Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas on Franklin Avenue

December is always an exciting time of years for me especially since that is one of the few times you hear all the wonderful Christmas music.   At no other time can you hear these wonderful songs of your childhood and our traditions in this country.
Chanticleer Theater held a cabaret show last weekend to help all of us get into the holiday spirit.
As you entered their lobby, the delicious aromas of food and wine immediately awakened the senses while two manikens dressed in Dickensonian costumes met the guests.
The stage was decorated with poinsettias, Christmas tree lights, assorted Christmas-themed mugs and park benches painted red and green while reindeers and with street signs labeled Franklin Avenue for the theater location encircled the stage.
Those participating in this show, Christmas on Franklin Avenue were Terry DeBenedictis, Sheila Mazzei, Denise Putman, Kathy Gray, Sarah Meyers, Tim Daugherty, Glenn Prettyman, Steve Gillespie and Boyd Littrell as the singers.   Jerry Gray was the music director while Cheryl Haines accompanied the group, Dave Podendorf controlled the sound while Bob Putman was in charge of the lighting.
The songs chosen were well-known to the audience.  Most songs had some light choreography while all the singers were dressed in Christmas shirts or colors.   Each singer had their one special song as well as being part of the ensemble.  In the middle of the show, the singers left the stage to sing carols with the audience.
Throughout the night there were many highlights.  Also any live performance can vary from night to night depending on the performers and the audience response.  
The ensemble singing was wonderful with rich and balanced harmonies in all the songs along with a relaxed feeling combining music, light humor, and showmanship as well as all the singers thoroughly enjoying singing with each other on stage.  
Terry DeBenedictis elegantly sang "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" even adding a little sign language.   Performing "Silver Bells", Kathy Gray utilized light humor as well as being masterful with a light-up necklace.   "The Twelve Days After Christmas" was reminiscent to me from singing this song from my high school years.  Glenn Prettyman has a gorgeous voice that is relaxing and reflective of the Big Band Era when there were numerous great singers.  "Carol of the Bells" was a cappella and delightfully musical.   Sarah Meyers sang beautifully Leonard Cohen's "Halleluiah" with appropriate and meaningful Christmas words.  The "Silent Night" arrangement was absolutely breath-taking.  All these songs were expressive and musical with controlled breathing, phrasing and dynamics masterfully used in each song.
These cabarets are wonderful for all ages and would be a relaxing and special date night for the adults.
The evening ended with the wish of peace and goodwill to all men in 2016 which I hope for each of you.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Snowflakes and Teardrops

Snowflakes and Teardrops
B. J. Betts
Five Star Press
Smashwords Edition
Amazon Digital Services
November 2014
154 pages
$ 0.99 Amazon digital

Celina Gray is accustomed to stress while daily working as an emergency room nurse.  Living in Council Bluffs, Iowa during the winter, she knows that the weather changes quickly with the temperature being sixty degrees yesterday.  Today she is driving home in freezing sleet while the inside of the car seems reluctant to provide heat.  This is nothing unusual in this part of the country.
While stopped at a traffic light, she observes two little girls walking to their school.  The older girl is arguing with her younger sister who is claiming to feel sick and wants to go home.  What Celina noticed their legs which were cold and red and wonders about how cold their feet must be in flip-flops.
Celina hears the honk of a horn as the light turns green.  As she turns the corner, another car races through the intersection forcing her to slam on her brakes and fish-tail, cutting a cookie on the icy road.  As she takes a few seconds to refocus and breathe, Celina is startled by a knocking on her car window.  The kind man outside just wants to be certain she was fine. It is reassuring to know there is still some kindness in the world.
All these factors combine into Snowflakes and Teardrops, a Christmas novel by local author, B.J. Betts.
Snowflakes and Teardrops is a warm, fuzzy romantic Christmas story.  Betts' writing is engaging with a logical conclusion that yes, fits the typical romance novel.  Her characters though are becoming more developed in her writing with conflicted situations between right and wrong and more realistic and complicated characters.  Although most of the characters could be classified as good and bad, it is refreshingly realistic to have characters who are victims of circumstances with no hope of change within their lives.   To view life through their eyes is a privilege and unquestionably adds depth to the characters and story.
Council Bluffs' native, B. J. Betts married her high school sweetheart while raising their children.  Previously she has written Saigon Moon and Echoes in the Night which are both set in the Vietnam War and inspired by her grandson who served in Iraq, as well as A Moment in Time, Belle's Crossing, and Mile Marker 59.  She in a member of Romance Writers of America and Romance Authors of the Heartland.
With only 154 pages the story is fairly simple but comforting with a reminder of the warmth of caring during the holiday season.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Mama's Girls

It really wasn't that long ago when life was simpler.  If a family had a boy and a girl, it was expected that the boy would be a miniature version of the father and the daughter, a miniature mother.  There were common hopes and dreams.  The life of the 1960s sitcoms like "Ozzie and Harriet" or "Father Knows Best" was the expectation of the average American family with all problems being easily resolved within a thirty- minute time session, including commercials.
However these television ideals were fictional.  Real life had no role models for many families who were dealing with other issues such as being transsexual.  For the parents, their problems frequently left them feeling isolated with few resources, except possibly a psychiatrist.  For the child experiencing these conflicts and changes, there are not role models in any media to give them advice. For the sibling, supporting your twin, loving your companion since before you were born, fitting into society and fulfilling everyone's needs can be overwhelming. 
The Jacobs' family seems ideal with a mother, father, and twins.   With a boy and a girl, the father, Samuel dreamed of the old song, "A boy for you, a girl for me".   Dreams are not always realistic.
Sammy was named after his father, actually Samuel III.  In reality, she/he prefers to be called Sammy as she sees herself as a female trapped in a male body.  Yes, she is only eleven.  She knows that she is book smart but has absolutely no athletic ability.  She sees that she thinks as a girl and views herself as a girl.
Her sister, Amelia was blessed with the natural athletic abilities of her father.  She enjoys baseball and all sports.   She also is extremely astute to understanding her twin.
Their mother is doing her best to do what is best for her girls.   She believes in both of her children and is working hard to give Sammy the support through the psychiatrist.
"Mama's Girls" was written by Marilynn Barner Anselmi.  Focusing on the eleven-year old twins is fascinating in this engaging play with Hannah-Kate Kinney portraying Amelia Jacobs and Chloe Irwin as Sammy.   These two masterfully educated the audience last weekend at the Snap Theater in Omaha in this entertaining, enthralling and mind-changing play regarding the life as a transsexual child.   The issues with each parent seem extremely realistic with the mother portrayed by Kathleen Lomax being supportive of Sammy, calling her a "she" and the father, Michael Simpson thinking that this whole transsexual thing is just a phase.
"Mama's Girls" is one of the most informative, realistic representative of this changing world where due to ignorance and inexperience, many of us are uncertain how to react to these sexuality issues which are not new, just finally discussed more openly.   This ninety-minute play including intermission is intense, but also allowed the audience to view a different perspective.  The support crew to the family on stage perfectly blended into the background focusing on the issue of Sammy.
Even though this play closed last weekend, this is one play that I personally would feel privileged to see again.   The fast pace, the outstanding acting masterfully controlled by two young actresses, the realism of the parental conflict in dealing with a problem outside the box of family issues, and a play with the courage to reveal the today challenges.