Tags: hilarious play, John Neville-Andrews, Noises Off, UM Noises Off, University of Michigan Theatre and Drama
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Okay, so its not the first time you have probably seen Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off” in Ann Arbor (it makes regular appearances on our various stages)– but its by far the best production you’ll see, thanks to John Neville-Andrews hilarious staging currently on-stage at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, presented by the University of Michigan, Department of Theatre and Drama.
Comprised of student performers, and guest performer Equity actress Naz Edwards, the farce flies by in what seems much shorter time than it’s 2 hour 40 minute running time might otherwise suggest. In three acts, the first sets the stage at the final rehearsal of a British farce “Nothing On” pre-tour (in the best insider joke in the show, the actors don’t know if it’s a dress rehearsal or a tech rehearsal); the second Act takes place during a performance a week into the run from the vantage point of backstage as personal relationships begin to unravel and the sight gags start to fly fast and furious; and Act Three seven weeks into the tour, from the audience vantage point, as the show has started to unravel. It’s tremendous fun and this is a five-star production.
Naz Edwards turns in a pitch perfect Dotty Otley, preparing plates of sardines and forgetting blocking for important props (like the phone). Reed Campbell plays overwrought director Lloyd Dallas, and his meltdowns are a joy to behold. Philip Maxwell and Sophie Hindley play Garry and Brooke, the couple around which the pending sex-farce revolves. Maxwell’s physical comedy is grand, and exchange student Hindley is simply marvelous in (and out) of clothing, She is the funniest Brooke I have ever seen play the part, and every single blocking motion is wrong. What makes it even funnier, is that when things are falling apart 7 weeks into the tour, her blocking remains identical to that at final dress. Shannon Eagen plays peppy “Poppy” with a sense of self-knowingness; and Casey Hanley brings a warmth and hilarity to trouser-dropping Frederick. A pants-dropped hop up the long staircase earns well-deserved applause. The same voyage down those same steps later by Maxwell tripping over a misplaced box earns him the “Dick Van Dyke” physical comedy award for this production. Stage manager and Assistant stage manager are played well by Zoe Kanters and Eric Krawczyk, and old-man Selsdon is well-acted by Avery DiUbaldo (never an easy feat for a young student to play an aging character on stage — carried off here with great skill.)
John Neville-Andrews keeps the action moving swiftly. This is a very difficult show to direct and this production is a Neville-Andrews masterwork of slamming doors, perfectly timed sight-gags, and some brilliant personal touches. He does a particularly good job with the women in this production, never allowing them to disappear into the background which can happen with this show. Those who have never seen the show before (hard to imagine in Ann Arbor, but obviously the case from some of the blank reactions of the senior older folks sitting around me) might need a second viewing to take it all in. Gary Decker’s set is terrific (and the backstage view marvelous). Katelyn Rouse’s costumes look great, and Andrew Lott’s lighting design looks clean and crisp both onstage, backstage, and offstage – in particular when the set revolves and the occasional glimpses of the show “onstage” shine through the central window from “backstage” without ever losing focus on the action backstage.
Finally — do not bypass the program insert — a hilarious spoof of the program for “Nothing On”. There, you will learn that “Cinemagoers saw Brooke in The Girl in Room 14, where she played the Girl in Room 312″, and that Selsdon had “several good supporting roles in Hollywood, including stand-in to Robert Newton”. Hilarious stuff that — and the funniest evening I have had at any theater in years.
Slick “Smokey Joe’s Cafe”, Encore Musical Theatre Company (review) February 5, 2012Posted by ronannarbor in Detroit, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
Tags: Encore Musical Theatre Company, Lieber and Stoller, Smokey Joe's Cafe
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This is a good news-bad news review. Before I go further, let me just say that the very talented cast in Encore’s SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE sings well, dances well, and has stage presence to spare. The set looks great. The lighting right on target. The band sounds great. So what goes wrong?
Well…nothing that Encore could do about it, besides maybe pick a better show. I’m not a fan of revues, and that is what Smokey Joe is…two hours of Lieber and Stoller songs in a hodgepodge revue that has no storyline and which resorts to lights-down-lights-up scene changes for transitions. And not all of those songs are good. In fact, many of them are not.
It’s all sort of like watching a cruise ship show — no, it’s exactly like watching a cruise ship show — slick; well done; but ultimately unsatisfying as you head out of the theater and back to the ship’s casino.
The very talented ensemble cast sing, dance, and work very hard to please. It’s hard to single out any exceptions, so let me just say that the (entirely non-equity) cast is composed of Brian E. Buckner, Steve DeBruyne, Sebastian Gerstner, Cara Manor, Terrence D. Owens, Jr., Fatima Poggi, Thalia Shramm, and Amy Smidebush. Mysteriously missing is the 9th cast member the show is written for.
Most of the show glides along just great, with solos, combos and group numbers that feature each cast member individually, as well as in boy and girl groups. Missing is any sense of who these people are, except for very broad strokes that don’t hold as the show progresses. Might as well be variety show numbers following one after the other. I had that same sense after seeing the Broadway production (which inexplicably ran almost 5 years in the 90′s), so it’s not the fault of the hard-working folks at Encore. Some numbers work better than others: “Jailhouse Rock” and “Stand By Me” smolder….while “On Broadway” falls flat, not only because of the over-involved choreography, but also because the vocal mix just doesn’t work (it didn’t work on Broadway either, where it looked like the guys were going to swallow their body mics).
But that’s another thing — if ever a show calls out for body mics, it’s Smokey Joe. Soloists here are sometimes overwhelmed by the (offstage) band, and at other times by their own cast mates. They all sound great, and the blend is very good — but you lose the soloists entirely in places.
Leo Babcock has designed a dandy set with two sweeping curved staircases. Sharon Larkey Urick’s costumes are serviceable without ever really evoking the 50′s or early 60′s. Matthew Tomich’s lighting design is generally spot on (except in one instance where beautifully spot-lit Steve and Thalia are suddenly aglow in full stage brightness that made my pupils spin).
All in all, I would always prefer a book musical (although Encore’s upcoming season of community theater type fare doesn’t make me want to run and buy tickets to any of them), but Smokey Joe’s Cafe is a well-done, well-produced musical revue. In her program note, Barbara F. Cullen states that the show is “so much more than a musical revue”. I beg to differ, and would actually say its the worst kind of musical revue – the type that has nothing but musical numbers and very little heart. That is not to slight this production which is top notch, but exactly what you would expect of a production of this show.
Smokey Joe’s Cafe continues at the Encore Musical Theatre Company through February 26th, 3126 Broad Street, Dexter, MI 734-268-6200 or http://www.theencoretheatre.org
Surprise! To fix “The Addams Family” musical get rid of Nathan Lane (review – tour – Wharton Center, East Lansing) February 4, 2012Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Broadway Tour, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals.
Tags: The Addams family Musical, The Addams Family tour
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When I originally reviewed The Addams Family musical, I was among the minority that enjoyed it a lot. Now on tour it’s a much better show, and its not just because the script has been reworked.
The tour, currently passing through East Lansing at the Wharton Center, is significantly different from the show seen in pre-Broadway Chicago, and from a design standpoint very different from the Broadway Rubik’s Cube set that assembled and re-assembled itself in fulll view of the audience. It’s passable, but not as good design-wise.
But from an acting point of view its stunningly different, and who would have thought that getting rid of Nathan Lane would make such a huge difference — but it does. Douglas Sills makes for a superb Gomez, while Sara Gettelfinger holds her own as Morticia. The rest of the tour cast is excellent, and its a virtual who’s who of University of Michigan musical theater graduates.
I’m not sure why Broadway never warmed to the musical (although it did run 725 performances and 34 previews despite generally lackluster reviews). It’s funny, it’s tuneful, and the characters are outrageous. There’s a funny book (even if it is a direct rip-off of La Cage aux Folles), and plenty of topical references to keep you on your toes, and it’s all fun. Clearly, Broadway is not currently in the mood for fun — but audiences sure are, as witnessed at both performances I have see.
But, wow — let me get back to Douglas Sills — where Nathan Lane dropped lines, dropped his accent throughout the show, and generally mugged-it-up, Doug has a natural humor; a great voice; and no need to mug — the part plays itself, and he makes the most of his lithe body and quick facial expressions to change the character completely from what Lane brought (did not bring) to the part. There is also chemistry between he and Sara as Morticia, something that Lane never achieved with Bebe Neuwirth. Sills performance completely changes the entire feeling of the show, and the cast responds remarkably.
Are there problems — well, yeah. Besides the aforementioned dumbing-down of the set, there is the ongoing problem of an ensemble chorus that doesn’t do a heck of a lot but hover around in the background as ghosts. Nothing has been changed more from the original Chicago production than the use of the Ensemble, and I am not sure it is any type of improvement. A sequence in which they hide behind cutout trees is just embarrassing.
But those who have not seen The Addams Family will enjoy the show – all the small things that make it such a fun night out are still there (including the curtain tassel that falls off the act curtain and runs away). You could do a lot worse than to spend a few hours with this hilarious family.