SteveSongs in Concert: A Review
August 12, 2007 at Strong National Museum of Play
Reviewed by Debra Ross
Kudos to Strong National Museum of Play for inviting SteveSongs to include Rochester on its 2007 tour. Strong has historically been great at bringing terrific musical groups (such as the Ying Quartet) to play in their spacious but accessible theater in Rochester. But even among the great performances we've seen there, SteveSongs stands out.
SteveSongs is the brainchild of Steve Roslonek, originally from the Boston area. Ten years ago, Steve -- then a business consultant with Anderson Consulting -- wrote his first children’s song for a local day care, and from that point realized that he had found his Dream Job. Morning’Til Night, his first album, was released in 1999 to great local acclaim. Since then, he has released four more albums -- I should know, we bought all of them at the concert. My family had already had (and memorized) Steve's latest, Marvelous Day, from which most of his performance was drawn. Marvelous Day won the prestigious Parents' Choice Gold Award.
Steve's music is warm, happy, and though often very silly, it is never mind-numbing (regular readers of my reviews know how vehemently I object to the mind-numbing quality of some children's music and books). It is appropriate for any kids up to about age 9, I think, and their parents. (My almost-8-year-old loves it, and I actually found myself having it on at my computer while working alone...it's that enjoyable.) I've bought some extra copies of the albums for future birthday gifts for the age 2-to-9 set. Parents will thank me for giving their child something grownups and kids can both listen to with enjoyment; plus it's always great to give something that your own children already love.
One thing that makes Steve's music unique is that while Steve is the star, he isn't really the star, exactly. The other stars of SteveSongs albums are the Sillies, a small group of Boston-area kid singers, and Steve's singing really lets them shine. They sing background as well as perform in some of the skits, and you can hear from the spontaneous interactions between them and Steve just how much Steve is enjoying doing what he does with them, in their presence. In concert, moreover, even the kids in the audience feel like active participants, with Steve more as the guy who is making their fun happen, rather than the guy in the spotlight. Both listening to the albums and watching Steve on stage, you can see that his rapport with kids is genuine, spontaneous, and well-enjoyed.
Two of the Sillies came out for our show: Linnea and Mariel Ross. There is no question that while my kids and their friends were mostly responding to Steve himself, the Sillies' were the cherry on the top of a very yummy sundae. The Sillies -- particularly Mariel, who I understand already has a string of other singing and performance credits to her name -- sing beautifully, unlike some other kids' musical groups who clearly recruit backup singers from their young relatives. While the interaction between them and Steve on stage was clearly rehearsed, it wasn't trite, and the audience responded really well.
SteveSongs performed two almost-hour-long shows at Strong: 1pm and 3pm. My family attended the 1pm show, and I sneaked back into the 3pm concert to discover that it was a different show! (Boy, would I have kept the kids around the theater if I'd known that they could sit through more of their SteveSongs favorites.) The most notable song in the 1pm show was their rendition of "We're On Our Way" from Marvelous Day. It's my girls second-favorite song from the album. I was skeptical that he would perform it, because on the album, the kids are getting on the bus to go to a beach with Uncle Steve, who keeps forgetting things. But they modified it seamlessly for the stage, and the Sillies carried it off beautifully.
One Marvelous Day number that SteveSongs didn't perform on stage is the one I consider his most brilliant song: "Fast Monkey." From what tour manager/Sillies mom Diane Ross told me, this is one of those songs that seems to be everyone's favorite, but which it's impossible to perform on stage because Steve himself sings all of the parts. You can listen to a snippet here to see what I mean, although I don't think Amazon did a good job of picking a sample that best represents the song. "Fast Monkey" is a great way to reinforce the concepts of opposites and comparisons, but even more that than, it's just a fun, fun, FUN song for both adults and kids. In fact, "Fast Monkey" has become a family joke for us: "Come on, Madison, get dressed, you're being slower than a slow monkey." "Okay, Ella, it's time to stop being crankier than a cranky monkey." Diane told me that we are in no way the only family that does this.
"Fast Monkey" will, however, be available on SteveSongs' first DVD, scheduled to be released in early 2008. I suspect that the DVD will open new markets for them, that it will elevate Steve's music that one extra notch in popularity to make him the nationally recognized kids' performer he deserves to be.
To close the 1pm show, Steve and the Sillies sang the title song from his album On A Flying Guitar, released in 2000.
- On a flying guitar
We can go anywhere
Both near or far
Flying into mid-air
We can bring anyone along
And sing our song here or there...
Over land, over trees,
Over oceans, don't you know
That I can't wait
Till the next time that we go?
We can't wait until next time, either, Steve. Please come back to Rochester real soon. And be sure to bring that flying guitar.
Click here for a list of all of Steve's albums.
Those who want more information about bringing SteveSongs to your venue should click here.
©2007, Debra Ross