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The band known as America had an unlikely beginning: The three singer-songwriters (Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell, and Dan Peek) met in Watford, England, where their fathers—all three, American military personnel—were stationed. Although their hit records, beginning with 1972’s “A Horse With No Name,” were all produced by Sir George Martin, the trio’s music emerged startlingly free of Brit influence—songs like “Sister Golden Hair,” “I Need You” and “Ventura Highway” are among the most quintessentially American recordings of the 1970s. Their three-part harmonies drew (obvious) comparisons to Crosby, Stills and Nash, but Beckley, Bunnell and Peek trumped that sentence by racking up more actual Top 10 hits. But, then, CSN never recorded “Muskrat Love,” so we’ll call it a draw.

(On a related note, “Horse” was the song responsible for bouncing Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” from the number-one position in 1972. We’re not sure if that counts as irony, but it’s as close as we’re gonna get.)

Peek found Jesus and left the band in 1977 (he now has a successful career in contemporary-Christian music), but Beckley and Bunnell continue to keep the America name alive and well. In fact, they’re currently at work on a new album, which is being produced by Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne) and former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha. Cool.

America takes the stage at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (30 2nd St., Troy) this evening (Thursday, Feb. 2). Tickets for the 8 PM performance are $40 and $45. For more information, call 273-0038.

Phantom of the Opera

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s renowned musical Phantom of the Opera makes its Capital Region debut this week. The renovated Proctor’s Theatre will play host to a month’s worth of performances (under the direction of Harold Prince) of the epic love story between Christine, a rising opera star, and her unlikely mentor. Featuring songs that have become Broadway musical classics, like “Think of Me,” “Angel of Music,” “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” and “Music of the Night,” Phantom has been adored for 20 years by audiences and critics alike. And the proof is in the pudding: Just this month Phantom took the title of longest-running show on Broadway, bumping Cats out of the top slot.

Phantom of the Opera will run through the entire month of February, ending on the 26th, at Proctor’s Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady). Ticket prices ($17.75-$66.75) vary depending on seating and performance date. For a complete schedule or to order tickets, call the Proctor’s box office at 346-6204 or visit

Dorian Blues

‘It was like running through a mine field and not knowing it until you looked back,” says Ballston Spa-based filmmaker Tennyson Bardwell of the process that brought his first feature-length film, Dorian Blues, to movie theaters around the country—and, beginning tomorrow (Friday), to the Spectrum 8 Theatres in Albany. “There were a lot of points where I know this whole project could have blown up.”

Inspired by the life of Brian Vargo, a friend Bardwell made while attending theater school at Carnegie Mellon University, Dorian Blues is a coming-of-age comedy about a young man coming out of the closet. While it doesn’t tell his friend’s life story (Vargo died from AIDS in the early ’90s), Bardwell says the observations, missteps and harsh realizations his friend shared with him about coming out of the closet years earlier inspired both the concept of the film and its main character, Dorian Lagatos.

In the film, Dorian (Michael McMillian) begins coming to terms with his own sexuality during the waning years of high school, before heading off to college at New York University. This realization causes a ripple effect among his friends and family as his older brother Nicky, a star athlete, and his father, a thick-headed neoconservative, deal with Dorian’s revelation in their own ways.

“It’s really a story about two brothers,” says Bardwell, who mined the memories of his own relationship with Vargo in order to create the Lagatos brothers. “He was gay, I was straight and we were always a funny contrast.”

And while that relationship provided many funny moments to the film, Bardwell says it was the stories Vargo related to him about his own coming-out experience that gave Dorian Blues a real sense of substance.

“[Vargo] always thought it was interesting that gays go through one of the toughest moments of their life at such a young age,” says Bardwell. “For somebody who’s straight, problems of that scale don’t occur until so much later in life.”

Filmed almost entirely around the Capital Region, Dorian Blues has also become somewhat of a “coming out” affair for Bardwell, winning several awards at major festivals around the country and making it possible for Bardwell to wrap up filming on his second feature, The Skeptic, last year. That thriller brought notable actors Tom Arnold and Timothy Daly to the Capital Region, a setting that Bardwell says he’d like to use as often as possible.

Whether recruiting local rock band Sirsy to provide music for the film, creating mock-ups of New York City’s Central Park in Albany’s Washington Park, or finding 80 willing extras in Bethlehem Central High School, Bardwell says the Capital Region’s eagerness to become a part of his film has been one of the major factors in its success. The benefits of staying local became even more apparent, says Bardwell, after he flew to Los Angeles for one of the closing scenes in The Skeptic.

“It was horrible out there,” he laughs. “They’re all jaded about films and no one has any excitement about being a part of what you’re creating.”

“I hope every film I make can be made here.”

Dorian Blues will open at the Spectrum 8 Theatres (290 Delaware Ave., Albany) tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 3). Filmmaker Tennyson Bardwell and coproducer Ann Marie Lizzie will take part in a Q&A session with audiences after the first evening show on Friday and Saturday (Feb. 3-4). For more info, call 449-8995.

—Rick Marshall

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