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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Mistletoe Musings 2021’: versatility=variety@Tisch Mills

Critic At Large

The Forst Inn Arts Collective

Opening number of “Mistletoe Musings 2021” on Forst Inn stage. (Warren Gerds)

TISCH MILLS, Wis. (WFRV) – Just like the headline, the holiday show running at the Forst Inn is unique.

It’s a hybrid. “Mistletoe Musings 2021” is the fifth year that a group of experienced Lakeshore area performers put together a production made up of songs and readings with an aura of friends gathering.

Last year’s production was even more of a hybrid – virtual, with a remarkable pre-dawn video sequence perfectly timed to meet a sunrise over Lake Michigan seen from the Manitowoc harbor.

This year’s performance takes place on the set of the previous presentation of The Forst Inn Arts Collective, the play “The Smell of the Kill.” The set – a home with kitchen and living room areas – has been decorated for the holidays. It’s a theatrical home for the players, if you will.

The atmosphere for the five friends is casual, as is how they interact in dialogue and perform.

The performers are versatile, most playing an instrument while accompanying the others. It could be keyboard, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, accordion or bells. A wooden box is used a number of times with varied performers sitting on it and beating rhythms. In some songs, Phillip Jindra provides percussion with his voice.

The material spans a wide range. Songs can be very popular or from the genre of message/thought. Readings range from the literary sensitivities of e.e. cummings to the straight-on mirth of Ogden Nash. Sunday afternoon’s performance include a boy – apparently the son of Erin LaFond – reciting a hefty Biblical passage of the birth of Jesus.

The show includes Phillip Jindra, Tessa Komorowski, Erin LaFond, Sam Oswald and Shannon Paige blending in a rarity on a local stage in the region – five-part a cappella vocal harmony, including with jazz intricacies.

Two sequences of songs are presented theatrically. One. Tessa Komoroski first embraces the melancholy “The Call,” which envelopes thoughts of great hope. A line ends, “You’ll come back when it’s over; no need to say goodbye.” As she remains, wistful, at a kitchen island counter after singing, Erin LaFond arrives as an unseen figure to offer the comfort of “True Colors.” Starting with “You with the sad eyes, don’t be discouraged.” Two. Sam Oswald captures the lovely mystique of “You Walk with Me” that could have a rainbow of meanings. Phillip Jindra joins as a character to reveal one meaning.

Back when in TV history, December was filled with variety specials for the holidays. They mostly were showbiz-y. “Mistletoe Musings” blends in show business – including a song done a la Dean Martin, drink in hand – with rich layers of sensitive artistry.

The original creation is altogether disarming.  

***

Creative: Material – cast members; producer – Michael Sheeks; technical direction – Jeff LaFond

Performers

Phillip Jindra

Tessa Komorowski

Erin LaFond

Sam Oswald

Shannon Paige

Running time: Two hours, 3 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17-18; 1 p.m. Dec. 19

Info: forstinn.org

***

Program

Act I

“Barenaked Ladies Medley” – All

Reading: “Welcome to a Brand New World” (John Derek Hamilton) – Phillip Jindra

“Old Toy Trains” – All

“Over the Rainbow” – Phillip Jindra/“Wonderful World” – Shannon Paige

“Baby It’s Cold Outside” – Phillip Jindra, Tessa Komorowski

“River” – Erin LaFond

“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” – Sam Oswald

Reading: “Soldiers From the War Returning” (e.e. cummings) – Erin LaFond

“Travlin’ Soldier” – Phillip Jindra, Tessa Komorowski, Shannon Paige

“Let It Snow” – All a cappella

Reading: “Little Tree” (e.e. cummings) – Shannon Paige

“You Walk With Me” – Sam Oswald, joined by Phillip Jindra

“Peace on Earth” – Phillip Jindra/“Drummer Boy” – Sam Oswald

Reading: “An Old Man’s Winter Night” (Robert Frost) – Sam Oswald

“Auld Lang Syne/Silent Night Medley” – combinations

Reading: “Luke Chapter 2” (Bible) – Shannon Paige

“Away in a Manger” – combinations

Reading: “Luke Chapter 2” (Bible) – Shannon Paige

“Angels We Have Heard” – combinations

Act II

“A New World” – All, individually

“All Is Found” – Sam Oswald, Tessa Komorowski

Reading: “The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus” (Ogden Nash) – Erin LaFond

“Blue Christmas” – Sam Oswald

“Carol of the Bells” – All a cappella

“Man with the Bag” – Erin LaFond, with tap dance

Reading: “Yule Cat” (Icelandic) – Sam Oswald

“Jingle Bells Singalong” – All

Reading: “Empathy” – George Eliot

“January Hymn” – Phillip Jindra

“Mary Did You Know” – All a cappella

“Snowman” – Shannon Paige

Reading: “Song of Quietness” (Robinson Jeffers) – Phillip Jindra

“The Call” – Tessa Komorowski

“True Colors” – Erin LaFond

Reading: “The Guest House” – Phillip Jindra

“I’ll Be Seeing You” – All

“That’s Christmas to Me” – All

***

THE VENUE: The historic Forst Inn is located at the corner of Kewaunee County roads B and BB. The building dates to 1868, with assorted lives over the years. For a notable period – 1990 into the 2000s – the place was popular for productions of Little Sandwich Theatre, which Manitowoc attorney Ron Kaminski (deceased 2018) nurtured with a caring hand as artistic director/performer/do-all for a wide array of productions. The present venture is of that spirit. The stage is wide and narrow. The space is intimate. Seating is at small tables on two levels in a slight arc in front of the slightly raised stage. To the audience’s rear is the stage director’s space, with light and sound controls. The space is essentially a black box in theater style in the front – with additions: two chandeliers above the audience, a street lamp the seating area and the ambiance of 1920s style elements to the rear in a service area.  A seating/serving area is in the middle of the building, along with a ticketing counter. The bar area out front includes the bar, table seating, more 1920s ambiance and a passage to an art gallery (rotating artists) that is now part of the offerings of The Forst Inn Arts Collective overseen by Michael Sheeks, who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus in Manitowoc.

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