By KRISTIN SPRINGER
Brevard Culture guest Entertainment Critic
While area theaters typically offer season passes to their theatrical line-ups, the Cocoa Village Playhouse has announced a first: A season pass to a five-production series by the wildly popular cover-band, Hot Pink. And judging by this weekend’s sensational, laser-light and 3D projection-heavy Pink Floyd concert experience, the entire series is set to dazzle.
Hot Pink’s bandmates have “performed together for over a decade on hits from soul to rock and roll,” according to their website; and the longevity shows in their consistency, polish, and breadth of material. They have nearly 8,000 Facebook followers and have consistently well-attended gigs throughout Central Florida.
Hot Pink’s 20-concert CVP series spans five distinct genres: Motown (Aug. 16-18), Pink Floyd (Aug. 23-25), The Beatles (Jan. 9-11), The Rolling Stones (May 15-17), and The Doors (July 31-Aug. 2).
They will all be held at CVP, which, with its gilded molding and crystal chandeliers, offers a cozy yet elegant setting to watch the quality of concert you’d expect to find in a much larger arena. Anastacia Hawkins-Smith, CVP’s chief executive officer and artistic director, says her connection with the band “spans 11 years when (multi-talented Hot Pink lead singer) James Spiva began to perform in (CVP) productions.”
And this weekend’s Pink Floyd tribute concert is a great way to truly understand the promise of this concert series. It is the definition of psychedelic, featuring trippy 3D projections of flying clocks, spinning cubes, and blue-cast animations by Michael W. Hallberg. You’ll especially love the laser-light show directed onto the crystal chandelier (balcony seats will have the best view). Upon entry, each member of the audience is given goggles; with one red lens and one blue, which cast a unique effect. Rather than seeing the performers two-dimensionally, as lit from the front; the goggles give each performer prismatic shape with a red right side and a blue left side. This also gives the stage an intrinsic sense of movement and three dimensions to the projected film.
Emerging from London’s underground music scene during the late 1960s, Pink Floyd led a progressive generation of punksters via extended compositions, sonic experimentation, philosophical lyrics and elaborate staging. Rolling Stone magazine described Pink Floyd as “purveyors of a distinctively dark vision.” Songs include “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Time,” “Echoes,” and “Money;” perhaps, the most recognizable song for viewers who didn’t follow Pink Floyd is “Another Brick in the Wall” (“Hey, teacher! Leave those kids alone!!”).
Many cover bands aim for orchestrations that are close enough to the original recording to satiate fans’ palettes but with just enough departures to explore the songs with a fresh perspective. In Motown, Hot Pink asks “What-chu want?” and answers with a sassy and elegant “Baby, (we) got it;” while in Hot Pink Floyd the vibe is more “We don’t need no self-control.” The two genres of music are polar opposites—the first is establishment-pleasing while the second is anti-establishment—the contrast is apparent in the scenery, costumes, lyrics and instrumentations.
Hot Pink’s band features core instrumentalists Cory Johnson and Jason Cook (guitars), Bill Erskine (bass), and Jonathan Honeycutt (drums). For Motown, last weekend, the band was joined by J. Thomas Black, Jr. (keys), Corbin Nappi (congas/vocals), Jim Matthews, Ian Schwindt, Scotty Cockerham (trumpet, trombone, saxophone) and solo vocalists Sasha Webster and Stephanie Baker.
Framed by red velvet curtains with vocal soloists in sequins [Jeremy Phelps & Michael Field (lighting) and Brian Brown (audio)], these cool cats deliver their soulful riffs and high-octane ballads to dozens of popular tunes such as the Temptations’ “Get Ready/I Can’t Get Next To You,” the Four Tops’ “Reach Out” Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” Sasha Webster slays on her R&B solos of “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect” as a soulful powerhouse with seemingly limitless range. Baker provides a seductive counterpoint to Spiva on duets and sultry solos such as in “Heat Wave” (originally recorded by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas) and “At Last” (originally recorded by Etta James).
In Floyd, the vocalists recede while the instrumentalists shred our faces with blistering solos on rotation between Black (covering PF keyboardist Richard Wright), Johnson & Cook (guitarists covering masterful runs by PF’s Syd Barrett and David Gilmour), Bill Erskine (pulsations by PF bassist Roger Waters), and Honeycutt (PF drummer Nick Mason.) Just one grievance exists in that Brevard’s outstanding female and minority instrumentalists are underrepresented.
Of special note is that Cockerham owns the stage on several occasions including in “Money” and “Us and Them,” echoing Dick Parry’s virtuosic saxophone skills; his swaggering personality radiates through his signature fedora hat, Rick Rubin (legendary music producer) beard, sunglasses and metallic sapphire shoes.
Spiva’s impish face and velvety voice are known well to Brevard theater and concertgoers; throughout the concert series, his memory, range, and creativity defy comprehension. He sings nearly every song—if not the leads then backup—he conducts and announces, he plays air-drums and air-guitars. He is at once a preppy kid, an old soul, and a masterful artist. As an actor, Spiva recently starred in CVP’s mainstage production of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” in which he played a succession of blood-related family members who must all comically perish. Spiva also appeared in CVP’s “Spamalot” (Lancelot, 2018) and in “Jesus Christ Superstar” (Judas Iscariot, 2013.)
In Motown, Spiva displays his theatricality in skits with two cardboard statues: once with a knight from the “Spamalot” film, “Your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries,” and again with Dr. Evil from the film “Austin Powers.” In Floyd, Spiva embodies a variety of characters to match each song’s theme: while most of the performers wear slacks, Spiva’s costumes vary from dinner-jacket to straight-jacket to cloak accordingly.
CVP’s season patrons who traditionally prefer musical theater productions might compare Hot Pink’s Motown tribute to “Beautiful” or “Memphis”; while Pink Floyd’s music is more like “The Who’s Tommy” or “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Regardless, this “school of rock” has certainly reached maturity and the effect is splendid.
SIDE O’ GRITS: The Cocoa Village Playhouse is located at 300 Brevard Avenue, Cocoa, FL 32922. Individual tickets to Hot Pink concerts cost $25, prices for season tickets TBA. Call the ticket office at (321) 636-5050 of visit http://cocoavillageplayhouse.com/ for reservations.
MORE: For a fun read, check out the Rock Glossary by clicking here.Kristin Springer is a Master Music Educator who grew up in Florida and holds a graduate degree from New York University. She offers private vocal coaching, piano lessons, Triple Talent and Music Readiness classes out of the Springer Music Studio. For a link to her studio’s Facebook page, click here.