliT” Turner play Crossroads Bar and Grill in South Royalton on Tuesday night at 8:30.

Open Mics

Woodstock musician Jim Yeager hosts open mics tonight at 7 at ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret, and on Wednesday night at 8 at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

■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.

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

■Fiddler Jakob Breitbach leads an acoustic jam session of bluegrass, Americana and old-timey music on Tuesday nights at 7 at The Filling Station Bar and Grill in White River Junction.

■Tom Masterson hosts an open mic at Colatina Exit in Bradford, Vt., on Tuesday nights at 8.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304. Entertainment news also can be sent to highlights@vnews.com.

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