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Viva Verdi!

October 12th, 2013

Skagit Opera produces another winner
by John French

Opera, by its very nature, is hard. Not only do you have to be able to sing some of the most difficult repertoire a singer may ever encounter, you also have to be able to move like a human being. Stand and Bark is not an option anymore. You have to have a thoroughly supportive orchestra under you and (hopefully) settings that do not look like a 1960s soap opera.

In honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Joe Green (a.k.a Giuseppe Verdi), the Skagit Opera meets many of those over-the-top goals with their production of Rigoletto at McIntyre Hall in Mt. Vernon. This opera has it all: drama, comedy, THE great drinking song and, of course, death while singing very, very high.

First off, the sets and costumes are both very colorful and well done. Especially the backdrops, which I really liked. They were also simple and versatile without that icky living room look. The lighting was especially effective, and the movement of the entire cast was very lifelike. That last remark may sound a little snarky, but you would be surprised how often in theatre that is hard to pull off.

As to the singing: Ryan MacPherson set the bar very high right from the opening aria He polished his chops with the now defunct New York City Opera Company and it shows Not to be out done, the Skagit Opera’s Korean Konnection of Yuseok Oh, as Rigoletto and Adam Kim as Marullo showed forth beautifully. As did Benjamin Harris (as Count Monterone & Sparafucile). I always love it when the bass gets to rock the house.

Yu Seok Oh as Rigoletto and Courtney Ruckman as Gilda in the Skagit Opera production. - Photo credit - Michelle Doherty Photography

Yu Seok Oh as Rigoletto and Courtney Ruckman as Gilda in the Skagit Opera production. – Photo credit – Michelle Doherty Photography

On the female side you cannot help but fall in love with Courtney Ruckman as Gilda. Her voice quality was superb and the phrasing was absolutely adorable. If I could find any fault it was in the duos where she just did not meet Oh’s power and was a bit buried. But her solos were magnificent. I was also attracted to the wonderful Serena Eduljee as Countess Ceprano.

As someone who has experience on both sides of the baton, I tend to pay close attention the orchestra, and they did not disappoint tonight. Maestro Bernard Kwriam had them very tight with the soloists as I have not heard before with Skagit Opera. There were some intonation issues (especially in the string department) which I find annoying, but there is no such thing as perfection in live theatre. My hat is also off to the compact, but totally efficient chorus under the tutelage of Glenda Wilson

There is also a surprise in a quick five-minute set change of the first act that has nothing to do with Rigoletto, but is great fun. You are just going to have to buy a ticket to find out what that is.

There is a tradition in theatre that the director gives notes to the cast after a rehearsal. So, dear readers I am going to give you my notes:

Get down to McIntyre Hall to see this show! It is worth every penny and then some. And the setting could not be more ideal.

Rigoletto plays October 11, 13, 18 and 20. Tickets are available at the McIntyre Hall box office by calling (360) 416-7727 or online.

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A long-awaited debut

October 9th, 2013

Maestro Attar bows in

by John French

The Whatcom Symphony Orchestra began what is hoped to be the brand new day for the group with their debut under the baton of Maestro Yaniv Attar this afternoon at the historic Mt. Baker Theatre. And, like most beginnings, there was some in the good category, and some in the not so much category.

We began the afternoon by meeting the very affable new President of the Board, Bruce Cox followed by equally affable new executive director (and double bassist) Thom Mayes. Mr. Mayes informed the nearly sold out audience that the month of October was the month that orchestras everywhere were celebrating the memory of musician/journalist Danny Pearl who was killed by terrorists in 2002.

His family has been promoting music as a way for us to divert our focus from our ethnic backgrounds, cultures and countries, and unite us in the pursuit of art, especially music. As is the custom of the WSO on the opening concert of the new season we all rose and sang the Star-Spangled Banner. I found this odd…not that we sang our national anthem…but the idea that art should supersede such things as national identity, ethnic origin, political persuasion etc. and then segue into one country’s national identity is an odd juxtaposition for me.

Then it was down to business as the orchestra opened the program with the Overture to Johann Strauss’ operetta Die Fledermaus. And I can think of nothing better to start my day than this bubbling orchestral piece that should put a smile on every ones face. Good beginning.

Yaniv Attar

The orchestra then found it necessary to re-tune. This is generally not a good beginning. Then, we launched into the Overture to Romeo and Juliet Fantasy by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Here, the orchestra was having some difficulty with intonation and playing together, especially in the soaring string melodies that are state-of-the-art Tchaikovsky. But everyone made it through to a successful conclusion and a warm reception from the audience.

Just before half-time came the highlight of the program for me: the 5th & 6th Hungarian Dances by that most non-Hungarian German composer Johannes Brahms. These pieces are so playful and full of life that they actually been used as music for both Charlie Chaplin and Tom and Jerry. Now, one does not normally associate the word “playful” with Brahms, but they most certainly are and were played with much affection by the orchestra and Maestro Attar.

The entire second half of the concert was devoted to Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G minor. As this piece begins with one of the most beautiful cello lines I know, I was a bit apprehensive of what was going to come after Romeo and Juliet. I did not need to fear! The cello section handled their many signature lines throughout this symphony quite well and the concert came to a rousing conclusion that afforded us the opportunity to hear the new direction the orchestra is going.

On a personal note, I want to commend Maestro Attar for his ability to communicate with the audience. Back in the Jurassic Period while I was in the concert organ business, I took a lot of heat for daring to speak between pieces. Thankfully, those days are gone and Maestro Attar is very good at that particular art: being engaging and informative without being a showboat.

I shall eagerly look forward to seeing this new union as they mutually grow with each other and provide us with life-long memories of music.

Next on the symphony’s calendar is a concert on Sunday, November 3, 3:00 p.m at the MBT. The guest artist will be superstar violinist Gil Shaham and more details are available on the WSO site. WSO concerts are often sellouts, so it behooves the concertgoer to purchase tickets early by calling the MBT box office at (360) 734-6080 or online.

Simon says, laugh and cry

September 26th, 2013

BTG welcomes new director
by Lily Olason

Bellingham Theatre Guild treats us to a slice of the Big Apple this month in Prisoner of Second Avenue. A sidesplitting cast under the direction of Alan Peet and some alarmingly relevant commentary forty-two years post original release, the guys at the Guild have hit their mark with this staple of American drama.

Mel Edison’s worried, and his wife just can’t figure it out. He fights with his German stewardess neighbors through the walls and paces at 2:30 in the morning. He yells at the guy upstairs, can smell the garbage from his fourteenth floor balcony, the walls are cracking, the rent’s out of control. And to make matters worse, everything’s permeated by the arid economic climate of the early ‘70s.

How could you beat the casting of Lucas Naylor and Bonnie Hollingsworth as Mel and Edna Edison? Their delivery and rapid-fire exchanges are perfect, little quips about everything excellent, arguing with offstage irritants respectable and hilarious. Naylor’s voice is exactly what one would expect to yell at them through their ceiling and then later steal their New York Times. Both are fabulous to watch speak, act, and draw laughter onstage.

Bonnie Hollingsworth and Lucas Naylor star in Prisoner of Second Avenue at the Belling ham Theatre Guild.  Photo credit - David Cohn

Bonnie Hollingsworth and Lucas Naylor star in Prisoner of Second Avenue at the Belling ham Theatre Guild. Photo credit – David Cohn

As Mel’s life is further confined within the yellow walls of his apartment (the set crew’s work here is wonderful), things go from bad to worse when job loss and robbery push him over the edge into a nervous breakdown. Enter fast talking New York businessman, Harry (Robert Muzzy), frequent crier Jessie (Suzie Clark), downright comedic Pearl (Kerry L. Van Winkle), and financially apprehensive Pauline (Sally Lubetich) to aid in pulling their brother out of his slump and back on his feet. All four, too, seem perfectly matched to their roles and induce laughter in so many places and ways it’s impossible to keep track.

The wardrobe department, headed by Aubrey Kornelis, has truly done an amazing job in curating ensembles that so accurately reflect the era. A time machine, if you will, so many styles of decades hence add such an elemental piece to the work and further the authenticity of this show.

As the plotline revolves around the recession of the early ‘70s, several comments by Mel and Edna strike an eerie familiarity in the here and now. Unemployment of the primary breadwinner, welfare, the middle class getting passed over, big industries facing big problems are as relevant now as they were under Mr. Nixon.

Peet and his gang have done a fabulous job with this frontrunner of American drama, mixing wonderful local talent with a famous production. There’s funny, plenty of it, plus emotional, real, and gritty things in this work. Prisoner of Second Avenue is not an evening to skip.

Evening performances run September 27, 28, October 3, 4, 5, and 10, 11, 12 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday matinees run September 29, and October 6 and 13 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets sell for $14 (adults), $12 (students/seniors), and $8 (children). You can reach the ticket office at (360) 733-1811, Tuesday through Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m. The Bellingham Theatre Guild is located at 1600 H Street. For more information, see the BTG website.

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September 25th, 2013

Iconic music at Claire vg
by Lily Olason

Musical theatre enthusiasts, show chorus patrons, lovers of classic Americana, rejoice! The Rodgers and Hammerstein collection comes to life at the Claire vg Thomas Theatre as Some Enchanted Evening.

The lovely and dedicated Mrs. Thomas herself, at one point an audition pianist for the most dynamic duo in show business, was named honoree of this cohesive and awe-inspiring anthology of their work.

Featuring familiar numbers from legendary musicals like Oklahoma!, Carousel, Me and Juliet, Cinderella, The Sound of Music, The King and I, Flower Drum Song, State Fair, South Pacific, and Allegro, the night is one of nostalgia in a new light. It’s new and old, fast and slow, joyful and sad, and everything in between. The most definitive solos in the American songbook are voiced fearlessly here, and feats of harmony abound in this small but tightly-knit cast of five.

Jeremy Loween sings "There is Nothing Like a Dame" in the Lynden Performing Arts Guild production of Some Enchanted Evening.  Photo credit - Kit Vonnegut

Jeremy Loween sings “There is Nothing Like a Dame” in the Lynden Performing Arts Guild production of Some Enchanted Evening. Photo credit – Kit Vonnegut

Following the night’s journey of five actors in a performance, first “backstage” warming up, then out front, vocalists Dave Bolden, Megann Schmidt, Laura and Jeremy Loween, and Amanda Keefe boldly and brilliantly go where many might fear. The melodies of “Maria,” “Bali Ha’i,” and “I Cain’t Say No” truly pop in solo and ensemble voicing, and float through many a brain upon exiting the theatre. For those not so professionally versed in the biz, such constant melding and blending and shuffling of songs offers a unique introduction to the works from which they derive, and a fabulous jumping-off point for viewing them in their entirety.

The score, too, offers a bit of a time capsule, a vestige from the early- to mid-twentieth century when fathers were afraid for their daughters and cowboys truly did hang out in Oklahoma, “…where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.” It’s constantly engaging, stitching together decades of material into one beautiful patchwork quilt.

The wonderful thing about this cast and its size is the ability to highlight each and every one, to trade off solos, perform duets, trios, quartets, and fully voiced pieces. Keefe, Loween, and Schmidt exhibit such a liberty perfectly through their harmonies in “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out-A My Hair” and as Jeremy Loween does in the beautiful “Younger Than Springtime.” The entire cast showcases acrobatic range, Schmidt’s glorious soprano a prime example. They all stay true to the original style and iconic optimism of the numbers.

Megann Schmidt sings "it Might as Well Be Spring" in the LPAG production of Some Enchanted Evening.  Photo credit - Kit Vonnegut

Megann Schmidt sings “it Might as Well Be Spring” in the LPAG production of Some Enchanted Evening. Photo credit – Kit Vonnegut

So theatre lovers, and those who would like to learn all things Rodgers and Hammerstein, visit the Claire Vg Theatre in Lynden and hear what it’s all about. A fabulous collection of culture and art, director Celeste Larson’s take on Some Enchanted Evening will send you home singing.

The show runs September 26th through October 13th at 655 Front Street, Lynden. Reserve tickets through the box office Tuesday through Saturday, 1-3 p.m., (360) 354-4425. See the Lynden Performing Arts Guild website for more detailed information.

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Fall into Springtime

September 25th, 2013

Bialystock Blooms again at MBT
by Christopher Key

From the moment Musical Director Ryan Dudenbostel drops the baton on the overture to The Producers, you know you’re in for a sizzling Broadway spectacular at the Mount Baker Theatre. Producing Director Mark Kuntz delivers another dazzling display from the MBT’s home-grown Rep company and if you sip your beverage at the wrong time, I won’t be responsible for where it goes.

Mel Brooks’ legendary musical is brought to life in all its glorious offensiveness by a terrific cast of hired guns and locals who give it everything they’ve got and then some. The orchestra is Broadway quality, the singing and dancing are worthy of the Great White Way and the sets and costumes seal the deal.

The diminutive Richard Gray plays Max Bialystock with a manic energy that makes him seem at least seven feet tall. He’s a fixture at Seattle’s 5th Avenue and Issaquah’s Village Theatre. His talent extends far beyond the footlights. Gray is an award-winning composer of new musicals.

Casey Raiha, Danny Kam and Richard Gray star in The Producers at Mount Baker Theatre.  Photo credit - Damian Vines

Casey Raiha, Danny Kam and Richard Gray star in The Producers at Mount Baker Theatre. Photo credit – Damian Vines

Bialystock’s partner in grand theatrical larceny, the Milquetoastian Leo Bloom, is another familiar face on King County stages. Casey Raiha portrays the character with slapstick physicality, the requisite charming innocence and a lovely voice. As the two concoct a scheme to produce a guaranteed Broadway flop, their chemistry is explosive.

Leading the locals in the cast is Jim Lortz as the flamboyant director Roger DeBris. He sings, he dances and he mugs with the best of them and it’s hard to believe that he suffers from Parkinson’s Disease. The only reason I mention it is because he outed himself in his program bio.

Roger DeBris’ amanuensis, the fluttery Carmen Ghia, is played by Western Washington University grad Jon Lutyens. He gives camping out a whole new meaning.

Danny Kam acts, directs and teaches all over Seattle. No one could have been better cast as Franz Liebkind, the diehard Nazi who authors Springtime for Hitler. Another WWU grad, he’s at his buffoonish best when interacting with his precious pigeons, which deserve a rave review for the tech crew.

And, of course, there’s Ulla, the Swedish bombshell who could sell Volvos in Venezuela. Rep favorite Heather Dudenbostel gives the character a riotous ride that is somehow both sultry and silly.

Heather Dudenbostel lights up Casey Riaha's libido in The Producers.  Photo credit - Damian Vines

Heather Dudenbostel lights up Casey Riaha’s libido in The Producers. Photo credit – Damian Vines

As in all Rep shows, there’s a substantial number of locals and rather than pointing them out, I’ll give you the pleasure of spotting them. With the exception of 90-something Peggy Hunt, who is obviously having the time of her life playing Hold Me-Touch Me with a raunchy horniness that makes Betty White look like Betty Crocker.

The orchestra, as I mentioned at the start, is rock-solid and features superb local musicians from the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra and other groups.

Bud Coleman directs the whole schmo and contributes the eye-popping choreography, along with Tabetha Clark, who makes the tap dancers seriously click.

Jessica Carr and assistant Maeve O’Connell deserve a standing ovation for the stunning costumes, without which all of the performers would be naked. Ah-ah, don’t go there.

The MBT techies do their usual superb job of lighting and sound and this show must have been more than a little challenging for them.

The Producers runs September 25 – 29 on the MBT mainstage and I’m betting people will be fighting for these tickets. Call the box office at (360) 734-6080 or purchase at the MBT website. Curtain times and ticket prices are also available there.

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Going beyond the labels

September 22nd, 2013

Kuntz tells the story of a neighbor
by Lily Olason

Kuntz and Company paints an incredible and introspective portrait of the life of Margret Cooper, a 28-year-old Bellingham native with Asperger’s Syndrome in Hello, My Name is You. Reprised for another round of performances after a sell-out crowd last February and a performance at the Communities Collaborative Care Conference in Minnesota this summer, the theater/dance company stuns with its artistic and though-provoking take on a condition that affects individuals everywhere.

Photo credit - Nolan McNally

Photo credit – Nolan McNally

Performers Ian Bivins, Hannah Reclam, Troy Hightower, Ella Mahler, and Cooper herself execute beautiful, original choreography and oft-poetic dialog to communicate the intricacies of Asperger’s and Cooper’s life. Each movement is perfectly orchestrated to correspond to another, a meaning, and what this courageous woman experiences daily. The flow to this piece is fascinatingly mobile, locked in conversation one moment, silent the next, and a monologue a little later. When Cooper addresses the greater voice beyond the audience (artistic director Pam Kuntz) in her regular experiences and personality traits, personal preferences and take on her condition, the audience grows to know her as a happy, funny, brave, and determined woman.

Though the set is beautifully minimalist, the versatility and strength each performer brings to the table is astonishing. Utilizing only a few chairs, a short reel of film, and sticks, nothing else feels needed and surely nothing feels empty. The metaphorical interpretation of the emotions, the constraints, the pressures of Asperger’s Syndrome are presented so immediately and tangibly that it connects the audience and the stage as one and the forty minutes blur by. The use of spotlights goes over so well aesthetically that it feels like viewing an ever-mobile canvas, and the intimate space of the Firehouse Theatre facilitates such a performance perfectly.

Photo credit - Nolan McNally

Photo credit – Nolan McNally

There is so much to this play, that what one takes away couldn’t possibly match up perfectly with that of another. The communication is so beautifully complex that digging and thinking and mulling it over is the key, that understanding is the key, and that laughing along with the funny stuff is, too.

Perhaps most importantly, Hello explores and divulges information about Asperger’s fluidly and organically. Literal interpretation, body language, social behavior, thinking patterns, and off-the-charts intelligence in specific areas are all addressed in dialogue, monolog, or scenes. It teaches, it shows, it guides. And it’s one that shouldn’t be passed by.

Performances run Thursday, September 26th, Friday, September 27th, and Saturday, September 28th, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, September 29th at 5:00 p.m. at the Firehouse Performing Arts Center, 1314 Harris Avenue in Fairhaven. A post-performance discussion follows each show. Advance tickets are available at Village Books for $15, (360) 676-2626, or a pay-what-you-can-fee at the door (suggested: $8-15). It’s one weekend only, so purchase tickets early. For more information, see the Kuntz and Company website.

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Straight on ’til morning

September 20th, 2013

Askland creates more magic
by Lily Olason

Conrad Aslkand scripts and orchestrates and Joe Bowen directs this heartwarming and original take on a classic pillar of English literature in Pan: The Musical. Complete with everything from Youngster Extraordinaire, Peter, to spectacular musicianship and flying people, this show delights believers of any age.

Director Joe Bowen opens fabulously as the reluctantly paternal George Darling. Coexisting with his progeny proves a lofty expectation, as he fights dog and doting Mrs. Darling (Karen Pollack) to attend a party downstairs. When Wendy’s (Molly Wilson) not allowed to come along, we hear the first snippet of her inarguably gifted young pipes and the simultaneous unhappiness of her apathetic father.

Joe Bowen and Karen Pollack star as Mr. and Mrs. Darling in Pan, the Musical.  Photo credit - Christopher Key

Joe Bowen and Karen Pollack star as Mr. and Mrs. Darling in Pan, the Musical. Photo credit – Christopher Key

Soon, infinitely youthful Peter, portrayed exceptionally and with absolutely beautiful vocals by Ava Ross, and the Darling siblings meet as Peter rummages through their room in search of his shadow on hiatus. Morose and feeling rather neglected, Wendy and her brothers head off to Neverland, via Peter’s preferred method of transportation (flight) and an uncanny knack for navigation (second star to the left, and straight on ‘til morning).

Peter Pan (Ava Ross) prepares to take flight at the Lincoln Theatre. Photo credit - Christopher Key

Peter Pan (Ava Ross) prepares to take flight at the Lincoln Theatre. Photo credit – Christopher Key

Askland’s take on the Neverlandian pirate troupe is excellent. Captain Hook (Peter Whited) is delightfully menacing, growling perfectly and displaying his namesake hand replacement to a T. His vendetta against Peter, a product of his alligator-induced hand-loss is perfectly played, and his delivery is spot-on.

Peter Whited hooks the audience in to his portrayal of the quintessential pirate. Photo credit - Christopher Key

Peter Whited hooks the audience in to his portrayal of the quintessential pirate. – Photo credit – Christopher Key

Second in command and exceptionally acted, Smee (Brendan Francis), addresses the audience regularly, helps them boo Hook, and doesn’t seem to care for his boss. His continued loyalty may point to a rather thorny prior contract.

As the Pirates employ various schemes to off Peter, Wendy is appointed as honorary mother to the wonderfully well cast assortment of Lost Boys. Choreographed fabulously by Glynna Goff, every number in which they move is a joy to watch. They add another classic, yet original, aspect to this fun show.

Throughout, the musicality and original score stuns. Both Askland and Ruth Haines contribute catchy and collaborative keyboards. Rebecca Wright’s melodic oboe, Michelle Hanna’s excellent clarinet, Bruce Hanna’s punchy and definitive tuba, Peter Bridgman’s balanced and foundational bass, and David Bridgman’s skilled ensemble and solo drums contribute to a very tight orchestra. The vocalists, of all ages, have done an incredible job, often led by Karen Pollack’s astronomical chops.

The aesthetics of this show, too, are a knockout. Between beautiful set and artwork by Deirdre Czoborek and a fascinating display of shadow theatre by Anna and Sarah Furrow (set to Adia Bowen’s sonorous voice), it’s as much fun to watch the show as to listen.

The clever use of hand-shadows highlights the production. - Photo credit - Christopher Key

The clever use of hand-shadows highlights the production. Photo credit – Christopher Key

Though it is certainly appropriate for kids, adults, fear not. Forty-year-olds will love this as much as their third-grader. And the grandparents will recognize the story immediately. It asks the big questions, it makes you think, and hands you a mirror. Most importantly, Pan: The Musical is a local, skilled and professional-caliber production with a big heart.

The production plays September 20 through October 6 at the lovely Lincoln Theatre in Mt. Vernon. See the Lincoln Theatre website for precise dates and times, along with ticket prices.

You gotta believe!

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Picture perfect!

August 10th, 2013

Dinner and dance out the road
by Lily Olason

Modest Mussorgsky’s iconic Pictures at an Exhibition comes to life in an exquisitely original work by Northwest Ballet Theater. Presented on the performance stage of Il Caffe Rifugio, Pictures incorporates the beauty of ballet and the vitality of art into one unforgettable performance.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Photo credit – Christopher Key

Head chef, owner, and proud dad of two ballerinas, Richard Balough, lends this unbelievable space (which skiers likely know as the former Carol’s Coffee Cup) and excellent cuisine to arts supporters from all over Western Washington. And that comes with some serious appreciation. Tucked alongside the scenic Mount Baker Highway, Il Caffe Rifugio offers a vibrantly Italian three-course meal under cover of the oak trees, served family-style and exceptionally well. Balough works wonders at this place, and the modest drive is long forgotten at first bite.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Photo credit – Christopher Key

Serving as the culminating performance for NBT’s Summer Intensive student program, Pictures at an Exhibition is indeed an exhibition in and of itself. It celebrates a cerebral crossover in art, three disciplines melding and blurring together so fluidly into one lovely product that the theatergoer is lost in it almost immediately and without reserve. Artwork covers red paneling behind dancers floating and spinning, whirring and hovering from every which way and so very perfectly, encased in beautiful scenery provided by the surrounding treeline.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Photo credit – Christopher Key

Movements first drafted in 1874 by a deeply devastated artist serve as the foundation for a performance that feels fresh, new, light, full of life and hard work. Hard work, as revealed to the audience by choreographer, Miye Bishop, that consisted of five hours a day for four weeks straight.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Photo credit – Christopher Key

NBT artistic director and father of the Miye, John Bishop, opens the show as strict, mustachioed ballet instructor with his cohort of students, Ava Decker, Talia Sheinkoph, and Ella and Ivey Denham-Conroy. Though all four dancers may be of relatively young age, their prowess certainly doesn’t show it, a theme that runs true for the nearly twenty members of this gifted cast.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Photo credit – Christopher Key

Panning back and forth between a gallery owner (MiSun Bishop) preparing her venue for an upcoming show and some wonderfully artistic feats by exceptionally well-versed dancers, this performance works its way through the famous Russian suite in an entirely original fashion. It all builds to a breathtaking finale of “The Great Gate of Kiev,” something no fan of such an iconic piece should miss.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Photo credit – Christopher Key

Father-daughter duo Miye and John hit this performance out of the park, inarguably. Their passion for the arts and their passion for teaching and their passion for creativity is so very apparent in this lovely display. It’s new, it’s original and it’s so worth watching.

There is only one dinner/ballet performance left tonight at 6:00 p.m. Tickets are $75 per person or $120 per couple at the door. As the bumper sticker says, “Go East!”

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Gods at play

August 8th, 2013

Semele opens Opera Popolare season
by Lily Olason

Opera is in full swing on Garden Street. Courtesy of the Garden Street United Methodist Church and Opera Popolare, Georg Fridiric Handel’s masterpiece Semele rings beautifully in the most exquisite of performance spaces. It oohs and it ahhs, it soars and it flips and turns and utilizes every nook and cranny of the place perfectly. A true taste of the classics has found Bellingham, and with it an undeniable local flavor.

Though such a tale may easily be found in any compilation of classical myths, we’re operating under the assumption one doesn’t conveniently stock a copy in their pocket. Semele begins with a wedding, one that’s slated to marry its reluctant title character (Serena Viens/Caitlin Hill) to an equally reluctant fellow named Athamus (Chris Mitchell). Lucky for Semele, though, and Athamus, too: Jupiter (Carlo Furlan), the bride’s true love, arrives in the nick of time and carries her away in the form of an eagle, which predictably enrages his wife of many millennia, Juno (Celie Thomas). By posing as her sister and planting the seeds of doubt in her love-struck brain, Juno implores Semele to ask Jupiter to reveal himself in his true Olympian form, far too much for any mortal to handle.

Serena Viens performs Semele on Friday at Opera Popolare.  Photo credit - Christopher Key

Serena Viens performs Semele on Friday at Opera Popolare. Photo credit – Christopher Key

Serena Viens and Caitlin Hill share the title role, alternating with the portrayal of Iris. Each boasts an incredible set of chops, outstanding, really, in acrobatic feats that surprise and delight. Semele soars high, high, high, beautifully, in the style that is so perfectly operatic and so very indicative of artistic inclination and hard work. Iris does too, secretary to an angry goddess and comic relief nonetheless. Neither fails to thrill, in either role, and are simply a joy to hear.

Caitlin Hill performs Semele on Thursday and Saturday at Opera Popolare.  Photo credit - Christopher Key

Caitlin Hill performs Semele on Thursday and Saturday at Opera Popolare. Photo credit – Christopher Key

Carlo Furlan sings swarthy and less-than-faithful Jupiter perfectly, complementing Hill’s and Vien’s performances wonderfully and adding an extra layer of depth to the performance. His white and purple suit suits the godly role to a T, and his tenor fills to the back of the hall.

Likewise, Cadmus (Matthew Dunn), Ino (Lesley Rigg), Somnus (John Poppke) Athamus (Chris Mitchell), and an exceptional chorus make this opera what it is. They sing from everywhere, the wings, the balcony, the back doors, all with passion and all with talent. They give the background and little snippets of dialog and the large-scale emotion that packs the end of the piece.

The orchestra, of course, provides flawless support. Incredible talent occupies the space to the audience’s right, including wonderful work on violin by Laura Barnes and Jeanette Wickell, equally great Jane Perkins on viola, and ominously well-blended cello by Adrienne Syvertson. Calyx Hoag and Kathlyn Kinney display some exceptional woodwind prowess, while Katie O’Rourke’s lovely harpsichord work was Brilliantly baroque.

Semele is a performance one, no matter their background in opera, Handel, or Roman mythology, shouldn’t let pass by. It’s presented in the abridged format (running just under an hour and a half, as opposed to three), so even the most novice, or knowledgeable, of opera lovers may enjoy all this incredible performance has to offer.

Semele runs through Saturday, August 10, at the Garden Street Methodist Church, 1326 North Garden Street in Bellingham. Tickets are $12 at the door, at the Community Food Co-ops and at the Opera Popolare site where you can find curtain times.

Artistic Director Rob Viens always asks the audience how many have been to Opera Popolare before and how many have been to any opera before. The results make the mission statement ring true: bringing opera to the people and people to the opera.

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On your Mark!

July 31st, 2013

Beloved musical returns to Firehouse
by Christopher Key

When Joseph Lenz’s “musical tall tale” Mark Twain in Fairhaven finally found its natural home last year, the intent was to present it as a recurring tourist attraction. It’s now in its second year at the Firehouse Performing Arts Center, but it’s not just for tourists. Even locals who have seen previous productions dating back to 2002 will find it fresh with a different director and cast. And, of course, the wonderful music never gets old. The Historic Fairhaven Association and Chuck Robinson of Village Books are to be congratulated for their commitment to making it happen.

Judith Owens-Lancaster directs this season’s production and brings a wealth of musical theatre experience to the role, including a previous incarnation of the show in 2009. She is ably assisted by Angela Mills Watson, whose acting and directing chops need no introduction.

The title character is played by the inimitable Leon Charbonneau, who repeats the role from the 2009 production. He’s as comfortable in the role as Mark Twain was telling stories to worldwide audiences. He memorably captures the world-weariness of an aging author forced onto the lecture circuit by financial woes.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Photo credit – Christopher Key

Bonnie Hollingsworth, who really should be seen more often on local stages, is pitch-perfect as hard-bitten saloonkeeper Boomer Wilson. As the character’s name implies, she is driven to drag Fairhaven out of an economic slump if it kills her and everyone else in town. If they all die onstage trying to impress Mr. Twain, so be it.

Daisy Cowgill, former showgirl and associate of Dirty Dan Harris, is played by Vanessa Mills. She is absolutely dazzling, especially in the show-stopping “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Photo credit – Christopher Key

Lady of the evening Rosa Knox is given a salacious ride by Dana Crediford, who insists the best thing about the role is getting to wear her underwear on the outside. Her interpretation of the classic “Big Spender” would melt the statue of Dirty Dan at Fairhaven Village Green.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Photo credit – Christopher Key

One cast member held over from last year is the delightfully goony Paul Henderson II, who gives Gilbert and Sullivan a serious run for their demented lyrics. There’s a very good reason why he is the busiest actor in Bellingham.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Photo credit – Christopher Key

Karissa Elliott and Nick Schackel play the kids with captivating innocence. She’s Boomer’s daughter Mill, the genius songwriter looking for a way out of the rain and mud. He’s the cub reporter who wants nothing more than to be able to write like Twain.

Last and far from least is another cast/crew member repeating a role. That would be Music Director extraordinaire John French, whose German accent has noticeably improved in his second year as Elf Strasse. His onstage keyboard playing is what holds the whole performance together.

Costumer Susan Duncan obviously did a fabulous job last year. She was invited back and manages to exceed her own standards in a production that is heavily dependent on costuming. Genevieve Dunn is no stranger to local stages and her choreography is evocative of both the music and the era.

Ryan Goeltzenleuchter is one of those tech geniuses who are in constant demand. His lighting design demonstrates why. Since Marc Cutler built the set for last year’s performance and since the same set makes an encore, he gets credit even if he didn’t do much this year. Just kidding, Marc.

Mark Twain in Fairhaven
plays August 1 – 18, Thursdays through Sundays, at the Firehouse. Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. except for Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $12, $8 for students and seniors. Purchase at Brown Paper Tickets, Village Books or at the door.

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