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

Monday, April 25, 2016

Bellefone HS/ Guys and Dolls.

Guys and Dolls is a favorite show of mine. I see it whenever I get a chance. Therefore, I was ready to be very critical of Bellefonte High School's production this week. Instead, I was delighted.

Turning a bunch of high school students into a bunch of gamblers, tough (though loveable) semi-gangsters and sexy Hot Box dancers has to be a challenge. Thanks to Jonathan Hetler and Eric Brinser, it happened.

The costumes were a big part of why it worked. Sarah Irvin and Sarah Toyos kept to the time period and the characters exceptionally well. "Take Back Your Mink" is tough to costume; it has to include a bit of a strip tease. The girls were pretty, sexy, and still within the limits of a high school play. All in all I loved the costumes throughout the show.Sets were also in keeping with the spirit of the play. The set itself was attractive and the changes never became so complicated that they interfered with the flow of the action.  The same could be said for the orchestra. I have had problems hearing in that auditorium. It was never a problem last night.

The secret to good amateur theatre is in the casting. Each actor, lead, feature or extra, was perfect for his or her part.

The two female leads are difficult for different reasons. Miss Adelaide is such a well known part in the theatre that any actress has to follow some big names. Dori Puzycki nailed it. She had the voice, the Brookly accent, and, yes, the sneezes down perfectly. Dori is the complete package. She sings, dances and acts. Over the last four or five years we have seen her do it all. This is a senior who will be missed.

Miss Sarah Brown is difficult for another reason. Not as showy of a part, the actress has to be able to do a wider range of music as well as try to save our souls. There are the sweet love songs, the tipsy song in Havana, and the duet with Adelaide--all different. Kaitlyn Whitesell was able to convince us of each side of Miss Sarah. Kaitlyn is another senior who will be missed.

Jordon Emely as Nathan Detroit, who is more involved with the established crap game than with his wedding to Miss Adelaide, was a pro. Jordon makes it all look so effortless, yet be very convincing.
It is good to know that Jordon will be back next year.

Sky Masterson was played by Steven Giacobe. Steven's stage experience shows in how well he takes charge when he is on stage. He makes a true leading man, but sadly, another senior who will be moving on.

The true heart of Guys and Dolls is the male ensemble. From the terrific harmonies to the ballet in the sewer, these guys were wonderful. It was easy to forget that they were high school students and not older, gamblers. Johnny Purnell, Eddie Fitzgerald and Nathan Smith were stand outs... loved "Fugue for Tinhorns". Their voices blended perfectly.

Guys get more stage time than dolls in this show, but the Hot Box Dancers deserve a lot of credit. I am not sure which girl was which, but that is a good thing. They all had the energy, spirit, and smiles to make a convincing chorus line. Oh, they could really dance, too.

This was an almost flawless production. There is not enough room to tell how much I enjoyed Zachary Spaw's "More I Cannot Wish You", another well cast part. Or, how about Johnny Purnell telling us to sit down, we were rockin' the boat? That is always a show stopper.

I wish I could have told each of you in the show how much I was impressed. This blog will have to do. Thank you.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Bald Eagle Area High School/ Thoroughly Modern Millie.

If you missed Bald Eagle Area High School's spring production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, you missed an excellent high school musical. The show was full of energy, loads of unexpected talent, and fast paced action. The amount of rehearsal time must have been exhausting.

For openers, the orchestra was not only very good, but at no time did it drown out the singers...one of my personal pet peeves. Secondly, the ensemble cast of singers and dancers stayed in character, not only when they were singing and dancing their hearts out, but also when they were part of the background. This was some of the neatest group tap numbers that I have seen in a high school production. It must have required hours of work.

Thoroughly Modern Millie requires a large cast and allows the featured actors their moments to shine. And shine they did.

Michael Bailey and Tim Durachko had to learn Chinese to play Bun Foo and Ching Ho.They played the characters in a very believable way, until they sang "Muquin". If the audience did not hear Al Jolson's "Mammie" from the music, the sub-titles gave it away. Very well done and very funny.

The show also gave a nod to composer Victor Herbert in the love scene between Miss Dorothy and Mr. Graydon, Salvannah Elder and Matthew Blaylock. Their parody of "Ah Sweet Mystery of Life" would have made old Victor proud. Salvannah has a voice meant for operetta, sweet, clear and trilling. It was good to see that she could handle the comedy in her role as well.

It is a shame that Matthew Blaylock is a senior. He can sing, but his talent is his ability to do broad comedy. His duet with Salvannah was delightful, but "Speed Test" with Millie was brilliant, bringing Gilbert and Sullivan's fast patter style to mind. Oh, and did I mention his ability to jump to the top of a desk in a single bound?

Two other character actors really were standouts. Alice Statham as the evil Mrs. Meers had a chance to pull off some really off the wall comedy. Her "Chinese" landlady and wicked white slave seller was beyond outrageous.

Madison Maney may have been the surprise of the evening. As Muzzy Van Hossmere, retired actrss, her first appearance was in a black, a-la-torch singer's dress and she won me at once. During her baton number, I held my breath waiting for a mistake. It never happened. I can not wait to see what these two talents will do next year.

Another outstanding actor is Colton Lucas. We have seen in past plays that Colton can sing, act, and take command of the stage. As the romantic lead, Jimmy Smith, we saw all of the above plus a romantic side that was very believable. Luckily, we will have Colton for next year. Can. Not. Wait.

All of these, and more, were good, but the star of the show was Millie herself and Karina Bloom was perfect. Karina has unbounded energy and as the young inocent who is determined to be modern and marry for money was the ideal role for her. She had the opportunity to do quite a bit of singing ( the "SpeedTest" number had to be a challenge for any actor), but this was not the role to show off the brilliance and range of her voice. Luckily, we have heard that in Sound Of Music. This is a talent that will be missed at Bald Eagle.

Thoroughly Modern Millie was a new show for me, so I was not sure what to expect. It was fun to see the 1920's captured so well in costumes and sets. Speaking of sets, the stage crew was very fast and efficient in scene changes, an important part of any show. High school plays keep getting better and better. Thanks go to director Kristen Betts for a great evening.

Remember to check out the photographs at meadowlanephoto@aol.com.

Monday, April 4, 2016


March has been a busy month. It is my Birthday Month ( I take the whole month in case someone wants to take me out to lunch) and it is the busy season of Easter. Therefore, it took me a little longer than usual  to read LIAR TEMPTRESS SOLDER SPY by Karen Abbott. It was worth the time.

Karen Abbott has taken her readers into the Civil War in a very personal way, with the true stories of four women, Belle Boyd, Rose O'Neal Greenhow,  Emma Edmond and Elizabeth Van Lew. Each woman played a part in the events that took place between 1861 and 1865, but they also represent the many other unsung women who never made the history books.

Belle Boyd was only seventeen when she shot one of the Union soldiers who had entered her home. Belle was known as the " fasted girl in Virginia (or anywhere)" by her friends. The chance to work undercover for the Confederate Army suited her need to be noticed as well as her sense of adventure.

Rose O'Neal Greenhow was a beautiful widow who used her relationships with powerful Union men to get information for Southern generals. Using her young daughter, she devised a system to get that information to the Confederate army, even while in jail.

Serving as a private in the Union army, Emma Edmonds, as Frank Thompson, saw the bloodiest part of the war. Helping in the field hospitals and caring messages for her commanders, she was able to infiltrate enemy lines. Naturally, one of her biggest problems was keeping her gender a secret.

Wealthy, socialite Elizabeth Van Lew developed a spy network that went as far as putting one of her former slaves inside the home of Jefferson Davis. Her social position gave her opportunities to hide escaped Union soldiers in her home under the eyes of the Confederate general

Author Karen Abbott has well documented LIAR TEMPTRESS SOLDER SPY.  In fact her resource list takes up a large part of the book. It always is a problem for me to sift through what is pure history and what is poetic license on the part of the author. There were times that her details of what the women wore bordered on the "chick lit" line. I did wonder how the ladies were able to pack the many articles of clothing that were needed to be  fashionable in the mid-sixteen hundreds.   After getting to know these women, I would guess that their diaries would have included their wardrobe. Rose and Belle were very aware of their appearance and their attraction to men.

So much has been written about the Civil War, but this book brought it to a level that I could understand. Both sides were treated equally by the author and the waste of war came more evident, especially where Emma was featured. The amount of lives lost has been well documented, but here it seemed overwhelming.

Some readers have questioned the authenticity of some of the details. For example, how Emma could have passed as a male soldier for four years. Ms Abbott did mention that she had doubts about some of the details in the women's diaries. Knowing that people will add facts to their diaries to make themselves "look good" did not hurt the stories in LIAR TEMPTRESS SOLDER SPY. It was a fascinating book and if a fraction of the details were tweeked, it was still a good read.

Oh, do not try to figure which was the liar, the temptress, the solder or the spy. There was a bit of each in each woman.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Reading a Tracy Kidder book always makes me feel richer. He has the talent to take on global issues and personalize them. Mountains Beyond Mountains introduced us to real life hero Doctor Paul Farmer and world health concerns. What Strength Remains  brings to light the genocide in Burundi and Rwanda through the eyes of a young survivor. Recently, I read an earlier book by Kidder titled Among Schoolchildren and again was impressed by the detail and caring that he puts into his work.

Tracy Kidder spent nine months with Christine Padden Zajac and her class of fifth graders. The school was located in the depressed "flats" of Holyoke, Massachusetts and the twenty students were a mixture of ethnic families, academic abilities and behavioral challenges. As the school year progresses, we get to understand the work and energy that a compassionate, but indomitable, teacher gives to her students.

As any teacher will tell you, there are humorous as well as heartbreaking moments in a class room. Some moments require a hidden grin and others make for full -out- laughter. The painful moments come with the student that is beyond a teacher's help and must be removed to a more "structured" situation or, the talented student who falls through the cracks, never to be seen again.  There were days that Mrs. Zajac felt that discipline was taking up most of her time  and that some students were being cheated out of the education that they so badly needed.

 Author Kidder has the talent to sit back, allow the reader to observe and end up as involved as Mrs. Zajac was with her class. Each student became an individual. Sometimes, we meet the parents and have a better understanding of why the child's behavior is self destructive or defensive. Sometimes, we know  the "why"by the parent's never showing for a parent teacher conference.

A scene that I found particularly touching was the school's science fair. The students who had parents who were involved did well, won the prizes; it was easy to spot the students with non-involved families who felt like failures. For this reason, Mrs. Zajac made it a point to try to have such competitions eliminated from the school's schedule.

Among Schoolchildren was published in 1989 and I would like to think that it is a bit dated by now. On a class trip to a village set in 1830, it is noted that, except for the inkwells, the classroom was very familiar. It seems that public education has not changed much.

Also very touching were some of the facts that the author threw in now and then. The quotes from over the centuries of what education should be were very idealistic, but still a long way from reality. We may have become more aware of sexual abuse, the numbers are still very high, and althought teachers have recieved better training on how to regognize abuse, their hands are tied if there is not some kind of evidence.

Among Schoolchildren is a beautiful tribute to our teachers. Good teachers should have public monuments built in their honor and the undying respect of the community. Tracy Kidder once again shows us the human side of something we tend to take for granted.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


It is always fun to find a "new" author and I just read my first book by Rick Mofina. The title, They Disappeared, gave me a hint of what the story line might be, so I was ready for a fast action afternoon.

Jeff Griffin and his wife, Sarah have come to New York City  to give Cole, their nine-year-old son, a trip that he has been dreaming about. Jeff also hopes to repair his marriage. Jeff and Sarah's relationship had been badly torn apart by the death of their infant daughter and he feels that returning to the place where they had first gotten to know each other might help them.The family arrives in Manhattan as the city prepares for a meeting at the United Nations that involves the top leaders of the world.

At the airport, Cole's backpack is accidentally switched with an identical backpack. The correction is made, but one toy is forgotten. Later, as the family is taking pictures on Times Square, Jeff steps into a shop to get batteries for the camera and when he returns to the street he finds that his wife and son have disappeared. The usual life and death search takes us all over New York City and introduces us to many colorful characters...good and bad.

For me, They Disappeared was a bit of a disappointment. The story had a lot going for it. Jeff's frantic search for his family is richly colored by his feelings about the death of his baby girl and his need to talk to his wife before she is killed. Cole and Sarah are both real and sympathetic characters. Actually, author Mofina also did a very good job of making us understand and feel for the kidnappers.

The problem was too much description of how the police and the federal agents interacted. Getting to know the agencies working on a case can be a good thing and it can be informative to learn how these agencies cooperate. But, I felt over whelmed by the mass of details and the names of all the people involved. Some times too many characters weaken a book, even if the characters are well drawn. At times, these details ruined the flow of the action for me.

This is not to say that I will not try another book by Rick Mofina. His list of titles is long and this may have been a case of his needing to get a book published because the mortgage was due. Sometimes an author's earlier work is his best. We will check that out.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin is another novelized  "autobiography". This time we are in Anne Morrow Lindbergh's head as she tells of  her meeting the great American hero Charles Lindbergh and of her life as his wife.

Anne, the shy daughter of the United States ambassador to Mexico, is a college student who is very much in the shadow of the rest of her family. When the celebrated Charles Lindbergh visits the embassy in Mexico City, it is assumed that his interest would be captured by Anne's vibrant sister Elizabeth. Instead Charles and Anne are married and spend their lives flying around the world always surrounded by the crush of publicity seekers.

This is a genre of literature that seems to have become very popular recently. And, it is one that I personally do not enjoy. In the case of The Aviator's Wife, instead of getting caught up in the characters and the story line, I kept wondering how accurate the scene was. Did he or she really act that way or say that!

This would have been an intriquing plot for a novel. The bright,charming young woman who lives under the influence of a demanding, selfish man and has to fight to grow into being herself is a good story line. We love seeing strong women take charge of their own lives.

Something did not ring true in this book. I understand that Charles Lindbergh was not a particularly kind man, but the author portrrayed him as being so self centered that he was cruel ...maybe more naive than uncaring when it came to other people's feelings. The author did explain this on his childhood and the constant scrutinity of the media.

I should have felt more sympathy for Anne. Instead, I wanted to shake her. Here was a woman who in real life had achieved some great honors on her own, but the book had her as always seing herself as reflected through the eyes of those around her...the Ambassador's daughter, Elizabeth's quiet sister, the mother of the murdered baby and, of course, the aviator's wife. It was a relief when she finally published Gift from the Sea and started to have a better understanding of her own worth.

Two good things came out of The Aviator's Wife for me. I want to check on what I think I know about Charles and Anne Lindbergh and I want to read Gift From the Sea. In the meantime, I will try to stay away from "Fictionalized Books About Famous People and How They Really Are Just Like the Rest of Us, Only Richer".

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS by M. L, Stedman was highly recommended to me as a book that had everything that I loved to find in my reading. They were right.

In December of 1918, Tom Sherbourne takes the job as light keeper on Janus Island, a small island off the coast of western Australia. It is the perfect job for Tom. Fresh back from the trenches in Europe, he wants, and needs, time alone. The lighthouse keeper spends six months alone; his only contact is a a supply boat that visits four times a year.

According to his contract, Tom will get a month's leave after each three-year stay. On one of his visits to Point Partageuse on the mainland he meets Isabel and they quickly marry. Despite their isolated life, Tom and Isabel are happy. Tragedy enters when a boat containing a dead man and a crying infant washes up on their shore. Isabel has had three miscarriages and knows that God has sent her this baby.

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is a character driven story. While we share in Isabel's joy, we watch Tom's guilt build. He knows that somewhere somebody is mourning the loss of a husband and child. Back in Port Partageuse, we meet a young woman slowly going out of her mind  over not knowing what became of her family.

This is a beautiful book. The terrors of war and how those horrors never leave anyone who has fought is a big part of the story. The unease of a community around a man who is seen as the "enemy" also adds to the plot. The part that tore me up was the simple decision between right and wrong. Tom's honor tears him between what he knows is right and his love for his wife and the child that has been theirs for four years.

The characters in this book are so well drawn that I felt so much sympathy for the main characters that I did not know how I wanted the story to be resolved. It becomes a question of which is right, the law or love, especially when it comes to the welfare of a young child.

M. L. Stedman is also an author who knows how to use the English language. Ms Stedman was born in Australia, but has spent most of her life in London, but she has not lost her feel for the ocean or the small towns along the coast. I loved her descriptions of the sound of the waves and the beauty of living on a peaceful island. The contrast that Tom feels between the horrors of war and the serenity of Janus Island is beautiful.

So far, it seems that THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is Stedman's only book. It is the best novel that I have read for awhile and I will be watching for more.

Thanks ladies. THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS lived up to your recommendation.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Book Review: AFTER YOU

If you have not read Jojo Moyes'  Me Before You, you should not read her After You. In fact, you might not want to read this review. I would never want to include any spoilers, but it could happen accidentally.

After You continues the story of Louisa Clark  after her six months with Will Traynor. She no longer lives an ordinary life with her parents in her small town. She is living in London, but her life has not taken the leap of faith that Will had made her promise to do. She is working a dead end job and her social life seems to be the people that she meets in a grief counselling group.

When a nearly fatal accident sends her back to her parent's home, she knows that she can not go back to how she was before Will and so she decides that it is time to make some changes. The changes do not come about so much through her choices, but more through the people who show up in her life... some from the past and some that might be in her future

This is a book that you must read if you have read Me Before You, and I strongly suggest that you read the first one. Moyes can throw some neat plot surprises your way, but her strength is in the strength of her characters. Louisa is well developed. She does make changes in her life but never at the cost of who she is.

 It was fun to meet old friends from the first book and to see how they have coped with life. The people that she meets along the way are also stand outs. Again author Moyes gives us some lessons about life through them. Not only do the members of the grief group become three dimensional, but we learn how grief can be devastating, but a way of growing.

Probably the reason that I will look for other books by Jojo Moyes is that I like to read of strong people facing life with bravery and a slightly twisted viewpoint. Louisa Clark is such a character and the ending of After You could lead to a third book involving her.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


The Reason I Jump was written by thirteen-year-old Naoki Higashida, a young boy with autism, and was translated by David Mitchell and KA Yoshida, a couple with a an autistic son. It is the personal account of how it is to live day after day with autism, told by people who live with this misunderstood condition.

Naoki has painstaking used a vocabulary grid to construct words and sentences that he is unable to put into spoken language. Using a question and answer method of writing, Naoki answers the questions that we all would like to ask, but that seem too personal. He explains why people with autism talk too loudly and with weird word order and why they can not make eye contact when they speak to someone. The questions are answered with honesty and warmth.

To me, the best part of the book was the introduction by David Mitchell. David said that translating this book was a labor of love and helped him to understand his own son better. Probably this is why I felt that the introduction gave me a better understanding of autism.

The rest of the book was slightly repetitious with similar questions being answered with similar statements. It must have taken Naoki a very long time to put his thoughts in words so I can appreciate the effort that went into his writings.

 I am not sure if the problems with the book are in his original piece or in the translation. It is not easy to translate any work and keep the emotions, the personal feel that the original author had in mind. I never felt as connected to Naoki as I thought that I would. As a result, this was not a book that I would recommend. It might be interesting to read David Mitchell's account of his personal involvement with his son and what interaction he had with Naoki Higashida.

If the book served any purpose for me it was to make me aware and more patient with autism and its many forms ... and maybe that is what was really important.