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Wild Coffee offers summer refreshment for classical music lovers

Coffee, Cup, Flower, Sun Flower, Plant


Abbey Allison and Susie Kelly embarked on their maiden voyage as the Wild Coffee Duo yesterday afternoon. And what smooth sailing it was.

The very talented pianist and cellist put together a sprightly program titled Bon Voyage: A Musical Trip around the World to kick off their summer concert season at New Hope Presbyterian Church. They included an Italian Baroque Vivaldi sonata, a Spanish suite by de Falla, and three well-known pieces by French romantic composers as well as “A World Tour of Folk Songs” that included mini pieces from Israel, China, and Russia, among other countries, bracketed by Stephen Foster’s Old Folks at Home.

Also on the agenda was a late work by Robert Schumann that allowed Kelly to demonstrate the range of the cello and her own superb technique. She also plays with the Southwest Florida Symphony and Palm Beach Opera Orchestra. Of course, I was already familiar with the skill and musicality of Allison in her role as accompanist for the Symphonic Chorale of Southwest Florida.

If you are craving a classical music fix during the off-season here in Southwest Florida, you can hear the Wild Coffee Duo at six more upcoming concerts in June, July, and August. The theme for June is summer guests with performances at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Fort Myers and the Sanibel Congregational Church. In July, the ladies take a trip to the zoo at Koreshan State Park and back to Sanibel. August works will be based on poetry and literature at The Violin Shop in Bonita and on Sanibel.

For more details, visit WildCoffeeDuo.wordpress.com.

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High energy Funny Girl opens at Broadway Palm


It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to undertake a role that will be forever identified with Barbra Streisand. For that alone, I salute Elizabeth McMonagle who is starring in Funny Girl at Broadway Palm Theatre. She’s softer around the edges than La Streisand and her voice, while strong, is not the biggest on the stage. Her performance of the most well-known songs in the score, like “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” is more nuanced than brassy. She’s not a force of nature like Babs, but really, who is? She’s an audience pleaser and that’s what counts. The part has to be exhausting. McMonagle is on stage for almost all of the scenes that chronicle the career of Fanny Brice as she becomes a Ziegfeld star.

To my mind, the play has a few too many scenes, 22 in all. The first act alone ran an hour and a half. The effect is choppy with so many set changes dragging down the momentum a bit. The energy of the cast, however, never falters. Kudos to the ensemble who tap dance and change costumes with reckless abandon.

The costumes by John P. White, by the way, are gorgeous. The production number surrounding Fanny’s comical song as a bride is particularly effective with the show girls wearing towering wedding cake headdresses. And if they ever want to retire the white-satin-lined opera cape in which Nick Arnstein makes his entrance, I hope they’ll call me.

Drew Stark as Arnstein is suitably tall, dark, and handsome. It’s easy to see why Fanny would fall for him, but equally easy to see why her BFF Eddie Ryan, played by Christopher Russell, instantly distrusts him. Russell, Diana Wilde as Fanny’s mother, and ML Graham as neighbor Mrs. Strakosh were my personal favorites in the cast.

If the follies of love and the theater are your cup of tea, Funny Girl is for you.

The show runs through May 14. Call 239.278.4422 for tickets.

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Arts in April at FSW

My former employer Florida SouthWestern State College has a thriving Arts Department. As the spring semester draws to a close, several theater and music performances are scheduled in April.

Stuart Brown directs his theater students in Almost, Maine by John Cariani. The show opened last night and runs through April 9. Matinees are scheduled today and April 9 at 2 p.m. Evening performances are tonight and April 7, 8, and 9 at 8 p.m. at the Black Box Theatre, Building L, Room 119B on the Lee County campus next to B. B. Mann Performing Arts Hall.

The play is set in a fictional town in Maine. Eleven short scenes explore love and loss. It premiered in 2004 at the Portland Stage Company where it broke box office records.  An off-Broadway production followed.

Controversy struck when a high school production in North Carolina was cancelled in 2014 because one of the scenes featured a same sex couple. The playwright was quoted as saying the scene was about love and had no mention of sex. Eventually, a Kickstarter campaign raised $6,000 to enable the play to be produced off-campus.

Tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com.

Not to be outdone, the music department has three concerts in April. The concert band performs on April 5; the concert symphony orchestra and chorus on April 12; and the concert jazz ensemble on April 19. All three concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. at B.B. Mann. Admission is free. Doors open at 7 p.m.

For more information about any of these events, call (239) 489-9332.



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Big day for Brahms



Devotees of Johannes Brahms have to make a choice on March 6. Should they go to hear the Charlotte County Symphony or the Gulf Coast Symphony?

Maestro Raffaele Ponti and his orchestra will present Symphony No. 1, Opus 68, in C minor by Brahms along with Violin Concerto, Opus 47, in D minor by Jean Sibelius at 7:30 p.m. The concert will be at the Charlotte Performing Arts Center, 701 Carmalita St. in Punta Gorda. Individual tickets are $50. Call 941-205-5996 for availability.

The Gulf Coast Symphony under the direction of Maestro Andrew Kurtz will offer the blockbuster German Requiem at Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall at 7:00 p.m. The symphony will be joined by the Fort Myers Symphonic Mastersingers, the Fort Myers High School Greenwave Singers, soprano Ilana Davidson and baritone Paul Corujo. The concert also features the world premiere of Walt’s America for chorus, orchestra, and soloists by award-winning composer Robert Paterson. This work was commissioned by the Gulf Coast Symphony as part of its 2020 Commissioning Project. Tickets start at $22 for nosebleed territory and go up from there. Call the box office at 239-481-4849





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Calling all humanities geeks


NOW Ensemble

Culture lovers on a budget, have I got good news for you. FSW (aka Edison College) has a humanities colloquium underway with some avant-garde-ish lectures and performances. The price is right—free, thanks to a grant from the Florida Humanities Council. The theme is Evolution/Devolution/Revolution.

The organizers have made an interesting choice of keynote speaker, Jerry Casale.  He is a vocalist, bass guitar/synthesizer player and co-founder of new wave band Devo.  His address is at 7 p.m. on Feb. 11 in the Rush Auditorium (Building J, Room 103 on campus).  He says his post-modern aesthetic was informed by having witnessed the shooting of fellow students at Kent State University. I confess, I don’t know a thing about Devo, but I can relate to his quote:

 “a creative response to life’s apparent absurdity is the artist’s attempt to battle entropy while restoring order and spirituality in the face of the chaotic twin forces of evolution and devolution—a subject on which I am quite familiar”

The NOW ensemble will appear on Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. in Building U, Room 102. (Be forewarned, this room is large and may be challenging acoustically.) This group of performers and composers calls their genre indie-classical.  They are dedicated to making new chamber music for the 21st century. With a unique instrumentation of flute, clarinet, electric guitar, double bass, and piano, the ensemble brings a fresh sound and a new perspective to the classical tradition, infused with the musical influences that reflect the diverse backgrounds of its members. They have performed internationally and been in residence at Yale, Princeton, and the University of Virginia.

On Feb. 19 at 8 p.m., Willie Filkowski Welcomes You to the Sunshine State. This is a one-man show in the Black Box Theater in Building L, Room 119.  He says it’s “a sort of busted illustration of the place: a playground for human ignorance, wild optimism, bureaucratic failure, and weather–both defiant of popular imagination and deeply reflective of it.” In this solo performance, Willie assembles a collage of popular myth and personal narrative on stage using storytelling, dance, and video. He lives in Chicago and has a BFA in Interarts Performance (who knew such a major existed?) from the University of Michigan.

For the full schedule, visit http://fsw.edu/newhumanity.  For more info, contact Dr. Wendy Chase at (239) 489-9470 or Wendy.Chase@fsw.edu.


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Best bets for January entertainment



Alas, my husband is making a slow recovery from a badly broken leg, so my cultural activities have been curtailed for now. Were I able, below are some performances I’d want to attend.

Broadway Palm is running Show Boat through February 14. Classic American musical theater. Just hearing Ol’Man River would be worth the trip.

On January 5 at noon, actors from Florida Rep will be offering readings from Shakespeare at the Fort Myers Library at 2450 First Street. I have yet to go inside, but the building is certainly well-situated in the heart of the River District. Folks working downtown could pop in during their lunch break. This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

The Southwest Florida Symphony will bring Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) to three run-out venues. On January 13, the concert is at BIG Arts, on January 14 at Shell Point, and on January 15 at Faith Presbyterian Church in Cape Coral. The orchestra will be conducted by Leif Bjaland.

Florida Rep’s artistic director Robert Cacioppo conceived, wrote, and directed Too Marvelous for Words, a musical revue saluting Johnny Mercer. It opens January 22 in the ArtStage Studio Theatre downtown. Nicknamed the Songbird of Savannah, Mercer wrote Moon River, One for My Baby, and That Old Black Magic, among other favorites.

Finally, Gulf Coast Symphony will cater to baby boomers on January 24 at B. B. Mann with Oh! What a Night featuring the four original cast members of Jersey Boys.

Sorry to miss all of these, but there will undoubtedly be lots to look forward to in February and March.




Turning Hamlet upside down


On the way home from Florida SouthWestern State College’s production of Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead, my husband and I speculated why Professor Stuart Brown had chosen this play. Minimal set? Yes. Smallish number of people in the cast?  Also yes. But lots of plays would have met those requirements.

An answer finally dawned on me. Having worked at FSW in the First Year Experience department, I realized that Tom Stoppard’s absurdist play served as a good metaphor for the beginning of college life. The two main characters don’t really know who they are, why they are where they are, and what exactly they are supposed to be doing.

The two leads look nothing alike, yet those around them, and at times even they themselves, couldn’t tell them apart. Daniel King as Rosencranz has an expressive face and a wonderful sense of comedy timing. His street-casual persona was balanced nicely by the more philosophical Tim Cash as Guildenstern who sported an ascot and a man purse throughout.

Alex Holmes as Player had perhaps the best diction on stage. Make no mistake, this play has lots and lots of dialogue. Kudos to all for being able to memorize it much less speak it. In the confines of FSW’s 50-seat Black Box Theatre, the volume isn’t a problem. The actors, as with most learning their craft, just need to speak a tad more slowly and exaggerate their enunciation a bit more for better comprehension on the part of the audience. Still, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.

I enjoyed the costume choices of Aida Bukovica who mixed Shakespearean with modern day. The red pumps that Tyler Charpentier had to wear as the hapless Alfred were fetching as was the mink stole of Queen Gertrude, Julia Rivera. She and Efrain Lopez as Claudius projected a mature and dignified presence even though both are still freshmen at FSW.

The play continues Nov. 12 through 14.Tickets are only $10 for general admission or $5 for students at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2413749 or by calling (239) 433-8007. The Black Box Theatre is in the college’s Humanities Building L119b. This is the building right next to Barbara B. Mann, so parking is free, adequate, and convenient.

Professor Brown, in his introduction before the play, commended the students for all of the time, talents, and energy they put into this production when they could have been at the beach. I heartily second that. Bravo for a great job.