Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"League of Their Own" baseball player to speak at Riverside Saginaw Film Festival

by Janet I. Martineau
 A classic baseball film and a classic baseball player are headed to this year’s Riverside Saginaw Film Festival -- running Wednesday, Nov. 2, through Sunday, Nov. 6, at the Temple Theatre.
Penny Marshall’s 1992 drama “A League of Their Own” plays at 1 p.m. Saturday,  Nov. 5.  And all softball/baseball players showing up in their 2011 team uniforms/jerseys -- from Little League players to the Saginaw Old Golds -- will receive a free ticket at the box office.
Actually, members of the league-winning  Old Golds, who play by 1800s baseball rules, will serve as greeters and ushers that day.
Penny Marshall, left, and Mary Moore in 1992
The movie tells the story of the women who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, formed during World War II as a way to keep baseball alive while the majority of able-bodied men were serving in the military. The league existed from 1943 until 1954.
Starring in “League”  are Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell. And appearing in several scenes at the beginning and the end of the film is Michigander Mary Moore, who played for two teams during the league’s existence. 
Following the showing,  79-year-old Moore will appear on stage to tell stories about  life in the women’s league and to answer questions. 
She played second base between 1950 and 1952  -- leading  the Springfield Sallies in hits, home runs and RBI’s in 1950. The Lincoln Park native played two additional seasons with the Battle Creek Belles before an ankle injury cut short her career. And in 1988 she was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
“It was great doing something you loved and getting paid for it,” she recalls of those three years. “The pay was good, $25 a week with the Sallies, then $55 a week with the Belles,  and  $21 a week for meals. Plus traveling all over the country (22 states and Canada). Also the life-long friendships that were made.”
But the players also were kept on a short leash, she says, subject to chaperones, curfews and bed checks. And whenever they appeared in public, they were required to wear skirts. 
Mary Moore greets a runner at second bcase
Moore, who now lives in White Lake,  says as a kid she played the game in vacant lots, with the boys, and in high school for a fast-pitch team  in Wyandotte. She was only 17 when she joined the Springfield Sallies.
One of the highlights in her three years with the league, she says, was playing in Yankee Stadium before one of the Yankee games and meeting Casey Stengel, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford and Billy Martin.
After her baseball career ended, Moore worked for Michigan Bell for 35 years, as a central  office supervisor -- and continued to play for amateur fast-pitch and slow-pitch teams.
The showing of “League” and Moore’s visit is sponsored by the Public Libraries of Saginaw.  
The movie repeats at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6 -- but not with the free admission for players or Moore. However, Lou E. Loon of the Great Lakes Loons will greet people at the door that day.
This year’s Riverside Saginaw Film Festival is showing 25 independent, foreign and documentary films on four screens at the Temple, 203. N. Washington. Single tickets are $6 and festival passes $40.
For a list of the films, show times and other information, log on to www.riversidesaginawfilmfestival.org

Monday, October 24, 2011

Three award-winning Michigan films playing at Riverside Saginaw Film Festival

by Rob Drew

"Annabelle and Bear"
In 2008, Amy S. Weber was talking with a friend about the creative limitations of her commercial video production work.  Weber spoke about  her dream of making a real film someday.  “Make your film,” the friend said.
Later that same day, Weber was driving with her two-year-old daughter when a burly biker pulled up alongside them.  “I wonder what his story is,” Weber said.  She started thinking aloud about the idea of such a character being forced into the role of father to a little girl.
Soon she had the whole story worked out in her head.  She called her writing partner, Tracy Sims, and told her the story.  Before long they had a screenplay, and eventually a film.
Weber’s resulting “Annabelle and Bear” is one of three Michigan-made films playing at this year’s Riverside Saginaw Film Festival, which runs Wednesday through Sunday, Nov. 2-6, at the Temple Theatre in downtown Saginaw. 
 “Annabelle” is scheduled for two screenings, at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and  at 11 a.m. on Sunday,  with Weber attending the Saturday screening and talking about her film and moviemaking in the state.
“Annabelle” tells the story of an introverted biker known as Bear whose former girlfriend shows up at his doorstep with their daughter, Annabelle, whom he’s never seen.  The girlfriend is strung out on drugs and insists that Bear take the little girl.  He does, hoping to foist her off on his mother. But before long, Annabelle and Bear begin to bond.
Olivia Walby,  who plays Annabelle, was only 2 when the film was shot.  “She steals the entire movie, she breaks your heart,” says Weber, who was amazed by Walby’s maturity.  “She was improvising.  There’s an entire scene where she and Bear have this little tender moment talking about Bear’s dad.  It was not scripted.”
Weber used all Michigan talent, including many non-professionals.  Weber’s company, Radish Films, opened its doors for Michiganders to be part of the filmmaking experience. 
 “Most of them were volunteers, electricians, people who had worked on the line and were laid off,” says Weber.  “Even though we had a lot of people who had never worked on a film before, these were incredibly talented people who made a film that was equal in production quality to any motion picture.”
Weber also made an effort to highlight Michigan-made products. Velvet Peanut Butter, Faygo Pop, Better Made potato chips, and Made in Detroit sportswear all receive name checks or free product placement.
Weber is hoping “Annabelle” will receive wider distribution.  “We just need one person who has a lot of power to fall in love with it and see its potential.”
In the meantime, it has won awards at the Detroit Windsor International Film Festival, East Lansing Film Festival and Midwest Film Festival.
"Myth of American Sleepover"
Two other Michigan-made films on the Riverside Saginaw schedule are “Myth of the American Sleepover” and “Where Soldiers Come From.”  
“Myth,” directed by David Robert Mitchell, tells the story of four Michigan suburb teens celebrating the last night of summer before the new school year starts. 
The film was an official selection at Cannes and a special jury award winner at the South by Southwest Festival.  It is scheduled to screen at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday and again at 11 a.m. on Sunday.
"Where Soldiers Come From"
“Where Soldiers Come From” is a documentary about three friends who joined the National Guard after graduating from their Upper Peninsula high school in Hancock --  enticed by a $20,000 signing bonus and college tuition support.  
Sent to Afghanistan, and assigned to sweep for roadside bombs, they become increasingly disillusioned.  Director Heather Courtney follows the young men’s story there and back. 
“Where Soldiers Come From,” too, was a winner at South by Southwest as well as the Traverse City Film Festival.  It will play at 8 p.m.  Wednesday and at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.
In addition to the three Michigan films, this year’s Riverside Saginaw Film Festival is showing 25 independent, foreign and documentary films on four screens at the Temple Theater, 203. N. Washington. Single tickets are $6 and festival passes $40.
For a list of the films, show times and other information, log on to www.riversidesaginawfilmfestival.org.

Midland's "Annie" a delightful romp ....despite some painful emotions

by Janet I. Martineau
“Annie,” the musical -- it’s supposedly a children’s show, right?
What with all those cute  little orphan girls, a couple of dogs, adults being outwitted.
Heck, when I fell in love with it back in the late 1970s it was because it awoke the kid in me again, the naive and rebellious kid in me, and I was cheering those orphans on every time they ganged up on mean Miss  Hannigan.
This time, with the Midland Center for the Arts production which played this past weekend and this coming weekend, well, wow, it sucker punched the adult in me and I got all emotional and teary eyed before I decided to belt out, and believe in, “Tomorrow” at its end.
It’s because, as director Bill Anderson wrote in his well-put program notes, this darn musical about life during the Great Depression rings far more true in today’s world than in the affluent 1970s when it debuted. 
Gobs of us have lost our jobs (myself included). The angry song “Hooverville” might be reworded “Obamaville.”  “Hard Knock Life” isn’t quite as funny anymore. And some of the lines Daddy Warbucks and President Roosevelt utter are sooooooo contemporary to today’s situation that is called a recession but plays more like a depression (and we heard the adult laughter at Sunday’s show when those lines hit home).

Which is my long and overly political way of saying,  “Annie” played totally differently to me than it did 30 years ago -- but no less enjoyable, thanks to director Anderson and choreographer Kelli Jolly. And that is the test of a good musical, its relevancy through time and audience ages.
Yep, “Annie’s” not just a children’s show. In fact we might even argue that the older you are, the better it seems to play,
Aside from an anemic, unattractive, sometimes awkward and too center-focused set (thanks probably to some serious set design and set building issues at the center) and a  distracting red wig on Annie that looks ever so cheap and fake, this production continues  the short but impressive Anderson legacy.
It moves fast, what with the the cast members moving set pieces in and out as the action continues, and themselves entering and exiting quickly and gracefully. Not an ounce of stagnation anywhere.
The singing voices of Dale Bills as Daddy Warbucks and Jennifer Kennedy in her short Star-to-Be segment are outstanding (and kinda amusing since they are father and daughter).
Jolly’s choreography is ever-so-pleasing to the eye, in particular when the orphans do a Rockettes maneuver and also with the patterns in the “N.Y.C.” number. She just plain moves people well.
Performances are solid throughout, especially with the versatile 22-member ensemble playing various parts and yet always in character as if the story was real. They are, in many ways, the true strength of this production. We wish we could name them all.
And as for the excellent nine orphans, we were always pulled into watching Kostandi Stephenson, who put her whole body and soul into the part with marvelous expressions.
Non-ensemble standouts.....
.... Carol Rumba as the boozy floozy Miss Harrigan, made to look the ugly hag she is not. Tons of line inflections, body English galore, fine singing voice as well. We’ve seen Hannigan played a variety of ways, and this one was delightfully mean.
.... Betsy Miller as Annie, a mere 10 with stage savvy beyond those years (especially when dealing with the reluctant Sandy the dog) and great expressions. Sometimes her singing voice was a little tenuous, but good grief she is only 10.
... Adam Gardner as Rooster for his rubber body and great voice in “Easy Street” and ability to nicely play a character  within a character.
.... The aforementioned Bills, so in tune with Daddy Warbucks that to us he IS Daddy Warbucks.
... Kyle Bagnall in the short Bert Healy radio show host role, Healy being a bit overdramatic and goofy.
Adding to the enjoyment are numerous sight gags (the Warbucks staff member with the phone, trying to keep up with a pacing Warbucks for one), the fine array of period costuming, and Jim Hohmeyer and his orchestra in the pit.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Saginaw Choral Society's "Wake Up!" concert was out of this world

review by Janet I. Martineau
Inside the Temple Theatre on Saturday night there was a void....a moment of pitch blackness.
An from that void, from that void was created one of the most enjoyable, inventive and inspiring concerts EVER in Saginaw, Michigan.
It was a goosebump combination of mixed musical bag, church sermon, storytelling, Biblical history, motivational workshop and call to action all rolled into two hours.
We’re talking about the Saginaw Choral Society’s 2011/2012 season opener, titled “Wake Up! A Grand Gala of Songs.”
Two thoughts come to mind from witnessing it: one, new conductor Glen Thomas Rideout is a genius when it comes to concocting a concert with a storyline and understated special effects and two, somehow we have to convince the members of the Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy Choir  to join the Saginaw Choral Society roster.
If you like to read reviews because of the negative comments, read no further. This one will probably overstate the case that “Wake Up!” took both the choral society and the audience to new levels on Saturday night.
What Rideout did in the first half was to loosely tell the story of God’s  seven days creating the earth through well scripted 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 (which had the singers mooing like cows).
In those eight segments (it started with Darkness, that pitch blackness in the theater), we were treated to eloquent spoken words like God realizing that green and blue (grass and water) look better to the eye than green and brown,  and songs about grass, water, critters like the panther and the firefly, chirping birds, the sounds of wordless primordal ooze.
Rideout often used his hands to add impact to his spoken words. The lighting on the backdrop reflected the colors being sung about -- the yellow of the sun, the green of grass, the blue of water and even the stars and moon being created.
None of the songs was familiar (always a plus for this critic); most of them were difficult, pushing the singers to new heights (and deliver they did).
When all on earth was created, it was celebrated with Hailstork’s  gospel infused “Wake Up, My Spirit,” during which pianist Carl Angelo nearly flew off his bench accompanying it.
And then, just like God did on The Seventh Day, Rideout and his singers rested (as in intermission), and an audible buzz of excitement began rippling through the audience.
The second part of the  program was no less spectacular with its half-dozen inspirational and uplifting songs -- and the appearance of that exquisite SASA choir. When they joined the choral society in three songs the sound was so full and lush it led to the wish they become permanent members of the choral society.
And when they soloed on Bestor’s  a cappella “Prayer of the Children” -- oh my God! Every word crystal clear, harmonies right on target, performance value in the adult range not just kids. Bravo SASA conductor Jeremiah Kraniak. Cheers erupted.
Choral Society member David Brown and SASA student David Horwath teamed up on the Beatles standard “Let It Be” -- with Horwath creating a buzz in the audience for the deepness and maturity of his voice.
Other noteworthy soloists were soprano Darlene Mikoleizik, tenor Joe Madison, and whistler Pat Shelley -- and Rideout himself.
In amongst all this “Wake Up!” music, preacher/inspirational speaker Rideout delivered a dual theme. Yes the concert was about the creation of Earth and the need for songs to  shore us up when we are feeling down. But it also was a (sometimes overstated, for just one tiny complaint) message to Saginaw, its residents and overcoming its negative issues.
Granted Rideout was speaking to the choir (the people in the audience) because they were, for the most part, Saginaw believers. But it's just nice to have someone else, from outside, say they believe in our town too. And it was fun to listen to the muttering when he scored a particular point or two.
And then we were all sent into the night with a bag of animal crackers (in deference to that trio of songs sung during the The Sixth Day of creation) and a realization that Rideout’s tenure here is going to make for one hell of a ride.

Monday, October 17, 2011

25 films on the Riverside Saginaw Film Festival roster, Nov. 2-6 at the Temple Theatre

by Rob Drew

Three of the 25 films playing the Riverside Saginaw Film Festival in early November  were made in Michigan -- and each of them is an award winner.
“Annabelle and Bear” tells the story of a burly biker and his 2-year-old daughter. “Myth of the American Sleepover” finds four teens celebrating the last night of summer before the new school year starts. And “Where Soldiers Come From” is a documentary following four Upper Peninsula friends serving in Afghanistan.
Collectively the three won honors at the Midwest Film Festival, South by Southwest Film Festival and Traverse City Film Festival. And Amy S. Weber, the writer/director of “Annabelle,” will visit Saginaw during the festival to talk about filmmaking in Michigan.
In its fifth year, the Riverside Saginaw Film Festival runs from Wednesday, Nov. 2, through Sunday, Nov. 6, at the Temple Theatre, 203 N. Washington -- showing on four screens within the complex. 
On the bill are independent, foreign and documentary films from around the world.

Among other feature film highlights are:

"Win Win" with Paul Giamatti
-- “Win Win,” from writer-director Tom McCarthy.  Paul Giamatti (“Sideways”/”American Splendor”) stars as a luckless lawyer who scams an elderly client. Soon, however, he  comes into contact with the old man’s grandson, a wrestling prodigy and a perfect candidate for the high school wrestling team Giamatti’s character coaches, and the complications begin.
--  “Attack the Block,” a British science-fiction comedy  from first-time director Joe Cornish.  The film opens on a dark street in a dicey part of London where a young nurse  is walking home and finds herself surrounded by a gang of young thugs.  The thugs are  about to mug her when something shoots out of the sky and lands in a nearby car.  
As a result, she and the boys are fleeing an invasion of pitch black, glow-eyed aliens who seem to be targeting them.  
--  “Beginners,” Mike Mills’ comedy starring Ewan McGregor as a graphic artist who must learn to cope with his father’s surprising revelation. Christopher Plummer stars as dear old dad.
-- “Another Year,” a domestic comedy from Mike Leigh, the British director behind “Happy Go Lucky” and  “Secrets & Lies.”
-- “The Guard,” a transatlantic buddy pic teaming Brendan Gleason as a decadent Irish cop and Don Cheadle as a straitlaced FBI agent taking on international drug smugglers.
Four other documentaries are on the bill along with “Soldiers.” They include:
-- “The Interrupters,” directed by Steve James,  who is best known for “Hoop Dreams,” the Chicago basketball saga often ranked among the best documentaries ever made.  
In “The Interrupters,” James follows the efforts of CeaseFire, a Chicago conflict mediation group seeking to break the cycle of violence that infects the streets and neighborhoods of the Windy City. The film focuses on the complex stories of former gang members who now devote their lives to interrupting gang violence, often at great personal risk.  
"Cave of Forgotten Dreams"
--  Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” which provides a rare look inside the Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc.  This hidden wonder was discovered by three French cavers in 1994 and is home to stunning wall paintings which are among the planet’s oldest known works of art.  
The cave was closed off to tourists soon after its discovery, yet Herzog convinced the French government to allow him to plumb the cave’s depths with a small film crew and a team of researchers.  Herzog’s  voiceover brings an appropriate mix of wonder, humor and sheer craziness to the project.  
Also showing during the festival is the 1992 Penny Marshall classic “In a League of Their Own” -- a story of the real-life  World War II-era All American Girls Professional Baseball League. League player Mary Moore, now 78, will speak about her career as a special festival guest. 

Single tickets are $6 and festival passes $40, on sale at the Temple Theatre and at www.templetheatre.com. For a list of the films, show times and other information, log on to www.riversidesaginawfilmfestival.org
Among the major festival sponsors are Hemlock Semiconductor, Saginaw Arts and Enrichment Commission, Citizens Bank Wealth Management, Temple Theatre, Delta Broadcasting, Public Libraries of Saginaw, WNEM-Channel 5, the Harvey Randall Wickes Foundation and the Jury Foundation.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Two garden projects in Saginaw receive beautification awards

Joy Walter, Greg Largent with their awards

By Janet I. Martineau
An 1800s church with 10 gardens around its exterior and a private home where grass is at a premium are the winners of the 2011 Women’s National Farm & Garden/Saginaw Branch Beautification Award.
The business/community garden category winner is First Presbyterian Church, Court at Harrison.
One church garden
The church occupies an entire block, and around it are 10 garden beds “adopted” and maintained currently by seven church members. 

One of the beds is in such a hot spot, the spring bulbs bloom in February.
Begun 25 years ago by minister of music Gregory H. Largent and two church members, Fred and June Ostler, Largent reports the gardens remain an ever-changing  work in progress.
 He  says when he came to that church those 25 years ago, he was “deeply offended” by the existing yew-filled landscaping. Thus began a colorful transformation to perennials, roses and flowering shrubs showcasing what he calls the beauty of God’s world, of making the inviting life of the inside of the church also inviting outside.
Receiving the residential garden category award is Joy A. Walter of Saginaw Township, who apparently never met a perennial she didn’t like because she counts 97 different KINDS of them flouring in her garden -- along with a fish-stocked pond and assorted shrubs and small trees. 

Joy Walter's back yard
And when it comes to just ONE of those 97 KINDS of perennials, well,  she tends to 38 clematis.
This landscape in which grass does not stand a chance was created out of nothingness when Joy and her husband moved to their home in 1982.
Joy is a retired language arts teacher, serving 30 years at Arthur Hill High School and North Intermediate. She is the current president of the Apple Country Gardeners in Freeland. And this year she began work on what she calls a Fairy Garden of miniature plants.
“I can’t resist new plant each time I go to a nursery,” she admits.
The awards were given at the Oct. 12 meeting of the club. Greg and Joy each  received notecards with a picture of their garden, and the other seven nominees also received a packet of notecards showcasing all the nominated gardens.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

SVSU's "Wiley and the Hairy Man" a perfect show for children

review by Janet I. Martineau
If ever there was a perfect production with which to introduce a child to theater, it is SVSU’s currently playing “Wiley and the Hairy Man.”
Directed by Richard B. Roberts Jr., this show oozes 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  ... although “The Hobbit” still ranks way up there.
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. And I, well, I was just as attentive and responsive.
Two public performances remain -- at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday (Oct. 12-13). Make sure you attend, even if you are an adult.
Set in a mysterious southern swamp, it tells the story of a young boy, his lazy dog, his conjuring mother and this bad guy trickster  named Hairy Man. If the kid can find a way to trick the trickster three times, then he will forever vanish and threaten the scared kid no more.
Ya, there is a moral to the story, a script telling youngsters kids to overcome their fears with their wits. But basically it’s just a great piece of theater full of invention, humor and some mildly scary stuff. 
Before the play ever starts, these eight black-clad, faceless creatures are on the darkened set -- up its trees, on the ground, undulating and making weird noises amid taped noises of real-life critters.
And then as the play runs, they become tables and stoves, alligators and snakes (thanks to clever costuming and black light), sticker bushes and rocks, a rhyme-speaking chorus, and with their voices sound effects like cooking food, wind, gulps and whispers.
That these eight are primarily freshman bodes well for the next four years of theater at SVSU because they are magnificent.
So too is freshman  Lexee Longwell as the conjuring mother (she knows how to project and speak with a rock-solid dialect).  And freshman Blake Mazur is hilarious as the dog who is lazy...until he catches sight of Hairy Man and takes barking and growing pursuit, often bringing back some part of the poor man.
Rustin Myers as the hunching  Hairy Man delivers just the right amount of menace -- not too scary, since this is a children’s production, but just enough  to keep things interesting in a Halloween kind of way.
Lanky Raheem Saltmarshall is physically effective as Wiley, in what is a highly physical role, but sometimes does not project and/or mumbles. Small complaint.
Kudos galore to Roberts for his incredible direction and sound design, to scenic designer Jerry Dennis for the swampy atmosphere, to Elise Shannon for the fabulous and inventive costuming, to lighting designer Tom Klonowski for added atmosphere.
For more information or to order tickets, call 989-964-4261.

Monday, October 3, 2011

"Antique Apples" topic of talk at Green Point -- along with samples to taste

by Janet I. Martineau
Jacklynn Earley with antique apples and  granddaughters 
Ahh...fall is here and there is nothing like crunching into a crisp and freshly picked  Alexander, Dean Watt Scion, Winter Banana, Cox Orange Pippin, Gravensteins,  Pearmains, Transparents, Sheepnoses, Reinettes, Codlings or  Greenings.
Those are just a few of the antique or heirloom apples Jacklynn Earley will discuss -- and show, with sampling allowed  -- during her Wednesday, Oct. 5,  Nurturing Nature series program on “Antique Apples.” 

Her presentation begins at 7 p.m. at the Green Point Environmental Learning Center, 3010 Maple, and concludes with the serving of apple-oriented goodies.
Earley, a Midland resident whose nickname is Garden Grannie, got interested in old-time apples four years ago when her brother and sister-in-law bought an antique apple farm and orchard in Wheeler.
“I would drop by to see what was being restored and just fell in love with the diversity and history of apples. Each day in the orchard a different apple will ripen and it becomes my favorite, till the next day when I eat a new apple.”
There are, out there in the world, thousands of old-time apples, but Earley  has been exposed to only “1,200 or so” at the Eastman’s Antique Apple Orchard her relatives run.
“We consider antique/heirloom apples to be apples grown, developed and remembered but very hard to find or almost extinct. They are dated to the time prior to the ubiquitous used of the refrigerated boxcar. The theory behind this is that refrigerated boxcars brought about the development of fruit genotypes focused on surviving the rigors of travel, not focused on flavor.  So an heirloom apple could date to well before the discovery of the New World.
“They also  are the apples folks remember from their childhood when most had a tree or small orchard in their yard or nearby.”
And while  known for their outstanding  taste, she says, their looks are another matter. “They  are not always what some consider attractive or beautiful.”
Earley quips that she will talk apples to anyone willing to listen and has done programs and apple tasting events at the family orchard as well as for garden clubs and herb societies.
Case in point, she continues, “the Roxbury Russet is the oldest apple variety of North American origin and was discovered and propagated in Roxbury, Mass., about 1640. Roxbury Russet is still regarded as a fine dessert apple, although no longer found on the commercial markets.

“And Newtown Pippen from 1759 is the best known colonial apple in North America; the known favorite of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.”
Admission to “Antique Apples” is  free to members of the Friends of the Shiawassee National Refuge and $2 to non-members. Support for the series is provided by the Jury Foundation, the Martineau Family Foundation and the Saginaw Branch of the Woman’s National Farm & Garden Association.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pit and Balcony's "Great American Trailer Park" a good night of redneck fun

review by Janet I. Martineau
This here musical that opened Friday night at Pit and Balcony Community Theatre, well, it’s ain’t your “Sound of Music” kind of show. Even thought it’s about family...more precisely kin.
Nope. It’s about road kill, a malfunctioning electric chair, adultery, a stripper, a fake pregnancy, agoraphobia and Walmart -- all set in a trashy trailer park in Florida.
We’d call its cast of characters redneck white trash. But, ya know,  they kinda grow on you.
It’s titled “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” and it is irreverent, quirky,  kinda profane, NOT politically correct ...and way loads of fun as directed by James Gaertner.
It’s cast of seven stays in glorious seedy character (just barely on the safe side and not caricature) and high energy throughout. The ever-changing costuming is clever and appropriately cheesy as is the trailer park set.  Brian Farnham’s choreography moves things along very well and also is clever, particularly  in “Flushed Down the Pipes” and “The Great American TV Show.”
Just add on that wacky script and score, by David Nehls and Betsy Kelso, and whatta ride. One sample of the lyrics: “Like clothes from Walmart, my life is falling apart.” And the musical styles include blues, gospel, country rock, rhythm and blues.
If there is one criticism, and we might as well address it now, it is DICTION. Since this is a show that is primarily sung rather than spoken, and the real humor lies in its lyrics, making sure every word is crystal clear is paramount.
Jessica McFarland as the timid housewife afraid to leave her trailer  and Christy Horn as the brassy stripper understand that and deliver. But the rest of the cast needs work slowing down just a bit and enunciating more clearly -- particularly the  lawn-chair sitting Jessica Booth-Asiala, Lucy Malacos and Brooke Pieschke, a Greek chorus providing commentary and playing assorted mini-roles. Each of them has moments of great clarity, but then are given to mush.
Speaking of McFarland and Horn, they are the brightest lights in the show with the  best of the singing voices and playing two  diverse characters that break our heart.
Horn’s pole dance shows early on she has locked into her character totally while with McFarland we watch with tender concern as her sadsack character inch by inch leaves the trailer.
And when they duet on “But He’s Mine” they deliver goosebumps for their emotions, vocal prowess and ability to nail a song in unison.
Then Horn returns to sing -- make that spit out with seething raw emotion  -- about getting on with her life and the goosebumps fester.
So give this show a try. It ain’t intellectual and profound and big ticket like the big-name musicals. But it sure is fun.