ELLSWORTH — Once again, Mount Desert Island High School’s Show Choir has demonstrated that they are in a class by themselves.
The latest outstanding performance came at the annual District VI Vocal Jazz Festival, last Friday at Ellsworth High School. All four MDI choirs and Trenton will go on to the finals, four with top ratings from the judges.
While the other two competing high schools, Ellsworth and Sumner, delivered sterling performances, earning high praise and I ratings from the judges, MDI’s superbly surreal medley of songs ranging from Tchaikovsky to Jefferson Airplane is, once again, absolutely stunning.
Titled “The Spirit of My Silence,” it began with Eric Whitacres haunting choral piece “Dream” with the choir, looking like dream characters, outfitted by Marilee Marchese in black, turquoise and lavender, with matching shaggy, rather Seussian wigs. Huddled together center stage, they moved just enough as they sang the poetic lyrics to resemble a single breathing, sleeping organism.
This all morphed seamlessly into a dark, throbbing piece sung without words. At first, the tune was unrecognizable, but like a face distorted by a fun house mirror, it suddenly revealed itself as “The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies” from “The Nutcracker.” But instead of a light, airy celesta carrying the expected tinkling melody, a Pentatonix arrangement employed booming drum beats and deep, dirge-like notes.
In another seamless transition, the choir then launched into the driving and often provocatively discordant “Requiem for a Dream,” Lucas Wood provided the keening top notes here. But it was Don Grieco and Mary Paola’s choreography that articulated the dark theme of the piece with the dancer’s bodies rather than words.
This in turn gave way to the trippy “White Rabbit,” with Paola interpreting the iconic Grace Slick lyrics like a true ‘60s acid rock star.
As usual, this district entry was short, but it was glorious and left the audience wanting more. More is what the audience will get. For the final performance, director Bronwyn Kortge has promised another seven minutes, five songs and several solos by March 31 when they hold their annual show choir extravaganza at the MDI High gym.
Starting this year, in addition to their written comments, judges Heidi Corliss and George Redman critiqued each performance immediately afterwards – in some cases conducting mini-workshops to demonstrate their suggestions for improvement. There was little critique, however, for the MDI choir and much praise from Corliss, who admired their vocal and physical strength, their excellent breathing technique and the terrific backstage orchestra, which never overwhelmed the singers.
When she did ask them to perform a passage, it was not to suggest improvements, but to show the audience and other performers how it should be done.
“Holy power, Batman!” was Judge Redman’s comment after hearing the Conners Emerson School show choir’s performance.
These remarkable youngsters outfitted in fetching prom dresses and singing songs from the 1940s through the ‘60s couldn’t have been cuter and more fun to hear singing such oldies but goodies as “It’s my Party,” “Lipstick on Your Collar,” “Lollipop,” “Mr. Sandman” and “Peppermint Twist” as if they had grown up listening to these songs.
Rachel Leonard, who opened with Leslie Gore’s big hit, had the perfect teenybopper inflection to her voice – actually a bit more reminiscent of Brenda Lee than Gore. And even the delightful quartet of Molly Collins, Sadie Sullivan, Maddie Buzzell and Kylie Higgins singing the Andrew’s Sisters “Mr. Sandman” sounded like what the GIs must have heard on their radios during WWII. And Chubby Checker would’ve cheered tiny powerhouse Lilly James’ delivery of his “Peppermint Twist.”
The dancing was right on target as well, and apparently the kids designed most of the choreography themselves with guidance from director Rebecca Edmondson and Flannery Dillon.
Also fun to watch and hear was the Pemetic show choir’s performance of Brazil inspired music.
Two of the outstanding soloists were boys – Quentin Pileggi and Axel Eschholz, and once again, little Caroline Musson stole the show with her powerful delivery of “Telling the World.”
In a close contest for most adorable performance, with Ellsworth Middle School’s delightful Lion King, was Trenton Middle School’s Trentones mash-up of music from “Annie” and “Newsies.” Director and choreographer Mary de Koning is another miracle worker, getting such a full sound and fully committed performance from her cute cast of ragamuffins. She had them singing softly and plaintively in the wistful “Maybe” then shaking the rafters with their voices and stamping feet in “Hard Knock Life.” They even performed a nice little tap routine for “Kings of New York.”
The high school’s Trojan Trebs choir was likely disappointed with their two rating, but they shouldn’t be. Their performance of a medley of songs and dances was fine. Because it is not a familiar show, directors Ned Ferm and Joseph Dupuis need to somehow let the audience know, in the program perhaps, that the story they are telling is the Greek myth of Persephone. That information would have helped us (and the judges) understand the choice of songs and that the lovely dance moves choreographed by Caitlin Schroeder and Samantha Luck represented a battle between the earth and the underworld.
The finals will be held April 1 and 2 in Millinocket.