Friday, October 18, 2002

Harmony In Our Lives

Stephen Peithman is not a music teacher. He doesn't play a musical instrument or lead a band, so he is a little confused about why he is being given the "Harmony in Our Lives" award at this year's Davis Music Benefit show on November 3. "I'm delighted," he says, "but it never occurred to me that this would be something that I would win."

However, when one examines Steve's life, especially his life in Davis over the last thirty years, one can see that his whole life is "harmony"--musical experiences, musical interactions, musical contributions, musical colleagues, all blend together into the harmony that is Stephen Peithman's life.

The son of a physics professor and a university librarian, Steve grew up in Humboldt, surrounded by music, from the classical music and show music his parents enjoyed, to a grammar school that encouraged and nurtured students' interest in music. "Everyone was encouraged to be in the band. If you didn't have enough money for an instrument one was loaned to you. I think that's really important. You learn and appreciation of music and you learn about the fun of music."

Steve played the trumpet, but his strength was singing. "We sang all the time when I was in school." In the 8th grade, he played the Major General in a production of "Pirates of Penzance," (a role he reprised at Humboldt State), a foreshadowing of his involvement with the Davis Comic Opera Co. years later.

Armed with a degree in English and French, and backed by a promise by his father to pay for any graduate school he wanted to attend, if he would complete his undergraduate work at Humboldt State ("I was a faculty brat"), Stephen headed to France, where he spent his first graduate year in Aix en Province, after which he completed his graduate work in journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Through the influence of his high school music teacher, he interviewed with the editor of Sunset magazine and ended up on the staff of the garden department, where he spent his time "thinking of new ways of writing about worms and snails." (His experiment with snail races still stands out as one of his favorite projects!) But while he enjoyed the job, he did want to get a PhD in American Literature, so he gave up the position and came to UC Davis ("It seemed like a good place.")

He completed his degree in 3-1/2 years "...and it was a real joy." While at UCD he performed with the ASUCD musical theatre, where he first worked with Harry Johnson and Alan Stambusky. "Harry Johnson directed a production of "Sweet Charity" with Lenore Heinson (then Turner) as Charity and Alan Stambusky directed "Man of La Mancha"--I played the villain in that one."

It was the beginning of Stephen's thirty-year involvement in and influence on music in Davis. "In May or June of 1973 I saw an item in the Davis Enterprise that there was a new group starting up, and it didn't have a name yet. It was the Davis Comic Opera Co. and I did the first show that summer in Wyatt Pavillion." Steve would go on to perform in and direct many shows, as well as serve on DCOC's board.

By now he had finished his PhD and found a job with San Francisco Magazine, but it was music that drew him back to Davis. DCOC founder Bob Cello recommended him as editor of the now-defunct quasi-independent publication "The Spectator." "It's interesting that all these things have come through at various times rather miraculously, but oftentimes I think it's through the network and people you know."

Stephen has had his finger in a number of musical pies in and around Davis for the past twenty years. In addition to helping to found the Davis Comic Opera Company, he has directed musical comedies for over 25 years for other groups in the region, including the Woodland Opera House and the Davis Players. He is also editor of the national community theatre magazine, "Stage Directions" and hosts his own weekly musical program, "Musical Stages" on public radio KXPR. ("Musical Stages," highlighting one or more recordings of stage productions, the famous and the flops, is a natural for someone who has "well over 1,000 recordings" of musicals in his own personal collection.)

However, perhaps his most visible involvement for the past eleven years has been the Citizens Who Care benefit musical program, highlighting various American composers. "That's been one of the great joys of recent years. And the cause is so great. But just working with that group of people." Stephen has worked with former Harmony in Our Lives recipient Martha Dickman at organizing the program, and his narration and anecdotes about the spotlighted composer have been the glue that have held the show together.

"Davis really is a wonderful community and very collaborative, very cooperative," Stephen says. "I think that's one reason why I've enjoyed living here and don't really want to live anywhere else. It's that community that I've really appreciated. I guess if there is music in my life it's been for lots of reasons, but it's been mostly because of other people, beginning with my parents. Maybe I had a natural interest and maybe an aptitude, but you have to have encouragement, which goes back to music in the schools. I had such a good experience when I was growing up."

"The joy of making music--that's the key. People need to be exposed to it, even if they don't become singers or instrumentalists, they can understand the fun and I suppose the dedication of the people who do that stuff," he states.

Stephen has been making music all of his life, his voice and his talents blending together with those of others to make beautiful harmony.

There will be two benefit performances of the 14th Harmony in Our lives, with proceeds benefitting the Davis School Arts Foundation to support music education in all Davis Schools. Sunday November 3, 2002 at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. at the Veterans' Memorial Theatre. The 1 p.m. show will feature the North Davis Elementary school chorus, the Emerson Junior high chorus, the Davis high concert choir and treble chorus, and the West Valley chorale (barbershoppers). The 3:30 p.m. show will feature the Marguerite Montgomery elementary school kindergarten chorus, the St. James school choir, the Holmes Junior High chorus, the Davis high madrigals and jazz choir and the West Valley chorale. Tickets are $10 adults, $5 students (or both shows for $12 adults and $7 children). Tickets are available at Carousel Stationery, 2nd and F Standard score, and at the performance.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

Seussical, the Musical

Every one of our children liked Seuss books a lot
Then I heard of a musical--This would be hot!
Horton, the Grinch, silly Mayzie, the Cat
The Community Center was where it was at.

(apologies to Dr. Seuss and grammar buffs everywhere!)

Seussical the Musical, the Tony award nominee by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty and Eric Idle,  is one of those shows that you just wanna like.  It has the irrepressible Cathy Rigby in the title role, for starters.  It is running cute TV promos.  It has a high-energy cast, outstanding technical effects, and it's all a loving tribute to one of the most beloved of children's authors.

What's not to like?

Why did I come away with reservations?

I expected to find a lot more children in the audience.  There were children, but they didn't seem to be excited.  Many looked sleepy.  At intermission, I asked the little girl sitting next to me how she liked the show and she replied "It's all right." 

"It's all right" seems to describe the show to a T.  It's neither a children's show, nor an adult show, though it has elements of both.  There isn't enough "character appeal" and it may be too wordy for younger children to be enthusiastic about, though there is enough activity to hold their attention.

Still there is much to enjoy in this traveling production.  Starting with some 32 different musical numbers, in varying musical styles ("Cats" meets "The Lion King"), none of which is particularly memorable, with the exception of the opening "Oh the Thinks You Can Think."

Some of the special effects are pretty spectacular--lighting designer Howell Binkley gets star billing for this one, as does "director of flying," Paul Rubin.  A bathroom scene, which morphs into McElligot's Pool, is simply outstanding and will take your breath away.

Likewise the costumes of David Woolard perfectly capture the essence of Dr. Seuss, especially at the Circus McGurkus.  (One bird girl wears an amazing feathered jacket that was quite an eye-catcher.) 

Rigby, as The Cat in the Hat, is darling.  She has sparkle to burn and her interactions with the audience were wonderful, going into the house to interview children, conduct an auction, or spray the crowd with silly string.  She's at her best, however, in the flying stunts which are nothing short of spectacular, thanks to Zex Flying Illusions.  It helps to have a gymnast in this role and Rigby pulls out all the stops.

Richard Miron, as JoJo (he alternates with Drake English) was the perfect young boy to be both entertained by the story, and become a part of it as the son of the mayor of Whoville (Don Stitt) and his wife (Amy Griffin).

"The story didn't interfere with the plot," as there was no real plot per se, but the evening wove together several familiar Seuss stories, which blended quite well.  Mostly it centered around the noble Horton, the elephant (an earnest and steadfast portrayal by Eric Leviton), first in his discovery of the microscopic Whos on their dust-speck planet and his quest to save them, and then in his protection of the egg left in his care by the lazy Mayzie LaBird (Gaelen Gilliland).  Horton, the heart of the show,  is aided in his endeavors by the lovelorn Gertrude McFuzz (Garrett Long), who wants a spectacular tail--and gets it.

Natasha Yvette Williams was outstanding as the Sour Kangaroo (with an ingenious costume for her young offspring), though her character didn't add much to the story line and her musical numbers were quite a departure from the rest. 

Other familiar and beloved Seuss characters also make appearances such as the Grinch (Richard Rowan), Yertle the Tertle (Brian Mathis).

There's no denying that this is an entertaining evening of theatre, with moments of glitz and moments of charm.  But the whole is lacking a certain "something."    Several people around us  left at intermission, and the Sacramento audience, which generally leaps to its feet at the curtain call of just about anything, sat and politely clapped through all the bows until Ms. Rigby came on at the very end.  Everyone who stayed to the end had enjoyed the show--they just weren't wildly enthusiastic about it.

Stars:  3

Performances run through October 14 at  8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, at 2 p.m. on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sunday and at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 6