Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pit and Balcony, Midland Center for the Arts, Bay City Players announce 2011-2012 seasons

by Janet I. Martineau
Patsy Cline, Steve Martin and memories of 9/11 all play a role in the 2011-2012 seasons announced by  Pit and Balcony Community Theatre in Saginaw, Center Stage at the Midland Center for the Arts, and the Bay City Players.
Collectively the seasons have booked oldies and goodies like “Annie” and “All My Sons,” but more so than usual this coming season are unfamiliar and/or new works -- always a chancy thing to book but much appreciated by theater buffs. So stay tuned for titles like “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” “On the Verge” and “A Little Murder Never Hurt Anybody.”
The seasons are as follows:
Pit and Balcony Community Theatre
  • Sept. 10, “The Guys.” In honor of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks In New York City and Washington, D.C., Pit presents a single performance of a play which finds an editor helping a Fire Department of New York captain prepare eulogies for the firefighters who died under his command that day.
  • Sept. 30, Oct. 1-2, 7-9, “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.” Country, rock and blues combine to tell the story of a long-married 1980s Florida couple struggling with her agoraphobia, his roving eye when a hot young stripper moves into their trailer park, and a trio of dysfunctional Greek-chorus residents. Among its songs: “Road Kill,” “Flushed Down the Pipes” and “This Side of the Tracks.”
  • Dec. 2-4, 9-11, “The Christmas Express.” When a stranger named Leo Tannenbaum appears out of nowhere at a small-town railway station the day before Christmas eve, suddenly an old radio that hasn’t worked for years springs into life, the local group of  dreadful carolers starts to sound like the Mormon Tabernacle, and the whole grumpy town gets into the Christmas spirit. Coincidence? Or something else?
  • Jan, 27-29, Feb. 3-5, “The Underpants.” Steve Martin penned this adaptation of the 1910 German farce/social commentary satire “Die Hose” by playwright Carl Sternheim. In it a bureaucrat’s pretty young wife attends the king’s parade during which her bloomers slip to her ankles, setting off a scandal. 
  • March 11-13, 18-20, “Over the Tavern.” Set in Buffalo during the Eisenhower years of the 1950s, a family living  in a crowded apartment over the father’s tavern copes with the joys and travails of life -- in particular a 12-year-old son who is starting to question family values and the Catholic church.
  • May 11-13, 18-20, 2012, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” A revenge-seeking Victorian-era barber uses his razor to dispatch his clients, who are soon baked into best-selling meat pies by his female accomplice, in this Stephen Sondheim musical based on an urban legend.

For season ticket information, visit pitandbalconytheatre.com

Patsy Cline
Center Stage, Midland
  •  Oct. 22-23, 28-30, “Annie.” Little Orphan Annie and her dog Sandy return in the 1977 Tony-winning, Depression-era musical about a hard-knock life lived by an optimistic 11-year-old girl who always believes in a better tomorrow. Bill Anderson Jr. directs.
  • Jan. 13-15, 20-21,  “On the Verge.” In a decidedly offbeat comedy, three 1888  women set off for the unexplored land of Terra Incognita, only to discover they are adrift in time and are trying to navigate an uncharted territory populated by future  pop culture, esoteric language and unusual characters. Jeanne Gilbert directs. 
  • Feb. 11-12, 17-19,  “Treasure Island.” Based on the book by Robert Louis Stevenson, 14-year-old Jim Hawkins and the pirate Long John Silver tell the tale of piracy in the tropical seas. Carol Rumba directs.
  • March 9-11, 16-18,  “Always....Patsy Cline.” In 1961, an avid Patsy Cline fan met the singer at a Houston honky-tonk, invited her to spend the night at her place, and the two became pals until Cline’s death in 1963. This musical is based on the letters and phone calls between them and, in the process, features upwards of 25 of Cline’s classic songs. Susie Polito directs.
  • April 13-15, “The Laramie Project.” Through a collage of interviews collected from  the residents of Laramie, Wyoming, this true docu-drama explores the aftermath of the brutal murder of gay university student Matthew Shepard. Keeley Stanley-Bohn directs.
  • May 4-6, 10-12, 2012, “Barefoot in the Park.” Penned by Neil Simon, two newlyweds (one free-spirited and the other straight-laced) discover their dream home is a six-floor walk-up with a leaky skylight, bad plumbing and an eccentric neighbor.
For season ticket information, visit mcfta.org
Bay City Players
  • Sept. 22-25, 29-30. Oct. 1-2, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Six precocious kids endure the finals of a spelling bee conducted by some weirdo adults in a Tony-winning musical that by tradition also adds members of the audience to the contest.
  • Nov. 11-13, 17-20, “A Little Murder Never Hurt Anybody.” Written by Michigan playwright Ron Bernas, the farce finds Matthew deciding he must kill off Julia before the end of the year. The problem is she knows it and it is their friends who hit the dust while she survives. Just who is behind these dastardly deeds?
  • Jan. 13-15, 19-22, 2012, “Almost Maine.” Played out in vignettes and set on a cold winter night in Maine, residents of a tiny town find themselves falling in and out of love in unexpected and often hilarious ways. The show won the best play award from the New York Drama Critics Circle.
  • March 2-4, 8-11, “All My Sons.” The Tony-winning play by Arthur Miller, based on a true story,  is set just after World War II as an American family grapples with a son missing in action and a  father who sold faulty parts to the U.S. military during the war; parts which resulted in the deaths of 21 pilots.
  • May 3-6, 10-13, 2011, “The Drowsy Chaperone.” The musical centers around a man in the chair who puts on a recording of his favorite musical to lift his spirits. What he doesn't expect is chorus girls dancing out of his refrigerator, scoundrels making plans to seduce a bride on her wedding day, the groom roller-skating and gangsters playing caterers — all done in song and dance. The show is a Tony winner for best book and best score.
  • Date not yet set, “Portraits.” Planned as a fund-raiser for a local charity, and to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., “Portraits” is a series of monologues by people talking about their feelings connected to that day and how it affected their lives.
For season ticket information, visit baycityplayers.com.

Monday, April 25, 2011

CCC comes alive again...and you are a member

by Janet I. Martineau

From 1933 to 1942, some 3.4 million American men went to work for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the nation as members of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
At 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, one of them will visit the  Green Point Environmental Learning Center, 3010 Maple in Saginaw, for a program titled “CCC Enrollee 1941.”
Michael Deren as a CCC worker
Well, sort of.
Michael Deren of Ann Arbor recreates, through music and stories, American history and his “CCC Enrollee 1941” program is presented as a part of the “Nurturing Nature” series sponsored by the Friends of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. Admission is free to Friends members. Others pay $2 at the door.
During the program, Deren’s CCC character will play the bugle, concertina and washboard and talk about life in the CCC camps.
“I do not present programs ‘for’ people,” says Deren. “I present programs ‘with’ people as the audience is a full participant.  The  Green Point audience will be developing their character, joining the CCC, planting trees, and experiencing six months of life in a CCC camp.”
CCC was a public relief program for unemployed and single men during the Great Depression and was one of the most popular of all the New deal programs. The men, ages 18-25, were paid $30 a month -- of which $25 sent to their parents.
During its years, the men planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed more than 800 parks nationwide that initiated the development of most state parks, updated forest fire fighting methods, built a network of thousands of miles of public roadways, and constructed buildings connecting the nation's public lands.
“We as citizens of Michigan and the United States are still enjoying the fruits of their labor in the trees which were planted, in the development and improvements in parks, wildlife refuges and national forests,” says Deren. 
“The 103,000 men serving in Michigan built the lumber camp at Hartwick Pines State Park, the Seney Wildlife Refuge in the U.P., planted 484 million trees  in Michigan, fought fires and much, much more.”
“Enrollee” is not based on a life of a single CCC worker, he says, but is a compilation of numerous CCC alumni he interviewed. He also in a unique way, he says, brings three  CCC alumni veterans with him to every presentation. And he also encourages any CCC alumni in the area to share their experiences at the end of his program. 
Deren calls his series of programs  about the common people whose labor built America “The Past in Person.” Others tell the stories of an 1870 lumberjack, an 1865 Civil War musician, an 1880 Upper Peninsula iron worker, an 1875 Great Lakes  schooner captain, an 1870 Transcontinental Railroad engineer and an 1840 Erie Canal boat captain.
He has a bachelor’s  degree in music education and a master’s degree in woodwind instruments and for  15 years taught instrumental and general music in  grades 4 through 12 and college.
An avid hiker, outdoorsman and amateur historian, Deren has presented his  “The Past in Person” programs since 1985 in schools, libraries, state parks, museums and for historical groups.
Deren says he continues to meet CCC alumni and that they are “consistently positive and glowingly complimentary about what the CCC gave them and did for them. All said it was a beginning and a future. 
“Almost all of them have  expressed the wish that the organization would continue today for America's youth and give them the tools for adulthood and success that the CCC gave them from 1933-1942.”
The Friends of Shiawassee also is sponsoring a presentation by Deren for the students at the Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

New seasons at Saginaw Bay Symphony, Bijou orchestras "Pure Michigan"

by Janet I. Martineau
Pure Michigan isn’t just an advertising slogan for our Great Lakes state anymore. Both the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra and Bay City’s Bijou Orchestra have embraced it in selecting the music for their 2011-2012 seasons.
Maestro Brett Mitchell of the SBSO has programmed four works by still-living composers connected to the state and is collaborating with the talents of Saginaw artist Kellie Schneider, the Saginaw Choral Society and the city’s Pit and Balcony Community Theatre.
And maestro Leo M. Najar of the Bijou has signed on two singers with Saginaw roots, a Celtic/maritime trio headquartered in Bay City and a tenor from Grand Rapids.
Just for fun, too, the seasons contain a little Shakespeare, Mother Goose, Superman and music inspired by Bjork -- the Islandic singer -- and French despot Napoleon Bonaparte.
First up, the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra, which starts out its new season on Saturday, Oct. 8, with a concert titled “A Fantastic Beginning.”
On the bill is  “Red Cape Tango” from the Metropolis Symphony by Michael Daugherty. Daugherty, 56, teaches composition at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and this year his five-movement Metropolis Symphony -- inspired by, yes, Superman -- won three Grammy awards.

Michael Daugherty
Back in 2005, his “Hell’s Angels” quartet was performed by the SBSO -- with its four bassoon players indeed dressed as leather-clad bikers, much to the amusement of the audience that night. A year later, the SBSO also performed Daugherty’s “Sundown on South Street.”
Other colorful works by the fan of popular culture include “Dead Elvis,” “Jackie O,” “Niagara Falls,” “Bay of Pigs,” “Shaken Not Stirred,” “UFO” and “Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.”

He comes by this naturally. Daugherty’s father was a jazz and country drummer and his grandmother a pianist for silent films. He grew up listening to 950s/1960s music and Broadway show tunes and was the leader of a rock band.

Also on the Oct. 8 concert are Liszt’s “Totentanz” (“Dance of the Dead”) featuring  pianist Jason Hardink of the Utah Symphony and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, the story of a love-struck artist who has poisoned himself with opium.
On Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012, “Shakespearean Dreams” finds the SBSO  partnering with Pit & Balcony and the Saginaw Choral Society on Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” performed as originally intended -- as an overture and incidental music accompanying a staged version of Shakespeare’s play. 
Also on the bill are William Bolcom’s “Commedia for (Almost) 18th-Century Orchestra” and  Finzi’s Shakespearean song cycle “Let Us Garlands Bring,” with bass-baritone Timothy Jones.
Bolcom, 73, retired in 2008 from the University of Michigan faculty, having taught there 35 years, and in his career has won a Pulitzer Prize and two Grammy Awards. He and his wife, singer Joan Morris, have recorded 20 albums.
“Commedia” is his most-played orchestral work, inspired by his fascination with commedia dell-arte.
On Saturday, March 31, 2012,  “Past Masters, Present Promise,” will present original artwork commissioned from Schneider. She will create original illustrations depicting the five fairytales in Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite,” among them Sleeping Beauty and Tom Thumb, and the  illustrations will be projected as the orchestra performs the piece.
Schneider is a familiar face in Old Saginaw City. She was a members of The 303 Collective during its existence and most recently donated a work for a  fund raiser at the Red Eye Cafe. She is the author of the illustrated novel “Cadis & Adelaide.”
Doing "Mother Goose" with original artwork is something I've wanted to do for a long time now,” says Mitchell, “and and it wasn't until I first saw Kellie's art that I felt I had found the artist who could do Ravel's brilliant music justice.”
March 31 also includes Bright Sheng’s “The Black Swan,” an orchestration of Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major and Brahms’s Second Symphony. 
Sheng, 55, is a native of China and also teaches composition at the University of Michigan. He was mentored for a number of years by the late Leonard Bernstein. His works often links contemporary Chinese history with western music, among them “Naking!,” “Madam Mao.” “H’un” and “Tibetan Swing.”

And capping off the season May 12, 2012, is “A Heroic Finale” -- Kevin Puts’s Bj√∂rk-inspired Symphony No. 3 “Vespertine” and Beethoven’s Napoleon-inspired Symphony No. 3  “Eroica.” 
Puts, 39, took his inspiration from Bjork’s album “Vespertine” when he heard it and was captivated by her quirky and unusual voice. He has said of the piece, “I wanted to create an impression of her improvisatory, jazz-induced, and utterly distinctive melodic style as filtered through my own aesthetic. While no quotations exist in my piece, every melodic line reflects at some level the contours and motives of Bjork’s singing style.”

Puts spent some of his formative years in Alma and still has family there. Earlier this season, his “Millennium Canons” delighted an SBSO audience. He is on the faculty of the Peabody Institute in Baltimore.
As Mitchell notes, the four Michigan-linked composers on the 2011-2012 season are considered major world composers and have longs lists of compositions for orchestras, operas, ballets, chamber music and ensembles. He wanted, he said, to celebrate that and call attention to it.
And collaborations with area artists like Schneider and P&B, he said, will be an ongoing part of his tenure here because they help him think in new and creative ways.
All of the Saginaw Symphony concerts take place at 8 p.m. at the Temple Theatre, 203 N. Washington.
As for the Bijou Orchestra, it is offering:

* Oct. 15-16, “Water Music,” featuring the Bay City trio Hoolie in a collection of water-inspired classical and popular music, among them Great Lakes songs.

Sabrina Shaheen
* Nov. 19-20, “East Meets West,” featuring familiar classics influenced by Middle Eastern music as well as contemporary music from that region. On the bill is singer Sabrina Shaheen, living now in the Detroit area but whose parents (Dr. Samuel and Patricia Shaheen) are well known Saginaw arts patrons.
“It's going to be an interesting project,” says Najar of the East Meets West program. “I want some lectures, maybe a concert or two, all about the middle eastern musical world. There's more there than religion. Most people have no idea about the musical/cultural traditions of the Middle East and I think it would be a good idea to expose them to some of that.
Shaheen, of Lebanese descent, is a pop/jazz singer who performs original compositions and standards; is an actor, voice-over performer and dancer, and teaches piano at the Rochester Conservatory of Music. Oh, and she also is a lawyer.

* Feb. 18-19, 2012, “Birth of the Blues,” showcasing early music that lead to the blues as well as music inspired by the blues. Singing at that concert is Saginaw-born Sharrie Williams,  a blues and gospel singer who has not only toured the United States but also Holland, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada and Great Britain.

* April 28-29, 2012, “Closers,” a mixed bag of symphonic movements, opera finales and Broadway closing numbers, and featuring singer Brian Damson of Grand Rapids.
All of the shows are 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at the State Theatre, 913 Washington in Bay City.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Carmina Burana" performance a fitting finale for MSO's 75th season AND its departing conductor

review by Janet I. Martineau
Wow, what a fabulous finale -- both for the Midland Symphony Orchestra’s 75th anniversary season and conductor Antonia Joy Wilson’s tenure.
We’re talking about Saturday night’s sold-out performance of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” -- a collection of monk-penned poems about love, drinking, springtime, lust, gambling, fate and fortune; fortunately set to music sung in Latin, medieval French and middle high German to avoid an R rating,
Imagine upwards of 300 musicians, singers and dancers amassed on the Midland Center for the Arts stage to perform a work that is as full of whirlwind music as the weather outside these days.
To see that stage pushed back as far as it can go to the back wall was in and of itself an amazing sight. Then watching the combined forces of the Midland Music Society Chorale, Saginaw Choral Society and Central Michigan University Concert Choir slowly fill the seats created the first goosebumps of the night.
Could Wilson keep all that combined vocal power under control -- along with a full-sized orchestra, three guest soloists, seven dancers from Detroit’s DDCdances, and Midland’s Youth Honors Choir in the balcony? For 25 movements?
Yes, she did -- and magnificently!
OK, there was, in a couple of movements, some small orchestral issues. And the DDCdances dancers, in their six appearances, sometimes wobbled a bit and were not always quite 100 percent with the music at hand. The choreography also is up for debate.
But the vocal side of the ledger was superb -- all those voices singing as one, no matter the difficulty (and there is plenty of it is this work), quietly when needed and full bore the next second, four separate groups having to merge with very little full rehearsal together.
What was remarkable, too, is that they rose and sat virtually silently, and in unison. No easy task but one which kept the magic alive.
More than once we closed our eyes just to savor that choral sound, in particular the passages sung by just the men -- surely this was biggest massed choir that mid-Michigan has ever seen, perhaps. But then, when we opened our eyes, we often found we were missing some of the dances. Or the bass drum boomed and we jumped because we didn’t see it coming.
As for the guest soloists -- baritone Chad Sloan and tenor Kyle Knapp were outstanding actors as well as singers. 
Who needed a translation to realize Sloan’s character was drunk in “I Am the Abbot,” hick-ups and all. His tenor-to-bass athletics in “Day, Night and All” was remarkable in its smoothness.
And Knapp’s dying swan in “Once I Dwelt in the Lakes”  was hilarious with his body language and plopping back in his chair, to say nothing of his exquisite high lyric tenor voice which raised more goosebumps.
But back to the orchestra. This is a percussive piece, and the percussion section drove the magic of the night  along with the singers -- in particular the bass drum player who shook the rafters. But throughout there were noteworthy passages from bassoonist Drew Hinderer, hornist William Wollner, tuba player Mark Cox and trumpeter James Young.
Wilson opened the concert with the equally whirlwind “Polovtsian Dances” by Borodin, sort of a warm-up for what was to come and also superbly executed.
Which brings us to Wilson, in Midland a mere three years. Clearly the audience loved her -- she got a standing ovation, a long and heart-felt one, at the opening when she received a gift.
She got cheers at the end -- and a push forward by one of the choral conductors, to get a final bow of her own.
We enjoyed her tenure, some of the risks took, the programming, the outreach, the growth of the orchestra. We do not know the politics of why her contract was not renewed....nor do we really want to. We just know we’ll miss her. 
Fortunately her masterful conducting of “Carmina Burana” will long sustain the memory of her tenure here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Acoustic music finds a churchly home during Saginaw on Stage

by Janet I. Martineau
Normally, the White Crow Conservatory of Music is located on Mackinaw, near Davenport -- where, in the course of a year, upwards of 100 acoustic concerts take place.
But on Saturday, April 23, it moves itself to Freeland’s Apple Mountain Conference Center when its two founders, Siusan O’Rourke and Zig Zeitler,  and a contingent of White Crow regulars take part in Saginaw on Stage -- a 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. mega-concert featuring 28 bands playing on five stages.
Siusan O'Rourke and Zig Zeitler
“Three years ago, when we volunteered to perform at this event, Zig went out to Apple Mountain to check it out,” says O’Rourke. “When he saw the chapel out there, which they had not planned on using, he told them that is where White Crow wanted to set up.”
It is fitting, perhaps. The White Crow building on Mackinaw is a former church. And the chapel at Apple Mountain is, indeed, a small, historic chapel which was transplanted on the property -- across the parking lot from the main conference center.
From 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., White Crow will showcase four acts there as well as as an open mic session. And O’Rourke and Zeitler also will play in two of the other five showrooms during the evening.
“Zig and I will close the night at the Chapel, starting at 10,  and a 8:30 p.m. we will play our Irish and Americana music, most of it originals, in the Stevens Room in the main building,” says O’Rourke. “And Zig will play Cajun, roots and blues with Oz Oswald at 5:30 p.m. in the Ziba Ski Lodge Clubhouse.”
In years past, the chapel has tended toward the chilly side with unpredictable spring weather during Saginaw on Stage, a benefit concert sponsored by the Rotary Club of Saginaw. O’Rourke promises no such problem this year as White Crow has a high-performance heater in tow.
“We love the chapel because it is a beautiful, intimate space just perfect for some great acoustical moments away from the louder music played at Saginaw on Stage,” says O’Rourke. “Perfect for people who just want to sit and quietly listen to music. 
“I ring the bell before each set. There is room to dance is the aisles.”
And, promises Zeitler, “The performers include Saginaw’s best kept secret -- folk singer Bob Buchanan. He performed with the New Christy Minstrels, and co-wrote ‘Hickory Wind’ with Gram Parsons. He lives in Saginaw now -- and he actually played ‘Hickory Wind’ for the fist time in 46 years at The Crow.”
Buchanan is set for an 8 p.m. set. The legendary “Hickory Wind” has been recorded by countless singers since the Byrds in 1968, among them Joan Baez and Emmylou Harris.
Also playing in the Chapel, at 6 p.m., is singer/songwriter Bob Hausler, who Zeitler  says is the founder of the Mid-Michigan Songwriters Guild and a former Nashville sessions guitarist. Now living in Freeland, he has opened for Diamond Rio, the Mavericks, Sawyer Brown and Tracy Lawrence.
The open mic set, starting at 9, is a mixed bag of White Crow students and  Siusan’s daughter, among others.
“The music for that will be all over the place,” says Zeitler, a native of Hemlock. “Jazz mandolin, played by architect Fred Eurich, who studies with me. Contemporary. Maybe a little Italian opera. Each act will play two songs and then rotate, filling the hour.”
As for O’Rourke and Zeitler together, they tour the nation with their Irish/Americana music -- she is a singer and guitar player and he singing and playing too many instruments to list but among them guitar, mandolin, harmonica, banjo, Indian flute, fiddle, bouzouki, Cajun accordion. Both also write music.
They’re just back from a New York City/New York State tour, and earlier this year played in Memphis. And in 2006, the year White Crow opened, they survived 17 concerts in 14 days in Ireland -- often playing into the wee hours.
“My voice is my instrument, and I consider myself as an Irish singer,” says O’Rourke.
Says he, of his instruments, “I decide how to make an instrument work for the song -- how do I get it to create the sound I need.”
O’Rourke, a native of Brooklyn, New York,  and Zeitler say they volunteer their  time each year to Saginaw on Stage, as do all the performing groups, “because it is for a good cause that benefits things locally. So many times people are asked to donate to causes nationally and internationally. But we need to help right at home too.”
Saginaw on Stage proceeds will benefit the Covenant HealthCare sleepsack project, which sends every newborn home with a wearable blanket which helps prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
The evening also includes a silent auction featuring more than 60 items. White Crow, says O’Rourke. also donates a gift basket to that featuring at least 10 CDs and tickets to White Crow concerts.
Tickets to Saginaw on Stage are $20 for adults and $5 for students in advance; $25 and $10 at the door. White Crow, 3736 Mackinaw, has them on sale in advance as well as West Side Decorating, 3505 State,  and Flagstar Bank, 4975 Bay Road. Or all (989) 776-9425 and use a credit card.
For more information on the other bands performing, and a performance schedule, log on to www.saginawrotary.org/sos2011
Among the sponsors of Saginaw on Stage are Covenant HealthCare, Bierlein Companies, Stevens Worldwide Vanlines, Ziba Medical Spa, Merrill Lynch, and Hausbeck Pickles & Peppers.

Saginaw's own Broadway star to receive special All Area Arts Award

by Janet I. Martineau
To celebrate this year’s 25th anniversary of its All Area Arts Awards, the Saginaw Arts and Enrichment Commission has invited a special guest for the evening -- two-time Tony nominee, and native son, Brian d’Arcy James.
“We will present him with a special 25th anniversary award that night,” says Marsha Braun, director of marketing for the commission. “And although he hasn’t confirmed it yet, we are hoping he also will perform for us.”
Brian d'Arcy James also has a long recording list
James, a 1985 graduate of Nouvel Catholic Central High School, in 2009 received Broadway’s Tony nomination for his lead role in the “Shrek the Musical” and in 2002 for his supporting role in the the musical “The Sweet Smell of Success.” 

Other stage credits in New York City include “Titanic,” “Carousel,” “Next to Normal,” “The Apple Tree,” “The Good Thief” (for which he won an Obie Award), “Floyd Collins,”  “The Wild Party” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”
He also has performed for the Kennedy Center Honors, at the White House, with the Boston Pops and in a regional tour of the musical “White Christmas.”
And despite the fact he has lived in New York City for several years now, the 42-year-old has returned home to perform for shows at the Temple Theatre and Midland Center for the Arts and with the Saginaw Choral Society. He also wrote the song “Michigan Christmas,’ with its lyrics recalling his Saginaw childhood. 
Most recently, James has been cast in the upcoming NBC-TV series pilot “Smash,” about the creation of a Broadway musical. James  plays the husband of the musical’s lyricist (played by Emmy-winner Debra Messing). And also is the cast is “American Idol” contestant Katherine McPhee.
The All-Area Arts Awards is slated for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 5, at TheDow Event Center, 303 Johnson. Tickets are $40, which includes dinner. Call (989) 759-1363, ext. 223 to make reservations.
Confirmed performers thus far are the award-winning Trojan Drum Line from Saginaw High School and the seven-member Ah, Tempo! men’s group from the Saginaw Choral Society.
The awards recognize arts organizations, businesses, volunteers and civic leaders whose efforts on behalf of the arts have enhanced the quality of life in Saginaw County and beyond.
This year’s nominees are:
Rosalind K. Berlin – Berlin is one of Michigan’s foremost fiber artists. Over a period of 40 years, she has created a woven forest of more than 200 colorful trees, ranging in height from 2 to 15 feet, and has displayed them in galleries throughout the state. She also has taught art in schools, performed with Pit and Balcony Community Theatre, served on arts group boards, and is the current president of the River Junction Poets. 
Chancel Choir of Bethel A.M.E. – The choir has looked beyond its music ministry, seeking opportunities to collaborate with community organizations by using their music as a means to bridge the racial and cultural divide.
Megan Bublitz and Sally Giroux – Bublitz (dance) and Giroux (3D art), new staff members this year at the Saginaw Arts & Sciences Academy, have fostered students selected to participate in the Michigan Youth Arts Festival. 

“J.C.” Jeannine Coughlin – As instrumental music teacher at Saginaw High School, Coughlin built the program from 15 students in 1993 to nearly 200 today. Among her achievements is the creation of the award-winning Trojan Drum Line.
Domonique Freeman – Freeman studies dance at the Saginaw Arts & Sciences Academy and will pursue a degree in dance after she graduates in June. She has performed at the Michigan Youth Arts Festival, with the NAACP troupe, and with her knowledge of sign language helps the deaf to understand and appreciate dance.   She is the daughter of Yalonde Freeman of Saginaw Township.
Donyea Freeman – Freeman is an art student at the Saginaw Arts & Sciences Academy. His work has been shown in local student art exhibitions, including the Saginaw County Art Show. He is the son of Yalonde Freeman of Saginaw Township.
Tim Grefe and Tamara Grefe – Tim Grefe has been leading and playing in bands since high school, most notably the Loose Caboose. A pianist, Tamara Grefe has performed in countless musical productions and for a number of years was the accompanist for the Saginaw Choral Society. She is currently the executive director for the Saginaw Choral Society. Over the years, the Grefes both together and individually has given freely of their time organizing and performing in benefit concerts.
Castle Museum’s History on the Move – This free-of-charge traveling classroom, housed in a brightly painted semi truck,  was created to address the need for local history education in Saginaw County. History on the Move’s current exhibition offers a hands–on archaeology experience, led by a certified teacher.
Mike and Sarah Jury – As arts advocates, Jurys are active in a variety of arts organizations. He sings with the Saginaw Choral Society, both are active board members and volunteers, and their Jury Foundation supports arts organizations with program funding.    
Sylvia McAfee – McAfee’s enthusiasm for vocal music has been a catalyst for several culturally enriching programs at Bethel A.M. E. Church. She is a member of the Saginaw Choral Society and Heritage Choral Group, while also encouraging her peers to volunteer their time and talents to local arts groups.  
Jeff Hall and Julie Meyer, Music Artists-in-Residence at Saginaw Valley State University – Hall (instrumental jazz) and Meyer (voice) are training the next generation of performing artists while also contributing to the advancement of musical performance through public concerts and outreach initiatives. 
Andrea Ondish – As director of education at SVSU’s Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum, Ondish has developed community projects bringing inner-city Saginaw youth together with SVSU students for art experiences. She also is a member of the Bay Arts Council, on the adjunct art faculty at SVSU, and a painter and printmaker.
Sue White – As an entertainment writer for The Saginaw News for more than 26 years, White helps cover and promote local arts and cultural events as well as concerts by national artists. 
Wildfire Credit Union – Wildfire provides funding to many arts and cultural organizations as well as volunteer support and leadership. Annually employees volunteer more than 2,000 hours.
The All Area Arts Awards evening is funded by Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, Consumers Energy, Hausbeck Pickles & Peppers, HealthPlus of Michigan, St. Mary’s of Michigan, Ed & Suzanne Skrelunas, W.L. Case & Company and Wildfire Credit Union. 
Previous winners include the Saginaw Art Museum, Tri-Star Trust Bank, Mike Brush, Marshall M. Fredericks,  PRIDE’s Friday Night Live, Sam and Patricia Shaheen, Tom Trombley and  Saginaw Choral Society. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

SVSU turns to opera with a Baroque charmer

review by Janet I. Martineau
Looking for something different to do Saturday night (7:30) or Sunday afternoon (4)?
Then please, get in the car, drive out to Saginaw Valley State University and buy a ticket to the school production of Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” opera.
Yes, opera. A first at SVSU. But keep reading anyway.
Rachelle Austin, Donavon Tear and Viktoria Wilson
A mere 60 minutes long, this is a beautiful Baroque charmer performed to near perfection. First, who knew SVSU was home to so many lovely operatic voices!  Then toss in special effects that include a crackling thunderstorm and flames thrown by a sorceress ...dance interludes beautifully matched to the music ... a 14-member chorus with acting chops... shadows playing on the walls ...drunken sailors...words sung in English... and you have an audience pleaser, even if it is that dreaded thing called opera.
Kidding aside, music director Kevin Simons and stage director Ric Roberts deliver a show that is visually, vocally and dramatically rock solid. Granted the set and costuming are minimalist, but this is a cast that makes up for that with its voices and acting skills.
Of particular note is the 14-member chorus, dressed in all-black. Even when not singing, they are posed attractively on the stage and always reacting in some way to the storyline. They perch on chairs and stools, sit on the floor, move ballet-like when required, and even sing from the balcony on one occasion. No static lines or movement  for them, as is the case in way too many opera productions.
And despite there are only 14 of them, they project so well, and the Rhea Miller Hall is so rich in acoustics, they sound like double the number.
The soloists also are dynamic vocally and dramatically  -- soprano Viktoria Wilson as the fretful Queen Dido, light soprano Rachelle Austin as the queen’s comforting companion, baritone Donavon Tear as the Trojan hero Aeneas, alto Ellie Frazier as the hunched-over sorceress, tenor David Ryan as a drunken sailor,  with small but effective roles added on from Amanda Falk and Sarah Shearer. 
The duets and trios are especially exquisite. And Frazier does most of her work in the balcony over the stage area, adding to the drama of her powerful evilness (and reminding us, somehow, of the bad witch in “The Wizard of Oz”). 
OK, granted, probably 70 to 80 percent of the time the words they and the chorus are singing are not clear, even though they are in English....especially with the sopranos. But such is often the case in opera, and which is why all the major companies now project the words on screens even when they are sung in English. 
To this critic, opera has been more about enjoying the music more than the words anyway. The program notes give a summary of what is happening. Read that before the show and then just sit back and enjoy the musicality of the human voice and the orchestra accompanying those voices. This production even has a fun one with the chorus laugh singing.
Bravo also to Amanda Mueller, who provides four dance interludes. A graduating senior, Mueller has been a powerhouse in her SVSU “career” as an actress/singer. In “Dido” she is as silent as a mime and shows, in choreography she created, her ability to move at one with the music. Not all dancers and choreographers, sadly, have that innate effortless quality. Apparently, she does.
Simons conducts the seven-member string orchestra, with standout performances by harpsichordist Bryan Latimer and cellist Fred Sunderman.
Please, SVSU...more opera.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Got an act you'd like to take on the road?

by Janet I. Martineau

A poet, a storyteller and a contingent of cloggers all proved last year that “Senior Moments” can be a good thing.
Ranging in age from 86 to a mere 62, they were the collective winners of the first ArtFest55 talent show at Midland’s Creative 360, 1517 Bayliss -- an event which also featured an 89-year-old stand-up comedian and a 75-year-old tap dancer with a top hat and cane.
“Senior Moments,” as the show is titled, returns to Creative 360, with performances slated for 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday, July 29. The afternoon show is considered a dress rehearsal, with the judging taking place in the evening. The public can attend either performance, or both.
Each act is limited to 5 minutes of performance time, with a minute to set it up and a  minute to break it down, and all of its performers must be at least age 55. Eligible are solos or groups; singers, dancers, musicians, comedians, poets, storytellers, short story writers, and actors doing skits or readings.
Those entering must live in the state of Michigan, and are selected on a first-come, first-served basis with the goal of creating a program featuring variety. The material does not have to be original, but if it is the judges will give a preferential nod. Since the performances are open to families, content must be suitable for all ages.
Creative 360 has en electric piano available for an accompanist or solo pianists. All other accompaniment must be provided on a single-selection and labeled CD.
Judging is done “American Idol”-style, with a panel of three bickering people ages 55 and older. The prizes are gift packages for first, second and third place.
The entry fee is $10 for each act. Applications must be received at Creative 360 postmarked no later than Monday, July 11, or hand-delivered no later than 3 p.m. Tuesday, July 12. They need to contain the name of the act, the performers (names, ages, addresses), a description of the act, the title and author of the piece, and contact information. DVDs or CDs of the act also are accepted but not required.
For more information, and the application form, go on line at www.becreative360.org or contact Colleen Reed at (989) 837-1885.
ArtFest55 also includes a juried art exhibition.

Creative 360's ArtFest55, for "mature" artists, now open to the whole state

by Janet I. Martineau

Last summer, the gallery at Midland’s Creative 360 was filled with artwork created by Saginaw, Midland and Bay county artists ages 55 and up.
The 66 paintings, photographs, wood pieces, drawings and mixed media pieces  submitted by 38 people marked the  inauguration of ArtFest55, a festival celebrating the creativity of both known and novice “mature” artists.
“This year we have expanded the field,” says Creative 360 director Elizabeth A. Ruediger. “ArtFest55, both its art exhibition and a companion talent contest, is now open to all Michigan residents.
“We had so much fun with it last year, we wondered what opening it to the whole state might bring.”
This year’s theme is “Experience, Express and Expand Your Creativity,” which is  Creative 360’s slogan summarizing its focus. “And that theme is open to a wide-ranging interpretation by each artist,” says Ruediger.
Serving as the juror is Michael D.Martin, the coordinator of collections and exhibitions at the Flint Institute of Arts. The pieces he picks will hang at Creative 360, 1517 Bayliss, from Friday, June 17,  through Sunday, Aug. 7.
The prizes are $300 for best of show (from all entries), $100 for best two-dimensional work, $100 for best three-dimensional work and $100 for best photography. Martin also has the option of awarding honorable mention certificates.
Eligible media include original sculpture, fiber, ceramics, needle arts, wood, plastic, paper, metal, painting, pen and ink, mixed media, drawing, pastel, photography and digital photography.
All entires must have been created within the last 24 months by an artist age 55 and up as of June 17 this year, and must not have been shown previously at Creative 360.
Each artist is limited to two entries, with the entry fee $10 per work. The deadline for submissions is delivery to Creative 360 in person or by mail no later than 3 p.m. Thursday, June 2. And art work not accepted into the show must be picked up by Wednesday, June 15, or its return provided for by a self-addressed/stamped mailer.
For entry forms, and full information on all the rules and regulations, go on-line at www.becreative360.org or call Colleen Reed at (989) 837-1885.
ArtFest55 also will include a talent show, titled “Senior Moments.”

Horizons Town Talk program ventures into the world of fashion

by Janet I. Martineau
Gioia Diliberto before her Horizons talk
Women of the western world, celebrate the creativity of Coco Chanel.
And we’re not referring to her Chanel No. 5 perfume -- a bottle of which is sold every 30 seconds throughout the world.
“She revolutionized fashion,” author/journalist Gioia Diliberto told her  Horizons Town Talk audience on Tuesday, at the Horizons Conference Center in Saginaw Township. “Before Chanel, fashion was torture. 
“It was wide bustles; massive hats filled with the plumes of dozens of dead birds;  tight corsets; hobble skirts, so named because you had to hobble in them to walk. 
“Fashion before her symbolized the second class status of women. It was for the helpless, the subservient. Women could not get into a car without help. They could not think clearly because of the weight of those hats. There were even iron corsets, and some so tight women would pass out if they laughed because they could not get enough oxygen.”
And then, in the early 1900s,  along came French-born Chanel, with loose sweaters containing pockets, casual but elegant flowing skirts, said Diliberto, showing slides of Chanel  in her outfits that still look contemporary even today.
“She even adopted some men’s wear -- white shirts and trench coats, pants. The little black dress -- the palette she grew up with (because, from age 12 to 18 she was raised in a convent, where she learned the trade of a seamstress). She decided early on she wanted a career, her own independence, and not a life as a kept woman. The  only power she could find was her clothes -- to look the opposite of all the other women around her.”
Coco Chanel
Forget the fact Chanel was chain-smoking opportunist who slept with rich and powerful men, who turned her back on Jewish friends during Hitler’s Third Reich and associated with Nazis, who mistreated her workers, said Diliberto. She created clothing freedom.
Diliberto, in her wide-ranging talk titled “Dressing for the New Age of Fashion,” took her audience on a verbal and visual tour of fashion through the ages -- from the kings and queens of British and French royalty to American first ladies Jacqueline Kennedy and Michelle Obama.
Fashion, she said, is a clue to a person’s character and personality as well as indicative of social and political upheaval. The mighty, big-name fashion houses of yore, she contends, “are crumbling now, giving way to  a 13-year-old girl blogging on the Internet; young Asian immigrants to America who design appealing garments;  web sites; television shows; companies which have, in the last decade, provided higher style at a lower price point.”
And, she said, while everyone agrees Francophile Jackie Kennedy set the style for first lady elegance for several years, she wonders if they realize that “a half century later an African-American woman with a working class background has become a new first lady fashion icon” -- mixing her relaxed, down-to-earth J Crew clothes, “accessible to everybody,”  with $600 sneakers and $12,000 earrings.
Oh, and those frequent bare arms Michelle sports, to much critical sniping? “Jackie wore sleeveless dresses all the time,” said Diliberto, who lives in Chicago.
Diliberto has penned five books, including the novel “The Collection,” set in Chanel’s 1919 atelier.