’Tis the season for Christmas shows-- and a great opportunity to support your local theatre artists with not one, but several original pieces premiering in the Great Lakes Bay Region this year! Bay City Players opens theirs this weekend with an original musical play by Bay City’s own Leeds Bird and Kevin Cole, A Carol of the Birds.
Set during the Great Depression, Birds tells the story of Carol Bird, a girl born on Christmas Day and imbued from birth with the holiday’s spirit. The story is partially narrated by her uncle, Jack, and nanny, Maggie, and interweaves the impact of Carol’s life with that of her own family, as well as the neighboring Ruggles family.
The show opens with (what else but) carolers making their way down the side aisles to a chorus of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” Carols play a significant role in this show, as a reminder of the holiday theme as well as a well-executed device for scene transitions. The Carolers also function as set-changers, leaving no dead space as they snappily assist in the shifts from one scene to the next. This inclusion of many musical numbers also gives Bay City Players’ vocal prowess an opportunity to shine brightly on beautiful, well-harmonized tunes.
Supplementing older classics are new numbers penned by Bird and orchestrated by Cole, each of them ear-worms in the best sense of the word. From the heartfelt “The People We Love” to the peppy “Mind Your Manners,” every member of the main cast has his or her moment center stage. Backing the cast, a well-balanced trio of musicians conducted by Cole effortlessly hops from carol to march and back again, enhancing and supplementing the on-stage voices in a manner that consistently elevates the show.
While this is truly an ensemble piece, special recognition must be given to the more youthful cast members of this production. Between sustained scenes of dialogue and musical numbers-- not to mention the dance number (well-choreographed by Kaitlin Brunette) at the top of act two-- this is a complex show. The students involved in this piece more than rose to the occasion, bringing their individual characters to life with their strong choices and voices.
Recognition must also be given to the design team, in particular the costume design by Elizabeth Dewey and Jeanne Townsend, props by Darby and Jerry Gwizdala, and hair and make-up by Judy Harper and Randi Dalton, respectively. The choices made here really brought the era to life, and a near-flawless execution of all the technical elements likewise kept the audience’s attention focused.
The set for this show, designed by Bird, is similarly well-decorated, particularly the beautiful on-stage pillars with their sheet music, and a clever use of rear projection to communicate the current season. While the furniture pieces used did make it clear where each scene was taking place, I personally would have liked to see more use of the different level of playing space the center platform could have afforded. Likewise, I felt clearer differentiation could have been made between years, seasons, and different areas of the Bird home with stronger lighting choices, perhaps by further incorporating different areas, intensities, and colors.
In the end, however, the true measure of a community theatre production’s excellence is the enjoyment of that theatre’s community. It was obvious to me from the gasps, laughter, and applause of my fellow audience members on opening night that this community treasures this show and truly appreciates the heart and effort Bird, Cole, and their cast, crew, and musicians have clearly poured into this production.
A Carol of the Birds runs at Bay City Players November 30th, December 2nd, and December 6th-9th, with Thursday-Saturday shows at 7:30 PM and Sunday shows at 3:00 PM. Tickets are available online or from the box office Monday-Friday, 9am-1pm and during the run of the show: either in person or by phone at 989-893-5555.