Article by Greg Cutler
Photos by Jon Bauer
I am writing this review while the event is still going on (June 23, 2017). My overall review is that you should definitely go see it! (June 30 and July 1, 2017)
First of all, I’m impressed with how many people got dressed up in period costume for this event. Well done. I don’t have 1800’s clothes, but I wore a tuxedo with a long coat and a nice black and white striped tie. You don’t have to get up in your getup, but it was nice that there were many people who did. I will admit, that now, I want an 1800’s outfit for sure. [Historical Emporium]
I have a car and I drove myself to the event. Traffic getting from San Francisco to Alameda was minimal. It took me 35 minutes. There is a HUGE parking lot right in front of the tent. You will see the tent. It is also huge.
The location is not the greatest. I think if it had been in Golden Gate Park or something a little less influenced by the 20th century, it may have leant more to the illusion. Those Naval airstrips were not there in the 1800’s. They are old, but they’re not that old. The old saloon outside is a nice touch. If they had come out to serve us drinks in it, that would have been superb. I’m sure that is because of liquor laws or some other city ordinance. I sat on a chair on the porch when I arrived and talked to some very nice guests. Everyone was in the mood to see an interesting show, that is not in dispute. The anticipation was palpable. We had no idea what to expect. I actually expected it to suck. Boy, was I wrong!
The tent is impressive. I have no idea how tall it is, but it is tall. There is a whole world inside. Around the inner walls are art galleries with fantastic painting and photography for sale. There are little seating areas where one may lounge. The bar is located back there as well. Clockwise from the entrance was a platform with a bandstand, the stage, and a building with doors along the top floor that made up the brothel known as The Soiled Dove.
The first band, Cosa Nostra, plays on the stage until people get their drinks from the bar in the back and get settled into their seats. You can choose to sit anywhere and the servers help you find a good spot. The servers are also the performers and they are all in character.
The next band, Jazz Mafia is phenomenal. I appreciate good jazz and those guys are tight as a tick. And I mean that in a good way. If you believe Jelly Roll Morton who is quoted as the inventor of Jazz in 1902, the periodness is sort of weird at first, but you get over it. The original score to the entire show lends itself to jazz and jazz is related to Dixieland and Dixieland is related to Ragtime and Ragtime was definitely a thing during the Gold Rush, so let’s let it slide for the sake of a really entertaining and rollicking good time. The Lady Gaga, Bad Romance cover was very Westworld-esc. I’m not sure, but I think I was actually craving some actual ragtime. A creative interpretation of the Entertainer might not have hurt. The keyboardist could definitely handle that.
The circus-type acts in the show are like watching America’s Got Talent on Steroids, with a San Francisco Gold Rush theme IN San Francisco. Sorry, Simon. Maybe if you see AGT in person, it makes all the difference. At The Soiled Dove, watching someone fall from 100 feet above your head, end-over-end, suspended only by a piece of fabric is much more impressive in person than it is watching it on TV in the comfort of your living room. If they go “splat”, they will do it live in front of you. And they perform all around you. They are not just on the stage. They are on the sides and suspended in the air. Events take place at the bar behind you. Cowboy Girl the sharpshooter deserves a special mention, as do all the people she shot at (or at balloons that were in close proximity).
If I had not been sitting at the table, I would have missed out on the meal. And oh, what a meal it was. I’m a carnivore, so I had the beef. Emma Nation (get it?) comes out and describes each course in the dinner is not joking around when she describes how they must have cooked that meat for a very long time, because it was delicious. The salad and desert were excellent as well. Work of Art catering did an amazing job.
Monarch did an excellent job of keeping bar. At these types of events, the bar is pretty crucial. The drinks are pre-mixed by the bar and they are all fantastic. I sampled a few. They have beer too, of which I did not partake.
I won’t go into too much detail on the acts. I already talked about the band; phenomenal. The acrobats were amazing. The synchronicity between the dancers, acrobats, and aerialists was perfection itself. The strength, poise, grace, beauty, musicality, and shear athleticism of the aerialists and dancers was a sight to behold; male or female. As they spun above my head, the aerialists looked like they were having the time of their lives and it was infectious. They looked as if they would sprout wings and fly right out of the tent.
I would not want to mess with any of the women on that stage. They are strong!
Oh, and Mz. K. That’s all I gotta say. You have to go see her for yourself to know what I’m talking about.
The costumes are incredible. And there are so many costumes! If you like period costumes, that alone is a reason to go see The Soiled Dove. The sets are also amazing, solid, and accurate to the period.
The actors are always in character. Both Happy Jack (the first main character) and Vegas Trip (the main EmCee) do an excellent job of narrating and keeping the story moving along. Happy Jack is apparently based on a historical figure from the Barbary Coast; Happy Jack Harrington. Pretty much everything that happens to him in the show happened in real life, so pay attention.
All of the actors’ banter (written and improvised) was on constant display. The show is also musical and the actors can also sing. Every little micro-interaction (and they are going on all around, all the time) is captivating. So much fun to watch!
With any live performance, something always goes wrong. Katy Stephan’s microphone didn’t work at first, but the excellent crew resolved it in a matter of minutes and she carried on. I will say that Katy’s piano could have been mic’ed. It was a little hard to hear. Ahhh… Mz. K.
Speaking of Mz K, I was curious how, in this day and age, they would handle the debauchery. There was nothing weird or awkward about any of it. The people performing are beautiful (as I have already said), but they are real. They are right there in front of you. You can talk to them. If you want to eat or drink, you HAVE to talk to them. They are not objects. And they are talented. So the audience expressed such a high level of respect toward the performers that obliterated any weird creepy feelings that may otherwise have been exhibited. It was fun! Go see it!
A household with seven children is going to be a household filled with love, laughter, and—well—ear-splitting noise. Just ask Michelina Tyrie. When the Spokane, Washington resident was raising her brood of six daughters and one son, she learned to accept and even appreciate the noise level, especially as her children grew and joined their mother—an accomplished pianist, teacher, and accompanist, in the passionate pursuit of music and performance.
But there’s another sound in the score of Michelina’s life, and it’s a sound that has remained constant for more than fifty years: the music of the Steinway & Sons grand piano she purchased in 1961, when she was just twenty-one years old. It’s quite an instrument: a 1923 Mahogany Louis XV Model A grand with a tone she describes simply as “brilliant.”
Michelina has made her living with this piano. She taught on it, performed on it, composed on it, and loved it. She even used it as a tool to soothe her children when they were small; oldest daughter Sheila remembers falling asleep with her head on her mother’s foot as it smoothly, rhythmically rocked up and down on the Steinway’s sustain pedal. The story of Michelina and her Steinway grand piano is a story of love, endurance, memory, and the two ties that have proven more binding than any others: family and music.
Though barely out of her teens, Michelina was building quite a reputation as a talented pianist when she first met the instrument that was to be her closest companion for the next five decades. At nineteen, as a student at the Chicago Conservatory of Music, she competed in a contest and won the opportunity to perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall. Two years later, finding herself with more and more opportunities to perform, teach, and accompany, she decided it was time to purchase “a proper piano.”
It happened fast. Michelina went with her father to a piano store in downtown Chicago. When she performed for the shop owner, a man she affectionately recalls as “Mr. Panini,” his response was stunned admiration. “A pianist like this,” he proclaimed to Michelina’s father, “needs a piano made of gold.” As luck would have it, something even better was in the shop that day: the Louis XV Model A. Michelina bought it on the spot—at age twenty-one—and since that time she’s cherished it as the cornerstone of a long career in music and as one of her family’s most treasured heirlooms.
Michelina graduated from the Conservatory in 1963. She and her first husband, fellow Conservatory alumnus Edward McCarthy, soon opened the Court School of Music, teaching piano and voice in Wisconsin. Between 1964 and 1975, the couple had seven children: Brian, Sheila, Colleen, Candace, Dawn, Bridget, and Leslie. Three became professional musicians: Brian McCarthy (pianist), Sheila Bosco (percussionist/experimental artist), and Dawn McCarthy (singer and songwriter). In 1981, Michelina earned a Master’s Degree in Music at Eastern Washington University. Six years later, she married Rich Tyrie, and the couple now lives in Spokane, Washington.
For more than five decades, Michelina has risen every morning to practice at her Steinway piano, and the talent and skill she developed through the years has kept her busy indeed: she has continually worked as a freelance musician teaching piano, performing, and accompanying a diverse range of musical groups. Today, Michelina is a church organist/pianist as well as the accompanist for the German Concordia Choir of Spokane. She takes special pleasure in performing at retirement homes, marveling at the power music has to awaken long-dormant memories and associations in the seniors who listen to her play. She also enjoys performing in an annual Christmas show at Spokane’s historic Paulsen Building on a Steinway grand piano provided by Steinway Piano Gallery of Spokane.
One of the things Michelina is most proud of, regarding her Steinway piano, is the impact it had on her seven children. She taught all of her kids to play piano, even continuing the tradition today with daughter Sheila via long-distance Skype lessons. Another daughter, Dawn McCarthy, is now a well-known folk musician and creator of the band Faun Fables, whose 2004 album features a song called “A Mother and Her Piano.”
“It’s about Mom and her Steinway, and the power, strength, and autonomy it gave her,” Dawn said. And indeed, the lyrics tell the story most powerfully: “Within the songs, she planned our flight / I’ll never forget that she rode us on her back / to a new life / Mother and a piano.”
All of Michelina’s children, in fact, have memories of “Mom and her Steinway.” Daughter Bridget remembers playing under the piano as a small child while her mother practiced. “We would pretend the piano was a space ship, taking us on adventures. Sometimes as part of our game, my mother would play very dramatic or scary music. It was like having your own soundtrack!”
Brian McCarthy, Michelina’s first born and only son, said his mother’s ability to shape her children’s lives with her Steinway started even before her first baby was born. “My mother always said that she wasn’t surprised I like Beethoven, because she was practicing Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto while she was pregnant with me.” He smiles at the memory. “So, I’ve been listening to my mom play her piano since before I was born—and you know what? I still enjoy hearing her play to this day.”
For her own part, Michelina remains as passionate about her Steinway piano as she was the day she first saw it in that Chicago music store. “It’s brilliant,” she says. And she repeats it for good measure. “It’s absolutely brilliant—in terms of tone, sound, appearance, everything. That’s the best way I can describe it. Every time I play on another piano at a venue or performance hall, I have to stop myself from saying to everyone, ‘Well, this is nice, but really you should see my piano.’” She laughs. “I spoiled myself by buying my Steinway so young and keeping it so long. Now nothing else will do.”