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.

Zukerman in KC

I was recently in Kansas City (that’s in Missouri, Mr. Trump) and I attended a lovely concert by the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra conducted by the Music Director, Michael Stern – son of Isaac Stern.

Soloing with the orchestra was the great virtuoso violinist Pinchas Zukerman.  One of the high points of the concert was being in their new (2011) concert hall, The Kauffman Center.  It is a spectacular facility, designed by architect superstar Moshe Safdie.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Williamsnton Goes For Something Dark

When you enter the Williamston Theatre to see “900 Miles to International Falls” a world premier play written by Annie Martin, you won’t know what to expect.  The stage is totally empty except for a huge screen, made of squares and covering the entire back wall.

Suddenly, a cacophonous montage video (created by Alison Dobbins along with the playwright, Annie Martin) fills up the screen splattered with overlapping You Tubes and cable news reports in various languages, reporting the news of the day – aliens arriving on earth, wars are everywhere, we need to be watchful.

Welcome to Detroit, 2054.

Friday, February 14, 2020

"Roadsigns" at Purple Rose

Not only is Lansing a Mecca for good local theater, there are plenty of additional high-quality theater companies within an easy hour drive.

One of the best companies in Michigan is located in Chelsea, The Purple Rose Theatre Company, and it has strong roots in Lansing. The long-standing artistic director is Guy Sanville who did lots of work as an actor and director in Lansing and the Williamston Theatre was founded and is being run by a full group of Purple Rose alumni.

Local Stars Win Big

Mid-Michigan has always been a great breeding ground for prize winning musicians and artists. I don’t really know why this is, but I have always found that it is unusual how many successful public figures (sports, business people, also) are from the local area.

Here’s the current news on three folks who graduated from Lansing-area high schools and have gone on to bigger and better things.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Arts Writers: Let's Do Play-by-Plays

It’s no surprise that newspapers throughout the US are drastically cutting arts coverage of any kind.  Even though audience numbers are up, reviews of concerts and plays are sparse and feature stories are rarer still.

Being a long time arts writer, I have been thinking how to combat this trend, and I think I’ve found the answer.

I have noticed that as the arts coverage is disappearing, the sports articles continue to expand.  Instead of being a “sports page” it is now a “sports section” - sometimes two - covering high school, college and pro sports in excruciating detail.  Pages and pages are filled with analyses, graphs, standings, and features. Why can’t the arts do that?

Instead of blaming the sports writers for gobbling up all of the available white space in local papers, I think that arts writers should learn from the sports writing colleagues.  We should be more like them and take their lead. 

Absolutely Right

                                   Photo: Jim Zacks

Flutist Richard Sherman has found the secret recipe for improving the concert experience for modern classical music lovers. Begin with alcohol, add a dab of discussion, chose the best musicians available, avoid stuffiness and throw in a dollop of education.

Sherman’s Absolute Music Chamber Series started out giving small chamber concerts in the Absolute Art Gallery in Lansing’s Old Town. He wanted to re-create the audience friendly environment that he’s been enjoying at the Chautauqua Institution during the summers in New York State for the last 25 years.

In the beginning, in 2009, the setting was charming, but the acoustics were not perfect and the setting was cramped.

A few years later they retained the Absolute name but changed location and moved a block down the street.  They now perform at the Urban Beat Event Center – a hip looking place with exposed old brick walls, a small bar and tons of character.