Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top 10 Great Lakes Bay Arts/Cultural Events for 2011

by Janet I. Martineau
So ... I decided to make a list ... just how many arts and cultural events did I attend in 2011, in Saginaw, Midland and Bay counties? Plays. Concerts. Lectures. Festivals. Exhibits. Special events, like the October opening of the Islamic Center of Saginaw.
The total came to 94!
And following are my picks for the ...

Poet David Baker at Dow Gardens Greenhouse 

1.  "Wake Up! A Grand Gala of Songs,” Saginaw Choral Society 
In the first half of this October concert at the Temple Theatre,  conductor Glen Thomas Rideout told the story of God’s seven days creating the earth through narration and song -- from Mendelssohn’s mighty and reverent  “Thanks Be to God” for The Second Day to Whitacre’s humorous “Animal Crackers” for The Sixth Day (with the singers mooing like cows). In its segments -- starting with a pitch blackness in the theater -- we were treated to eloquent spoken words like God realizing that green and blue (grass and water) are more pleasing to the eye than green and brown (soil), songs about critters like the panther and the firefly, and the sounds of chirping birds and wordless primordal ooze. And then, in the second half, singers from the Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy blew the place apart. It was a goosebump combination of mixed musical bag, church sermon, storytelling, Biblical history, motivational workshop and call to action all rolled into two memorable hours.
2“From a Greenhouse,” Theodore Roethke Poetry & Arts Festival  
Roethke, as poetry lovers know, based many of his poems about growing up amid his family’s greenhouses in what better setting for a poetry reading by this year’s winner of the Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize than the Dow Gardens Greenhouse in Midland. Caged birds chirped, glasses fogged up amid the humid greenery, water from a fountain gurgled as David Baker read. The entire five-day festival in November, which also included a poetry slam, a “Haunts of Roethke” tour and a concert; in various Saginaw, Midland and Bay City venues, was extraordinary -- due in no small part to the graciousness of Baker. 

Chef Roland Mesnier
3. Chef Roland Mesnier,  Horizons Town Talk
Gales of laughter swept Saginaw's  Horizons Conference Center in March when the 65-year-old former White House pastry chef served up anecdotes galore -- of a playful President Reagan pretending to be drunk and scaring his Secret Service detail, of lonely Bill Clinton during the White House aide sex scandal blowing a fuse when he could not find the second half of a low calorie strawberry cake, of a stinky Carter “signature” dish that was “so God damn bad nobody ever ate it.” French-born Mesnier served five presidents, and his rise to that post was a tear-jerker amid his humor.
4. All-Area Arts Awards Banquet
For 25 years now, the Saginaw Arts and Enrichment Commission has annually honored Saginaw County artists and arts groups with this annual May banquet at TheDow Event Center. This year, however, the sense of nostalgia, the camaraderie, the emotion set the evening apart from the 24 years before it.  Perhaps it was because native son Brian d’Arcy James, a Tony-nominated Broadway star, was so eloquent in accepting his special award that night -- naming names in the audience who had helped him along the way. But it was more than that, and impossible to express in words.
5. “American Valentine,” Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra
In one February concert at the Temple Theatre, maestro Brett Mitchell and his orchestra evoked musical images of waring gangs in 1950s New York City (Bernstein’s “West Side Story”), a 19th century young couple living on a farm in the Appalachians (Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”), the “new world” of Native Americans and Iowa and plantation songs (Dvorak’s New World Symphony), contemporary Midland and lumber era Saginaw (Catherine McMichael’s “Symphonic Dreams),  and, as Mitchell said, wherever each of us wanted to go with the Barber Adagio for Strings (for many of us, it continues to evoke memories of the President Kennedy funeral in the 1960s). What a marvelous journey across the landscape and through the years.
All Area Arts winners Brian James, Rosalind Berlin
6. “Arty Soil,” Saginaw Art Museum 
In June, the main gallery of the museum became a banquet room during an indoors garden party celebrating the life of botonist/photographer/author/teacher Fred Case. Vendors offered garden-related items, framed photos by Case were sold,  and a delicious and creative spring crop lunch was served by Zehnders of Frankenmuth.
 7. “Wiley and the Hairy Man,” Saginaw Valley State University
Directed by Richard B. Roberts in October, this show oozed with atmosphere, attention to detail and  creativity galore -- making it one of the best, if not THE best, children’s theater production ever at the college. I attended one of the student presentations and the kids were sooo quiet and attentive, sooo responsive to it. A remarkable accomplishment in this day and age. 

8. Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, Matrix: Midland Festival 
For those of us starved for live bluegrass music, imagine this June delight at the Midland Center for the Arts -- Renaissance Man Steve Martin playing a mean banjo with a SUPERB bluegrass band AND cracking just enough jokes to also satisfy those of us who love him as a comedian. Best of both worlds.

9. “Great American Trailer Park,” Pit and Balcony Community Theatre
The cast of characters was pure redneck white trash living in a dumpy Florida  trailer park --  and dealing with road kill, a malfunctioning electric chair, adultery, a stripper, a fake pregnancy, agoraphobia and Walmart. Director James Gaertner delivered the goods in this irreverent, quirky, politically incorrect musical comedy, which was staged in October.  Actually it was a strong year for comedy at Saginaw P&Bt because also excellent were “Sex Please, We’re Sixty” in March and “The Christmas Express” in December.
10. “Under the Big Top” exhibit at the Castle Museum 
Saginaw has a long and distinguished history when it comes to circus acts, and this September-October exhibit celebrated it with an exquisitely detailed miniature hand-carved circus featuring 1,200 pieces carved by one man over four decades and enclosed in a case 24 feet long and 4 feet wide. Circus memorabilia and lectures rounded out the fun exhibition.
Another five arts/cultural events also worthy of mention: 

Minnijean Trickey 
-- “Sugar Bean Sisters,” Center Stage Theatre in Midland in May.
-- “Carmina Burana,” Midland Symphony Orchestra in April.
-- Singer Glen Thomas Rideout, Concerts at First Presbyterian Saginaw in November.
-- “Return to Little Rock: A Seminal Moment in American Edication and Civil Rights” lecture by Minnijean Brown Trickey,  Saginaw  Valley State University in September.
-- “Lesser Saints” art exhibition by Steven Magstadt, the Andersen Enrichment Center in Saginaw  July to September.
It was also a sad year with the deaths of conductor Leo M. Najar (and with his death the end also to his excellent Bijou Orchestra), jazz guitarist Ron Lopez and soundman Al Limberg.

But bravo to the U.S. Postal Service for its plans to release a Theodore Roethke stamp in the coming year, and for the fact Center Stage in Midland took its production of “Urinetown” all the way to second place in the American Association of Community Theaters competition.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Percussion Group Cincinnati performance ranged from newspapers to conch shell

review by Janet I. Martineau
Goodness, did The Saginaw News ever get ripped into Saturday night at Saginaw Valley State University. 
First it was read...and then shred.
Literally, thanks to the Percussion Group Cincinnati’s hilarious performance of “I Read the News Today, Oh Boy.”
In what has to rank as one of the more unusual performances in the history of the  Rhea Miller Recital Series, the percussion trio (Allen Otte, James Culley and Russell Burge,  faculty members and ensemble-in-residence at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music) expanded the definition of what qualifies as percussion.
In their case, on three of the numbers it included their own voices -- in the newspaper number, reading rhythmic snippets from the sports, entertainment and hard news sections as they held the sections in front of them and then, well, ripping the paper apart to make percussive noises and in general littering the stage.
Earlier in the piece, one of the three also made like a bird with flapping wings using wadded up newspaper sections.
Yep, it was a weird two hours.
Some pieces were fabulous -- like the delicate and quiet  “Mbira Music, Book I,” using the tiny African thumb piano instrument amplified by placing it over drum heads; the lovely sound created by melding piano, marimba and vibraphone on “Balinese Ceremonial Music” (in particular the deep sounds of the piano on the Gambangan movement), and the four “Chilean Songs” with the trio playing on one marimba.
Opening the program was the athletic “Lift Off,” totally on drums and with the sticks moving so fast at several points they created a blurr. It was loud and wonderful and attention-grabbing, and served as a great contrast to the more delicate mbira piece that followed.
And then there was the weird stuff -- not, maybe, totally pleasing to the ears but amusingly creative, like the two John Cage pieces.
“Some of Living Room Music” used a cigarette lighter, beer cans, playing cards and telephone books as well as wordless voices to create its rhythms and “Imaginary Landscape No. 2” was a hodge-podge of tin cans, conch shell, dowl rod, trash can, door bell buzzer, water gong, ratchet, slinky and bass drum (LOVED the conch shell sound).
On the definite negative, at least for this listener, was “From Drama,” using Chinese cymbals in  an overly long, repetitious number that failed to impress or entertain.

Saginaw Choral Society's "A World of Carols" dispelled winter gloom

review by Janet I. Martineau
Granted it was a Saginaw CHORAL Society concert on Saturday afternoon at the Temple Theatre.
But it was instruments and visuals that tickled the fancy:
 -- of a saxophone player dressed like a snow globe character (Jonathan Hulting-Cohen in the unusual-sounding “Caprice en Forme de Valse”) 
-- of a bell choir exquisitely performing two  complicated pieces (the Bells on High from First  United Methodist Church on “How the Greenblade Riseth” and “Farandole”) 
-- of conductor Glen Thomas Rideout performing his own embellished arrangement of “The Christmas Song”/”Christmastime is here” on piano
-- of dozens and dozens of socks donated by concertgoers in the lobby (and headed to warm the feet of the needy)
-- of Rideout dancing out on the stage as intermission ended and the second half began with “Mi Zeh Y’maleil”
-- of two pianists at one piano (Carol Angelo and Betty Mayer on “The Virgin Mary had a baby boy”)
--  and of two conductors conducting at once (Rideout the singers and Catherine McMichael her church bell choir in “Bells in the high tower”). 
Add to that the bell-like sound the singers created at one point as the music segued into the bell choir ....well, “A Concert of Carols” was quite an afternoon’s delight.
Rideout’s theme was light -- as in the light of this season as seen by Christianity (the birth of Christ), the Jewish faith (Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights), Winter Solstice (the end of the darkest days) and even Kawanzaa (the light of its seven principles).
And the music he chose? Nigerian, Ukranian, Hungarian, British, West Indian, American; gospel, calypso and classical; very little overly familiar .. as well as teaching the audience four-part harmony and three-part hand-clapping on “Freedom Song.”
No insult intended to the Saginaw Choral Society, but when the more than 1,000 in the audience was set to singing at several points -- WOW, we sounded fantastic.
We may indeed be “In the bleak midwinter,” as the Holst tune said, but things definitely brightened up with this CHORAL concert plus.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Russian movie, Italian painting and Latin hymn light up Saginaw Bay Symphony concert

review by Janet I. Martineau
Maestro Brett Mitchell began this year’s Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra Christmas concert the same way as he began last year’s, as the then just-newly-hired conductor -- with Leroy Anderson’s  “Sleigh Ride” and its cracking whip and horse whinny from his musicians.
A tradition he has in mind, perhaps? Since he also concluded the night with a repeat as well, Anderson's singalong "A Christmas Festival."
Not to worry, because all else in between was new on his program Tuesday night at the Temple Theatre, before a capacity audience.
His “Christmas Around the World” theme featured a delightful mixed bag that included three-horse-sleigh music from a 1933 Russian movie, a tone poem  inspired by an Italian painting (a projection of which hung overhead), a traditional Latin hymn and a really nutty arrangement of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” that paid homage to the French national anthem, “Swan Lake” and “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”
Oh, and the mayor of Saginaw, Greg Branch, narrated “The Night Before Christmas” and at one point in the reading displayed a charming rhythm-like delivery to the poem while the orchestra provided interesting sound effects to those words.
Mitchell was chatty throughout, concluding the night by noting, “ya, classical music is dumb and boring, right?” Nope not at all in this program which yes, showcased four  yuletide standards that aren’t exactly 100 percent classical, but also delivered five fine classical pieces not all that familiar in these parts. Great mix.
Our two favorites were Respighi’s “Adoration of the Magi” as inspired by the Sandro Botticelli painting, and Mozart’s Regina coeli, featuring the Cardinal Singers from Saginaw Valley State University.
The former had an unusual old church/Gregorian/mystical sound to it, and some excellent oboe work. And in the Mozart, the 23-member choral group from SVSU delivered a richness of sound that made one feel like he or she was indeed in a Catholic church during a mass.
Pietro Yon’s “Gesu Bambino,” with its whiffs of “Veni, Veni Emmanuel” amid it, featured a duet with concertmaster Sonia Lee and cellist Sabrina Lackey that produced sustained applause. 
And who among us ever gets tired of hearing “The Skater’s Waltz” by Waldteufel? It just glides throughout the soul.
The stage, in the first half, featured an eye-pleasing blue and white palette -- white snowflakes hanging on high and sitting on the floor and a white Christmas tree at left with a blue backdrop and what looked like a blue poinsettia in front of Mitchell. In the second half pink replaced the blue.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Michigan Jazz Trail Christmas Show rocks the Temple Theatre

review by Janet I. Martineau
Well here is something you don’t see often...Santa in his red suit and Lou E. Loon in his green and red suit, both wearing red yuletide hats, working the intermission crowd, at a jazz concert, in downtown Saginaw.
Cameras were flashing all around them....and the birdly mascot of the Great Lakes Loons baseball team....well he is more popular than old St. Nick. People call him by name, have conversations with him even though he remains wordless, hug him while Santa plays second fiddle.
We don’t mean to detract from the formidable talent on the Temple Theatre stage Sunday afternoon at the Michigan Jazz Trail Christmas Show, it’s just that Lou E. and Santa so embody the magical, childly spirit of the season and we were touched by it.
So now to the musicians performing, primarily Great Lakes Bay talent brought together by producer/director Molly McFadden.
Think Lawrence Welk Show with a little Ed Sullivan Show tossed in, for those of you old enough to remember. 
Backed up by an impressive 18-member big band (with Manhattan School of Music and Count Basie Orchestra on their resumes), the two-hour variety show served up jazz, blues, calypso, American musical, Christmas classics, gospel and Paul Simon via that big band as well as two instrumental trios with a vocalist, the Mike Brush/Julie Mulady duo, two vocal ensembles, a trumpet duet, three solo singers who also teamed up, and a witty conductor.
Too bad the number of performers on stage nearly outnumbered those in the audience. The rest of you missed a first-ever fantastic concert that served up Christmas in a new and fun way in these parts.
Outstanding moments? So many to list.
...Meridian High School trumpet players Sam Huss and Kyle Tomsich performing  “Over the Rainbow.”
... Mike Brush’s sentimental and lovely new song “Christmas Eve for Two,” with him on piano and golden-throated Mulady singing it.
... Mulady and Mary Gilbert teaming up, and harassing the devil out of conductor James Hohmeyer, on “Santa Baby.” These two women need to do a full concert together; their voices meld gorgeously.
... The nine-member Voices of Jazz, comprised of high school students from the three counties, on both “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” When they briefly went a cappella on the second number, the blended sound was magnificent.
... The seven-member, stylishly-dressed, all-female gospel group Bamecians singing “Go Tell It on the Mountaim” in two styles, both of which rocked.
... The Michigan Jazz Trail Big Band on a cooking calypso version of “Feliz Navidad” that was impossible to enable one to sit still.
... The Friends Trio (three instrumentalists and one singer so dunno why the name trio) on “Cool Yule,” a funky, fun song we’d never heard.
The stage was gorgeous -- a mile-high pile of presents on one side, a Christmas tree on the other, and a colorful and ever-changing backdrop.
At the end one and all teamed up on stage for three singalongs -- with Lou E. proving himself an enthusiastic mime.
There were, yes, a few glitches in sound, in smoothness of introductions, in staging, but they were minor distractions -- and probably unavoidable given the number of acts to coordinate and rehearse.
This was the first of three Christmas concerts this week at the Temple, all of which are showcasing what one might call local talent and all promising to be very different from one another.
We are our own best Christmas present.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Downtown Saginaw Farmers' Market eyeing new space, new look

by Janet I. Martineau
An artist's idea what the pavilion might look like
One of Saginaw’s success stories is eyeing the idea of a new and improved home.
Julia A. Darnton, the board chair of the seasonal Saginaw Downtown Farmers’ Market at 507 S. Washington, says the open-air market is in need of more room for vendors, improved parking and accessibility, office space for its non-profit management, increased visibility and other amenities.
Speaking at the Rotary Club of Saginaw this week, she unveiled renderings showing plans to erect a permanent open-air pavilion (no tents as is it now, which are vulnerable to winds) directly across the street from the  current location.
The new location between Water Street and the Saginaw River would offer 48 vendor stalls (at 10 feet wide, two feet larger than the current 8-foot spaces), office space, a small stage/sound system for performers and cooking demos, restrooms (currently it’s just porta potties), landscaping and a riverside courtyard where people can picnic, level walkways, and 115 parking spaces where the market now exists.

In orange, the new market location; in yellow, the current site
And while there are no plans for a year-round operation of the market, she said the new structure could perhaps expand the current season somewhat and also offer a gathering space for others to use when the market is not open.

 "We have not gotten any estimated costs for this building project," she admitted, although they do know the land is available. 

"We have not even set a fund-raising campaign yet. But we are estimating $700,000 or less.
"It would be a part of the Riverfront Master Plan, and the Convention and Visitor's Bureau sees this as an asset to the future of the city."

Darnton, by day the community and economic development educator for Michigan State University Extension, also served up some quick stats on the market:
-- It was open 22 weeks (82 days) this May/October.
-- The most recent survey indicates an average of 1,644 customers per day, spending an average of $13.26, for a daily sales figure of $12,019. The market pumps an estimated $1.2 million into the area per year.
-- The number of vendors is going up. 24 in 2009, 28 in 2010, and 31 in 2011. 
-- The market's operational costs are met by the seasonal or daily fees charged vendors. This year an occasional fish vendor was added. Vendors selling products they grow or produce are charged $325 a season or $25 a day. Vendors selling products they do not grow or produce are charged $625 a season or $45 a day.
-- And the market provides a fresh food/expanded use of money option for a variety of food programs operating in the area for the poor and underserved.

Pit and Balcony's "Christmas Express" a charming ride

review by Janet I. Martineau
As a play, it is lightweight, predictable and overly sentimental.
But I liked it, I really liked it  ...Pit and Balcony Community Theatre’s production of “The Christmas Express,” which opened Friday night.
Because, first and foremost, it is something newer and different in the  Christmas collection, not overly done like “A Christmas Carol” and “White Christmas.”
Second, its script by Pat Cook is smart -- full of puns, one-liners, funny situations and nutty characters, making it a comedy amid its sentimentality about the power of hope in our lives.
And third, director Jessica Asiala has assembled a worthy cast -- none of them overplays or underplays his or her character; none is a standout but collectively deliver a solid ensemble feel;  their characters are convincingly played as small-town hicks -- lovable despite being eccentric.
Asiala also knows how to block what is essentially a one-set play, taking place inside a train station with only its ticket booth, one bench and four doors behind which we never see. This could have led to a deadly stagnant play, but she keeps the 10 characters moving in a natural yet active flow.
While we are tempted to share some of the witty lines and puns, we will not so you can enjoy the discovery. Except to tease you to think about how one might play. The small town is Holly (and how appropriate, eh, that Michigan really has a small town named Holly not too far from Saginaw).
Anyway, the town is Holly. One of the characters purchases something at the town’s pawn shop. Now, guess the name of that pawn shop. It’s an old groaner.
The storyline finds these residents of Holly in a pre-Christmas funk -- especially the train station manager, a female Scrooge played by Judy Harper. Business is down, the station’s radio does not work, all she gets is junk mail, she hates Christmas.
“She’s in a mood,” other characters keep noting when she goes off on a tangent.
Enter a white-haired old gentleman who says his name is Leo Tannenbaum (played as ever-so-kindly by Michael Olk)  ...and suddenly strange things start happening, strange POSITIVE things to the radio, the attitudes of the people, and even set pieces which seem to magically appear.
Harper is hilarious throughout, and particularly when she is assigned one of the parts in the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” 
It is the singing of this song that provides one of the two best-played ensemble moments, with every cast member involved in it clicking on all cylinders. 
The song is conducted by city hall worker Linda Rebney, a rather uptight woman who suffers fools badly and dresses badly. Add in Kevin Profitt, the station’s handyman who ain’t too bright; mail carrier Amanda Houthoffd, a kinda naive sort,  and newspaper reporter Mary Margaret Fletcher, not too bright  herself because she forgets to ask the name of Tannenbaum when she interviews him.
By the time they are done butchering “Twelve Days,” and Rebney trying to cope with it, we will never hear it again without laughing.
The second best-played ensemble moment involves Fletcher and Profitt again, with the rest of the cast reacting to them on target. 
In it, Pamela and Tim Barnes, a real-life married couple, portray a Holly couple splitting up.  She is at the station to buy a ticket and go home to mother.
Tannenbaum is trying to get to the bottom of their marital distress by talking with them, is making little headway on what caused the Big Spat, and then, out of nowhere, Fletcher (25 years absent  from the stage)  and Profitt (in one of his best acted roles at Pit) act out what probably happened -- their voices rising in heat as the pretend battle ensues and the rest of the cast watches in amazement. It’s a sidesplitter.
Opening night had some issues with the train sound effect, a couple of microphone cues and the sound coming out of Houthoffd’s microphone. Other than that, nothing to complain about.
Come early to the show to enjoy some hot chocolate and Christmas cookies, then sit back and enjoy some great laughs.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

SVSU's 'It's a Wonderful Life' radio show still relevant to today's world

review by Janet I. Martineau
Ah, there is nothing like watching a live radio play.
Yes, WATCHING. And yes, LIVE and PLAY. On radio.
For the second year, the Saginaw Valley State University Theatre Department has recreated an old-time radio show as a holiday production. 
Last year it was “A Christmas Carol.” 
This week (Wednesday and tonight, Thursday) it’s  “It’s a Wonderful Life,” that old Jimmy Stewart movie classic about a discouraged man contemplating suicide until an angel -- a second class one -- intervenes.
What is fun about these recreations is the story within a story -- the actors milling about on stage as themselves before the play airs live or during commercials and then snapping magically into their characters.
This outing, set in 1945 as was the movie, tested them. The ensemble of 14 plays a variety of characters in the large cast its detailed story requires, from old folks in Bedford Falls to kids. We were going to keep count, but got too wrapped up in the storytelling and lost count. Whomever they were at any given time worked just fine for us.
And fun, too, is watching the sound effects when one of the actors gets supposedly slapped, only it is the sound effects guy several feet away who makes the skin hitting skin sound with his two hands. Or, when the actors are walking down a street, it’s the sound effects people doing the audible walking. One of the sound effects trio also has, shall we say, a little drinking problem in progress (one of those story within a story moments).
Last year’s production featured SVSU theater professors in the cast amid their students. So too this year, and in the major roles this time. David Rzeszutek is George Bailey, the man who is doubting the path his life has taken. Ric Roberts is the kinda naive rescue Angel, Clarence. And Steven Erickson is Mr. Potter, a grumpy old villain. All three are superb, and we applaud this idea of SVSU theater students getting to see if their teachers have any acting chops.
Providing chuckles are the announcements and commercials. Listen for references to Lionel trains at Brasseur’s, Potter Street Station, Seitner’s, the Savoy Grill and Ippel’s Department Store -- some of which still exist but some of which are somewhere back in time in Saginaw history. And the costumes are vintage-looking.
Wednesday night’s opener had a few  sound problems. The actors sometimes had an echo quality and the organ was faint. Roberts when he was an announcer was barely audible; fine when he was the angel. Methinks one of the sound effects folks also made a goof...or maybe he was supposed to as part of the fun.
But it was a great way to spend an hour, and to realize that wow, does the story and the message of “It’s a Wonderful Life” ever ring true for these hard times. Kinda spooky at how relevant it remains. 
Roberts has promised to make this radio show recreation thing an annual outing, and has picked some Christmas short stories for 2012. Myself, an actor/sound effects person doing old time radio shows with an acting troupe in Midland, well, I can’t wait. They are ever so much fun (and I always pick up tips from what SVSU does!)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Welcome to 'Jill's World' on the 2011 Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra's Holiday Housewalk

Roses abound in Jill Garber's home

by Janet I. Martineau
Roses. Mirrors. And countless collectibles.
Those are the images that endure after visiting the tucked-from-view Hope Willow Farm home belonging to Jill Garber and her husband Mike Kavanaugh.
That and the graciousness of Garber herself, who has transformed her Thomas Township dwelling into an atmosphere evoking the Edwardian era of “Somewhere in Time” juxtaposed with a contemporary California seaside cottage.
“I am romantic and sentimental,” admits Garber, the sister of Saginaw Spirit/Garber Management’s Richard J. Garber. 
“I like to create sentimental vignettes and nostalgic displays,” she says of the French furniture, vintage linens, Hollywood costumes, rose-motif wall paper, English porcelain, sterling silver perfume bottles, limoges china,  and  cut crystal powder jars. 
“And I like to collect -- to buy and sell. I started collecting when I was age 10 or 12, with my allowance; the first thing I bought was a  stained glass lamp at a barn sale.”
The mantle festooned with trees
Every room has at least one mirror in it to increase the sense of space. The oak flooring  is created to look like driftwood -- hence the seaside beach house palette. 

And this time of year, added to all that is Christmas galore -- including bottle brush trees, vintage glitter houses,  and 100 velvet-trimmed egg shell ornaments she and her grandmother made when Jill was around 7.
Garber’s home is on the 2011 Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra Holiday Housewalk tour this year, one of seven Saginaw County and Bay County homes and condos open to visitors on Thursday, Dec. 1.
“For the tour, expect the unexpected,” says Garber, the owner of Le Noveaurose and Jill Garber Design. “The house will look like a Christmas package.”

But first a word about the nine-room structure itself -- situated beside a pond, 10 miles from downtown Saginaw, at the end of a quarter-mile winding driveway, with 50 acres of farm fields surrounding it.
The egg shell ornaments made by Jill and grandma
The original two-bedroom wooden bungalow and its garage were built in 1914 on a lot where the Covenant medical complex now stands in downtown Saginaw, says Garber. 
One day, in the 1980s, her widowed mother Geraldine spied the house and garage, knew they were slated for demolition during the hospital expansion, bought both, and had them moved  down State Street  and over the bridge to what was then a remote location on Summerfeldt Road. 

The family had, in the 1960s, bought an old farm house on the property as a weekend retreat and working on it became a family project “to keep the family close and us kids busy.”
Her mother, says Garber, “was a Katharine Hepburn type of person” who remodeled homes, painted oils, worked as a costume designer in Los Angeles, was active with the Saginaw Art Museum “and taught her (three) kids and grandkids how to use tools.”
Over the years mom greatly changed the look of the transplanted bungalow as did Jill, when she returned to Saginaw in 2004 after 30 years of working in California. Rooms were altered, added and remodeled, with Jill making sure  “every single room is open to the outside” as well as colorful  with a “garden feeling. People often remark to me, ‘it’s so colorful in here.’
One of the many trees in the house
“I like to say mom created the space and I created the environment people will see on the tour,”  says Garber. “I created a Jill’s World that hopefully makes people feel good, brings the sun into their lives.”
Everything is “real (and mostly antique) stuff,” says Garber, from found treasures  like a portion of a carousel to things passed down through the family to a  a 58-pound mounted tarpon Jill caught in Florida when she was 16 to a Sophie of Saks dress from the 1940s.
“My mom was a collector too -- antique pottery, art, oriental rugs. My grandmother as well. And I brought a lot from my home in California, but  you have to realize  I lost all the breakables I had collected through the years in the California earthquake of 1993. So people will see I lost no time collecting again.”
Just inside the front door is a black walnut inlay on the oak floor, reading Hope. That was, says Jill, her mother’s middle name and her daughter’s way of creating a double  meaning to “keep Hope alive.”
Tickets for the SBSO Holiday Housewalk are $17 in advance and $20 the day of the event. They are on sale through the symphony offices, Meijer stores and a variety of other venues around the two counties.

The houses and condos are open from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. that day. Bus service is available ($20 additional, limited, lunch stop included, call 755-6471). Ticket holders also are invited to enjoy a buffet lunch ($13) or a  from-the-menu dinner at the Saginaw Country Club, 4465 Gratiot,  and the Bay City Country Club, 7255 South Three Mile Road,  the day of the housewalk (reservations advised). 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Saginaw Eddy Band's Christmas concert features a trio of mimes

by Janet I. Martineau
What do the Saginaw Eddy Band and three mimes have in common?
They’ll share the stage Saturday, Nov. 26, in a Mannheim Steamroller band arrangement of “Silent Night,” with the mimes reenacting the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.
It all begins at 7:30 p.m at TheDow Event Center, 303 Johnson, when the Saginaw Eddy Band presents its 17th annual Christmas concert.
The mimes are Todd and Marilyn Farley and their daughter Malia Farley. 
Todd Farley this year became the minister at First Congregational Church in Saginaw and he comes to Saginaw with an unusual and impressive background. 
As a teen-ager, in 1978 he joined a mime troupe at his church in Washington and for three years toured the west coast  with its Rainbow Players -- and the  church’s pastor as the lead mime.
By 1980 Farley had created his own solo show combining mime and religion, and from 1984 to 1987 studied in Paris under the legendary Marcel Marceau -- sessions which included ballet, jazz, fencing, aerobics, commedia dell’arte,  drama. and physical theater. 
In 1985, Farley co-founded Mimeistry, a mime/arts/creative preaching program which for nearly 25 years reached people in more than 40 nations, and in 1989 he was officially ordained as a  minister.
As performer, Farley has toured the world, with the Sydney Opera House in Australia and David’s Citadel in Jerusalem among his credits, and he has worked with Ballet Magnificat, the BBC and ABC.
Farley is also on the board of directors for the Michigan Conference of the United Church of Christ and has taught or lectured  in colleges and seminaries.
James Hargett and Paul Lichau co-conduct the Eddy Band, which in the summer presents a series of free concerts on Ojibway Island.
Art Lewis of WSGW-AM will serve as the master of ceremonies for the  concert Saturday night at The Dow.
Also on the program: Terry Lenz will narrate “The Night Before Christmas,” and among the band selections are Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” “A Canadian Brass Christmas,” James Curnow’s “Finale for a Winter Festival,” a Robert Shelton arrangement of “A Most Wonderful Christmas,” a medley of popular seasonal tunes, Masamicz Amano’s new arrangement of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and a Christmas singalong.
Admission is free, with a request that  audience members in exchange bring a non-perishable food item for the Salvation Army’s Food for Families project.
For a look at Farley as a mime, log on to

Friday, November 18, 2011

SVSU's "Incorruptible" delightfully irreverent and well acted

review by Janet I. Martineau
Make no bones about it, Saginaw Valley State University’s production of “Incorruptible” is delightfully irreverent.
It is about bones, see. The ones of Catholic saints who supposedly work miracles when the faithful pray before them. Well, make that the bones supposedly of saints. 
Seems some desperate monks in a 1250 French monastery come up with a money-raising scheme that would make Bernie Madoff proud.
Nuf’ said, in case you go to see this show running through Sunday in the Performing Arts Theatre. It’s a comedy, a kinda dark one, filled with slapstick, double entendres, a nun gone wild and, as noted, irreverence.

Dakotah Myers, Cassidy Morey and David Ryan
Director David Rzeszutek’s program notes simply state “this sort of thing really happened.”

Whatever the case, he has directed a strong production.
The cast of eight is strong, speaking clearly and loudly for the most part and with all the high energy the show requires. 
Set designer Jerry Dennis (a real-life miracle maker) has created a set oozing with monastery atmosphere -- dark and kinda dank, crosses everywhere, flickering candles. 

Pre-show and at intermission monk music plays. And Elise Shannon’s costumes look very monk-ly as well.

What we are not sure about is the haircuts on the monks....are they real and these poor students have to walk around campus like this until they grow out, or are they theater magic. Sure look real.
As for the performances, as we said all eight are superb. But three are a cut above.
Cassidy Morey has a small role as a caustic and elderly  Peasant Woman seeking to pray before the bones of a departed saint. Except she does not have the 1 cent that requires. Turns out Peasant Woman will appear off and on and is more related to the developing story than first thought. And from start to finish, Morey nails this teetering but testy old character rock solid in her voice inflections and body English, with every word spoke crystal clear.  Delightful performance.
Rustin Myers is one of the four monks, named Charles. As an actor, Myers consistently  has a wonderful stage presence. He never hurries his lines, even when he is in the midst of a panic. He is stately, assured, has a deadly sense of timing, never drifts too far abroad in his characterization as some of the other cast members do on occasion.  He is  so very real and so very funny as a result.
And then there is Mykaela Hopps in a very short role -- as Agatha, an abbess from another church and who happens to be the dreaded  sister of Charles. Agatha is the nun from hell -- a screaming, in-your-face, domineering woman in a habit who, at one point, all but rips apart the stage in her rage.
Can’t ever recall seeing a character  in any play I have seen erupt with such rage and fury all in the name of comedy, At the zenith of her rage, Hopps blurs her lines. And in some aspects she is more caricature than character. But who cares. The physicality of her performance is what we remember.
Kudos too to David Ryan as Olf, the monk who is not too bright but whose body strength comes in handy. Ryan plays him tenderly. And kudos as well to  David Milka II, a one-eyed minstrel-become-fake-monk. He starts out a little slow as the minstrel (at least he did Thursday night), but at the slapstick end he is a whirlwind of energy and timing.
Fun show.