They've done it again! The Winona Senior High School musical, which we saw on Thursday night, was wonderful "” but then isn't it always?
Director Bruce Ramsdell and music director Michael Culloton, ably assisted by Natalie Schoen (herself a former star of the WSHS musical), brought us Brigadoon, a different sort of musical that could seem dated, but certainly didn't in this production.
Brigadoon has a few beautiful songs, and is longer on story line than most of those older musicals. I was getting teary-eyed over numbers such as "The Heather on the Hill," "Come to Me, Bend to Me," and "Almost Like Being in Love," but I doubt that my almost 15-year-old companion had ever heard a one of them. However, as we walked out, she said with conviction, "Well, I really liked it!"
Part of the fun of a high school production is that you get to see kids you've watched grow up playing grown-up characters with much more sophistication and understanding than you'd think possible.
For instance, Seth Flatten, who played the little boy in WSHS's "Music Man" not so long ago, was a delightful Charlie Dalrymple, with a very mature and mellow voice. Lindsey Woodworth, Peter Merchlewitz, Rachel Crawford-Miller, Will Hesch and Mike Bambenek were remarkably at ease on stage and brought the right touch of comedy and tragedy to their roles. Rachel was especially good in her musical scenes, with a very nice voice and a good comic talent, while Lindsey was a spry but believable senior matriarch of the production. Peter and Will both did beautifully with difficult, serious older roles, and Mike was a wonderfully brooding and angry Harry. Also noteworthy in supporting roles were Britta Horeck, Karen Dumke, Alex Kanthack, Peter Compton, Rowdy Whitman and Ben Thompson, and we mustn't overlook the chorus members, who made the show such a delight to hear and watch.
The musicians, perennials Sandy Todd on piano and Dr. Dan Barr on electronic keyboards, along with percussionist Karl Bernatz, were as usual, perfect. The sets were spectacular "” spooky trees, ruined chapel "” all the students and adults responsible need to be applauded.
Jesse Pollock-Foote gave a great performance as Sandy Dean, sophisticated man-about-Manhattan la Jack Lemmon, and comic sidekick of the romantic lead.
But without Matt Krage and Sharon Grawe in the lead roles, no amount of supporting talent could have made this production so beautiful. Both are amazingly accomplished vocalists, much matured since the last time I wrote about them. Their musical deliveries were nearly flawless, and showed a depth of understanding and range seldom seen in a high school show.
It isn't easy for young people to play serious roles convincingly enough to win over an audience completely, but Matt and Sharon did just that. Her sweet mixture of mystery and naivet, and Matt's agonized questioning of his unfulfilled and shallow life in the real world were delivered without hesitation and with complete conviction.
P.S. Thanks to S.O.F.A., the Save Our Fine Arts group, for their long and strong support of the musical at WSHS.
If I have any complaint, it is a minor one "” the annoying habit lately of Winona audiences to break into a cadenced clapping reminiscent of audiences in Communist Russia on old TV news shows.
It drowns out the music, and at the curtain call prevents audience applause from rising to the crescendo deserved by our favorite performers. Oh, well, no big deal.
Another Bravo: to WSHS faculty for demanding that graduation credit minimums for core classes not be lessened. They correctly understand that the role of schools is to educate, not just keep teenagers occupied and off the streets as long as possible.