June 21st, 2011

(Women of the) Cream City Chorus, "Shakespeare in Song"

Saturday evening, June 18th, we caught the final Cream City Chorus concert of this season, "Shakespeare in Song."

This was an unusual entry for the usually co-ed chorus. So many of the male members ended up with conflicts for the date that they decided to make it an all-woman show, which had the added attraction of "turning Shakespeare on his head," because of course in Shakespeare's day, his productions were of necessity all-male.

The chorus did a very nice job of putting together an entirely Shakepeare-themed concert, combining some classics with some surprising new pieces.

The first half began with Cole Porter's "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," from Kiss Me Kate, which was definitely in the classic category and set a nice upbeat tone.

"A Tale Told by an Idiot," was one of several pieces in the concert that set Shakepeare's verse to music, setting this famous speech from Macbeth to an appropriately ominous tune by Huub de Lange. It was followed by "Double Trouble," by John Williams for the "Harry Potter" movies, which was done in a humorous style by Char Haas, Julie Magida, and Susan Reider as three witches.

"Sonnet XXIX," ("When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes . . .") was set to a very pretty tune by Georgia Stitt, and very well sung by Ebbie Duggins.

Then, there was one of many settings of "Sigh No More, My Ladies," from Twelfth Night; "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" from The Lion King (which is of course inspired by Hamlet); and back to Cole Porter for "Tom, Dick, or Harry."  "Shakespeare 101" was an orginal piece, lyrics assembled by Hillary Giffen from familiar snippets of Shakespeare, set to music by chorus director Kirsten L. Weber.

The second half of the program was all music inspired by Romeo and Juliet, and included "A Time for Us," from the movie, "Love Story" by Taylor Swift, "Tonight" from West Side Story, and "Run Away With Me," by Kerrigan and Lowdermilk. As sung by Shirl Greeb and Sharon Megna, this caused Georgie to comment, "Which one's Thelma and which Louise?"  There were also three pieces from R&J The Rock Musical, which stuck closely to Shakespeare's text, but inventively reformed it into trios and chorus pieces.

The chorus also gave us Sonnet XVIII, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" as an encore.

A very enjoyable concert with the energy and creativity we have come to expect from the CCC. This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/187177.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Sunday afternoon the 19th, we went to the Downer Theater to see "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," which is a documentary by filmmaker/auteur Werner Herzog about the discovery, study and significance of the Chauvet cave in southern France, which holds the earliest known artwork by humans.

Unlike other decorated caves, Chauvet, discovered in 1994, has never been open to tourists or casual visitors. It was speedily closed off from unregulated access and jealously perserved by the international scientific community. Thus, it took a film maker of Herzog's status to get permission to enter and film the cave under strictly controlled conditions. When we see the interior of the cave, we understand why this is done. Not only are there the astonishing drawings in a remarkable state of preservation, there are also such things as cave bear bones lying about, footprints of prehistoric humans and animals in the cave floor, and delicate 'soda straws' and other fragile cave stone constructions.

Scientists estimate that the original broad cave mouth was closed off more than 20,000 years ago by a rockslide, leaving only the narrow crevice through which the cave was rediscovered. This made the cave a literal time capsule.

The drawings themselves have been carbon-dated to be as old as 32,000 years, which makes them the oldest known drawings by a goodly piece. The well-known Lascaux cave paintings, by contrast, are estimated only 17,500 years old.

I joked with Georgie that the Chauvet paintings dated from before the discovery of color, since, with the exception of a couple of drawings in red ochre, the drawings are all in charcoal only. Nevertheless, they show a vital vision and very lively line. They incorporate sophisticated techniques of shading, and of composition, such as using natural features of the rock to make an eye or a shoulder blade.

There are both similarities and differences between Chauvet and later caves. Most of the creatures depicted are prey animals, such as horses, rhinoceroses, and bison. Lions, bears, and hyenas are also depicted, which is an ususal number of predators. As with most decorated caves, there are no complete human figures.

This film is fascinating for its view back into prehistory. On the big screen is probably the best opportunity most of us will ever have to see these artifacts, given the deteriorating conditions facing caves such as Lascaux. Highly recommended for those interested in human history, the history of art, archeology, or paleontology.

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Optimist Theater, "Twelfth Night"

As soon as the e-mail came through that Optimist Theatre was again going to be presenting "Free Shakespeare in the Park" this year, I put in my reservation and scored tickets for Sunday the 18th. The evening performance was once again staged in a courtyard at Alverno College, although this year with the positions of the playing area and the audience reversed, so that the actors would have a bit larger and more flexible area to work in.

"Twelfth Night" is a sentimental favorite of mine, and I am always glad to see another production of it, especially one as good as this. Although there were not as many of the 'big guns' of Milwaukee's acting community on stage this time, the mostly young cast was excellent and gave us a very fine show.

Georgina McKee was quite charming as Viola/Cesario and costume, makeup and hairstyle in her male disguise were referential enough to the appearance of Clayton Hamburg as Sebastian to be good comedy. Alison Mary Forbes as Olivia gave a nice performance of the young woman awakened out of her grief by the strange charm of "Cesario." The other paricularly strong characterizations were by Todd Denning as a very John-Cleese-like Malvolio; Dan Katula as a thouroughly rogueish Sir Toby Belch, and Ron Scot Fry as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who would not have been at all out of place as a member of Bertie Wooster's "Drones' Club." (The play was done in early 20th-century costume--19-teens or so, which worked well.)

Everyone else was quite good in support. The performances I had most to quibble with were those of Marcella Kearns as Maria, and Tom Reed as Feste, although some of this may have been directoral choice. I've seen a number of productions that give Maria most of the lines belonging to the otherwise superflous character Antonio, which makes her much more of a co-conspirator and would-be equal in mischief with Sir Toby. As it was done, she got to act out only her spite towards Malvolio, which made the eventual revelation of her marriage to Sir Toby fall rather flat. Reed as the jester was given a characterless outfit of work clothes and duster that did not at all go with his role as privleged character to both Olivia and Orsino. Reed's interpretation gave us a very common-man view of the goings-on which were not quite either edgy or antic enough for my taste.

But, as mentioned, these are quibbles. We are very fortunate to have this excellent company doing free Shakespeare in our community, and it is to be hoped that future productions won't be "shipwrecked" by our miserly and backward state government's cuts to arts funding.

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