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James Brown

Elvis was the King, Jerry Lee Lewis was the Killer, Springsteen is the Boss. One man, one nickname—pretty simple. But James Brown—Soul Brother Number One, the Godfather of Soul, Mr. Dynamite, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business—well, James Brown just won’t fit into one measly nickname.

The 69-year-old Brown, who will kick off a worldwide tour at Proctor’s Theatre tomorrow (Friday), is cited by critics as the transformative agent responsible for the creation of soul music out of R&B, and of funk out of soul—and his influence is all over hiphop. So, in case there was any confusion, there’s much more to Brown than the Eddie Murphy hot-tub sketch.

Brown got his start in the late ’40s when he joined a gospel group after gaining parole for a bank- robbery conviction. The energy, stage presence and raw charisma for which Brown has become famous were evident from the earliest days, and in short order the group became his backing band. As James Brown and the Famous Flames, the group struggled through the ’50s with only minor successes, but Brown’s tenacity and work ethic—not to mention his intense showmanship—never flagged. In 1958, just as his record label was preparing to drop him, Brown scored his first No. 1 R&B hit with “Try Me,” after which the group made regular appearances on the R&B charts. But it was in 1963—after Brown began to experiment with harder Latin- and jazz-influenced rhythms—that the legend was made. The release of Live at the Apollo presented Brown at his best, and the album reached No. 2 on the pop charts.

Though Brown suffered a career slump in the late ’70s, the emergence of rap—and sampled rhythms—in the ’80s rekindled interest in his innovative beats, motivating critics to reassess Brown’s output and pronounce him, in the words of The All Music Guide, “not just Soul Brother Number One, but as the most important black musician of the rock era.”

James Brown will perform at Proctor’s Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady) tomorrow (Friday, Dec. 27). Tickets for the 8 PM show are $38-$45. For more information, call 346-6204.

Androcles and the Lion

You must remember Aesop’s fable about Androcles, the fellow who pulled the thorn from the lion’s paw. This compassionate act paid off later, when unfriendly Romans tried to feed Androcles to a lion, and it happily turned out to be his old pal waiting in the arena. Well, playwright George Bernard Shaw put his spin on the tale in this version, a comedy that turns his notoriously sharp gaze on early Christian would-be martyrs. Shaw contrasts the sincerely religious with self-aggrandizing phonies, and lampoons the smug, bloodthirsty Romans. The play offers a generous amount of his sparkling trademark wit.

This production is being presented by the Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall, the circa-1878 opera house in Cambridge. Cast members include Doug Ryan (Androcles), Jean-Marie Monnay (Lion) and Katie McDermott (Lavinia, a Christian also slated to be some lucky beast’s dinner); the director is Kevin McGuire. While Androcles may seem an odd choice for a holiday production, McGuire explains his reasoning: “Though not a traditional Christmas story, Shaw’s messages of forgiveness, compassion and faith are what attracted me to it at this time.”

Androcles and the Lion will open tonight (Thursday) at Hubbard Hall (25 E. Main St., Cambridge); performances are at 8 PM Dec. 26, 27, 28 and 30, and there will be 2 PM matinees on Dec. 29 and 31. Tickets are $20, $17 (Hubbard Hall members) and $10 (students). For reservations and information, call 677-2495.

First and Last Nights

The new year is almost upon us, and there will be a few area celebrations on Tuesday to finish off 2002: First Night Albany, First Night Saratoga and Chatham Last Night.

Albany’s theme this year is Let’s Dance the Night Away. As the title suggests, the festivities will feature dance of all types, with entertainment from City Hall to the Palace Theatre and beyond. The party begins at 6 PM with opening ceremonies featuring the Chinese Community Dance Center celebrating the event with Dragons and Drummers. Fireworks light up the sky at 6:15 PM in a gala display over the east lawn of the New York state Capitol, and the Sixth Annual First Night Last Run 5K Road Race kicks off at 6:30 PM with an anticipated 700 runners covering a route through Washington Park. The performance venues are located in the downtown business district; people can walk from site to site or take advantage of the free shuttle buses available to those with First Night Albany buttons. Some of the highlights include the Trinity Irish Dance Company (pictured) headlining the newly-remodeled Palace Theatre; gospel sounds by Heavenly Echoes; pop music by Nikki Cleary; hiphop by Soular Power’d (direct from their Broadway debut); and much more. The evening culminates in a grand-finale fireworks show. Buttons are $12 and are available at area Price Choppers, Stewart’s Shops, City Hall, and various other locations. For more information, call 434-2032 or visit www.albanyevents.org.

First Night Saratoga begins at 5:30 PM in downtown Saratoga Springs at the entrance to Congress Park, with opening ceremonies and a community procession that will continue north up Broadway ending at the City Center. This year will again feature the First Night Saratoga 5K Run at the Skidmore College campus at 5:30 PM. A Tribute to America’s Heroes Throughout the Ages will feature present-day members of the military, police and firefighters as well as members from a Revolutionary War-era reenactors group. At 6 PM, more than 30 performance venues and window spaces will host an array of entertainment from the Capital Region and beyond. The Capital Pride Chorus will perform a medley of songs, and the City Center will pay special tribute to the roots of America with a fusion of music, arts and history featuring performances by the Gibson Brothers and the McKrells. Ending the event will be a fireworks display at midnight in the area behind City Hall, off Broadway. First Night buttons are $12 and are available at area Price Choppers, Stewart’s Shops, Adirondack Trust Co. branches, downtown Saratoga Springs merchants and the Hungry Horseman Grill in Albany. For more information, call 584-8262 or visit www.firstnightsaratoga.org.

Rounding out the New Year’s Eve celebrations is Chatham Last Nite, which features festivities for the whole family along Main Street from 4 PM to midnight. The Tracey Memorial will be transformed into a WWII-era club for the sounds of the Swingaholics. There will also be blues provided by Slam Allen and His Workin’ Man’s Band, folk from the Hunger Mountain Boys and the Jeff Gonzales Trio, and hot samba rhythms and cool bossa nova jazz performed by the Berkshire Bateria Escola De Samba band. There will also be a variety of children’s entertainment, including music, children’s performers and more from 4-8 PM. Shuttle buses and carriage rides will be available, and fireworks displays will illuminate the sky at 7 PM and midnight. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the gate, $5 students in advance, $6 at the gate, children under 5 free. For more information, call 392-1999 or visit www.chathamlastnite.org.


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