Madrigal Choir of Binghamton announces new artistic director

Bruce Borton

The Madrigal Choir of Binghamton, the select chamber choral ensemble  founded by Anne Boyer Cotten in 1978, has announced the selection of  Dr. Bruce Borton as the next artistic director. Chosen after a 20-month search process, Borton brings a great deal of experience to the podium. He’s Director of Choral activities at Binghamton University, where he’s taught since 1988. For 10 years prior to that, he was conducting assistant to the legendary Robert Shaw with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus.  (BAM Note – In 2008, Borton was honored with a Heart of the Arts Award by the Broome County Arts Council.) No stranger to the Madrigal Choir, Borton has sung with the group, led the singers as a guest conductor and has served on the board of directors. (BAM note: Borton won a BCAC Heart of the Arts Award in
Cotten didn’t set out to lead a choir for 33 years. She and some friends just gathered around her dining room table to sing music they liked. After a while, they were saying, “Hey, we’re pretty good; we should perform!” Under Cotten’s leadership, the choir has premiered a new work by Alice Parker, commissioned and premiered a new piece by British composer Barry Seaman and performed more than 200 concerts in the Greater Binghamton area and beyond, including Cotten’s signature concert, “Ceremony and Celebration for Twelfth Night.” With her retirement from Broome Community College’s Department of Fine and Media Arts, she is moving to Arizona to be closer to family.
Planning is underway for the 2011-2012 season, which should be announced by August. More information about the ensemble may be found at MadrigalChoir.com.

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Audience plays detective in murder mystery

Play honors Northside theater booster Michele Tully

Reviewed by David L. Schriber

It wasn’t your usual murder mystery stage play Sunday (June 19) at Centenary-Chenango Street United Methodist Church in Binghamton. In fact, most of this drama took place amongst the audience, seated at cabaret tables.

“Next of Kin,” directed by Foster Daniels Jr.,  was an improvisational audience-participation drama. Characters mingled with the audience, conversing with them and answering their probing questions. The audience was invited to get up, move around, interview suspects and examine evidence, in order to try to solve the mystery.

The plot revolved around “Big Daddy” Sugerbaker, a wealthy Southern patriarch who must decide which of his worthless, underhanded, crazy kin will inherit his vast estate. Would it be Rhett, his arrogant elder son, whose wife Scarlett comes from the wrong side of the tracks? Or Ashley, his weak and insipid younger son, a failed poet whose work is appreciated only by his wife, Melanie, an exotic dancer? What about Savannah, Big Daddy’s high-strung ex-wife (second wife, it turns out)? Then there’s Philomena, his bitter alcoholic sister, who’s spent time behind bars of more than one kind. What’s Big Daddy’s relationship with Bobbie Joe, the sweet young thing he rescued from homeless abandon to become his devoted nurse? And what’s the role of his lawyer, Beulah Busty Esq., and his physician, Dr. Chivago Kildare?

Things got dicey when Big Daddy was apparently poisoned to death in front of them all. Accusations flew literally from all sides of the room. You weren’t sure who to pay attention most to. You had to listen carefully for revealing clues in what was said, and keep your eye on certain props – the glass, the pills, the gloves — because there was more than one murder before this case was solved!

Some audience members were given walk-on bit-parts in the drama, speaking at Big Daddy’s eulogy. I myself had the distinct honor of speakin’ — in dialect, o’ course, — as John “Jack” Daniels – no relation to the director – whose family worked closely with Big Daddy’s whiskey business. The improvisational skills of the actors were challenged as they had to respond in character to anything the audience asked or said. For nearly two hours the audience was fully engaged as detectives. Throughout the drama the actors maintained high energy, their characters constantly bickering and tossing insults like any thoroughly dysfunctional family.

Versatile Mickey Ray (Rhett) spouted bombast, matched by Shirley Cothran’s (Savannah) melodramatic mourning. Ciano Briga (Ashley) and Julia Mahar (Melanie) played well off each other as the co-dependent couple. Bonnie DeForest was very convincing as the cranky lush, Philomena, but wouldn’t share the contents of her flask with us. Jean Graham-Otis (Bobbie Joe), Camille Muscatello (Beulah),and Foster Daniels Jr. (Chivago) each played coyly, leading you to wonder what secrets they might be hiding. Hilary Terboss (Scarlet) and Cothran even got into a very physical cat fight on the floor!

If you recognized in Susan Haley’s play the shadows of Agatha Christie’s 1939 “And Then There Were None” (also known as “Ten Little Indians”), made into a wonderful movie in 1945, the solution of the mystery was close at hand.

The show honored the memory of Michele Tully, founder and artistic director of the Centenary-Chenango Street Players, whose vision was to bring the arts to Northside Binghamton. In reprising the 2008 staging of “Next of Kin,” director Daniels  brought back several of the original cast, including Michele’s husband, William, who played Big Daddy with relish.

Daniels is a veteran of the Renaissance Revival Theater Company, SRO III and Theatricks by Starlight. He intends his new company, the New Reality Players, to promote new and little-known stage works and local playwrights.

“Next of Kin” is the perfect play for a small intimate theater where the audience can really feel absorbed into the drama. The fact that I’ve performed with three of the cast (DeForest, Daniels, and Ray) in a few musical productions (and met Muscatello two nights previous singing with the Relay for Life Singers at MacArthurPark) made the show especially fun for me.

Doubleday St. art installation fascinates

“…and to think that I saw it on Doubleday Street”: An art installation
on the history of Doubleday Street in Binghamton by Judy Salton

Submitted by Margaret Johnston

If Dr. Seuss himself had been on Doubleday Street last weekend, I could not have been more amazed. The outdoor art installation by Judy Salton works on so many levels. Salton is exploring the concept of place in a very intimate and profound way. She started with historical photos of the neighborhood from several families and then painted them life size and placed them exactly in front of the space where the photos were taken. We see a procession of little children from St. Paul’s that might be a communion or a May Day celebration and a small child cooling off in a tub of water in the exact driveway where it happened 50 years ago.

The neighborhood has changed — deteriorated, really — since then, plagued with a drug trade and a lack of upkeep to the old houses on the street. Salton captured the current residents in life sized portraits. One especially endearing one is of two brothers; nearby is their sister who clearly loves to pose. Another is a woman walking her two dogs, the hound raising his leg, all captured on wood panels in front of the houses they live in.

The art and the concept are amazing enough but the really miraculous happening on Doubleday Street is the transformation of the neighborhood. As Judy painted the large panels outside, neighbors came up to see what was happening. The children brought her their art work. When I was there on Saturday (June 18) at least 10 children wanted their portraits painted. People who grew up on Doubleday Street stopped by and told stories about the old neighborhood to current residents. There was a sense of place, of history, of community, of hope on Doubleday Street.

It is hard to explain, but you can get a preview with this short video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAKV9ZOLtJs

MORE on the art from press release:

An exploration of the changing complexion of Doubleday Street since the 1950s and 1960s is presented in graphic form through an outdoor installation of paintings by current resident and artist Judy Salton. The earlier neighborhood is represented by large grisaille paintings up to 16 feet in length, based on black and white photographs from that time when the largely Irish Catholic neighborhood centered on St Paul’s Roman Catholic School and Church. The flavor of the street today as the neighborhood begins to coalesce is shown through various free-standing wooden cut-outs of full color, life-size paintings inspired by today’s residents.

Paintings will be displayed at various locations on lawns and sidewalks. Take a stroll through this old neighborhood, wander among the current residents, take a look at what went before and hear stories old and new. Doubleday Street has been a neighborhood for most of its 150 years. Affluent in its infancy, blue-collar church- and school-centered by its centennial birthday, its greatest evolution took place after  1960. The economic decline of the last 25-plus years has seen the area survive through its less inviting years. Judy Salton comments, “Understand that change is inevitable and should not be feared. It may open paths to wonderful opportunities. …we are creating a new neighborhood of diverse possibilities.”

You can see it on Doubleday Street from noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays, July 2 and 9, and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays, June 26, July 3 and 10. New portraits and paintings are still being added.

Editor’s Note:  “and to think that I saw it on Doubleday Street” is funded in part by a project grant from the United Cultural Fund, a program of the Broome County Arts Council.

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Thought you’d like to know: Singers with Tier ties perform in Missouri

Hey, BAMers! Sometimes we run across a news item that you might like to know about, think about, maybe comment about. Keep checking BAMirror for items headlined “Food for thought” or “Issues in the arts” or “Thought you’d like to know.”

In this case, we thought you’d like to know that a well-received  revival of John Adams’ “Death of Klinghoffer” at Opera Theater of Saint Louis has local ties. The cast includes Binghamton-raised mezzo Jenni Bank and, as the ill-fated Leon Klinghoffer, Endicott-born baritone Brian Mulligan.

Details: Check out this article from The New York Times.

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Issue in the arts: Reaction after Kansas kills state arts funding

State funding for the arts has been declining here in NYS and across the country since before the 2008 financial meltdown. But Kansas governor Sam Brownback recently went all the way, using a line-item veto to kill all funding to Kansas’ state-wide arts council. As NPR’s Elizabeth Blair recently reported on “Morning Edition”, non-profit arts leaders are already adopting new funding strategies. Check out the story at:
http://www.npr.org/2011/06/13/137146196/kansas-gov-brownback-defunsds-state-arts-commission.

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Open Mike Night at Cyber Café offers opportunities for performers and listeners

Reviewed by Rebecca Sheriff

I recently attended Open Mike Night at Cyber Café West in Binghamton. Open Mike occurs the first Tuesday of every month at 7:30 p.m. (sign up to perform prior to 7:30). All sorts of performers are welcome: poets, musicians, comedians and the like. Guitars are even available for use by performers.

A poet was on stage when I came in. It was refreshing as poetry readings are not something found often in the area. However, I had difficulty following the content as the use of profanity seemed more for shock value than anything else. The event had a host who helped to facilitate things although I also could have done without his profanity.

After the poet some very brave souls performed what appeared to be their original songs, singing and playing guitar. The songs and performances were impressive for an Open Mike Night. A second poet courageously read some very emotional and personal poetry, followed by another singer/songwriter with a strong voice. A duo — male guitar player and female vocalist — performed some excellent covers. Performers were of all ages and styles offering the audience a variety of entertainment.

All the performers got to utilize the same stage, lighting and sound setup as professionals that perform at the café on other nights. A sound person was on hand to ensure the quality of the performances.

Open Mike at Cyber is definitely worth checking out as an observer or performer. It’s a great way to hear talent you might not otherwise have the chance to and/or to try out your material and performance skills for an audience.

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‘Almost, Maine’ completely splendid

Reviewed by Sarah Roche

Last night (June 10), I attended the Chenango River Theatre’s (CRT) production of “Almost, Maine” as well as the actor talkback session held after the production. Driving to the location with my Google map in hand led me to believe that I was in for a community theater production. The theater is about 20 minutes outside of Binghamton and housed in a large aluminum building that looks a bit like a garage. Upon entering, I was greeted by a friendly ticket booth operator who directed me down the hallway and through a door. Once through the door I walked into a dark theater that seats approximately one hundred patrons. I would never have expected such an intimate theater in such a large building.

The scenery on stage was simple, a back screen with a low horizon of mountains. The snow piled around the stage was convincing enough that a number of patrons stopped to touch it. Throughout the play a wooden bench is moved around the stage between scenes. The lack of stage decoration really allowed the audience to focus on the characters.

“Almost, Maine” is a contemporary play that debuted in 2002. It is a series of vignettes, each lasting 10 minutes or less, united in the literal takes on phrases associated with love. To tell you much about them would be to spoil the scenes.

Each vignette features two actors on the stage at a time. CRT used four actors to play the myriad of roles. By the second scene, it had become apparent that these were professionals, able to completely absorb their changing roles.

The play is wonderfully written, with well-placed laughs and poignant moments.  I was thrilled that a local theater company chose to work with contemporary material, and I felt that the choice of this play in particular was exemplary. It allowed the audience to see something that they most likely hadn’t seen before balanced with an enjoyable, relatable production.

This is an entertaining play that I would strongly recommend you attend.  If you know someone who is a bit intimidated by theater, this performance would be a great introduction.

In the actor talkback session after the play, the audience discovered that this particular play had a very short rehearsal time, cut by a week from the industry standard. I would never have guessed that these actors had rushed to learn the material, and judging from other comments, neither could the rest of the audience members.  The four New York City-based actors discussed the audition process, methods they use for changing characters so quickly and graciously thanked the audience. They were generous with their time and answered questions sincerely.

I think one of the great things about this production is the quality of the actors. They are a strong ensemble that allowed the characters they were playing to come to life.

I left the theater to the see fireflies flashing and hear bull frogs croaking. I would never have guessed I would find a professional theater company in Greene, NY, and I was thrilled by the surprise. I can’t recommend “Almost, Maine” enough, and I am very excited for the rest of the CRT season.

Editor’s note: Performances continue through June 26.

‘Spelling Bee’ spells ‘good,’ not ‘great’

Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

I was looking forward to the Cider Mill Playhouse’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, and I was engaged in the atmosphere of the Endicott theater as soon as I arrived. last Saturday (June 4). After a great, high-energy opening number, the cast members proved that they are good actors; unfortunately, they are mostly not good singers.
I’m not a musical fanatic by any means and am therefore pretty forgiving, but some of the performers definitely struggled with the music. Often times they were off pitch, which detracted from the overall quality of the show.
Yet what they could not sing, they could act, and its the acting that saved Spelling Bee. The cast members playing contestants are young, which is needed in order to have the audience believe that they are high schoolers. Maybe it was that inexperience that hurt them. Still, there are some great moments that redeem the show.
Ava Crump plays the spelling bee’s moderator, Rona. She acts and sings well. She probably is one of the most seasoned actors on stage, and that pay off for her. Also noteworthy is Mara Gabrielle as Olive. Gabrielle has an infectious energy about her, and her acting chops shine. But , hands down, Ben Puglisi as William Barfee steals the show. He is mesmerizing and delightful as the akward nerd who learns, not just how to spell, but how to care about someone other than himself. He is weird, yet lovable in a strange way.
While this show is the weakest I’ve seen at Cider Mill, it is still good. I have just come to expect great theater from the playhouse, and this production did not meet my expectations.

Have you been ‘art-full’ this week?

My art-full efforts this past week included the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” opus and the Downtown Singers concert on Saturday; how about you? What did you see/hear/view this past week? Please share your comments — remember: to do so, you don’t need to register with WordPress.

Broadway Theatre League’s ‘Beauty & the Beast’ a must see

Reviewed by Sarah Roche

I attended the opening night performance of Disney’s “Beauty & the Beast” at The Forum in Binghamton. What a fun show! Although I had been a little nervous about seeing a musical that I had assumed would be geared towards children, I found the show to be an excellent professional production that kept both the children and adults in the audience spellbound.

During the opening sequence, the musical matched the animated Disney movie so precisely that I wondered if the actors were lip-synching to the movie soundtrack. However, when a character’s microphone cut out for a split second, I realized that these actors really did sound exactly like the animated characters.

The play’s scenery and props were beautiful and allowed the audience to become completely absorbed in the play, moving easily from the bright and cheery town center to the dark and intimidating castle.

The ability to place people in costumes that so clearly depicted the animated characters of the movie was astounding. Lumiere’s light-up candle hands and Cogsworth’s glasses that formed the hands of a clock were adorable. The gargoyles that acted as sentries and assisted in moving set pieces were perfect in their role, adding extra pieces of life in an enchanted castle. The use of puppets for wolves was splendid.

This was exactly what you would expect from a professional touring company, a well-polished, entertaining musical that provided laughs and entranced the audience throughout its 150 minutes. Note: At Friday’s opening (June 3), the run time was a touch longer due to some technical difficulties that caused the show to stop just before the Beast was redeemed. My friend and I joked that a fairy tale that ends just before the spell is broken is simply life at its worst. Thankfully, the problem was corrected, leading to a spectacular visual display as the Beast was lifted into the air and transformed back into his human form.

Disney’s “Beauty & the Beast,” presented by the Broadway Theatre League, runs through Sunday (June 5). If you have a chance to see the show, I highly recommend it.

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