Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Garth Neustadter Trio show is astounding


PHOTO: The Garth Neustadter Trio is, from left, Garth Neustadter, his mother, Kristen, and his father, Gary.

MANITOWOC, Wis., (WFRV) – In ways, the “Garth Neustadter Trio New Year” show was astonishing.

Master talent Janet Planet, who sang on the program Saturday at Manitowoc’s Capitol Civic Center, provided a perspective. Noting she is a newcomer to the Neustadter “fold,” as she called it, Planet called what she saw “amazing” three times during the afternoon performance in front of a full house.

I’ve seen shows where a star entertainer jumps from instrument to instrument in a performance in show-off ways, as if to say, “Oh, look everybody, look what I can do.” Garth Neustadter went from instrument to instrument, plus sang, essentially saying, “This is what I do.” There’s a difference. Also, he performed with guest performers to not only display his versatility but to enhance what they do.

Neustadter teamed with other big talents, his mother, Kristen, on piano and electronic keyboards, and his father, Gary, on drums, trombone and vocals, including dressed as and in the persona of Garth Brooks and Elvis Presley (and – ! – pretty much pulling both off).

The corker was the mayor of Neustadter’s hometown was one of the hosts/emcees, and he was as glib as money can buy. That probably shouldn’t be said about a politician, but Justin Nickels oozes personality fit for the Neustadter showbiz show. Neustadter and Nickels have been friends from kindergarten on up, through the wunderkind stage to today as established entities. Neustadter is 27 years old. Nickels turns 27 on Jan. 9. To borrow from Janet Planet – amazing. Nickels was funny in the thick of Saturday afternoon’s show, saying Neustadter was “doing this” – flashing multiple musical talents – “while I was drawing in the lines.”

Nickels and co-emcee Matthew Schliesman, executive director of the center, started out on stage and moved freely with wireless microphones. For much of the show, they delivered comments/introductions from a box seat area above the left of the stage.

The show (5 stars out of 5) was extremely entertaining. It was divided into nine sections representing places on the globe and musical styles representative of them – everything from Dixieland jazz to operatic aria. Again, amazing.

To the program notes that follow, descriptions are added, including notations on Garth Neustadter’s instrument and or voicing.


(Opening backdrop included travelogue-like scenes representing Tokyo, Paris, Rome, India (Taj Mahal), London, New York and Egypt. Garth Neustadter was dressed in a standard black-jacket tuxedo, with patent-leather shoes).


“Orange Blossom Special,” violin

“Yakety Sax,” saxophone (one of a variety of saxes he played)

“Make You Feel My Love,” violin, with his father singing as Garth Brooks

“Devil Went Down to Georgia,” speed violin, his father singing, with flash-pot pyrotechnics to end the song

NEW ORLEANS (backdrop of three panels, lighted in flesh tone)

“When the Saints Go Marching In,” clarinet, including an exceptionally long note that displayed his ability with a specialized breathing technique, with his father playing drums and trombone

“Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” concert grand piano, with vocalist Janet Planet making her first observation of “amazing”

RIO DE JANEIRO (different lighting for the backdrop panels, making them look like walls of stone)

“Libertango,” violin, joining accordionist Stas Venglevski, an adopted Wisconsinite from the former Soviet Union who is expressly versatile in the accordion family of instruments

“Brazileira,” a two-grand-piano duet with his mother in the flashy Latin-rhythms number

“Tico Tico,” violin, again joining Venglevski

NEW YORK (projections of the city’s landmarks)

New York, New York,” sax, with his father singing

“Steppin’ Out,” sax, with six Jean Wolfmeyer Dancers in sparkly, blue Rockette-like outfits with bowler hats, in a tap-dance display

“At Last,” violin and sax with Planet supplying the torch vocals and unleashing big notes (watch for my review Monday of her latest album)

Moon River,” violin, with Venglevski joining in support for an interpretive dance by Jennifer Binversie, a hometown product currently studying at the Hartt School of Dance in Hartford, Connecticut

“Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from “Les Miserables,” singing baritone in character as Marius

“Do You Hear the People Sing?” from “Les Miserables,” singing baritone in character with the Manitowoc Lutheran High School (Neustadter and Nickels are alums) Lancer Singers costumed for the famed barricade scene

LONDON (black curtain backdrop; Neustadter in black velour tux jacket)

“Skyfall” from the James Bond movie, violin supporting an interpretive dance by Binversie, with Neustadter and Binversie arriving along separate aisles from the audience area

“A Foggy Day,” violin, supporting Planet


“Carnival of Venice,” with Venglevski in a solo showcase

“Largo al factorium” from Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” singing a cappella in the character of Figaro without the aid of amplification – essentially to show how opera singing is done, in pure voice

MANITOWOC (projections of scenes of the city and Lakeshore area)

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” violin

“Nkauj Hmoob Samneua,” sax, supporting the Nkauj Hmoob Laim Txias dancers, performing in stylized energized ways, barefoot in elaborate and colorful Hmong costumes

“The Way You Look Tonight,” romantic baritone voice in duet with Planet

“Clarinet Polka,” saxophone (or bass clarinet?), wearing a cheesehead as two girls dance playfully as the Manitowoc Mice and, in the end, get the cheese




LAS VEGAS (city scenes, eventually including a poster of Elvis Presley)

“Route 66,” saxophone, supporting Planet

“Smooth Criminal,” in a white tux jacket  with a bowler hat with lights around the rim and wearing a white glove, al a Michael Jackson, saxophone in support of the Jean Wolfmeyer Dancers in a stylized urban dance with hats, suspendered slacks and men’s ties

“My Way,” sax, including Vegas over-the-top showy style, supporting his father, dressed as Elvis Presley in Presley’s Vegas show-suit style with guest drummer Marty Scheuer Jr. on show-flashy drums; the scene was set with a projected video of the costumed Gary Neustadter seen in “Elvis sightings” in locations around Manitowoc before showing up live on stage.

VIENNA (projection of a starscape)

“The Blue Danube,” violin in support of the Jean Wolfmeyer Dancers waltzing in costume befitting a ball

“Radetzky March,” violin, with Folkgroup Edelweiss dancers, dressed in European-style villager costumes, dancing in the aisles


“Auld Lang Syne,” violin, with the cast on stage and the audience, arms locked, swaying and singing

Planet, the outsider, provided apt observations during most of her appearances. One: “Boy, this is so much fun, isn’t it?” Another, near the end: “Aren’t you proud of this young man?”

The show clocked in at 2½ hours. It was a full plate – cosmopolitan, corny, sophisticated, hokey, homey, exotic, hometowny, smart, sentimental, varied to the hilt, highly skilled and anything but aloof.  

Garth Neustadter isn’t the end all in all the individual things he does, but he does do a whole bunch of things extremely well; Planet’s “amazing” pertains, especially because Neustadter didn’t show all his cards in the performance. Part of what butters Neustadter’s bread is composing, which was displayed only briefly in the showing of a national commercial that included his music in the background. He has a Primetime Emmy Award for his score for the PBS “American Masters” documentary “John Muir in the New World.”

Neustadter’s training includes at Appleton’s Lawrence University (where he will receive an outstanding alumni honor in June) and Yale University and through his parents, whose individual talents fit hand in glove with their son’s in Saturday’s show.

Much community pride surrounds Garth Neustadter. There’s a scene in the musical “The Music Man” in which parents gush with overwhelming pride when their kids – their precious darlings – let loose their first awful, agonizing notes on their band instruments. Such is not the case here. Garth Neustadter is the real deal.

VENUE: The 1,134-seat Capitol Civic Centre features classically oriented styles befitting its 1921 origins as a combined vaudeville and movie palace. Two large, tiered, tear-drop clear crystal chandeliers grace shoulders on each side of the proscenium stage. All around is ornamentation – Corinthian capitals on faux columns, leaf-and-scroll braces beneath balcony and step-stage box seat areas, gold and red paint highlighting swirls and/or patterned geometric designs amid the cream-colored wall features. The ceiling is coffered. The fringe around the stage is ornate, with the stage curtain regal red with the Capitol Civic Center’s signature overlaid C’s standing out in the middle of the top hanging, which includes six tassels. Distinctive in the theater is the mezzanine, which is tucked far under the balcony and above the rear seats of the main floor. The lobby and meeting areas complement the rest of the theater in design. One area includes photo displays of stars and prominent personalities, including Charlton Heston and his wife, Two Rivers native, Lydia Clark Heston. The “Jewel on the Lakeshore” is home to 14 community arts, music and theater groups. Designed by local architect William J. Raueber and built by the local George Brothers, Arthur and John, the theater opened June 16, 1921, at Ascher Brothers’ Capitol Theatre under a lease agreement with the Chicago-based Ascher movie and vaudeville house operators.

RELATED PROGRAM: “Glory Days Local Theaters,” a presentation that will include the Ascher Brothers’ Capitol Theatre, will be held at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, at the Manitowoc County Heritage Center, 1701 Michigan Ave. Manitowoc. It’s an event of the Manitowoc County Historical Society, www.manitowoccountyhistory.org.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays and every other Sunday between 6 and 8 a.m. (usually around 7:45 a.m.)

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