Wednesday, December 1, 2004

A lot of night music

Commentary by JoEllen Collins


JoEllen Collins

Sitting in wonderment at two recent musical theater performances in our small town, I couldn't help but reflect on three aspects of my pleasure. The first was the outstanding talent I observed, the second was our treasure of music in the art form of musical theater, and the third was how even much of today's popular music echoes the forms of crowd-pleasing songs from an earlier time.

During both evenings, one at The Community School's mind-boggling rendition of "The Pirates of Penzance," the other a week later at Laughing Stock's "Carousel," I sat amazed at the range of talent I saw, certainly disproportionate for our narrow valley nestled in the Sawtooths. The Community School, with about 300 pre-K - 12 students, put on a production worthy of a much larger talent pool. The leads had remarkable voices, the teamwork of the cast was evident as even the supporting singers stayed in character, obviously enjoying themselves and the music, and the poise and mature acting skills were those of college students or professionals, in many cases. I can name at least five of the leads who could pursue careers in this genre. I have known many of these students since kindergarten, and I thus swelled with pride (though undeserved, as I hadn't done anything). Hard working parents, staff , and directors such as Fritz Brun and Dick Brown are people called to living here because of the beauty of the region and our unique cultural attributes. I remember watching "Pirates" principals Kevin and Connor Wade as toddlers absorbing the then-small Sun Valley Summer Symphony at its original Elkhorn venue. Now these two musically talented young men, sons of teacher Mike Wade, are sharing the benefits of their exposure to the arts and nurturing parents, school and community.

Laughing Stock's company was equally amazing. I remember volunteering to be prop person on an original musical, "Cowboy," shortly after I moved here in 1982. As hard as it was to carry saddles and other props out behind the Sun Valley Opera House in deep snow, ensuring proper placement for the next scene, I caught the infectious camaraderie of that group of actors and musicians. I have acted in a couple of their productions since, always love going to their productions, and feel I am an ardent fan. But "Carousel" didn't miss a beat. It felt like a professional instead of a community theater production. Need I say that the growth and fullness of theater here, as evidenced by "Carousel" is due, in great part, to all the other musical and theater outlets we have in our valley?

While I'm at it, I am looking forward to Company of Fool's upcoming Christmas musical evening, "Fools Holiday Songbook," with the likes of R.L. Rowsey, surely one of the most vibrant talents ever to pass through our town, and other holiday events like Handel's "Messiah," "The Christmas Promise," and performances by the Caritas Chorale. What a joy!

My two Saturday nights stimulated a glut of listening to CDs of great American musicals while en route to and from Jackson Hole last week. I savored the rousing choruses of "Oklahoma" (the "sister" musical to "Carousel"), sang along with "South Pacific," wore a smile on my face as I harmonized with "The Music Man" and was nostalgic for the great days of melodic musical theater. On my way to India as a young woman, stopping in New York for the first leg of our 48-hour plane trip, I got to see the original cast perform "West Side Story." I must admit that I feel stodgy as I reminisce about the "old days" of soaring music on stage. Enough of this sentimental yearning!

I also must note that, in listening to the rapid song-patter of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Penzance," Billy's 'Soliloquy' in "Carousel" and the many tripping lyrics (i.e. the opening salesmen's song in "The Music Man,") I realized that rap isn't that original. Nothing is that original. Maybe the main difference is the subject matter and language of contemporary rap, but the concept of rhyming to a rapid, spoken beat was done long ago, very possibly as far back as the tales of wandering minstrels.

So here's a wish for all of you: may your holidays be filled with the thrill of hearing voices in songs with lyrics that last, and may you be reminded of the better creative instincts of humanity, as I was those two marvelous musical nights!

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