The Ferro Pavilion at George Williams College of Aurora University, in Williams Bay, Wis., offers a variety of open-air seating for Music by the Lake audiences. (Music by the Lake photo)

Music by the Lake Offers Fresh & Familiar

This year, the Lake Geneva favorite offers a surprising mix of entertainment, from big band to country and rock ‘n roll.

The Ferro Pavilion at George Williams College of Aurora University, in Williams Bay, Wis., offers a variety of open-air seating for Music by the Lake audiences. (Music by the Lake photo)

This year, Music by the Lake blends elements both old and new, but as always, delivers a season of world-class entertainment.
“We worked very hard on this line-up, and I think we’ve put together an amazing group of performers, each with a singular style and offering a broad appeal for our audience,” says Christine Flasch, executive director.
Opening the 13th season on June 29 is Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band and special guest Ann Hampton Callaway, with Big Band standards and original compositions. Country legend Lee Greenwood is on July 6, followed on July 13 by “Gala of Stars,” a reunion of lead singers and choristers from past musical productions. Next is Laurie Berkner in the Family & Children’s concert, on July 21; Teatro, a men’s quartet from musical theater, on July 27; and The Canadian Brass on Aug. 4. The season ends Aug. 10 with The Doobie Brothers.
The summer music series, presented on the campus of George Williams College of Aurora University in Williams Bay, Wis., began in 1950. During its initial 17-year run, the series hosted the likes of Isaac Stern, John Denver and the New York City Opera, but the series was suspended in 1968, due to rising costs and waning support.
It was revived in 2000, in an outdoor pavilion, with Flasch at the helm. Under her leadership and creative scheduling – and generous support from donors – attendance has grown exponentially, as have the number of performances. In 2008, to accommodate the growth, the current venue, the Ferro Pavilion, replaced the Allyn Pavilion.
“The donor who provided our first venue, Margaret Allyn, passed away in 2012,” Flasch says. “Her daughter and son-in-law requested a big band performance in her memory, so Goodwin’s Big Phat Band kicks things off, with vocalist Ann Hampton Callaway.”
The pairing was Flasch’s idea; bandleader Goodwin, a Grammy-winning composer and musician, had never worked with Callaway, a Chicago native and Music by the Lake favorite. “Once he heard her sing he was very excited to play with her,” says Flasch. “It’s a match made in heaven.”
Country singer Lee Greenwood is scheduled next – appropriately, during the July Fourth weekend. “We’ve never done a country music concert, but people have asked every year, and the timing this season is perfect,” says Flasch. “This is the 30th anniversary of Greenwood’s song, ‘Proud to be an American,’ and we’re thrilled to have him here. We’ll open the evening with an Honor Guard Ceremony.”
Then, replacing the usual operetta or musical is “Gala of Stars: The Reunion,” another Music by the Lake first which, at the same time, harkens to the past by offering a retrospective of previous productions. “After 12 years, I wanted to showcase the talent and music we’ve presented here,” says Flasch. “I contacted every cast member from every show that I could find, and initially, we had 100 who wanted to appear. It’s down to about 65, with 41 leads coming back to reprise their roles. We’re doing it as a staged, musical revue, with no intermission, the songs flowing from one to another. The shortened versions of the big arias from each show, plus a number of hit musical theatre tunes, will all make an appearance.”
The revue can last only 90 minutes, so some songs will be represented by just a chorus or single verse, but Flasch promises an evening of pomp and spectacle. “‘The Triumphal March’ from Aida will bring all performers onto the stage, and then transition into the backstage chorus from Brigadoon,” she says. “We’ll also have music from shows we haven’t done – like Carousel and The Music Man – with coordinated keys and transitions. It will be a musical smorgasbord of delight.”
Music by the Lake alumni are coming in from all over the country, most for little more than accommodations and meals – and “the joy of the music,” Flasch says. “Tracy Koch, the leading lady from the first opera, La Boheme, will be here. She, and several of our former stars are appearing in opera houses across the country. Several have sung in leading European houses, as well as at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. Some have gone on to become national and international stars. Others are sharing their love of music as teachers or artistic directors. I like to think that Music by the Lake had something to do with their career paths. The Gala will be a time of joy; a reflection on where we’ve been and how far we’ve come.”
This year’s Family & Children’s concert performer, Laurie Berkner, was suggested by one of our donors. “She polled all of her grandchildren, ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade, for their opinions, and they not only knew who she was, but all universally love her music,” Flasch says. “Laurie has won awards for her children’s music, and her material is regularly used in schools. She usually appears with the band and doesn’t always accept solo gigs, so we’re very lucky to have her in a solo appearance. We’ve never sold out this concert, but she’s drawing huge crowds – even on the terrace – and broken all records for our children’s programs to date.”
The next group is said to be doing for musical theater what the Three Tenors did for opera. Teatro! is made up of four seasoned leading men – two from the U.S. and two from the U.K. – who sing classic musical theater hits like “Music of the Night,” “I Dreamed a Dream” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” One of the original group members, Jeremiah James, will be joined by Evan Siegal, Forest Vandyke and Michael Cotton, all consummate professionals with amazing voices.
“These four have never worked together before as a quartet, but they’re all used to touring and performing internationally, says Flasch. “They’ve agreed to come out a day early to rehearse, and we’re very excited to bring them here to the Ferro Pavilion for the American debut. It’s going to be a fantastic performance.”
Fresh from a Grammy win, The Canadian Brass are next at Music by the Lake. “This group has been around for 30 years – one of the founding members is from northern Wisconsin – and they’ve been widely imitated by many brass groups today,” Flasch says. “They brought brass quintet music to the forefront, with their trademark high top sneakers, witty repartee and jokes, and a playlist covering everything from Baroque to ‘Hold That Tiger.’ It’s going to be wild and wonderful – lots of fun!”
Wrapping things up, the Pritzker Spotlight Concert presents The Doobie Brothers, rock ‘n’ roll icons whose first album was released in 1971; their first hit, “Black Water,” hit the airwaves in 1974. Before disbanding in 1984, the group recorded nine studio albums and one live album, received six Grammy nominations and three wins, and consistently scored on Billboard’s Top 20, including two No. 1 hits.
Made up of two original members – including “Black Water” vocalist Pat Simmons – and a 25-year veteran of the band, the group will play old favorites as well as selections from their 2010 album, World Gone Crazy. “We always try to end with a rock or pop concert, which are always popular,” says Flasch. “The Doobie Brothers sold out in 10 days. Plenty of Boomers are out there, and we can always count on their support.”
Even before the opening concert, Flasch is working on securing next year’s performers. “We’re within the radius restriction for Ravinia and Milwaukee, but we have to be undaunted and continue to go for bigger and bigger names,” she says. “We’re quickly gaining a reputation among agents on both coasts. We treat our guests very well, and our audience is wonderfully responsive to their performances.
“Standing on the stage, looking out over the audience, our artists see an unbeatable view of the lake – a canopy of trees, the lake, and a gorgeous sunset. What could be better? Once they play here, the performers always want to return.”
Audiences for Music by the Lake can choose from seating on the lawn (bring your own seats); on the uncovered terrace; or under the pavilion, either in dress circle, orchestra or rear orchestra sections. Different season ticket packages, as well as single tickets, are available online at musicbythelake.com, via email to mbtl@aurora.edu, or by phone at (866) 843-5200.