Tuesday, June 5, 2018

110 in the Shade-Theatrical Outfit's Springtime Musical



~Reviewed by Doc Lawrence

Sizzling under a Texas Sky
ATLANTA-Theatrical Outfit concludes its Season of Character with a highly entertaining  musical, 110 in the Shade, a mighty effort with a  spellbinding story and powerful songs, successfully resurrected by director Tom Key from 1963 stage gem. 

Based on the play and later film The Rainmaker, Lizzie a young farm girl, believes she is consigned to spinsterhood, forever stuck on her family’s Texas cattle ranch near a small town parched by unbearable heat and unyielding drought. Never mind that she is attractive. She’s heard a lifetime of cruel remarks about her being ordinary and has lost all self-esteem.

For the romantic imagination, however lack of rain compares to lack of love. Both deficiencies are addressed when Starbuck,  a charming conman, comes to town. For a paltry $100 dollars he promises rain and on a quiet Lone Star night, he changes Lizzie’s opinion of herself and introduces her to the miracle of love. Innocence lost opens the beauty of a Texas flower.

Starbuck uncovers Lizzie's Beauty
Starbuck is destined to be exposed, but the metamorphosis of Lizzie is permanent who suddenly she tells everyone she is beautiful. 

Starbuck, ready to skedaddle to another locale and launch another scheme, isn’t the only man attracted to Lizzie. The local sheriff, File, has long hidden his shine to Lizzie and he isn’t about to let her leave his bailiwick.

Sunken spirits and parched hearts are metaphors of the dry land and insufferable heat. Maybe Starbuck delivers on love and rain. You’ll know at the end of Act II. 
110 is a story about hope, overcoming the pain of loneliness, family bonds, our biological need for dreams realized and the universal forces of joy we experience when love suddenly appears.
A Charming Conman
For two hours, the cast honors the promise of true love with voices in harmony with the universe. The sounds proclaim something everlasting, assuring us that in the depths of despair and self-doubt, there is beauty. Never give up: love is just around the corner. How many of us need a Starbuck in our lives?

S. Renee Clark’s musical direction is flawless. The voices are clear and strong, the musical accompaniment seamless. Under Tom Key’s direction, Ayana Reed as Lizzie and Jeremy Wood as Starbuck join a superlative cast in a meaningful and beautifully told story.

Like blossoming flowers in late spring, 110 in the Shade  is a musical that glows brightly on Theatrical Outfit’s stage, rain or shine.

Tickets: www.theatricaloutfit.org
Photo credits: Christopher Bartleski


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Breath & Imagination-Roland Hayes Comes Home


~Reviewed by Doc Lawrence
Roland Hayes

Georgia native Roland Hayes was once a concert headliner in Europe and American cities like New York and Boston. His story about childhood in Calhoun, Georgia and Chattanooga, Tennessee is in part one of survival and a path to success. Art Station Theatre’s production of Daniel Beaty’s musical play, Breath & Imagination, begins in rural North Georgia where Hayes and his mother, a former slave, struggle after the death of the father. From their humblest beginnings, the song-filled production becomes an interpretive tour de force of a young man’s rise to international acclaim as a classically trained vocal soloist.

What makes this production so compelling is the powerful blend of Hayes mother, “Angel Mo,'” portrayed by Atlanta’s  legendary song stylist/actress Theresa Hightower and a young man with a very bright future, Marcellis Cutler, who, for almost two hours literally becomes Roland Hayes. Ms. Hightower, a poplar fixture on prestigious performance stages throughout the South, joins the electric handsome Cutler in duets worthy of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. The play allows Ms. Hightower to glow as the quintessential African-American mother who will sacrifice flesh and blood for her son, regularly expressing her devotion and measured discipline with the best lines in the show. 

Marcellis Cutler and Theresa Hightower
Born in 1887 near Calhoun, Georgia, Roland Hayes’ parents were struggling tenant farmers on the same plantation where his mother had been a slave. His father, part Native-American, died when Hayes was 11, but told him “to use your breath and imagination and call the birds to you.”  Angel Mo’ moved the family to Chattanooga where young Roland quit school to work in a local iron foundry, suffering a serious injury leaving him unable to do hard labor.

Tragedy opened the door to fame and fortune. Nashville’s Fisk University and the Fisk Jubliee Singers counted Roland Hayes as a student and vocalist. A sensitive but demanding voice instructor, portrayed by Tony Hayes, leads him into the classics while encouraging him to embrace the wonders of his natural African voice. The result is miraculous. Roland Hayes became the first world-renowned, African-American classical singer, who headlined at Carnegie Hall, sang with the Boston Symphony and wowed Europe’s royalty. 

The play opens in 1942 with Roland Hayes, now successful, back in Georgia where he purchased the plantation where his parents worked the fields, and embarked on a worthy mission to establish a musical conservatory for students of all races. His wife and daughter were arrested for sitting in a “white’s only” section of a Rome, Georgia shoe store resulting in a beating of a protesting Hayes by a local Sheriff. Roland Hayes reflects back on his life, sharing his life’s story with us, while asking if it was safe for his family and students to continue to live and work under the evil potential of violent racism.

He spent the next 50 years living in Boston. The brooding, omnipresent sting of slavery and racism claimed more innocent victims.

Marcellis Cutler as Roland Hayes fulfills a destiny surely ordained by the universal powers of acting and singing. Look for this fast-rising star in many productions soon. 

Theresa Hightower is simply lovable as Angel Mo’ providing emotional connections ranging from good humor to despair. Her singing voice, authentic in every way possible, is perfect, helping to tell a story that needed telling. 

Through June 10.
Tickets: www.artstation.org; (770) 469.1105

NOTES:
Roland Hayes recordings can be found on Amazon, YouTube and The Smithsonian.
“The Life of Christ.” 1954
“Negro Spirituals.” 1955
“The Art of Roland Hayes.” 1990
There are remembrances of Roland Hayes today in Calhoun, Georgia and the University of Tennessee/Chattanooga. His daughter, Africa, lives in Boston.












Friday, May 11, 2018

Angel From Alabama


Mother's Day 2018

“My latest sun is sinking fast, my race is nearly run
My strongest trials now are past, my triumph has begun
Oh, come angel band come and around me stand
Oh bear me away on your snow white wings to my immortal home.”

                             “Angel Band”-Emmylou Harris

By Doc Lawrence

Mothers are precious. I miss this wonderful woman, her laughter, her favorite songs and her Southern dinner table, particularly Sunday after church and on holidays. What a spread: fried chicken, meat loaf (we always had two meats), creamed corn, fried okra, congealed salad, whatever greens were in season, pole beans, field peas, macaroni and cheese and choices of desert ranging from coconut layer cake to peach cobbler. I still believe she made her lemon meringue pie just for me and to this day I've not had a dessert that could come close to matching its dazzling array of flavors and gently browned meringue.

The memories of those days together may be a little faded, but, in the words of one of her favorite hymns, "how they linger, ever near me, and the sacred past unfolds."

A child of the Depression and World War II, my mother represented the finest of the Deep South. Although she never said it, her role model had to be Scarlett O’Hara. Survival and accomplishment were embodied in a beautiful woman who faced fate squarely and despite unconscionable losses along the way including the death of her youngest child, moved forward to face life relentlessly. 

Her name was Carrie and true to the good manners of her time, she was addressed with respect as “Miss Carrie.” Cruel poverty denied her much formal education, but she loved to read and found time to read bedtime stories to me before I was in kindergarten. Saturdays were library days. Books, newspapers and magazines have been vital, enriching parts of my daily living thanks to her. Names like Celestine Sibley, Margaret Ann Barnes, Catherine Marshall, Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell were on the dust covers of her books.

She departed this world before my first book was published, but she is the reason it happened.

She enjoyed working, earning some extra cash to keep her three children a little ahead with occasional extras. While I was a skinny teenager, she worked in the record shop at Rich’s, a legendary department store in Atlanta. She brought home promotional sample records, and I was introduced to then obscure names like Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson, Bo Diddly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Patsy Cline and Elvis. A new world of rhythm and harmony opened and I became a rocker, playing and singing with a good band in college. No one ever introduced me to the majestic music of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Screaming' Jay Hawkins or John Lee Hooker. Their music was played loud and clear on those 45's Mom supplied regularly. 

I have never been happier.

It's possible that my mother attended all of Elvis’ concerts in Atlanta. One morning during the Dog Days of August, she called and informed me of his death. I still remember the sharp pain in her voice. 

A devoted Atlanta Braves fan, it was understood that she would never die during baseball season. Her time on earth ended during the December holidays while her beloved Braves were on vacation.

Like Emmylou Harris, Zelda Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, Helen Keller, Tallulah Bankhead and Truman Capote’s Aunt Sook, Mom was an Alabama girl. Born and raised in Sulphur Springs in the northeast corner of the state, Lookout Mountain forms a spectacular backdrop. I always thought it would be a wonderful place for a child.

I’ll visit her grave early Sunday morning to place roses. As the Georgia sun peeks through the pines, sometimes the air stirs a little. During moments of great peace, I listen carefully for the flutter of angel wings. 


Friday, May 4, 2018

Dinner With Mr. Jefferson

~Doc Lawrence

Dare 2 Pair Guests at the Stillwell House
STONE MOUNTAIN, GA- Jenny Hall, esteemed food columnist and kitchen magician, was in rare form on the evening inaugural of Dare 2 Pair, the intimate food and wine program with a bright future. A celebration of the food and wines inspired by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello included modern interpretaions of the third president’s dishes served alongside wines of the world ranging from Germany and France to Oregon and Georgia and many points in between.

It was planned to be just the way Jefferson entertained family, friends, dignitaries and often adversaries. Nothing builds bridges of understanding like a great dinner made from local ingredients served with wines chosen and poured with care. 

That spirit of openness and conviviality is an important part of Dare 2 Pair. Strangers become friends, neighbors have an opportunity to reach out to others, someone who loves fine dining and superb wines enjoyed in a vibrant environment but doesn’t care to dine alone, finds comfort and joy in our setting.

“No rules,” we all agreed. 

The 1820's Stillwell House
The 1820’s Stillwell House was perfect for the affair. A country inn, actually a highly regarded B&B, it is owned and managed by Mary and Ralph Stowall, whose restoration has been true to original materials and design. Located in Stone Mountain Historic Village, guests could feel the abundance of history, mirroring the menu crafted just for the occasion. 

Culinary Wizard Jenny Hall
Each dish, beginning with amuse-bouche to appetizer, soup, entree and dessert was prepared by über-gourmet Jenny Hall who interpreted some of the best recipes served by Jefferson at Monticello. Likewise, wines were numerous and greatly varied, another bit of Jefferson tradition. Unlike most restaurant wine dinners, pours were generous, beginning with the Champagne welcome, and wines from France, Germany, Australia, Oregon, California and Georgia were matched with dinner delights. Palates responded with joy.

Nothing was stilted or rigidly scripted. Guests enjoyed Jefferson lore ranging from his love of  Monticello’s garden products and his burning vision to establish America as a world leader in wine production. 

Champagne was Perrier-Joet and Veuve Clicquot, both NV Brut. Jenny’s Parmesan Wafers demanded ample flutes of quality bubbly.
The double-barreled appetizer was Jefferson Vermicelli and Cheese Pie accompanied by homemade Tomato Chutney along with Cream of Asparagus Soup with Jenny’s spectacular Cornbread triangles. Wines were King Estate Pinot Gris from the heralded Oregon winemaker and Georgia’s version of a French varietal, a terrific Petit , a wonderful white wine from heralded Tiger Mountain Vineyards in Rabun County.

Mary Stowell, sitting at the head of the banquet table observed, “you have to be here to really taste the magic in these combinations.”

The special recipe cornbread and soup accompanied by Pinot Gris became a reminder of the universality of wine represents. A New World wine based on an Old World grape interpreted through a food prism that harkened to a feast in early Virginia.

The main course featured another original, Chicken Orloff with Mushroom Rice Soubise Au Gratin, Green Pea Salad and glorious Petite Biscuits. This wide range of flavors and mysterious spices called for more than one wine. Indeed, the goal of Dare 2 Pair is to broaden the dining experience, never hesitating to offer multiple choices, recognizing that palates and preferences are designed by the universe to welcome variety. Gevrey-Chambertin, the red Burgundy favorite of Napoleon Bonaparte was poured in tandem with a magnificent 2015 Oregon Pinot Noir from King Estate.

It wasn’t a Waterloo moment-both were magncifcent-but it became a talking point, a matter of enlightenment for those who enjoy the lore of good wine. Legend has it that Bonaparte, on the eve of Waterloo, had one bottle too many of his favorite red wine, became sick in the saddle as the battle began and fell off his horse.

Our King Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir more than held its own as a well-balanced wonder of soft tannins and pleasant acicity. Guests ranked it equal to the French counterpart in both style and taste. 

No one fell on the floor.

Syrah from North Carolina’s esteemed RagApple Lassie, was also served with the entree. Each sip stimulated colloquy about this grape’s journey through the ages, which legend has it coming from the middle east and extending into France perhaps by the Romans and America through Jefferson’s influences. 

Adhering to the principle of no rules, a rare Red Slate Riesling from Germany’s Mosel proved refreshing and, like the fabulously accommodating Norton from Tiger Mountain, did not last long.

A pièce de résistance? Imagine a dessert with ingredients linked historically to a Monticello feast. The Fresh Walnut Fig Cake with  Browned Wildflower Honey Ice Cream served with chilled glasses of Mead, from Blue Haven Bee Company had to be fashioned by divine forces. The elixir of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable, Mead, another Georgia product, blended seamlessly with Jenny’s closing masterpiece. A late harvest Sticky Fingers Chardonnay, Australia and Sandeman Tawny Port from Portugal eased the affair to a gentle conclusion.

One item was missing from every dish. “No gluten!” Jenny announced.

The Stillwell House sits on a hill overlooking much of Stone Mountain and is a short walk from the entrance to Georgia’s most popular park which attracts over six million visitors annually. The area is a wildlife refuge with songbirds, wild geese, deer and rabbits sharing space with people. History abounds with several Native American trails, a monument near where General Sherman’s Civil War “March to the Sea,” began and the lovely village is populated with granite buildings that have an ancient feel.

Stillwell is “country comfortable,” beautifully furnished, with amenities comparable to the best in Asheville other popular getaways. 

The Stillwell House will soon be featured on The Gourmet Highway, a popular segment in Marilyn Ball’s hit show, “Speaking of Travel,” on iHeart Radio Network. 

Upcoming Dare 2 Pair dinners have more that a few provocative themes. Let your mind ponder “Biblical Wines, Modern Cuisine.” Big plans are in the works including appearances on TV news and shows.

For information about attending or gift certificates, contact Virginia Hall: vhallmusic@bellsouth.net or Doc Lawrence: doclawrence@mindspring.com

Down South Today along with The Gourmet Highway and Dare 2 Pair enthusiastically recommends the Stillwell House for quality lodging while visiting the Atlanta region. You’ll make new friends, eat well and enjoy the best of the South. Contact them: @stillwellhouseBB

Saturday, April 7, 2018

An Evening With Patsy Cline-Reviewed


~Doc Lawrence

I actually saw Patsy Cline when she was already established as a top recording artist with the success of “Walking After Midnight.” She had that indefinable catch in her voice that somehow suggested that a tear was magically embedded. The news of her death at age 30 in 1963 still resonates. I never met her but like millions throughout the world, I always felt that we would have been friends. Patsy had that rare intimate gift for connecting her heartstrings with an audience.

Michelle Martin shines in “An Evening with Patsy Cline,” the current stage production at Art Station Theatre. Backed by a flawless band and singing into a microphone decorated with WSM and the Grand ‘Ol Opry brands, the very talented singer and Gainesville, Georgia native performed a full playlist of Patsy’s almost countless hits. 

We learned that Patsy came close to not recording Willie Nelson’s brilliant “Crazy,” only to change her mind, record it with the unforgettable piano accompaniment of Floyd Cramer and backing by the Jordanairres and watch it soar on country and popular music charts to become an American music standard.

The songs performed on this night beside towering Stone Mountain included Bob Wills’ “Faded Love,” and “San Antonio Rose,” an interpretation of Hank Williams’ mega-hit, “Lovesick Blues,” a heart-wrenching “She’s Got You,” and after a few dozen more, the finale, “Sweet Dreams.” I joined many others in wiping away tears.

Many performances of Patsy Cline musicals are enjoyed in myriad venues including “Always Patsy.” Art Station, through the creative genius of David Thomas and Patrick Hutchison presented Ms. Martin’s interpretations with clever lines-most of the songs began with a directive to play in a particular key, a nod to Patsy’s appreciation of perfection. Showcasing Patsy’s Appalachian accent confirmed a cultural connection to Maybelle Carter, Loretta Lynn and June Carter Cash.


Michelle Martin as Patsy with the Hoss Band
Michelle Martin’s vast vocal range is both a natural gift and the result of professional training including her education at Florida State University’s renowned School of Music. Patsy could growl at will, giving a little lift to a song. So can Ms. Martin who for almost two hours brought Patsy back to life on this wonderful stage. It was like a night on Nashville's Music Row at the Ryman Auditorium.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Dare 2 Pair-A Champagne Debut


~Doc Lawrence

The Distinguished "Cast" for the Dare2Pair Debut
It was a dress rehearsal with no script, costumes or tickets. Dare 2 Pair opened an ambitious food and wine program for select guests at Stone Mountain’s Historic Wells-Brown House and made some history. The aperitif was seemingly endless pours of expensive French Champagne in crystal flutes. Pairing all the bubbly with Virginia’s Hall’s spectacular amuse-bouche, a feather-light filo pastry wrapped around smoked salmon and caviar, harkened to days when elegance was the norm.

Dare 2 Pair, explained Ms. Hall, a popular food columnist and legendary cook and caterer, is “designed to be bold. Through this program, fresh local food and distinctive food styles are enjoyed with wines of the world. There are no rules beyond common sense. If our diverse wine choices taste great with the food, then we will serve them freely and let our diners arrive at their own opinion.”

Guests were greeted at the door by a staturesque butler offering Champagne. After relaxation in the antique furnished parlor, everyone took their seats in the dining room to begin a full evening of fine wine and gourmet dining adventures.

Virginia Hall’s kitchen wizardry and presentation skills would be the envy of many top Atlanta chefs. Her first course, blue cheese covered grapes and beautifully designed cheese flowers were followed by a stunning roasted red pepper soup with pesto rugulah. Approprite red and white wines were poured with Champagne always nearby.

The main course, an elegant tenderloin of pork,  was accompanied by Ms. Hall’s homemade plum port chutney, served alongside vinaigrette marinated Brussels sprouts and flaky Sweet Potato biscuits garnished with Honeysuckle honey. 

Still Wines served during dinner were Cynthiana, made with the grape of the Cherokee, from Three Sisters Vineyard in Dahlonega, Georgia, a food-friendly Chenin Blanc from California’s renowned  Dry Creek Vineyard, a Burgundian style Pinot Noir, produced by Oregon’s legendary King Estate. North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley was represented by a spectacular Viognier by RagApple Lassie Vineyards. Two Riesling’s from heralded Dr. Loosen received approval from those who had not experienced the dry, delicious expressions.

The evening’s piece de resistance, to no one’s surprise, was the heavenly Flourless Chocolate Cake with Creme Anglaise and fresh raspberries. This merited nothing less than a regal Port and two exquisite ones were poured, Dry Comal Creek from Texas and a Tawny Port, produced in Portugal by Sandeman.

Happy guests departed after observing that the dinner was a flawless example of haute cuisine and asking when the next dinner was scheduled?

Virginia's Piece de Resistance
Dare 2 Pair soon begins a regular season with an ongoing series of elegant wine dinners following the same format of Champagne, exceptional wines from the four corners, all enjoyed with Virginia Hall’s kitchen culinary magic. The next event is “Dinner with Thomas Jefferson.” Use your imagination.

“We are limiting the number of guests,” Ms. Hall said, “to keep this intimate and more participatory. An evening with our food and wine would make a valuable and very original gift any time of the year.”

Dare 2 Pair is dedicated to the vision of Champagne legend Lilly Bollinger. When to drink Champagne? Madame Bollinger’s response:

“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad.
Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. 
When I have company I consider it obligatory. 
I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. 
Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” 
                                     
Information and registration, Contact Virginia Hall: vhallmusic@bellsouth.net


The Wells-Brown House (circa 19th Century) is the headquarters of the highly respected Stone Mountain Historical Society and is located in Stone Mountain Village a few blocks from Stone Mountain Park which annually atttracts millions of visitors from thoughout the world. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Side by Side-Charity Basketball in Decatur


~Doc Lawrence

Volunteers Andrea Redmond (L) & Sheila Hortman

 They played a remarkable basketball game a few days ago on court located on the campus of Decatur High School, just down the street from the restaurants, taverns and shops along the beautiful Courthouse Square in this remarkable Renaissance city. One team was made mostly of health care workers, lawyers and others like your neighbors. Pitted against The Harlem Wizards, a modern counterpart of the fabled Harlem Globetrotters, they had no chance even before tip-off. But, those in wheelchairs, on crutches and needing assistance to even view the event won big.

Event supporter Kevin Panter with Olivia Thomason









This was a game for them and the thousands at home who suffer from brain injuries. Side by Side is their charity, dedicated to caregiving when insurance and government are unable. “Every dollar raised at this event,” according though Cindi Johnson, Side by Side’s executive director, “helps our members with brain injuries get the support long after medical care is finished but challenges remain.” The charity, she said, “offers a pathway to self-sufficiency for those whose lives were forever changed when their brains were damaged in a car crash, a construction job accident a random act of gun violence or even a stroke.”

Hope is embedded in this program with a goal of having a better family life, making new friends, living a productive life and being able to work again. Participants come to Side by Side’s Clubhouse in Stone Mountain Village to learn how to manage their challenges so they can be productive, contributing family and community members.

With more than 70 sponsors aligned with the support from the thousands of volunteer hours by members of  the Stone Mountain Woman’s Club and the Lilburn Woman’s Club, teamed with the community volunteers who planned and hosted the event, the results were commendable. 8 cents of every dollar raised goes directly to Side by Side’s scholarship fund, providing financial assistance to participate in programming to rebuild their lives after a devastating brain injury.

Goodness manifests in many forms. On this late winer evening on the campus of a heralded public high school, deep in a city lauded as a model of quality living with a widely admired diverse population, the fruits of the efforts by Side by Side were apparent. Laughter, friendly competition and camaraderie combined to produce benefits for a charity whose successful work was apparant on the countless smiling faces in the grandstands. 


Interested in joining, voluntering or sponsoring? www.sidebysideclubhouse.org