Portraits, paintings, poetry, songs unite

Hommel and Doyle bring illustrated concert to Box Factory

Posted: Thursday, August 20, 2015 6:00 am

By JEREMY D. BONFIGLIO - Sight & Sound Editor

ST. JOSEPH - As soon as they started arriving Elizabeth Doyle knew this was her chance. Doyle and fellow Chicago cabaret singer Claudia Hommel had sent a request to Berrien Artists Guild members to submit images that would inform their program at the Box Factory for the Arts.

"As you might suspect, several people submitted paintings of flowers," Doyle says by phone from Chicago. "There's a song I always wanted to learn called 'Someone's Been Sending Me Flowers.' It's a well-known comedy number whose lyrics were written by Sheldon Harnick who also wrote 'Fiddler on the Roof.' I had a chance to work with him in New York and I have been wanting to do more of work, and this was the perfect opportunity."

"Someone's Been Sending Me Flowers," and some of the projected images that inspired Doyle to sing it, will be among the works featured Saturday during "Vocal Canvas: Hear the Painting, See the Song" at the Box Factory.

The concert features a program of songs performed by Doyle and Hommel, accompanied by pianist George Lepauw, and cellist Greg Ladewski, that were inspired by artwork and poetry of local artists. In some cases, such as "Someone's Been Sending Me Flowers," the vocalists matched works with existing songs in their repertoire. In other cases, Doyle and Hommel wrote music specifically for pieces submitted by the artists. Images that inspired the song choices will be projected on a screen during the performance.

This is the second time that Doyle and Hommel have performed a program inspired by Box Factory artists. The program builds on their first illustrated concert, "Portraits & Landscapes," held at the venue in 2013.

"We've been doing illustrated concerts for a number of years generally in conjunction with exhibits in museums," Hommel says. "But two years ago at the Box Factory was the first time we started to work with images provided to us by the artists themselves. It's portraits and paintings and poetry and song coming together. Each time we do it, it's quite unique. This year the themes seem to be the lighthouse and the beach in St. Joseph and that's kind of a delicious coming together."

Doyle and Hommel met as founding members of Chicago Cabaret Professionals, where both singers have carved out their own distinctive careers. Hommel is best known for her interpretations of American standards, as well as her cabaret concerts that celebrate the French cultural capital of Paris. Doyle originally established herself at Chicago's famed Pump Room before branching out as the creator, performer and musical director of many shows on Chicago's cabaret and theater circuit. She plays a standing gig every Friday night at Barba Yianni in Chicago's Lincoln Square.

The two singers bonded over their mutual love of French culture, music and poetry, and paired up top present illustrated concerts tied to exhibits of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Detroit Institute of Arts. That's when they discovered combining artwork and music was a potent multimedia cocktail. Adding poetry to the mix has only added another dimension to the program.

"I took one poem about the St. Joseph lighthouse and set the words into a bit of an art song," Doyle says. "There's another poem that Claudia is going to read that I've written a piece for piano and cello that will be played underneath, and another I'm going to improvise a 12-bar-blues piece to."

Other program highlight include the theme to "The Triplets of Belleville," inspired by Jan Sonneman's portrait of three women, and Stephen Sondheim's "Girls of Summer," thanks to a series of Tim MacDonald beach paintings. "It's an early Stephen Sondheim song that I didn't know, but Tim MacDonald's paintings made it absolutely essential," Hommel says. "What makes this concert so special is that there's more specificity to St. Joseph so we get to celebrate that in a very specific way. That's the beauty of these concerts."

Contact: [email protected], 932-0364, Twitter: @HPBonfiglio