Just as my wife, Nancy, and I were about to make plans for a March trip to southern California to visit family, we got a call from our son saying that he was coming to New York City for two weeks to rehearse for a musical on Easter Sunday.
Although we were a little disappointed that we would not get to enjoy the warm California weather, we rescheduled our west coast visit until June. Then we looked to see what entertainment was happening in Meriden and found three entertaining venues.
The first event was the 110th anniversary of Gallery 53 on Colony Street. Gallery 53 was founded in 1907, making it one of the oldest arts associations in Connecticut. Its primary aim was - and is to this day to “make art part of the community” and to “further interest in — and encouragement of — the arts.” This anniversary event featured numerous paintings, photographs, and other gift items for sale. Also, there was a performance by the Gonkus Brothers - a popular local band. Food was a big hit, starting with an array of finger foods, followed by a table of tempting desserts (delectable cupcakes and chocolate treats) that were thoroughly enjoyed by over 100 people in attendance.
This all added up to be a very pleasurable evening in downtown Meriden for a great cause. Kudos to board president Christine Webster and her hard-working volunteers for putting together this special event. The Gallery volunteers have already seen an uptick in local foot traffic and are looking forward to the start of the commuter rail service (just one block away) in May to bring in even more customers.
The next event we went to see was the Maloney High School performance of “Mary Poppins.” This was an outstanding musical enhanced by the lighting, sound, and technology of the new Maloney auditorium. It really had a “Broadway feel.”
The actors and singers were first rate and the dancing was exceptional. Volunteer Barbara Fraser, who ably assists with every production, told me that parents had volunteered to build the truly amazing sets. The team responsible for this magnificent show is to be commended: Brian Cyr, music director (who directed the student pit orchestra); David Pelletier, director of the musical; Ciara Cohen, the show choreographer.
Our community is very fortunate to have a team of professionals supporting such a great cast of students. At the end of the show, just as Mary Poppins flew suspended overhead (with the help of special effects), the audience gave an enthusiastic and well-deserved standing ovation for a memorable performance.
Finally, the last Meriden event we attended was “Pass the Guitar” at the Augusta Curtis Center. This event originated in Connecticut several years ago as a fundraiser for a New London Homeless Hospitality Center and has since spread to other communities.
One of the early originators of the show was Joe Glennon, who was homeless at the time, and benefited from the center’s assistance. Joe, a guitar player and singer, brought together a group of local singers and songwriters for the first fundraising performance in New London. In “Pass the Guitar,” each performer plays and sings using just one guitar, which is then passed to the next performer. The idea caught on and has since spread across Connecticut and Rhode Island.
A trio of music supporters in Meriden put the “Pass the Guitar” show together, a first for Meriden, to benefit the Meriden Soup Kitchen: local musician/songwriter Frank Critelli, Robbie DeRosa (of Homegrown — The Connecticut Music Show on WESU FM), and Lisa Catherine of Concerts for Causes. A total of 18 guitar-playing performers, each singing a single song, passed on Frank Critelli’s guitar to the next musician. This was a very unique and entertaining format - one organizers plan to make an annual Meriden fundraiser. It promises to be another exceptional musical event in our community.
Last weekend we took the train to New York City to visit our son, Matt, who is playing piano in the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” (the show was broadcast live on Easter Sunday). Matt got us tickets for the dress rehearsal and said the show is spectacular with acclaimed artist John Legend in the lead role.
It has been a fun-filled March for us as we thoroughly enjoyed three Meriden events and look forward to the trip to the Big Apple.
In May, with the opening of the New Haven-Hartford commuter rail service, getting to Manhattan from here will be much easier. Can’t wait!
Michael S. Rohde is a former mayor and city councilor of Meriden.