PENINSULA SPOTLIGHT: Unusual troupe performs in Port Townsend this weekend

PORT TOWNSEND — The accordion man was once an opera singer in Delaware; one of the women used to play for Cirque du Soleil, that globe-trotting Canadian circus company.

And that’s just a taste of the Vagabond Opera, which will burst into The Upstage Theatre and Restaurant this Saturday night.

The reviews for this band — billed as “European cabaret, vintage Americana, neoclassical opera and Old World Yiddish theater” — are relentlessly exuberant. The outfit from Portland, Ore., is “sensational” and “indescribable,” writes one West Coast critic; The Washington Post just about sings of the “ceaseless charisma, boundless energy, impeccable musicianship and more than a little touch of both the naughty and exotic.”

Yet another writer, this one in West Virginia, calls their music “stylistic madness” that had the audience “singing and clapping along the way.”

The Vagabond Opera’s leader, Eric Stern, has his own way of enticing listeners and dancers.

“Our show is a multi-layered journey . . . like biting into a piece of cake that has lots of surprises,” he said.

“One thing I really try to do as artistic director is create a dramatic arc. So it’s not a series of songs. It’s something that unfolds, and climaxes, and climaxes more,” added Stern, also the band’s operatic tenor and accordionist.

“From the moment we step onstage,” Stern said, “we’re creating a different world . . . a spectacle,” more like a play or an opera than a straight-ahead concert.

Surrounding Stern are cellist Skip von Kuske, drummer Mark Burdon, upright-bass player Jason Flores, saxophone man Robin Jackson and cellist-vocalist Ashia Grzesik (pronounced Gree-sik). She’s the one who left Cirque du Soleil to come to Portland, in hopes of expanding her cabaret and vaudeville performance styles. She joined Vagabond Opera two years ago.

“We add a vaudeville, theatrical, visual flair to cabaret, gypsy, klezmer and jazz tunes,” Grzesik said, “with great musicianship, as well as getting the crowd involved with dancing and singing.”

People love the layers and facets of Vagabond music, she added.

Tickets to the opera Saturday night are $10; show time is 8 p.m. at The Upstage, 923 Washington St.

For more information and reservations, phone the club at 360-385-2216.

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