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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Love’ served with high vocal polish in Sheboygan

Critic At Large

Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra

Sam Handley and Amanda Majeski performing for Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra. (Warren Gerds screenshot)

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (WFRV) – Many couples in this region sing together. And then there’s Sam Handley and Amanda Majeski, husband-and-wife professional operatic/concert singers with handsome performance credits who happen to reside in the Sheboygan area.

Saturday night, they starred online on YouTube with pianist Emily Blasczyk in a Valentine’s Day-minded program, “Love,” in Weill Center for the Performing Arts on behalf of Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra amid COVID-19 pandemic difficulties.

It is helpful to know that Sam Handley is executive director of Green Lake Festival of Music. Thus, the area residency.

And in 2019, Amanda Majeski earned a to-die-for notice in The Guardian of London, England: “Amanda Majeski makes an unforgettable debut in Richard Jones’s exemplary new production of Janáček’s great late opera.”

The two together are something of a rarity for these parts, and so was their program because of its elevated level.

The voices of Sam Handley and Amanda Majeski are so high-octane that they influenced the templates of songs. That was especially true of songs from musical theater.

Some musical theater performers can act better than sing. With these vocally equipped two, the song is the thing. The presentation is about the song and singing and not so much acting and telling the story. The songs are treated as jewels.

The templates were changed in tempos, which were slowed. Amanda Majeski especially employed time to savor the words/music blend, always with a rich, measured and refined voice. Sam Handley also took a leisured pace and was particularly churning, forceful and muscular as the haunted-by-attraction man in “Her Face.”

The program contained a standard structure. The two started with dense material of serious European origin before embracing mostly musical theater fare on strong-love themes.

They ended the 70-minute program with the grand, lovely “If I Loved You,” adding a little kiss at the end as sweetener.


Program: “Love,” February 13, 2021, livestreamed from Stefanie H. Weill Center for the Performing Arts, Sheboygan

Amanda Majeski, soprano, Sam Handley, bass-baritone, Emily Blasczyk, piano

+ Duo: “So war die Sonne scheinet” – Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

+ Amanda Majeski: “The Wish,” “Handsome Lad,” “Lithuanian Song,” “My Sweetheart” – Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

+ Sam Handley: “Love-Sight,” “Silent Noon,” “Love’s Last Gift” – Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

+ Amanda Majeski: “Something Good” – music by Richard Rodgers (1902-1979), lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960)

+ Amanda Majeski: “Moon River” – music by Henry Mancini (1924-1994), lyrics by Johnny Mercer (1909-1976)

+ Amanda Majeski: “My Funny Valentine” – music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart (1895-1943)

+ Sam Handley: “If Ever I Would Leave You” – music by Frederick Loewe (1901-1988), lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner (1918-1986)

+ Sam Handley: “Her Face” – Robert Merrill (1917-2004)

+ Sam Handley: “Some Enchanted Evening” – Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

+ Duo: “The Prayer” – Morten Lauridsen Ya eres mía (b. 1943)

+ Duo: “If I Loved You” – Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II


VENUE: The 1,153-seat French Family Auditorium in the Stefanie H. Weill Center for the Performing Arts is a renovated, majestic movie palace that dates to 1928 – just before the arrival of “talking” movies. Located in downtown Sheboygan, the building is easily spotted by its long, horizontal marquee that says, “Sheboygan,” the original name of the theater. In the late 1990s, efforts swung into motion to restore the building. In October 2001, the theater re-opened as home to several local performing arts groups with additional programming of its own. The design is of the Spanish Colonial Revival style. The lobby areas and auditorium are adorned in elaborate architectural designs that evoke a courtly era. Huge flowers, medallions and human forms in relief add visual punch. The rectangular auditorium is light and airy, with the blue ceiling sprinkled with blinking lights representing stars. To heighten the orchestral/choral sound, the stage area includes a set of wavy, wooden acoustical clouds along with floor-to-ceil wooden panels. The theater was constructed as part of the Universal Pictures circuit for $600,000 – a whopping sum for 1928. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s one of Wisconsin’s remarkable old theaters – and well kept.

THE PEOPLE: The auditorium is named for a local entrepreneur whose JL French Corp. manufactured automotive components. Stefanie H. Weill and her husband, John Weill, emigrated from Vienna, Austria, to the United States in 1941. John Weill was a businessman – president of American Chair Co. and board chairman of the parent Thonet Industries in New York. He died in 1967. Stefanie Weill was active in community and civic activities, including serving on the board of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and being part of Friends of Sheboygan Symphony. The Stefanie H. Weill Charitable Trust was established in 1969 to support such ventures as the center for the performing arts.

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