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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘The Curtain Rises Again’ bursts with vitality in De Pere

Critic At Large

St. Norbert College Music Theatre-Summer Stage

Left to right: Top: Acacia Angelo, Annika Osell, Ben Cahall, Brennan Heider. Center: Corrie Beula Kovacs, Emily Terrell Paulsen, Jarrod Michael Pfarr, John Dicks. Bottom: Linda Feldmann, Michael Ajango, Molly Lucareli, Nick Myers Olson. (St. Norbert College Music Theatre)

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – Goal: Paint a picture of our pandemic. Paint with songs and words. Paint with delicacy and daring.

Thus, there is “The Curtain Rises Again-A Musical Revue,” an inspired original presentation of St. Norbert College Music Theatre-Summer Stage.

The piece is an expression of 12 lives – the singers – as a musical collage. The singers’ experiences – starting March 11, 2020, and into the thick of COVID-19 – are the springboard into songs that say much, much about thoughts and feelings shared by many.

The title of the show doesn’t do justice to the power in it. I don’t know whether any title could. The show is an experience of beautiful voices artistically weaving a colorful tapestry like no other.

Perhaps all this reads as a bit much, but the piece stands apart in the history of Music Theatre that dates to 1962. Originality.

The production takes place – three more performances to go – in Dudley Birder Hall on the St. Norbert College campus with one piano and 12 voices in solo or combinations or as a whole.

Songs come from musicals that may be household names or not. The songs are in the show for meanings in them, not “popular hit” value. One example from “South Pacific” is “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” which is ironic.

No song titles are listed in the digital program at this site: snc.edu/summerstage. No song titles are projected on the wall behind the singers, as is done in other shows in the hall. Thus, the focus is on listening to the meanings in the singers’ words and their rather illustrious way of singing them. Such beautiful voices.

Made up of lyrics from songs in the show, this image is an attempt to create a word collage that was printed on paper that was crinkled to symbolize how the pandemic affected normal life. (Warren Gerds)

Key in the elaborate collaboration are director Stephen Rupsch and musical director Kent Paulsen. The two formulated a template of a theme idea – shared life here at a time of trial – brought in personal experiences and song thoughts of 12 souls, and then searched the wide world of soul-searching musical theater songs to shape the picture.

The show has 34 sections – 33 songs and one poem.

Kent Paulsen is at the piano, playing a myriad of styles.

While most songs are built on encouragement and inspiration, there are spots of whimsy. One is about baking! Put simple ingredients together and make it work – that kind of thing.

One of the standout sections is a combination of known songs. “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” is spiced by whistling and a trio of tap dancers. The big, joyful tone leads into sensitivity next in “Make Someone Happy,” sung with gentleness.

Each half of the show ends with pieces that set off adrenaline and embrace the heart with wonderful group singing.

“The Curtain Rises Again-A Musical Revue” is musical theater artistry in one of its purest forms.

***

Creative: Producer – Music Theatre Management Team: Paul Mashl, Kent Paulsen, Michael Rosewall, Stephen Rupsch; director – Stephen Rupsch; musical director – Kent Paulsen; light designer – Scott LaPlante; sound engineer – Alex Sudbrink; tap choreographer – Corrie Beula Kovacs; livestream director – Bruce Glassco; lightboard operator – Maria Miller

Cast:

Michael Ajango, De Pere

Acacia Angelo, Green Bay

Corrie Beula Kovacs, Neenah

Ben Cahall, De Pere

John Dicks, Green Bay

Linda Feldmann, Appleton

Brennan Heider, Green Bay

Molly Lucareli, Green Bay

Nick Myers Olson, Green Bay

Annika Osell, De Pere

Emily Terrell Paulsen, Green Bay

Jarrod Michael Pfarr, Grand Chute

Running time: One hour, 45 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. July 23-25 live, in-person or livestreamed

Info: snc.edu/tickets/

***

NEXT: “SpongeBob The Musical” with St. Norbert College Music Theatre-Next Stage, Aug. 12-15.

THE VENUE: Dudley Birder Hall at St. Norbert College is located in the former St. Boniface Church at the corner of Fourth and Grant streets in De Pere. It’s a multi-purpose space. For “The Curtain Rises-A Musical Revue,” seating is set up for social distancing in the space normally holding approximately 200 persons. The walls and towering arches of the former church are painted cream white. Above are acoustical clouds. The raised stage is spacious and airy. Dudley Birder Hall was dedicated in January 2013. The St. Boniface building dates to the late 1800s and is a landmark for its classical exterior and clock tower.

THE PERSON: Known for an outgoing personality, enthusiasm and attention to detail, Dudley Birder started on the St. Norbert faculty in 1958. He founded Music Theatre in 1962. The Collegiate Chorale and the Swinging Knights show group were his other creations. Dudley Birder produced musicals for the college and community into 2017 and concerts into 2018. After Birder retired from teaching, he continued as conductor of the Dudley Birder Chorale of St. Norbert College and artistic director of Music Theatre of St. Norbert College. He fully retired June 1, 2018.

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