‘Tintypes’ is picture perfect

Last weekend’s performances of “Tintypes” at Mount Desert Island High School once again displayed the extraordinary talent of our local teenagers on and off stage and in the orchestra pit.

We all have been impressed by MDI High’s incredible half-hour show choir performances. Imagine that kind effort – the nonstop singing, dance movements and musical accompaniment – quadrupled in length and complexity.

That, essentially, is what “Tintypes” is – an unimaginably intricate presentation of more than 50 songs and dances woven together by historical highlights from the turn of the 20th century and WWI.

That these kids managed to put together such a wonderful performance is truly worth celebrating.

Directors Frank Bachman and Bronwyn Kortge seem to be the exceptions to the rule that as we get older it’s harder to hold a lot of new stuff in our heads. This show was originally designed for a cast of five. While that would have been impressive, this dynamic duo also had chorus numbers to choreograph, crowd scenes to manage, giant tableaux to stage and 25 plus voices to organize into solos, sextets and a seamless whole, again and again and again. And what’s more, they added video projections to enhance the set with vintage tintype images, old moving picture reels and advertising posters. Without a firm grasp of the individual parts and the whole picture, this show could have been a train wreck. Instead, it is a safe and entertaining journey through time. Wow, just wow!

Despite the large cast, Bachman still manages to maintain the ensemble feel of the show by giving us intimate little moments – a delightful Fred and Ginger-style song and dance with the excellent Lucas Wood as Teddy Roosevelt and Mary Paola as Emma Goldman. Paola is a little slip with a giant voice and stage presence. Then there’s a spine tingling “America the Beautiful” that starts as a single voice and swells into a chorale before fizzing off into a fun “Mama’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin’ Bread.”

Other performances include a barber shop octet; Meghan McDunnah (who looks exactly like a 19th century beauty) singing the bluesy “Jonah Man;” Abby Kelley blasting her torchy “Nobody” to the back of the theater and beyond; Tarzan Munson, another belter, singing “I Want what I Want; and “Thistle Swann as the diva Anna Held sweetly warbling about kisses and marriage until her lover, Flo Ziegfeld, cheats on her, then joins the rousing female chorus of “50/50.”

A standing ovation for Marilee Marchese’s exquisite costumes, especially the women’s costumes, the most beautiful of which is arguably Held’s shimmering Alice-blue gown. The girls are all so stunning that one wonders why chignons, mutton chop sleeves and bertha collars ever went out of fashion.

Anyone who has seen Mary Ellen Sharp’s terrific performance in the YouTube video “All about the Books” must have been waiting for her moment in the spotlight. Well, we weren’t disappointed. In the second act, she not only delivers a gutsy “Bill Bailey,” a couple of minutes later she’s accompanying a small ensemble on the cello!

Griffin Graves wanders throughout this whole two decades of history in song, dance and occasional burst of political diatribe, appearing first as a recent émigré, then a factory worker, automobile owner, soldier, etc. Happily, he occasionally breaks into song, most notably “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and the hilarious “Teddy da Roose.”

And here we must give praise to the techies in the lighting booth – Emilia Cullen, Christina Closson and Grey Burkart – who created one of the show’s most impressive special effects: Graves moving about the stage taking photographs of various tableaux. Every time he snaps a shot, all the street lamps (excellent lighting features as well) dim, which has the exact same effect as a flash. Again, wow!

More “wows” are well earned by Rebecca Edmondson’s pit orchestra that also performed nonstop (except for a short intermission) with special kudos to pianist Catherine Ding. She managed a veritable smorgasbord of musical styles from waltz to ragtime with aplomb.

Of course, the whole thing would have been just a concert choir event without David Lamon’s lively choreography, which employed not only dance steps, but foot percussion, perfectly timed hand gestures and rhythmic clapping in what seemed to be wave after wave of unceasing movement that astonishingly never crashed into each another or fell off the stage.

Peter Miller’s handsome multi-tiered set shows us both the city streets and the apartments that rise above, and by way of those photographic projections, the New York Skyline, Statue of Liberty and even the Brooklyn Bridge. The only tiny visual misstep here was fruit stand that has a rather pathetic selection of fruit on display.

Anyone who thinks they might enjoy a truly memorable two hours of terrific song and dance should not miss “Tintypes.”

Show times are Friday, Nov. 21, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 22, at both 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. For photos , click here.


Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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