Monday, September 15, 2014

Annie Jr.

This past weekend "Annie Jr." opened at the Chanticleer Community Theater. 
The first scene is set in a New York City orphanage during The Great Depression with many girls and few beds.  When one young girl is having a nightmare, she is comforted by an older girl, Annie whose parents left her there years ago.   Annie realizes that she is not likely to be adopted.   She realizes that life is difficult on the streets, but knows that she will never find her parents unless she looks for them.  She decides to run away.
Annie is portrayed by eleven-year-old Natalie Simons who possesses a strong stage presence as a leading actress with a confident voice singing her way into the hearts of the audience throughout the musical.   This opening act sets the tone for the entire show with the other eleven young actresses acting, singing, and masterfully dancing while delighting the audience.   These talented roommates are Gracie Clark, Zoey Dittmer, Ryan Doner, Kyrstin Holmes, Olivia Kisicki, Maddy Koch, Alicia Leinen. Violet Lotenschtein, Carson Santee, Mackenzie Storey and Ella Walker.
Considering that the entire cast is between the ages of eight and eighteen, the Chanticleer Theater has excelled with training these young stars of the future and uniting their talents in this show.
Other outstanding performers were Zach Schnitker as Daddy Warbucks, Audrey Schnitker as the Star to Be, and unquestionably Hannah Goodrich as Miss Hannigan whose singing voice is amazing.   All three proved to be excellent singers, dancers, and actors.
As Sandy, the dog, Ginger Insolera quickly won the hearts of the audience.
Overall the support crew for this production was outstanding.  With almost fifty performers and a dog on stage, it definitely had to be challenging with all the costumes, hair, make-up besides the set design and constructions, the transitions between scenes, the lighting and the sound were all outstanding. The only criticism would be the floor microphones which sometimes picked up the dance steps rather than the voices.
When Chanticleer began the Jr. musical programs a few years ago, I was skeptical about these shortened versions losing their story line and of course, my favorite musical selections.  Like condensed books, shortened versions sometimes lose the value of the original.  That is not true of this year's Annie Jr. 
For the Chanticleer each year, these productions have improved significantly while promoting the talented youth of our community.   Denise Putnam, Jerry Gray, Rachael Schnitker and all the production crew are phenomenal with development of evolving these children into performers with their annual Chanticleer Children's Theater Summer Workshop.  
This is a family-friendly show for everyone.   The actual production lasts about 1 hour and 15 minutes for the twelve scenes.
Annie Jr. continues through this weekend with showtimes at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night and at 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.  Ticket costs are $ 20 for adullts, $ 16 for seniors, $ 10 for students, and season membership packages for upcoming shows are still available.  To purchase the tickets contact the box office at 712-323-9955 or
Last Friday night's performance proved the success of this program with a full house and a standing ovation and not just from family members.   Get there early to find the best parking and theater seats.
Annie Jr. is a delightful performance for everyone in the family besides having a wonderful time listening to wonderful singers, actors, and dancers with an optimistic outlook on life.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Lewis Man

The Lewis Man
Peter May
New York, Ner York
ISBN: 978-1-62365-829-9
$ 21.94
368 pages

"When you are young a year is a big part of your life and seems to last for ever.  When you are old, there have been too many of them gone before and they pass all too fast.  We move so slowly away from birth, and rush so quickly to death."

The Isle of Lewis is the largest and northermost island of the Outer Hebrides off the northwestern coast of Scotland.   During the harvest season when the peat fom the bogs is actually cut to be used for heating during the long harsh winters, a body is discovered.  

Being mummified, the first reaction is to bring in archaeologists to date the body.  Peat is an unusual substance in that it stops the body from decaying while preserving it.   The facial features of the dead man are clear enough for others to notice a resemblance to local families. The medical examiner notices multiple stab wounds concluding that death was caused by the victim's throat being cut. Could this have been a human sacrifice from ages ago?

On closer examination, a tattoo is discovered on the victim's arm.   Looking carefully, the tattoo is of Elvis.  Immediately law enforcement realizes that this murder happened in the last fifty years.  How do you identify the owner of the body from fifty years ago?   How do you bring the killer to justice?

Fin McLeod has left behind his life as a detective inspector and is returning to the island to restore his parents' derelict croft and hoping to reconnect with a former love who he believes was the love of his life.   He didn't plan to be involved with this investigation.

DNA reveals that the mummified body is a close relative of his former love's father who is living his final years in the throes of dementia at a retiremens home.  Quickly Fin learns that her father is not the man whose name he has used for fifty years.  Why?  What is the old man hiding?  Who is he?  Could this old man be a killer?  What does he know about the dead man?  How do you discover his secrets?

The Lewis Man is an enthralling novel with a different approach for a mystery.  The movement is slow at first while introducing the characters and their relationships.   Incorporating a background of the isolated and desolate everyday life on Lewis fifty-some years ago brings to light the problems of the time period.  With the Catholic/Protestant conflicts, orphaned children, as well as the problems of the simplistic and constant working of the fields and the bogs these island inhabitants led a hard life.

This book is a reprint of the original published in 2011 and is part of a three book set  The Lewis Trilogy all by Peter May.  The Lewis Man is actually the second novel in this series following The Black House and concluding with The Chessman.   Attached to the trilogy is another photo book also by Peter May entitled Hebrides.

Author Peter May is an award-winning journalist currently residing in France.   He has been the screenwriter for three prime-time British drama series as well as numerous television programs.   He has over fifteen published novels including additional series The Enzo Files and The China Thrillers.   He is the only western author who is an honorary member of the Chinese Crime Writers' Association and has won the Barry and the Crime Thriller Hound Award.

Dark, depressing are both perfect descriptors of The Lewis Man. However, this is unquestionably a superbly written novel which slowly draws the reader into the story in a masterfully creative manner while viewing just a glimpse of a past life in the Outer Hebrides.  

I definitely plan to read the other novels in this trilogy as well as Peter May's other masterpieces.