Underneath the commercial frenzy of the holiday season, a series of music and dramatic performances by the young people of our area have quietly proceeded.
Last weekend, the three ensembles that make up the San Juan Symphony Youth Orchestra staged twin winter concerts in Durango and Bayfield. Merely Actletes, the young actors program sponsored by Merely Players, presented an intelligent and moving adaptation of a great American play: Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.”
All of this youthful exuberance and dedication might pass us by, yet two more unusual events are underway, one at the Durango Arts Center and the other next week at Fort Lewis College.
The musical version of Dr. Seuss’ books, “Seussical Jr.” opened Thursday at Durango Arts Center. It will run through mid-December, with two matinees. Staged by the DAC Youth Performing Arts Program, the company consists of students from grades three through 10, and promises to be an extravaganza following in the footsteps of such wonders as “Annie” with its youthful FDR and minions of New Yorkers.
At 6:30 p.m. Dec. 13, in Roshong Recital Hall at Fort Lewis College, a baker’s dozen of student musicians will perform in recital. As a group, they are the recipients of last year’s scholarship competition. And they will be performing to congratulate the 2019 winners. Sponsored by Bank of Colorado, the event has moved from the bank to the recital hall at the college for this winter’s festivities.
You’ll hear some Bach, some Irish tunes and an arrangement of “Jingle Bells” from “The Peanuts Christmas Carol Collection.”
“It’s an hourlong program,” said Sean Mallow, MiTM education coordinator. “This year’s scholarship winners will be given certificates, and some of last year’s winners will perform. The scholarships help defray the cost of private music lessons.”
The sleeper of the season may have been the Merely Players/Merely Actletes production of “Our Town,” Staged in the Common Room of Animas High School on U.S. Highway 160, the one-hour program celebrated family life and small-town America. Director Jason Lythgoe adapted the American classic, smartly reducing a full-length, two-and-a-half-hour drama into 60 minutes.
The story of Grover’s Corners and the two families, the Gibbs and the Webbs, intertwine as children grow up, marry and face adversity. The play presents a God’s-eye view of life in 20th-century America.
When “Our town” premiered in 1938, The Washington Post called it “a miracle of simplicity, clarity and power. It is all as homely, as vital, as impressive and as inspiring as life stripped to its essential can be made by a writer of deep understanding and great human compassion. ‘Our Town’ is more than a great play; it is an uplifting and memorable experience in the theater.”
Lythgoe and his players brought a relaxed, natural tone to the drama, with the excellent Julian Zastrocky as the stage manager. He introduced the audience to the town by describing its people and places, relying on the audience’s imagination. Simple stage props, chairs, tables and two window frames created communal and family spaces.
Lythgoe allowed one important scene to breathe – the crucial time when childhood friendship turns into adult love. George Gibbs (the wonderfully intent Aiden Hurley) and his neighbor Emily Webb (the winning Rio Edmondson) discovered and expressed their mutual commitment to each other in one of the finest scenes in American literature. Kudos to everyone in the cast and crew for a fine performance and memorable evening.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.