Centre Singers presents 'Brews and Bach'

December 01, 2003|JENNIFER BRUMMETT

Editor's Note: "Brews and Bach: An Evening in a Leipzig Coffehouse" will be performed at 6:30 p.m. Friday and 5:30 p.m. Saturday. General admission is $28. Seniors can attend for $22, while children under 12 can attend for $18. For tickets, call 859-236-4692.

German shops are the settings for this year's holiday feast at Centre College, titled "Brews and Bach: An Evening in a Leipzig Coffeehouse."

Set in 1740, "Brews and Bach" features an exotic Turk, some mimers, J.S. Bach and members of his family, and other guests in Leipzig, a provincial center in eastern Germany. The musical play focuses on two neighboring Leipzig shops, one a coffeehouse and one a pastry shop, whose two owners have been estranged for years. Music is interspersed throughout the story.

The "brews" of the event's title refer to coffee, not beer, says music director Barbara Hall.

Hall says 1740 was when Bach was at his height. It also was the height of the High Baroque period.


"He moved (to Leipzig) in 1723," she notes, adding Leipzig has one of the biggest Christmas markets in Europe. "Leipzig was a major music center and intellectual center."

She says the play is "saturated with music," although it is not a musical.

"But very close to that," Hall notes.

It contains three scenes, with instrumental music, vocal solos, men's voices and women's voices, she adds. The majority of the ensemble is Centre Singers, the presenting organization.

"There's music by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and even older German musicians," she explains. "And we've included 'Stille Nacht,' my only bending to the sentimental."

The music around 1740 could be grouped into three styles, Hall explains: traditional Christmas songs, such as "O Tannenbaum" and "Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine"; chorale-style - Bach was a devout Lutheran, she says; and concert music, such as Vivaldi's "Gloria."

"We're doing two things from (Handel's) 'Messiah' as well as a large piece from a Bach cantata," Hall says.

The actors all will be in period costume, and the music is appropriate to the 18th-century period in which it is set. The play was penned by Danville writer Patsi Trollinger, who Hall commissioned last year to write the holiday feast play. (See story about Trollinger and her writings in Monday's newspaper.)

Director David Flora, a senior at Centre, says the cast includes about 10 or 15. Leigh Spencer Brown, another senior, is the lighting and set designer for "Brews and Bach."

"There are quite a few characters who come in and out," he notes.

Flora, a drama and music double major, says directing "Brews and Bach" was the "closest bridge between drama and music. There have been some challenges, such as space.

"We were going to have it at Cowan, but there were conflicts, so we moved to Grant (Hall) 502," he explains, adding the event starts in the Norton Center for the Arts foyer. "We're in the studio room, which is used for dance and acting, and we're trying to turn it into a thrust stage. There will be tables interspersed."

Adds Hall, "(The venue) will have the intimacy of a coffeehouse and pastry shop."

Seating is available for between 70 and 80 at each of the three performances, Hall notes.

Flora says achieving continuity has been a challenge has well.

"Getting people together, and getting their lines, with them not being drama kids," he explains. "But they're pretty well disciplined.

"The hard thing is that they're not drama kids and they're not used to that type of work."

But he's allowed the Centre Singers to flex their creative muscles and bring back ideas to him, based on research they have done.

Hall says doing this musical play is different from drama in the style, pacing and expectations.

"Drama is more loose," Flora adds.

Says Hall, "And in music you're judging what happens with the tightness of sound."

Flora says he just wants the actors to tell their stories, and their tellings should draw in audience members.

"It's so different from other things you find," he explains. "There's no dinner theater near the college (open year-round), and this is a meal with courses and entertainment."

The meal, catered by Toy Box Deli, includes hot cider, German potato salad, stuffed beef roll, green beans, red cabbage, assorted breads, and traditional German holiday cookies. (See story about the menu in Wednesday's Seasonings section.)

Hall agrees potential audience members will find "Brews and Bach" entertaining.

"It's always an effort to give historical authenticity," she notes. "This is not just fluff entertainment, although this is a good story."

She adds she encourages attendees to come in costume.

Costume recommendations she gives: No hoops for ladies, but rather full skirts, often with empire waists, and, of course, corsets. Men wore knee pants, wigs and heels. Appropriate colors include red and gold.

"But this is not a royal setting," Hall emphasizes. "This is middle class, an educated class."

And that aspect of "Brews and Bach" marks a change for the holiday feasts Centre Singers put on every other year.

"Most of the other themes have been quite royal," Hall explains, adding this year's event is the eighth or ninth for Centre Singers.

"This one is a good one for children to come to. It's not social criticism, and it certainly is appropriate for children.

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