February Is A Month To Love: The Arts

Sam Black

 Over the past fifteen years I have had a wide-ranging relationship with the expanding world of The Duluth Playhouse. I attend most of the productions over the course of a season, for starters. I have also been involved as actor and musician at The Playhouse itself, as well as the perpetual search for renewal at The Playground and The Underground. I really like the image projected by the entire Duluth Playhouse energy, driven, of course, by the stamina of Christine Gradl-Seitz.

Now that The Playground is history, the flexibility of The Underground is a great delight. The ‘in-your-face- intimacy of The Playground was certainly exciting, both for performers and audience who could nearly touch each other in every production. But stage, dressing room, & storage limitations created lots of frustration. Now that The Underground has been in motion for nearly two years, the excitement is still growing.

All sorts of programs, involving anywhere from one to eleven performers, plus extra musicians, have taken place since the opening of The Underground. Stay tuned for the variety of events in motion week in and week out. Currently, the delight is The Last Five Years, a very intimate musical between a man and a woman who built a sparkling relationship, then watched it crumble within this very short span of time.

Jason Robert Brown created the lyrics and the music back in 2002, and for the second time in Duluth, Carolyn LePine and Adam Sippola have brought it to the stage. This time there are six live musicians over on the side, and Jamie (Adam) and Cathy (Carolyn) get to come and go from several different directions during the one act musical drama. The effect is definitely gripping, and the performance will close on Saturday, February 6, whether or not you choose to share in the experience.

The two characters share fourteen musical numbers, each one particularly intense, sharing a meaningful moment within this five year relationship. Brown’s lyrics and melodies are very rich from beginning to end. Cathy begins in the present, painfully aware, and Still Hurting, from the separation that she wasn’t completely prepared for. Ninety minutes later, Jamie complains that I Could Never Rescue You, while Cathy is savoring moments of their earliest encounters.

The games with time and the relationship are complex and always intimate. Jamie says “I will not lose just because you can’t win” in an emotional moment near the end of the relationship. Cathy builds her world around Jamie and hopes to share in his success, though he never quite lets her inside his introverted writer’s life. As the story unfolds, Cathy gets the short end of the stick, so to speak. Jamie’s world is much too narcissistic, and Cathy’s challenges at getting to the very front of the chorus line turn the sparkling relationship into a dull indifference. At the same time, the musical on the stage is worth every minute.

Patrick Colvin, at the piano, confidently leads the house band through this emotional tangle. Sippola and LePine are convincing, and The Next Ten Minutes, at the mid-point of the show, poignantly brings all the emotion to the center of The Underground. This is real music, about real people, and their all too real attempt at developing a relationship. Please treat yourself to this lovely dose of reality.

DSSO POPS! concert on Saturday, February 6

Meanwhile, the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra brings on The (four) Twin Ports Tenors this coming Saturday night, along with Space Carpet, a Duluth-based band that won the first Bridges Session competition. As always, concerts start at 7pm at the DECC.

College presentations moving into high gear

The local college music and drama scene is about to explode, so plan to attend and support the good entertainment that will flow over the next dozen weeks without interruption. Chamber music, as well as Shakespeare (All’s Well That Ends Well) are opening now around town, so check your calendars and book your involvement soon.