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It’s hard to make a “best of” list in this area of the country, since the blend of collegiate, community, and professional often overlap and sometimes Community theater productions can be as good as (or better) than some professional productions, while at other times, college shows can look better than Broadway tours….nonetheless, here is my summary of the good, the bad, and the ugly…
The Best overall community theater production this past year was: GREY GARDENS at Ann Arbor Civic Theater. Special kudos to Kathy Waugh for her terrific performance.
The Best summer theater production was: SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS at Croswell Opera House. Its been a long long time since Croswell had such a dance-tacular production, thanks to the Hissong’s direction and choreography.
The Best summer theater production that was indistinguishable from a Broadway Tour: AVENUE Q at Croswell Opera House. It was so good, it was hard to even compare it to other local productions, it had to be held to professional Broadway tour standards — and it was as good as, if not better, than the tour that came through Michigan a few years ago.
Speaking of tours: The best Broadway Tour to come through Detroit was: JEKYLL & HYDE — Broadway Bound with a spectacular Tobin Ost set, and a remarkable performance by Constantine Maroulis.
The best Broadway Tour to come through Wharton Center in East Lansing was: ANYTHING GOES, with a touring cast led by Rachel York that was stronger than the Original Broadway cast.
The best local university musical was: CHICAGO at the University of Michigan. Although it had strong runners-up in SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (also at UM) and LEGALLY BLONDE at MSU. Also delicious was SWEENEY TODD at Sienna Heights.
Speaking of Legally Blonde: I saw 4 productions of this show, and despite varied levels of good lead performances, it just goes to show that this is a musical that is hard to recreate without a multi-million dollar budget. The Original Broadway production is so deeply visually ingrained (thanks to MTV’s relentless showings a few years ago) that any non-professional production just pales in comparison. One favorite note: in the Croswell production, when the trailer door stuck, David Blackburn hilariously announced “I’ll just use the back door!” and came around from stage left complete with bulldog. It was the biggest laugh of any show I saw this past year.
The best small-cast show of the year: THE LAST 5 YEARS at Jackson Symphony Space — Jayna Katz and Adam Woolsey blew the roof off of the place nightly.
The best “becoming an annual tradition around here” musical: EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL at Dexter Community Players. Expanding community theater’s boundaries by squirts and bounds, with a strong cast and twice the splatter-power.
I wasn’t impressed much by any of the local professional musical theater productions this year, although there were some mighty fine performances. The Dionysus Theater made a strong debut as a professional theater company with their holiday offering HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS – right out of the gate hitting all the right notes in a finely performed production in a gorgeous proscenium theater space. A couple shows will go without mention here, because I abhor when major changes are made to Broadway musicals to fit a director’s “vision” or a small budget — but it is worthy to mention the lovely GODSPELL at Encore, where Dan Cooney took a show that has become bloated and almost unwatchable over the years, and turned it into a fresh, sparse, and clown-makeup-free delight.
Finally — one “ugly” — the reworked BEAUTY AND THE BEAST arrived at the Stranahan on tour, with a non-equity NETworks production, featuring some of the ugliest costumes and sets I have seen in a Broadway tour. UGH.
Tags: DCP, Dexter Community Players, Evil Dead the Musical
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Evil Dead, the Musical, makes a triumphant return to the Copeland Auditorium in Dexter Michigan by way of Dexter Community Players, who stage the show for a second year in a row — and it is tighter, better performed, and funnier all-around with three-times the blood quotient.
Based on several of the Evil Dead movies, the musical has been a cult hit since it first made the rounds of the Canadian fringe festivals, then onto Toronto, NYC and now taking over the world…(There’s another version playing in Downtown Detroit for the second year in a row as well).
But Dexter’s is something special — its a community show coming together to stage something you would never expect in this otherwise smaller town — one of the strongest overall productions of the show outside of Toronto you are likely to see — complete with original stage effects and other surprises. For extra fun, wear white, and sit in the first 4 rows (called the Splatter Zone) and get drenched in gooey, icky, red-sugar-syrupy blood for two hours — and there is three times the gooey-goodness as last year. Wear a white tux; or a wedding dress; or purchase a white t-shirt at DCP.
I couldn’t get out to see the show last weekend, so this review comes with only a couple performances left…see dextercommunityplayers.org for tickets. And leave the young ones at home — this is R-rated stuff.
Don’t worry about the scares — they are all for fun and absolutely none of them actually make you jump; but they will make you laugh as curses fly, blood and guts splatter the cast and audience; guns shoot; trees dance; and everyone sounds great. Thanks to director Jason Smith for making it all work; Jonathan Sills for some great vocal work and band (which also includes Philip Eversden and Tim VanRiper), and the entire DCP cast and crew for a rollicking good time.
Kudos to cast Peter Crist, Stacey Smith, Corrina Gauss, Chris Bryant, Ann Hernandez, Katie Selby, Neil Clennan, Zak Stratton, Lawrence Bryk, and Nicole Roth.
GO SEE IT. Expect scene changes you can drive a truck through (can’t help it, costume/makeup changes are a bitch); schlocky perfectly timed performances (its what you expect with cheap horror right?) and a really fun evening out in Dexter. For you Ann Arbor folks, that’s a 10-minute drive west of town.
By the way, if you are not familiar with Dexter Community Players work, their shows often give the other local companies (civic or professional) a run for their money in the musical department; witness not only their current Evil Dead, but recent productions of Annie, The Wedding Singer, Curtains and others. Go check them out.
Rocky Horror Show at Croswell Opera House is a blast (Review) October 20, 2012Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals.
Tags: Croswell Opera House, Eric Parker, Rocky Horror Show
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The Rocky Horror Show, that bizarreness of a stage musical that became a cult hit in London in the early 70′s and a midnight-movie cult in the US, returns to the Croswell Opera House for its third incarnation in recent years, and its a big, sprawling, hilarious blast of musical theater mess.
Once again directed by Eric Parker, and including many of the original cast (albeit in some new roles) as well as some newcomers, the show begs to ask the question, “why?”….well, why not?
Paul Manger makes for a terrific new Frank ‘n’ Furter as he sashays around the large open set in heels and corset, spitting out the lines and songs with the best of them; Katy Kujala is a great-voiced Janet, and Scotland Mills a fine furry boyfriend Brad. Zane Dickerson reprises the role of Rocky in all his body building glory; Eric Parker is a hilarious Riff Raff, and Kyrie Bristle nearly steals the entire show from all of them as Magenta in the waning minutes of the musical.
To be sure, there are ups and downs in the cast — but everyone is solid in their roles, and everyone has a blast and it shows. Stephanie L. Stephan provides some terrific dance movement and she is wise: she understands who can move, and who less so and she makes the most of that knowledge (a skill required by the best choreographers working with non-professional casts at various level of skill). It all looks terrific on the Croswell stage.
Keith Holloway’s set is serviceable, and projections hilarious. Lighting by Tiff Crutchfield is colorful and appropriate to the mood of the show. Cindy Farnham’s costumes range from decent to spectacular. The one problematic tech area in this production is sound: and in this instance, NOT the Croswell’s system, but the actual sound design. The orchestra (under the sure direction of Todd Schreiber) is located backstage, and they sound muffled. When the ensemble joins them for off-stage background vocals, the vocals can barely be heard. While some of the cast use body mics, the other leads use wireless handset mics. While it ads a great touch of “70′s” style kitsch, it results in vocal inbalance throughout. When the entire ensemble is onstage, with leads using mics, the ensemble becomes a vocal afterthought and they can not be heard clearly. The result is some great looking ensemble numbers that have no vocal “pop”; i.e., it doesn’t sound like a rock score should. There were also some missed soundboard cues, that I am sure will resolve themselves as the show gets further into its run. If ever a show deserved better sound design, this is it.
Of course, Rocky Horror is only as good as its audience participation — and there is a lot of it here. You an purchase a participation goody bag at the concession stand before the show, and join in — and if you have never seen a production of Rocky Horror, take a few minutes to peruse the many websites that give you audience shoutback suggestions. At the friday night opening performance, those who knew the show clearly had a better time than those who did not — and to the audience (and cast) surprise, some of the best ShoutBack audience members were in attendance in the first row. They made for a rollicking (if profanity-laced) evening. You’ve been warned — Rocky Horror itself is kind of a 70s throwback-edgy show, lets rate it PG-13…but throw in that awesome audience participation, and it becomes R-Rated instantly.
If the Friday night audience was any indication, this is one of those shows that will need some extra word of mouth to sell tickets — the audience was about half full. BUY TICKETS. The show is terrific and fast-paced, the cast is hilarious, and you will have a wonderful time at this Rocky.
The Rocky Horror Show continues through October 27th at the Croswell Opera House, Adrian MI. Tickets at croswell.org, or by phone at 517-264-7469. There is also a costume contest during intermission every Friday and Saturday night.
Summer 2012 Musical Theater Scorecard – SE Michigan August 21, 2012Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Broadway Musicals, Broadway Tour, Community Theater, Detroit, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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So — now that the summer musical theater has pretty much ended in SE Michigan for the year, what was the scorecard?
Best of the Best:
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Croswell Opera House)
Les Miserables Student Edition (Croswell Opera House)
The Last Five Years (K&W Productions, Ann Arbor Musical Theatre Company)
Avenue Q (Croswell Opera House)
Wicked (Tour – Wharton Center)
Memphis (Tour – Wharton Center)
Les Miserables (Tour – Wharton Center)
Legally Blonde (MSU Theater Department)
Legally Blonde (Centre Stage Jackson)
Legally Blonde (Croswell Opera House)
Fiddler on the Roof (Encore Musical Theater Company)
Nunsense (Encore Musical Theater Company)
Just Plain Bad:
Beauty and the Beast (Non-Equity Tour – Fisher Theater and Stranahan Theater)
All in all, not a bad summer season for local musical theater. The biggest surprise: the reworked Seven Brides at Croswell. The biggest disappointment: the multiple Legally Blondes, none of which lived up to their full potential (although Marlena Hilderley’s Elle at Croswell was sublime). Also, not reviewed but occurring were the many community theater productions around the area, including Annie at Dexter Community Players; the Anniversary Celebration at Chelsea Area Players; and many many others. Onto the fall local and touring season…Current recommendation: Anything Goes tour at Wharton Center — don’t miss buying your tickets now before they are all gone.
Croswell’s “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is one of their best summer shows ever (Review) August 11, 2012Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Community Theater, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
Tags: Adrian, Croswell Opera House, MI, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers musical, Summer 2012 musical theater
I am starting with ticket information for Croswell Opera house — online at croswell.org, or by phone at 517-264-7469. Quit reading — go order tickets — then come back.
Erin Satchell Yuen as Milly, and Steven Antalek as Adam (photo copyright Croswell Opera House)
Croswell Opera House opened one of their finest musicals ever last night — the adapted-from-the-movie musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The show pinpoints exactly everything that Croswell does right — a great cast with a pitch-perfect full orchestra, a fine set and costumes, more talent on stage and behind than the Pontipee boys could shake a rope at, and a rousing standing-ovation audience pleaser to boot.
Based on the favorite 1954 Hollywood musical, the show follows the Pontipee clan brothers as they seek out wives for themselves in 1850′s Oregon. How they go about getting those wives is the tale that is told in the brisk two and a half hour production. There is no definitive script/score for 7B47B, only the one that MTI provides in the moment — and this one is the 2007 revised version (because it sure isn’t the original early’80′s version which I was in almost thirty years ago).
The star of the evening is Jodi Adkins Hissong’s athletic choreography the likes of which the Croswell stage has not seen in many a moon. The Brothers, the Brides, and the supporting cast fly (sometimes literally) through many many numbers, favorites being “Goin’ Courtin’” and the spectacular “Challenge/Cut in Dance” at the harvest social. The latter received extended applause not heard in the house for years.
Erin Satchell Yuen as Milly and Steven Antalek as Adam Pontipee turn in solid performances, and both seem born to play these parts. The Brothers are played by David Blackburn (Benjamin); Ben Andre (Caleb); Ryan Chang (Daniel); Zane Dickerson (Ephraim); Joshua Moller (Frank); and Matthew Pettrey (Gideon). Their camaraderie on stage is equal to their singing and dancing, and they are a joy to behold. Equally at ease on stage with singing and dancing requirements are the Brides: Samantha Bretz (Alice); Caitlin Christenson (Dorcus); Mary Hofmeister (Ruth); Jocelyn Near (Liza); Emily Kapnick (Martha); and Allison Steele (Sarah). Together, they are a force to be reckoned with.
The large (but never cluttered) ensemble supports the action, and together with the leads turn in some of the most charismatic and entertaining performances ever at Croswell. The audience was positively abuzz throughout the production, and the standing ovation was well-deserved.
The performers are wrapped in lovely packaging in the form of Rachel Buechele’s colorful costumes; Terrence Hissong’s Scenic Design; and fine efforts in lighting, sound, and technical design. (Note that on opening night, there were both mic-related glitches as well as spotlight-mess that will surely resolve over the coming performances). Stage Manager Kent Sprague has his hands full to be sure, and he keeps things running at a brisk and comfortable pace throughout. Snow falls (both onstage and in the audience); wood splits; crashes resound; the unit-set works perfectly; and it all serves to entertain. Music Director Wynne Marsh keeps everything onstage and in the pit sounding remarkable.
Brian Hissong directs the entire affair with a sure hand, and he gets marvelous things from his performers. Choreography and Directing often overlap, and it appears seamless.
Go see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and enjoy an evening out in beautiful downtown Adrian, MI. Get your tickets immediately before they are all gone — buy them now, thank me later. Its one of the best things I have seen onstage regionally in many years — professional or non-professional.
Tags: Croswell Opera House, Les Miserables Student Edition
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Having now seen two high school versions of LES MISERABLES, it begs to ask the question, is this the best High School musical ever?
25 years ago, I don’t think any of us would have ever thought that high schools might be doing this musical today. In fact, it seemed so “adult” and so “current” that it was hard to imagine anyone but professionals doing the show. Yet here it is.
Pioneer High School did a decent version a few years ago. Croswell Opera House did a whiz-bang knock-out version of it this past two weekends. Both casts had decent singers and mediocre ones — and yet both versions worked equally well.
Cut to 2.5 hours instead of the 3 hour running time, most audience members will be unaware of the cut material unless you are a true Les Mis expert. Some of the detail is gone, but its barely missed.
What is evident is that this is a show that features dozens of “parts” and the stronger performers are cast in leads while your average high school dramatists are equally happy playing the many many different ensemble parts. The parts fall directly into the vocal ranges of 16 – 18 year olds.
The music is not difficult to perform. Throw in a great orchestra and some straight-forward sets, and you have what might easily become the best current high school musical on the market for those schools tired of Bye Bye Birdie and Hairspray.
That brings me to special kudos for Croswell’s production. Musical Director Jonathan Sills has done a superb job with his (large) high school cast, and the orchestra was simply stunning. No cut-down orchestrations here; the full orchestra sound is lush and glorious.
Doug Miller designed a beautiful set, complete with detailed barricade. If the staging was a bit similar to the recent 25th Anniversary tour of the show, it can only be said that most shows without a turntable are pretty much going to look like that.
In short, I love youth theater and have directed a lot of it — but I was a bit green with envy at the stagecraft (and budget) on display at Croswell Opera House.
One caveat: if you are planning to do the show in your high school, make sure that you have plenty of men. Like most musicals of the last twenty years, its male-centric and you need plenty of them that can act, sing, and (kinda) dance (or at least move to the beat).