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Theater in the Park rocks out in concert series

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Granted, the auditorium wasn’t standing room only on the night that Queens Theatre in the Park presented it’s “Rockin’ In the Theater,’ a concert showcasing four local artists. The show was part of QTIP’s new focus on nontraditional entertainment for the theater, as they aren’t known for hosting rock concerts. Time will tell if they’ll be successful.

The first act was Jessica Caterina, a native New Yorker who is now on the club circuit. Ironically, the QTIP show was her New York debut. She came on stage wearing something right out of the ‘60’s: a long, floating maxi dress/caftan over low slung jeans. Her brown hair was center-parted. But when the music started it wasn’t folksy, but robust and bluesy. Her songs included the thoughtful “Sedona,” “Tonight” which boasted energetic guitar licks, and “Wide Open.” Her backup band was a bassist, a guitarist and a drummer, who created enough volume for just the three of them, and sometimes, alas, drowned out her earnest vocals.

She was followed by Todd Shea, who came on with a black guitar, a tie-dyed t-shirt, a beard and a mullet. He sang pleasant, folksy songs inspired by James Taylor, Jim Croce and, improbably, Alice In Chains. His guitar playing was simple, consisting of only a few chords. He’d performed at a tribute for the Sept. 11 attacks and, curiously, many of the songs he’d written before then proved appropriate for the disaster. One song written a while ago was “A Song Carried on Angel’s Wings,” which was followed by “Hate,” also penned four or five years earlier. The lyrics were clever,

I hate you

‘Cause you’re from another land

I hate you

Cause you’re in another band

And I hate you ‘cause you don't root for my team

And I hate you ‘cause you're living out your dream.

He followed it with “Thank God For Love,” “Broken Glass,” “The Secret” and the “Other Side of the Sun,” an antiwar song written after the death of a young special forces soldier in Afghanistan. The refrain went, “Whatever happened to the boy next door?” The rather too sweet “Little Feet,” was a paean to the early childhood of his and his friend’s kids and a nod to Taylor and Croce. Shea began the song with something of Taylor’s comforting nasal tenor. His last song was “Rise,” about emerging from the ashes of self destruction. The song is also about four years old, and has now taken on a Sept. 11 aura.

The next band was George, a so called country soul band. Their leader is Wayne, a skinny guy in dreadlocks, and the lead singer is Deanna, who looked a bit like Alicia Keys but, with her strong, soulful alto voice, didn’t sing like her. Their backup singers were two girls, one brunette and one blonde, who looked and sang amazingly like Anni-Frid and Agnetha from Abba. (Their real names are Stephanie and Nellie.) The girls came on stage wearing country hats and I thought, “This is going to be interesting.” The show was more than interesting; George is a smashing great band, no less for the cleverness of their songs — the lyrics, what you could hear of them, were poppy, snarky and fun — than for the chemistry between Wayne and Deanna. I thought that they’re either going together or they’re brother and sister. They’re not brother and sister, I later learned. The band performed as if they’d been around for a long time. They were polished but not too polished and serious about their work without it showing too much. They ran through their songs without introduction, unless you counted “Georgie Girl,” that ‘60s chestnut from the Seekers. Deanna passed out mini-CDs. George even has its own Web site and everything: www.curiousaboutgeorge.com. George is going places; pay close attention to them.

The next band was Attakku, a fusion band, Latino with elements of flamenco and jazz and hard rock whose singer, a sexy and slim young lady who looked like Selena, was named Andrea. They came on after a five minute intermission and even the sounds they made from behind the Broadway-red curtain while they warmed up were interesting. Their songs, very loud and very energetic, were in Spanish, and I found that stopping up my ears a bit helped me to appreciate their essential musicianship — I learned that an accordion can play very nicely with a couple of screaming guitars. Their best number was an enthusiastic one called “Groove in the Bronx,” an instrumental that sounded like it borrowed liberally from Santana’s “Black Magic Woman,” which was fine. The audience response was ecstatic, and the lead singer acknowledged that he had a few of his relatives out there in the darkness.

On Sept. 28 at 8 p.m., QTIP will present Bob Bisaccia, featuring Karen Wyman with Lew Anderson's 16-piece All-American Band. This is a big band is made up of Broadway pit musicians who specialize in Broadway, jazz and swing standards, and of course, they have a girl singer. Bisaccia, who’s a construction businessman in real life (he worked on the World Trade Center and was taken on as a consultant after Sept. 11), sings in his spare time.

Queens Theatre in the Park is in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, in the shadow of the New York State Towers. Call 760-0064 for information.

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