The Good, the Bad, and the Confusing in Happily After Ever

After seeing a new play, I like to give myself a little time to digest the piece. I do not like knee-jerk reactions. They are usually shallow and oversimplified. Instead, I like to give myself a little time to let the play work on me. I go about doing other things (yard work, painting, hanging out with the family, etc) while in the background my brain processes and finds meaning. Usually, I uncover a richness in the play that I did not see right away. Sometimes the flaws of the play become more visible. Either way, I know I can expect, after time, for the play to start to make some sort of sense to me. I start to “get it.”

Well, it has been almost 36 hours since I have seen Happily After Ever, Bloomington Playwrights Project’s newest production, and I find myself no closer to “getting it” than when the house lights went up after the show. This is not to say it is incomprehensible. In fact, I understand what the play attempts to do from a theater critic mindset. I also found some of the depictions to be not only stimulating but also relevant. Yet, I think I am getting ahead of myself. It’s easy to do with a play as confusing as this one. Read more

IU’s Drowsy Chaperone Celebrates the Wonders of Musical Theater

Caroline Huerta as the Drowsy Chaperone (Left) and Claire Logan as Janet Van de Graaf (right) in IU's Production of The Drowsy Chaperone.
Caroline Huerta as the Drowsy Chaperone (Left) and Claire Logan as Janet Van de Graaf (right) in IU’s Production of The Drowsy Chaperone.

On Thursday, April 13, the Indiana University Department of Theater, Drama, and Contemporary Dance inaugurated the creation of the George Pinney Scholarship with a special pre-opening, fundraiser performance of The Drowsy Chaperone. Honestly, I think there is no better musical to honor a person who has dedicated his life and talents to the enrichment of musical theater. The Drowsy Chaperone is a love-letter to the musical theater genre that both pokes fun at the ridiculous and celebrates the joyful aspects of musical theater.

The play features Man in the Chair, an older man who sits in his apartment listening to the records…yes, records…of his favorite musical, The Drowsy Chaperone. Man in the Chair is the audience’s guide to the play within the play. As he listens, he extols on the history of the actors, the experience of going to the theater, the strengths and weaknesses of this particular show, and the wonders and benefits of musical theater. Pinney, himself, played The Man in the Chair in IU’s production, and the role was a perfect tribute. Read more

The BSO Tells the Best Stories in Scene Change

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Alejandro Gomez Guillen, BSO Artistic Director and Conductor

Once again, the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra is changing up the way we think about symphonic music. Their most recent show, Scene Change: Untold Musical Stories of Latin America was a lush celebration of the numerous riches contained in the archives of the Latin American Music Center (LAMC) and Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.

The collaboration between the BSO and the LAMC created a beautiful program that changed the way I understood Latin Music. I will admit that I know little about Latin symphonic music. Like most people, I tend to associate the term Latin American music with the traditional street or dance music that surrounded me when I would visit places like San Antonio. I envisioned stereotypes like mariachis and salsa dancers, but instead I got a night of wonderfully unique and diverse symphonic orchestrations that ranged from the classical (Bachianas by Adolfo Mejia) to the experimental (Introduccion y Allegro Concertante, Op. 117 by Juan Orrego-Salas) all created and performed with the passion and energy of Latin America.

The main event of the evening was, of course, the world premiere of Juan Orrego-Salas’s Ash Wednesday. Originally written in 1989, Salas’s composition has never been performed before a live audience due to a number of mishaps, but at the age of 98, Salas was finally able to hear his lovely work performed while surrounded by family and friends.

Salas based this composition on T.S. Eliot’s poem of the same name. Written when Eliot was older, Ash Wednesday is a contemplative poem about the nature of faith and belief. Eliot expresses his desires to put his doubt aside and become a true believer through introspective and metaphysical poetic prose for which he is famous. Salas combined selections of the poem with musical orchestration to explore the depths of doubt, the transcendence of faith, and the individual’s struggle to sublimate one to achieve the other. The result was haunting, moving, and beautiful.

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Reader Tony Brewer and Soprano Alejandra Maritinez on stage for Salas’s Ash Wednesday.

Prior to song’s first performance, Tony Brewer, chair of the Writer’s Guild at Bloomington, took the stage to read a selection from Eliot’s poem. Poetry itself is meant to be heard not just read, so I really enjoyed this part of the show. I love hearing poetry read out loud. Not only did it allow the audience to hear the music present in the original words, but it also gave us the ability to compare the original to Salas’s composition.

The BSO’s performance of the piece was really lovely. Soprano Alejandra Martinez accompanied the BSO, singing Eliot’s words beautifully despite the obvious difficulty of the piece. Martinez, who had joined the BSO in the fall of 2016 for their opera showcase, sang with such emotion and expression that I couldn’t help but tear up a little. Her voice, along with the orchestra’s energetic performance, made Eliot’s poem even more impactful. I could hear the speaker’s struggle with doubt in the looming threat of the low brass, the flittering promise of happiness through faith in flutes and strings, and the speaker’s struggles find her place in the middle of all this noise surrounding her.

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Composer Juan Orrego-Salas accepting applause after the world premiere of Ash Wednesday.

At the completion of the piece, the audience wildly applauded as the BSO presented Salas with a lovely bouquet of flowers. He stood and waved. I was not very far away from Salas; his happiness was practically radiating from him. It was such a special night for Salas, and it was such a special night for all of us that got to celebrate it with him.

Overall, Scene Change was another fantastic example of both the BSO’s commitment to music excellence, especially considering the difficulty of the program. According to Donna Lafferty, Executive Director and orchestra trombonist, not only were these pieces completely new to all of the musicians, but they were also some of the most difficult pieces they have ever had to prepare. The audience could tell, though, that this concert was a labor of love for all involved, and the richness of the program once again exemplified the BSO’s deep commitment to celebrating the cultural treasures of the Bloomington community.

You can experience the excitement and richness of the BSO at their next performance Beasts Among Us on Sunday April 2 at Bloomington High School South. This is a free concert featuring such beastly classics at Peter and the Wolf and The Firebird Suite. The concert will also include a lovely cello performance by Ethan Murphey, this year’s Youth Concerto second place winner.

Watch Out Little Fritzy; the Krampus are going to get you!

Yesterday morning, I woke up from the strangest dream. There I was watching a performance of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker when a monstrous Krampus with curled horns danced onstage to punish that mean older brother, Fritz, for torturing his poor, little sister, Clara, with a dead mouse and breaking her beloved nutcracker. The Krampus grabs him by the ear and gives him a good swat with a switch before sending him off to bed. Clara is shocked and a little scared by the monster standing in front of her, but he gently takes her hand and leads her to the land of sweets, where he accompanies the Sugar Plum Fairy in a moving and graceful dance. As the audience gave its standing ovation, I woke up thinking, “What the hell…?”

I shouldn’t have been too surprised because the night before I got a good dose of both thanks to Bloomington’s Krampus Night and Indiana University’s production of The Nutcracker. The movement from one to the other may seem like an insane culture shock, but I see it as a representation of the huge variety of performance events Bloomington has to offer. The drastic differences in the two highlight the fun and artistry in each. Whereas, Krampus night was a fire-breathing, light-flashing, scream-inducing, monster-filled extravaganza, The Nutcracker was a magic-inducing, breath-taking, awe-inspiring tutu-filled creation that made my heart race just as face as when a Krampus lunged toward me and roared. Read more

“Seems to Me a Strange Thing, Mystifying”: IU’s Jesus Christ Superstar

For the first time in the short history of Bravo, Bloomington!, I got an unprompted invitation to come see and write about a show. This felt great! I had previously decided that due to an overly-full schedule and an overly-empty pocket book I was probably not going to be able to see IU’s JCS. The invitation and the free ticket excited me beyond all measure.

From as early as I can remember, Jesus Christ Superstar has been my favorite musical of all time. I blame my mother. She had the original cast recording from 1970 on vinyl. Even as a little girl, I’d get all giddy when I saw her going to our record collection hoping beyond hope that I would get to hear the combination of trippy guitar solos and screaming rock vocals. I’d bug her incessantly until she would finally just give in and let me listen. I would jump and dance around the house belting out every word. I didn’t (don’t) just sing along with JCS; I embody, embrace it. I get so consumed by the music and lyrics that I can’t do much else (I can’t even write a review of JCS while listening to JCS because I’d rather just sing along). Read more

All that Glisters May Not be Gold, but Cardinal’s Merchant of Venice Is!

If my previous piece on Cardinal’s Merchant of Venice featuring an all-female cast seemed to be motivated by doubt, my review is only motivated by praise. Director Randy White and the talented cast of actors created a lively, thought provoking version of one of Shakespeare’s more problematic plays.

White’s choice of an all-female cast was very successful. On our way out of the show, my husband and I overheard two old men saying that it was a good show, but it was weird that the characters were all played by women. I completely disagree. At the beginning, I was hyper-aware that all of the people onstage were female, but soon I just saw the characters. Training with movement coaches helped the women physically embody masculinity. The 1920’s clothing and setting emphasized a certain androgyny. All of it was so natural, that I had to sometimes forcibly remind myself all the actors were women.

The cast was fantastic. I adored Yadira Correa’s brash and vulgar Gratiano, I fell in love with Caitlan Taylor’s Bassiano, and I laughed heartily at Nicole Bruce’s antics as Gobbo. They had an impressive and natural grasp of the Shakespearean text. I almost half expect to hear Leslie Ann Handelman (Portia) or Liz Pazik (Shylock) using perfect iambic pentameter while ordering beer and burgers after the show. Read more

How to Enjoy Opera in One Easy Step: A Review of the BSO’s “Happily Ever After?”

As someone who loves art, theater, culture, and performance, I have always wanted to like opera. It’s not that I ever disliked opera, but I couldn’t tell you I liked it either. The reason being, I had—or thought I had—very little experience with that particular art form. With a limited budget and innumerable entertainment choices, I just never got around to trying out the opera.

I only watched my first full-length opera just last year; it was Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte or as it is commonly translated, “Women are like that.” The opera was a comedy about two lovers that decide to test their betrotheds’ fidelity by “going off to war,” returning dressed as soldiers, and wooing the other man’s fiancé. As a Renaissance theater person, I understand this trope; I don’t like it, but I understand it. The trope is terribly misogynistic, but certain playwrights have been known to challenge the inherent misogyny and thus add complexity to the discussions of gender and heterosexual relationships. Mozart’s opera, as far as I could tell, had very little complexity to question the inherent misogyny of the piece. In addition, neither the music nor the performance was really engaging enough to distract me from these issues. At the end of the evening, I remember thinking, “Ugh, maybe I am just not an opera person.”

However, thanks to the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra’s most recent concert, I have thoroughly changed my tune. Read more