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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Veterans Tribute’ filled with vivid color in Sheboygan

Critic At Large

Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

Poster in lobby of Weill Center for the Performing Arts. (Warren Gerds)


Cotton settles in front of his TV set in his living room in Milwaukee to watch “Victory at Sea.” It’s another Sunday afternoon. Joining are his sons and the kid from next door.

During World War II a decade earlier, Cotton served in a defense plant. One of his legs was short, requiring him to walk with an elevated shoe. Now he is fascinated by what thousands of Americans experienced fighting in the Pacific.

Images on the screen are in black and white. The sound is monaural.

The episodes in the series are exciting and fascinating as soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and nurses are swept along in moments teeming with boredom or toil or the prospect of sudden death or maiming.

Along with the motion pictures comes music.

Rolling drums and a swirling sound, as if undulating on waves of vast power, signal the start of another episode.

What is happening to the kid next door is indelible. The music is infused in him, more so than the images.

As the surging sounds end on TV, a single held note marks something impending. The next music will be of tensions, of tenseness, of relaxed times, of bustling, of danger. One moment, the mood is light on the notes of a dance, and the next is dark with the enemy lurking.

Saturday night, the kid from next door heard those sounds again, not in the “black and white” of monaural but in the living color of a symphony orchestra performing seemingly in a regal Spanish courtyard.

The vivid music of the gifted Richard Rodgers lasts in a “Scenario” compiled by Robert Russell Bennett that needs not a TV series to tell tales of the South Pacific a-tumble in war.

Saturday night, “Victory at Sea” was one of the selections that Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra music director Kevin R. McMahon chose for the program titled “Veterans Tribute.” The performance courtyard was the Weill Center for the Performing Arts.

The concert opened in silence – the solemnity for the presentation of the colors, with a huge star-spangled banner covering the back wall of the stage.

Along the way, during “Armed Forces Salute,” veterans from each branch of service were asked to stand and be recognized as their anthem was played.

Mostly, the program music was patriotic. Selections of Americana were woven in.

With Monday being Veterans Day, many forms of tribute will be offered. Saturday night, “Veterans Tribute” was of an elevated kind.

Symphonic music is special. It is big, spans the full range of emotions in many ways and requires 60-some people who have devoted countless hours to honing an artistic skill to come together to say something from black and white notes on a page.

Joining Saturday night was the Sheboygan Symphony Chorus, 59 more souls to take the music to other levels. In one case, the chorus sang not a word but expressed so much about sympathy in “Hymn to the Fallen” by the masterful John Williams.

The evening was wonderful – quite filled with American pride – artfully put together and presented.


Program: “Veterans Tribute”

Kevin R. McMahon, Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor

Wilhelmina Nelmes Vogtle, Sheboygan Symphony Chorus director

Part I

+ “The Star-Spangled Banner,” John Stafford Smith, arranged by Arturo Toscanini

   Color Guard presented by VFW Post 9156, Sheboygan, Wisconsin

+ “The Red Pony: Film Suite for Orchestra,” Aaron Copland

   “Morning on the Ranch”

   “The Gift”

   “Dream March and Circus Music”

   “Walk to the Bunkhouse”

   “Grandfather’s Story”

   “Happy Ending”

+ “Armed Forces Salute,” arranged by Bob Lowden

   “The Caisson Song” (Army)

   “Semper Paratus” (Coast Guard)

   “Marine’s Hymn” (Marines)

   “Wild Blue Yonder” (Air Force)

   “Anchors Aweigh” (Navy)

+ “Victory at Sea: Symphonic Scenario for Orchestra,” Richard Rodgers, arranged by Robert Russell Bennett

+ “The Liberty Bell March,” John Philip Sousa

Part II

+ “American Salute,” Morton Gould

   Variations on “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”

+ “International Dixieland Jamboree,” arranged by Bill Holcolme

   “Bill Bailey”

   “St. James Infirmary Blues”

   “When the Saints Come Marching In”

With Sheboygan Symphony Chorus

+ “American Patriotic Themes,” arranged by James Christensen

   “America the Beautiful”

   “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean”

   “It’s a Grand Old Flag”

+ “Hymn to the Fallen” from “Saving Private Ryan,” John Williams

+ “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” William C. Shoenfeld, arranged by Roy Ringwald

   Jim Bahar, bass

+ “God Bless America,” Irving Berlin

   William TeWinkle, narrator

   Steve Freunder, tenor


NEXT: Sing-along “Messiah,” Dec. 14.

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.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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