Sha Na Na on stage in Milford this weekend
The Milford Performance Center will bring two big names in 1950s rock and roll to the stage in Milford this weekend, with local favorites Flashback opening for the legendary Sha Na Na at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium at the Parsons Government Center Feb. 19.
Sha Na Na, known for covering 1950s pop and doo-wop classics and performing at Woodstock in 1969, formed at Columbia University in 1968 and quickly built a name for themselves, according to All Music.com.
“Sha Na Na’s big break came with a booking at the Woodstock Festival in 1969; they caught on with the public and began a string of appearances at rock and roll venues and nightclubs,” Allmusic reports.
Flashback is one of Connecticut’s premier oldies bands, specializing in 1950s and 1960s rock and roll and a favorite at many Milford events.
“Noted for outstanding vocal harmonies, often with all six vocalists, you’ll swear you’re listening to the originals,” according to one band writeup.
The 1950s show is the second in a lineup of events being brought to the Veterans Memorial Auditorium by Steve Cooper, a local photographer who recently formed the Milford Performance Center to bring big-name musical groups and other events and performances to the city’s auditorium.
Once the Milford High School auditorium — before the high school closed and was turned into the government center in the 1980s — the large theater seats 970 and regularly hosts some big Milford events.
The mayor’s inauguration takes place there, as have local graduations and performances by area dance schools, concerts by the charity group Band Together, and more.
But Cooper believes the auditorium and stage in the heart of downtown Milford is underused and could be a whole lot more for the city.
The local photographer has a bachelor of fine arts degree in photography but also studied art education, and while he has earned his living and made a name as a photographer, he’s stayed connected to theater and performing arts.
About five years ago he started the Charitable Hands Foundation, which largely relies on using his photographs to raise money for charitable groups. The Milford Performance Center is a project of the Charitable Hands Foundation, and Cooper’s goal is to use the performances to benefit charitable groups in the area as well.
He hopes to do 20 shows a year at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium and even expand on that in coming years.
“It’s a very underused piece of property,” Cooper said.
On average, a person who goes to a show spends $37 outside the venue at local shops and restaurants, he said, adding that this could be a big boost for downtown. Not only is the theater located within walking distance of restaurants and shops but it’s also within walking distance of the train station.
The stage itself is impressive in size. Cooper said, however, that it could use some upgrades in terms of lighting and sound “to take it into the 21st Century.” He hopes to secure grants to help fund some of those improvements.
Cooper’s first show under the Milford Performance Center banner featured jazz musician Jay Rowe, a Milford resident, with Steely Dan cover band Beau Bolero opening.
The second show, on Feb. 19, featuring Sha Na Na with Flashback opening, will start at 7 p.m., with doors opening at 6. Tickets are $25 to $40 and may be purchased at Milfordperformancecenter.org or MPCRocks.com.
On March 16, the John Whelan Band will perform.
Cooper is working on a comedy show for April.
Eventually he’d like to get Broadway shows here, with an eye toward turning Miford into a major cultural center.
Mayor Ben Blake agrees that the auditorium and stage are underused, and he’s happy that Cooper has signed on to bring more performances there.
“There aren’t many places where you find a 1,000-seat theater near a downtown,” Blake said.
The city’s Public Works Department oversees bookings at the theater, and people who book it pay a fee and have to meet insurance requirements.
There is no lack of theater and art groups in Milford. The Eastbound Theater at the Milford Arts Center is just down the street at the train station, and Milford is also home to Pantochino Productions and Arts in CT, which are based in the former St. Ann’s School.
Cooper said you can’t have too much in the way of arts.
“We are all different, so we can all enhance the community,” Cooper said.