`Evita,’ a great lake and rich Midwestern culture

I never expected, on my recent vacation getaway to Michigan, to find such a treasure trove of beauty and culture.

Visiting friends in the Saugatuck/Douglas area on the shores of Lake Michigan, I expected quaint towns and gorgeous scenery. Check and check. What I didn’t expect was incredibly good food that even California snobs could embrace (Rye/Journeyman, an organic-local-sustainable pair of sister restaurants in Fennville and Everyday People Café, purveyor of the best seared ahi I’ve ever had, in Douglas), nor did I expect to experience a fantastic concert of early chamber music (Galliard, Bach, Frescolbaldi, Vivaldi, Lanzetti, etc.) – part of the Art for your Ears program of the Chamber Music Festival of Saugatuck.

Also didn’t expect to have such a delicious bloody Mary on the upper deck of the Star of Saugautck, a delightful paddle wheeler that cruises the Kalamazoo River and out into Lake Michigan.

Nor did I expect to enjoy the Mason Street Warehouse’s production of Evita quite so much. We went to a Sunday matinee (packed, I might add) and were treated to a highly polished production with four Equity leads (Cole Burden as Che, Trisha Rapier as Eva, VP Boyle as Migaldi and Tim Shew as Peron) and a cast of locals. The theater is on the intimate side, so to see such a large production up close and personal gave it a whole different feel.

Director/choreographer Kurt Stamm, who is also MSW’s artistic director, adhered fairly closely to the original Hal Prince staging with the two-tiered scaffolding set, and though I had issues with certain one-note acting in some leading roles, there’s no question that they all sang the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice score beautifully. Musical director Jamie Reed found interesting textures in the music and gave it the heft of an orchestra even though she was working with a small band.

Just down the street from the Mason Street Warehouse in the downtown Saugatuck area is an extraordinary gallery (one of the many art galleries in the art-filled area): Amazwi, which means “voices” in Zulu and houses a fantastic collection of African paintings, sculptures, baskets, jewelry and more. Gorgeous stuff and not at all what you see in most of the area galleries.

The Saugatuck/Douglas area is full of small-town charm, but there’s nothing at all small town about the area’s culture.

And no, I did not visit the area just because the New York Times did a recent travel piece on the area, though you should check it out here.

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