Monday, January 30, 2012

SVSU lands regional theater festival for a second stint

by Janet I. Martineau
They’re headed here again -- 1,500 college theater majors for a five-day festival hosted by Saginaw Valley State University.
“It’s unusual to get asked to host this again so soon; usually it’s six to eight years between,” says Richard B. Roberts Jr., associate professor of theater at SVSU.
He is talking about the Kennedy Center/American College Theater Festival that after eight regionals like the one at SVSU culminate in a national festival taking place at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
SVSU is in Region III, with participating colleges and universities from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin as well as Michigan. Competition can be intense to host the regionals. SVSU got the nod in 2009 and 2010 -- a first for a Michigan school in 25 years. And recently came word they were picked again for 2013 and 2014.
“As I said from the last one, I have never worked harder or had more fun,” says Roberts of the early January festivities.
The upwards of 1,500 theater students are joined by 150 theater professors and theater professionals and collectively view eight full productions, “An Evening of Scenes,” and assorted 10-minute plays as well as attend 100 workshops.
The students also compete for nearly 40 awards -- in acting, directing, reviewing, costuming, playwriting, sound, lighting, make-up and tech -- from which the regional winners are sent on to the finals at the Kennedy Center.
The last two Region III festivals pumped an estimated $2.5 million into the Great Lakes Bay region economy since the students, professors and others attending book rooms in area hotels and frequent restaurants and shops. They are not housed at SVSU.
“The Saginaw County Convention and Visitors Bureau is projecting $3 million for the economy for the 2013 and 2014 festivals,” says Roberts.
Of the eight regionals, Region III attracts the most attendees.
In 2010, SVSU’s hosting of the event won and All-Area Arts Award from the Saginaw Arts and Enrichment Commission.

Pit and Balcony's "The Underpants" delivers naughty giggles

review by Janet I. Martineau
A boorish macho husband, a pair of plunging panties, two (and maybe three) room renters with ulterior motives, and the wild and crazy Steve Martin combine to make audiences giggle like school children at Saginaw’s Pit and Balcony Community Theatre.
And mostly it’s all in the mind with double entendres galore.
We’re talking about “The Underpants,” which opened this past weekend and runs next weekend as well. It’s based on a German farce/satire written in 1910, “Die Hose” by Carl Sternheim -- with a 2004 adaptation by Martin.
Would love to compare the two scripts -- the 1910 one and the 2004 one -- because this one sounds like all Martin. Comedy light but a little bit naughty too. Clever word play (like a nitwit character “not having a nit to knit wit”). No lasting substance and sometimes a tad plodding. Politically incorrect.  But good for a few giggles during these winter months,
Basically the storyline is as follows: A super uptight, macho, wife-belittling  German bureaucrat has his own underwear in a bunch because when he and his frau attended a parade for the king her panties suddenly fell to her ankles for all around her to see.
He is sure his job will be threatened by this should word spread; she assures him she had them back up before anybody saw anything; but when some men seek to rent an advertised room in their house, it is clear she was not as quick as she thought.
One is a poet, who will interrupt any rising passion to run off to his room and turn it into a poem. Another is a sickly Jewish barber seeking to hide his ancestry from the militant macho husband by spelling his name Cohen with a K and kosher with a C.
Enter a busybody female neighbor who urges the wife to engage in an affair with one of them since her husband is such a brute.
And that’s about as far as we should go with this description since there are a few twists and turns that are delightful.
Robin Devereaux-Nelson directs with Alex Alexandrou as the husband, Mary Lee as the wife, Michael Curtis as the poet, Jay Glysz as the Jewish barber, Liz Williams as the busybody and Paul Lutenske as a mysterious (and late to the action) man also seeking to rent a room.
Sunday’s performance needed more energy, especially given the fact this is a FARCE, and a more connectedness, engagement between the actors. They do not meld yet like a well-oiled machine. Oddly, too, three of them do not play their roles quite broadly enough given their stereotypical characters; it’s a matter of needed inflections, shadings. detail.
Collectively their timing is good, with lines as well as entrances and exits. But not razor sharp.
That said, the performances of Curtis and Lutenske sparkled, with Williams a close third. Curtis’ poet is a silky smooth sensual character, just delightful with all the right moves. His voice also so totally captures the character.  And Lutenske’s way with body English and expressions are hilarious, and then he open his mouth and plops down a line perfectly.
Bravo to the detailed set and its design, by Gary Reid, Suzie Reid and Mary Swift. It looks very real and livable and 1910ish.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Duet rocks Saginaw Choral Society Members' Recital

review by Janet I. Martineau
It’s always fun, attending the annual Saginaw Choral Society Members’ Recital, anticipating which number will rock ya.
The "Suddenly Seymour" number
They’ve done this program eight years now, presenting upwards of 20 numbers featuring choir members and their kin -- solos, duets, trios, quartets, etc; instruments as well as vocals since many are fine instrumentalists as well.
More often than not, more than one of the acts rock ya.
And so it went Friday night (and probably Saturday afternoon) in this year’s installment at new digs, the acoustically gifted First United Methodist Church in Saginaw Township.
Totally nailing it, with the powerhouse delivery of a tornado, were tenor Jim Smerdon and soprano Nina Lasceski in “Suddenly Seymour,” from the musical “Little Shop of Horrors.” Complete with a fun dramatic delivery. Wow they were sensational.
On a softer note was Ah Tempo! (a male sextet) on Kevin Memley’s arrangement of that old classic “Danny Boy” -- with the piano accompaniment, played by Betty Meyer, a seventh voice; a true seventh voice in a gorgeous melding of vocals and keyboard rarely witnessed.
Those were the two standouts, but there were other notables as well:
...Sopranos Haley Honsinger and Nancy Stevenson with Lauren Hill’s “Tell Him,” showcasing lovely duet work.
... Flutist Robert Hart and organist Nicholas Schmelter’s performance of portions of Telemann’s Sonata in G Major. This may have been a matter of where one was seated, as in the middle of the front row for this audience member. Thus the organ’s two sets of pipes were at the almost-immediate left and right with Hart between them but further back, providing a surround sound that delivered goosebumps. 
That same seat (usually we sit at the back) also accorded oneness with the various pianists (either soloists or accompanists)....making them standouts in every single number.
... Deanna Popielarz on flute, Jane Bellen on oboe and Catherine McMichael on piano on the sprightly and peppy Trio for Flute, Oboe and Piano by Dring.
The 28-member vocal ensemble at work
... And twice a 28-member ensemble performed, to perfection with direction by Glen Thomas Rideout. “All My Trials” was the standout of the two with “The Rainbow Connection” from a Muppet movie just a cute and fun closer.
If there is a slight complaint, it is that this year’s installment was a tad on the too serious/religious side, except for “Suddenly Seymour.” Memory serves, hopefully accurately, that in years past the performers cut loose a little more.
As usual the dessert smorgasbord reception was a sweet ender

Friday, January 27, 2012

New "Celebrity Corner " TV series heads out to Great Lakes Bay restaurants

by Janet I. Martineau
Television premiere:
“Celebrity Corner”
6:30pm Sunday (Jan. 29)
Channel 19/35
Chances are, in the next five months, you might end up appearing on television if you dine out at a Great Lakes Bay region restaurant.
Hint: Molly’s Bistro in Midland is a possibility in March. Frankenmuth’s  Bavarian Inn is for sure in February.
“She’s is singer and performs there,” says Saginaw filmmaker Ricardo J. Verdoni of Molly McFadden, who owns and operates Molly’s with her husband Brian.
Verdoni is the creator of “Celebrity Corner,” a half-hour series spotlighting the region’s arts, entertainment and business enterprises and shot on location in restaurants. It debuts this Sunday (Jan. 29) at 6:30pm on Delta College’s Channel 19/35 and is slated to run in that fourth Sunday slot for six weeks, says Verdoni.
The Laurie Middlebrook Band
David Oppermann, the long-time leader of the New Reformation Dixieland Band, hosts each segment -- interviewing the restaurant patrons and the arts/entertainment/business guests.
“The idea is everybody on this show is a celebrity,” says Verdoni, “even the people eating. And I think I may increase the time we spend with them in each segment because Dave is such a natural with them. He can get anybody to talk. And he does not need a script. I just give him some background and off he goes.”
The guests in Episode One are Brett Mitchell, the conductor of the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra; Laurie Middlebrook, a country music singer/songwriter/band leader; JoAnn Crary, CEO of Saginaw Future, and Tricia Arner, director of the mobile Saginaw Area Foundation for Eye Care.
And the restaurant is Horizons in Saginaw Township, where Oppermann drops in on members of the 1949 class of Saginaw High School enjoying their monthly lunch.
Mitchell chats about his conducting gigs in Houston, Washington D.C., St. Paul and France and the fact the Saginaw orchestra is recording record audiences these days. Cow girl Middlebrook is seen with her horses.
Arner says the mobile eye bus visits 20-25 sites each year, its volunteer doctors and staff providing eye care, including surgery,  to people who cannot otherwise afford it. And Crary says yes jobs are in short supply, but the Great Lakes Bay jobless rate is 8.1 percent to the nation’s 9 percent and then lists a half dozen promising careers in the area.
Thankfully, Verdoni has for years taken his camera everywhere he goes, so he has an ample supply of stock footage on most of his guests or their businesses....and if not, he shoots some for the new series. Middlebrook is seen in several concerts and Mitchell too.
“I don’t like shows with talking heads, so this one will not be that.” He also found that the   four guests being interviewed in the first installment seemed  more relaxed chatting in the restaurant setting rather than a more formal studio, so he plans to continue that as well -- even though there is at times some noise bleed.
February’s show will head out to the Bavarian Inn, and among the guests are Dorothy Zehnder, the no-spring-chicken founder who still runs the place, as well as Judy Zehnder who oversees the Bavarian Lodge.
Also on Verdoni’s radar, along with Molly’s Bistro, are the Bay City Players -- the state’s oldest community theater. “And I won’t limit the show to just Saginaw, Midland and Bay City. There’s Chesaning... Birch Run.”
Verdoni is an avid supporter of the Great Lakes Bay region and says he pursued doing this show “to show the quality of life, the good stuff in our communities. So many people just don’t seem to know what is happening here.”
Earlier he filmed and aired “Saginaw Celebrates Summer,” a span of three months during which there are dozens of entertainment options.
Channel 19/35 plans to air the six installments of “Celebrity Corner” and then see what the ratings are. Verdoni, who owns and operates Verdoni Productions, adds that he retains the rights to each installment and is open to showing it for clubs and other interested groups.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rotary clubs in sister cities of Saginaw and Tokushima come to the aid of Japan's earthquake/tsunami survivors

by Janet I. Martineau

Nearly a year after the devastating 9.0 earthquake/131-foot tsunami that hit Japan, a 51-year-old international friendship between two “sister cities” is aiding its still-homeless survivors.
An automated external defibrillator 
A collaboration involving 12 Rotary Clubs in Saginaw, Michigan, and Tokushima, Japan, raised $76,500 to purchase 36 automated external heart defibrillators for use in temporary shelters housing nearly 13,000 people displaced by the double disaster last March.
Eight of the machines already are in use in four cities with the remaining 28 headed to two other cities by the end of January.
“The six cities where the defibrillators from our project are headed have a population of 370,000, and around 28 percent of the survivors living in their shelters are over the age of 60,” says Thomas W. Cline, a member of the Rotary Club of Saginaw and who served as the liaison between the two sister cities of Saginaw and Tokushima.
Adds Dr. Bala Srinivasan, a retired physician/cardiac anesthesiologist and member of the Saginaw Valley Rotary Club, “Elderly people are prone to irregular hearts which are corrected or converted to regular heart beats by the use of defibrillators, with minimal side effects.
“With the added stress of this big natural calamity, many of the elderly there are even more prone for this cardiac problem, and we are grateful to be of some help.”
Called AEDs, the units contain simple audio and visual commands and are designed for use by laymen rather than the more sophisticated manual and semi-automatic machines used by health professionals.
Tokushima lies about 460 miles south and west of the earthquake epicenter in Sendai, and as luck would have it has a sister city relationship not only with Saginaw but also Sendai.
So when Srinivasan, then president of the Saginaw Valley Rotary Club, suggested last March that the Rotary Club of Saginaw approach its “sister” Tokushima West Rotary Club, asking if there was any aid it could provide, the wheels were set in motion.
“Tokushima conferred with Sendai and discovered the area around it was  in need of  the defibrillators,” says Evelyn Mudd, who was president of the Rotary Club of Saginaw at the time.
“When representatives from our sister city visited Saginaw in May,  the two Rotarians in the group attended a meeting with representatives from the three Saginaw Clubs (Saginaw Sunrise being the third) and an agreement was reached as to details. After that it was a matter of just coordinating everything.”
Mudd recalls late night calls between Michigan and Japan, due to the time differences, as well as translation assistance from Yoko Mossner, a native of Japan living in Saginaw, and William Mahar, an American Catholic missionary living in Tokushima.
Of the total $76,500 project, the three clubs in Saginaw collectively raised $10,000, nine Rotary clubs in Tokushima and one in Sendai itself raised $21,937, two Rotary districts in the two nations raised $20,000, and Rotary International chipped in $24,562.
The city of Tokushima has a population of 267,347 and the city of Saginaw 51,508.
The quake and tidal wave claimed an estimated 6,548 lives in the area where the 36 machines will see duty, says Cline, with 1,257 missing. 
Cline says most of the shelters are in schools as well as public halls and citizen centers as clean-up and reconstruction continues.
“Shelter living is in a dormitory setting; large rooms where people place matting on which they place bedding,” he says. “Attempts at privacy are made through curtains, or cardboard partitions.  They are served food at central locations.
“The under 60 adults who have employment go to work from the shelter.  Those over 60, and the unemployed under 60, remain at the shelter.  
“And bear in mind that the loss of housing normally includes the loss of all possessions.”
The project is, says Cline, just a matter of “friends helping friends.”
Rotary International, recognized as the world's first volunteer service organization, was founded in Chicago in 1905.  The Rotary Club of Saginaw was the 93rd club founded and in 2014 celebrates its 100th anniversary. There are now more than 34,000 Rotary Clubs in 200 countries and geographic areas.