It may be the dead of winter, but music and theater are at their liveliest. The Foothills Piano Festival and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival offer events to brighten your days this month, while rehearsals are underway for CAST’s production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” March 8-11.

An afternoon piano recital by Steinway Artist Margery McDuffie Whatley is planned for Feb. 11 at 3 p.m. in the Performance Center of Mason Hall at Jacksonville State University. Presented by the Foothills Piano Festival, it is free to the public.

Whatley, who teaches at Birmingham-Southern College, and festival coordinator Wendy Freeland are on a mission to make classical music accessible and enjoyable to everyone.

“I have taught most of the pieces I will play,” Whatley said of the selections by well-known composers in her recital. “It will be rewarding to play them.”

Haydn and Liszt are two composers represented in her repertoire. We’ll hear the piano sonata in C major by Haydn and “By the Side of a Spring” by Liszt. These two men were very different in personality and lifestyles. Haydn, who came from humble beginnings, was honored during his lifetime; Franz Liszt became a legend.

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) came to be known as the “Father of the Symphony,” because he wrote the first complete symphony and was nicknamed “Papa” Haydn, because he had a kind, fatherly way with people. His music is usually happy, with musical jokes.

Liszt was contradictory as a man and composer but one of the greatest musicians in his generation. He was both egocentric and humble, spiritual and earthy, according to “Music” by Roger Kamien. Placed before a piano, he became a flamboyant showman, choosing only pieces that would show him off. Two of his well known works are his Hungarian Rhapsodies and his Liebestraum, a collection of love songs.

“They’re all wonderful jewels,” Whatley said. “Chopin’s beautiful singing melody comes out in the two I’ll play, Mendelssohn’s lyricism is there, with fast fingerwork required, Gershwin wrote fascinating jazz harmonies, and Poulenc’s melodies are lush and quirky in places. Then, there’s a fun ending in Rubenstein’s Valse-Caprice in E-flat major after my fingers do some acrobatics on the piano!”

The Foothills Piano Festival’s final concert for the year will be March 29 at 7:30 p.m.

Tuskegee airmen take flight at Alabama Shakespeare Fest

The dramatic production “Fly” by Ricardo Khan and Trey Ellis, currently on stage at Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, can claim a fabulous plot and fabulous acting.

You would expect this in a professional theater such as ASF, but this production is unique. It highlights the history of the famous Tuskegee Airmen, the first black pilots in the U.S. military, with special effects that are memorable while speaking of the pilots’ determination and skill.

Four men face two challenges: victory at home over racial prejudice (they had to fight for racial equality in the military), and victory abroad over the Axis powers in World War II. Their bomber escort missions set an impressive combat record that, hopefully, future generations will learn about.

The most striking special effect in my opinion was the tap griot’s foot music. The griot in this case is an African storyteller and dancer who narrates the story, speaking through his tap dancing — in heavy boots.

Viewers get a sense of the pilots flying higher and higher by the changing clouds and sky through the plane’s windows in the imaginary cockpit.

“Fly” will continue through Feb. 11. Tickets range from $36 to $61. To contact the box office, call 334-271-5326.

Bear Bryant play on stage in Oxford

“Bear Country,” the story of legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant by Alabama Shakespeare Festival, will be presented at Oxford Performing Arts Center on Feb. 10 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 11 at 2 p.m. Bryant will be played by Anniston native Rodney Clark. “Bear Country” will also be at ASF March 9-25.

Hervey Folsom writes about the local arts scene every Sunday. Contact her at