Sunday, January 30, 2011

P&B's "Woman in Black" struggles; Bay City's "Wait Until Dark" delivers

Review by Janet I. Martineau
Nearly 48 hours have passed since I attended Friday’s opening night performance of Pit and Balcony Community Theatre’s “The Woman in Black.”
And I still don’t know what I think of it. Neither does the person I went with.
“Woman in Black” is a ghost story....with an ending as clever and poignant and unnerving as they come. But getting there, to that ending, is painful, sorry to say. Dreadfully painful.
Is it the fault of pacing and staging by guest director Marc Beaudin? A lack of the needed intensity of drama from the two actors, Erich Williams and Michael Curtis? How the special effects and the set are delivered and designed? Or is it the very root of the thing, Stephen Mallatratt’s script based on the Susan Hill novel.
I suspect the latter, with input from the other three adding to the ills. There is no way to know for sure without seeing this play in another production in another place -- like the London theater where it has played for an astounding 21 years.
Saying much more is problematic, because viewers attending need to make the journey themselves into the desolation of an English countryside where there are strange goings on and the residents practically faint when certain names crop up. Suffice it to say, never mess with possible ghosts, locked doors and nighttime.
Williams and Curtis play a variety of roles amid a minimalist set which is suppose to let the audience imagination run amok. Sometimes they even play the same person. A would-be playwright has penned a script about a horrific event early in his life and has engaged an actor to help him polish it up and make it presentable to a planned select audience.
And from the get go this is the play’s problem -- the constant going back and forth from the playwright/actor discussing the script to then acting it out. Somehow, in this production anyway, this makes the show labor. Truly the script is in need of severe editing as well.
Willams and Curtis also do not quite delineate between all their characters. Close but not quite there. Same in delivering what should be a rising sense of scare factor as things intensify. Williams comes the closest, and perhaps as the run continues he will rise to the taxing demands of this role. 
Regarding the set and special effects, too much is left to the imagination, perhaps, as well as sounds which do not quite ring right...but primarily it is the fact there are too many words in this ghost story.
Toss in an intermission just when things start to get interesting, and you shut down what was finally building. 
But like we said, the ending is as fantastic as things can get in the annals of ghost stories. You know it is make believe but you go home edgy anyway and stay that way for hours. So, maybe, the play succeeded more than we thought.
Review of “Wait Until Dark,” presented by the Bay City Players
This review was due Jan. 15, but an accident left me without use of my right arm until now. So, in brief......
I watched her like a hawk ...Amanda Glashauser as the blind woman stalked within her own apartment by a trio of thugs. Would she, somewhere along the way, make a movement or gesture that indicated she could see. Nope, she did not in a rock-solid and nicely nuanced performance.
Strong too were Jim Stewart as the thug with a heart and Kurt Miller as the heartless thug, and Jessica Pichan as the game youngster in a neighboring apartment. After all these years, this suspense play still delivers the goods -- meaning you jump even though you know what is coming. And Elizabeth Dewey directed it well with nice attention to detail.
But what also crops up is how dated it is. In a world of digital cameras, non-rotary telephones and no-frost refrigerators, this script depends on film, rotary dials and frost to carry out its storyline --- with each passing year becoming more and more confusing to audience members who did not live in the good old days.

Saginaw Choral Society concert offers some Jerry Lee Lewis fun

Review by Janet I. Martineau
Goodness! Who would expect witnessing a kick ass performance of the Jerry Lee Lewis classic “Great Balls of  Fire” at a Saginaw Choral Society Concert....
Complete with standing up and pounding the keyboard with such force the light/music stand bounced like a basketball.....
Performed by a member of the group (a soprano) who is of an age, ah, well, let’s just say she’s “up there.”
But that is what Jean Cole did Saturday afternoon at First Presbyterian Church in the second of two performances of the annual Members’ Recital.
You go girl! Just glad you did not try kicking a leg up on the piano as Jerry Lee did.
In its seventh year, this Member’ Recital event is my favorite choral society offering of the year -- always one of great fun to see what pieces of music a bunch of singers will choose, what kind of ensembles they will form, what instruments they will use other than their voices.
And then at its end they serve you a vast array of desserts they have made or purchased.
This year was exceptional (but, then, I say that every year).
Among the highlights, other than Cole:

-- Tenor Jim Smerdon’s emotional rendering of “Mama Look Sharp” from the musical “1776.” This is sung by a dying/dead soldier on the battlefield. Too often it is performed with too much gusto. Not with Smerdon. Its pain and fading light of life was apparent from start to finish and it was exquisitely beautiful.
-- The vocal trio of alto Carolyn Gaus and sopranos Hayley Honsinger and Nancy Stevenson singing “At the Ballet” from the musical “A Chorus Line” in a smart arrangement which allowed for their voices to ebb and flow in solos, duets and a trio. And like with Smerdon, sung with the sadness depicted in the words.
-- Tenor Bryan Latimer and soprano Darlene Mikoleizik in two duets, “Why We Sing” and  “I Believe,” with Latimer accompanying them on piano. PLEASE you two -- record a CD or create a concert. You are MAGIC together, a gorgeous melding of silky smooth voices which relaxes the very soul.
-- Jane Bellen on oboe and Deanna Popielarz on flute in “Dreamy Duo,” an intriguing give and take between the two instruments.
-- Bass Matt Zielke in “Pierrot’s Dance Song,” a lovely turn at art song/opera sung with a wonderful sense of security and strength.
-- And move over Ah Tempo!,” the choral society’s superb men’s sextet that formed a year or so ago and has developed a strong following. You have a little competition from the quartet of men which formed to sing a rousing Gaither gospel number, “My Lord and I.”
Tenor David Hammond, bass Tim Hastings, bass Jim Hemeyer and tenor Stan Teliczan rocked the joint with it. I want more from you guys!
There were 20 acts in all in the 90-minute program, and this review mentions only a half dozen. On another day another six might rise to the mention, because all 20 were excellent in their selection and musicianship.
It there was a sour note -- and it is a rather large one -- it is the decision to “mess” with the format of the first six years. As it was designed originally, the acts were distributed all over the performance space -- front, back, sides, balcony, down the isle. Which resulted in a fun surround sound concept. And it was performed non-stop -- no interruption for applause in between numbers, which allowed the thing to built into a musical monument.
For some reason, this year all the acts were up front and there was a pause and applause between each of them, resulting in a loss of some of the magic.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Michigan Jazz Trail Festival headed to Saginaw, Midland, Bay City

John Pizzarelli 

by Janet I. Martineau

Three concerts ...featuring soul singer/songwriter Bettye LaVette, jazz guitarist/singer John Pizzarelli and Gershwin pianist/arranger Kevin Cole.
Three dates ... Friday, June 24, through Sunday, June 26.
And three cities ...  Bay City, Midland and Saginaw.
Bettye LaVette
Thanks to a nudge from the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance, last year’s inaugural MIchigan Jazz Trail concert in Midland is growing into a three-county extravaganza billed as a “find your groove in the Great Lakes Bay Region” event.
“We want to really mix it up,” says organizer Molly McFadden, a Midland jazz/cabaret singer with New York City credits. “So even though the Bay City concert is titled ‘Blues on the Bay,’ the Midland concert ‘Swing & Jazz in the Park’ and the Saginaw concert ‘Soul at the Temple,’ people can expect to hear all kinds of music at all three.”
McFadden says plans are in the preliminary stage, but so far the financial  backers include  Garber Management and Dow Chemical; Central Michigan University and the Great Lakes Bay Alliance are on board both with promotional help and serving on the event’s committees, and the concert sites and some of the talent are secured.
“We are the poster child of the arts for the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance,” quips McFadden, “the first big-scale collaborative effort (between the three counties of Saginaw, Midland and Bay).”
LaVette, who was born in Muskegon and raised in Detroit, headlines the June 24 concert at Bay City’s Friendship Shell in Wenonah Park. Pizzarelli follows on Saturday, June 25, in Midland’s Chippewassee Park, near the Tridge. And Cole closes the weekend Sunday in Saginaw’s Temple Theatre -- with an additional headliner in the works there.
“We’re also booking high school jazz bands and combos, regional jazz groups, and putting together a regional 18-member Michigan Jazz Trail Band conducted by Tom Knific, a bassist/composer/professor at Western Michigan University,” says McFadden. “And at the  end of each concert, the plans are the opening acts will join the headliner for a big jam session.”
Soul Express and Scott Baker and the Universal Expressions are signed on in Bay City; Flint’s Steelheads steel drum combo and Bryan Rombalski in Midland. Expect also, during the weekend, to hear McFadden sing as well as Saginaw’s Julie Mulady and Mary Gilbert of Midland.
The two outdoor concerts are expected to run from around 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., she said, with beer/wine and food tents planned. Saginaw has not yet set a time. And ticket pricing is still in the works.
McFadden says 11 years ago she was “blown away” when she attended a jazz festival in Sutton’s Bay -- along with being aware of Detroit’s large annual jazz festival. “It got me to thinking about the astounding talent and jazz musicians we have all over the state as well as in our area.
“So my vision, my passion was to tap into that, to feature high school students and local talent and then parachute in international stars who can mix it up with them. My canopy is that five years down the road we will have a Michigan Jazz Trail Festival linked all over the state doing just that. We are starting it in the Great Lakes Bay Region.”
Cole, the Bay City native who was last year’s headliner at the inaugural event in Dow Gardens, is thrilled with McFadden’s vision and the support it has received from the alliance.
Kevin Cole
“Michigan has a voice in the arts,” he said, “and I want to help it grow from here in the trenches to out there in the world.”
Cole has lived in Chicago for 16 years, and has amassed international credits with his work as a pianist, arranger, composer and singer of music by George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. He frequently returns home to perform in the mid-Michigan area.
LaVette, 64, scored her first hit at age 16 with the Top 10 rhythm and blues single “He’s a Lovin’ Man.” Since then she’s gone eclectic, also singing blues, rock, funk, gospel and country. 
Her music career took a six-year hiatus when she was on Broadway in the musical “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” In 2007, LaVette won a Grammy nomination for her album “The Scene of the Crime,” featuring her interpretations of music by such country and rock stars as Willie Nelson, Elton John and Don Henley.
In 2008 she performed during the Kennedy Center Honors in a tribute to honorees Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who. In 2009 she performed during an Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial.
Her most recent album is “Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook,” featuring the music of Beatles, Rolling Stones, Animals and Pink Floyd. And LaVette has been on NPR’s “World Cafe” and “All Things Considered” as as well as all the late night talk shows.

Pizzarelli, 50, is a native of New Jersey and the son of jazzman Bucky Pizzarelli. He is active as a jazz guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and band leader.
He has lists 23 solo albums on his resume as well as 40 more in collaborations ranging from James Taylor to Rosemary Clooney,
In 2008 Pizzarelli was nominated for a Grammy for “With a Song in My Heart,” a tribute to the music of Richard Rodgers. Other popular albums have featured his interpretations of jazz standards and bossa nova and the music of Frank Sinatra and Nat “King’ Cole.
Pizzarelli has performed with the Boston Pops, hosts a syndicated weekly radio show, and has appeared on all the late night talk shows.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge's 7.5-mile Wildlife Drive finally completed

American white pelicans on the Shiawassee refuge

by Janet I. Martineau
Ten years in the making .... it is finally finished.
The 7.5-mile Wildlife Drive through the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, on Curtis Road off M13,  was completed the week before Christmas, reports refuge manager Steven Kahl. It will officially open in mid-April.
“It was the most requested thing our visitors wanted,” Kahl told a recent “Nurturing Nature” audience at the refuge’s Green Point Environmental Learning Center facility. The refuge receives upwards of 60,000 visitors in a year, 63 percent of them from outside Saginaw County.
And with the project comes a new parking lot by an existing observation blind, so people can get out and hike on the nearby designated hiking trails; a new observation platform by the Shiawassee River, a ripe area for shore and marsh birds, and an ADA-compliant remake of the Grefe tower.
Also along its path are wetland, marsh and prairie habitat restoration projects which are  ongoing as the refuge evolves from its cropland roots to a wider diversity of habitat. 
“We want to add more things on the route in the future,” Kahl said, “like interpretive signs to explain how the refuge operates;  how we mange its system and because of that how it will look different from one year to the next over a six-year management cycle.
Bald eagle on the Shiawassee Refuge
“If a place like Shiawassee remains static, it does not work for wildlife. Ducks need a healthy wetland even more than water. 
“Wetlands are dynamic, the highs and lows all serve a purpose. They are not wet all the time; droughts are an important part of wetland vitality. Cracked mud excites me. Volumes and volumes of seeds are there waiting (to spring forth). The new plants grow, and the seeds on them ripen during fall migration, giving the birds their energy to fly. ”
As for wildlife, visitors can expect to see rare and declining birds, sand hill cranes, American white pelicans, coyote, whitetail deer, muskrat, bald eagles, reptiles and turtles.
The $3.3 million project will open the core of the 9,501-acre refuge to visitors on a daily basis six month of the year. Up until now, visitors had to hike two miles to get into that core or show up for one day in the spring and one day in the fall when the drive was open to cars.
“People for the most part did not get to see what makes Shiawassee a really special place more than that once or twice a year. The road -- which was not built as a road but as a dike -- just could not support any more traffic than on those two days. A half-inch of rain would cause all sorts of driving ills. The sides of the road were eroding. ”
What the project did, says Kahl, was enhance that route. What took so long was the design, obtaining a long list of permits,  and the massive engineering and equipment needs that reshaped the slopes of the dike, added material to shore up the sides, and created layers of  gravel and mesh to distribute the weight of cars and even buses as well as prevent rutting from rain.
“I see puddles in roads a whole lot differently now, having been through this process,” says Kahl, noting that often 18- to 24-inches of the existing dike roadbed was removed and rebuilt,  and in some places even 3 feet. “What water puddles do to a road is weaken it over time. Everything we did was to sustain vehicular pressure and decrease maintenance.”
The free Wildlife Drive will have limitations applied. Among them: 
--  Since the refuge is first and foremost a wildlife sanctuary, in particular for migrating birds, the wildlife drive will only be open mid-April through mid-October of each year to avoid stressing them during their peak travel times. That and snow removal in the winter would tax the refuge staff and budget.
“We will be closed when the species that are the most sensitive need the refuge the most. We also plan to have one-day or one-evening special events here and there, like being able to see the short-eared owls in winter. And even during our open season we could have to close occasionally because high water is creating a safety hazard (to the humans).”
--  The speed limit is 15, in hopes of saving the lives of snakes, turtles, muskrats and other small critters who also use the roadbed. “Road mortality is an issue we are concerned about,” says Kahl.
--   Other than in the designated the parking areas, drivers and their passengers are required to stay inside their cars. Kahl says for some reason, wildlife does not see vehicles as a threat; they serve as a blind. But the minute people get out of them wildlife anxiety noticeably increases.
“The more people stay in their cars the more the wildlife will stay nearby and people can see it. People cannot just stop and go off walking willy nilly.”
Shiawassee is one of 553 federal wildlife refuges in a system begun in 1903, by President Theodore Roosevelt. That system maintains 150 million acres, more than the national park service.
Shiawassee was established in 1953. It is not unusual that in its peak use, in the spring and fall, 40,000 ducks are there in a day and 25,000 Canada geese.
It shelters, Kahl says, 280 species of birds,  25 species of mammals, 10 species of reptiles, 10 species  amphibians, 48 species of fish, 300 species of insects, snails and mussels, and  300 species of plants.
Kahl says in 2006, the refuge created $1 million in economic activity for Saginaw County, a number he expects to increase significantly with the new wildlife drive.
Log on to for a look at the Wildlife Drive route, outlined in yellow.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Plans underway for two events honoring poet Theodore Roethke

Portrait of Theodore Roethke

by Janet I. Martineau
As the new year starts, plans are taking shape for two events celebrating the legacy of Theodore M. Roethke, Saginaw’s Pulitzer-winning poet.
Every three years, the Triennial Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize is awarded to poet of national stature. The last one went to Robert Pinsky, a former U.S. poet laureate, in 2008. So 2011 marks the next awarding of the monetary prize and a reading by the winner,  in November on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University. 
And this coming spring the Friends of Theodore Roethke organization, which maintains the poet’s boyhood home at 1805 Gratiot, plans to celebrate his May 25 birth date with a visit from Tess Gallagher -- one of Roethke’s students during his tenure at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Gallagher, 67, lives in Port Angeles, Wash., and is a poet, essayist, author and playwright. She also oversees the legacy of her late husband, author Raymond Carver. More than a decade ago Gallagher visited Saginaw for one of the Rouse for Roethke readings begun by the late Al Hellus.
In other Roethke-related news, SVSU reports that its Zahnow Library has received a donation of books, letters, photographs, recordings and other items from Roethke’s widow, Beatrice Roethke Lushington.
Among the items from Lushington, who lives in England, are more than 70 personal letters between her and Roethke’s sister, June. Written between 1960 and 1995, many of the letters have never been seen before and provide insights into the private life of the poet. Roethke (1908-1963) suffered from bipolar disorder. His sister, an English teacher, was a lifelong resident of Saginaw and lived in the family home until her death in 1997. Both of them are buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Saginaw Township.
Poet/writer Tess Gallagher
Also in the donation is a collection of nearly 200 books from Lushington’s library, reflecting her lifelong interest in poets and poetry. Among them is an annotated  copy of Allan Seager’s Roethke biography, “The Glass House,” in which Lushington corrects what  she consider errors in the book and records her personal reaction to events detailed in the book.
Although the triennial prize was begin in 1968 by the privately operated Theodore Roethke Memorial Foundation, in 2008 SVSU assumed control of its operation as well as memorabilia it had collected.
Jan Poppe, in the communications department at SVSU, chairs the committee overseeing the awarding of the prize this year. While award festivities have taken place in Saginaw in years past, Poppe reports that the Nov. 12-16 event will take on more of a festival atmosphere and will expand into Bay and Midland counties.
Although everything is preliminary at this point, the committee is planning:

-- A Saturday, Nov. 12, Poetry Slam at SVSU’s Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum.
-- Sunday, Nov. 13, a Roethke display at the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library in Midland and a possible slam or poetry reading there.
-- Monday, Nov. 14, a dinner-by-invitation at the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio in Midland. The SVSU Foundation  has formed a Theodore Roethke Memorial Endowment to help fund the growing festival, the prize itself and the establishment of a  Roethke scholar-in-residence program. The dinner may cultivate prospective donors. The endowment hopes to raise $500,000 by 2014.
-- Tuesday, Nov 15, a banquet and prize-bestowing event featuring the new prize winner and other poetic guests. The winner also will visit classes at SVSU.
-- Wednesday, Nov. 16, a “Grand Finale Concert” at First Presbyterian Church in Bay City, featuring Roethke poems set to music by Ned Rorem;  a string quartet playing a piece composed by Samuel Barber, whose says he found the lyricism of Roethke’s verse excellent material for song settings, and  a jazz set in recognition of Roethke’s love for that musical form.
-- On Nov. 14 or Nov. 16, a “Haunts of Roethke” bus tour throughout Saginaw.
The poet winning the prize is chosen by a process involving the current U.S. poet laureate and three judges who are working and published poets. That process has not yet begun.
As for the May 25th event at the Roethke boyhood home, Friends of Theodore Roethke president Annie Ransford says, health willing, 85-year-old Lushington plans to attend.
Gallagher will participate as a poet-in-residence, May 21-24, and in addition to reading from her own works will conduct writing workshops. 
In addition to authoring several books of prose and poetry, Gallagher  also has received a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation and two National Endowment of the Arts awards and has taught at numerous colleges.

Theodore Roethke published nine books of poetry, much of it reflecting the family greenhouse business and his love of nature. He won the Pulitzer, in 1954, for his book “The Waking” and today his work is in textbooks and anthologies worldwide.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Diana -- A Celebration" both joyful and sorrowful

by Janet I. Martineau
Did you know that one of Princess Diana’s hobbies was playing the piano? 
That Marmalade, a cat, was her favorite childhood pet and is buried near her on the family estate in England.
And that at age 5 she took home a report card with good marks for everything...except, well, the teacher wrote, “she must be careful where she puts Capital Letters.” At age 5! Give the kid a break!
Thirteen years may have passed since the car crash death of the People’s Princess, at age 36. But, apparently, her star has not dimmed. The Grand Rapids Art Museum is reporting sold out days for its run of the touring exhibition “Diana -- A Celebration.”  And, in a visit to it this week, more than a few sniffles were heard along its path of nearly 200 objects from her life. Maybe the visitors had colds, but we think not...noticing also that most of them lingered a long time at each artifact or informational panel.
Princess Diana's wedding gown
There are many highlights in the show -- including the information about her piano playing, a portrait of the cat which was commissioned as a gift from a grandparent, and the critical report card.
A notation in a 1979 diary reads  “write to the queen.” The typewritten speech her brother delivered at her funeral shows the penciled-in additions and deletions he made at the last minute -- the deletions the most telling. There are several sparkling jewels worn by Spencer ancestors.
Images of her charitable work remind us she was, in 1987, the first high-profile person to shake the hand of an AIDS patient. There is her collection of animal figurines. And since she was quite possibly the most photographed person in the world ever, the show is rich with video and still images. Even her father well documented her during her childhood.
But nothing quite grabs the breath when, after turning two sharp corners from one section of the exhibition to the next, there it is in all its royal splendor. Diana’s wedding dress. Seen by an estimated 1 billion television viewers back in 1981. And yes, the  massive 25-foot train is included. Nearly taking up the entire length of that room.
Amazingly, the dress only cost $1,900 -- a steal, even with prices back then, if you ask me. And as you gaze upon its elegance, a large-screen video plays the wedding ceremony while nearby enlarged candid photographs relive that fairy tale wedding. It is at this point, the exhibition tugs at both joy and sorrow.
And then sorrow takes over completely in the section dealing with her funeral, the sounds of Elton John singing “Candle in the Wind” as yet another video screen showcases images of massive grief. Interestingly, a panel tells us 2.8 billion watched that funeral -- more than double the number who watched her wedding to Prince Charles 16 years earlier, so had grown her popularity.

The critical report card
Thankfully, the exhibition ends on a high note -- a display of 28 of the gowns and other outfits Diana wore, and wore so well, over the years, along with photos showing her in them and description panels about their designers and on what occasions they were worn. Unfortunately none of her dynamite hats are included. But seeing those dresses puts a smile back on the face.
Just past the gift shop (offering a special tea cup with a rose on it as well as other tasteful things) are two floor-to-ceiling bookcases, crammed with all the books of remembrances people signed throughout the world when she left us.
Somewhere in there is my name and a message. I was seeing plays in Stratford, Ont., when one of Canada’s circulating remembrance books stopped at the city hall. I stood in a line to sign it back then, wondering what would become of it and would her family even care. I now have my answer.
So here we 2011 we will tune in another royal wedding, with Diana’s eldest son, William, as the groom. Will his wife, Kate, become our next Diana....a fairy tale princess we still seem to need in our lives?
IF YOU GO: “Diana -- A Celebration” continues through Feb. 16 at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, 101 Monroe. The advance purchase of timed tickets is advised, priced at $20 for adults and $18 for seniors and students. For more information, log on to
Her brother, Charles Spencer, will visit the museum on Jan. 10.  There also are two special teas, a ladies night, and a Valentine’s dinner connected with the show.
The commemorative tea cup

And the winners are ... Top 10 arts events of 2010

by Janet I. Martineau
Back when I was the arts/entertainment editor at The Saginaw News, I used to close out each year by listing my picks for the Top 10 arts/cultural events for the year  --  concerts, plays, lectures, art exhibitions and special events I had attended, from community theater to professional shows making a stop in Saginaw, Midland and Bay City.
So now that I have moved into the world of blogging in 2010, why not continue the tradition?

1. 42nd Annual Region II Kennedy Center/American college Theater Festival, held in January at Saginaw Valley State University.
Granted this five-day festival was not totally open to the public, but attending it and seeing 1,300 collegians from 79 midwestern schools present, collectively, seven full length plays, an evening of scenes, assorted 10-minute productions and compete for acting solo honors was an event that cannot be ignored -- nor can SVSU’s stamina in carrying it off with but only few glitches (including a nasty winter storm).
A woven tree by Rosalind Berlin
We still are mulling over Western Michigan University’s production of  its own “Good Death,” a look at Jack Kevorkian and the issue of assisted suicide through the lens of real life cases and testimonies. It was a life-changing play and a script with roots in Michigan.

2. “Growing Green in the Forest Glen” exhibition/Restoration Theater production of “The Tempest,” at Midland’s Creative 360 in April.
Nearly 200 of Saginaw Township fiber artist Rosalind K. Berlin’s woven fiber trees, which had been on exhibit at Creative 360 since March 5, served as the “set” for the newly formed Restoration Theatre’s inaugural show,  of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” beautifully directed by Carol Rumba.
The cast wove in and out of the colorful hanging trees, some of them 15 feet tall, with the audience seated  just at the edge of the forest. And the night was about as magical as things can get as the world of visual art and dramatic theater collaborated. 

3. “A Streetcar Named Desire,” at Saginaw Valley State University in November.
This classic by Tennessee Williams is tough enough stuff for professional theater companies to pull off, let alone a cast of collegian thespians still learning the craft. But director David Rzeszutek worked a miracle here with this grim and tortured play.  Amanda Mueller as Stella, Rusty Myers as Stanley and Danielle Schoeny as Blanch led a stellar cast and an inventive and detailed set completed the picture.

4. Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra’s “A New Season Begins” concert at the Temple Theatre in September.
OK, in May the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra had chosen 30-year-old Brett Mitchell as its new maestro and back then he and the orchestra kinda played second fiddle during an ABBA tribute concert. So what would his “real”  inaugural concert four months later deliver? 
Ah, goose bumps and fireworks, folks. It just  kept building ...from the fun “Millennium Canons” by Kevin Puts to Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 to Mahler’s marvelpus Symphony No. 1.
Mitchell said in program notes that he  “wanted to make a statement with this first concert.” Well, he and his musicians certainly did that to the rousing cheers of an appreciative audience.

5. Pit and Balcony Community Theatre production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in May.
Guest director Michael Walling updated this dated musical into a magnificent visual treat. Who will ever forget Jennifer Tesoro as the  swaggering leather-clad dominatrix  Pilate, the high priests clad in grey with designer suits and purses, the masses looking like punk rockers, the angled black and white set. 

6. Saginaw Choral Society’s “Time to Look Around” concert at the Temple Theatre in October.

Glen Thomas Rideout

It was an electrically charged night as the choral society kicked off its 75th season with guest conductor (and job candidate) Glen Thomas Rideout leading a musical trip around the world. Rideout sang a little solo, led the choral to new heights in its sound, exhorted the audience to help create the sounds of a rainstorm and was witty to boot. And before the concert, various ethnic groups set up cultural display tables to compete the world tour.
As the new year began, the choral society picked the 25-year-old Rideout as its new artistic director/conductor. No big surprise given that night in October.

7. Tribute: The Eagles concert starring the group Grefe Gaus & Grefe with Gottlieb Roberts Gottlieb & Grefe, at Pit and Balcony Community Theater in April.
In 2009, this Saginaw group of friends and family members formed to perform sold out shows featuring the music of Crosby Stills and Nash.
They got back in the groove to soar with the sounds of the Eagles and once again the seats were filled during three shows. No wonder no seats were left because they create one hell of a sound. Coming up in 2011, they’ll return with a “One Hit Wonders” outing.

8. Pit and Balcony Community Theatre’s  production of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” in December.
Guest director/choreographer Mark D. Lingenfelter kept everything simple in this show -- the set, the dances, the costumes, the performances -- and as a result created a blockbuster retelling of an old movie classic. Oh, and he also found some of the best singing voices Pit has showcased in years. 

9. Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” at Creative 360 in Midland in December.
"The Merry Wives of Windsor"
For the past couple of years, this small company based in Grand Haven has presented wonderfully entertaining “in your face” productions at Creative 360  -- in your face meaning there is no barrier between them and the audience during their high energy performances. And with each show they get better and better. “Wives” sported an upgrade in costuming as well as tons of laughs.

10.  Peanut Gallery production of “The Snow Queen” at Midland Center for the Arts in December.
A cast of 36, elementary to early high schoolers, was clad in costumes to die for, a set and staging that was as clever as all get out, and direction from Denyse Clayton and Kristiina Pilnik that was rock solid in making most of them  sound and look mighty good.
Also worthy of note in 2010 were:
-- “Artfest 55 Senior Moments” talent show at Midland’s Creative 360.
-- Center’s Stage’s production of “Our Town” at the Midland Center for the Arts.
-- Ah! Tempo concert for Concerts at First Presbyterian series in Saginaw.
-- “A Christmas Carol,” presented radio theater style, at Saginaw Valley State University.
-- Regional Biennial Sculpture Exhibition at SVSU’s Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum.
-- “An Evening of Elegance” at Midland’s Dahlia Hill, a fund-raising dinner atop the hill as the sun set over 3,000 dahlias at their peak amid Charles Breed’s accompanying sculptures.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Three poets to read from works in Midland

Three published poets will gather in Midland to read from their works.

Robert Fanning, Arra Ross and John Palen will read at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 14, in the Fellowship Hall of Midland United Church of Christ, 4100 Chestnut Hill Drive. The reading is free and is part of an occasional series of poetry readings sponsored by the church.

Fanning teaches creative writing at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. Three collections of his poetry have been published: "American Prophet" and "The Seed Thieves," both by Marick Press, and "Old Bright Wheel," by Ledge Press. 

Ross teaches creative writing at Saginaw Valley State University. Her book of poetry about the American Shaker community, "Seedlip and Sweet Apple," was published by Milkweed Editions.

Palen, a retired CMU  teacher who lives in Midland, is the author of "Open Communion: New and Selected Poems," published by Mayapple Press; "Harry Truman All the Way," by Pudding House,  and "Drizzle and Plum Blossoms," translations of Chinese poetry in collaboration with Midlander Li C. Tien.

Refreshments follow the readings.'

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Glen Thomas Rideout new Saginaw Choral Society conductor

by Janet I. Martineau
It’s official .. the athletic and witty candidate with the flowing dreadlocks and fancy red socks is the new artistic director/conductor of the Saginaw Choral Society.
Following an 18-month search which showcased seven candidates, Baltimore native Glen Thomas Rideout of Ann Arbor won the job. He was the next to last candidate to guest conduct a concert -- and it was a spectacular one.
The program featured music from around the world, Rideout himself even warbling on one of the songs, as well as the sounds of a  “rainstorm,” which Rideout created with the help of not only his singers but also the audience.
The Oct. 23 concert shot a wave of electricity through the Temple Theater, with many in attendance (myself included) saying the choral society had achieved a new sophistication of sound during it.
Nina Lasceski, chair of the search committee and a soprano with the chorale, recalls working with Rideout on that concert. 
“He made rehearsals fun,” she said. “He went out of his way to get to know the singers AND the audience. During each rehearsal, he set aside a couple minutes for the singers to ask him questions. And after his concert, he went outside in front of the Temple Theatre and greeted the audience members as they left. The positive feedback we received was phenomenal. 
Continued Lasceski, “He brings  a spark of energy to choral music that is apparent both on and off the podium.  He is a dynamic musician and an avid communicator with unique insight.”
In accepting the job, Rideout said, “The Saginaw Choral Society has a great statewide reputation for artistic excellence, and when I first heard about the opening I knew I wanted to offer my name for consideration.
“I am very excited to have an opportunity to lead a group of such a rich history of artistic excellence and thriving musical community. I look forward to getting to know both the singers and the people in this larger community throughout our musical journey together.” 
The volunteer community chorus is in its 75th year.
Rideout, who is pursuing his doctoral degree at the University of Michigan, begins his duties immediately. He replaces Robert C. Sabourin of Midland, who stepped down in May, 2009, after leading the group for six years. And Sabourin replaced the late Jack B. Jonker, who led the group for nearly a quarter of a century.
First up for Rideout is to prepare the chorus for its May 7 concert, “Party Time,” at the Temple.   The program selections were submitted by Rideout as part of the audition process and rehearsals for it begin Monday night.
“I think of ‘Party Time’ as a musical ‘engagement celebration,’ the idea being that the choral society and the new conductor will have engaged each other,” says Rideout. “You’re going to hear a musical celebration like none other—the type of high- octane journey the choral society does so well.”
It is the final concert of the 2010-2011 season.
Also among his duties is preparing the chorus to sing  Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” with the Midland Symphony Orchestra on April 16, at the Midland Center for the Arts, and to combine with other regional choirs in the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Temple Theatre on May 14.
Currently, Rideout is director of music at First Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Ann Arbor. He holds a bachelor of music in voice degree from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.,  and a master of music degree in choral conducting from the University of Michigan. 
He earned first prize in the National Association of Teachers of Singing voice competition and was awarded second prize in the American Choral Directors’ Association National Conducting Competition. He also has conducted numerous choirs in the United States and Europe.
The choral society’s search committee received 27 applications, and the seven finalists each conducted a concert during the past year and a half. In addition to Rideout, the finalists were Clinton Desmond of Mitchell, S.D.;  Timothy Hendrickson of Midland;  Zebulon Highben of East Lansing;  Catherine McMichael of Saginaw Township; Leo Najar of Bay City, and Kevin Simons of Saginaw. Both Desmond and Simons withdrew their names from consideration after receiving full-time university job offers.