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Moth

Though lots of good ideas go the way of the Betamax, every now and then a little-engine-that-could kind of notion gets moving, and by perseverance—and the just-plain-goodness of it all—keeps moving. So it has been with the Moth, a storytelling group started up by poet and novelist George Dawes Green back in 1997, who will appear at MASS MoCA on Saturday (Jan. 24).

Green experienced some success with his novels The Caveman’s Valentine and The Juror, but always thought fondly of his pre-celeb days in Georgia, where he would hang on the back porches of his friends and fellow writers just spinning yarns. An attempt to re-create that environment in his new hometown of New York City caught on and soon spilled out of the living room and into such performance spaces as Joe’s Pub and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s café.

A whole slew of notable writers and raconteurs have taken the stage under the Moth’s wings; when the informal troupe settles down briefly in the Berkshires, the roster will include Moth advisory council members Andy Borowitz (pictured, satirist and creator of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) and Jonathan Ames (columnist, novelist and performance artist), as well as Joyce Maynard (columnist, novelist, memoirist and, notoriously, onetime girlfriend of J.D. Salinger).

The storytellers of Moth will perform Stories About Aspirations and Inspiration at MASS MoCA (1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass.) on Saturday (Jan. 24). Tickets for the show are $14, $11 students. For more information, call (413) 662-2111.

Fiorello!

The timing of the production is probably just fortuitous, but the New York State Theatre Institute’s upcoming musical, which opens on Saturday, may work as antidote to the unfolding Democratic primaries. Call us cynical, but it’s tough to view as truly dramatic the “comeback” of a man worth somewhere in the neighborhood of eleventy-bazillion dollars (the comic potentials of marrying into a condiment fortune notwithstanding). But the musical Fiorello! has as its subject a rare thing indeed: a colorful, populist underdog who actually managed to win—and keep—significant elected office. Mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945 (three consecutive terms), Fiorello LaGuardia was about as dramatic as you get.

Born in New York City to an Italian-immigrant father and a Jewish mother originally from Austria-Hungary, the diminutive LaGuardia didn’t have an easy path to the mayoralty. In the first half of this century, the voting public—even in New York—wasn’t inclined to give a short and swarthy politician the benefit of the doubt. LaGuardia lost his first bid for the mayor’s office, as he had earlier lost his first bid for Congress. But as in that first shot at elected office, LaGuardia wasn’t inclined to give up. He ran again and won—and once he took office in 1933, he stuck (he chose not to run for a fourth term). In the course of his 11 years in office, “the little flower” gained a reputation for being a tireless champion of the city’s poorer residents and a dedicated opponent of political corruption (a welcome change from his predecessor, the equally colorful but totally crooked Jimmy Walker).

So, really, there’s only one response to the news that NYSTI is mounting this Pulitzer-, New York Drama Critics Circle Award-, and Tony Award-winning musical: Bring it on.

The New York State Theatre Institute’s Fiorello! opens Saturday (Jan. 24) at 8 PM, and runs through Feb. 4. Tickets for the show are $10-$20. For more information, call 274-3256.

Gavin DeGraw

Singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw has been slowly building a name for himself through word-of-mouth and a relentless touring schedule, and it looks like his efforts are starting to pay dividends. His debut album, Chariot, was one of the most accomplished debuts of 2003, and its first single, “Follow Through,” made serious waves at Top 40 and AAA (aka Adult Album Alternative) radio during the latter half of the year. DeGraw was last through town in October as part of a sold-out co-bill with Maroon 5, with whom he will reteam this spring for the Virgin College Tour. This Sunday, he’ll return to the Capital Region on the strength of Chariot’s second and latest single, titled “I Don’t Want to Be,” which has been adopted as the theme song for the new WB network series One Tree Hill.

Gavin DeGraw spoke with Metroland via telephone from Times Square in New York City, where he was about to begin filming a video for “I Don’t Want to Be.” “I’m in the backstage lounge at Planet Hollywood,” he told us. “The cast of One Tree Hill is doing TRL right now. We’re looking at them from across the street.” For a guy whose career seems to have him on the fast track to stardom, DeGraw seems pretty laid-back about the whole process. He’s at the beginning of his first headlining tour, playing venues that hold “about 1,000 a night,” but it won’t be long before he’s in front of a much larger audience. “I’m definitely curious,” he says of his upcoming opening slot on the Barenaked Ladies’ arena tour. “I’ve never played such a large place.”

The 26-year old Clive Davis protégé isn’t beyond getting starstruck yet, either. “Probably the biggest thing I’ve done so far [was] playing the Songwriters Hall of Fame [in June 2003]. I inducted Phil Collins,” he beams, then boasts of sharing the stage with Billy Joel, Van Morrison, Ray Charles and Jimmy Webb with all the zeal of a schoolboy playing show-and-tell. When asked about his future plans, DeGraw suggests that he’s merely along for the ride. “I’m playing right through April, then going to Japan. I haven’t really discussed it, I’ve only been informed.”

Gavin DeGraw and his band will perform this Sunday (Jan. 25) at Northern Lights (Route 146, Clifton Park) at 7:30 PM. Virginia Coalition and Michael Tolcher will open. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 day of show. For more information, call 371-0012.

—John Brodeur


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