Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: A monumental finale in De Pere

Music Theatre of St. Norbert College

DE PERE, Wis. - Oh, the stories – 56 years, 92 productions, 2,000 performers, tens of thousands in audiences.

And the whopper-est story of all is going on this weekend as Music Theatre of St. Norbert College presents “The Showcase of Stars” as final production under the guidance of Dudley Birder as artistic director.

All the numbers above relate to Birder. At age 90, he is stepping away from Music Theatre of St. Norbert College while continuing to lead the Dudley Birder Chorale of St. Norbert College.

“The Showcase of Stars” is massive in scale – and entertaining as all get out.

Fifty-four performers recount selections from 22 shows. They don’t just merely trot out and dust off popular tunes and trundle off. One after another, the selections are show pieces in one form or another. Some for-instances:

+ Featured female soloists wear gowns of the up-style that would be suitable at a presidential dinner. One after another.

+ Many selections are dressed up with dance. This could be horses that dance (“Man of La Mancha”), or an entourage of tap dancers (“The Tipsy Chaperone”) or a dance-duel amidst a scene of swirl in a gymnasium (“West Side Story”). And more. Much effort by many goes into this production.

+ Featured singers are prepared, and on. For some, it’s been a while since they’ve been in the spotlight, and yet time after time they step out and get into a flow of a song and carefully shape its sounds and meanings. Time after time.

+ Some sequences are elaborate and vocally sophisticated. The octet scene from “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Tonight” from “West Side Story” are phenomenal.

+ The setups are excellent. First of all, the stage is lined with lights, including on four steps at the rear below a screen. The screen serves as a video wall this way: First displayed is the title of a show and the year or years it was produced by Music Theatre of St. Norbert College. Then photographs are shown of the cast or casts. Finally, an image suitable to the piece to be performed is displayed – a sample: For “The King and I,” the backdrop befits the residence of the king of Siam, with the picture so vivid that it seems three dimensional. Every sequence has visual appeal.

+ While most sequences do not have a story background, “Man of La Mancha” does by way of Stu Smith, a storyteller by nature. Perhaps Smith is subtly drawing word pictures around the reason for the showcase to be in the first place, Dudley Birder. Smith tells of Don Quixote, whose vision is that beyond comprehension for most. Dudley Birder = Don Quixote? Maybe. Smith sings “The Impossible Dream.” Was the dream possible? For 56 years, yes.

+ The finale is an eyeful – gold lamé all over the place (around tuxes and gowns) as the company sends up a rouser.

+ The Birder family stamp is all over “The Showcase of Stars.” Dudley Birder sits in the front row watching all; on opening night Wednesday, he arrived to a rousing cheer and a standing ovation. Two neat things: Sparky dance sequences by cousins Ana Lissa Bakken and Mary Delaney Gilliam (Dudley Birder grandchildren) and the song “Memory” (and all its meanings) at the climax by daughter Alicia Birder (show co-director with brother James P. Birder and choreographer). Of note, Alicia Birder performs an embracing concert version of “Memory” rather than the theatrical and melancholic one she performed in the company’s recent production of “Cats.”

All in all, “The Showcase of Stars,” which can’t be created anywhere else in the world the same way, is loaded with wonderful and heartfelt performances. It is quite the experience.

***

Creative: Directors – James P. Birder, Alicia Birder; choreographer – Alicia Birder; artistic director/producer – Dudley Birder; music director – Kent Paulsen; set design/technical director – Corey Allan Pinchart; L.E.D. content and design/light design – Andrew Schmitz; sound design – Chris Gabryszek, costume design – Ruth Novak; hair/make-up design – Lois Gegare; stage manager – Jena Tolksdorf; props masters – Susan Elliott, Warren Elliott

Orchestra: Keyboards – Elaine Moss, Kent Paulsen; drums and percussion – Tony Giovannini; bass – Charles De Villers

Running time: Two hours, 40 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. July 20, 21, 22

Info: snc.edu/tickets/

***

Musical selections

Act I

“Oklahoma” from “Oklahoma!” (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II) – Matthew Courchaine (Cord Elam), Joe Ehlinger (Curly), Tim Olejniczak (Fred), Richard Suslick (Ike), Paula J. Tolksdorf (Aunt Eller), Mikaela Torbenson (Laurie), Chris Zimmermann (Carnes), Singer/Dancers, Alumni Choral Ensemble

“Man of La Mancha” from “Man of LaMancha” (Dale Wasserman/Joe Darion/Mitch Leigh) – Parker Drew (Sancho Panza), Stu Smith (Don Quixote); Horses: Ana Lissa Bakken, Mary Delaney Gilliam

“The Impossible Dream” from “Man of LaMancha” (Dale Wasserman/Joe Darion/Mitch Leigh) – Stu Smith (Don Quixote)

“There is a Sucker Born Ev’ry Minute” from “Barnum” (Mark Bramble/Michael Stewart/Cy Coleman) – Joe Ehlinger (Barnum)

“It’s a Hard Knock Life” from “Annie” (Thomas Meehan/Martin Charnin/Charles Strouse) – Maya AbuJamra (Pepper), Amelia Gibbons (Duffy), Rose Lemerande (Kerry), JaymeAnn Olson (Kate), Madalyn Paulsen (Jane), Megan Schauer (Tessie), Kenadie Schultz (Sara), Skylar Schultz (Marta), Abby Thomas-Alvarez (Molly), Mikaela Torbenson (July), Anna Zimmermann (Annie)

“Nobody’s Perfect” from “I Do! I Do!” (Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt) – Susan Elliott (Agnes), Warren Elliott (Michael)

“Gaston” from “Beauty and the Beast” (Linda Woolverton/Howard Ashman/Tim Rice/Alan Menken) – Ana Lissa Bakken, Parker Drew, (Le Fou), Mary Delaney Gilliam, Amanda Meo, Dr. Benjamin Schultz-Burkel (Gaston), Revelers: Joe Ehlinger, Warren Elliott, Mark A. Jackson, Chad Lemerande, Ben Olejniczak, Tim Olejniczak, Jon Weiss, Singer/Dancers

“Love Makes Such Fools of All of Us” from “Barnum” (Mark Bramble/Michael Stewart/Cy Coleman) – Rita Jonet Baretta (Jenny Lind)

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” (L. Frank Baum/Frank Gabrielson/Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg/Herbert Stothart) – Michelle Hartmann Puryear (Dorothy)

“Munchkinland” from “The Wizard of Oz” (L. Frank Baum/Frank Gabrielson/Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg/Herbert Stothart) – Linda Feldmann (Glinda), Michelle Hartmann Puryear (Dorothy), Munchkins: Maya AbuJamra, Susan Elliott, Greta Garztke, Amelia Gibbons, Jack Gibbons, Aidan C Guiou, CoCo Guiou, Olivia Jackson, Rose Lemerande, Lawson Liedtke, London McKenzie, Georgia Steenbock, Abby Thomas-Alvarez, Ethan Zuidmulder

“Much More” from “The Fantasticks” (Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt) – Ana Lissa Bakken (Luisa)

“Bring Him Home” from “Les Miserables) (Claude-Michel Schonberg/Herbert Kretzmer) – Chad Lemerande (Valjean)

“Sue Me” from “Guys and Dolls” (Jo Swerling/Abe Burrows/Frank Loesser) – Parker Drew (Nathan Detroit), Sallie Petty (Miss Adelaide)

“Wells Fargo Wagon” from “The Music Man” (Meredith Willson) – Citizens of River City: Joe Ehlinger, Greta Gartzke, Lawson Liedtke (Winthrop), Madalyn Paulsen, Singer/Dancers, Alumni Choral Ensemble

“If He Walked into My Life” from “Mame” (Jerome Lawrence/Robert Edwin Lee/Jerry Herman) – Karen McDiarmid (Mame)

“Notes”/ “Prima Dona” from “The Phantom of the Opera” (Andrew Lloyd Webber/Charles Hart) – Michael Ajango (Msr. Firmin), Alicia Birder (Carlotta), Linda Feldmann (Mdme. Giry), Chad Lemerande (Phantom), Amanda Meo (Meg), Ben Olejniczak (Msr. Andre), Tim Olejniczak (Piangi), Nate Plummer (Raoul)

“As We Stumble Along” from “The Drowsy Chaperone” (Bob Martin/Don McKellar/Lisa Lambert/Greg Morrison) – Lorry A. Stiles (The Drowsy Chaparone); Offstage Singers: Michael Ajango, Ana Lissa Bakken, Susan Elliott, Warren Elliott, Caitlyn Lloyd, Jon Weiss

“One Day More” from “Les Miserables” (Claude-Michel Schonberg/Herbert Kretzmer) – Ana Lissa Bakken (Cosette), Parker Drew (Thenardier), Chad Lemerande (Valjean), Tim Olejnizak (Enjolras), Michelle Oren (Eponine), Sallie Petty (Mdme. Thenardier), Nate Plummer (Marius), Dr. Ben Schultz-Burkel (Javert), Ethan Zuidmulder (Gavroche), Students and Revolutionaries: Warren Elliott, Mark A. Jackson; Singer/Dancers, Alumni Choral Ensemble

Act II

“Dance at the Gym” from “West Side Story” (Arthur Laurents/Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim) – Maya AbuJamra, Anna Allen, Ana Lissa Bakken, Matthew Courchaine, Mary Delany Gilliam, Amanda Meo, Ben Olejniczak, Michelle Oren, Hannah Torbenson, Mikaela Torbenson, Jon Weiss

“Plant a Radish” from “The Fantasticks” (Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt) – Warren Elliott (Hucklebee), Sean Gibbons (Bellomy)

“Something Wonderful” from “The King and I” (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II) – Pamela MacMullen (Lady Thiang)

“Tonight” from “West Side Story” (Arthur Laurents/Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim) – Ana Lisa Bakken (Anita), Marie Delany Gilliam (Maria), Ben Olejniczak (Bernardo), Dr. Benjamin Schultz-Burkel (Tony), Jon Weiss (Riff); Jets: Matthew Courchaine, Parker Drew, Joe Ehlinger, Chad Lemerande, Nate Plummer; Sharks: Warren Elliott, Mark A. Jackson, Tim Olejniczak, Bob Richter, Chris Zimmermann

“Somewhere There’s Green” from “Little Shop of Horrors” (Alan Menken/Howard Ashman) – Kristy Knafelc Heffelfinger (Audrey)

“Do You Love Me?” from “Fiddler on the Roof” (Joseph Stein/Sheldon Harnick/Jerry Bock) – Linda Feldmann (Golde), Mark A. Jackson (Tevye)

“You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” from “Annie” (Thomas Meehan/Martin Charnin/Charles Strouse) – Maya AbuJamra (Duffy), Amelia Gibbons (Molly), JaymeAnn Olson (Kate), Megan Schauer (July), Abby Thomas-
Alvarez (Tessie), Mikaela Torbenson (Pepper), Anna Zimmermann (Annie)

“Nunsense Is Habit Forming” from “Nunsense” (Dan Goggin) – Alicia Birder (Sister Mary Amnesia), Susan Elliott (Sister Mary Leo), Karen McDiarmid (Sister Robert Anne), Lorry A. Stiles (Mother Superior Mary Regina)

“Do-Re-Mi” from “The Sound of Music” (Howard Lindsay/Russel Crouse/Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II) – Maya AbuJamra (Louisa), Aidan C. Guiou (Fredrick), Kasey Hott (Maria), Rose Lemerande (Marta), Lawson Liedtke (Kurt), Georgia Steenbock (Gretl), Mikaela Torbenson (Liesl), Anna Zimmermann (Brigitta)

“Toledo Surprise” from “The Drowsy Chaperone” (Bob Martin/Don McKellar/Lisa Lambert/Greg Morrison) – Michael Ajango (Underling), Ana Lissa Bakken (Gangster), Susan Elliott (Mrs. Tottendale), Warren Elliott (Feldzeig), Ann Preiss Gray (Gangster), Caitlin Lloyd (Kitty), Lorry A. Stiles (The Drowsy Chaperone), Jon Weiss (Robert Martin)

“Memory” from “Cats” (Andrew Lloyd Webber) – Alicia Birder (Grizabella)

“Megamix” from “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” (Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber) – Michael Ajango (Jacob), Cassidy Heim-Ditmer (Reuben’s Wife), Mark A. Jackson (Pharoah), Chad Lemerande (Simeon), Karen McDiamid (Narrator), Ben Olejniczak (Joseph), Dr. Ben Schultz-Burkel (Judah), Jon Weiss (Reuben), Company.

***

Singers/Dancers: Anna Allen, Ana Lissa Bakken, Matthew Courchaine, Mary Delaney Gilliam, Amanda Meo, JaymeAnn Olson, Michelle Oren, Sallie Petty, Paula J. Tolksdorf, Hannah Torbenson, Mikaela Torbenson, Kris Wegge, Jon Weiss

Children’s Ensemble: Maya AbuJamra, Greta Gartzke, Amelia Gibbons, Jack Gibbons, Joseph Gibbons, Aidan C. Guiou, CoCo Guiou, Olivia Jackson, Rose Lemerande, Lawson Liedtke, London McKenzie, JaymeAnn Olson, Madalyn Paulsen, Megan Schauer, Kenadie Schultz, Savannah Schultz, Skylar Schultz, Georgia Steenbock, Abby Thomas-Alvarez, Mikaela Torbenson, Liliana Warren, Anna Zimmermann, Ethan Zuidmulder

Alumni Choral Ensemble: Paula Abbott, Rita Jonet Baretta, Susan Elliott, Cassidy Heim-Ditmer, Linda Feldmann, Sergio Heredia, Kasey Hott, Sharon Johnson, Annette Johnsrud, Jeanne Lund, Pamela MacMullen, Ben Olejniczak, Tim Olejniczak, Jack Rhyner, Bob Richter, Heidi A. Schmitz, Ben Schultz-Burkel, Alicia Skrivane, Richard J. Suslick, Paula J. Tolksdorf, Mikaela Torbenson, Jon Weiss, Karen Wochos, Chris Zimmermann, Sandy Zochert

***

THE VENUE: The 725-seat Byron L. Walter Theatre features a proscenium stage (flat front). Its walls are textured concrete blocks laid in a wave pattern. The ceiling includes white acoustical clouds. Seat material and carpeting are the traditional theater red. The theater is located in Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts at St. Norbert College in De Pere. It is the larger of two theaters in the building, the core of which was built in 1955. In 1989, the Walter Theatre was renovated to improve the lobby and interior aesthetic, adding seating and improving the acoustics.

THE PERSON: Byron L. Walter (1877-1954) was a businessman. He operated Green Bay Hardware, Inc. until his retirement in 1953. Walter was co-founder of Paper Converting Machine Co. and for a time served as president. After his death, the Byron L. Walter Family Trust was established, and it made possible the theater. The trust continues to make widespread contributions to community projects and institutions.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My new books, “Three Miles Past Lost and in the Pickers” and “Nickolaus and Olive – a naïve opera (in words),” are available in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum, Bosse’s and The Reader’s Loft.


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