The Michigan Daily Thursday, April 17, 1986 Page 7
By David Turner
he music department's Theatre
Program is presenting the world
premiere musical A Wonderful Life
this weekend at the Power Center,
generating a lot of excitement among
area theatre watchers. The show is an
adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra
film, It's a Wonderful Life, starring
Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. The
book is by Pulitzer Prize and Tony
Award winner Sheldon Harnick, with
music by Grammy winner Joe
It's a Wonderful Life is a popular
Christmas-time film about a despon-
dent father whose suicide is averted
by his heavenly guardian angel's in
tprvention. The stage version follows
this story in general, but gives it a
whole new perspective in the perfor-
,,This production is directed by
Professor Brent Wagner, who runs
the Musical Theater Program at the
University. Seeing a musical develop
from the ground-up has taught the
cast a lot about the nature of a
musical, as well as being a terrific
opportunity for them to learn more
about the professional world which
they hope to enter.
Joe Raposo is best known for his
music from the Children's Television
Workshop Sesame Street and The
Electric Company, as well as the
seocnd Muppet movie. Sheldon Har-
nick's work has spanned three
decades, and has included FiddlerrOn
The Roof, Fiorello, and many other
works. I spoke to him in New York
yesterday morning about A Wonder-
Daily: Can you give me some
background to this work? It's been a
while since you did a major musical.
Why A Wonderful Life?
Harnick: I have always been very
fond of the movie, and felt that it had a
very moving subject. The belief that
one is a failure. This subject produces
an emotional film and it is emotion
that generates song.
D: It seems to be a trend to make
musicals out of films. Singing in the
Rain and Bob Fosse's Big Deal are
two recent examples. What are the
advantages of this process?
H: I'm not sure if it's really a trend,
but movies are a very extensive sour-
ce of stories. You can see what you're
dealing with before you start, because
the plot already exists. It also means
that there is already an audience for
D : Can you tell me how you met Brent
Wagner and came to be working with
the University Music Department?
H: Brent was teaching at Syracuse
and directed a tribute to my work.
which he invited me to. My wife and
I came up to see it, and I met Brent at
that time. When he moved to Ann Ar-
bor we kept in touch.
D: What's it like working with a
university company, particularly this
one? Have you done it before?
H : One big difference has to do with
timing. These people all carry
academic loads, so instead of working
eight hours a day you're restricted to
evenings and weekends. The rehear-
sal process takes a lot longer.
The dedication of this cast, along
with their talent, is very exciting. I
have done four productions at this level
Two were at quite small schools
where some things were limited. At
the University of Michigan, as I also
found at Northwestern, the wealth of
talent and resources has been mar-
velous. It's really been thrilling.
D: What kind of a process has this
musical been through, from the
writing of the book and music to its
H: In the summer of 1984 we conduc-
ted a two week professional workshop
in New York, and the show was staged
once to an invited audience. After that
we did a rewrite, as will happen again
after this production. The book star-
ted out closer to the film, but as we
rewrite we've been moving away
from it, each scene being different
from the film while following its plot.
We've also done some cutting and
editing with this cast.
One interesting thing is that on a
request from Brent we added some
songs for two roles which were played
by people who had strong voices
which Brent wanted to utilize. These
changes, which were only to be for
this cast, have worked out really well,
so we'll be keeping them.
D: One last question, which a lot of
people around here are wondering
about: What is the future for A Won-
derful Life? Are there people coming
out from New York to see it?
H: There are no definite plans for the
future. I've invited several people out,
but I don't know who's coming. I'll be
in Ann Arbor all weekend, and I just
want to see this musical up and on its
A Wonderful Life promises to
be more than on its feet this
weekend at the Power Center.
Shows are Thursday through
Saturday at 8:00p.m., and Sunday
afternoon at 2:00. Tickets are
going fast, so pick them up quickly
at the League Ticket Office.
.Decoding Society swings high
t. I- -
ELy Rob Michaels
'L"IOOLISH, foolish, all you swingers
F? who spent the hours between
8:00 and 10:30 Tuesday night in front
of the television set watching the
news or behind yer desks with books
and pen in hand. I will now make you
seethe with remorse over missing
Ronald Shannon Jackson and his
rockin,' revamped Decoding Society
performance at the Ark.
The Ann Arbor Saxophone Choir
whet the standing room only crowd's
collective palate with their exciting
and enjoyable four horn performan-
ce. They'll be back at the Ark real
soon and I wouldn't recommend
Few things, however, could have
prepared the crowd for the poly-
thythmic, harmolodic onslaught of
Ronald Shannon Jackson and his
Decoding Society. Concentrating
almost exclusively on new and
unrecorded material, they just let
loose with the big, bad physical beat
and kept Ark patrons begging for
more. Waves and waves of bold and
exuberant rhythm flowed freely from
the stage, constantly building out of
and collapsing into one another. The
Society groove let each player do his
own thing but kept it all remarkably
together, always 'swinging' no matter
how disjointed things seemed on the
surface. The interplay between the
instruments was nothing short of
astounding, creating some sort of
tough as nails fusion (I know that's a
dangerous word, just trust me) of big
band, free jazz and devilishly dissecd-
ted funk. The power and economy with
which the band members played was
so invigorating that you'd never
believe that the group had been
reorganized within the past year.
As leader, Jackson was terrific,
standing up from behind his drum kit
to personably announce each com-
position and make a few friendly
jokes. When he sat down to rock, the
man may as well have used a pair of
tree trunks to pound the skins and
cymbals, seriously hard stuff.
Towards the middle of the set, the
rest of the band cleared the stage and
Jackson played a wild solo inter-
pretation of Wordsworth's "The
Phantom" (as can be heard on his
Pulse album). Accompanied by only
his own incendiary drums, he recited
a snarling and shouting rendition of
the classic verse.
The rest of the Society rocked with
equal passion and enthusiasm. The
experienced Decoders in the horn sec-
tion, Zane Massey (tenor sax) and
Eric Person (alto and soprano sax),
were both brilliant, working as well
together as they did in their blistering
solos. Bassist Reginald Washington, a
newcomer to the band, was also stun-
ning having no difficulty filling the
rhythymic gap left by the two bassists
who left the Society last year. Another
newcomer, ace axeman Cary
DeNigris, also put in a top notch per-
formance, leaving the awesome ghost
of ex-guitarist Vernon Reid to flourish
only on vinyl.
So what more could be said -
cathartic, uplifting, exciting, and
every other inadequate adjective in
ye old reviewer's lexicon. Ronald
Shannon Jackson and the Decoding
Society gave this noxious schoolboy
an hour and a half of raw spiritual
release and there ain't too much more
to ask for.
CONTRA T ULA TION8
1986 COLLEGE GRADUA TES
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UM News in
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CILAJiIf III IF
Continued From Previous Page
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