Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top 10 Great Lakes Bay Arts/Cultural Events for 2011

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

Poet David Baker at Dow Gardens Greenhouse 

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. The circus exhibit at the Castle Museum was amazing!

  2. LOVED,LOVED,LOVED American Valentine!

  3. The Great Lakes Bay Region is teeming with wonderful arts and cultural events. Thanks, Janet, for recognizing the talents and efforts of so many.

  4. What a great list of events! Thank you Janet for recognizing the many talented people and the organizations that work so hard to bring art and culture to life. So much to see and do in our area!

  5. The SBSO just keeps getting better and better and the audiences are appreciating it (see Christmas Concert sellout!).

  6. congratulations to all -- the top 10 and to all arts and cultural events, productions, exhibits, performances (et al) throughout the GLBRegion!

  7. Always love to read Janet's favorite arts events of the year. I would add a Bay City event, Patrick Yandall at the Bay City State Theatre last spring -- it was everything a good concert should be. Thanks Janet for your coverage.