Michaels presents “A Song for Harmonica

Laura Streyle

“Some things are just better expressed without words,” said Patrice Michaels as she shared a hug with apprentice and musical companion, Dario LaPoma.
As the Lawrence Conservatory’s professor of opera theater and studio voice, Michaels has made a fulfilling career out of using musical expression to communicate these “things” that call for more than words to say.
In this case, Michaels was referring to how a friendly hug was more suitable to accurately express her gratitude and appreciation for LaPoma’s “sunny personality” and creativity that made working with him on her 1988 musical, “A Song for Harmonica,” so rewarding.
While working as a community resource artist in Alberta, Canada, Michaels decided to present “A Song for Harmonica” as a way to engage youth in the areas of musical theater composition and performance.
The show made its 2009 Appleton debut this past weekend, with two free performances. The 50-minute interactive program, created especially for kids in kindergarten through sixth grade, showed at 4:30 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Saturday in Harper Hall.
Harmonica is an 8-year-old girl who desperately wants to become a guardian angel, because guardian angels get their own pair of beautiful, white wings. Michaels portrays Harmonica as a second-grader sized puppet who wears blue overalls, along with pink and purple boots.
In order to become a guardian angel, Harmonica must help a cranky old opera composer, named Maestro, played by 21-year-old LaPoma, find his long-lost inspiration to compose. Determined to succeed, Harmonica takes the audience on a voyage through opera history in search of something to restore Maestro’s musical inspiration.
On their cue, two attentive volunteers from the audience would run up on the stage and pull back the purple curtain of the proscenium. Michaels would then emerge as Mozart’s Papagino, Handel’s Cleopatra, or some other intriguing opera character. Each member of the audience became a part of the orchestra that accompanied Michaels’ beautiful singing.
Looking out into the audience, it was a delight to see a young girl with pigtails playing her air-violin part, while a few seats down, a man with white hair played his air-trumpet.
When the performers were asked how they were able to engage the audience as successfully as they did, in a later interview, Michaels responded, “I think Maya Angelou said it right when she said, ‘you have to bring everything you have to every interaction you have in your life.'” Michaels and LaPoma brought all of their energy and talent to the stage, and were thus able to effectively relate to the audience.
After their journey through musical history, Maestro thinks he has not succeeded in finding inspiration, since he still cannot compose songs like the ones he heard during the musical voyage. However, Maestro finally becomes inspired to write when he cannot put into words how good it makes him feel to have Harmonica believe in him.
As the audience joined in singing the song that Maestro needed to compose in order to proclaim his happiness, it became clear that some things are just better expressed with music.