Life on a remote island has certain limitations. For instance,
mainland residents enjoy the option of seeing dramas, musicals,
and comedies when they choose, simply by driving to regional arts
venues. But generally speaking, if Islanders want to see such
entertainment some must take the time and effort to stage a production
themselves. So when local talent takes it upon itself to stage
a playor less often, a musicalit's a special opportunity
The latest such opportunity was given the community on the night
of May 8th 2004, in Holy Cross Parish Hall. It came at the end
of a long winter that, though certainly brightened by events like
the Christmas Cantata, local talent show, and Community School
play, seemed to have more than it's share of quietude. All the
more welcome then was this great splash of color, cuisine, and
song marking the end of a grey season.
Last fall, Brenda LeFevre and Elaine West applied their combined
theatrical experience to directing a local production showcasing
the work of renowned Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim's
contributions to the American theatre span almost fifty years,
from his work as a lyricist on West Side Story in 1957
through his Tony Award-winning compositions for Follies, A
Little Night Music, and Sweeney Todd. In 1985 he received
a Pulitzer Prize for Sunday In The Park With George. No
other composer has come to define and embody the spirit and breadth
of the Broadway musical's last half-century as has Sondheim.
The evening began with cordials, as those assembled mingled with
each other, admiring the well-decorated Hall, carefully reconstructed
stage area, and hand-painted characters from Sondheim musicals
arrayed near the walls. Students from the Lighthouse School played
an integral role in the evening's production, from the creation
of the well-drawn caricatures to the assistance of top-hatted
ushers, as well as providing backstage support to cast and crew.
The dinner followed, with Deborah Harwood and her talented culinary
cadre serving up two main courses of savory chicken with pasta,
and rosemary roasted pork loin, accompanied by a variety of fresh
salad and vegetable dishes.
Narrator Pinky Harmon opened the performance as the lights drew
down, introducing the first full ensemble piece, "The Ballad
of Sweeney Todd". This macabre tale of a London barber and
baker duo who make pies of people centered on Sweeney himself,
rendered convincingly by Bill Detwiler as the demon barber
of Fleet Street. The sight of Sweeney's murderous glare
on Bill's normally congenial face set the audience back a step
or two, and galvanized for them the suspension of disbelief so
vital to successful theatre. The intro was followed by two more
numbers from the same play: Phil Becker's sensitive solo on "Pretty
Women", and Becker and Chris McMullen's hilarious execution
of "The Worst Pies in London", wherein the baker Mrs.
Lovett boasts of the quality of her "meat pies" to Becker's
unwitting customer, delivering some of the best physical comedy
of the evening.
Bill Detwiler then returned to the fore with a love song from
Follies, "Losing My Mind." Detwiler's solo offered
an impressively understated and focused interpretation of this
journey through the experience of falling in love. This piece
revealed at once both the previously untapped level of talent
in the singer and the skill of the director's touch in coaxing
the emergence of such abilities from her performers.
A trio of performerswho also happen to be old friendstook
the stage for "Old Friends" from Merrily We Roll
Along. Brenda, Elaine, and their friend Kirby Volz from Indiana
lit up the room with this upbeat and humorous tribute to time-tested
camaraderie. Their familiarity with each other and their chosen
art shone infectiously through every line, gesture, and step they
shared. Elaine West in particular stood out here with the unbridled
enthusiasm and confident panache of her rendition. The mid-point
of the evening seemed to pause around the still point of Suzie
Fisher's warmly nuanced and deeply felt treatment of "Anyone
Can Whistle" from the musical of the same name. Again we
saw a deeper gift and sensitivity show itself to the audience
in an offering at turns musing and hopeful, shared by the singer
with a sense of vulnerability and empathy that drew the listener
in close to the song's message.
Chris McMullen followed with Sondheim's best-known song, "Send
in the Clowns". This lyrical masterpiece from A Little
Night Music captured the audience's rapt attention, as McMullen's
poised stage presence and command of her material deftly carried
the room through the peaks and valleys of her character's meditation
on love and loss.
The last three numbers were from Into the Woods, Sondheim's
adult re-visioning of classic fairy tales. The emotional tone
of the earlier segments was lifted by Jane Bailey's delightful
carriage of "Into the Woods", from the eponymous musical.
Dressed brightly as Little Red Riding Hood, Bailey was the image
of youthful innocence fronting exaggerated certainty over anxiety,
lilting in a sing-song voice as she danced around the trees and
fears of childhood, throwing the crowd into peals of laughter.
"Witches Lament" featured the Co-Director as performer.
Brenda LaFevre's Wicked Witch gave a masterful rendering of a
mother's conflicted heart, both angry and grief-stricken over
her daughter Rapunzel's impending adulthood. LaFevre's powerful
voice, pierced with sorrow and pleading, soared over the audience
like a bird in flight, revealing the hidden and complex personal
truths beneath the supposedly simple fairy tales of our past.
The musical extravaganza concluded with the full ensemble's chorus
of "No One Is Alone", a message of guidance and support
to young and old alike. Both a recognition of the solitary nature
of life's journey and an affirmation of a guiding presence, this
song spoke for the purpose of art itself, as it seeks to show
us the way through the woods of our own lives. Certainly the art
given the community that night did the same, lifting us for a
time out of the mundane concerns and ongoing struggles of daily
life, affirming what is true for all of us, celebrating universal
experiences and feelings, sharing in life's sorrows and triumphs
and absurdities. Moreover, what was demonstrated that night was
the presence of the possibilities within all of us. As Suzie Fisher
sang "What's hard is simple/What's natural comes hard/Maybe
you could show me how to let go/lower my guard/learn to be free..."
The Directors did just that, both for their players and their
audience. We are fortunate to have among us those who are willing
and eager to take the time and effort necessary to foster the
arts, and thereby uplift the community we share. Brenda LaFevre,
Elaine West, and the entire cast and crew involved in this production
deserve a big hand for all they've done.
Proceeds from the production will benefit the Beaver Island Music
Fund, from which future productions will benefit in turn. There
is now talk of establishing a repertory company locally to serve
as a nexus for the talent that abides within our community. The
talent and skill behind An Evening With Stephen Sondheim is as
Cast: Jane Bailey, Melissa Bailey, Bill Detwiler, Shirley Detwiler,
Susie Fisher, Chris McMullen, Judi Meister, Florina Smith, Elaine
West, Phil Becker, Brenda LaFevre, Don Meister, Allison Racignol,
Kirby Volz, Joey Wright, Bob Hamil.
Production Staff: Bob Hamil, Denny Fisher, Krys Lyle, Betty Scoggins,
Mike Scripps, Pinky Harmon.
Production Crew, B.I. Lighthouse School: Robert Brown, Craig
Boyce, Jon Stogner, Sean Krygier, Florina Smith, Joey Wright,
Alison Racignol, Bob Johns.
(Note: Many of the musical accompanists, production staff, and
cast carried out multiple tasks.)
To the Editor
We would like to express our thanks for the experience of the
dinner theater. First, we wish to thank those who attended, and,
with their applause, gave their approval of our efforts. As we
passed among the tables after the show we were overwhelmed and
humbled by the attention we received.
There are many individuals who spent many hours on art work and
costumes. I won't try to name you all; I might forget someone.
You know who you are. Our thanks to you. Thanks to Bob, who built
the flats, and Mike who painted them. Thanks to Linda who made
the skirt for the stage. Thanks to Jeff for the wonderful pictures.
Thanks to Deb and her crew for the meal. It received a well deserved
standing ovation. We were able to sample some in the kitchen after
the performance. And the deserts: Wow!
Thanks to the cast and crew for your commitment throughout the
process. The participation of the students from the Lighthouse
School was a vital part of the show. Thank you, and thank you
to the people at the school who made your presence possible.
Thanks to Mike Scripps who flew down to get Kirby. And thanks
to Mike, Judy, and Brenda, who with the keyboards and piano made
the rest of us sound so good.
Thank you Elaine and Brenda for your united effort in producing
this wonderful evening.
Brenda, dear friend, what can we say to you? You saw in us something
no one else saw, of which we ourselves were unaware, and through
your patience and skill and your demand for excellence, you brought
it out and showed it to us all. Phil Becker said it best What
an experience! We will never be the same again.
With our most sincere thanks,
Bill and Shirley Detwiler.
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