Friday, October 10, 2014

You are in good company with Bay City Players "Company"

The single guy (Dan Taylor) holding the P, his three girlfriends far right and his five married couple friends

review by janet i. martineau

photos by michelle ouellette

When you are single, sometimes your married friends drive you nuts.

That, in a nutshell, is the premise of Stephen Sondheim's quirky musical "Company," playing the Bay City Players Oct. 9-12 and Oct. 16-19.

Directed by Mike Wisniewski, this production is graced with a plethora of gorgeous singing voices, delightful choreography and beautiful sounds eminating from the orchestra pit. That it is a bit draggy and sometimes the acting skills wobble is of small concern.
Danessa Hellus

For those unfamiliar with Sondheim, his music is an absolute nightmare of multiple complexities -- hence the fact I called "Company" a quirky musical. It demands much of  singers, it demands much of its orchestra and it demands much of its audiences with its fits and starts, unusual patterns, and sometimes discordant notes.

Added to that is the screwy storyline, told in a series of vignettes surrounding a 35-year-old single man named Robert, or Bobby, Weaving in and out of his life are five married couple friends, all of whom think he should get married despite the fact their own marriages are "complicated."

They engage each other in a oneupsmanship karate contest,  divorce only to live together again, get high on drugs, panic on their own wedding day --  one moment extolling the virtues of marriage and then in the next breath expressing doubts.

The reflective song "Sorry-Grateful" sung by three of the male spouses (Dale Bills, Trevor Keyes and Steve Moelter) sums it up, and dramatically is one of the stronger moments.

Added to that mix on stage are three of Bobby's on again off again girlfriends, themselves oddballs and of doubtful marriage quality.

So there you have it -- a mix of madcap music and madcap people.  And with virtually every cast member having at least one vocal solo or one moment of extended dialogue, there is no margin for error.

Fortunately in this production, only one cast member fails. We will leave him/her unnamed. The rest have one or more shining moments.

Kori Orlowski and Randall Manetta
Dan Taylor as Bobby is in virtually every scene and his three solo pieces are an absolute treat for the ears. Danessa Hellus absolutely owns "Another Hundred People." Denyse Clayton's sarcastic tones and movement in "The Little Things You Do Together"'  and "The Ladies Who Lunch" are rock solid delightful.

Kori Orlowski as the panicked bride sings in a machine gun the style during "Getting Married Today." While it is mostly unintelligible because of its rapid fire, it is nonetheless remarkable. 

Contrasting with her in that number is the exquisite high soprano churchy sound delivered by Amy Britt, which raises here on the neck.

And in what may be the show's most complicated song in terms of timing, Shanna Fancey as the goofy flight attendant girlfriend and Taylor deliver in sync in "Barcelona."

With the use of risers and alcoves, Wisniewski leaves all of the actors onstage all of the time, at home in their own dwellings in subdued lighting when not performing. Totally works as if to say even when not around our friends are still playing roles in our lives.

The use of those risers and choreographer Holly Haga Bills also keep the show moving effectively. And watching her choreography build step-by-step in "Side by Side by Side" is one of the evening's highlights, leaving the entire cast winded.

Released in 1970, the Tony-winning,"Company" still nails it when it comes to the world of human dilemma.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Pit & Balcony's "Hands on Hardbody" eccentric, funny, insightful

The contest is about to begin

review and photographs by janet i. martineau

Imagine, in real life, lasting 71 hours standing upright with one hand always on the body of a Nissan truck. Often in the hot Texas sun. With only a 15 minute break every six hours.

Imagine, in real life, being the director of a musical and for the final dress rehearsal one of your major leads is too sick to perform. So you fill in, script in one hand, hoping he will be well enough by opening night.

Both scenarios converged Thursday night at Saginaw’s Pit and Balcony Community Theatre with the Tony-winning show "Hands on a Hardbody," based on a documentary about a real competition to win a truck.

We know Thomas Wedge is an accomplished and inventive director. Getting to witness his considerable acting chops and singing skills was an added bonus on this night. Something that occurs very rarely in the world of theater. That he blended in with the rest of this cast was remarkable; his contestant character a cynical, smart-mouthed jerk.

As for the show itself, it is eccentric, funny, insightful and all heart as it examines the hopes and dreams and life situations of 10 working-class, down-on-their-luck Americans. The ensemble song "Used to Be" will break your heart as it touches a deep nostalgic chord.

And oh that real Nissan truck that shares the stage – it spins, honks, becomes a drum set, and displays both its headlights and back up lights during the show. An 11th character participating in the contest.

There is also an inventive dance number with one its two dancers seated in an office chair with wheels.

Michael Curtis as the oldest contestant
This could've been a rather stagnant show given its one set with a big old truck right in the middle. But Wedge, also the choreographer, keeps the thing alive with the  movement of that truck and its attached cast which crawls all over and around it.

To be honest, some of the singing voices are a little on the weak side, a few of the actors need to work on their diction skills and others weren't quite there yet within their characters. The all-white backdrop also is jarring, taking away from the alleged setting of a car dealership.

The show itself is far less engaging when they're competing and is strongest during those 15 minute breaks every six hours as well as when, one by one, they drop as contestants until the last person is standing.  And its script is also cliched and kinda predictable. 

But there are so many many dynamic moments.

Brian Bateson is cast as a sullen, silent contestant....until his solo song "Stronger." Major goosebump time with his vocal and acting prowess; won't be a dry eye in the place. Beautifully lit too (as is the entire show),  and with artful cast movement around him.

Then there is Ann Russell-Lutenske, cast as a god-loving, gospel-singing contestant. She rocks the place with "Joy of The Lord," during which, because of fatigue, she starts to lose it and gets a case of the giggles, then starts singing until the rest of the contestants do the same -- and then they collectively use the truck, all of them, as a percussion instrument. Cool, cool, cool.

She is also one of the most effective actors in the cast, and there are several other times when her singing powers also manifest themselves magnificently.

And Michael Curtis is cast as the oldest contestant, a physically and emotionally aching sad sack. His two vocal numbers, duet/solo combinations with cast wife Holly Jacobs, are heart-tuggers as he too is strong in his acting skills throughout and she matches him in her brief stage time. Their "Alone With Me" is a beautifully written song.

Other strong performances are delivered by "slutty" Meagan Eager and "sweet" Randy Robinson as two of the other contestants and Kale Schafer and Toysha Welsh Sinclair as the conniving car dealership employes. Sinclair is so wonderfully sassy.

A shout out too for music director Loren Kranz and his music ensemble. Never overpowered things and enhanced the mood considerably.

"Hands on a Hardbody" runs this weekend and next weekend.

For more pictures: 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"Shrek The Musical" a fun, high-energy show at Midland Center for the Arts

The fire-breathing Dragon (and its puppeteers) menace Donkey

review and photos by janet i. martineau

Tap-dancing rats. Rotating trees. A farting/belching contest. All our favorite fairytale characters side by side. A wise-ass donkey with semi dreadlocks. And a massive pink-hued dragon.

People...if you have kids, or there is still some kid left in you, hustle over to the Midland Center for the Arts to see its production of “Shrek The Musical.” It is fantastic. Brimming with high-octane energy and eye-popping color, fun one-liners for all ages, cultural references all over the place (from Nancy Kerrigan to classical ballet), sight/sound gags galore (the Lord’s CARRIAGE, when it backs up, goes “beep, beep, beep”), and all-heart with its message.

We went to the final dress rehearsal, with several youngsters of all ages in attendance. And ya know what....the ones around us never got restless or fell asleep. That is how fully detailed and wonderfully paced this production is, artfully directed by Bill Anderson Jr. There is simply not a dull moment.

Laura Brigham as Fiona and True Rogers as Shrek
While the colorful and inventive costumes and wigs were rented from a California company, the sets and dragon puppet are local.  The set design by Kristen O’Connor and Evan Lewis is simple but totally effective -- in the style of cardboard cutouts or storybook popups. 

At no point do the set pieces threaten to overpower the actors...a good thing... and they are nearly silent as they move on and off while the acting action continues. 

And the dragon puppet...well, we simply fell in love with it, and the massive singing voice of Dawn Inman behind it.

Speaking of impressive singing voices. This production has a plethora of them. True Rogers as Shrek, Laura Brigham as Princess Fiona, Manny Sandow as Donkey, the ensemble numbers.

And Dale Bills as the pint-sized Lord Farquaad! He acts and sings his entire role ON HIS KNEES, with tiny little legs attached to his waist. Little legs. Full size head. Quite a sight. 

Imagine the effort it takes to move and to get enough air in the lungs to sing. Yet he is the the most powerful projection and diction-perfect in the cast. Man, this guy knows how to nuance a song.

A particularly effective scene is Fiona as a youngster, teen and adult (played by Luca Jolly, Laurel Hammis and Brigham). We see them one at a time in their castle tower in “I Know It’s Today,” changing in age progression seamlessly until they all converge in a lovely, lovely trio.

While Anderson’s cast delivers 100 percent in itsacting abilities, always always in character with great facial expressions and lively body inflections, choreographer Kelli Jolly moves them well throughout in great dance numbers. By the way, we did a little counting. There are 31 cast members playing 42 roles, give or take. So it keeps them busy changing costumes and characters.

Gread sound from the pit as well via music director Jim Hohmeyer and his musicians.

“Shrek The Musical” came loaded with its clever script, enjoyable songs, and lovely message about not judging people by their looks and seeing famed fairytale characters in a new way. Midland’s production makes it shine all the more.

Performances are Sept. 20-21 and Sept. 26-28.

For more pictures:

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Summertime abounds with free outdoor concerts, movies in Saginaw, Midland, Bay City

Saginaw Area Youth Jazz Ensemble

compiled by janet i. martineau

Saginaw, Midland and Bay City once again offer a long list of free outdoor concerts and movies this summer. All readers need to do is pack up a lawn chair or blanket and head on out to....

PRIDE’S Friday Night Live
5:30-9pm in Morley Plaza, next to the Temple Theater at 203 N. Washington in Saginaw. Those 17 and under must be accompanied by an adult. Food and drink vendors.

-- July 11, Classic Rock Night. Headliner: Sound Alternative. Opening: Grefe, Gaus, Grefe
-- July 18, Country Night.  Headliner: Chris Stapleton. Opening: Mandi Layne & The Lost Highway
-- July 25, Latin Night.  Headliner: Baraja De Oro. Opening: Conjunta Champz
-- Aug. 1, Jazz Night. Headliner:  Michigan Jazz Trail Big Band. Opening: Robert Lee Revue
-- Aug 8, Oldies Night.  Headliner: Billy Mack & The Juke Joint Johnnies. Opening: Josh Ramses Band
-- Aug. 15, Motown Night. Headliner: KGB. Opening: Soul Street

KCQ Country Music Fest
7am-5pm Saturday, June 21, on Ojibway Island in Saginaw. (Section 98 seating $29.98, preferred gold seating $9.80, parking on island $15 -- rest of island free seating and parking off island free). Classic car show, food tent, arts and crafts show, children's area.

-- 11am, Dani Vitany and Ten Hands Tall
-- 1:30 pm, Frankie Ballard
-- 3:30pm, Montgomery Gentry

Montgomery Gentry

20th Anniversary Freak Show
Noon-9pm Saturday, June 14, in Midland's Central Park, Rodd at Collins. Coolers and picnic baskets welcome. 

-- 12:00 No Strings Attached
-- 12:45 Poetry Reading by Larry Levy
-- 1:15 Cody Cruz Box and Will Jackson
-- 2:00 Brett Mitchell 
-- 3:00 Fireball's Revenge 
-- 3:15 Mellodic Terror
-- 4:15 J.Parx Band
-- 5:00 Killer Kong
-- 6:00 The Outlaws of Zen 
-- 7:00 Dan and Adam 
-- 8:00 Devils on Your Shoulder

Freeland Palooza
12:30-10pm Saturday, June 14, in  Tittabawassee Township Park, 9200 Midland Road in Freeland.

Performing are War Machine, a KISS tribute band, along with Greta Van Fleet, Deadman Serenade, Kyle Mayer, The HitMen, Ban Shee, Barbarossa Brothers, Magic Flight, Marsupial Creampie and Armor The Forest. Activities for the kids:  arts and crafts, a bounce house and a climbing rock.

Jazz in the Garden
7pm Wednesdays in the Andersen Enrichment Center Rose Garden, 120 Ezra Rust in Saginaw.

-- July 9, Brush Street with Julie Mulady
-- July 16, New Reformation Band
-- July 23, Cool Lemon Jazz
-- July 30, Saginaw Area Youth Jazz Ensemble 

Old Saginaw City Lawn Chair Film Festival
Dusk on Sundays, corner of Ames and N. Hamilton in Saginaw. Food vendors.

-- June 29, "American Hustle"
-- July 6, "Breakfast at Tiffany's"
-- July 13, "Young Frankenstein"
-- July 20, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
-- July 27, "The Big Lebowski"
-- Aug. 3, "The Lego Movie"
-- Aug. 10, "Dancing Queen"
-- Aug. 17, "X-men: Days of Future Past"

Tunes by the Tridge 
Unless otherwise noted, 7-9 Thursdays by the Tridge in downtown Midland.

-- June 12, Ray Kamalay & His Red Hot Chili Peppers, jazz
-- June 19, The Hit Men, R&B/Motown
-- June 26, Loose Change, rock
-- July 3,  Matt Moore, Christian
-- Friday, July 4, at 5:30-7:30 pm: Butch Heath, country; 8-10 pm: Steve Armstrong and the 25 Cent Beer Band, country
-- July 10, The Saucecats, Cajun/zydeco
-- July 17, Double Dawn, country
-- July 24, David Gerald, blues
--July 31, Resonators, percussion
-- Aug. 7, ROCK the Tridge, Battle of the Bands

Party on McCarty
5:30-9pm Thursdays on the grounds of the Saginaw Township Soccer Complex, 3576 McCarty. Food vendors. Beer and wine tent. Concerts free but $5 for parking on site.

-- June 12, Margarita Night. Bullseye Band with special guest Ali Denman and Air Margaritaville
-- June 26, Hot Mix Night. Dani Vitany and Ten Hands Tall Band and Cancel Monday with special guest Shubha Vedula
-- July 10, 80s Night. Riptide with special guest Elizabeth Soule and Jedi Mind Trip with special guest Jenny Cohen
-- July 24,  R&B/Motown Night. Honesty and the Liars with special guest Rachael Garner and Serieux
-- Aug. 7, Country Night. 25 Cent Beer Band and Mandi Layne and the Lost Highway featuring special guest Rachel Seamon
-- Aug. 21,  Classic Rock Night. Under Advisement

Frankenmuth Concerts in the Park
7pm Sundays at the Palmer Schau Platz in Memorial Park. Hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, strawberry shortcake, hot fudge sundaes, root beer floats, soft drinks for sale.

-- June 22, Elvis Tribute featuring professional actor Max Pellicano.
-- June 29, Tribute to the Rat Pack. A celebration of the lives and music of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. 
-- July 6, Johnny Cash by Terry Lee, who has appeared on stage with Marty Robbins, Bill Anderson, Ernest Tubb, Sonny James, Conway Twitty and Willie Nelson. 
-- July 13, Abbamania, a Canadian-produced musical which takes you back to the disco era of one of its best bands.
-- July 20, Bee Gees "Stayin' Alive" Tribute
-- July 27, Neil Diamond Tribute, featuring Will Chalmers.
-- Aug. 3, The Diamonds, performing the songs that made them famous, like “Little Darlin," “Kathy O” and “Why Do Fools Fall in Love."
-- Aug. 10, Tribute to John Denver

Wednesdays in the Park
6-6:45pm opening act, 7-8:30pm headliner, Wenonah Park in downtown Bay City.

-- June 18 , Your Generation featuring 50 Amp Fuse, a musical revue from 60’s to present. Opening Act: Bob Hausler
-- June 25 , Bay Concert Band. Opening Act: The String Thing
-- July 9 , Battle of the Bands winner Operation 13 . Opening Act: Elements of Funk
-- July 16 , Saginaw Elite Big Band. Opening Act: Jason Singer
-- July 23 , Bee Gees “Night Fever” tribute act. Opening Act: The Seagulls
-- July 30 , Jimmy Buffet “Pirates of the Caribbean” tribute act. Opening Act:  Oehrlein Dance School
-- Aug. 6 , Phil Dirt and the Dozers. Opening Act: Joe Balbaugh

Saginaw Eddy Concert Band
(NEW VENUE) 7pm Sundays in First Merit Event Park, 300 Johnson in Saginaw.

-- June 14, "Dance Fever Under the Stars"
-- June 22, "Summer Songs"
-- June 29, "Musical Travelogue"
-- July 3, "Star Spangled Spectacular"
-- July 13, "Oldies, Hits and Favorites"
-- July 20, "Celebrations and Holidays"
-- July 27, "3M: Marches, Movies and Musicals"
-- Aug. 3, "The Best of the Eddy Band"

Tittabawassee Township Concerts in the Park
Unless otherwise noted, 7pm Wednesdays in Tittabawassee Township Park, 9200 Old Midland Road in Freeland.

-- June 18, Butch Heath Country Classic, 5-10pm (rain date June 25), food and drink vendors. Burt Watson Chevrolet in Freeland will run a free shuttle from its dealership on M-47 to the concert grounds from 4 p.m. to close. 
-- July 9, The Beets, music from 1950s-1990s
-- July 16, The Sinclairs, rock/pops/classics
-- July 23, Laurie Middlebrook Family Night, country music, with a beer tent, food vendors, activities for children 
-- July 30, Empty Pockets, rock
-- Aug. 6, Pete Woodman and The Hips, classic rock/Motown/blues
-- Aug. 13, Honesty and the Liars, rock/pops/blues
-- Aug. 19 (a Tuesday), Pangbourne and the District Silver Band, a British brass band from England

Thomas Township Picnic in the Park
6:30-9pm Tuesdays in Roethke Park, 400 Leddy Road in Shields. Concessions.
Brush Street With Julie Mulady

-- June 17, Day 8 Band
-- June 24, The Toppermost Beatle Tribute
-- July 8, Brush Street with Julie Mulady
-- July 15, The Beets
-- July 22, Butch Heath and the Country Reunion
-- July 29, The Rock Show
-- Aug. 5, Laurie Middlebrook Band
-- Aug. 12, CEYX
-- Aug. 19, The Bullseye Band

Music From the Marsh
7-8pm Saturdays at the Bay City Recreation Area Visitors Center, 3582 State Park Drive in Bay City. In case of rain, moves indoors at the adjacent Saginaw Bay Visitors Center. Concerts. Free but there is a vehicle entrance fee to the park.

-- June 14,  Bob Hausler, “Flag Day & Patriotic Songs”
-- June 21, Jill Jack,  "Jill Jack's Pure Michigan"
-- June 28, Elden Kelly, “Gibson Guitar...Born & Bred in Kalamazoo”
-- July 5, Doug E. Rees, “Making Tracks with Train and Truck Songs”
-- July 12, Lee Murdock, “Great Lakes Ghosts & Shipwrecks”
-- July 19, George Heritier, “Drunk Bugs & Bay City Ballads”
-- July 26, John Latini, “Baseball, Beaches & Other Summer Time Songs”
-- Aug. 2, Siusan O’Rourke & Zig Zeitler, “Our People: Migration to Michigan” 
-- Aug. 9, Dave Boutette, “Saturday Night With the Campfire Kid”
-- Aug.16, Magdalen Fossum (age 13),  “Girls Rock! Women Who Made History in Michigan” 
-- Aug. 23, Jamie-Sue Seal, “Motown...Hits & History from Hitsville USA”
-- Aug. 30, Jay Stielstra & Judy Banker, “Manistee Waltzes & Tittabawassee Tunes” 

Classic Legacy Band of Saginaw
At 7:30pm June and July; 7pm August in the Andersen Enrichment Center Rose Garden, 120 Ezra Rust in Saginaw.

-- June 19
-- July 17
-- Aug. 21

Fridays at the Falls
6-7pm Fridays at Third Street Waterfall Park, Third and Water Streets in Bay City.

-- July 4, Scott Baker and the Universal Expression
-- July 11, Magic with Tommy Anderson
-- July 18, The String Thing
-- July 25, The TOYZ
-- Aug. 1, Singer/Songwriter Andy Reed and Friends
-- Aug.  8, Big Dreams
-- Aug. 15, Magic and Ballon creations with Cameron Zvara
-- Aug. 22, Josh Ramses Band

Historical Society of Bridgeport Concerts in the Park
7-8:30pm Tuesdays by the Donna Lamb Memorial Gazebo in the Bridgeport Historical Village, 6190 Dixie Highway. If  weather is bad, concert inside site's Old Town Hall. Popcorn, pop and water available.

-- July 8, Crockpot Band, classic country
-- July 15, Knee Deep, variety
-- July 22, Treblemakers, Operation 13, rock
-- July 29, Sandra Bauman, polkas and waltzes
-- Aug. 5, Bob Holtzapple's Talent Roundup
-- Aug. 12, Laurie Middlebrook / Eva Stone Trio, acoustic
-- Aug.19, Road Dawgz, classic rock
-- Aug. 26, The Baytones, big band

Dow Gardens in Midland
Noon-1:30pm Wednesday. Technically these events are not free. The gardens at 1809 West St. Andrews sells a yearly pass for $10, which makes them close to free, or $5 per visit without purchase of the pass

-- June 18,  Gary & Julie Tussie, blues and jazz
-- June 25,  Stringtown Trio, Irish folk music
-- July 2,  Honesty & Jim, oldies
-- Runs through Aug. 20, rest TBA

Folk Music Sundays:
4-6 pm July 6 and Aug. 3  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mortgage burning party celebrates end of long road for Theodore Roethke's boyhood home

Theodore Roethke's boyhood home, right, and his uncle's home at left

story and photo by janet i. martineau

Friends of Theodore Roethke today (May 15) announced it has made the final mortgage payment on the childhood home of the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Saginaw-raised poet. 

To celebrate, the group will host a hot dog roast and mortgage burning party from 1-4pm Sunday, May 25, at that 1805 Gratiot dwelling. The date also commemorates Roethke’s 106th birthday. He died in 1963 and is buried at Oakwood Cemetery.

“This is the realization of 15 years of hard work and fundraising,” said Annie Ransford, president of The Friends of Roethke.  The organization has long struggled to secure the home, which is also the Great Lakes Bay Region’s only National Literary Landmark, and the stone home next to it, which housed Roethke's uncle, Carl Roethke. 

Final payment on the two properties was secured in large part through a generous grant from The Dow Chemical Company Foundation, which supplemented the contributions made by Friends of Roethke members and other donors.

While state and national entities often provide support for educational programming, grant money was not available for the mortgage note, utilities and other necessary maintenance expenses. Private fundraising efforts had been constant, but relatively small, until Dow stepped in.

“Finally, this property truly belongs to our communities,” Ransford said. “Now Roethke’s memory can forever be preserved in this tangible, usable space.”

Last fall, under the DowGives program, more than 100 company and community volunteers also worked at the Roethke Home Museum properties over two days, to paint, remodel and landscape.

“Dow is proud to play a role in helping to secure the long-term future of this important institution,” said Dow spokesman Mike Kolleth, who led the DowGives program for the company. “The Roethke Museum is an important cultural and historical touchstone for the entire Great Lakes Bay region.”

The non-profit Friends of Roethke purchased the two homes and their property in 1998 to establish as a center for the literary arts. Roethke, who was featured on a US postage stamp in 2012, is widely considered one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century. His poems are in virtually every textbook and anthology throughout the world.

Much of his work was inspired by the family’s massive greenhouse business, which once stood behind the two homes.

“Our thanks goes out to the Dow Foundation and the hundreds of members and donors who have contributed to the organization over the years,” Ransford said. “Thanks in large part to the Dow and The Dow Chemical Company Foundation, the museum is in is the best shape that it has been in physically and financially for many years. 

“We have a strong foundation upon which to grow and flourish. We welcome all members of the community to join us in celebrating this next chapter in our development and building our region’s literary heritage.”

The May 25th celebration event is open to the public and admission is by freewill donation. Members of the River Junction Poets and longtime Roethke supporter Rosie King, a poet, will throughout the afternoon read Roethke poems in the backyard.

Salads, a birthday cake and ice cream will be served along with the hot dogs. The mortgage burning will take place at 3pm. 

Friends of Roethke is also embarking on a project to reacquire some of the original Roethke furniture for the 1805 home. Many of its furnishings were sold at auction following the 1997 death of the poet’s sister, June Roethke. Records from the auction sale are no longer available.

We know what furniture was in the home, we just aren’t sure where it ultimately ended up,” Ransford said. “We would be delighted to repurchase the items to help us maintain the historical integrity of the museum.”

Those with information on the furnishings or an interest in joining the group can contact the organization at (989) 928-0430 or via e-mail at

Friday, May 9, 2014

Five actresses set fire to Midland's "The Dixie Swim Club"

Debbie Lake, left, and Denyse Clayton

review and photographs by janet i. martineau

High school days. Career changes. Medical issues. Marriages… multiple ones. Children. Grandchildren. Aging. Breast lifts and implants. Martinis … multiple ones. Petty squabbles. Not so petty squabbles. Hurricanes. Health food. Homemade biscuits…

In two wonderful hours, the five actresses in the Midland Center for the Arts production of "The Dixie Swim Club" will tug at you in every which way in a PG-13 script that delivers the goods on nostalgia, friendship, and life's twists and turns. The show opens tonight (May 9).

The premise of the script is five southern high school friends who were on a swim team together have, each year sense graduation, gathered for an August weekend at a beach cottage on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

In its four scenes we spend time with them at ages 44, 49, 54 and 77.

They are:

-- Sheree, played by Debbie Lake of Saginaw – a health food fanatic and over organizer.

-- Dinah, played by Susie Polito of Midland  – a high-powered lawyer who never saw the need to be a mother.

-- Lexi, played by Denyse Clayton of Midland – a multi-married woman so so in love, with herself.
From left, Polito, Winans-Bagnall, Lake and Clayton

-- Jeri, played by Trina Winans-Bagnall of Midland – a nun without much sense of fashion.

--  Vernadette, played by Jeanne Gilbert of Bay City –  best described as a hypochondriac with out-of-control children.

If you know anything about community theater in Midland, or for that matter mid-Michigan, these are five of the most talented actresses we have. And from the get-go they do not disappoint in this ensemble piece extraordinaire.

Every voice inflection, every body movement, every word out of their mouth is pure character. No one delivers better than the others. Their characters ARE long-time friends and everything that entails. 

And in the final scene, which we will not discuss in this review nor which are we showing in the pictures published with this review (but will publist at the end of the run), they elevate their performances into the stratosphere. 

But, then, everything else about this show is perfect as well.

The script by Jesse Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten is insightful, funny, poignant, filled with solid one-liners, serves up great arguments, is “clean.” 

What we enjoyed the most is whenever one or more of the women is out of sight, she is fair gossip game for the rest gathered on the front porch, which is where all the action takes place. Loving and concerned gossip, of course. Well, sometimes.

Director Adam Gardner's impact is all over the production. Nice tableaus and movement. Swift pacing. Detail, detail, detail. An evenhanded direction of five powerful actresses.

And the set and costuming are a riot of color. Greenish cabin with the orange glow of the sky in the background. Four costuming changes for each woman and in one case more. A wonderfully angled set with several levels.

Even the between-scenes action is fun as the set decorations are changed. A screen is lowered and projected are old-time slides of women's swim teams as well as clever  pictures taken of the cast  indicating the progression of their character's lives.

In watching the show, this reviewer felt the cast members were so into their characters and the whole atmosphere so real that more than once she just so badly wanted to join in on the conversation.

For more pictures:

In a word, Pit & Balcony's "Spring Awakening" is stupendous

Seated center is lead Ben Hendricks and at right with hand up is Nolan Good

review and photographs by janet i. Martineau

Where, oh, where to start with a review of Pit and Balcony Community Theater's production of the musical  "Spring Awakening," opening tonight (May 9).

There are so many avenues to pursue with it. So many.

So we will take the easy way and quote from director Tommy Wedge, who writes in his program notes, "This is not your average musical. It is so much more."

Indeed it is, and we applaud Pit for having the courage to stage this controversial show because the end result is stupendous, just stupendous.

The minimal yet stylistic set…the inventive and eye-pleasing choreography (also by Wedge)…the energetic acting and singing…the costuming and lighting… all just soar and are impossible to describe in words. This truly is one of the most visual shows Pit has staged.

And then there is its topic. In "Spring Awakening," which won eight Tony awards including best musical, 1891 meets 2007. 

Maggie Dehart, left, and Meagan Eager
Its script was written in 1891 by a German and deals with sexual oppression. Erotic fantasies, date rape, child abuse, homosexuality, suicide, abortion,  masturbation .... all there.

No wonder, back then, the play was banned and censored in Germany, New York, England. It is hard to believe it was written in another century because it is still edgy today.

Fast-forward to 2007 when to the play's words was layered on an un-oppressed contemporary rock/alternative music score with song titles like "My Junk," "The Bitch of Living"  and "Totally Fucked." More edginess.

Added to that we see and are asked to buy into a cast dressed in 1890s costuming, dealing with life as it was lived back then with their words, suddenly from  suit jackets pulling out microphones and singing the daylights out of a contemporary world song.

Nothing about this show should work. But it all does. And please don't be frightened by it.

Sitting there, taking it all in, and despite being nearly 70 years old, we flashed back continually to our own youth and sexual insecurities and repressive 1950s society. 

Suddenly we got to thinking, oh we weren't so different after all. We also got to thinking, oh if kids today see this show maybe they won't feel so different either. We got to thinking, oh this is truly what good art does.

Besides, it may call itself a rock musical but the music also is lush and memorable. And beautifully played by the seven-member orchestra.

Ben Hendricks and Meagan Eager are outstanding as the two leads, a young couple drawn to each other in a tragic way. No matter what they sing they nail it.

Nolan Good as Ben's distraught friend raises hair on the neck when he does an intense  meltdown song sequence.

Danessa Hellus and Carly Peil in the song "The Dark I Know Well," about family incest, punch us in the gut.

Ensemble work also propels this production, in particular in the songs "Totally Fucked," "Those You've Known"  and "The Song of Purple Summer."

And all of them, the entire cast, thanks to Wedge's strong directing hand, deliver acting performances that are just as strong as their singing skills.

Whatta show.