"...Everyone Is Entitled To My Opinion." ~Madonna

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Paris Wife

Fictionalizing real people creates a problem for me. I find myself wondering when and where the author has taken liberties with the facts and this can ruin the flow of a book. It seems as if I have been running into this often recently and THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McClain only affirmed my bias.

THE PARIS WIFE is listed as a novel about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. Hemingway was only twenty-one when he and Hadley met, far from the legendary author he would become. After a whirlwind courtship, they married and moved to Paris.

Neither of the young couple was prepared to go from middle America to the lifestyle of Paris in the 1920’s. They quickly became part of the hard living artistic world of Gertrude Stein, John Dos Passos, Ezra Pound, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and other rising stars who would do much to shape the arts for future generations. The “Lost Generation” got through life with music, booze, free love and a dedication to their art. Ernest fit into this life more easily than Hadley and eventually his affair with the woman that Hadley saw as her best friend, caused the destruction of their marriage.

The book allows us a glimpse of how Hemingway’s war experience influenced his writings and caused his love of bullfighting. We even go into his mind as he contemplates how he would commit suicide.

Paula McClain obviously did her homework before writing this novel. Not only did she have the personalities of Ernest and Hadley to capture, but the book is full of other artists of the time, all well known to the reader. To misrepresent any of them would have been a crime to his or her fans. I had no trouble with the facts; they have been covered by many biographers. The problem was with the dialogue. Granted these people were exceptionally talented when it came to word usage, but I kept asking myself, “Did he really say that?”

McClain is a good author and she did make Hemingway and his friends come alive. It is just that my cynical mind has a tendency to doubt novels about historical figures even when well done.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

THEATER REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast

(note from Wendy: Tickets available for this afternoon's matinee and tonight's final performance here.)  

Normally I am very early for a performance and thought that I would get to Bellefonte High School in plenty of time to get a good parking space. We were looking forward to seeing BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and already had reserved seats. Wrong!  All parking lots were full including the overflow across the street in the commercial lots. This should have been my first clue how good this play was going to be..

The second clue was the beautiful sets on stage. I was to learn that the backdrop curtain was a rental, but everything else had been built by the large crew led by Scenic Designer Hannah Bannach and Student Master Carpenter, Andrew Uhring. The sets were beautiful, elaborate and smoothly handled by the stage crew headed by Annelise Rice.

The cast was large and so many of them need to be recognized, so please be patient.

Kaitlyn Whitesell not only looked the part of Belle, but her voice was perfect for the role. Her delight with the enchanted characters and her disgust with some of the villagers was well played. It is good to know that she is a junior and we will be seeing her again next year.

Also a junior, Zachary Spaw was her Beast. Zachary could take up this whole review. I was so impressed. Everything was right. In fact, I hope that his “If I Can’t Love Her” is Bellefonte’s featured number for the Isaacs this year. Yes, it was that good.

Cogsworth and Lumiere, played by Jack Badger and Stephen Giacobe, had several opportunities to steal the show and they did. The audience loved the ad-libbing from Jack when he had his wardrobe malfunction. He and Stephen handled it with ease. What little I heard of Stephen’s voice makes me glad that we will see more of him also.

Dori Puzycki as Babette was a delight. It would be hard to find a cuter, no, make that sexier, feather duster even in an enchanted castle. Her tango with Stephen was very,very smooth. I was glad that playing Mrs. Potts gave Alyssa Hamaty the opportunity to sing the title song. We will miss senior Alyssa next year. She has been a big part of the drama offerings at Bellefonte.

Credit goes to Nathan Smith (Chip) and Hailey Seibel (Madame de la Grande Bouche) for having to spend their time on stage in really awkward, uncomfortable costumes. Not being able to move as freely as you want makes acting difficult, yet both personalities came through.

Senior Andrew Uhring will be missed in future plays. As Belle’s father Maurice, Andrew brought his usual maturity to the role.

Gaston and Lefou also have to be treated as a couple. Tyler Rudloff and Jordan Emely played off of each other perfectly. Tyler was almost too cute to be the obnoxious Gaston. I was sort of wishing Belle would give him a chance. Jordan obviously was enjoying his role of Lefou. It gave him a chance to do some fun physical humor. I loved the harmony of their two voice at the end of the “Gaston” reprise.

Madisen Querns, Katie Pletcher and Emma Holderman as the silly girls, Gaston’s groupies, have to be mentioned. They brought a delightful touch.

Several paragraphs could be written about the choreography. The wolves and some of the individual dances were very good, but “Be Our Guest” out did everyone’s expectations. I was impressed by so many cast members on stage with an elaborate set and nobody knocked anybody or anything down. It was very well rehearsed….and the confetti was neat, unexpected, but neat.

Thank you Luke Skerpon and Jonathan Hetler, co-directors for the Bellefonte Area Senior High School Drama Department as well as Jay Zimmerman, orchestra director for a great evening. Can not wait to see what you come up with for next year! You can still get tickets for this afternoon's matinee and tonight's final performance online or at the door. Get your tickets early and arrive early!!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

THEATER REVIEW: The Sound of Music

It is once again time for the high school spring musicals and if Bald Eagle High School’s production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC is any indication, it will be a good time indeed. The sad part of it all is that we say good bye to some great seniors. We have watched some of these young people through junior and senior high and it is hard to see them move on.

Bald Eagle Drama Club has come a long way in the technology of their productions.The sets for THE SOUND OF MUSIC were exceptional. Not only were they appropriate, but the set changes were well executed. The elaborate living room with large staircase in the von Trapp home as well as the elegant Abby, complete with stained glass window, were beautiful. The stage and the auditorium space were creatively used.

The second thing that impressed me was the audience. It seems that the reputation of the Bald Eagle Drama Club has spread and people turn out. Not only was it a good size group with a mixture of ages, it was a a group caught up in the story of a young want-to be nun who falls in love with seven children and their father.

The secret to any high school play is the director’s ability to cast the show. Advisor Eric Brinser always hits it just right. (I do not believe that his talent pool is that large.) This production’s cast was exceptional.

The role of Maria is crucial and Meghan Shields certainly fit the part. I have been waiting for this young lady to get a chance to show us what she can do and she certainly did. The night that I was there Meghan got off to a shaky start, but it did not take long for her to find her “voice”. There was never a doubt in my mind that she had fallen in love with the von Trapp children. Plus, she can yodel! (“The Lonely Goatherd” was a favorite of mine.)

Karina Bloom made a very impressive Mother Abbess. Forget picturing the part played by a large, mature woman with a large voice. Karina showed us that a petite young lady with a large voice could blow away an audience. Her “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” was as good as I have heard it. Karina is a junior so we have her to look forward to next year.

Matthew Blaylock is another junior that we will be seeing again. To be honest, he has been such a big part of the drama club in the last several years, I thought that he was a senior. His Captain von Trapp was nicely formal and inflexible, until Maria entered his life. Their duet “Something Good” was sweet.

The role of Max Detweiler is a scene stealer so it was perfect for Colton Lucas. Colton is only a sophomore but already has ten productions under his belt. His line “You couldn’t hate me, I’m too loveable” seemed to sum up the character, and maybe the actor. Plus, he has a great stage voice.

Salvannah Elder, who play Liesl, oldest of the von Trapp daughters, is a sophomore to keep our eye on. Another sophomore, Austin Huyett, was Rolf, her romantic interest. Their “ Sixteen Going On Seventeen” not only showed off their talents but that of the choreographer as well.

Speaking of the choreography, Kate Snyder was the student choreographer as well as playing Elsa Schraeder, the woman that the Captain ALMOST marries. Kate is a senior that I will miss. She seems to take on any role that is assigned to her well.

Space is getting limited but the other six von Trapp children have to be mentioned. Michael Bailey, Chelsea Butterworth, Tim Durachko, Kailyn Gill, Daina Julian and Cami Haines were so good at keeping their individual personalities throughout the show. “Never act with kids or dogs” applies here. Daina and Cami showed exceptional stage presence for their ages and they could have gotten away with just being cute.

Again, thank you Eric Brinser and Kirsten Betts for an entertaining evening. It is obvious that your “kids” love you and your audiences appreciate it. You can still catch the last performance tonight at 7:30pm. Please go to the Bald Eagle Drama Club webpage!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

EVENT: 30th Annual Young Author/Illustrator Contest

The highlight of my reading this week came from a group of fifth graders and what fun that was! I was asked to be a judge for the 30th Annual Young Author/Illustrator Contest by the Centre County Library this year and gladly said yes.

The competition is for Centre County students in 1st through 6th grade. This year the stack of offerings from 5th grade was at least 12 inches high. It seemed a good way to spend an afternoon.

If you have any concerns about the abilities of our young people, believe me, this group of students would put your mind at ease. The stories were consistently entertaining and well written. I was impressed by the basic use of good grammar, spelling,etc. I am realistic enough to know that the students would be blessed with good editors in the shape of parents and teachers for these details, but the creativity had to have come from the young minds.

I read about magical wolf packs. I read about bad guys capturing clever young hostages and Santa getting stuck and rescued by a young girl and chocolate chip cookies... even pigs that could fly.

One of the things that stands out with me is how well an author handles dialogue. I was very impressed by one student who had his villains’ speech down so well. Their “tough language” was contrasted neatly with the rest of the story.

The young illustrators also proved to be very clever. Most were illustrated by the author, but several were collaborations. They ranged from simple line drawings to paintings of beautiful princess gowns. Part of the judging was on how appropriate the illustrations were to the story.  Graphic novels are permitted but I am still waiting to see one submitted.

The judges shared with the group when something really caught their attention. We all liked the story that had been taken from “South Park”, character names and all. ( That story did not make the cut.)

Each grade had to have a First Place, a Second Place, A Third Place and two Honorable Mentions. Our table had some very hard decisions to make.  There were so many really good ones, but several did stand out. It is a shame that we could only select five and the public will miss out on some that were equally entertaining.

The awards ceremony will be held on May 6, 2015 at the Bellefonte High School Auditorium from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm. There the winners will receive their awards plus have selections read from their story. It is open to the public and the excitement rivals any Oscar or Tony presentation.

The first place winners will be hardbound and kept in the Centre County Library’s  permanent collection. Some day when you are in the library, you might want to take a look at what our Centre County students are doing. You will be impressed.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: To Kill A Mockingbird

In anticipation of the publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman, the Friday afternoon book group at the Centre County Library decided to read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD has been considered an American classic for its fifty five years. It has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, been named the best novel of the century by the librarians of the country, has sold over thirty million copies, and been made into a very popular movie. It had been Harper Lee’s only published book until this year.

More personally, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD  has stayed in the top position on my favorite book list for all of its fifty five years. It is one of the few books that I have read several times, led discussion groups on, taught to high school seniors, and seen the excellent movie as well as a play based on the courtroom scene.  I would have thought that I knew this book.  Rereading it, I still found little gems of delight.

In case you are not familiar with its story: In the deep South, in the 1930’s. lawyer Atticus Finch is raising his young children, Scout and Jem, to be honorable people. The center of the story revolves around Atticus being assigned to defend a black man who has been charged with the rape of a young white woman.

The events are told entirely through the eyes of nine year old Scout. The young girl does not always understand the behavior of the adults in her town and is quick to be in the middle of any fight in the school yard. She worships her father and her big brother who do their best to help her grow up. She is confused by the hateful actions and name calling that comes with having a father who is defending a black man.

Scout is probably the most delightful young girl in literature. Her reasons for not wanting to stay at  school make perfect sense to me. Her first grade teacher is appalled by the fact that Scout can read and write. The teacher’s solution is to demand that Atticus stop reading with Scout. Scout is devastated. Her opinions on everything from attempts at being taught to be a young Southern lady, to why some people are not  accepted in polite society are so right on that you will smile in agreement.

Each time that I have read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, I have identified with a different character. The first time it was Scout who questioned the hypocrisy of so many of the town’s people. A later reading brought Atticus, the father into focus. I was now a mother and could relate to his challenge. For some reason, this last time my focus was on Jem, the teenager who faced his loss of innocence.

The lesson of the book is so perfectly summed up in its title. It is a sin to kill a mockingbird. They do no harm and exist only to provide beauty. It is exquisitely used to explain the ending of the book.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD will stay as my all time favorite book and I hope that I get another excuse to read it again someday.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Stephen Sondheim is,in my opinion, the second best lyricist in American music. Here is one of the reasons for my opinionated opinion:

“I do not read to think, I do not read to learn.
I do not read to search for truth
I know the truth, the truth is hardly what I need.
I read to dream.

I read to live in other people’s lives.
I read about the joys the world
Dispenses to the fortunate,
And listen for the echoes.

I read to live,
To get away from life!

I read to fly, to skim-
I do not read to swim.”

                        from Passion, first produced in 1994.