From Tin Ears to Teens with Energy to Brassy Bells A very delicate complexity, indeed  

Sam Black

Roxie, Billy, and Velma at a moment of reckoning. Duluth Playhouse
Roxie, Billy, and Velma at a moment of reckoning. Duluth Playhouse
Strikepoint! all wet on Saturday night. Sam Black
Strikepoint! all wet on Saturday night. Sam Black

I’m pretty sure my delight with the new BBC movie, Florence Foster Jenkins, was more complex than others at the Zinema last Wednesday. The movie presented a triangle between Florence, her manager/husband St. Clair, and her young pianist, Cosme. For the most part we watch the interactions between St. Clair and his very nurturing manner - for 36 years - with this deluded singer. Back in 2007, at The Playground, I performed the role of Cosme in the Stephen Temperley play called Souvenir. Only Florence and Cosme are involved in Souvenir, and St. Clair is not even mentioned. Both of these pieces of drama are richly entertaining, but vastly different in the way they share the loveliness of the arts embraced by Florence throughout her entire life. I recommend both of them if you get the chance.

The intensive world of teens, plus Chicago

Most of us are certainly aware how intense the teen experience can be, first-hand and parentally. I could hardly believe the non-stop energy pouring from every one of the twenty cast members in the youthful production of the musical Chicago at The Duluth Playhouse this past weekend. From the splash of the opening “All That Jazz”, to the hypnotizing “Hot Honey Rag” more than two hours later, the Playhouse vibrated without ceasing.
Four young actors are on stage most of the time and seem to have energy to spare. Meghan Jarecki (as Velma Kelly) and Kelly Killorin (as Roxie Hart) take turns driving the story of justice and injustice forward. Meanwhile, Jacqline Wright (as Mama Morton) keeps pumping more and more competitive energy into both of them, trying to make some monetary sense out of the prison scene.
By walking a tight-rope and keeping his cool, Noah Cornwell (as lawyer Billy Flynn) can only wink at the others as he croons “All I Care About is Love.” At the other end of the spectrum is the loser, Corey Reilly (as Amos Hart), who truly plays “Mr. Cellophane” as if he believed it more than anyone else in the room.
Surprisingly, the on-stage combo, led by pianist Patrick Colvin, was never over-bearing. The wide variety of ballads and rowdy songs allowed the mood in the house to change from drama to humor instantly. Choreographer (and first time Director) Paige Kohler should be very satisfied with her work. The precision of the dancing, and the rapid-fire timing of lines was superbly pulled off by this coming generation of musical performers. The curtain has closed, but the energy is still in the air.

On the Sweden road and back with Strikepoint!

This year, the versatile handbell ensemble from First United Methodist Church spent a week or more around our sister city of Växjö, in south central Sweden. All eleven ringers, included director Bill Alexander, were in great form for their homecoming concert this past Saturday, as they shared thirteen different numbers, ranging from very peaceful to downright bombastic. The very smooth melodies of “Golgotha”, by William Gross, was a richly mellow, reflective piece. Meanwhile, pieces with titles like “Velocity”, “Exultate”, and “El Capitan”, were as throbbing as you might expect. All eleven ringers stay constantly busy, even while donning goggles, blowing bubbles, and dancing through “Under the Sea”, a Strikepoint! staple for many years.

Once again, enthusiasm reigns this August, whether at The Playhouse or at The Coppertop Church. While the nine Tall Ships cruised around Duluth Harbor, the arts scene was definitely throbbing all this past week. I hope you got happily wrapped up in some of the creative energy.