Monday, July 21, 2008


This link, then scroll down the page a bit.

Youth rep's "Working" sets a new standard

I shook my head.

The crowd that came out for the Youth Rep production of "Working" at the FAC this weekend was mostly parents of the performers.

Shame on me for not making a bigger deal of these shows in our GO! magazine. This wasn't just some glorified high school show. The musical performances in "Working" were among the finest performances I saw on this stage all year.

Let me be clear here. I'm not saying these were the best "youth" performances I'd see here. They were among the best of any kind!

When Alexandria Cambell belted out her "Loving Al" ode to valet parkers, I figured that was it. She was the big standout this year. There's always one or two.

But then Sara Barad came on and did her way-too-authentic-for-her-years torch song to the nightclub singer, while she played along. Then Carmen Vreeman gave her lament about "Milwork," with a passionate rendition that could teach James Taylor a thing or two. Then Brendan Kane gave a monologue about retirement that, again, was so authentic, it was stunning. Then Mary Earle showed that sheer charisma and verve can raise a waitress to staggering heights. The show-stoppers went on and on.

What the heck do these kids know about working for a living? I don't know. But darned if they didn't sell this very difficult show.

You should have been there.

The next day, I wondered about these exceptional kids. Some of them, no doubt, will "make it." Unfortunately, to find their fame and fortune, they'll have to go far from the Springs, taking with them our greatest assets.

Let's hope they remember to write.

"Singing With the Stars" post-mortem

Everybody I talked to - including me - was thrilled with Jessica Gisin and Halee Towne winning the Colorado Festival of World Theatre's "Singing With the Stars" competition. (The story in Sunday's paper, alas, isn't online.) They were fantastic, and I can't wait to see what they do in September's My Favorite Things.

But everybody I talked to from the theater community - including me - was flabbergasted that Amy Sue Hardy didn't make the finals. To my ears her performance was the best of the semi-finals, closely followed by Towne's.

What happened?

One issue was the ballot: Any time you're picking a bunch of people - in this case, the audience members got to vote for six of the 12 semi-finalists - the voting will be skewed, because it doesn't reflect actual commitment. Your vote for your sixth-favorite performer counts just as much as your vote for your favorite performer. The result is that a performer who everybody thinks is okay will show up on more ballots than a performer who polarizes the audience - one whom most people love but a few people hate.

(I learned about this effect a few years ago when I was on the theater jury for Pikes Peak Arts Council awards. One year we nearly gave the Best Actress award to someone whom none of the judges thought had actually had the best year. But we could vote for three, and we all thought she'd had the third-best year, even though we didn't agree on who we liked more. Fortunately, we figured out what was going on in time to re-vote.)

(And no, I don't remember who it was.)

So Amy Sue must have been one of those polarizing performers, and I think the reason lay mostly with the song she chose: "The Sun and I" from "Hot Mikado."

It was a jaw-droppingly virtuoso performance of a virtuoso vehicle, topped off by a two-octave pianissimo upwards glissando. Vocally, none of the other semi-finalists showed as much range of tone, dynamics or expression - not even Towne, whose "The Girl in 14-G" is a tour-de-force.

But Ko-Ko, the character who sings this song in Act 2 of "Hot Mikado," is a self-engrossed young woman, and it's difficult to empathize with the self-engrossed. It works within the show because we've already learned how naive and charming Ko-Ko is, and who can blame someone who's young and beautiful for thinking she's the cat's pajamas? But without this context, "The Sun and I" comes off like a hymn to narcissism, and the virtuosity, instead of a young woman reveling in her powers, can seem like mere showing off.

This must be the impression some of the audience members got on Saturday: A glamorous woman, the best-known contestant, past winner of every prize Colorado Springs has to offer, comes out and sings a song that basically says, "look at me, I'm wonderful." Is that the classic stuck-up diva, or what? Everybody who knows Amy Sue - even barely, like me - knows how poorly that image describes her, but it's no surprise that some of the audience members didn't take to her.

Friday, July 18, 2008

First Concert in Cornerstone

Belated ruminations on the June 16 opening concert at Colorado College’s Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center...

Barber’s Knoxville Summer of 1915: Soprano Tony Arnold filled in admirably on short notice for an indisposed Measha Brueggesman. The student orchestra sounded radiant, and conductor Scott Yoo’s pacing was perfect. I don’t expect ever to hear a more moving performance of this exquisitely nostalgic score.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9: I had some trepidation going in. I’d heard Yoo conduct Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 a few years back, and it was everything I dislike about modern Beethoven conducting, with all suppleness, tenderness and expressive weight sacrificed to speed and nervous energy. (It was exciting!) But there were only echoes of this approach in the 9th Symphony, mostly in the first movement, during which the relentless forward momentum became tiresome. Otherwise, Yoo’s interpretation was brilliant, and in the adagio, revelatory.

Beethoven was the first composer to make extensive use of the metronome – a device for giving exact tempos in beats per minute in contrast to the old generalized tempos of allegro, andante, etc. But many of his markings are controversial – and none more so than his marking for this movement. At quarter-note equals sixty beats a minute, it’s quite brisk for a piece marked adagio molto y cantabile, and he curiously gives the same metronome mark a page later when the tempo designation of andante moderato suggests something considerably faster. The most probable explanation is that Beethoven wanted the pulse to be a half-note in the opening section, but a quarter-note in the andante.

But the second-most probable explanation is that Beethoven muffed the initial metronome mark. And so, until a couple of decades ago, conductors routinely ignored it. For instance, the legendary 1942 broadcast with Furtwangler and the Berlin Philharmonic has an opening tempo of a little less than half what Beethoven specified – about 58 beats per eighth-note - and lasts a tad over 20 minutes.

The problem with Beethoven’s metronome mark generally arises about two-thirds of the way through the movement, where the music returns to B-flat and the time signature changes to 12/8. At the faster tempo, the first violin part - first in 16th-notes and then in 16th-note triplets – tends to sound unnervingly etude-like. Yoo solved the problem by putting in practice an idea suggested by musicologist Richard Taruskin years ago (though Yoo is smart enough to have thought of it on his own): He had the violins play pianissimo, underneath the hymn-like theme in the woodwinds. Instead of an etude, the violin line became a joyful commentary.

Yoo didn’t convince me that the faster tempo is better. With music this beautiful, I’d prefer to prolong the experience, at least when musicians can sustain the line like Furtwangler and the BPO could. But unlike other performances I’ve heard at this tempo, this one worked, and worked marvelously.

Unlike the first and third movements, Yoo’s approach to the second and fourth movements was more traditional – or rather, the traditional tempos of these movements differ little from Beethoven’s metronome markings. The weakest movement was the famous finale. Yoo’s architectural grasp deserted him midway through, and the movement became sectional – a series of scenes rather than an integrated whole.

But all in all it was an amazing experience to hear how well this epic symphony worked with the Colorado College Summer Music Festival's pared-down forces. The Colorado Vocal Arts Ensemble performed the difficult chorus part near-perfectly, and mezzo soprano Shannon McGee and bass Ashraf Sewailam led the strong quartet of vocal soloists. The student performers, nearly all of whom were playing their first Beethoven 9th, held nothing back, with especially stellar work from the woodwind players.

The tunable hall sounded great, though I’ll have to hear some other performances before commenting.

Youth rep gains great rep

I saw the Youth Rep's production of "You Can't Take It With You," Thursday night and it was delightful.

These are high school kids, but these are hardly high school productions. (The production is running in rep with the musical "Working.")

Cory Moosman directed this Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy about an eccentric, embarrassing family and what happens when a daughter's boyfriend brings his parents for a visit.

We've all been there.

Several of the actors showed the kind of promise that suggests serious acting careers await them.

Among them: Patrick Yukman, who gave me a serious case of the yuks. He played the grandpa, a man who has found joy in amusement by dropping out of society. This kid knows how to wield a one-liner like nobody's business. I also loved Katy Williams as the loopy mom, who jumps from painting to writing novels and back again in a constant effort to amuse herself.

But even the kids who weren't quite on that level managed to find moments where they could shine and do something special.

It's a show worth seeing, even if you don't have a kid in the cast.

I hope to see "Working" on Sunday. For details about the shows, check out the GO! section.

Don't miss our State of the Arts section and live blog

We have a special section coming out Sunday and a live blog with some key arts members at 2 p.m. Monday.

See for details.