June 16th was the Cream City Chorus' last performance. We went to the 7:30 PM show so we could be there for the last of the last.

Since the title of the concert was chosen before the decision to close down, the programs read, "Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Celebrating the Cream City (and the Wisconsin Cream City Chorus)". Although the "Laverne and Shirley" themesong (as well as "Happy Days") did make it into the concert, the program was altered to be as much of a retrospective on the chorus as could be crammed into a reasonable time.

This was not easy. I heard that over eighty songs were on the chorus members' "must do" list, and a lot of work was involved in paring that down to a list of 45, most of which were excerpted into six long medleys. It was a herculean task stitching all that together and working transitions and accompaniment, such that, given some life events that occurred during the rehersal period, the ultimate product could have doen with a bit more polishing in some places. I think the tough decision should have been made to cover a bit less territory and concentrate on fewer but stronger songs.

I like a good medley as much as anyone, especially one that's wittily constructed, but not to have the vast majority of the concert composed that way, which got a bit wearisome.

That being said, the sheer sentiment of the occasion made up for much. Georgie and I have been attending the concerts for most of twenty years of the group's twenty-five year existence, and it was nice to have remembrances of songs from long ago, as well as a taste of those that were before our time.

Some of the particular gems were Ebbie Duggins and Shirl Greeb on "Letters," Emory Churness and Hilary Giffen on "The Song that Goes Like This," and the entire chorus and alumni members on "The Last Curtain Call," a powerful yet joyous rendition that had tears running down my face.

Over the years, the Cream City Chorus has given us an exceptional outpouring of creativity and invention, especially for a small, community group. We have had new music, new songs, and new styles of presentation. Some have been more sucessful than others, but always fresh, interesting, and making you look forward to what the next concert would hold.

The end of the Cream City Chorus is the end of a small but significant chapter in Milwaukee's artistic history. It will be missed.
On Sunday, April 1, we went to the Unitarian Universalist Church West, to enjoy the Cream City Chorus’ spring concert, “We Are ONE: Celebrating Diversity.”

Rather in keeping with the theme, this concert was heavy on numbers for the whole group, with few small ensemble songs. The chorus as a whole was in very good voice, which made for very enjoyable listening. The songs that did have major solo parts had very strong performances, such as by Hillary Giffen in “Blessing,” and Chuck Ellingson on “Not In Our Town.”
Serious songs on the themes of inclusion were also leavened with funny pieces, such as “Can’t Take the ‘Color’ Out of Colorado.” All in all a very fine concert.

April 1 was the actual 25th anniversary of the Chorus’ founding. Founders, past members, and friends gave short remarks during the performance honoring the day. Georgie was asked to provide cake for the reception after, and made two, one with the concert rainbow design, and one with the Chorus’ 25 year logo, both designed by Emory Churness.

We had previously gotten the melancholy news that this is going to be the Chorus’ final season. There are life cycles in all things—particularly volunteer organizations—and the Chorus has evidently come to the end. The actual final concert will be the cabaret show scheduled for June 16th, also at the UUCWest. The Chorus will be missed—at least by us.
Saturday evening the 10th, we went to the Unitarian Universalist Church West for the Cream City Chorus' "holiday concert"--which was mostly not the holidays you are thinking of.

The concert title, "A Year In The Life," gives you a hint that you will get a cycle through the holidays of the year, but even this leaves some surprises.

Act I started off with "Celebrate the Seasons," for New Year's Day, and then went on with a very pretty spiritual-like song entitled "Up the Mountain," for Martin Luther King Day. The chorus then covered Valentine's Day ("I'm Kissing You,"), Mother's Day ("Music in my Mother's House"), Memorial Day ("Find the Cost of Freedom,", July 4th ("We, the People,"), Bastille Day ("One Day More"), August 9th (U.N. Day of the World's Indigenous People)("Miracle"), and September 11th ("Choose to Bless the World").

Most of these songs were new to us and we enjoyed hearing them. The chorus was in good form, with particularly notable performances being the solos by Jay Reinke on "Up the Mountain," and Hillary Giffen on "I'm Kissing You," and the trio of Emory Churness, Peter Konrath, and Kristen Weber on "Find the Cost of Freedom."

After a short intermission, the "year" rolled on, with the Michael Jackson piece "Thriller" for Halloween; "All Good Gifts/When You Believe," for Thanksgiving; "Will I?" for World AIDS Day (Dec. 1); "Slow Dancing in the Snow," first snowfall; "Bidi Bom", Hanukkah; and "African Noel" and "O,Holy Night" for Christmas.

This half had more emphasis on numbers featuring the whole chorus, who made a joyful noise where appropriate. ("Will I?," solo by Chuck Ellingson, is an appropriately somber piece--.) The results were pleasing to hear and to watch.

I was rather interested by the choice of subjects. Of course, once you get away from the "standard" holidays there are an infinity of choices, and you can't do them all. I was interested that there was a Mother's Day song, but not a Father's Day song; nothing Pagan for Beltane, Samhain, or Solstice; and that one of the Christmas selections, "O Holy Night," is of course explicitly Christian, something that's been shied away from in the past. I don't at all suggest that the last two choices mean that the Chorus is getting more "vanilla" in its thematic selections--if anything it probably means that the group is actually becoming less doctrinaire over time and not making choices that would have seemed de rigeur a decade ago.

We will be looking forward to the other concerts in the Chorus' 25th anniversary season.
Saturday evening, June 18th, we caught the final Cream City Chorus concert of this season, "Shakespeare in Song."

This was an unusual entry for the usually co-ed chorus. So many of the male members ended up with conflicts for the date that they decided to make it an all-woman show, which had the added attraction of "turning Shakespeare on his head," because of course in Shakespeare's day, his productions were of necessity all-male.

The chorus did a very nice job of putting together an entirely Shakepeare-themed concert, combining some classics with some surprising new pieces.

The first half began with Cole Porter's "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," from Kiss Me Kate, which was definitely in the classic category and set a nice upbeat tone.

"A Tale Told by an Idiot," was one of several pieces in the concert that set Shakepeare's verse to music, setting this famous speech from Macbeth to an appropriately ominous tune by Huub de Lange. It was followed by "Double Trouble," by John Williams for the "Harry Potter" movies, which was done in a humorous style by Char Haas, Julie Magida, and Susan Reider as three witches.

"Sonnet XXIX," ("When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes . . .") was set to a very pretty tune by Georgia Stitt, and very well sung by Ebbie Duggins.

Then, there was one of many settings of "Sigh No More, My Ladies," from Twelfth Night; "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" from The Lion King (which is of course inspired by Hamlet); and back to Cole Porter for "Tom, Dick, or Harry."  "Shakespeare 101" was an orginal piece, lyrics assembled by Hillary Giffen from familiar snippets of Shakespeare, set to music by chorus director Kirsten L. Weber.

The second half of the program was all music inspired by Romeo and Juliet, and included "A Time for Us," from the movie, "Love Story" by Taylor Swift, "Tonight" from West Side Story, and "Run Away With Me," by Kerrigan and Lowdermilk. As sung by Shirl Greeb and Sharon Megna, this caused Georgie to comment, "Which one's Thelma and which Louise?"  There were also three pieces from R&J The Rock Musical, which stuck closely to Shakespeare's text, but inventively reformed it into trios and chorus pieces.

The chorus also gave us Sonnet XVIII, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" as an encore.

A very enjoyable concert with the energy and creativity we have come to expect from the CCC.
On Saturday evening April 16th, we went to the Unitarian Universalist Church West for the Cream City Chorus' spring concert, titled "The Creators: Heroes of the Imagination." As usual, it was a very enjoyable concert, although not without some glitches.

The show was divided into three acts, each taking a different aspect of the creative experience. Act 1, "Soundtrack of our Lives" dealt with music that had had meaning in peoples lives, and included such disparate pieces as Copeland's Fanfare for the Common Man; Don't Go Braking My Heart; Mack the Knife; We Will Rock You; and America the Beautiful, among others. A really notable song in this section was the finale, "Blessing," sung with great sentiment by Hillary Giffen.

Act 2, "Made By Hand," celebrated the makers, with songs such as The Flagmaker; The Mason; and Miss Celie's Pants. We were pleased to hear Emory Churness sing The Mason again, having heard him do this lovely piece years ago. Miss Celie's Pants was a very lively and fun song as well.

Act 3, "From Page to Stage" focused on pieces from musical adaptations of literary works, such as A Tale of Two Cities, Jeykll & Hyde, Scarlet Pimpernel, and Les Miserables, with "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" as an encore. Since we do like stage musicals a lot,  this was our favorite section of the show.

Overall, the works were well sung and presented in an exhilarating manner, with the singers sporting parts of thematic costume, and some minimal stage business. We did, however, think that the show might have been a bit under-rehearsed, with several fluffed lyrics, the most notable being a sizeable gap in "Into the Fire." We weren't sure if the singer fleeing the stage instead of delivering "I, Don Quixote" was a gag or not. And, there were some problems with the acoustics. The grand piano can overpower everything in that hall, so it's a poor idea to put singers with less powerful voices upstage of it, especially when the small body mikes don't pick up as well as the handheld units.

The Cream City Chorus continues to present earnest, honest, enjoyable programs, and we will continue to follow their work.

Saturday evening,  the 19th, we drove out to the Unitarian Universalist Church West for the last concert of the Wisconsin Cream City Chorus’ season, titled “Dancing Through Life.”  The theme of the concert was not just songs about dancing, although there were a lot of those, but songs about making one’s way through life as well.

Interestingly, the concert’s two acts broke down as the first, more heavily dance themed, which had a lot of music I was familiar with, and the second, more philosophical, which had a lot of music that was new to me.

It was kind of a daring theme for a group that doesn’t include any serious dancers and usually has pretty basic choreography. Nevertheless, a lot of good energy, motion, and timing made up for almost any perceived shortcomings.

The first half opened with “Dancing Through Life” from Wicked, and then went on with “Shine” from Billy Elliot, and “Razzle Dazzle ‘Em,” from Chicago.   “Tap Your Troubles Away” from Mac & Mabel was a really cute duet for Shirl Greeb and Hillary Giffen, but this was one song about dancing where it was particularly noticeable that no dancing was included.  This was followed by a medley of songs by Richard Rodgers and collaborators Sondheim, Hammerstein, and Hart, which was familiar and fun.

Tim Ruf’s solo, “Last Waltz for Dixie,” (from Civil War by Murphy and Wildhorn), with its elegy for the “lost cause”, might have seemed an odd choice for a group dedicated to diversity and tolerance, but was delivered with feeling and a sensibility for the pain of loss which gave some grounding to the set.

Shirl Greeb followed with another solo, “It’s an Art,” from Working, which all of us who had ever worked in food service applauded heartily.

The set built up to a big finish with “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Tango Maureen,” (from Rent) and closed with the infectious “Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray.

After a short intermission, the second half began with “Human Heart” from Once on this Island, and continued with “I Feel So Much Spring” (A New Brain) and “Can You Find It In Your Heart” (Footloose). One of the highlights of this section was “Song of Purple Summer” from Spring Awakening. ( I was a bit surprised that this cheerful and upbeat piece came from the musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s dismal and sordid play.  Looking up the musical, I see the plot’s the same, and “Song of Purple Summer” is the “hopeful” finale piece.)

The act continued with “Times Like This” from Lucky Stiff, a medley from Next to Normal,  and “To A Dancing Star” (musical of the same name). And how could anyone resist ending their show and their season with a song called “The Last Curtain Call” (from Everyman)? 

This was a very enjoyable, mostly upbeat, and fun concert which showed the group’s talents to good effect.  We have ordered our tickets for next season.

The Wisconsin Cream City Chorus winter concert was held Saturday, December 13, at the Unitarian Universalist Church West, in Brookfield. This church has a nice space, but acoustics are not perfect, so we went early to get good seats. As usual, we saw a lot of friends there, so there was plenty of chatting to fill the time before the show started.

The concert title was "One World: Dare to Dream," and, while not exactly a holiday concert, seasonal songs along the general theme of "give us peace" were included. WCCC concerts are frequently "signed" for the hearing impaired, and this time we were interested to see that signing was to be done by members of a UWM ASL class, which made it a learning experience as well.

The concert's first session started off with "One World," by Mark Hayes, followed by "One Tin Soldier," with a very nice solos by Hillary Giffen and Chuck Ellingson. "Wage Peace" was a very engaging and interesting piece with some quirky and thoughtful lyrics.

Digression: The construction "wage peace" reminds me that, oddly enough, in ordinary usage, the only time we use "wage" as a verb is in "wage war." (Ditto "wreak" is only ever "wreak havoc"--.) --Which also lead me to contemplate that the only time we refer to "wages" other than in actual discussion of salaries is the quotation “the wages of sin is death.” It seems to me that there’s a connection there, but I’m not sure where--.

The second half of the first part had a medley of bell-themed songs, with the pleasant “Ding-a Ding-a Ding,” by Greg Gilpin, and a very entertaining piece called “Jumble Bells,” which turned the familiar “Jingle Bells” tune upside down, inside out and rotated it through Pig Latin. These were followed by the “Carol of the Bells” (“Hark, How the Bells”), and a version of “Christmas Bells” (here titled “Peace on Earth,”)(“I heard the bells on Christmas Day”) which had the familiar Longfellow words done to the tune of “The Water is Wide,” which was interesting, but I wondered why depart from the more traditional tune? In accordance with the WCCC’s mission of tolerance and acceptance, Longfellow’s words were mildly bowdlerized, but not shockingly so. Performing this operation successfully on “O Holy Night,” which closed the first half, was a bit more of a stretch.

The second section was more distinctly multicultural, with the chorus member coming out in varied ethnic dress. The starting piece, “Baba Yetu,” was sung entirely in Swahili, which was an impressive performance. There was very nice vocal work on all the remaining parts, including “Tikkun Olam,” based on a Hebrew prayer, and “Bidi Bom,” a Hanukkah song.

The chorus was well rehearsed by Director Kristen Weber, and well supported by accompanist J. Ruben Piirainen. There was a pleasant reception afterward that gave us a chance to congratulate the choristers on their performance.
It's been a good period for rather harrowing entertainment: on Saturday, April 12th, we went to the Unitarian Universalist Church West in Brookfield for the Cream City Chorus performance. The Chorus has been making stides toward making their concerts more of an integrated whole than a mere set of songs, and "Safe Harbor: Signs of Compassion" was their most ambitious effort yet, combining a multimedia presentation with an extensive script and action besides the music.

"Safe Harbor" was divided into three acts, the first of which, "Forgotten in the Bayou," dealt with Hurricane Katrina and its impact on ordinary people. The performance of ten-year-old Neil Haas as a child made homeless and separated from his mother (real-life parent Char Haas) was simple but affecting. The chorus gave us songs such as Randy Newman's "Louisiana, 1927," and the traditional "Wade in the Water."

The second act, "In the Name of Your G*d," attacked intolerance. It was shocking to hear chorus members spouting the rhetoric of Fred Phelps, "God hates fags!" only to be countered by Tim Ruf, reading Dennis Shepard's charitable remarks to the court on the sentencing of the murderers of his son. Holly Near was well represented in the songs for this section, which included "The Great Peace March," and "I Ain't Afraid."

The third act dealt with personal issues, showing us a young child's mother awaiting a kidney transplant, and the efforts of others to make a difference in the health field: "I Run for Life," "Love Heals."

All told, one of the chorus' most impressive efforts. Fittingly, this was the annual concert at which they have signers for the deaf, and it is always interesting to see how the language of eloquent gesture fits in.

If there was a drawback to the performance, it was the hall. The UU church sanctuary is what an old professor of mine called an "all-purpose/no-purpose room." The acoustics are far from ideal for music, and, as we were seated on the side nearest the grand piano, sometimes had trouble hearing the singers.
The Cream City Chorus continues to put together innovative themed shows. The final presentation of their 20th Anniversary season was 'composed' entirely of songs written and arranged by the chorus members themselves, which showed us a broad spectrum of creative talent. Since we've known many of the Chorus members almost twenty years ourselves, it was great fun for us to see many of our friends' songs get the full production treatment. The chorus worked with a very tight rehersal schedule,which made the accomplishment all the more remarkable, since not only did they do a fine job of delivering new music, but did some fairly intricate staging, and took the bold step of wearing masks which, even though they were small domino type, can still restrict vision, etc. a bit, and just make you feel funny--. The whole performance was very enjoyable, including the rather rackety framing storyline. We particulary enjoyed "History" and "The Calling", chants by Megan Schaefer set to music by Peter Ringo and arranged by Kristen L. Weber; "Ayudita," a lively song by Chuck Ellingson; "Bright Magic," "Graveyard in the Sky," and "Crystal Blue Waters" by Carol Ferraro; "Illusion of the Heart," by Barisha Letterman; and "Jericho" and "Gloria to a Thousand Names" (tune by Mozart) by Emory Churness.

This concert was performed at the Off-Broadway Theatre, which was a new venue for the group. The acoustics were not ideal, but the group managed to fill the smallish space with sound, and sightlines were very good.
And now back to our regulary scheduled program: Saturday after the Tolkien conference finished for the day, we went over to the Village Church of the Arts for the first performance of the Cream City Chorus' new season. We had forgotten that this was a "bistro" show, and were a bit taken aback when we saw the tables, thinking perhaps we had the wrong place. However, we took chairs along the wall wich nevertheless had a good view, and the sound in the relatively small space is always good. One drawback of this arrangment is that there is scant room for any of the choreography that enlivened the Chorus' last show. Most of the pieces were fine without it, but it did seem a bit odd to have the group belting out "Gotta Dance" with no one dancing.

Full chorus numbers tended to open and close the acts, with solo and small group performances filling in. Among the particularly noteworthy:

Yolanda Roth with a big motown sound on "The Boy From New York City," with joyful boogieing by Bill Martin as the "boy."

Shirl Greeb and Bruce Lynch have good musical-theatre voices and put them to good use on a slow tune, "If I Let Myself Go."

Kristen Weber gave a lively rendition of "Another Hundred People," from "Company."

Megan Schaefer was in paritcularly good voice as she gave "Manhattan," that classic nightclub style.

Donna Plaski was effective with "Misty," as was Ebbie Duggins with a reworded version of "Before."

Small ensembles gave us "New York State of Mind," and a barbershop-style medley, as well as some clowning around to the "Green Acres" themesong.

Downbeats were that I did not think that the addition of Michael "KV" Johnston as MC particularly added things, and the auction of leftover bottles of wine and cheesecakes really brought things to a halt and could have been handled more expeditiously. Other than those, it was a good enjoyable show as usual.
Saturday evening the 19th we went to the Village Church for a Cabaret Concert by the Cream City Chorus. The chorus made bold and effective use of the smallish space by arranging seating on three sides, and by singing from all parts of the room, including the “back” and off-stage entirely. The theme of this concert was “True Stories”, meaning that the pieces were based on fact, historical, biographical, or personal.

The concert was opened with a rousing production of “All That Jazz,” from Chicago, followed by the evening’s storyteller, Megan Schaffer, performing her own composition, “Dance of the Crone.” This was followed by the full chorus doing a spectacular arrangement of “Mytelene’s Reprieve,” a song by folk artist Zeke Hoskins, telling the story of how the men of the Greek island of Mytelene were first condemned, and then forgiven, for daring to oppose their Athenian overlords in going to war with Sparta. Karen Weber of the chorus did a great job of arranging this affecting song for the group, and this piece was one of the highlights of the show. The chorus generally did an excellent job of “selling” their songs and performed with good energy, and some impressive choreography. Other particular high spots included “The Fifties Sound,” an ironic commentary on that supposedly idyllic time, “Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight,” “Join the Circus,” “The Ballad of Mary Magdalene,” “The Egg, (from “1776”), “Big Hair,” and the Spaceflight Medley, combining filksongs by Leslie Fish, Jordan Kare, and Ann Passavoy. A clever running gag involved the character, played by Peter Ringo, who unsuccessfully tries to work his traditional tall-tale folksongs into the concert’s “true story” format.

The Chorus’ next performance will be October 16, 2004, with a theme of “Autumn in New York.”
On Saturday evening the 10th, we drove to the UWM area to the handsome Plymouth Church for the winter concert of the Cream City Chorus, with whom several of our friends sing. The theme of this concert was "Saturday Night at the Movies," featuring songs from films (or in one case, which should have been in a particular film). The chorus was in very good voice, with only one regrettable incident of detectable off-key-ness. Their new director, Paula Foley Tillen, seems to work well with the group and has improved their "tightness" significantly. This concert had a good sense of fun as well, as they started off with a vocalization of the famous 20th Century Fox fanfare, and introduced each piece with some lead-in dialog from the movie it was from, including, in the case of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow," a complete chorus of "Follow the Yellow Brick Road," done in very creditable Munchkin voices! Highlights, in my opinion, included "Pure Imagination," from "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," and Mozart's "Alleluia from Exultate, Jubilate," which was featured in "Amadeus." Both showed off the chorus's good voices and musicality. In the second half, "Vincent" ("Starry Starry Night'), which wasn't in "Lust for Life," but could've been, was similarly beautiful, and a blended medley of songs from "Music Man," "Lida Rose" and "Will I Ever Tell You?" showed both skill and a sense of fun.

As always, we had a very good time. Their next performances will be a spring themed concert on April 17, also at Plymouth Church, and the Eighth Annual "Gay Cabaret" titled "True Stories" on June 19, 2004 at the Village Church.
On Sunday afternoon, June 15, we went to the Concert given by the Cream City Chorus at the Wauwautosa Presbyterian Church. The chorus has included many local fans, including present members Emory Churness, Megan Schaffer, Hillary Giffen, and Tori Campenni. This concert, entitled "Life Signs--Interpretations of the Heart," was mainly composed of sentimental songs of one sort or another. The church proved a good venue, with acoustics augmented electronically but seamlessly. This concert was accompanied by two signers for the deaf, which we always find adds interest. One, a woman, signed with an exacting style. The other, a man, teneded to have a more expressive, mime-like style. Both were interesting to watch. The Chorus gave very nice renditions of "Sing, Sing, Sing" (more familiar as the Benny Goodman instrumental version), and "Corner of the Sky." Megan schaffer had a very moving solo on a song called "Yearnings," which was new to us. Milwaukee filkers Barb Riedel and Carol Roper provided an orginal arrangement of the Stan Rogers ballad "Lies," which worked out very well. My one criticism of the concert would be that the first half became all slow songs after the first couple, and needed an additional up-tempo piece or two. In the second half, I was pleased to hear "Eres Tu," which I haven't heard in a long time, but disappointed that the Chorus chose to sing the rather lame English translation rather than even one verse in the orginal Spanish, which is much prettier to listen to, even if you don't understand it. "One Tin Soldier" had a very poiniant timeliness again, and it was good to hear "Amazing Grace" taken up close to the good-old revival meeting tempo, rather than the dirge-like speed it tends to be played at. There were many other good pieces in the show, and we enjoyed it all. The Chorus' next show will be its Christmas concert.

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