March 21, 2001

The Capital, Annapolis, Maryland


By James Avis

Dan Kamin is a very talented mime, a quality that shines through the slapstick and gentle humor of his "Comedy Concerto" titled "The Lost Elephant," this weekend's Family Concert presentation by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra. In the role of a zookeeper looking for a lost elephant, he wanders into a symphony concert and is enlisted to help personify musical selections on the general theme of animals.

A narrator, Susan Chapek, thinks he might help stimulate the imaginations of her young audience, and he finally agrees to help. The results are a series of short, choreographed episodes to musical selections that demonstrate the exceptional range of Mr. Kamin's comedic talents.

Avoiding the hard-driving slapstick that many children's performers employ, each of Mr. Kamin's personifications has an element of classic mime, beginning, for his stage entrance, with a series of revelations timed to Shostakovich's "Age of Gold" polka.

In fact, his comedy concertos are really action scores, using actual musical moments in their short entirety to first suggest and then accompany his carefully timed moves. Instead of trying to personify the music, he lets the music personify him.

It was all great fun for the young audience, and they were soon aping his moves, swaying with him and Ms. Chapek as waltzing cats (to the music of Leroy Anderson) or sharing his can't-sit-still impatience by horseback-riding with him through the "William Tell Overture."

Ms. Chapek had all the moves down as well, alternately coy and flirtatious as the other waltzing cat or equally propelled by the Rossini overture. She is an effective foil for Mr. Kamin's bumbling zookeeper, both keeping him in line and urging him on to even more participation.

As in all such presentations, the orchestra and music director Leslie Dunner are part of the act, conjuring the right music and occasionally the right props to abet the moment. The music they were called upon to play was familiar, funny stuff: "Flight of the Bumblebee," a couple of Camille Saint-Saens' acts from "Carnival of the Animals" and the like, as well as a few unlikely but quite fitting moments from Igor Stravinsky's Suite No. 2. All were rendered with appropriate zest and exaggeration to help make the comedic points.

It did not go unnoticed that the wide span of Mr. Kamin's characterizations allowed some unlikely accompaniment, such as Handel's "Entrance of the Queen of Sheba" from the oratorio "Solomon," to introduce the mime's lion. It was an elegant bit of the baroque to accompany Mr. Kamin's dexterous and precise handling of his cage bars, as well as exposure to something the youngsters won't be hearing on Rok Klassics 104.

And that, of course, is the point of the exercise-- to expose young people at a formative moment to something beyond the brain-dead pop music that otherwise monopolizes their musical attention. Serious (as opposed to frivolous) music can be a nourishment to a child's emotional good health, just as vitamins can fortify and help overcome the inadequacies of a marginal diet.

A good example could be Saint-Saens' "The Swan" (beautifully played by acting principal cello Kerena Moeller), a work that needs no exposure to enhance its popularity. As the musical setting for a life-sized "Swan Queen" puppet in the arms of a clever and inventive dancing mime, it can imprint itself on a young mind with lasting clarity.

If the musical selections managed to include a moment or two of special concert music substance, so did Mr. Kamin's miming. His short balloon dance to the waltz from Stravinsky's Suite No. 2 was pure Marcel Marceau, an exceptional bit of illusion from a master illusionist, and the young folks around me watched in amazement as the imaginary balloon threatened to carry him away.

It is perhaps a bit much to tout such family concert performances as an antidote for society's banalities. Some may once have regarded these works as the banalities of their own era -- such is the imprecision of judgment. What these performances offer (as well as the ASO's equally valuable and necessary corollary activities in the schools that accompany them) is a vital window of exposure to something that is increasingly harder to see and hear in our thoroughly merchandised culture.

Through its support of these performances, the ASO has recognized that there is nothing more important to the survival of this musical heritage than exposing our children early and often to its sustenance, its nourishment and its everlasting delight.


March 16-22, 2008

El Paso Inc., El Paso, Texas


By Betty Ligon

Dan Kamin tours the country mixing comedy with classical music. In "The Classical Clown" he played the part of a goofy janitor who wandered onstage as Maestro Benjamin Loeb was conducting the first of a classical menu that included pieces by Stravinsky, Grieg, Strauss and others. When Kamin began hammering on the floor, Loeb could stand no more. He stopped the music and scolded the intruder.

From there the concert went to pieces, literally. Kamin divested himself of his overalls and a realistic flesh-colored mask, revealing himself to be the Classical Clown himself--a musical mime intent on capturing Loeb's baton and conducting the orchestra.

The fun immediately became physical, as Loeb and the mime wrestled over control of the baton. Between Loeb's frustrated attempts to regain control over the concert, he exchanged heated conversation with the mime--and did it perfectly. Loeb told me later that he had to learn 138 lines of script for the show.

Although the action seemed impromptu, the entire show was written by Kamin. He proved to be a fantastic mime and had the audience laughing all the way. He even performed the Michael Jackson moonwalk.

There were all sorts of clever antics, including hypnotizing each other and the mime dancing to a Strauss waltz with a realistic rag doll.

The El Paso Symphony musicians got into the act as well, occasionally rising on cue to shout their lines.

Light effects added to the show's magic, even going dark at one time, requiring musicians to play by the light on their music stands.

After the show Kamin broke his silence for a lively question and answer session with the audience, revealing himself to be a handsome young man with a great talent at showing children that classical music is fun to hear, even without the histrionics.


February 6, 2003

West Essex Tribune, Livingston, New Jersey


The Livingston Symphony Orchestra is an unsung gem. Under the leadership of Istvan Jaray, Sunday's Young People's Concert was as professional an event as anything you would see in New York, and far less expensive. It was thoroughly enjoyable for all ages, not just children. Comedian Dan Kamin is a marvelous mime--as skilled as the silent screen stars Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, on whose work Kamin bases his routines. And the chemistry between Kamin and the usually serious Istvan Jaray was wonderful. It certainly seemed as though Jaray was thoroughly enjoying himself. Even though his lines were scripted, he delivered them with just the right lilt to allow the audience to believe he was being spontaneous.

Kamin's timing was perfect and even a crying child in the audience didn't fluster him. He worked it right into his routine without missing a beat. He involved the audience and they seemed to love it. But even more importantly, his fluid movements all reflected the rhythm and liquid beauty of the music being played behind him. The audience never forgot that this was a concert by superbly talented musicians--not just a comedy routine. But while they were watching the comedian, the youngsters were also being exposed to music by Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Grieg, Rossini, Beethoven and Strauss, among others.

One young man proudly pointed out to his mother each instrument in the orchestra and the rapture on his face as the music floated out to the audience at Livingston High School was indescribable. He was entranced, amazed, and fascinated.

Livingston is fortunate to have this gem of an orchestra, a gift that we must not take for granted. Only days after this marvelous concert, NJ governor James McGreevey announced major cutbacks to the arts. We hope that the Livingston Symphony Orchestra finds a way to continue bringing beautiful music to our ears and to our children.

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