If you were coming of age in the Fifties and Sixties, the music you heard every day on the radio still lives in your head. “Yakety Yak,” “Searchin’,” “Charlie Brown,” “There Goes My Baby,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Hound Dog” – to name a very few – are songs that never go away. But do you have any idea who wrote them? Probably not.
Brazosport Center Stages opens “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” tonight in the Freeport LNG venue, aka, the large theater. Directed by Jean Warren, it is really more of a musical revue than a play. It consists entirely of songs written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller performed by excellent musicians from our area. Just a few of the singers you will hear are Elon Coates, Lizzy Conger, Amber Crawford, Jacob Aguilar, Cameron Losoya, Mason Rod, Chayton Herbst, Maurice Williams, and some new folks whose names I can’t recall to tell you right now. But they are all good. (Send me a tip if you identify them in the photo below.) More photos are posted to the Flickr site here.
Lest you think this is a show for old timers, I can tell you that when I finished shooting photos of the invited dress rehearsal last night, I spotted some high schoolers on the third row and I asked a young man if he knew someone in the cast.
“No but I love this music,” he said.
“A gift to you from my generation,” I said.
“Wow. Thanks,” he said.
“Fee, fee, fi, fi, fo, fo, FUM, I smell smoke in the audi-tor-i-UM … ” I said.
It’s a great show. Come out, listen, and re-live to the birth of rock and roll – back when you could make out the words in the songs.
Maybe you can even learn how to shimmy.
Reservations available online at The Center web site. The remaining shows:
Saturday, Feb 2 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Feb 3 at 2:30 p.m.
Friday, Feb 8 and Saturday, Feb 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Feb 10 at 2:30 p.m.
The Flickr feed in this chronicle’s righthand column has been revealing photos from rehearsals and performances of the Brazosport Fine Arts Council’s Elizabethan Madrigal Feast, 2018.
Once again, area talent has gathered in The Center to slip a Shakespeare comedy by an audience that may have been expecting something a little more tinsel-themed and Toyland oriented. Sorry, there is way too much talent around to waste it on the ordinary fluff of a commercial Santa Land production. This is an assembly of talented singers, dancers, instrumentalists, actors, artistic designers, foodies, theater techies and costumers who muster and present a big city show with Broadway brilliance in the beautiful little chemical burg of Clute, Texas.
It’s one of those little Texas secrets — like where to get the best barbecue or hear the best live country music— that you hope Texas Monthly doesn’t discover any time too soon so that you will still be able to get tickets.
That’s not really true. There are mixed feeling about the event becoming well known, but to be honest, we need people from around the state to start coming into Clute to experience the Feast first hand. The financial well being of the Center for the Arts and Sciences would benefit greatly from a statewide reputation that would appeal to foundations and other donors able to offer large gifts.
And, while we are at it, why not raise the ticket price, too, to make the cost align more correctly with the quality of the production? I contend that it would be a $200 ticket (drinks, tips and coat check not included) in a major urban center. It would probably run higher than that in NYC where people expect to pay the performers they wish to keep in town. Bottom line, The Center needs revenue to maintain and expand facilities for its program of education and entertainment in the arts and sciences.
The place is bustin’ at the seams, well-used and scheduled to the hilt. The lines for restrooms during the EMF intermission pretty well illustrated the need.
There are four more performances as I write this. Reservations are available at the Center box office web site.
Hurry and get your reservations. There is no better way to say “Welcome Yule”.
It is time for another edition of the Elizabethan Madrigal Feast at the Brazosport Center for the Arts and Sciences in Clute. Performers are coming in from Angleton, Lake Jackson, Richwood, Freeport, all the communities West of the Brazos and beyond. The performers, stitchers, set designers and builders come from all around. It is probably too late for tickets but it can’t hurt to try. Online ticketing (if seats are still available) would be here.
This is no longer a strictly local event. You have to compete with people from all over the state for your tickets now. Good luck.
And of course, I have put together another book of photographs from the last performance in 2016. You may preview the book here. It is a 13×11 in hard cover edition with quality paper and beautiful color. Check it out. Maybe it would be a nice gift if you know a someone who performed in it. (I do it for the costumer.)
Now, here’s the problem. It’s a little pricey at $95. But all the profits go to the printer (Blurb.com) except for the $5 I add to the printer’s price to help me buy a lens now and then. (The slight surcharge also allows me to know if any of the books are being purchased. Otherwise, I have no idea. I will happily refund you the $5 but you have to look me up in order to collect.)
But, if you attend EMF 2018, you may use one of your raffle tickets to try to score one for a mere $20. Good luck with that, too.
If you are wondering what in the world there is to be thankful for in 2018, take a peek at the Elizabethan Madrigal Feast. If you can’t get a ticket, buy the book.
A friend from Chapelwood reminded me this morning that God still makes beautiful things. I try to take a few pictures and it’s more than I can keep up with. I am always thankful for that. Happy Thanksgiving South-of-Towners.
The Brazosport Center Stages production of Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap” opened Friday night in the Dow Arena Theater. Director Susan Moss and her company and crew played all the plot twists with skill and plenty of dry humor for an appreciative opening night crowd. The veteran cast of Craig Fritz, Roxanne Strobel, Devon Smith, Becky Gore LaRoche, and Phil Partridge communicated an intricate plot and a word heavy script with clarity and even physical dexterity when it was called for. And that was often.
No snoring at this play, gentlemen. You will be wide awake waiting to see who dies next and to see if they stay dead. Is that a plot spoiler? I don’t think so. But maybe it’s a clue that this one is not to be taken too seriously. Just enjoy the fine acting of some community theater pros who just keep on doing it for free. And what a gift it is.
You will also see a beautifully designed and executed set (thank you, Keith Plowman, for the design), period perfect costumes by Tina Gray, and combat (!) scenes choreographed by Wes Copeland. And the light! Near perfection by Lisa Chapa. Give her a budget and a few new instruments and it would be perfect. And there were also lots of eerie sound courtesy of Barry Dunn. And the script calls for props galore, always a challenge for a small community theater. And resourceful Callie Ayers is always up to the job.
This is theater for fun. Come out and enjoy a brutally funny murder mystery tonight. It runs through next weekend, Sept. 16. Tickets and reservations are available at The Center ticketing web site.
The Annual Meeting of the members of Brazosport Center Stages was held last Saturday, August 4. It is the annual gathering to conduct the organization’s official business and to recognize the contributions of time and talent to the theater’s success in the year coming to an end.
Occasionally, BCS grants Superstar recognition to a person who has made extraordinary contributions to the theater in both performing and backstage roles. It is intended to recognize a career if contributions. It is not awarded every year.
This year, the BCS board chose Craig Fritz as its newest Superstar.
Craig has acted in numerous roles over the years. He does leads, supporting roles, comedy – you name it. He has produced, directed, worked the lights, sound and done set construction.
I had the pleasure of working with Craig when he directed “The Crucible” in 2014. He was very gentle in his suggestions that the older fellow playing Francis Nurse should spend a little more time practicing his lines even though very few. We got through it and Craig presented an excellent show for the Brazosport Community. I wish I could have seen it.
Congratulations, Craig – a gentleman so deserving.
Craig is already in rehearsal for his next role in “Deathtrap.” You won’t want to miss it.
Don Sanders, songwriter and singer, died Saturday from the combined effects of frontotemporal dementia accompanied by ALS, a very cruel combination in the Alzheimer family of disorders. It was a final irony on his career that his death was big news in the Houston Chronicle, a paper that had paid him little attention during his most productive years.
I met Don Sanders just after enrolling at the University of Houston in 1961. Don came there from Jones High School in Houston. I arrived from Galena Park.
We had both been accepted into the Interdisciplinary Honors Program, the forerunner of today’s Honors College. We had several classes together each our first two years and a weekly colloquium in the junior and senior years.
Don was a sharp kid. He had an acerbic wit and a green corduroy suit that he wore almost every day of our freshman year or, who knows, he may have owned several. But I doubt it. He didn’t come from the kind of family where the kids had more than one suit. The suit was in the style of his heroes the Kingston Trio.
Don played guitar and banjo and sang folk songs that were beginning to pick up in popularity in the early sixties. We learned from Don about hootenannies, the Limeliters, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly and Joan Baez. As Don became an accomplished musician, he sang with beautiful control and a great range. Early on, he was always high pitched and his voice could be irritating at first. The beauty and finesse of his vocal performances I heard thirty years later were shocking to me at first.
But Don was so much more than a folk singer. He wrote songs, performed on stage, did comedy, wrote a novel or two (never published as far as I know), performed for children, and wrote probably tons of poems. Apparently, even more than those things, he inspired other people to do their best work. Some of them are names you probably know very well. He was a regular at Houston’s Anderson Fair and on KPFT.
I wasn’t in touch with Don after college. His music scene was not one that I fit into and I was busy with the kind of boring white collar jobs he was intent on avoiding. His astonishing career is fairly well covered in the Houston Chronicle article. There is also an interview in the Houston folk music oral history archive.
Don and I were in touch again after Hurricane Ike in 2009 when he performed at the Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston as a benefit to help rebuild the facility that had been severely damaged in the storm. In 2012 he asked if I could help him with some memories from our college years for the personal memoir he was writing. I wondered whether it would still seem like a friendship after all those years pursuing our very different lives. But we found a lot of joy in our conversation that day, July 1, 2012.
As it turned out, there wasn’t much I could offer to fill in the cracks in such a creative life as his. We reminisced about the day in November 1963 when we went to his house near the runways of Hobby Airport (it was Houston International then) to see if we could see John Kennedy on his arrival in Texas. There were several of us from University of Houston and we did, indeed, get to see the president and first lady, two days before he was killed in Dallas.
Three or four of us stayed over at Don’s house that night. His mother made breakfast for us and as we prepared to make our way back to our morning classes at UH, Don called out, “Charles, Tom: come and see these guys. I have never seen anything like this. They are going to be big.” So we rushed in to see the image of the Beatles performing on tape on the Dave Garroway Show. You could have fooled me. Although I became accustomed to and learned to love the Beatles later, I really didn’t get what was so special then. But Don had the ear for it. This was several months before they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and took America by a storm.
My regret today is that I did not pay more attention to an old friend as he struggled to make it in the music world. He apparently inspired others and they did the things they had to do to have fame. But Don wanted something else. He wanted peace: peace in the world and peace in his own life. Staying in Houston was his gift to America’s new great city.
Don came back to visit Lake Jackson again in the summer of 2013 when I invited him to see our Brazosport Center Stages production of Les Misérables. He had kind things to say about our local production.
I went to see Don at his home in the Heights a few weeks ago. By then, his disease had greatly diminished his ability to communicate. We spoke a few short minutes and he told me had to go somewhere which was highly unlikely. I held his hand and told him I would try to return when he had more time to talk. But I knew he was uncomfortable with the visit and I really doubted I would be returning.
Sunday morning, I received the email announcing his passing.