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Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 – Holiday Inn – A Bronx Tale – Come From Away December 1, 2016

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I’ve been remiss and have so many shows to review I am just going to lump them all into one post…

Come From Away (seen pre-Broadway in Toronto, arrives in NYC in February). Okay, I’ll say it here (having not yet seen Dear Evan Hanson) I predict that Come From Away is going to be this year’s Tony winner in many categories, including best Musical — featuring a superb 12-member cast that play both airplane passengers and crew, as well as local Canadians, this musical tells the story of the days starting with 9/11 and the week following when air traffic control closed airspace. Passengers diverted to a Canadian town are treated to some Canadian kindness as they feed them, entertain them, and take them into their homes to house them for the days before airspace is reopened. The musical score is superb, and the cast is outstanding — but what really works here is how riveting this is as theatre — as the (mostly American but also some international) passengers and townspeople discover together what a global tragedy has occurred in the United States. Its undeniably powerful, but also highly entertaining, and its going to win the Tony.

Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 (seen at the Imperial theatre, NYC). I go on record as stating that I loved this show more than Hamilton, there I said it. Telling the main love story from “War & Peace”, based on only 70 pages or so of that novel, this atmospheric musical absolutely rocks the Imperial Theatre with a superb Josh Groban in the Pierre role (he sings, plays piano, accordion, and other instruments), and he is excellent. The entire ensemble cast is remarkable in this show without a “stage” — rather, the entire theatre has been transformed into a Russian “cabaret” style performance space, and actors (no matter where you sit) perform in front of you, behind you, around you, and everywhere. Its expertly designed and lit, and one of the best directed musicals I have seen in ages. You will either love it (or some hated it) but you will not be able to deny that there is genius theatre stagecraft and performance on display here.

Holiday Inn, the musical (Roundabout Theatre Company, Studio 54, NYC). Lets call this one what it is, “White Christmas Lite” — there is beautiful scenic work, singing, dancing, and lots of tap in this family-friendly musical adaptation of the classic holiday movie musical. Some of the production numbers are outstanding. There isn’t anything earth shattering in this production, but you can’t go wrong if you are a lover of standard old-fashioned musical comedy — where the primary emphasis is on the song and dance. I loved it. It isn’t as streamlined as White Christmas was, but it is equally well performed, orchestrated, and executed. It was a welcome early holiday treat for me.

A Bronx Tale, the musical (Longacre Theatre, NYC). If there is a single recent musical that has disappointed me, its A Bronx Tale. With its sure-fire cast, score, direction, art-design and ready-made story (based on the movie) you would think that there would be the makings of a better overall musical than the one currently on display at the Longacre. Its all very well done, and the audience loved it – in fact, it had an instant standing ovation, which only Come From Away garnered more enthusiastic audience response) and yet I couldn’t help feeling that the entire show was paint-by-number. Granted I am not Italian, but the ending didn’t draw any type of emotional response from me (although the movie sure did) – but where the movie made getting to know these gangster families intimate and recognizable, everything here is broadly drawn and even sitting near to the stage didn’t feel all that intimate. Of course the (almost entirely NYC-resident) audience at my performance thought otherwise. Your mileage of course may vary.



Holiday cheer-filled “Home for the Holidays” – Dio (review) November 26, 2016

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The Dio Theatre has a holiday-cheer filled reprise of its own “Home For the Holidays” in store for this season. It looks and sound terrific and everything zips along fast and efficiently. Only a Scrooge wouldn’t have fun at this Christmas delight. 

During a Christmas Eve performance, diva Portia (Molly Cunningham) refuses to go on stage when she finds husband Eric (Matthew Pecek) won’t be home from the Army for the Holidays. Forget the story, its just an excuse for some lovely holiday pop standards, Cunningham sounds remarkable on “Where Are You Christmas” and Pecek soars on “I’ll be Home for Christmas”.  The show resembles one of those old 60’s or 70’s tv-scripted holiday specials with just enough plot to lead to laughs, while firmly focusing on the holiday cheer and music.

The ensemble cast this year is tight, sings and moves well, and has fun making their way through 23 Christmas songs. In addition to those already mentioned, they include Jim Moll, Anne Bauman, Steve DeBruyne, Sarah Brown, Natalie Rose Sevick, Angela Dill, Elizabeth Jaffe, Jared Schneider, Derek Ridge, Brittany Chapa, Alexis Benson, Gavin Burwell, and Adam DeGregorio.

Director Steve DeBruyne has sped things up a bit, and designer Matthew Tomich added extra sparkle to the entire affair. Brian Rose and his orchestra sound great, and he has done excellent work with the show’s vocals. Michele Marzejon’s choreography looks great as do Norma Polk’s beautiful costumes and Eileen Obradovich’s props. The dinner is holiday-fare and deliciously prepared by Chef Jarod.

Sarah Brown, Natalie Rose Sevick, and Angela Dill do some terrific work as the “Franklin Sisters” — “Jing a Ling” and “Jingle Bells” have never sounded this terrific. Jared Schneider’s tap-infused “Here Comes Santa Claus” alone is worth the admission — but add a terrific dinner, a holiday-cheer filled show that is filled to the brim with Christmas spirit, and a little magic, and you have a delightful night at the theater again this holiday season.

Highly Recommended.

Home for the Holidays continues through December 31st. 177 E Main St, Pinckney, MI 48169 — Tickets: (517) 672-6009 or http://www.diotheatre.com

Dynamite “Murder Ballad” at Detroit Public Theatre (review) October 21, 2016

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Four characters. One will be dead at the end of the show. Who is it, who did it, and why?

Detroit Public Theatre presents this terrific rock musical (by Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash) through this Sunday October 23rd. I saw it near the end of its run due to a little show I myself was rehearsing and opening the past month. I wish I had the chance to see it again. 80 minutes of love, passion, revenge, and a few surprises are in store at this intimate theater inside Orchestra Hall.

Arielle Crosby, Eric Gutman, Arianna Bergamaschi and Rusty Mewha (left to right in photo above) and a four piece onstage band under the excellent musical direction of Jamie Reed rock the heck out of the theater and leave the audience wanting more. Director Courtney Burkett’s beautiful direction leaves the audience in the midst of the action throughout, as our four characters tales interweave — and when you think you have it figured out, wait, you are in for another surprise.

Arielle Crosby has a superb voice and serves as the evening’s Narrator and her sly winks and nods bring an appropriate air of mystery to everything. Arianna Bergamaschi plays Sara – at first involved with hot and hunky bartender Tom (Rusty Mewha) and later the more stable and family-oriented Michael (Eric Gutman). Bergamaschi is simply superb as she weaves into, out of, and back into her men’s lives. Eric Gutman brings both strong vocals and acting to a demanding role that is at first very sweet – and later not so much. His ability to grow from one extreme to the other is remarkable. I’ve never seen Rusty Mewha rock-out the way he does here as Tom in an amazing acting turn – and it is so much fun to watch you almost forget who you are rooting for and who you are rooting against. What makes this piece so fun is that who you think does what changes with each subsequent scene. Remember — who gets killed, who did it, and why.

The entire show takes place in and around a downtown NYC bar, with hot stage design by Monika Essen. Costume designer Katherine Nelson has done a great job defining characters, not only by clothing style but by color. Choreographer Jill Dion provides some fun moves for the entire cast, and Cecilia Durbin’s lighting design is gorgeous.

If you get the chance this weekend get down to the DSO on Woodward and see Murder Ballad. You will kick yourself if you miss it. I am thrilled I got to see it, even if it was on its closing weekend. Professional musical theatre is alive and well in downtown Detroit. Bravo.

Very Highest Recommendation.

Murder Ballad continues in Detroit through Sunday Oct 23. Tickets at DetroitPublicTheatre.org

Bonnie & Clyde is a hit at Downriver Actors Guild (review) October 19, 2016

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Reviewed by Patricia Mazzola.

Downriver Actors Guild has a true hit with Bonnie & Clyde A New Musical, performing at the intimate Catherine A. Daly Theatre on the Avenue in Wyandotte, MI, now through October 29th, 2016. Director Ron Baumanis, keeps the audience completely engaged with his expert staging, whether during a tender moment or a suspenseful shoot-out.

With book by Ivan Menchell, this thoroughly researched story of unfettered love during the desperate times of the 1930s takes the audience deep into the main characters’ hearts and minds more than the contrived Hollywood film with which we are all so familiar. The story centers on Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker who meet and decide to turn their backs on trying to do the right thing. They become notorious outlaws, seeking fame and fortune, as they rob and steal their way across the southern United States. The contemporary country and gospel score by Frank Wildhorn and lyrics by Don Black, perfectly expresses all the emotions of fear, love, compassion and glee these characters experience as they stumble through life during the Depression.

Though there were a few technical glitches the evening I went, the ensemble, led by the very talented Kimberly Elliott as Bonnie and Daniel Hazlett as Clyde, grew nicely into their parts as the show progressed. Nick Brown as the Minister showered us with spiritual joy during the Gospel (I’d go to any service he would lead), yet also showed genuine heartfelt love for the downtrodden when appropriate. Love-struck Ted Hinton doesn’t get the girl but Kevin Kaminski plays him so well and sings so beautifully, maybe he should have. Other standout performances were Elaina Primeau (keep an eye out for this little gem) as Young Bonnie, and the trio of salon ladies who also doubled in other parts, played by Amanda Aue, Paige Wisniewski and Ashley Gatesy. You will swoon and laugh and maybe even cry a bit. There is also a special feature in the second act that will surprise you.

This was the first time I had seen anything by the Downriver Actors Guild. I went with no idea of what to expect and I left wanting more. I will be back! You won’t have to hold a gun to my back.

Bonnie & Clyde continues at DAG through October 29th. DownriverActorsGuild.net for tickets.

Fun and highly entertaining The Full Monty at Encore (Review) October 8, 2016

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If you want to have a fantastic evening of laughs and great musical theater, grab your tickets now for the hilarious The Full Monty at Encore Musical Theatre Company and have a great time cheering on the guys as they work toward “the full monty” at an amateur men’s strip production. You probably already know the story (either from the movie or the musical – this is the third production I have seen in the past year) — down on his luck unemployed Jerry and his chubby buddy Dave see how much money there is to be made off of the sex-starved women of blue-collar Buffalo and plan their own strip show – along come depressed mama’s boy Malcom, middle-aged Harold, big black man Horse, and energetic Ethan. Will they or won’t they. That is the question that drives the entire musical, and you already know that it is really about the show’s last 5 minutes.

Getting there, though, is great fun in this production. Credit Matthew Brennan (choreographing and co-directing with Thalia Schramm) for bringing this show to lively life in its many dance and movement sequences and his wonderful from top down cast.

Eric Parker is outstanding as Jerry — his singing and dancing is top notch, and what a pleasure to see him on the Encore stage — he takes command each time he appears, and his scenes with his son are particularly affecting. Greg Bailey shows terrific range as his buddy Dave – and has some great stage moments. Thalia Schramm plays his wife Georgie with compassion. Luciana Piazza nicely plays Jerry’s ex- wife Pam, and Alejandro Cantu is terrific as their 12-year old son Nathan, wise beyond his years yet wanting all the things a normal kid wants. Brendan Bachman is hilarious as Teddy, Pam’s new nerdy boy friend.

Dan Morrison turns in a great performance as Harold, and his wife Nicki is played to the edge of hilarity by Sarah Briggs in a role that you will not be able to stop laughing at, even after the show.

Matthew Pecek, quickly becoming an Ann Arbor area favorite, is terrific as Ethan, and his moments with hugely entertaining Brendan Kelly are among the nicest in this production. Jordan Harris is wonderful as Horse. Gayle E Martin plays a show-stealing Jeanette (the piano player with the mouth of a sailor) and her deadpan delivery had me literally holding my stomach with laughter pains (“I can’t play any slower!”)

The rest of the ensemble is awesome in their roles – from Colby Orton as Keno, to the entire rest of the team: Tim Brayman, Kasey Donnelly, Bryanna Hall, Kristin McSweeney, and Bennett Waymann.

If you have never seen The Full Monty the musical onstage before get yourself to their website to buy tickets now. This is a fantastic production. Even those who have will be surprised by how much dancing and movement there is in this production, and how well it is executed throughout — from tangos in a ballroom dance class, to the final striptease number (lets face it, you come for those last five minutes and when it arrives, it is fabulous).

Very highly recommended. Not for younger audiences.

The Full Monty continues at Encore Musical Theatre Company in Dexter MI through October 22nd. Tickets at theEncoreTheatre.org or 734-268-6200


Stirring, tight, intimate “Cabaret” at The Dio (review) September 23, 2016

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Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret has always been a musical theater masterwork. You are in for a stirring and tightly produced production at The Dio. In this intimate setting, the show feels particularly touching.

Steve DeBruyne directs and plays a terrific Emcee and he keeps the energy high and always on the move. There is clever use of minimal furniture and Matt Tomich’s set and lighting design is great. There’s a particularly creative use of the set during the production’s excellent final moments (the production uses the revival version of the show). Michelle Marzejon provides top notch choreography — this show moves. Norma Polk’s costume design looks fantastic as does Christopher Kamm’s hair and makeup. Brian Rose’s musical direction and 5-piece band are terrific.

Liz Jaffe acts and sings a particularly strong Sally Bowles and Peter Crist is perfectly marvelous as Cliff Bradshaw.  Jared Schneider is excellent as Ernst. Dale Dobson and Olive Hayden-Moore simply sizzle in the roles of Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider. Natalie Rose Sevick is a dynamic Fraulein Kost and doubles as a Kit Kat Girl. The entire supporting cast works as a tight ensemble and are all strong singer dancer actors.

If you’ve seen Cabaret before you’ll be truly surprised by what performing this show in a small intimate setting does for the piece. If you have never seen Cabaret you will be surprised by what a musical can say about the human need for connection even as your world is falling apart. Leave your kids at home, but don’t hesitate a moment to get your tickets before they are all gone.

Highest Recommendation.

Cabaret continues at The Dio through October 30th. 177 E Main Street, Pinckney MI (517) 672-6009 or http://www.diotheatre.com


Fantastic cast creates a hilarious Spelling Bee (A2CT Review) September 8, 2016

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I’ve made it a habit to see “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at least once a theater season — and you can’t ask for a better production than the one currently running at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.

A hilarious (and pitch-perfect) cast creates a great evening of musical theater at the Lydia Mendelssohn that will have you howling with laughter one moment, and misting up a bit the next during this elementary school spelling bee (all the characters are played by adults) that is equal parts mockumentary and old-fashioned story-telling musical.

Director Wendy Sielaff and choreographer Reilly Conlon (with additional help from Sielaff) keep the musical moving swiftly through its 95 intermissionless minutes. Each of the (stereotyped) child spellers is beautifully crafted by this very funny and talented cast. Emily Fishman is an excellent Olive. Hallie Fox is all spunk as Marcy. Keshia Daisy Oliver lisps her way through a touching Loraine. Bob Cox is all gangly hijinx as Chip. Nathan King is a simply superb Coneybear (it takes special talent to instantly bring you from high to low in just two lines of song). Connor Rhoades is a “sure-footed” Barfee (see what I did there?). The “adults” here are equally strong — Allison Ackerman is a very good Rona, and Brandon Cave a side-splitting Panch (of course he does get to deliver the shows funniest lines). Nick Rapson is wonderful as “grief counselor” Mitch.

Production values here are strong – from the simple set design (Mike and Wendy Sielaff) to the clean lighting design (Brian Meyers), costume design (Nan Wirth), and sound design (Bob Skon). Debbie Nichols conducts and plays keyboard with the tight 5-piece  onstage ensemble, and her vocal direction is excellent — the diction and harmonies here sound great.

I’ll be the first to admit that 25th Annual is one of those pieces that is so finely written that you already know its going to be hilarious. In the hands of an excellent cast such as this one, it makes it soar.

Highest Recommendation.

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee continues at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, Michigan League Building, University of Michigan through Sunday September 11th. Tickets at the door, at a2ct.org, or by calling 734-971-2228.



Hilarious “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Croswell Opera House (review) August 13, 2016

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Croswell Opera House opened its final musical of the summer season, The Drowsy Chaperone, last night in Adrian — and they have saved the best for last! Drowsy is a musical theater-lovers dream show, and it is hilarious and exceptionally well done at Croswell.

Man in Chair (gifted and very funny Patrick Toth) settles in to tell the audience the story of 1920’s musical theater “chestnut” The Drowsy Chaperone, complete with fond anecdotes about the cast, the show, and an equally catty look at musicals today. Toth is onstage the entire evening and the work that he does is remarkable. Never out of character, he guides, narrates, and even participates in some of the scenes. Great job. He does exactly what the opening monologue says he will do — transport you to another place, even if it is inside his apartment.

Equally wonderful are Erica Wyman as the chaperone, whose boozy “As We Stumble Along” equaled or maybe excelled over Beth Leavel’s tony-winning performance last night as she performed “the greatest anthem to alcoholism”; and Franny Kromminga as ingenue Janet — who clearly is having the time of her life “not showing off no more”. Matthew Pecek plays a spry bridegroom, Robert, and Joseph Ball a hilarious best man George. Suzanne Smith and Stephen Kiersey are delightful as Tottendale and Underling. Jared Hoffert is very funny as he chews the scenery as producer Feldzieg, and Jamie Lynn Buechele, as his girlfriend Kitty, shines in a hilarious vocal role. Throw in John Bacarella and Peter Stewart as dancing gangsters, a wonderful over the top performance by Bruce Hardcastle as Adolpho (whaaaat?), and fine Lori Macdonald as Trix the Aviatrix.

The leads are supported by a strong ensemble (though at times there are too many of them on stage making some scenes feel like, well, there are too many people on stage). But they sing and dance well, and help with set changes as necessary. Everything moves non-stop, even acting scenes take on a musical tone and movement. Bravo.

Director Mark DiPietro has done a masterful job keeping everything barreling along, laugh after laugh, and choreographer Delle Clair has provided fun (and audience pleasing) choreography including a plentiful smattering of tap. Musical Director Jonathan Sills stellar vocal work shows throughout, and his wonderful orchestra does the Croswell proud yet again.

Doug Miller has created a gorgeous set, and it all works well and runs like clockwork. Pam Krage and Emily Gifford designed the many beautiful (and often large) costume pieces. Tiff Crutchfield has lit it all in colorful broadway shades and it works well on the stage.

It should be noted that this otherwise intermission-less musical has an intermission added at the Croswell — so that instead of being out the door on your way to after-show drinks at 9:50, you’ll be there a bit later.

I have now seen Drowsy many times — and it makes me laugh out loud every time. DiPietro has mined the show for even more laughs than I can recall — and it made me feel positively giddy at the end of the evening.

Very Highest Recommendation.

The Drowsy Chaperone continues at The Croswell Opera House through August 21st. Tickets at croswell.org or by calling 517-264-SHOW

Music and Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar.



This Fair Lady has Done Me In (Review – Encore Musical Theatre Company) August 6, 2016

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Photo courtesy Encore staff photographer, Michele Anliker


Lerner and Loewe’s MY FAIR LADY is probably the last musical you would expect to see at the Encore Musical Theatre Company – how do  you make all those costumes and sets work in a space that small? Well let me tell you, the production that opened last night at the Encore is not only scrumptious, but it is the finest musical they have done to date. Consider yourself lucky if you have a ticket, because its entire run is sold out.

Jessica Grové is a remarkable Eliza Doolittle and this is her musical top to bottom, acting, singing, and having the time of her life. You can’t keep your eyes off of her and her powerhouse performance, whether that is singing her way through a lovely “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” (with some great vocal support by the male quartet) or tearing through the more dramatic “Show Me”, leaving suitor Freddy literally floored.

Daniel Gerroll plays a dynamic Henry Higgins and his interactions with Eliza have a particular poignancy. The wordplay and meaning are clear in this intimate setting. Their interactions in Act II brought an angle to the show I had not considered before, and it works well here. Eliza’s transformation is particularly compelling, while Higgins goes for a slightly different ride than the usual take on the part.

There’s a wonderful performance by UM Musical Theater senior Riley McFarland as Freddy whose vocal chops soar in “On the Street Where You Live”; Dale Dobson turns in a fun Colonel Pickering; and always one of my favorites Keith Kalinowski plays a boisterous and humor-laden Alfred Doolittle singing and dancing his merry way through “With a Little Bit of Luck” and later the very fun “Get Me To The Church on Time”.

The entire ensemble is terrific — and they sing, dance, and support the leads throughout. The work here is simply stellar from top to bottom. Great to see old favorites on stage, as well as a handful of newcomers who I hope stay here forever.

Director and Designer Tony Walton has created a sumptuous feast of a musical, and despite its long (three hour) length, it never feels too slow. The sets fit in a jigsaw puzzle fashion in the space, and everything looks open and airy. Projections by Mr Walton are gorgeous, at times black and white, at times spotted with color, and representational of the original Broadway sets. It works magnificently here, and with no surprise given Mr Walton’s Tony/Drama Desk/Academy Award background. He’s helped by some terrific lighting by Robert Perry, gorgeous costumes by Caitlin Graham and Yuka Silvera (Eliza’s costumes). Choreography by Matthew Brennan is appropriate to the space and never repetitive. Anne Donevan’s props looks terrific as does Andy Galicki’s projection work. Tyler Driskill has done his usual excellent vocal work as musical director, and his 6-piece backstage band sounds terrific throughout.

As mentioned earlier — the entire run, every single ticket is sold out. If you hold a ticket, consider yourself the bearer of treasure, because you will not want to miss this MY FAIR LADY. There is a cancellation list at the box office — which is several pages long. I suggest you join it if you are looking for tickets – any tickets – to this production.

Very Highest Recommendation.

Very slick and hilarious “SPAMALOT” at Farmers Alley Theatre, Kalamazoo (review) July 23, 2016

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Farmer’s Alley Theatre is currently presenting their largest show to date. Kalamazoo’s professional theater company has never mounted as large a Broadway musical production as Spamalot, and it is resounding success.

Hilarious from the get-go, it weaves together a fractured tale of King Arthur and his men seeking the Holy Grail. (The musical is primarily based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail, although it lifts some sequences from their other movies as well). When it opened in NYC, it brought in a whole new type of audience — one that wasn’t necessarily musical lovers, and it led to a whole new style of musical theater meant for broader audiences (and sometimes putting off seasoned musical theater lovers). Though what’s not to love about Spamalot as it makes its way through 2.5 hours of hilarity at WMU’s Little Theatre.

Director Choreographer Stephen Brotebeck has done an excellent job of keeping everything looking spiffy, moving quickly, and delivering big laughs. Music Director Kellee Love Hazleton’s work is outstanding — in fact, this ensemble cast sounds (and moves) terrifically. W. Douglas Blickle’s set design is outstanding, and it is lit well by Jason Frink. Sarah Mauer’s costumes fill the stage with color and flash.

Dirk Lumbard is an excellent King Arthur — his underplayed facial expressions had me laughing all night. Also outstanding is Zachary Joel Smits in his many roles, but none of them had me laughing harder than his French Taunter (you know, “your mother smells of elderberries….I’m going to fart in your general direction”). Jamila Sabares-Klemm is an exceptional Lady of the Lake and she blows the vocals out of the water during her Vegas sequence. The entire ensemble is excellent – not a week link in the bunch, and the non-stop choreography is funny, fast moving, and very well executed.

This production is also the very best I have seen locally. This is a show that almost every regional and community theatre has picked up by now. But Farmers Alley’s production is by far the best of any that I have seen locally. If you are a Monty Python fan, its well worth the drive to Kalamazoo to see the show. Its sold out this weekend, but there are tickets available for next weekends final shows.

HIGHEST Recommendation. You won’t see it done better anywhere.

Monty Pythons Spamalot continues at Farmers Alley Theatre, at WMU’s Little Theatre through July 31st. farmersalleytheatre.com or 269-343-2727