Saturday, February 27, 2021

Lansing Symphony: Up-Close, Personal and Online


How can a symphony orchestra survive if there are no audiences to listen to their concerts?

Lansing Symphony Orchestra conductor and music director Timothy Muffitt has given much thought to pondering an answer to that difficult question.

The most obvious answer is digital video.  A quick scan of You Tube and you will find hundreds of orchestras trying various ways of keeping classical performances alive and their subscribers happy.

Muffitt says, “I’ve spent a lot of time viewing videos of orchestras giving performances with empty concert halls.  That didn’t seem right to me. I kept on thinking; how can we turn liabilities into assets?”

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Lansing's Queen of Theater, Dead


On January 30th, Lansing lost its queen of local theater. Carmen Decker died at age 97 after years of lingering bad health.

She was only 5 foot tall, painfully shy and had a high raspy voice, but when the petite blonde stepped on the stage she became a powerhouse of the theater.

Carmen Decker was hailed by both her peers and her fans as the first lady of Lansing theater.

Whether she played in a classic drama like “The Lion in Winter”, an emotional human story like “The Gin Game” or a raucous comedy like “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All For You”, Decker won over the audience with applause and awards.

All of us who have loved Lansing theater over the decades have reveled in Carmen’s heartfelt and brilliant performances.  Beginning with the Lansing Civic Players in the 1950s, she later became a key member of the Boarshead Theater and delighted audiences with dozens of plays that paired her with John Peakes, the theater’s founder. 

The chemistry they displayed on stage was a rare and beautiful thing to behold. 


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

MEHRETU: East Lansing Artist Becomes International Sensation


This article will soon appear in the Lansing Sate Jounrnal.  You get a sneak preview

One sure way of rating the health and success of a city, is to see what its children, now adults, have accomplished who were raised there. 

Well, in the case of the greater Lansing area, the kids have done very well, thank you.  Here’s a small sampling of some of the standouts who have achieved national and international recognition, along with where they graduated from high school. It’s quite an impressive list.

·      Larry Page, co-creator of Google, East Lansing High School

·      Magic Johnson, basketball superstar and business leader, Everett High school.

·      Lisa Kron, Tony-award winning Broadway writer and performer, Everett High School.

·      Nate Silver, pollster and statistician guru who is constantly quoted by media throughout the US. East Lansing High School.

·      Julie Mehretu, world renown visual artist who was listed in TIME magazine’s most influential 100. East Lansing High School  

Is there something about the environment and culture of mid-Michigan that nurtures world class success in our children? We will attempt to find out.

Let’s begin with Julie Mehretu

Julie Mehretu

As my Zoom screen flickered to life, Julie Mehretu’s image appeared.  A fresh, lively face, a full crop of curly – almost unruly- hair, with a big easy smile.  Nearing 50, Julie is vibrant, full of energy and shows no pretentions despite her dazzling career.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Cable News Crisis?

 I would love to be a fly on the wall in the morning meetings at CNN and MSNBC.  The future may not be bright for them.

If Trump happens to lose the presidential election in two weeks, they may have to go back to presenting the news again.

For the past six years, Mr. Trump has succeeded in hijacking the major cable news networks.  Having achieved fame for his Apprentice TV show, Trump knows a thing or two about what drives the media and he has taken full advantage of that expertise.

Cable news has been transformed into Trump cable news. Instead of showing a full display of national and international news and issues, we are inundated with a reality show of wall-to-wall Trump, Trump, Trump.

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Democrat Convention: A Creative Challenge


Convention Director, Glenn Weiss - Photo credit: Janis Friedlander Svendsen/Facebook

The creative process has always fascinated me.  The process of growing a work of art from an idea to its ultimate presentation is a journey filled wrong-ways, bumps, dead-ends, and potholes. But every now and then a great idea appears from the sky somewhere and things come together.  It seems like a miracle.

I thought a lot about the creative process when watching the Democratic National Convention last week.  The format for a national political convention has remained constant for the last 60 years or so.

 But now, during the Covid-19 epidemic, the organizers were tasked to transform the entire shebang to somehow fit into a TV show with no audiences. Impossible!

 It is difficult to even consider that level of challenge. Glenn Weiss, the “show’s” director, has previously been successful at steering  the Tony Awards, The Kennedy Center Honors and other shows, but what we saw last week was a monstrous eight hours of content over a four day period.  Dozens of cameras, live and taped, worldwide locations, kids and adults.   

 Talk about a daunting challenge!


Monday, July 6, 2020

"Hamilton" - A Triumphant Second Wave

Disney’s streaming release of the mega hit musical “Hamilton” has solved one of the great cinematic conundrums of the past 60 years. How do you take a beloved and successful Broadway musical and repackage it into a movie that is faithful to the original material?

Here are the biggest potholes that block the success of almost every stage-to-screen attempt.

Lip-syncing: All movie musicals (except for “Les Miz”) have the actors lip sync the lyrics that they (or someone else) recorded in studios months before.  It never sounds believable.

Wrong actors: Since Hollywood craves that big, big hit, producers often hire famous movie stars to play the leads. Often these stars don’t sing well or dance. One reason musicals are so electrifying is that the skills these Broadway actors/singers/dancers display live on the stage is nothing less than jaw dropping. Movie stars can’t come close.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Sondheim in the age of Zoom

For died-in the wool Broadway show lovers, Stephen Sondheim is more than legendary – the word “iconic” better describes his standing with his fans.

True enough, some folks prefer more traditional fare like Oklahoma, Hello Dolly, Guys and Dolls and such. Sondheim’s shows demand a slightly different taste. They’re more philosophical, intricate, and serious, but never have singing choruses or dancing. Musicians regard his music and lyrics as challenging and demanding.

At age 90, Sondheim is old enough to have witnessed many theatrical tributes to his music. 

But I must say, I have never seen a celebration of his work quite like the one that is currently available on You Tube called Take Me To The World .  For anyone who enjoys great voices singing some of the most sophisticated songs ever written, this is a true treasure.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Social Distancing - Nothing New

The coronavirus is forcing us to experience social distancing to the extreme, but actually we have been flirting with separating ourselves from others for quite a while. And we’ve been doing it by choice.

Several years ago I remember being shocked at seeing three young women friends together in a restaurant.  They were sitting very close to one another but were not paying attention to each other at all.  Instead, they were all talking or texting on their phones while their friends were right in front of them face to face. So instead of communicating with each other, they were interacting with their phones. Today, that has become a very common occurrence.

The social distancing that society has experienced over the last ten years or so has happened so gradually, that we have scarcely noticed it.  

Little by little we left the global community and chose to live within ourselves.

Friday, March 13, 2020

A World Without Music

Yeh, I get it.

In order to contain the coronavirus, we should not congregate in large groups for fear of spreading the disease.  Therefore, we must cancel all large public gatherings – like concerts, plays and sporting events.

The problem, however, is that we seek refuge in public places to experience arts and beauty when we are feeling anxious and upset.  And many of us are having those feelings right now, while at the same time we are told to avoid other people.

Here’s what many are coping with: a virus we know very little about but is nevertheless engulfing the US, the stock market (and our retirement savings) dropping at catastrophic rates and feeling powerless over the flow of world events. To help us deal with these issues, we seek comfort by being with other people and listening to live music. But we are told now that we can’t.

Friday, February 28, 2020

REVIEW: Fair Lady, Flawed by Faulty Sound

The premise of “My Fair Lady” (at Wharton Center until March 1) is still provocative.  If you change the way she speaks (walks and eats), can you transform a poor flower girl to an upper-class society lady?

Although the play takes place in 1912, the idea still rings true today.  The crux of the show is the constant fun being played with language. The wonderful song “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” is a veritable word puzzle we try to solve: What is Eliza actually singing, in her strong cockney accent?

I especially enjoy the line “Oh, so lovely sittin’, abso-bloomin-lutely still, I would never budge till spring, crept over me windowsill.”

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Remembering a Snowbound Lady

As I look out on the beautiful winter wonderland engulfing the Lansing area and think about My Fair Lady’s opening at Wharton Center tonight, I am reminded of another time MFL played Lansing.

Back in 1978 (way back then?) My Fair Lady had a two-night stay at the MSU University Auditorium (that was four years before Wharton opened). After the last scheduled show, a huge snowstorm landed in Mid-Michigan and the My Fair Lady company was unable to leave Lansing to go to their next stop.