The Bottom Line: "And if you should survive to 105 Look at all you’ll derive out of being alive Then here is the_best_part You have a head_start If you are among the very young at heart" ~Mercer
When I popped the DVD Young @ Heart in, I settled back in my recliner and waited for what would surely be an entertaining experience. Fortunately I wasn’t disappointed. Directed by Stephen Walker and Sally George, Young @ Heart is a documentary covering the choral group that takes on some unusal song choices. Unusual only because the average age of the group, at filming, was 80 years old and their song choices came from Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Sonic Youth, Radiohead, etc. These are not your Glen Miller singers folks, these are rockers … in and out of their chairs.
I appreciate the fact that they chose a few to give us background information on and let us learn a bit about them in their life off stage. Three of the major performers in this DVD died before the release, two before the show was performed on stage.
One of the most boisterous, Eileen Hall, aged 92 when she passed, started her stage life at age 70, as a stripper. She was fiery and outspoken and gave a bit of spunk to her performance. Another, Bob Salvini, aged 75 when he passed [before the performance], had retired from the group years before when he was struck with heart problems. At the request of their leader Bob Cilman, he agreed to return to the group for the performance of Alive and Well, doing a duet with his good friend Fred Knittles. Knittles had dropped out of the group years before also, due to heart problems, and was enticed back for this performance by Cilman. Their duet would be Cold play’s “Fix You”.
Unfortunately Bob Salvini passed away a week before the stage performance but Knittles agreed to continue with the performance because he knew Bob would want him to. Frail, on oxygen, Knittles is helped on stage for his song which is delivered with endearing perfection with his deeply resonate voice. He admitted this would be his only performance, it was just to difficult to travel with the group and sing with his oxygen.
Joe Benoit, aged 83 when he passed, was the lyrical magician of the group. He had the ability to quickly learn all the lyrics to every song and perform them with a rousing beat. He was practically the team leader and many depended on his character in the front lines. Two days before the performance he was fatally struck with a heart condition, bringing a pall to the group.
However, as they say, the show must go on and go on it did.
The documentary covered a great deal of their rehearsal sessions, showing the frustration both they and Cilman had trying to get them to learn not only the words to the song but also the beat of it. When interviewed individually we found most of their musical tastes leaned to operas and big band sounds. Some of their reactions when they heard the music and the words to these new songs was quite comical. Yet, like troupers, they dug in and went for the gold.
Cilman doesn’t treat these performers with kid gloves just because they are old enough to be his grandparents. He rides them tough and hard but is always conscience of their health problems. He is vibrant and compassionate but dishes out the tough love when needed. He finds, for the most part, they dish it right back.
It is hard to say the highlights are the musical numbers. For the most part they are dealt off-key but with gusto. They deliver with a vibrancy that made me feel even older than I did before I snuggled down in my recliner. This film is rated PG for mild language and thematic elements, whatever that means. It was nominated for 5 awards, winning four.
The choral group Young @ Heart was founded in 1982 by Bob Cilman. The original group came from an elderly living center outside Northampton, MA. One of the members sang with the group until she was 100 years old. They are currently on tour in Japan [one of many worldwide appearances they have made over the years] and will return to the states in April for a gig here. They have a wonderful website where you can get updates on the current group. None of the original group still perform. You can also purchase memorabilia and CD’s they have made.
They have performed with many different groups and styles including Latino break-dancers, Cambodian folk artists, punk rockers, Pioneer Valley Gay Men’s Chorus, and The Drunk Stuntmen.