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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Words & Music – A Program of Monologues’ sparkles in Green Bay

Critic At Large

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Music 6:30 Concert Series/Think Theatre

Performers gather at end of “Words & Music – A Program of Monologues.” (Warren Gerds)


If you’ve got the horses, ride ’em.

And so it was Tuesday night, with the horses being various performing/creative talent on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Musicians blended with actors in a quick, one-hour showcase of imagination.

The last time something like this was done on campus was never.

In introductions, Kelli Strickland depicted it as “a hair brained idea, and we’ll see what comes of it.”

Ahem. It’s a great idea, and the evening was a blast.

Jumping ahead a bit to the program: Kelli Strickland is a public person in representing the university as executive and artistic director of the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts on campus. That requires a specific persona. “Cheery” is close enough. Tuesday night, Kelli Strickland was the mother in “The Glass Menagerie” who seethes in anger at the web of lies her daughter has woven. Now the family’s future is dismal, and bitter dismay oozes from the mother’s every word. Coursing along with every intense phrase was the violin of Luis Fernandez, at times teaming with frenetic flurries of words. That vast difference from Kelli Strickland’s public person is called acting.

Most impressive in the evening was the collaboration. Musicians tuned in to what actors presented with improvisation and timing – or combinations thereof – being part of the deal. Most of the music was impressionistic, based on what a character is going through – which was an array in this program (in sequence):

+ Rebecca Stone Thornberry, Marinette Campus, and Michelle McQuade Dewhirst, piano: “Reckless” by Craig Lucas.

   The character gushes with her explanation of how her life has scampered from one bizarre scenario to another after her husband put out a hit on her. Meantime, the piano plays slowly, a countering effect.

+ Noah Simon and Adam Gaines, trumpet: Open Scene.

   This was part one of three tongue-in-cheek scenes on the night. A character chats, and the trumpet “talks” back.

+ Kelli Strickland and Luis Fernandez, violin: “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams.

+ Noah Simon and John Salerno, piano: “Clarity” by Mark Young.

   This was comedy on an elevated plane. The complex passages of piano added to the weird and wonderful spiral of the character. The story: A philosophy prof gets tenure by accepting a series of albatross responsibilities that lead him to a caveman diet that leads he and his pooch, Sparkles, on marauding nighttime raids on neighborhood wildlife. The humor is a hybrid of O. Henry, with the surprises not just one at the end but a word or phrase sprinkled expertly along the way. “The trial…” brought one of the howls of laughter Tuesday night. The piece was sensational.

+ Laura Riddle and Courtney Sherman, voice, percussion, beer: “Personal Service Announcement: National Anthem” by Laurie Anderson.

   More tongue in cheek. Along with sweetly wondering about “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the character sends up “Yankee Doodle Dandy” by simply speaking the words slowly… “stick a feather in your cap and call it macaroni.” The vocalist is a character, too, a patron at the ballpark, singing off key while slugging a HUGE can of beer for the anthem and then floating into lofty vocalise for the Yankee doodle.

+ Kelli Strickland and Adam Gaines, trumpet: Open Scene.

   Part two of the chatty byplay with the talking trumpet.

+ Thomas Campbell, Sheboygan Campus, and Michelle McQuade Dewhirst, horn and piano: “Numbing,” original text by Thomas Campbell.

   The character describes a process of his body numbing as he heads to “the painless pain of nothingness.” In his original piece – requiring the musician to explore, too – Thomas Campbell dives into the surreal, the existential and the dark corners of the mind and makes one wonder.

+ Noah Simon, Kelli Strickland and Adam Gaines, trumpet: Open Scene.

   Part three of the byplay, this time with two people frustrated by the continual persistence of the mutations of music played by a trumpeter with an amplified mute.

+ Alan Kopischke and Luis Fernandez, violin: “Amadeus” by Peter Shaffer.

   The violinist plays Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart music (sweet to furious… fraying bow strings) as Antonio Salieri laments being mortal while the crass jerk with the pipeline to God writes awing music as if he were taking dictation. This was done in period costume. Everything fit very, very well.

The program was the result of an interesting recipe. The existing 6:30 Concert Series of the music department spawned the Think Theatre series of the theater department. Each series relies on campus resources, which because of circumstances led to the possibility of teaming musicians on the Green Bay campus with theater talent from Green Bay, Marinette and Sheboygan… with Green Bay having two actors who perform in professional companies in Door County. Tuesday night, that recipe was really tasty.

NEXT: a very small consortium, Feb. 28.

THE VENUE: The sound-friendly Fort Howard Hall is one of three performance spaces within the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. With seating for 275 when a bank of risers is deployed, the space is used for recitals and small-group performances. Built with acoustical properties of high concern, the room includes five banks of angled wood in the ceiling and seven beveled wood panels each side, with curtains between and flat surfaces dark blue-gray. The hall’s name relates to Fort Howard Paper Co., a historic firm in Green Bay that was founded by A.E. Cofrin, whose son Dr. David A. Cofrin, and other family members were instrumental in building the Weidner Center through multi-million-dollar donations.

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