On Saturday (July 14) I spent much of my day attending two excellent events. In the afternoon, I was part of a full-to-the-rafters Music Hall (every single seat was sold, meaning more than 3,400 people were in attendance!) for the final Champions Concert, featuring 11 groups that were judged to be the best in their respective categories. I had a chance to see Fairfield High's Choraliers, named the outstanding Show Choir, as well as the heartfelt Jeremy Winston Chorale, from Wilberforce, Ohio, winners of the Gospel category. (Interestingly, Jeremy Winston was once a member of The Aeolians from Oakwood University of Huntsville, Alabama, the group that won the Spirituals category.) Several children's groups, notably the Vocalista Angels from Indonesia (Children's Choirs) and Wenzhou Children Art School Boys Choir from China (Young Children's Choirs), demonstrated incredible talent and discipline with kids who are still elementary school. The Music Contemporanea category winner was Stellenberg Girls Choir from South Africa, yet another group — this one comprised of approximately 80 adolescent girls — directed by André van der Merwe.Among the several chamber group categories, I was most moved by the smallest group: Seven beautiful young women from Latvia, performing as "Latvian Voices," performed two numbers as much like chant as singing, using smooth harmonics and powerful vocal ranges as their music rose and fell, with single and multiple voices weaving in and out. Quite remarkable, and a kind of invitation to the next games — to be held in Riga, Latvia, in 2014.
On Friday evening, I hiked down to U.S. Bank Arena for
the World Choir Games awards ceremony. It was bustling at The Banks,
since the Reds are back in town and playing the Cardinals. It was fun to
see the WCG participants, many dressed in colorful team T-shirts,
mingling with the crowds around Great American Ball Park in their Reds
gear. Lots of folks from other nations had a chance to peer into the
stadium and see American fans revving up.
But there was no lack of revving — or revelry — inside the arena for the program. This was not a musical event, but a ceremony in which choirs in eight categories were recognized for their performances and champions crowned. For 20 minutes before the event began, there was a ton of merriment going on as teams did the "wave" around the arena and cheered whenever their own choir showed up on the big video monitors.
Lots of awards are handed out at WCG, some simply for participating. Choirs can choose to compete in an open category, in which they are evaluated but not competing for medals (although they are ranked and can receive gold, silver or brionze "diplomas") or in the head-to-head competitions. By scoring within certain point ranges, singing groups are awarded bronze, silver or gold medals. The ultimate designation, "Champion," is bestowed on the choir that scores the highest point total among the gold medalists in each category. Other medalists send forward their director and one singer to receive the medal and a certificate. When the champions are named, the entire choir races jubilantly to the stage, hugging, screaming and celebrating. Once assembled there and the medal bestowed, the choir's national flag is raised and its national anthem sung, often with tear-streamed faces on the video screens.
Champions were named eight categories. Three were from the United States, including in two largely American categories included in the games for the first time, Barbershop and Show Choirs. Gospel was also broken out from Music of Religions. The most wildly celebrated champion was surely the Choraliers, from Fairfield, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati, which was named the champion Show Choir (amid choirs from other nations and several from universities). Also from Ohio, the Jeremy Winston Choir from Wilberforce University was named the champion Gospel group. The other American champion was a barbershop chorus from Pennsylvania, the Greater Harrisburg Chapter of Sweet Adelines.
The remaining five champions were: Female Chamber Choir: Latvian Voices from Riga, Latvia (where the 2014 World Choir Games will be held); Male Chamber Choir: Newman Sound (Canada); Music of Religions: Stellenberg Girls Choir (South Africa); and Young Children's Choir's: Wenzhou Children Art School Boys Choir (China). The latter category's winners of gold medals were all youth choirs from China, where it's clear such ensembles are prized and emphasized.
More champions are being announced on Saturday morning, and a selection of champions will perform in a concert at Music Hall on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. That concert, as well as the Closing Ceremony at U.S. Bank Arena on Saturday at 7 p.m., are both sold out.
I spent 12 hours on Thursday absorbing events and
performances of the 2012 World Choir Games. My "day pass" gave me way
too much to write up in detail, but here are some highlights and random
Show Choirs: I spent several morning hours at the Aronoff Center (which was "sold-out" — no empty seats, before 10 a.m.!) watching groups perform in the manner popularized by the TV series Glee. Some followed the familiar model completely — glittering costumes, athletic dance numbers, lots of fist-pumping and high energy. They were fun to watch, but the international filter provided by groups from the Bahamas and Venezuela provided a whole new filter. The 26 members of the Bahama National Youth Choir dispensed with flashy costumes — young men and women wore khaki pants and skirts, topped with navy blue blazers and white shirts. But, boy, could they dance: From "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing" to Michael Jackson's "Beat It." And when they finished (to a standing ovation), the next group, Orfeón Universitario Rafael Montaño from Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, dazzled us with a salsa-inspired Spanish-language set with costume changes for every number — at one point including a dozen women with palm trees atop their heads! About half the numbers utilized wonderful soloists, mature women with incredible voices backed up by the choir in tributes to pop singers from the world of Hispanic music. The group's performance was a riot of color, dancing and joyous outbursts of energy.
Barbershop: This is a first-time category for WCG, a popular choir form in North America that's not practiced much elsewhere. But based on the big crowd for the competition at Music Hall, I'd say that singers of the world might be adopting this happy form of choral performance that involves close harmony, typically by groups that are all male or female. I smiled at a group of 32 from Minnesota, the North Star Boys Choir, and enjoyed the "mature" group of women, the Cincinnati Sound Chorus, who clearly enjoyed their set, opening with "As long as I'm singing my song." Three more choruses in colorful costumes — A Cappella Showcase (from Canada), Greater Harrisburg Sweet Adelines Chorus (from Pennsylvania) and Bay Area Showcase Chorus (from California) were all dazzlingly entertaining.
Friendship Concert: Departing from Music Hall late in the afternoon, I encountered a big crowd in Washington Park surrounding the bandstand. Patiently waiting for the moment to begin was a chorus of kids from Goteborg School in South Africa. The surrounding crowd was dotted with other performers, young African-American girls in maroon choir robes and pale girls from Russia in floaty pastel chiffon dresses with flowers in their hair, looking like escapees from a fantasy bridal party. I was tempted to pass by until the South African choir started to sing: They were elementary aged children who sang with lusty enthusiasm, and I couldn't tear myself away from listening to their rhythmic songs and high spirits. The crowd responded accordingly.
After dinner at Bakersfield on Vine Street, I went on to the day's real highlight, the Cultural Showcase at the Aronoff — another completely full house at the P&G Hall starting at 7:30 p.m. The Venezuelans I'd seen earlier in show choir mode were back doing a program of somewhat less flashy folk music numbers. There was still plenty of energy and costumes, as well as more work from the outstanding soloists. The next group was 65 boys from Kearsney College, a high school in Botha's Hill, South Africa. Half their program was sung in blue-and-white choir robes with a brilliant yellow icon of Africa on the front; this was a powerfully emotional set, full of the rhythms and zest that I've come to expect from South African ensembles. The second portion of their program focused on Zulu folklore and one of its heroes, King Shaka. For this portion the boys dressed in black shirts and pants with cardinal red belts and knee-high rubber boots, like those worn by miners. This set of music was non-stop athleticism, dancing, acrobatics and lusty singing. The audience responded warmly to this off-the-hook segment, and conductor Bernard Krüger told the audience that he loves Americans because they really know how to cheer. The final set of performers were from Istanbul, Turkey, the Bogaziçi Jazz Choir. This was a different kind of folk music from a country about which I don't know much, but watching their earnest, sometimes serious sometimes humorous delivery, I feel that I understand their character more fully. They concluded with several songs in English that warmed the audience even more — earning two standing ovations.
My final observation on the evening: It was so satisfying to be in an audience that truly loved what they were witnessing and expressed their joy at the performances with honest reactions. These were some of the most genuine standing ovations I've ever witnessed. I was proud to be in this crowd, and I have to believe that it was a truly memorable experience for the performers.
A final observation: Every choir I've heard from South Africa has deeply moved me. Knowing that nation's history of apartheid and seeing choirs of mixed races reveling in music gave me hope that music can indeed heal the world. That's a great lesson to learn from the World Choir Games.
The best theatrical entertainment onstage this weekend is
The Foreigner, presented by the Commonwealth Theatre Company at Northern
Kentucky University. I saw it a week ago (review here) and it's a winner — a
very funny play with a marvelously inventive performance by Roderick
Justice in the title role. He plays a painfully shy man who tries to
avoid social contact by posing as someone who doesn't speak English,
even though he's quite literate. The concept doesn't quite work out as
planned when his "cover" means that people have all kinds of revealing
conversations around him. The plot is hilarious, but it's Justice's
performance that makes it run like clockwork. It's part of a dinner
theater package — dinner at 6:30 most nights, show at 8:00 p.m. Tickets:
There's not a lot of theater right now, but if you're looking for great onstage entertainment right now, the World Choir Games have plenty to offer. I've been blogging about it for the past week, and you can read more here. Events and performances through Saturday evening. www.2012worldchoirgames.com.
The beginning of this week was a slower pace for the World
Choir Games in Cincinnati. At the halfway point, choirs visiting for
the first week departed and new ones arrived, so there was very little
activity on Monday. A festive, rambunctious parade from the Convention
Center to Fountain Square too place 6 p.m. Tuesday, with dozens of
choirs, many in traditional dress from their home countries and others
in matching T-shirts that designated their team, nation and so on. Each
choir was preceded by a WCG volunteer bearing their national flag, and
the crowd — lined up five-to-six people deep along both sides of Fifth
Street — cheered for each choir as strolled by. There were as many
cameras in the parade as well among those watching: Everyone wanted to
capture the fun to share later.
On Wednesday evening at the Aronoff Center, I went to the "Music of the World" Celebration Concert. Since two of the four performing groups were from the U.S., I guess this title referred more to the music than their origins, but each had something to offer. The opening set was by the Collegiate Honor Choir from regional universities near or in Cincinnati: CCM at UC, Xavier, Capital University (Columbus), Wright State (Dayton), Miami and NKU. They sang as a large ensemble at first, conducted by Earl Rivers from CCM (also one of the WCG's artistic directors) and then several groups were broken out for specific numbers, led by their own director. The most interesting number was "The Storm is Passing Over" by the singers from NKU: Amid some angsty singing, several performers spoke out lines of dismay about contemporary life or laughed maniacally. After several minutes of that, once a few singers collapsed from exhaustion, a spiritually inspired passage resolved the piece on an air of hope for the future. This segment also included a brief film tribute to esteemed American composer Morten Lauridsen (the full film is on view at various times at the Downtown Public Library during the WCG) and then a performance of two of his pieces, "Dirait-on" and "Sure on this Shining Morning," with Lauridsen accompanying the singers on the piano.
Up next was the University of Newcastle (Australia) Chamber Choir with 40 singers, male and female. I especially enjoyed their second number, "Birds," based on three traditional Australian Bush songs. It was full of whistles and shrieks, as well as choreographed hand motions that simulated the movements of various kinds of birds. It was an unusually delightful piece. More delight came from the Gema Sangkakala Choir from Manado, Indonesia. Another mixed group of approximately 40, its men were attired in black jackets with symmetrical yellow patterns (eight leaves about the size of a human hand is my best guess since my seat was far back from the stage) and the women wearing beautiful sparkling traditional dresses accented with scarves of primary colors tied around their waists. The group sang four numbers with lots of dance motion; in fact, each number concluded with a held pose — arms upraised, for instance — that became the initial pose of the following song. Their very coherent program was full of humor: One song appeared to be a flirtatious exchange between the men and the women, while another was a tongue-twisting piece full of what were probably nonsense works (my notes say "packa-packa-dum-dee-dum," a phrase and others like it were repeated at high speed). Neither the program, the emcees nor the directors offer any insights about the songs, so audiences are left to figure them out — I wish I'd known more about the substance of this Indonesian group's performance, but it was delightful from start to finish.
The final group was the Indianapolis Children's Choir, about 100 young adolescent girls and boys. They were wonderfully trained, and their program was a perfect selection of material for young performers, not too challenging but very appropriate for youngsters full of energy and expression. "Tell My Ma" (accompanied by an adult playing the spoons!) was a clever song about competition between groups of boys and girls; "Happy Together" (a Pop tune from the 1960s by the Turtles) was a great number for the kids to cut loose with their own swaying body and hand motions, not synchronized but each doing something that expressed their joy at young love. That approach typified this group's performance — carefully chosen numbers that fit the youthful nature of the performers. Everyone left the Aronoff smiling!
I have a "day pass" for Thursday, so I'll be wandering in and out of activities all over downtown. I'll report on that on Friday morning. There's only a few days left — WCG ends on Saturday evening. If you haven't attended anything yet, there's still time.
I had a trip around the world on Sunday afternoon, thanks
to the World Choir Games. It includes stops in South Africa, the
Netherlands, Venezuela, Switzerland, and the Chinese cities of
Guangdong, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Hangzhou. The program, playing to a
completely sold-out house at the Aronoff Center's Procter & Gamble
Hall, was a chance for eight choirs, each champions in one or more
categories, to briefly showcase a few selections. Singer, performer and
Cincinnati native Drew Lachey hosted the afternoon program.
In order, we were treated to performances by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music Girls Choir (Female Choirs champion); the Diocesan Boys' School Choir from Hong Kong (Young Male Chorus champion); Männerstimmen Basel from Switzerland (Male Choirs Champion); the "8 Seconds" Mixed Chorus fa Hangzhou Normal University (Mixed Youth Choir champion); the Children's Choir of the Orchestra of Laraand Camerata Singonica Larense from Venezuela (Folklore champion); Guangdong Experimental Middle School (Youth Choir of Equal Voices champion); Stellenbosch University Choir from South Africa (a double champion for Musica Sacra and Mixed Chorus); and Dekoor Close Harmony from the Netherlands (another double champion, for Popular Choral Music and Jazz).
That's too many to offer song-by-song details from the two hour program, but I want to share some memorable highlights. Perhaps most powerful was the "African Prayer," sung by the Stellenbsoch choir, following a remark from the group;s director about how much they appreciated Cincinnati's hospitality. I head this group sing the same number on Thursday evening's celebration concert, and it was equally powerful — driven by full-voiced female singing, rhythmic clapping and building enthusiasm. What's more, the director sat down and let the choir proceed under its own steam. Demonstrating their varied repertoire, the same group also did a quirky rendition of Queen's "Seaside Rendezvous," playing kazoos for part of the number.
The Chinese choruses showed tremendous discipline, carefully following their directors and, especially in the case of the group from Shanghai, creating a pure, crystalline sound that was virtually one voice. Each of those choirs were also stylishly dressed in matching costumes. (I found myself wondering how transportation was handled for these choirs, not just for the singers but for their gowns and other attire. No one seemed to have left anything behind!)
The group from Basel looked more like a scruffy Euro band, about 30 men, some with beards, others with wooly heads of hair. Many of them wore knee-length pants and suspenders. But their singing was strong and well-rehearsed. The Venezuelans were in costumes that had a Latin flair, especially the women in white, knee-length dresses with traditional, multicolored ruffles on their hems and necklines. This latter group had a fine sense of humor, especially for its tongue-twisting final number that involved singing faster and faster, then concluding in a sort of faux collapse of exhaustion.
Most unlike other choirs I've heard, Dekoor from the Netherlands, which sang in colloquial American English offered three numbers from the Pop repertoire. The group of 30, evenly divided between men and women, opened with "We Are Young," a song about friendship, youth and trust — all qualities represented by their stances and interactions (a repeated lyric: "We are young/So let's the set the world on fire/We can burn brighter/Than the sun"). They moved next to James Taylor's paean to frustration, "Damn This Traffic Jam," and as an encore rendered a funky version of George Michael's "Freedom." Quite a switch from beautifully executed but not so stirring sacred numbers.
For my second concert of the day, I was back at the Aronoff for the Energy of Youth" Celebration Concert featuring three groups. The frist was local, the Cincinnati Children's Choir, mostly junior high and high school youths. They were augmented for the second half of their program with a specially formed "Cincinnati Public Schools Honor Choir," a pair of singers selected from each of the CPS elementary schools. They concluded with two numbers commissioned for the event and conducted by composer Rollo Dillworth; the finale, "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around," had a clapping rhythm that engaged the entire audience. What this group lacked in polish (they had only three rehearsals) they more than made up for in enthusiasm.
The next group was the Farnham Youth Choir from Great Britain. Forty singers, mostly girls (there were three boys with voices not yet changed) offered a varied set that combined some sacred numbers with some folk-inspired pieces (The Piper o'Dundee" and ""Iona Boat Song"). Most interesting was a number titled "Aglepta," that began with a single member reciting this text: "To leave a enemy without an answer, say this words to him: Aglaria Pidhol garia Ananus Qepta" and blow in his direction; then he will not know which way he is headed and cannot answer you." What followed was a strange collection of sighs, whistles, squeals, shrieks, clapping and other odd noises, an odd showcase of discipline that was a long way from the more traditional numbers. It was a bit fearful, and completely captivating.
The program concluded with a set by the Guangdong Experimental Middle School Choir that was as much choreography and tradition as it was a choral performance. Native costumes, a Mongolia throat singer, drums, bells, wild dancing — this performance made me think about how little we know about other parts of the world ... and how much an event like the World Choir Games opens us to learning about other cultures.
Quite a day.
Despite the 100-plus heat on Friday evening, on my way to a
World Choir Games concert at Over-the-Rhine's School for Creative and
Performing Arts (SCPA) I took an extra half-hour to wander through the
renovated Washington Park, which officially opened earlier in the day.
What an incredible scene! Hundreds of operagoers were streaming through
the park on their way to see Porgy and Bess at Music Hall, while
kids from the neighborhood — young and old, I must add — were playing in
the people-friendly fountain. Everyone was strolling around admiring
the views and the colorful "OTR Flags," another festive element of the
On from there to SCPA's Corbett Theater for another sold-out "Celebration Concert." This one used the theme "Voices of Gold," because each of the three choirs have won multiple honors in past World Choir Games and other choral competitions. SCPA seemed like the perfect setting, since each group was made up of youthful performers: Zvonky Praha is a school group from a school in Prague in the Czech Republic and some of its singers were obviously elementary school age kids; SKH Lam Woo Memorial Secondary School were high schoolers; and the Mansfield University Concert Choir was a mixed choir of young adults from the university in Pennsylvania. It's fascinating to observe the differing personalities of the choirs, here a product of age but also of directors with very different styles of leading the singing.
Zvonky Praha begain with its 19-member chamber component, separately named "Abbellimento," all high school age girls clad in black pants and shirts, with scarlet sashes, some worn as belts, others as scarves and one as a head band. Their female voices were reedy but strong for their program, virtually all sung in Czech, so I can't tell you much of what the music was about. But I can say it was delivered with passion and clarity, accompanied in most cases by a blonde-haired pianist who played with expressive emotion. Several numbers were enhanced by one of the singers picking up a clarinet and offering soulful punctuation. When the balance of the choir came on to join Abbellimento, the numbers were roughly doubled, but again almost all girls wearing red choir capes. (There were two young boys, but I suspect their voices had not yet changed, and the feminine quality of the singing did not change.) Director Jamila Noveknová kept the ensemble in tight control, but for several final numbers had some soloists step forward, including one of the younger performers with a gorgeous soprano voice. Their final number, a choral replication of bells, was especially memorable.
Lam Woo's director, Siu Mei Lee, is a petite, beautiful woman with shining, black hair. She conducted with the expressive grace of a ballerina, using large gestures and physical movement to inspire her very focused choristers. This was a big group, roughly 80 singers, wearing school uniforms: The boys had white shirts with a school emblem and ties while girls wore knee-length pale blue dresses with white "sailor" collars and white knee socks. This group were serious in their demeanor, totally focused on their animated director. Their wide ranging program encompassed works by Mendelssohn as well as Asian composers; their concluding number, "Zum Gali," was a rhythmic traditional number from Israel that swung between soft and loud passages and up and down energy, but with a beautiful fading elevation of tone as its conclusion. The intense singers maintained their demeanor as the audience gave them a standing ovation, but when a little boy entered from the wings to hand a bouquet to Siu Mei Lee, the entire chorus burst into applause. Their affection for her was evident.
Peggy Dettwiler is clearly a veteran conductor (she teaches the craft to others at Mansfield University) and her work with her more mature singers was the most satisfying component of the evening. A balanced choir of about 60, the men wore traditional tuxedoes and black ties, while the women were attired in floor-length gowns all cut the same way. (The women also wore identical sparkling necklaces and earrings.) According to the introductions made for this group, their repertoire is generally drawn from religious works, but that did not mean it was a lot of the same thing: They offered a beautiful piece with German lyrics and music by Mendelssohn, followed by a solemn, stately song by Stephen Paulus, "The Old Church." Next was a traditional Gospel number, "Hold On!," delivered with relaxed energy. For a traditional Appalachian hymn, "Every Night When the Sun Goes Down," the group formed an unorthodox circle around Dettwiler, who conducted the entire program without music from a small, square platform about six-inches in height. That meant that some had their backs to the audience, but at one key moment, they turned toward us, which elevated not only their volume but the intensity of their heartfelt performance. Their finale, "Pal-so seong," was a humorous number in which various solo singers burst into giggles, hoots and chortles, culminating in gales of laughter — a truly unusual piece. The group's encore, an infectious "Alleluia," had them file up the aisles at Corbett Theater, surrounding the audience with joyous song. It was a perfect conclusion to the varied program.
On Thursday evening I slogged through the humid, 100 degree soup
of downtown Cincinnati to hear a World Choir Games concert at the
Masonic Center on Fourth Street (next door to the Taft Theatre). I've
lived in Cincinnati for 32 years and covered lots of arts events, but
I've never set foot inside this honeycomb of stages, halls and meeting
rooms. The sold-out event I attended, "Global Harmony," was in a steeply
sloped, floridly decorated auditorium that seats approximately 1,000
people. A four-step set of risers was set up in front of a proscenium
with a curtain; the scenery was provided by three choirs, two
international groups — the Diocesan Schools Choral Society from Hong
Kong and the Stellenbosch University Choir from South Africa — both
highly recognized ensembles at the 2010 World Choir Games in Shaoxing,
China. The third choir had a shorter trek to Cincinnati; the Capital
University Chapel Choir, about 80 singers strong, came from Columbus and
held its own with the two groups from other continents.
The Hong Kong group, roughly 120 high school boys and girls, offered a beautiful, restrained program of earnestly conceived works performed with polish, some religious and some literary (the latter included a piece based on Robert Burns' poem, "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose"). The singers from Capital University had the men attired in black suits, shirts and ties, the women in long dresses with identical bias-cut necklines but in varying colors, bright blue, maroon and navy. Their program was an interesting mixture of pieces, with several uptempo numbers — a lovely song by Dolly Parton, "Light of a Clear Blue Morning," that featured a crystalline solo by Annie Huckaba, and several rhythmic works, "Hehehlooyuh" and "Tshotsholoza," both of which evoked strong responses from the audience. The latter, a South African number, featured two forceful soloists, Chris Bozeka and Nicholas Klein, as well as percussive accompaniment on African drums by Emily Riggin and another chorus member (not named in the program).
The Stellenbosch choir, constituted of approximately 120 white and black college students and which earned three gold medals in the 2010 World Choir Games in China, presented a half-dozen songs plus an encore. "Kiasa-isa Niyan," described by conductor André van der Merwe as a counting song from the Philippines, used catchy choreography and motion, including chest thumping, vocal clicking, head snapping and a sharply executed bow at the end. The most moving number of the program, a traditional Zulu song, "African Prayer." It pulled six strong-voiced soloists (again, not named in the program) to the front of the stage and placed two more among the audience for an emotional call-and-response counterpoint that evoked a standing ovation.
In fact, each group was greeted with sustained applause as its singers filed on stage and cheered with a standing ovation after their performance. The audience was appreciative and wildly enthusiastic; some were parents of the Capital University performers, but many others were clearly people who simply love choral performances that are delivered with finesse, creativity and enthusiasm. Fifth Street was choked with buses bringing people from various hotels beyond downtown, here as tourists to listen to these performances.
Oh, yes: The auditorium was comfortably air-conditioned, a fact appreciated by those in attendance as well as the singers. It was a fine way to be introduced to the possibilities of the World Choir Games, here in the United States — not to mention in Cincinnati — for the first time ever. I was proud to be in attendance.
It was quite the spectacle and in a good way. As I, along with other members of MUSE, approached Great American Ballpark around 4 p.m., there were already hundreds of World Choir Games participants thronging the entrance, and despite the stifling temperature, the excitement was palpable. All the hype about this being an international event was no hype at all. For the first time I can remember, Cincinnati looked like an international city.
Choirs from West Chester, Loveland and Pleasant Ridge chatted with groups from Japan, Colombia, Canada and Australia. Cheers erupted from all parts of the plaza, spontaneous singing and dancing were everywhere. The plaza was a riot of color: the Colombians in vivid red, orange, and yellow; Japanese women in blue and pink kimonos; the Nigerian choir in bright green dashikis and caps; and the Costa Rican women's choir in flowing white dresses embroidered in bright red.
With no signage but a multitude of helpful volunteers, 5,000 of us were mustered into holding areas before marching over to U.S. Bank Arena. Bottled water and mist sprayers relieved the heat, and when the water ran out, there plenty of ice cubes — putting them down my back never felt better.
We found ourselves in a shaded area along with a youth choir from Erie, Pa. Suddenly they started chanting, "Sing! Sing! Sing!" As we launched in the South African Xhosa song "Bambelela," their eyes lit up in recognition and suddenly we were one big chorus. They answered us with "The Storm is Passing Over," and this time, our eyes lit up. Same arrangement we do. They sang a beautiful arrangement of "As I Went Down to the River to Pray." When we sang Bernice Johnson Reagon's "I'm Gon' Stand," with Lois Shegog belting out the solo, they were riveted.
Once inside the arena, more cheering as groups saw themselves on the JumboTrons. The soundtrack took in The Temptations, The Jackson 5, Gloria Estafan, The Monkees, and I think Neil Diamond was in there somewhere. The Aussies sitting below us started a beach ball toss that would have gone on longer if an arena-wide wave hadn't taken over. I didn't see many empty seats.
WCPO's Clyde Gray and Carol Williams were affable emcees and the opening remarks by Mayor Mallory and Interkultur head Gunther Titsch were mercifully brief (Titsch spoke in heavily accented English and then reverted to his native German. That was fine — I'd rather look at his translator any day. Williams read greetings from President Obama — the letter was projected on the video screens to the accompaniment of hundreds of camera flashes. Rob Portman didn't applaud. But he recovered to declare the games open.
Cincinnati Pops conductor John Morris Russell paid tribute to the late Erich Kunzel, who was the driving force behind bringing the WCG to Cincinnati. And it was his vision to include the traditional July 4th concert as part of the opening ceremony. I think he would have been delighted and not at all surprised at the power of singing to bring people together. Choruses rose with pride as their nation's flag was announced, but they also cheered on their peers. I'll never forget the group from Namibia turning to cheer South Africa.
As we left, I couldn't help singing India Arie's "There's Hope." MUSE sang that, too.
Sunday winds up Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s revival of the Tony Award-winning musical next to normal. (Review here.) The story of a woman struggling with schizophrenia and how it affects her family is even better than it was back in September. The show uses the power of a brilliant Rock score to enhance the impact of this painful story. ETC has reassembled most of its superb cast from last fall, including Jessica Hendy in the central role. Her beleaguered husband is now played by Bruce Cromer, who you might know as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Playhouse’s annual A Christmas Carol. His character’s relationship with Hendy’s makes their struggles all the more deeply felt. Box office: 513-421-3555.
Last Sunday I had some good laughs at the classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace on the Showboat Majestic. It’s an old chestnut (it was a hit in 1944), but it’s one of the funniest shows you’re likely to see, about a pair of off-kilter elderly maiden aunts who keep their rather normal nephew astonished and scrambling to keep them in line. The kind-hearted women take in boarders, quiet elderly men who are “all alone in the world,” and polish them off with elderberry wine laced with arsenic. They convince another nephew, who believes he’s Teddy Roosevelt, to bury them in the basement by telling him they’re Panama Canal works who are victims of yellow fever. A great show for the whole family. Box office: 513-241-6550.
Also winding up this weekend is Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). This rambunctious show mentions of all the Bard’s works — although many are completely unrecognizable, thanks the three buffoonish guys who undertake the task. Order your tickets online where you’ll find an automatic buy-one, get-one offer. Website: www.cincyshakes.com.
Cincinnati Opera is offering Porgy & Bess for the first time ever, with a performances on Saturday evening (as well as July 6 and 8). (Preview here.) Is it an opera or a musical? Judge for yourself (and read about it in my Curtain Call column in next week’s issue of CityBeat). It’s at Music Hall, with lots of seats, but as always, a limited run. This is one you shouldn’t miss. I saw it Thursday night, and the leading performers are great: Measha Brueggergosman is a conflicted Bess, Jonathan Lemalu conveys Porgy’s dignified but depressed life, Gordon Hawkins is the brutal Crown, and Steven Cole steals the show as the animated, irreverent Sporting Life. And pay attention to the chorus — it’s a wonderful ensemble. Box office: 513-241-2742.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.