Excellent “A Christmas Story, the musical” – tour (review) November 20, 2011Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Broadway Tour, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
Tags: A Christmas Story the musical
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Thoroughly surprising, superbly entertaining, and exquisitely designed, A Christmas Story, the musical makes a two week stop at the Fisher Theater in Detroit. And the show is awesome fun. Don’t hesitate and get tickets now before they are gobbled up over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend…
Like the best adaptations, the musical doesn’t just mimic the movie (although the requisite lines and scenes are all there) but expands on it and adds its own layer of musical theater storytelling. With book by Joseph Robinette and Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, it moves swiftly along through its many (23) scenes, and its smoothly and creatively directed by John Rando and choreographed by Warren Carlyle.
Everything looks great on Walt Spangler’s set (halfway through the show, you’ll find yourself wondering where all that stuff fits backstage) and its dressed lovingly in Elizabeth Hope Clancy’s costumes. Set both in 1975 and 1940, the production flows effortlessly between the two eras. Gene Weygandt plays Jean Shepherd narrating a Christmas Eve radio show, with his sidekick foley artist (sound effects) Nick Gaswirth. But it doesn’t stay there — throughout the production Gene/Jean joins the action in the 40′s story that he is narrating, and its an effect that works well throughout the production.
The entire cast is strong (and how thrilling to see so many University of Michigan Musical Theater program alumni involved with this show –from music and lyrics to actors….unless I missed I few, I counted 8 of them)…and adults and kids fare equally well. At my performance, Carl Kimbrough performed Ralphie. I am going back later this week to see Clarke Hallum in the part (yes, I loved the show that much). Rachel Bay Jones creates an excellent mother in a role expanded from the movie, and John Bolton delivers a mesmerizing performance as the father — in a part in which he practically channels the spirit of Paul Lynde in a superb outing. The many kids in the show act, dance (and tap!) their way through many sequences and songs and don’t miss a beat keeping up with the adults in all the fun.
The sole misstep in the production comes at the end, when the clever, ironic, and nod-nod-wink-wink cleverness suddenly dissolves into a couple minutes of holiday-cheer and family-dreck. It’s not off-putting, but it puts a damper on what has come before. Thankfully, it’s followed by a clever and funny curtain call that sends you out of the theater humming. Yes, really. The show has a hummable infectious score that contains a few bonefide new showtune standards. If you want the music on CD, you have to purchase it in the theater lobby, it won’t be released publicly until the fall of 2012.
So, what are you waiting for? Get your tickets before they are gone, and the tour moves on. Hopefully it will be back again next season, because this is a Christmas story that you can see over and over again. Its the first show in years that has toured Detroit pre-Broadway that really deserves to be there next Christmas. See it here first.
Ain’t no doubtin’ you’ll have a good time at Performance Network this holiday season – Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Review) November 19, 2011Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
Tags: Ain't Misbehavin' musical
Performance Network has brought Ann Arbor an early Christmas present with their current production of Ain’t Misbehavin’, the Fats Waller musical show.
Winner of the 1978 Tony Award for Best Musical, (it surprisingly beat out On the Twentieth Century, not surprisingly The Act, Dancin’ and Runaways), the show revived musical reviews, and while it has no direct storyline, it follows a group of singers/performers in an after hours club as they sing, complain, flirt, booze it up, and generally have a fun time. The idea is, the audience should have a fun time as well. And they do.
Dan Walker’s excellent set invokes a basement-level nightclub, with band center stage, and some audience seated at cabaret tables on the sides (Note: I would recommend you NOT select the side seats for this production – virtually all action takes place facing front and center).
Darrian Ford, Jennifer Cole, Kron Moore, james Bown, and K. Edmonds comprise the 5-member cast, while Ryan MacKenzie Lewis and his four-piece ensemble can arguably be considered the sixth member (Ryan – piano; Brad Faryniarz – saxaphones; Chris Morelli – bass; Billy Harrington – drums). The entire ensemble swings; there is more energy on stage here than might be needed to light the Christmas lights on Main Street for the holidays.
Yeah, okay, so I can note some minor quibbles about the slightly pitchy vocals on opening night (especially in Act One); but all was well by Act Two (which is better written to begin with). It doesn’t really matter in a show which is well sung, well directed (by Tim Edward Rhoze), and well-choreographed (Robin Wilson). The hand-built costumes by Suzanne Young are exquisite. Charles Sutherland’s properties help evoke the era; and Mary Cole lights it all prettily, with red, green, and blue gels coming to life in the bigger numbers.
Each of the performers has plenty of opportunity to shine in solos, duets, and ensemble numbers; but its Darrian Ford that explodes across the stage, in particular making “The Viper’s Drag” a standout, as well as his dancing throughout. To be honest, it’s hard to recreate roles so tied to the likes of the larger-than-life Ken Page, Nell Carter, and Andre DeShields…but this cast holds its own in what is ultimately a highly entertaining holiday treat. Fats Wallers music is tuneful, sharp-witted, and often funny.
To be sure, I would rather have seen a book musical in this holiday slot — but Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a sure-footed entertaining evening. It’s the perfect compliment to dinner and drinks before the show in downtown Ann Arbor, so you can make a night (or afternoon) of it. Ask about the Prix Fixe dinner option at The Raven’s Club when making your reservations. Ain’t no doubtin’ you will have a good time.
The Oddest Review I’ve ever written November 17, 2011Posted by ronannarbor in Musicals.
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OK, so — what do you do when a local theater sends you an email for the second year in a row stating that you CAN’T review their current production because of some type of royalty legalities….yet it hires professional actors and directors and advertises said production profusely…?
First, this is a blog, I pay for my own tickets to shows I want to see, and I can say whatever the heck I like…BUT, I do like those folks and I don’t want them to get into any type of problem…They have already announced that they will do this show again next holiday season. I guarantee you I will give a full review of that show even if I get another e-mail next season telling me I can’t.
So here is the strangest review I have ever written.
At a local theater, they are producing a fully staged workshop of a musical based on a beloved holiday movie for the second year in a row. The show has been significantly reworked since last season, but remains an inexplicable “hit” at this particular theater despite banal lyrics; dialogue dreck; and pacing that makes the show longer than the movie its based on.
That being said — the show sports a superb cast, and this year, that cast is stronger from top to bottom. Start with the immensely entertaining Rusty Mewha in the lead role. He is mesmerizing throughout the production in a role that is well suited to him. Likewise, Liz Griffith returns for another excellent outing in a role she created last season. Steve DeBruyne also returns in a role that he clearly has fun with, and which brings some humor to this entire affair. Into that mix, add Liz Jaffe who sings well, dances well and is charming; Ed Reynolds who plays menacing well here; John Sartor who turns in a touching performance; and an all-around cast that deserves more than this particular show can give them. The dances dance. The vocals sound great. In fact, every cast member seems perfectly suited for their particular part — with the exception of two young folks who play younger versions of Rusty and Liz and whisp their way through their song with words that are basically unintelligible, and that’s probably a good thing.
And there it is. The oddest review I have ever written. In short, I loved the performers in this production. They are far better than the material. I’m remaining otherwise silent about the show this season — next season, I’ll tell you what I really think.
Tags: Adrian, Betsy Lackey, Croswell Opera House, Frankenstein, MI, Michael Lackey, Obsession the musical
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First, let me say right off the bat, it’s hard to review a workshop of a new show, even if it is fully staged. Because that is exactly what the production of OBSESSION, the musical (loosely based on Frankenstein) was this past weekend at the Croswell Opera House.
Fully staged and realized, the production was a fascinating look at a new musical in progress — originally written as a symphony and presented in Adrian, and now adapted as a stage musical, Betsy and Michael Lackey’s lyrical and tuneful musical takes risks not often seen at the local level. And how fortunate that Croswell Opera House was willing to take that risk to help develop this show.
I am not going to comment too much on the production itself, because if I did, I would end up in a long diatribe about how poorly directed it was, but how lovely it all looked and sounded. Let future directors find the humor and nuance in the script and score, and better manage the stage action.
What I will comment on are the tremendous performances, and the very strong musical score. Top to bottom the cast was top-notch and demonstrated excellent vocal technique. Michael Lackey (Henry/Monster); Eric Parker (Victor); Katy Kujala (Elizabeth); and Mackenzie Dryer (Justine) sang strong, confident roles. Deeply rooted in opera, the score demands a tremendous amount from the cast, and this group of performers delivered.
The score is particularly tuneful and sometimes outright stunning: “What I’d Give” has a lyrical line that ranks with the best Broadway-type pop ballads, but the entire score is lovely to listen to. The lyrics are clever and have a subtle sense of humor (not captured well in this production). The Croswell sound system made it difficult to understand some of the lyrics, particularly in the choral numbers. The show leans more toward the style of “Jekyll and Hyde” than more serious poperettas.
Is the show ready for prime time? No. Is it well on its way, yes. I would love to see the show again, after some tweeks have been made. My own thoughts as to improvements:
- There is too much music; scene changes occur rapidly (seconds) but musical rifts run for minutes with no action on stage. Some of this could be covered with better direction, but there is still too much of it. Standardize scene change music so that it cuts off once the scene has been changed, not continue just for the sake of continuing.
-The Entr’Acte is too long. Pull the main theme, add a countermelody, and roar to a quick finish. Two mintues is great. 5 minutes is too long.
-Eliminate the narration by the lead (Victor). Either incorporate it into the choral numbers, or eliminate it completely. With the exception of one or two short moments where action can be identified otherwise, the narration is superfluous and repetitive.
-Pay attention to the choral action: too many maids and butlers on stage just to sing choral backup is never a good idea. Put the chorus into the orchestra pit and let them sing backup. Find a better way to incorporate your ensemble onstage without just putting them on, and pulling them off. Its getting there –but its not there.
Overall, this was a fascinating and very well performed production that hopefully will lead to the necessary tweaks and future productions. I’d love to listen to this score over and over again, it’s sumptuous. But listening to versus seeing a show are two different things. It needs work, but it shows beyond tremendous potential — it deserves to be fixed and developed. Congrats to all involved — and keep working at this piece: there is really good here. It just needs some TLC.