Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Books for Breakfast" set for March 3 in Saginaw

by Janet I. Martineau
Free books and pancakes are the order of the day Saturday (March 3) when  at the 7th Annual Books for Breakfast takes place at the Hunger Solution Center, 940 E. Genesee in Saginaw.
Sponsored by the READ Association of Saginaw County, the 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.  event is designed to bring parents, grandparents and families together to celebrate reading and encourage families to read together every day. It includes an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast, a free new book for every child, storytelling, and costumed character mascots from the community.
The cost is $3 per person (under one year of age is free) with tickets on sale the door. Those attending also are encouraged to bring canned goods and receive, in turn, one raffle ticket for each can donated for a chance to win additional books.  The canned goods will benefit Hidden Harvest and the East Side Soup Kitchen, which share the Hunger Solution Center facility located between Janes and Thompson.
Staff from the Public Libraries of Saginaw will read throughout the morning as scheduled:
  • 9:30 am, “Like Butter On Pancakes”  by Jonathan London  and  “Pancakes for Breakfast” by Tomie de Paola.
  • 10 am, “Pancakes, Pancakes” by Eric Carle and “The Runaway Pancake” by Peter Asbjornsen.
  • 10:30 am, “If You Give A Pig A Pancake” by Laura Numeroff.
  •  11:00 am, “Hey, Pancakes” by Tamson Weston and “Pancakes for Supper” by Anne Isaacs.
Among the other sponsors of “Books for Breakfast’ are  Public Libraries of Saginaw County, Saginaw County Birth to 5 Program and the Mid-Michigan Children’s Museum.  And it is funded in part by the Harvey Randall Wickes Foundation.  
The READ Association of Saginaw County is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help students improve their reading skills and discover the joy of reading. It currently has more than  500 volunteers who read with 1,100  children one-on-one at 45 locations throughout Saginaw County. 
READ also sponsors “DEAR at the Zoo - Drop Everything and Read," which will celebrate its 11th anniversary on Wednesday, June 13, at the Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square.

Monday, February 27, 2012

"Always...Patsy Cline" brings a leading lady back to Midland after nearly 20 years

by Janet I. Martineau
From 1978 to 1993, she was one of the leading ladies on the Midland Center for the Arts stages.
Now, after a nearly 20-year absence, Sally Goggin is making the 90-minute  trip from her home in Cadillac to rehearse and perform in “Always....Patsy Cline,” opening Friday, March 9.
“I think this is my favorite role of all the ones I have done,” Goggin says of the two-woman play about the late country singer and her pen pal Louise Seger. “But, then, that may be my memory at work since it is the most recent.”
Sally Goggin, front, and Joanie Stanley rehearse "Always... Patsy Cline"
Her Midland credits: In 1978 Goggin played  Eliza Doolittle In “My Fair Lady,” in 1979 Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl,” in 1981 Aldonza in “Man of  La Mancha” and Kate in “Taming of the Shrew,” in 1982 Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” and Ophelia in “Hamlet,”  and in 1984 Maggie in “A Chorus Line.”
Another biggie to remember is  “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” -- with Goggin as the narrator and  then-teenager Brian d’Arcy James in the title role. James, a Saginaw native, is now a two-time Tony nominee and is in the cast of NBC’s new “Smash.”

“That was in 1985, and my daughter Sarah, who was 5, had a mad crush on him. He came to her birthday party and gave her a bottle of perfume -- which she never used and kept on display. She came to the rehearsals and just stared at him.”
And who can forget the wild ride of Midland’s 1988 production of “Nunsense” -- the international hit written by Alma native Dan Goggin, the cousin of Sally’s husband Pat Goggin. Sally played Sister Robert Anne in the musical about disorderly nuns.
A year after the 1988 production at the Midland Center for the Arts it entered and won state and regional community theater competitions and placed fourth at the nationals; in 1990 was invited to perform in Saskatchewan  and in 1991 was produced at Alma College.
“I think it was in 1993 we did the full show again in Midland... and then in 1996 we took it to Athens, Ga., where one of our tech people had moved. Same cast all the way through.”
By then Sally and her husband had moved to Cadillac, when he was downsized from Dow. They settled into a family cottage owned since the 1940s and started a furniture/art/interior decoration store which they operated for 10 years.
She now works as an interior designer at VanDrie Home Furnishings and directs murder mystery dinner theater shows in a car dealership showroom. “They move the cars out and the tables in.”
Husband Pat is the executive director of United Way in that area. And as a footnote to the “Nunsense” family legacy, daughter Trish Goggin  recently played Sister Mary Leo in a “Nunsense” production up in Calumet, where she was attending college. 
Which brings us to “Always...Patsy Cline.” Why, Sally Goggin,  come back to the Midland Center for the Arts, and that long commute, after all these years?
"Patsy Cline" director Susie Polito with Goggin
Well, after raising her children and selling the store in Cadillac, Goggin began dabbling in acting again --  primarily at the Old Town Playhouse in Traverse City, which is only 50 miles from home.
“I’ve been in four shows there -- “‘Mame,’ a role I alway wanted to play, was one; ‘Into the Woods’ the fall of 2009, ‘Always Patsy Cline,” with Joanie Stanley (of Acme)  in the title role. 

"Joanie had never sung country music, had only acted in high school, but I convinced her to try out because she is a marvelous singer. 
“She listened to several Patsy Cline CDs and just nailed it, the nuances and style,  in the auditions.”
So when Sally heard Midland had scheduled it, she placed a call to the director -- Susie Polito, one of her cast mates in that “Nunsense” saga -- and wondered if she and Joanie  could audition for her production of it.
Says Polito, “I was down to three women (as Patsy)  in the auditions....I turned my back on them and asked each sing a Cline song. So I could just hear and not see. Well, Joanie made me cry. That was it.”
Goggin says “Always” is like “Nunsense” in that wherever it plays it tends to sell out. “Of course part of it is the name Patsy Cline and that it features 28 of her songs. But it goes beyond that. In Traverse City we had people come to it two or three times.”
She tells the story of how her husband read the script and wrinkled his nose, only to become hooked once seeing it on stage. She recalls, in the first show at Traverse City, how “the show started with Joanie singing three Patsy songs, then I came out and started talking, and I could see people in the first row cross their arms and recoil in disgust.”
But soon, she says, “I could tell we had them”  -- this true story of Cline the superstar singer and Seger the die-hard Texas fan, the two of them meeting in a honky tonk and becoming close friends via telephone calls and letters. A mix, she says, of comedy, music and conversation with a country music band on stage as well.
Joanie Stanley as Patsy Cline
“The script is based on their letters and Louise’s memory of what happened when they talked on the phone and when they met at the honky tonk. It is written with a great sense of humor; you can just feel the affection Louise had for Patsy. She called her the sister she never had.”
Goggin says she read as much as she could about the real-life Louise Seger “but then I created my own person. Apparently the playwright (Ted Swindley) took  liberty with the truth. Louise was, so people say, an elegant woman -- not  the outgoing funny character in the script. Louise went to see the show and was not happy.”
What kinda spooks Goggin, however, is the fact that in Traverse City...and Midland is reporting it too....people call to order tickets to “the Patsy Cline concert” and are reminded this is a musical, a play, pretend.
“These people, and I am telling you the truth, think she is still alive and are outraged we have not booked HER.”
Cline died on March 5, 1963, in an airplane crash, at age 30 -- a mere two years after she and Louise met. Louise died in 2004.
And Goggin also tells the story that six months after the production in Traverse City, a woman came into the Cadillac store where she works, demanded to see her and said “I just loved you in the show and I live in Texas most of the year. I just know we can become friends and we need to go to lunch.”
She thought Goggin WAS Louise Seger. Goggin gently broke the news she was just acting the role, “and then the woman said, ‘You don’t even have an accent.’
“I think this is part of the reason I say it may be my favorite role. People just buy into this wonderful story of friendship and I wanted to do it again because the audience seems to have such a good time.
“And since so few people have really seen the show, they have no picture in their mind of my character. It can be anything I want it to be because Louise is bigger than life.”
Performances in Midland are 8 p.m. March  9-10, 15-17 and 3 p.m. March 11 and 18. Tickets are $22 adults and $16 students. To buy, call  800-523-8250 or go on line at

To “meet” the real Louise Seger and see pictures of her:

Chippewa's Nature Preschool now the topic of a book by one of its founders

Rachel A. Larimore outside the Chippewa Nature Preschool

by Janet I. Martineau
For five years now, a quiet little success story continues to play over in Midland
Literally play.
And one which is now documented in a book available worldwide, for those who might like to join in on the fun.
It is the Chippewa Nature Center’s Nature Preschool, located in a specially-built 5,000-square-foot building on its property at 400 S. Badour.
“Our kids dig in the mud; in fact they are encouraged to jump in a puddle and get muddy. They visit  the wigwam. Build forts. Play in a sand pit. Climb on logs. Go on hikes to find insects and watch maple syrup being made.”
So speaks Rachel A. Larimore, the director of education at Chippewa and the author of the book “Establishing a Nature-Based Preschool” (National Association of Interpretation, 93 pages, $24 paperback and $10 PDF). It is available through
Open to ages 3 and 4, the school has so far served more than 200 kids, and at the time it opened in 2007 was one of but 12 nature-based preschools in the entire nation. 
Today, says Larimore, there are 20 nature-based preschools.  And since she helped develop Chippewa’s from ground zero, “and we found out no one had written anything down about starting nature preschools, back then and still today,” she decided to pen her book.
“Once we opened we also were getting more and more calls, and site visits, so there clearly was a need.”
Students enrolled this year come from Freeland, Bay City and Mount Pleasant as well as Midland. They attend half-day sessions, from two to four days a week; 16-18 kids per session with three educators.
And those little ones  are not wimpy when it comes to the weather.
“I think there has been only three days when we couldn’t go outside for a session; due to thunderstorms,” says Larimore. “They go out in the worst of winter. Families learn quickly to dress the kids for the weather.”
There are just as many girls enrolled as boys too. “We have lots of girly-girls enrolled, who might wear a tutu, be cinderella princesses, but also pick up worms without any concern.”
Cover of the book
On an average day they start outside in the special play area outside the two-classroom  building or go on a hike to explore some of the 1,200-acre Chippewa property -- its forests and meadows, Arbury Pond, Sugarhouse, Homestead Farm with its garden and animals, the wigwam.
Then back inside the schoolthey work on math, literacy and science skills;  drama, movement  and art; learn more about  nature; listen to stories and sing songs; sometimes cook. There is group time as well as individual time.
“At the beginning of the year, you can tell right away the kids who have not played outside,” says Larimore, who was raised on a vegetable farm in Illinois, “and the play is different at the beginning of the year because of that. It takes them awhile to learn to use their imagination; to get comfortable with logs and leaves and rocks and even skulls when we find them.
“It’s fun to see the development; to watch how they learn to love it.”
And some fun anecdotal stories are resulting.
Larimore recalls a speech therapist visiting the school, hearing an unfamiliar sound, and being informed by one of the preschoolers that it was a woodpecker.
Then there is a story of one of the 4 year olds visiting the Dow Gardens butterfly house with a group of third graders ...third graders who could not name all the parts of a butterfly. But she quickly and confidently did.
The nature-based preschool concept grew out of the 2005  book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder,” by Richard Louv. When  Larimore and other Chippewa staff heard him speak, they got fired up to join the then-small nature preschool bandwagon.
As for her book, its chapters cover the need for environmental education,  getting a nature preschool started, administrative requirements, programming, and perfecting the programs.
And a healthy appendix section lists programming resources, recommended  children’s books, job descriptions for teachers, and research resources.
“It is generally based on what we did, the steps we took. The one thing I stress is to get started on the licensing as early as possible because it takes so much time; paperwork and inspections.
“I think the information in it will stand the test of time. What is does not have is research about the long-term impact on children because it is too soon. There are not enough of us yet. But in the book I do advise we need to consider this in the chapter titled ‘The Next Step.’”
The cover shows a young boy holding a frog, and was taken by his mother at the Chippewa Nature Preschool. Inside are numerous color photos taken at Chippewa as well as visits to four other nature preschools.
“It took me more than a year and a half to write,” says Larimore. “I got the biggest chunks done at the family cabin in Illinois -- away from television and the telephone.” Once done, other staff members at Chippewa, area educators, an employee at another nature preschool “and my parents too” gave it a critical read.
Larimore hopes the book might also appeal to early childhood educators, libraries, and biologists.
“I think from what I have seen, this is one of the most powerful programs we offer at Chippewa due to the length of time they are with us... These children are here every week for nine months of the year.”
For more information about the Chippewa Nature Preschool, log on to

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mozart and spirituals meld into one piece in unusual Saginaw Choral Society concert

review by Janet I. Martineau
What could  a Great Dane/lab mix named Rex,  Negro spirituals, Mozart’s Requiem, storytelling and slide projections of classic art possibly have in common?
Lots, apparently, when they fall under the spell of Glen Thomas Rideout, the Saginaw Choral Society’s ever-inventive and chance-taking artistic director.
It all played out Saturday night at the Temple Theatre in a performance that brought the audience to its feet cheering like it was at a football game. 
Dunno what tradition-loving musical purists thought of the venture, but here is what  Rideout pulled off:  He interspersed BETWEEN every two or three sections of the Mozart piece (which was sung in Latin and totally of the classical genre) a Negro spiritual and one U2 lullaby honoring Martin Luther King (five in all, sung in English and clearly not classical).
The common theme: they all dealt with death and coming to terms with it, and except for the U2 piece they were written in roughly the same time period in civilizations across the pond.
Onto that Rideout layered the classic art projections dealing with that theme, gathered by Kara Brown at the Saginaw Art Museum, and projections of all the texts, Latin and English.
And in my favorite component of this multi-layered concert, the storytelling! Mozart, as just about anyone familiar with the Requiem knows, died before he finished it and  Franz Xaver Sussmayr completed the work. But that is about all most of us know.
What Rideout did was narrate Mozart’s story -- the plight of his family as he was dying, why it had to be finished but under secrecy, who Sussmayr was (a former pupil), and why he was chosen for the job.
And then ...then.....those projections with the texts and a few comments by Rideout kept us informed what was all-Mozart, what Mozart drafted and Syssmayr completed and assembled, what was all-Sussmayr, and some of the orchestrations added by a third man.
It was no easy task, Rideout noted, because Sussmayr had to be careful to write in Mozart’s voice and not his own -- so vital it was to keep the secret. Sucker that we are for good stories, this one left me in tears -- and an astonishment at how much of the work is Sussmayr’s.
What part the pup projection played (Rex belongs Rideout) and why the Requiem had to be finished in secrecy, dear reader, remains the property of those who attended and were amused and amazed. All we will say is that this concert was exciting, creative, gutsy, informative and fun.
The spirituals sung by the chorale were a cappella and most whisper soft, contemplative, and thus an interesting contrast to the more “lively” Mozart with a 23-member orchestra. The short “MLK” text was  poetic and full of symbolism that still has us thinking. There were times the words in both the spirituals and the Mozart hit very close to modern-day situations -- to which Rideout added some dry wit commentary about “this being our story.”
If there are complaints it was that sometimes the orchestra overpowered the chorale and the four guest soloists (one of them home towner Emily Marvosh, who has a gorgeous contralto voice). There were times some sections  of the chorale struggled with the tricky spiritual arrangements. Some of the transitions between the Requiem and spirituals also were less than smooth. 
And applause at some points rattled the mood, but it was understandable because of this wild Requiem/spiritual/Requiem/spiritual mix interspersed with the storytelling. Yep. Never ever seen anything quite like this before in nearly 50 years of covering the arts! Loved it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Greek play lights up the stage at SVSU

review by Janet I. Martineau
Those masks...a marvel.
But there was much else to laud as well Wednesday night when Saginaw Valley State University opened its production of the Greek tragedy “Agamemnon,” penned way back there in 458 B.C.E. by a dude named Aeschylus. actual live, locally produced piece of classic Greek theater in mid-Michigan. ‘Bout as rare as things get in the theater world anywhere anymore, let alone here.
Members of the Greek Chorus
Walking into the night air, a student walking ahead of me suddenly turned and asked “Did you like it?” I confirmed I did. She was all a-twitter, having been assigned to write a paper on it. 

Trying to calm her jittery nerves, I explained why she might have concerns, suggested she might want to see it a second and even a third time, waited for an explosion of “are you kidding me!”
Instead, she warmed to the idea.
And that gives hope that classic Greek theater is not yet dead. Something had intrigued her more than just the assignment. Greek theater is an acquired taste, but once it takes a nibble.....
Actors speaking in poetic rhyme some of the time. The wearing of earthy face masks which keep the facial expressions of the cast One Note but also captivating. 

The use of the Greek Chorus concept providing background, summary and insight information for the audience,  with all or most of them sometimes speaking in unison. 

Human stories that are terrifyingly tragic and complex. Scattered words and half sentences. 

Mythology mixed with the common man.
Whew! That was  lot for director Steven C. Erickson and his cast of 18 students to bite off. And the attempt was valiant. Not perfect, but no disaster either.

The story here concerns the King of Argos, named Agamemnon,  returned home after 10 years at war in the famed Troy, the one involving Helen. Left at home was his wife Clytemnestra, a woman with an axe to grind.
In this Erickson adaption, the Greek chorus far outnumbers the lead characters -- 10 of them to 6. And not only that, the chorus carries probably 80 percent of the lines.
On the negative side, their diction is not always razor sharp nor their lines in unison always in synch. The women are a little clearer and more deliberate in their delivery. But, then, learning to speak through a mask and/or in unison must be a nightmare so that they succeed as often as they do is noteworthy.
What they are, however, is superb throughout in the body English department -- hunching over, recoiling and slinking, using their hands to convey what their hidden faces cannot, moving as one when needed but also individually, rapping their canes on the floor, perched on logs. Just a joy to watch. We caught enough of their words to understand what was going on, and as this play continues through the weekend they will most likely improve.
As for the 6 “lead” roles.....holy smokes is Caitlyn Walsh a she-devil as the king’s wife back home. She spits her lines with contemptuousness in every word -- and with every word enunciated clearly, slowly and with sufficient volume. Outstanding performance.
Tillie Dorgan as Cassandra
By comparison, Tillie Dorgan as the captured slave/oracle Cassandra too often hurries her lines into a blur. Cassandra, however, arrives in a high state of anxiety which only keeps building so her character is nowhere near as controlled and controlling as Walsh’s.
As for the three main male roles, they are each so short lived there is little time for them to connect with the viewer other than to leave the impression they are all weaklings undone by war, by women or by both. 

Dave Ryan as the title character, Travis Wooley as his unglued herald and Dakotah Myers as the devious man back home all need to stretch more into their characters to deliver more shadings and nuances. They all do speak clearly however.
Elise Shannon’s costumes are perfect for the Greek Chorus and elegant for Cassandra, but a little under executed for the rest. As noted earlier, the masks by Kristen Phillips Gray are winners. The set by Jerry Dennis is, as always, noteworthy -- including, even, a chariot. And the lighting by Karli Jenkins and Eric Lewis Johnson offers some nice shadow play,

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Saginaw kid who 'couldn't carry a tune' returns home as guest soloist with Saginaw Choral Society

by Janet I. Martineau
Impressive resume, the guest contralto singing with the Saginaw Choral Society on Saturday, Feb. 25, when it presents Mozart’s Requiem.
The Boston area resident has landed roles with Opera Boston, Boston Lyric Opera and Opera in the Ozarks...

Is heard as a member of the Seraphic Fire ensemble on its Grammy-nominated CD...

Played Meg in the New England premiere of the “Little Women” opera...

Sings oratorio and chamber roles across the nation.
And in 1999 this busy Boston contralto, Emily Marvosh,  graduated from Valley Lutheran High School in Saginaw -- having that same year won a Saginaw Choral Society scholarship to summer camp at Interlochen. 
“And here is a funny story for you,” she says in a phone call. “When I was in the 5th grade at Peace Lutheran, I was cut from the angel choir in the Christmas pageant because I was told I couldn’t carry a tune.”
Contralto Emily Marvosh
She laughs at the memory -- this woman of whom critics have since written is possessed of a “flexible technique and ripe color” and demonstrating “smooth, apparently effortless vocal display.”
So, she says, she is looking forward to the Saginaw Choral Society gig to prove things have changed, having since settled in Boston where she earned her master of music  degree in voice at Boston University.
During her Saginaw years, says the daughter of David and Suzanne Marvosh of Saginaw, she was a “nerdy kid” who was in band and choir at the school but not into opera or even acting in plays.
When she went off to Central Michigan University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in vocal performance, the tide turned. 
“I enjoyed singing in the choirs there, and got a chance to study abroad in Vienna, Austria. I went to an opera house just about every night...went to 30 operas in one semester. And that experience made it apparent I could make a living at this -- opera, oratorio, solos.”
And so it has come to pass. Two years ago, she says, she quit a full-time job and has keep busy as an employed freelance singer ever since.
“There is a lot of hustle involved in doing  that -- outreach programs into schools for one thing. And I also have a Sunday morning church job as one of eight paid core singers in the choir filled out by 20 volunteers. Mixed choirs like that are not unusual in cities like Boston and New York.”

Currently her resume is about split even -- one-third opera roles, one-third solo parts in oratorios, one-third ensemble work.
“I love them both (opera vs. oratorio) for many different reasons. Right now I am doing a lot of concert work, like what I am doing in Saginaw, and right now that is what I love the most. I find it very exciting because you are right there with the conductor and the orchestra. In opera you are up on the stage and the orchestra and conductor are in the pit.
“And there is so much being written for the concert stage and well as the revival of things, like oratorios not heard in 400 years.
“But with opera, there are the costumes....getting to play the role of Meg. What girl did not grow up loving ‘Little Women.’ And with opera there is the long-time commitment -- six weeks of rehearsals and several performances of the same piece of music, so you really get to explore it and the character, the emotions.”
Fortunately, she says, she enjoys the travel aspect of being a freelance singer in this day and age. In the last couple of years she’s been to Arizona, Oregon, Florida, New Hampshire, Rhode Island.
In April she’ll return to Michigan to sing the St. John Passion for the Kalamazoo Bach Festival.
Miami is where the Grammy-nominated Seraphic Fire is located, although it tours as well.
The ensemble is 10 years old, she says, and varies from 12 to 24 singers depending  on the need as well as a contingent of instrumentalists. “A quarter to a third of them live in Miami and the rest come from around the country. Getting invited to sing with them is a matter of connections -- they’ve heard of your name or heard you once.” She joined them in 2005.
As for the Mozart Requiem which brings her to Saginaw, it will be her second time performing it. What she loves about life as her career progresses “is realizing you are  singing a piece differently than you were singing it two or three years ago because you have changed. And, of course, every performance is different with a different conductor, a different concert hall, a different audience, different soloists you are working with
“What is wonderful about the Mozart Requiem is there is so much ensemble singing between the four soloists; it’s like they form their own little quartet.” Joining her in Saginaw are soprano Mary Martin, tenor Brian Giebler and baritone Steven Eddy -- all working on music degrees at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Every day, Marvosh says, she sings in some way -- rehearsals can run three hours as a program nears; she tries to add in an hour or two at home on her own, learning new material or just exercising her voice; then there are the church choir rehearsals.
Not bad for a 5th grader who couldn’t carry a tune.
The Feb. 25 Saginaw Choral Society concert begins at 8 p.m. at the Temple Theatre, 203 N. Washington. Conductor Glen Thomas Rideout and the singers also will perform some familiar spirituals during the evening.
“With the concert falling during Black History Month, the spirituals became a perfect fit,” says Rideout. “When one attended a Latin Mass during Mozart’s time, the structure and regularity of it were quite predictable.  On the flip side, when one attends an African American church service, the spirituals are filled with a type of musical freedom and expression.  We want to show the contrast between the two, while also honoring them simultaneously.”
Among the featured spirituals are “Steal Away” and “Ain’t That Good News,” both arranged by Moses Hogan, as well as a piece called “MLK,” written by the rock group
U2 and arranged by Bob Chilcott.
A new post concert activity has been added to this evening as well.  After the concert, patrons can walk next door to the Saginaw Club for an afterglow and piano bar with drinks and light munchies.
Tickets to the concert are $25, $20 and $10 -- or buy two tickets and get one free. Students are admitted free with an ID. Call 754-SHOW to reserve tickets.
To read more about Emily Marvosh, check out her website at To hear her singing in a quartet,

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Midland's 'Treasure Island' filled with really good bad pirates

review by Janet I. Martineau
Shiver me timbers, mates! Can’t reckon when me have seen such fine, fine pirate acting.
And, did ya know, Long John Silver is a Quaker.
Those are the two thoughts that linger after attending a weekend Center Stage production of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s classic novel “Treasure Island” at the Midland Center for the Arts.
While the adventure novel seems, well, a little bit dated now depite this award-winning 2009 adaptation by Ken Ludwig, hats off to director Carol Rumba and her crew for making it fine, fine production.
With a cast of 33 it could have lumbered with scene changes and exits and entrances. Not with Rumba, who uses both wings of the stage as sets, keeps the action flowing from one scene to the next without a pause, delivers a fun center stage surprise as the second act begins, and always, always has some other little bits of action going everywhere even when the spoken lines are taking place where the spotlights shine.
Kyle Bagnall as Blind Pew
There also are props galore, multi-layered costumes, sword fights, real food. The only thing that does not work is the talking parrot effect, the uneven microphone levels and drifting English accents. Nor does the parrot look like a parrot.
Now, to the acting.
With 33 people there is no way to mention each and all, and besides this production is a fine example of ensemble work -- meaning all 33 enter in character, stay in character, layer on bits of business when not speaking, and when speaking speak clearly and with gumption.
That said, we wished for just a little more pizazz from Parker Bradford, cast as the narrator of this coming-of-age story about Jim Hawkins and his marvelous journey. We have seen Bradford excel in other productions, so we know he is capable. He just seems a little too tentative, laid back here.
But nailing it above and beyond are:

-- Kyle Bagnall as Blind Pew in a short but raging scene in which he is a terrifying pirate who swings his menacing cane with reckless abandon. We have seen Bagnall in numerous productions too, and this is his finest. There is not an ounce of Bagnall  visible in his Blind Pew. Not an ounce. Even his voice is evil. His body contorting as he “senses” other people in the room. Lord we wanted to see more of him.
-- Adam Gardner as Ben Gunn, marooned on Treasure Island for years, half mad because of it, desperately longing for cheese to replace his oyster diet, his clothes in tatters, and given to crawling and bouncing around the stage like a wild animal. His voice is a half-giggle, which in turn makes the audience giggle. He reminded us of Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
-- Mark Dutcher as Billy Bones, in another short-lived role. He too is a terrifying, bigger-than-life pirate who has in his keep the map where  X marks the spot of the treasure. He dies a magnificent death.
-- Jim Royle as Squire Trelawney, not a pirate but the nervous nelly who outfits the ship and its mission to recover the lost treasure. Problem is, most of the crew are pirates in disguise and he suffers greatly, and with great conviction, when that all comes to light and he is forced to battle in an attempt to save his life.
-- John Tanner as the famed leg-impaired Long John Silver, sort of a Renaissance man, one both evil and good;  given to quoting Shakespeare and trying to keep his idiot pirates under control. Tanner has some of the script’s finest lines, ones which adults will most appreciate, and he knows how to deliver them with the drollness of a Maggie Smith.
Bravos also to scenic designer Kristen Lences for the excellent and creative set; to costumer designer Laurelei Horton and her extensive crew; to Steve and Mary Rita Johnson for the detail-enhancing props.
But a word of caution. The Saturday afternoon performance had a goodly number of very young (and TALKATIVE and restless) kids in attendance. 
This is NOT a show for the very young. This is not a CHILDREN’S show. These pirates are nasty and kill, as do others in the cast; the language/script level is aimed at a coming-of-age age (not early elementary and younger); it does have long passages of talk more than action as it tells a story in which goodness triumphs over evil.
So be warned, mates.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra presents a fun ode to Shakespeare

review by Janet I. Martineau
Never thought I’d see the day...the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra, actors from Pit and Balcony Community Theatre, a women’s contingent from the Saginaw Choral Society...performing Shakespeare...on the stage of the historic Temple Theatre.
Such was the delight Saturday night when the SBSO presented “Shakespearean Dreams” -- an all-Shakespeare evening that presented three compositions inspired by the Bard’s words; one of them also featuring an abridged semi-staged version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Tessa Poag all but stole the show as the impish Puck in Shakespeare’s poetic comedy taking place in a fairy-filled woodland. She moved with the grace and agility of a cheeta; spoke her lines clearly, crisply and with dramatic flare; was about as into a role as a character can get.
Also a standout was Christian Schwager as Bottom, the character who literally makes an ass of himself. Long and lanky, he too sold his character -- first under the headpiece of the ass, with body English that depicted a shy living, breathing character; then later in a bit of upstaging duel with maestro Brett Mitchell and the orchestra.
Linda Bush Rebney, who both acts and directs at P&B, directed the abridged “Midsummer” featuring  Mendelssohn’s score. And while some of the other seven actors needed a little more diction and total comfort speaking Shakespeare, it was obvious they had been well rehearsed with the score; knowing when to speak at precisely the right moment in amidst the 12 movements.
They moved with a good flow on and off the stage as well -- as did the 27-member Saginaw Choral Society women’s chorus, floating on like the fairies they were depicting.  Soprano Nina Lasceski’s solo segments were operaticlly outstanding.
Nice job, too, adapting a play into an abridged version that mostly held its own. There was a bit of blunder when the two couples were put under a spell but we never got to see them come awake and react to the spell. Instead they just got up and walked off. But it was a minor flaw.
Bravo to the costuming, in particular the elegant gown of Titania (Brooke Pieschke), and to the fairyland setting -- drapery front and back, with the orchestra sandwiched in a bunch over at the left. Very pleasing to the eye; understated and creating the needed atmosphere.
And it probably goes without saying now, in his short career here now, that Mitchell conducted Mendelssohn’s wonderful score flawlessly.
The first half of the program was shared by William Bolcom’s Commedia for (Almost) 18th Century Orchestra, with Catherine McMichael on the rude and errant piano, and Gerald Finzi’s “Let Us Garlands Bring,” featuring bass-baritone Timothy Jones in its five songs.
Bolcom, retired from the University of Michigan faculty, displays a whimsical sense of humor in his piece -- pretty, lush orchestral tunes giving way to rude interruptions by the piano and other instruments; an ode here and there to various classical composers of yore; fleeting images evoking the stock commedia dell’arte characters.
Unfortunately, the Finzi piece, sandwiched in between the weird Bolcom and the Saginaw-flavored Mendelssohn/Shakespeare, kinda got lost in the evening.
Loved Jones’ performance, his voice, but the piece about love and death sorta paled between the other two. But “Come Away, Come Away, Death,” the first piece of the five, did conclude with a lovely melding of the singer and concertmaster Sonia Lee.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Great Lakes Bay Alliance seeking Fall for the Arts Festival manager

by Janet I. Martineau

People passionate about the arts might like to know about a job opening.

The Great Lakes Bay Arts and Entertainment Alliance is seeking a manager for its 2013 inaugural Fall for the Arts Festival -- a month-long event, in October, focusing on all the Great Lakes Bay region has to offer in its museums, libraries, performance venues, nature centers, architecture and restaurants.

The position pays up to $35,000, with no benefits. The deadline for applications is this Tuesday, Feb. 14.

Following is the job description:

Fall for the Arts Festival JOB DESCRIPTION

POSITION TITLE:  Festival Manager            
SALARY RANGE:  Contract position, no benefits, up to $35,000 annually
REPORTS TO: Fall for the Arts Festival – Committee Chair 

The first Fall for the Arts Festival will take place in the Great Lakes Bay Region during the month of October 2013. The focus of this month-long festival during National Arts and Humanities Month will be to introduce visitors from all over Michigan and beyond to the wonderful arts and entertainment events, people and places that make up the Great Lakes Bay Region’s cultural diversity. The Fall for the Arts Festival will introduce people from near and far to museums, libraries and galleries; performance venues; nature centers, gardens and trails; architectural tours and culinary delights; and much more.

Represent Festival in the community and serve as point person for Festival programming. 
Attend planning meetings for the Festival.
Field general inquiries via email and telephone.
Maintain database of arts, cultural, humanities and entertainment organizations.
Work on event-related tasks, mailings and communications. 
Maintain regular contact with participating arts, cultural, humanities and entertainment organizations.
Work with CVB to develop all necessary print and electronic marketing materials. 
Write and distribute press releases to regional and statewide media.
Work with committee on prospecting and cultivating sponsorship opportunities: writing grants 
as necessary.
Attend sponsor and vendor related meetings.
Assist in training and scheduling Festival volunteers for event-related tasks.
Communicate and work with the Dow Event Center and the Great Lakes Bay Region Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote the “big event” through Festival marketing.
Serve as a liaison to Great Lakes Bay Region Convention and Visitors Bureau on all matters related to marketing the Festival.
Attend October 2013 events as the Festival representative.
Perform other tasks as assigned.

Experience managing large-scale events and programs.
Excellent written and oral communication skills.
Excellent leadership and interpersonal skills.
Comfortable speaking in front of a large group of people.
Ability to think creatively.
Ability to manage multiple tasks in a demanding environment. Attention to detail.
Strong work ethic.
Ability to cultivate positive relationships with vendors.
Comfortable working within non-traditional hours.
Must be able to work independently without constant supervision.
A self-starter who initiates tasks and projects.
Knowledge of the Great Lakes Bay Region community and arts, cultural, humanities and entertainment organizations in the area.
Thorough knowledge of Microsoft Office and Excel required; familiarity with web design, social media products and Adobe creative suites helpful.

To apply, send resume, cover letter and three references with name, phone and email to:
DEADLINE TO APPLY: February 14, 2012