‘Boston’s favorite song duo’ brings ‘American Classics’ to ‘burbs

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By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor

Brad Connor and Ben Sears

Bedford/Cambridge – Hailed by the Boston Globe as “Boston’s favorite song duo,” Ben Sears and Brad Connor continue to bring musical entertainment to suburbs as producing directors and performers in their 24th season of “American Classics.”

Their 2018-2019 “American Classics” season will culminate with “George M. Cohan 2019 Revue” on Friday, April 26, 7:30 p.m., at First Parish Church in Bedford; and Sunday, April 28, 3:00 p.m., in Pickman Concert Hall at Longy School of Music in Cambridge.

Sears and Connor began their 30-year collaboration as the singing duo Ben & Brad on a WGBH public radio program in 1989. In 1995, they were among a few founders of the Boston Association of Cabaret Artists. The duo appreciates longtime support from Boston’s Club Café since its opening in 1983. There, Ben & Brad celebrated their collaboration’s 25th-anniversary show in 2014.

“Club Café has nurtured the Boston cabaret community very well – including us,” Connor noted. “After so many years, Club Café is not only soldiering on, but making a success of it.”

In the mid-1990s, they combined efforts with vocalists Mary Ann Lanier and Sylvie Stewart, aka The Camptown Ladies, and pianist Margaret Ulmer. Their mutual musical passions led to debuting “American Classics” concerts series at Swedenborg Chapel in Cambridge.

Since 2000, Sears and Connor have shared stages alongside other performers in shows with various themes throughout annual “American Classics” seasons.

“Brad and I started putting together concert versions of forgotten musicals,” Sears explained. “Over the years, we keep finding unknown songs by famous songwriters. We’re excited to have this forum to mix these songs with standards.”

Connor added, “This repertoire is our passion, not only to bring to audiences, but also for a lot of great Boston performers. Our shows engage a wide range of performers – singing actors and cabaret artists.”

“American Classics” has been presented annually at Cambridge venues. For many years, its second performance space was Follen Church in Lexington. This season marks the first time that “American Classics” is venturing to Bedford.

“We go to suburbs to attract audiences who don’t want to drive into the city,” Sears said. “The suburban experiment began about 15 years ago and has continued.”

When not on the road, Ben & Brad entertain at popular Boston venues. In 1997, they were the first cabaret act featured at the historic landmark now known as Cutler Majestic Theatre at Emerson College. A few years later, they serenaded guests arriving at Wang Center for the Performing Arts prior to screenings of the film “White Christmas.” In 2012, they and “American Classics” castmates sang the national anthem at Fenway Park during its 100th anniversary.

The centenary of the end of World War I inspired “American Classics” current season beginning this past November with the 1918 musical revue “Yip Yip Yaphank.” Written by composer-lyrist Irving Berlin while an Army recruit stationed at Camp Upton in Yaphank, N.Y., the revue’s songs range from the comedic “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” to the solemn “God Bless America.”

In February, the duo and castmates performed “Songs from After the War” with upbeat tunes including “April Showers,” “Chicago” and “Fascinating Rhythm.”

Sears and Connor are looking forward to paying tribute to an iconic showman with their April show titled “George M. Cohan 2019 Revue,” highlighting his patriotic favorites “Over There,” “Yankee Doodle Boy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”

“Cohan’s career was at a peak during the WWI era,” Connor noted. “It makes sense for us to tie-up this season with a George M. Cohan tribute.”

Order tickets and find other information at americanclassicsmusic.org and benandbrad.com.

Photos/submitted

Brad Connor and Ben Sears perform “Songs from After the War” this past February in Pickman Concert Hall at Longy School of Music in Cambridge.
Mary Ellin Barrett (center), daughter of composer and lyrist Irving Berlin, joins Ben Sears and Brad Connor after their 2011 concert celebrating the 100th anniversary of her father’s song “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” in Pickman Concert Hall at Longy School of Music in Cambridge.