A Family Concert With a Twist

May 23, 2019

By Marc Shulgold

If you’ve seen the beloved children’s classic Peter and the Wolf performed as a cutesy costumed stage show, you may want to jettison those memories, when you bring the kids to the Colorado Music Festival Family Concert in Chautauqua Auditorium on Sunday, July 7.

The Festival Orchestra and an innovative duo known as Really Inventive Stuff (RIS) will give a fresh coat of paint to Prokofiev’s timeless tale, and to Saint-Saens’ equally popular Carnival of the Animals. RIS is a Maine-based performing troupe led by Michael Boudewyns and Sara Valentine. They’ve delighted young and old audiences for 15 years, offering a different slant on a wide variety of kiddie fare. No animal costumes this time around.

“Sara and I asked ourselves, ‘What’s the most playful way we can perform Peter,” said Boudewyns (pronounced BO-da-win). “We decided to use found things as props, regular household items that people know. Then, we’d do some object manipulation to create the characters in the story.”

Armed with an array of familiar objects, Boudewyns will narrate the familiar tale of a little boy outwitting a dangerous wolf – aided by a host of forest animals. No costumes. Just one man and, well, some surprising stuff.

It sounds odd, but in RIS’s staging of Peter and the Wolf, a feather duster represents the duck, the hunter’s rifle is a bathroom plunger, a black ladies purse becomes the cat and a suitcase is transformed into the nasty wolf. But, how scary can a suitcase be? Just wait till Boudewyns opens it! Nothing to frighten the youngsters, he assured. “No, what makes the wolf scary, I think, is the music.”

Ah yes, the music. Let’s not forget the music. Boudewyns and Valentine have worked hard to keep the spotlight on Prokofiev and Saint-Saens. “We honor the music – what we do is theater with music,” he stressed. “You’re always seeing the orchestra – we don’t take up that much of the stage. I just want to be part of the show, not the whole show. I’m simply in service to (the orchestra) in telling the story.”

The same approach carries into the concert’s opening work, Saint-Saens’ charming survey of the animal kingdom and, let’s not forget, a delightful introduction to the orchestra. Using some of Ogden Nash’s amusing introductory verses, mixed with poems by other hands, Valentine will guide her audience through this colorful score. Joining the CMF Orchestra and conductor Earl Lee will be two illustrious pianists: artist-in-residence Jon Kimura Parker and Canadian pianist/author Coco Ma (who made a big splash on the radio program From the Top).  Valentine will appear, Boudewyns reported, as “a sort of Dame Edna. Her character is named Symphonia d’Quaver.” The haughty, thoroughly British damsel will bring a sense of fun through her outrageous characterization, he promised.

Jon Kimura Parker

The two performers met through a common thread: Both had attended the theater program at the University of Delaware, albeit 10 years apart. “We had done all the classic plays – Shakespeare and the others. When we met, we realized that we wanted to do the same thing, to do family programs.” The duo, joined on occasion by Kimberly Schroeder, has performed all over the country, including break-through engagements with the Philadelphia Orchestra. “That turned out to be a big hit when we appeared with them in 2007,” Boudewyns recalled.

Reaching out is something that Really Inventive Stuff has done ever since. The trio see their role as bringing new audiences to the world of classical music, regardless of age or concert experience. “We see these family concerts as part of a grand musical buffet,”  Boudewyns said. “They’re like appetizers. Our programs are intended to make the orchestra look better, to remind people that it offers a variety of programs.

“Our goal is to have our audiences want to come back (to a symphony concert) and try something else.”

Really Inventive Stuff will perform Peter and the Wolf and Carnival of the Animals with the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra at 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 7 in Chautauqua Auditorium. Information: (303) 440-7666 or coloradomusicfestival.org.

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