Bunheads on ABC Family is the real deal (Review) May 28, 2012Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Musicals, TV.
Tags: ballerinas, Bunheads, Bunheads ABC Family, dance, Kelly Bishop, Sutton Foster, television musicals
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Set your DVR for June 11th — thats when ABC Family begins airing their new show BUNHEADS — and based on the pilot episode, the show does everything right that SMASH does so wrong week after week.
Broadway’s Sutton Foster stars as a ex-ballerina/Broadway dancer now washed up Vegas Showgirl who impulsively weds a kind middle-aged man who is infatuated with her (Alan Ruck) and they move to his home in seaside Paradise California, where (surprise) he lives with his mother (Kelly Bishop).
Mamma runs a dance school, and is an ex-ballerina herself. The upper-level girls of the same school make up the teenage cast in this (kind of) family friendly show. Like a lot of the fare on ABC Family, it’s suitable for mid-teens and up, but not necessarily for pre-teens. And that’s all the setup you need to know. There’s a major surprise at the end of the otherwise upbeat first episode, and it clearly spells out the direction the show is going to take.
But what is striking here is the writing (storytelling is always a strongpoint for ABC Families original family drama shows). Within one episode, all the major characters, conflicts, wants, and desires of each of the main characters has been spelled out. The musical numbers serve to enhance the show, not detract from it, and its just right.
Opening with a Vegas number (ironically, “Jet Set” from “Catch Me If You Can” — a nod-to or a shot-across-the-bow for Marc Shaiman?), the performances are integrated fully into the script — showgirls dance….ballerinas dance…and in an exquisite sequence in which Sutton teaches a Broadway audition combo, is more humanly realistic than anything on SMASH has been all season.
There is a great cast of young teenage performers, but this is Sutton Foster’s show, make no doubt about that — from sassy showgirl (“I live next door to a hooker”) to fish-out-of-water bride (“Oh, how very Turning Point”). Kelly Bishop plays a delightfully droll and insightful mother-in-law (“If we don’t find that tutu, we’ll have to cut Clara which will make us look ridiculous”) uncovering nuanced layers of her character even in the first episode. Alan Ruck plays a warm, kind, and love-besotten Hubble.
If you are interested in auditioning for Bunheads, the casting information is here: DO NOT READ THIS RELEASE unless you want to see some major spoilers about the first several episodes. Suffice it to say that they are particularly looking for female dancers over the age of 18 that can play 15-17. Filming in LA.
Cedar Point Live Entertainment 2012 (Review) – Updated including Luminosity and all shows May 25, 2012Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment.
Tags: Absolute Country, Cedar Point 2012 Live Entertainment
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Note that this will be updated throughout the year as new shows open at Cedar Point.
ABSOLUTE COUNTRY at the Red Garter Saloon (former home of Tropical Heat Island Beat the last few seasons) looks like this:
Talented Alex Mack is back, playing guitar and singing. The electronic fiddle is back from a few years ago. And the cast has great voices singing through a set of grade-C semi-popular country songs. The sound mixing is horrendous — the singers are often drowned out by the three-piece band accompaniment which is pumped up to such levels that there is no possible way to mix the voices on top without mic-mush rendering the words incomprehensible for most of the production. When things settle down a bit, you can see that this is an incredibly talented cast — but call them seven pretty white kids in search of a soundboard mixer.
The show is a step down from the extraordinarily entertaining Tropical Heat Island Beat which played the Red Garter Saloon in years past. Primarily, the problem here is the music — a selection of country radio pop songs that are not standards and which have nowhere near the entertainment value or general audience accessibility of THIB’s “Turn the Beat Around” et al. I listen to country music and even I didn’t know one of the songs in this collection. Meant to be a clap-along, sing-along, drink-along entertainment, it ends up being primarily only the latter.
The show is what it is, so that’s not going to change for the rest of this season: but what can easily be changed (and must be changed) is the sound mixing, otherwise it’s just an exercise in drum-thumping futility. The very talented cast sing, dance, and entertain to their best ability given the circumstances…I’ll revisit this a few weeks down the road to see if sound problems have been adjusted.
UPDATE 06/08/12 – The sound remains as terrible as it did a few weeks ago — the music overpowers the singers , and the majority of the lyrics here are indecipherable. Not surprisingly, this is NOT the place to be this summer at The Point, as seen twice this past week and not a full house either time.
LUMINOSITY, Cedar Point’s new evening entertainment is in a word spectacular. Live performances (singing, dancing, aerials, drumming, DJ-ing) mix with lights, fire, fireworks, lasers, smoke, and a myriad of other special effects in a 30 minute evening spectacular that ends with decent Fireworks. The largest cast I have ever seen in a CP show (I counted 25 performers, 3 drummers, and countless staff) work their way through a pop rock set of familiar and current tunes, and while some of the voices and dancing here are terrific, some are downright awesome. All four lead singers are strong soloists, together they are forceful. Take time to see this show on your next trip to CP. My only complaint: the show ends when the fireworks do — but the DJ continues to spin music and the implication is that you are invited to stay and dance as if in a big open-air dance club (think Pleasure Island in its heyday)…The problem here is, nobody dances except for the cast. The last thing most tired, coaster-weary, headachy guests want to do at the end of a long evening is to dance. And nobody does. It’s kind of surreal. The lights and music continue, and the audience just sort of stands there after the fireworks asking themselves “Is this over?”….they need some kind of announcement to “stay and dance the night away at Cedar Point” — but no such announcement comes, and that’s that.
I have never been a fan of ALL WHEELS EXTREME, but this years incarnation almost won me over — tightened to 20 minutes, and getting rid of its dancing/cheerleading bimbos, the show is at its absolute best. The stunts are better than ever. The gymnasts more talented than ever, and better integrated into the show. The music is better than that used in the past, and more assessable to the general audience. I…wait for it…liked the show this year!
HAPPINESS IS…SNOOPY is this year’s new ice-skating show at the Good Time Theater (old IMAX theater). It’s an import from Knotts, where it opened last year. This cast seems comprised of some of those folks, as well as some of last year’s CP skating cast, including returning brother/sister pairs skaters Lara and Neill Shelton. The show is an easy-going, elevator-music/smooth pop multi-set and costume change production, that features the season’s best sets (though arguably the Costumes are, um, the most bizarre to say the least). Neill and Lara present two terrific pairs sets, the ensemble skates well, and there are several featured performers whose names are nowhere listed in print at the Point. Trey Ehre (High School Musical on Ice) is the only recognizable one – and he does some terrific work here. The show itself is well-choreographed and colorful, although not as good as the last two seasons (while the skating is actually better). The musak gets tiresome after awhile, and the show seems more geared toward the kiddees than in past seasons….although the Peanuts characters are well-integrated overall, and the plushies skate quite well — sorry to any of you inside those plushies, it must be hell to do that 3 or 4 shows a day. It’s a “cool” way to spend 30 minutes during your visit, so don’t miss it.
SUMMER DAZE is the new show at the Palace Theater in FrontierTown. This is the most unique show I’ve seen at The Point in years. The music is a mishmash of “summer vacation” type songs — but it mixes in some “Pump Boys and Dinettes” and “Ragtime” numbers along the way — and the choreography and staging are the most inventive I’ve seen back in this space. It gives the “front of the park” show a run for its money. The show originally suffered from poor sound mixing, but that has been fixed over the past few weeks. ”What a Game” is the best-staged number in the show (actually in any show in the park this summer). The cast is strong overall, and sing and dance through their sets well. The scenic design is clever and the pieces move rapidly on and off the small stage. Everything here looks great and this is easily the best directed and choreographed show in the park for 2012.
And that brings me to the “front of the park” show — a repeat run of ROCKIN’ THE POINT at the Jack Aldrich Theatre…spanning music from the early years of rock to the 80′s, the show is a tight, 30-minutes of entertainment that features the strongest men’s ensemble at The Point, and most vocally pleasing cast overall. The harmonies here sound great, and the kids are definitely having a great time. The show (and Luminosity) have the best sound design of the season — everything here sounds great, you can understand every single word, and its all very professional. The downside? The front of the park show always takes the least risks (except for the awful Rock Idol ripoff a few seasons ago), and it’s squeeky-clean. The best musical theater singers/dancers of the indoor shows get the worst choreography and everything feels like show-choir after a few numbers….and in an age where Glee sets the bar for show-choir, this is poorly directed and choreographed. Still, it’s a really fun show, the cast is very very good, and you should see it.
Tags: Encore Musical Theatre Company, Nunsense the musical
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Back in ’86, I was onstage at the Met Opera House in NYC singing and dancing backup in one of the nation’s first big AIDS fundraisers. Among the stars and large-cast Broadway show ensembles there was a sudden rush of excitement as the habit-attired actresses from then Off-Broadway smash hit Nunsense whipped the audience into a frenzy with their rousing number “Holier Than Thou”. Amidst the glittering stars including Bette Midler, these actresses had achieved something akin to cult status with one single number.
Something similar happens at the end of Encore’s NUNSENSE which opened last night in Dexter. After a fast-paced evening of hit-and-miss jokes, skits, and gags, the stage explodes with energy as Amy Smidebush leads the ensemble of superb performers in the rousing “Holier Than Thou” and you can forgive Dan Goggin’s misfires, and take pleasure in the wonderful things he does create. It is really not worth reviewing Nunsense the musical for content since it has entered the amateur and regional theater reportoire and is done virtually everywhere.
Barbara Cullen’s direction and choreography is fast-paced and fluid; Leo Babcock has designed an excellent parochial-school gymnasium set; George Cullinan’s musical direction is very good and he and his ensemble sound great (no orchestra members are credited in the program); Dan Walker’s lighting works well; an Sharon Larkey Urick’s nun’s habits are both classic and adaptively hilarious. Sue Booth “wrings” the most out of hers, to be sure.
But oh what a jolly gaggle of nuns we have in Encore’s very strong all-female cast: The aforementioned Amy Smidebush plays Sister Mary Hubert who is second-banana to Barbara Scanlon’s hilarious Mother Superior Sister Mary Regina. Barbara’s “unexpected discovery” is worth the price of admission by itself. But wait, there is a terrific performance by Mary Rumman as Sister Mary Amnesia (and low and behold, the theater gods have finally smiled upon Encore as they present their first DIRTY JOKE in their otherwise too-family friendly fare…albeit a joke that all 9-year old Catholic boys are well familiar with). And then there is dancing Sister Mary Leo, a spot-on Madison Deadman who as the ensemble’s youngest member brings strong stage presence throughout. Top it all off with the self-assured performance by Sue Booth as Sister Robert Anne and you have a dynamite cast of nuns.
By the way….did you catch that?…Sister MARY Regina….Sister MARY Leo…Sister MARY Amnesia…Sister MARY Hubert…Sister ROBERT Anne…Yeah, the whole night is filled with gags like that. Its almost incomprehensible that Nunsense has spawned not one, but six sequels. But it is what it is — and that makes for a highly entertaining evening of nonsense, er, nunsense….Play on, ladies, play on.
NUNSENSE continues at Encore Musical Theatre Company through June 10th. Tickets can be ordered online at theencoretheatre.org, the box office, or by phone at 734-268-6200.
Tags: Avenue Q, Croswell Opera House
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There are those of us who have already been initiated into the cult of Avenue Q on Broadway (where it is still running, Off Broadway); or on tour; or one of the sit-down productions across the country…and Croswell Opera House should be extremely proud of their current production onstage in Adrian as it ranks right alongside those professional productions of the show. This is a slick, great-looking, and very funny adult musical.
Directed by Eric Parker (who also plays human character Brian), the show races along the many Sesame-Street-For-Adults-Only type scenes exploring challenges facing humans and monsters alike: work, roommates, relationships, sex, homelessness, and finding your “purpose” (with a side-visit to the world of internet porn which ranks among one of the funniest songs ever written for a stage musical).
Matthew Bowland (Princeton/Rod) and Kelly Fandrey (Kate Monster/Lucy) are excellent in difficult roles that keep them onstage virtually the entire time. Erik Wright-Olsen turns in a terrific performance as both Trekkie Monster and roommate Nicky. Natalie Kissinger is a hilarious Christmas Eve (in a role into which she stepped only a few weeks ago — kudos!) and Jamie Lynn Buechele, Joshua Mohler, Jesse Montie and Rebecca Craig are great in their many supporting parts (and limbs!) throughout the production. Melissa Paschall takes on the role of Gary Coleman.
The set design by Janine Woods-Thoma recreates the intimacy of the Broadway production. Jonathan Sills musical direction and orchestra are super. Sets, lights, costumes,sound and projections all work well here (including my favorite moment in the show — I won’t give it away, but it involves nightstands).
There is very little to distinguish that this is not a touring company, the production is that good (although there are a few mis-steps here and there that remind you that not all of the performers on stage are professionals). My sole gripe — the overuse of blackouts that stop the proceedings in a few places, rather than allowing the natural flow of scene to scene. Since most scene changes involve little more than the opening or closing of a flap or door on the set, it would have been more entertaining to allow the audience to watch that happen, especially the times that it was clear that the stage had been reset and the actor was waiting in darkness onstage for their light to come up. A minor quibble in a spectacular production.
And of course, the disclaimer needs to be made….NO YOUNG ONES AT THIS SHOW PLEASE!…which presents a challenge in itself. Audience members unfamiliar with this Tony-Award-Winning-Best-Musical (it surprisingly won over Wicked!) see the puppets in the advertisements and think it is for kids….then you see the disclaimers that it is NOT for kids, and it makes for a difficult sell. Well let me shout it from the internet to your house: GO SEE THIS SHOW. Leave the kids at home, but by no means should you miss this production at Croswell Opera House. It is stunningly good.
Tickets can be ordered online at Croswell.org, by phone at 517-264-7469, or at the Box Office, 129 E. Maumee Street, Adrian, MI 49221.