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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In Saginaw for a talk, Lorretta Swit says she has no problem with her "Hot Lips" fame

by Janet I. Martineau
Ask Loretta Swit if she is weary of forever being identified as Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan of “M*A*S*H” fame and she, well, gets a little testy -- just like Hot Lips herself.
Loretta Swit in a 2006 photo
Despite the fact she has acted in more than 40 television and theatrical movies and still leads an active life in live theater?
“To always be best remembered for a show that was a phenomenon,”  she huffs followed by a withering glance. “What do you mean? A long-running classic that was so exceptional, written so well, its ensemble so gifted? One of the most honored shows ever on TV?
“It’s terrific. Nothing wrong with that.”
So it went when Swit took a few minutes to talk backstage before her appearance Tuesday at the Horizons Town Talk series in Saginaw Township -- and having to fly out soon after her speech because she had to perform in a play in Chicago that same night.
She went on to further note that when its final episode aired on Feb. 28,  1983, after an 11-year run on CBS, the U.S. House and Senate shut down so members could watch. Fans gathered for “M*A*S*H” parties in bars and restaurants that night. And all across the United States, sewer systems struggled when, at commercial breaks, an estimated 125 million viewers ran to their bathrooms.
“Ever since we began in 1972, ‘M*A*S*H’ has never been off the air. By the third season we began syndicating the series and it has never stopped. We are in our third generation of viewers, of fans, now. Of people who were not yet born when we were shooting the show.”
So no, she is not tired of always being linked to the dark sitcom set in a 1950s Korean War Mobile Army Surgical Hospital medical unit. And she is not alone. Lucille Ball was always linked to “I Love Lucy” and James Arness to “Gunsmoke” and Msrlon Brando to “The Godfather,” she said, despite  having varied other credits.
Swit, 74 now, was one of only three cast members with the series from its pilot to its finale. And she ranks second only to Alan Alda as Hawkeye as appearing in the most episodes -- 260 for him and 243 for her.
She recalls creator Larry Gelbart saying to her in the first season or two “we don’t know where we are going with you, your character, yet but please stick with us as we develop.”
What that ultimately meant, she said, was that the stable of scriptwriters “observed us and got to know us well, as ourselves” and then worked some of that into the characters. She, for example, said Swit, is a long-time animal rights activist so, came an episode, when the camp dog is killed by a jeep “and Hot Lips, always so together, loses it.”
The "M*A*S*H" cast
The writers also, she said, allowed the actors to look over a script and then offer their opinions if something did not ring true. “I would say, ‘This is how I see her going’ and they would change it.”
Few fans may have known, but the writers also kept interviewing real-life Korean War “M*A*S*H” unit doctors and nurses through the years “so many of the episodes were based on real stories. 

There was one where Hawkeye and Trapper John (Wayne Rogers) were doing surgery on a critically wounded  soldier and while they were at it they gave him a smaller nose. Based on a true story.
“My landscape artist told me about a soldier, a concert pianist, who had lost an arm in that war and we turned it into a story where (cast member and classical music fan)  David Ogden Stiers brought the soldier in sheet music for one-handed players.”
And while some critics might have thought the antics of the doctors and the nurses were a little over the top, “some of the Korean  War doctors told us we were not insane enough.”
As for Hot Lips, the head nurse of the unit, fans often said they wished she had a better sense of humor. So the writers created a visit by a classmate who recalled Houlihan as a cut-up, zany and fun-loving “until she was put in charge of 25 nurses, in a combat zone, all of whom had to to work at their zenith and she felt she had to protect.”
That, says Swit, was the hallmark of the show -- zaniness yes but also deeply human. Humor and enlightenment. Showcasing for the first time, she said, doctors who did not cure everything, did not always have the answere and often lost patients.
“It showed how ugly war is and characters so crazed by everything they did crazy things.”
From day one, she says, the cast bonded and always accepted added newcomers readily. “Alan once got us T-shirts that read ‘The Happiest Crew in Town.’ And we were. It was like no other set. It was like an ongoing party. I don’t have any bad memories in those 11 years.
Her animal activist “career” is a vast one -- encompassing at least a dozen organizations from training search/rescue dogs to dealing with caged farm animals, puppy mills, abandoned exotic pets.
“I don’t eat them and I don’t wear them,” she says with conviction. “We murder a million cats and dogs a year (in homeless shelters) so we don’t need puppy and kitten mills; we need to educate about spaying and neutering. Pet stores should not sell animals. We need to adopt them.

“There is a lot out there that people do not realize, so I work in educating them. I’m also an artist, and one of my pantings, called ‘The Rookie,” is about labrador puppies who are trained as search and rescue animals. It sells for $200 (at and helps fund a training center in California.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Saginaw's Temple Theatre inaugurates restored organ with a special guest

by Janet I. Martineau
Way back in 1977, theatre organist Donna Parker performed her first concert in the Midwest in what has since evolved into an international career.
That was at Saginaw’s Temple Theatre, on its 1927-vintage Barton organ.
This Sunday, Nov. 20, she returns to officially inaugurate the organ following a $30,000 restoration effort focused on its console. The concert begins at 3 p.m., and tickets are $10 at the door, 201 N. Washington.
Donna Parker
“I remember the beautiful theatre, the first Barton I had ever played, and the audience being very warm and welcoming,” says Parker, who lives in Oregon.
“Absolutely Saginaw is fortunate to have its very own theatre organ in its original theatre setting!  So many of these beautiful instruments have been destroyed over the years, and it is only in the last 50 years that saving and treasuring them has come into vogue. But not fast enough.  We have lost far too many.
“The theatre organ holds a unique place in American music history.  It is only one of two musical instruments to have its origins here in the United States.  The other instrument is the banjo.”
Parker says she will play a mixed bag of music, from classical to pops, “because the theatre organ is such a versatile instrument, and it is not limited as to the music styles it can effectively perform. I think it is the best kept musical secret, unfortunately, and more people should know about it.”

She tends toward playing “anything that has heart and feeling, whether it is upbeat or a ballad.  I love to play pieces that people don't expect the theatre organ to perform.”
A native of Los Angeles, Parker began organ studies at at 7 and four years later was introduced to the theatre organ. She made her first recording at 15, and was appointed the first official organist for the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.
While in high school, she appeared at Universal Studios in Southern California, providing holiday season entertainment, and combined her love of sports and music by serving as organist for the Los Angels Sports Arena, playing for professional ice hockey and tennis teams. 
Now more than 40 years into her career, Parker also has played classical organ concerts with symphony orchestras in major recital halls and more popular fare in casinos, national parks  and organ-equipped restaurants -- among them The Roaring 20s in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Paramount Music Palace in Indianapolis, Indiana; The Organ Grinder in Portland, Oregon; Uncle Milt’sin Vancouver, Washington; and Organ Stop Pizza in Phoenix and Mesa, Arizona (seating capacity 700). 
“Gosh, where has the time gone,” she says when reminded of her long resume and asked to name a favorite performance or two. “There are many wonderful moments to recall, but I think making people happy and forgetting about their troubles for awhile is no small thing.  
“I have had two instances where people (one a child and one an adult) who have not spoken in years have suddenly started telling me about how wonderful the music is.  When I discovered the music had reached them in such a profound way, it made every bit of work and toil through the years worthwhile.”
What makes her choice of instrument a challenge, she says, is “with the magnitude of this instrument (we cannot carry it around in a music instrument case from place to place), we organists must go in and quickly learn what each unique instrument will do.
The Temple Theatre  Barton Organ
“No two are alike, so a quick assessment must be made of sound resources, the condition of the console, and the room acoustics.  It is a different challenge and experience each time.”
Parker is currently on the board of the American Theatre Organ Society -- she joined at age 10. And she also is a member of an unusual chamber concert group -- Trio con Brio.
“We’re three organists playing three organs, or a combination of organs/pianos/keyboards.  There are not a lot of venues that can host this experience, so it is unique.”
As for the restoration work on the Barton console at the Temple, in January it was dismantled and sent to the Helderop Pipe Organ Company in Detroit.
During the next five months, says Temple Theatre Organ Club curator Ken Wuepper, the console was cleaned and refinished and old cotton insulated wiring was replaced with new fire retardant insulated wire.  The leather parts were recovered with new leather and the keyboards were recovered in bone to replace the original imitation "ivories.”
In May it was returned to the Temple and additional work continued until its completion in October.  Additional restoration of the mechanisms and electrical systems will continue under the supervision of Wuepper.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Glen Thomas Rideout delivers three new surprises during Concerts at First Presbyterian

review by Janet I. Martineau
OK, so we knew he could sing, the new Saginaw Choral Society artistic director/conductor Glen Thomas Rideout. With a gorgeous baritone voice.
And that he has a definite flair for programming clever and thoughtful programs.
On Friday night, at a Concerts at First Presbyterian Saginaw concert, we learned three other tidbits -- he arranges familiar songs like “Misty” into something fresh, is graceful at the piano keyboard in playing them ....and is quite the humorous actor. Or, as m.c. Greg Largent put it, “he sings in Technicolor.”
All this combined in around 90 minutes.
In the first half, classical and sung in foreign languages, Rideout took us from a sweet lovestruck teen-ager in love with a mill maid (playing both parts) to a drunken, aging Don Quixote too long in the bar. 
And yes, while the baritone was rich and the words enunciated sharply and crisply, it was the body English that sold the songs by Schubert and Brahms. Not overstated, mind you, but just enough to bring alive words we could not translate. 
Just before he got drunk too, Don Quixote sang a prayer to St. Michael that was quite solemn -- and lovely.
In between was a trio of nature-driven songs, by Brahms and Schubert, about a nightingale singing, about looking over the treetops and an earth at rest, and about resting on the grass and  looking at the brilliant blue sky -- delivered with all the tranquility that implies, with minimal body English.
After intermission (and a change of outfits from formal to more casual) Rideout delved into, in honor of Veteran’s Day he said, contemporary music composed by Americans.
That is where “Misty,” by Erroll Garner, came into play as Rideout took to the piano for his own jazzy arrangement of the classic, and well into it sang it as well. OK, next time Concerts at First Presbyterian books him, demand a piano concert please.
This set also included John Musto’s “Litany” (text by Langston Hughes) with Rideout looking upward in awe as, he said, the singer saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time.
And the totally animated closer was Paul Bowles’ ragtime driven “Sugar in the Cane,” with goofy text by Tennessee Williams, of all people.
Accompanying Rideout was Allison Halerz (except for his “Misty” solo of course). She also showcased her solid talent with solos on two Debussy pieces in the fist half and Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” in the second.
Ah yes, this evening was nourishment for the soul.