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Croswell Opera House cancels remaining summer/early fall musicals – plans outdoor and special events July 3, 2020

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The Croswell Opera House has announced several changes to its summer and fall schedule due to the ongoing Coronavirus situation. Three previously scheduled shows are being canceled or postponed, and a number of outdoor and online events are taking their place.

The musicals “Holiday Inn,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Cabaret,” which had been scheduled for August, September and October, are coming off of the schedule. 

Instead, the Croswell is planning a variety of outdoor and online events, including:

  • “Every Brilliant Thing,” a one-woman play that was originally scheduled for April. This play will be performed in late July in the Farmers Market Pavilion on Toledo Street.
  • An outdoor concert series in the courtyard behind Adrian City Hall and the Adrian District Library.
  • An online magic show with Stuart MacDonald.
  • An outdoor fall concert with opera singer Leah Crocetto.

All of these events will comply with state and federal guidelines for crowd size and social distancing.

“Even though it’s disappointing to take shows off of our schedule, we’re excited about the things we’re planning instead,” said Jere Righter, the Croswell’s artistic director. “We’ve been getting creative and stretching our brains and coming up with new ways to do things, and I think people will enjoy what’s coming up.”

Even though Michigan’s Coronavirus numbers have improved, Righter said, the Croswell does not feel it would be responsible to plan full-scale musicals inside the theater at this point.

“Michigan has gotten this situation under control better than almost any other state, and we feel good about that,” Righter said. “But we’re not at the next phase of reopening yet, and what’s happening right now in states like Texas and Florida also gives us cause for concern.”

Theaters in southern Michigan still cannot be open, and theaters in northern Michigan are operating at 25 percent of their capacities.

An additional complication is that most Croswell shows rehearse for six to eight weeks, and auditions need to take place about three months before opening night.

“The health of our volunteer performers is our top priority, and we aren’t to a point where we feel we can rehearse safely,” Righter said.

Even if the situation improves by fall, Righter said, the Croswell’s production schedule requires making choices well in advance of planned show dates.

“With so much uncertainty, we can’t afford to start working on these shows knowing there is a strong chance they would get canceled later on,” she said. “Every show is a major investment in both time and money, so we need to make these decisions early.”

The theater is still hoping to present the classic country act Branson on the Road in early November, the musical “A Christmas Story” starting Thanksgiving weekend, and Under the Streetlamp’s “Hip to the Holidays” concert a few days before Christmas.

The Croswell also announced this week that all gift certificates and house credits with a 2020 expiration date will be extended through the end of 2021.People with tickets to “Holiday Inn,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Cabaret” will be contacted by email about their options. Anyone with questions can email tickets@croswell.org or call 517-264-7469 and leave a voicemail.

What’s On? June 20, 2020

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In these unprecedented times, the Ann Arbor theater circle faces ongoing shutdowns and cancellation of performances and events. Here’s the most updated information I have been able to gather for the immediate Ann Arbor area and surrounding communities. Keep in mind that theaters and other arts organizations depend on donations even when shows are fully open, so needed now more than ever. Consider a donation to your favorite theater group today.

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre — all performances cancelled through March 2021

Michigan Shakespeare Festival – cancelled through summer 2021

Encore Musical Theatre Company – closed until further notice

Dio Theatre and Dining – closed until further notice

Theatre Nova – closed until further notice

Dexter Community Players – shows postponed until further notice

Saline Area Players – shows currently postponed

Chelsea Area Players – currently on hold

Penny Seats – moved all shows to 2021 beginning in July

Pinckney Players – planning on Fall 2020 reopening, currently on hold

Ann Arbor Musical Theater Works – closed until Fall 2021

Arbor Opera Theater – Currently on hold

Neighborhood Theater Group – all performances postponed

PTD – all shows postponed until 2021

Pointless Brewery and Theatre – stage and taproom closed, occasional curbside pickup

Purple Rose – Closed until further notice

Spotlight Players Canton – Sound of Music Fall 2020 (tentative)

Croswell Opera House – All summer/fall musicals canceled, special events TBA

CATS is weird, but CATS is CATS, and the dancing is outstanding. And I didn’t hate it. December 20, 2019

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Movies, musical theater, Musicals, Uncategorized.
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It’s very rare that I write a review that totally seems to contradict the mainstream movie critics, but this review of CATS is one of them.

Not that it’s a good movie — but it’s a very solid adaptation/interpretation of the stage musical. If you do not love musical theater, then for God’s sake stay away from this Andrew Lloyd Webber atrocity. But if you do love musical theater, and especially if you love dance, you will find very much to admire in this movie – complete with a sure-fire Oscar nomination for Jennifer Hudson, whose “Memory” is simply stunning.

Let me acknowledge up front that I love the stage musical and saw it many times in its original Broadway run, on the West End (faithfully captured for video and streaming at BroadwayHD), the revival with its many UM Musical Theater grads, and on tour. I might have even performed Mungojerrie at one point along the line (evidence is classified). 

The show has always been problematic – but one thing that was never problematic either then or now was that the musical brought dance back to musical theater – something only rare productions (A Chorus Line, 42nd Street) were doing at the time. Then along came CATS with its popular score, and its weird mix of ballet, tap, jazz, modern Broadway dance, with a touch of British music hall thrown in. It was an instant hit and ran for years.

Let me get this out of the way – Tom Hopper was the absolutely wrong choice to direct this movie, though I suppose it would not have gotten the green light if a name like Hopper had not been attached. His use of closeups when we should be in full stage, and weird sweeps toward the performers rather than away from them is distracting and wrong for this script.

And the CGI is distracting and terrible – though not as terrible as in the original teaser trailers. Still, it’s enough that you want to pull your hair out at times. It might have been less eerie if they had costumed most of the cast, rather than putting CGI fur on their entire bodies. Believe me, Robbie Fairchild and Idris Elba would have still looked like hunks even in costumes. 

Sure there is star power — a lot of it — and each gets featured in their own number. Already mentioned are Jennifer Hudson and Idris Elba, but there are empathic Judi Dench and Ian McKellen, pop-centric but fitting right in Taylor Swift, and funny James Cordon and Rebel Wilson — there’s no trick casting here – they are all good in their stereotypical roles, and there are no Les Miserables type embarrassments in the vocal/acting departments. Cats has never been sublte. Why settle for actors that are subtle?

But where the show explodes is in its dance numbers. Robbie Fairchild and Francesca Hayward are ballet dancers that are a joy to watch – Laurie Davidson is great as Mr Mistoffelees, Steven McRae is outstanding doing his tap number for Skimbleshanks. Danny Collins and Naomhi Morgan are great as Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. 

The score is also beautifully reorchestrated and lush. It “sounds” Broadway and less tinny than the original West End arrangements.

Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton, In the Heights, Bandstand) takes a look at the original choreograpy and expands it with strong hiphop and ballet woven into its dance tapestry. It just works. 

I suggest we all take a step back and forget about the weird and unnecessary CGI fur and sets, and remember that this is a damn musical about people playing CATS for two hours. Seriously, What do you expect? But let’s not take a step back from something Hopper has well-continued here from the original…you do not forget throughout that these are people doing incredible work – vocally, and particularly in dance. And that is the way this show was designed. You are not supposed to think, for an instant, that these are real cats. And that is where the CGI goes wrong and errs on the “real cats” look. Its a mark of people not believing in their material. 

Hey, really, I would much rather rewatch the stage production on BroadwayHD any day. But I am not going to lambast this work for something some critics are making out to be a disaster.

It is far from a disaster. It’s CATS. Now and forever. (Ugh). 

Outstanding The Addams Family at Osceola Arts (Review – Kissimmee, FL) October 5, 2019

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There’s a stunning production of The Addams Family musical at Osceola Arts running through October 13th. 

I’m going to be honest, I was skeptical prior to arrival (except of course for the excellent word of mouth the show has been getting around Orlando) but I have seen this musical in different theaters over the past few years probably ten times (in addition to the original Broadway production and it’s tour). None of those productions fully captured the magic of the Broadway production until this one at Osceola Arts.

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Beutifully directed by Dominic Del Brocco, the show flies along at excellent pace, with outstanding comic timing throughout. Leads and ensemble are excellent. It helps that this production limits the Addams Ancestors to a group of 7 (11 on Broadway, and usually dozens in other school and community productions) so that each of them has something important to do. 

Kim Cole’s choreography is interesting and crisply performed – there isn’t a missed beat in this cast. Morticia’s numbers are particularly well done. 

Ah, Morticia! Mahalia Gronigan is the quintessential Morticia Addams – acting, dancing, singing. Sometimes she need do nothing but make the look — you know, that Morticia look — and the laughs are already flowing. Yan Diaz is hilarious as Gomez, and he carries the bulk of the evening’s slapstick and songs. His scenes together with Mahalia are musical theatre perfection. Grace Gustino is a great Wednesday Addams and Christopher Robinson turns in a strong performance as her boyfriend Lucas. Elijah Gragg and Sarah Marshall are terrific as his uptight parents. Supporting parts are all strong, played by Garrett Williams, Cindy Barnum, and Michael Lupo. A particular favorite of mine in this production was Pugsley, (played by a high school student rather than the usual child actor) Logan Clinger who brought both an unexpected vulnerability but also twisted adult knowingness to his role. 

The Addams Ancestors were tightly performed and danced by Parker Bradford, Joey Green, Sean Hancock, Lauren Hutchinsonm Samantha Kestenbaum, Corinne Posner, and Hannah Zwemer. 

Everything plays out on a superb set designed by Cliff Price — his multi-tiered set works perfectly for the production, is filled with eye-popping detail, and helps make everything flow well on stage. It all looks and feels, well, Addams-y.

This is top-tier work by all involved and even if you have seen the show before, it is highly worth a visit to this loonyness performed and produced better than you have seen it anywhere else. 

Very highest recommendation.

The Addams Family continues at Osceola Arts, through October 13th, 2411 E Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy, Kissimmee, FL 34744 – tickets: OsceolaArts.org

Broadway reviews: Electrifying HADESTOWN, Fun BE MORE CHILL, Divisive OKLAHOMA! March 24, 2019

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Note that Be More Chill has opened, Hadestown and Oklahoma! are still in previews, though both are transfers to Broadway, the former from the West End, the latter from an Off-Broadway run at St Ann’s Warehouse last year.

HADESTOWN, at the Walter Kerr Theatre, is quite simply the most electrifying musical I have seen since the original Spring Awakening in 2006. It’s exactly what you would expect from the creators of Natasha and Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 but it actually has more in common with Spring Awakening, A group of denizens of a New Orleans jazz club tell the interwoven stories of Greek mythology’s Orpheus and Eurydice, and Hades and Persephone. If you know your mythology, you know how it plays out (kind of). If you don’t you probably should NOT go read up on them, because part of the journey is learning the story as you go. The remarkable cast plays out the story on a gorgeous multi-turntable-elevator set (at one point entirely disassembling) and it contains one memorable stage picture after another. The score blends pop, jazz, rock, Broadway, alt-rock, and blues. 

But it is about much more than that — it’s about finding your artistic identity; taking chances despite the risks; trusting others while believing in yourself, and most of all, it is about how the history of story telling can convey real human emotion whether that is in ancient times, or the very real present. It’s about why we have told those stories for thousands of years, and how they still resonate today. 

Reeve Carney and Eva Noblezada play the younger lovers, and Patrick Page and Amber Gray (amazing) the elder part-time pair. André de Shields narrates and takes the part of Hermes. There are three Fates, a kind of Pointer Sisters trio of singers/guides, and a five member Greek Chorus (though the orchestra also joins in from time to time.)

By the time Orpheus descends into the underground to rescue his beloved Eurydice, the show increasingly integrates lighting design and set design with story and music to create a fully immersive musical that is visceral. You feel the energy pulsate to the music as it builds, and there were stunned gasps at several critical moments – because the audience is fully along for this journey and so in-tune with the feelings that you can’t help but recognize yourself in these 2600 year old Greek gods. And that’s a miracle in itself.

I can’t see anything else opening this season that will beat Hadestown in almost any category at awards time. Music, Lyrics and Book by Anaïs Mitchell, Developed and Directed by Rachel Chavkin. Very Highest Recommendation.

BE MORE CHILL opened at the Lyceum Theatre after a successful off-Broadway run. This is the show that went viral among high school and college theater kids from the original album and YouTube videos. “Michael in the Bathroom” has become a standard audition song for boys character parts. Don’t know the story? What if thre was a pill you could take that made you instantly “cool”. Yeah, that’s basically it. And there is very little “chill” here – it’s a frenetic, fast-paced, sometimes slapped-together-feeling musical about high school’s travails, horrors, and triumphs. It is also a lot of fun, and the older audience members around me enjoyed it as much as their teenagers who they were stuck paying 149.00 a ticket for. 

Seriously, I don’t know if there is much more that I can say about it. The show is funny, cleverly staged in primary colors, and Joe Iconis’s tuneful but unremarkable songs are sold by a terrific but interchangeable cast. I’m not sure how long it’s primarily high-school age target-market will keep this show running, so see it now if you want to. You will have fun. I liked it and thought it was better than I had expected.

High Schools are already permitted to perform the show (and have been for two years) and as these things go, it’s not the strongest high school show either. But it’s a cleaner alternative to Heathers and Grease, so I suppose it wll run its course, probably sooner rather than later. In short, this is a off-Broadway musical that has somehow made it to Broadway, but probably would do better in the long-run back off-Broadway.

Finally on this trip, there was Daniel Fish’s brilliant but divisive OKLAHOMA! at Circle in the Square. There is no way to soft-soap this one: audiences will either love or hate this experimental street-theater take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 musical. Fish has said he wants modern audiences to “hear” the dialogue, and the lyrics, and to interpret it in a new way.

The idea here is that the audience members are guests at a box social, where the story plays out on a stage filled with tables with picnic fixins on them. At times they are incorporated into the blocking (Will Parker lies on a table at one point, fanning the lid of a chili pot at Ado Annie). At another, the female cast shuck corn in a hilarious sequence.  There are long portions where lights do not go down at all in the thrust theater; and others where dialogue is delivered in blackout for minutes at a time. There is video woven in, mostly facial close-ups. And Dream Laurie is danced by a young black woman in a silver oversized t-shirt that reads Dream BABY Dream. The entire ballet “story” is lost in the modern dance and really, except for a lot of prancing and preening, and some terrific athleticism, there is zero correlation to the story and it is also the only place in the show where the music dissolves into screeches of electric guitar that obscure the melody line. This sequence is by far the most controversial of the reinterpretations made by Fish. 

This is not Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma. This is Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma, and it is dark, brooding, ominous, and ultimately very bloody. (Gone are the subtler knives used in the original, replaced by guns throughout).  This hyper-realism will either rock your boat, or you will leave at intermission. (My performance had numerous walk-outs during the break – while the rest of us ate vegan chili and cornbread on stage). 

The cast is stripped down to 12. The orchestra is reduced to 7 pieces and while it has a “country bluegrass” sort of sound to it, it does not change any of the actual songs, lyrics, dialogue, or underscores. The tonal change makes it feel more natural, and strangely, just as lush. The cast is diverse racially and Ado Annie is played by an actress in a wheel chair.

Performances range from exceptional to wooden, although that is not the fault of the remarkable cast, but rather their staging. This is a production that feels very much “directed” but the cast are game and play their parts with skill and talent. Even when they sometimes sit around in chairs, not interacting with each other. Or play guitar while they sing. Or do a big upbeat finale while dressed in blood-splattered wedding clothes. 

Never dull, I sat riveted, completely appreciating what Fish is doing with the piece. At the same time, I wished I was seeing a standard version of the show. Though to be fair, I probably wouldn’t have bought tickets to a standard revival of the musical – and I think that proves Fish’s point right there. Theater educators and those who enjoy fresh takes on shows should make it a point to see the show You will either love it or hate it, but you will never be bored at this production. Daniel Fish is brilliant – though his work isn’t for everyone.

The Polar Express is the worst Christmas movie ever. December 22, 2018

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“I may be just an old railroader but”…The Polar Express movie (2004) is one of the worst Christmas movies ever.

1. The CGI, while relatively good for the train and the scenery, is horrible with faces. As a result, the people all look, well, creepy. Tom Hanks and Josh Hutcherson notwithstanding, its frigging terrible.

2. Those elves! OMG! Talk about creepy. “I’ll take care of this…truuuust me”. Gives me shivvers every time I hear that creature-elf say that to Billy then he rips the box out of his hands.

3. The songs. Believe is a lovely Christmas song. It put Josh Groban on the map nationally. But the soaring and repetitive score doesn’t match the action at all.

4. Santa! What the heck is wrong with Santa! He looks like he melted somewhere along the way.

6. That strange “Santa Claus is coming to Town” sung by the elves. No, really, it’s the strangest thing ever. 

7. Billy’s animation. He’s always in the background moving his head around like he doesn’t have a good view. 

8. Obnoxious Good Girl. Enough said. Talk about “know it alls”. 

9. Know-It-All-Kid is the only one that really gets what’s going on – and they treat him like the antagonist??

10. “The FIrst GIft of Christmas” — a bell. Really? Rich self-entitled kid from Grand Rapids only wants a bell? What the hell?

11. The whole story. Train conductor lures children onto a train in the middle of the night to go to the North Pole? Want some hot chocolate little boy?

12. Hot hot hot chocolate. Where the heck did these waiters all come from? Never seen again and clearly not onboard the train when they are walking end to end. Um, did they just jump off the train? Did the conductor push them off?

13. I believe the girl saying “I didn’t do it” before I believe those creepy elves sitting in judgement. Everyone is the worst. Never trust an elf.

14. A train would never glide on ice like that – it would just tip over and kill everyone on board.

15. That train keeps changing sizes. Sometimes it has 10 cars. Sometimes, 6. Sometimes 3. Whatever.

16. Learn, Count on, Lead, Believe. Ha! Hahahahahaha. What are they teaching these kids? It’s nothing I need know. 

17. Don’t eat blue snow.

Practically Perfect “Mary Poppins Returns” (review) December 20, 2018

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The greatly awaited Mary Poppins Returns has opened – and despite a few mis-steps, it is another instant Disney classic and one of the best pictures of the year.

Picking up a few decades after the original, Michael and Jane Banks are all grown up – he’s a bank teller but wannabe artist, and she’s a social reformer (its mentioned once and never referred to again). Michael’s wife has recently died, he’s finding it difficult to manage the house, the children, and the mortgage (gasp), and it’s high time Mary returns to help. Just like the original, Mary returns more to help the adults than the kids. But the kids are the ones that get to have a great time.

In a uniformly excellent cast, Emily Blunt is practically perfect as Mary, which should come as no surprise at all to those who have followed her career, including musicals. Lin-Manuel Miranda is terrific as lamplighter Jack (and emotion-lighter for Jane, who otherwise kinda has little do to in this movie) and his musical theater roots are on full display in both his lovely mellow singing voice (yes, singing, not hip-hop rapping – well, almost not rapping but I’ll get to that) and his hoofing! Tap, modern, jazz, Broadway, he gets to do it all here and he’s terrific. 

Ben Whishaw is outstanding as Michael. His sad eyes occasionally twinkle in recognition of his childhood adventures with Mary, and he has a lovely understated singing voice. When things take flight in the penultimate scene, he literally makes you believe his anxiety has been left earthbound while he soars skyward. Emily Mortimer is a solid and spunky Jane. 

There are several great cameo appearances, and while some have been publicized (Meryl Streep) others are a terrific surprise so I won’t spoil that here. Streep, for the record, gets to play a fun and zany character that is saddled with the absolutely worst song in the movie (oh, I’ll get to THAT as well). Colin Firth plays a dynamite bad guy. Julie Walters is fun as the maid.

Disney pulls out all the stops in Broadway director/choreographer Rob Marshall’s production. The sets and costumes look great, and there is nostalgic fun in mixing live-action with animation (and wow, has it come a long way since 1964) but also some true  movie magic once they start mixing live action, animation, AND CGI at the same time. It’s great work.

It makes you almost (almost) forget the dreadful hip hop segment that Miranda performs while books become magical stairsteps. I think people know my thoughts on hip hop, and it’s no different here. On the other hand, his show-stopping “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” gets it just right.

That brings me to the one downside of the affair – Marc Shaiman’s lackluster forgettable score. Shaiman is an expert at making things “sound” like the 60’s which fits the style of the movie completely – just like he did with Hairspray and Catch me If You Can. What he can’t do here is create a single hummable tune. So while the score “sounds” a bit like the original, it comes nowhere near to the powerhouse score that lifted Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke into musical heaven. In fact, I found myself humming Step in Time as I left the theater, not anything from this movie. And there are two horrendous mis-steps…the first, the aforementioned hip hop sequence in “A Cover is not the Book”, an otherwise perfectly serviceable, if forgetable, montage of music-hall songs. But that is nothing compared to the dreadful “Turning Turtle” that Streep is saddled with. I’m not even going to bore you with the details there – you’ll see for yourself and shake your head.

It’s not often that you get an audience of movie reviewers clapping midstream, and cheering along with the action, so on the general movie front, Mary Poppins Returns succeeds grandly.

I just wish it had a score that made it Best Picture worthy. As it is, it’s just Best Picture Nominee worthy. 

Very Highly Recommended.

Incredible vocals send “next to normal” soaring (Review, Croswell Opera House) October 20, 2018

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Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s award-winning musical next to normal is on soaring vocal display at Croswell Opera House where it opened last night and runs through October 28th.

The outstanding cast is comprised of Natalie Kissinger as Diana, Joe Nolan as her husband Dan, Dominic Seipenko as son Gabe, Emily Courcy as daughter Natalie, Andrew Buckshaw as the doctors Madden and Fine, and Jonathan Stelzer as Natalie’s boyfriend Henry. Each is strong individually, but also help create powerhouse vocals when they appear together.

Without giving away too much (although I suppose most theater goer’s know the storyline by now) it concerns a suburban family dealing with mom’s mental illness and the ways different people cope with grief. It’s probably also not giving away too much to mention that the show was originally called “Feeling Electric” during its pre-Broadway workshops before being renamed next to normal. 

It all plays out on Director Doug Miller’s excellent set, with Tiff Crutchfield’s lighting design. The orchestra sounds superb and is under the direction of outstanding musical director Dave Rains. 

I directed a production of n2n for Ann Arbor Civic Theatre some years ago and know every word and phrase of this show along with their subtext, so I will refrain from mentioning some minor quibbles about some of the staging. I will however mention that in some places actors are in partial (or in a few instances entirely) in shadow near and around the upper level handrail.

In its New York Times review, they referred to the show as a “feel everything musical”, a phrase that was quickly used synonymously with its other advertising blips. And so it is. The show is engaging, intense, at times very funny. It captures a slice of life that many in the audience have coped with related to their own family members or friends, and the ending is not tied neatly into a bow for the audience.

Highly Recommended. Bring tissues.

next ot normal, Croswell Opera House, 129 E Maumee, Adrian, MI – croswell.org for tickets, or 517-264-show, or at the door. 

Spectacular performances in this Gypsy (Review, Garden Theatre, Winter Garden, FL) August 26, 2018

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Gypsy opened a strong run at the Garden Theatre in Winter Garden on Friday night, and it proves that even when a good production of the show might be a bit rough around the edges, the show itself gleams and provides a stunner of a showcase for talented performers. There’s a reason this 1959 musical is one of the best musical theater pieces ever written. (I personally consider Gypsy, 4nd Street, and A Chorus Line the all-time three best musicals). 

Based very loosly on stripper Gypsy Rose Lee’s memoirs, the show is about making it in show business no matter what the personal cost. In this case, it’s Mama Rose who loses her daughters, potential fourth husband, and a score of child actors who eventually leave as their traveling vaudeville act grows stale, vaudeville itself is dying, and the ragtag remainder find themselves in a house of burlesque where second-banana daughter Louise reads lines and eventually steps in to strip becoming an overnight sensation and superstar. Louise later went on to star in several movies (none of them successful) and appear in plays, musicals, and television. That part of the story is entirely omitted here, because this is mostly Mama’s story – Rose is the stage mother of all stage mothers. Gypsy was written by Arthur Laurents (who also did the original direction and choreography), Music was written by Jule Styne, and Lyrics were written by Stephen Sondheim. 

There is no doubt what you are getting into from the opening 4 notes of the overture. Therein lies my first concern – but I will get back to that.

Directed and choreographed by Tom Vazzana, the performances here are superb — AEA actors Andrea Canny as Rose (magnificent) and Andrea Stack as Louise (stunning) lead a very strong ensemble cast, although this is probably one of the smallest casts of this production I have seen (and I’ve seen all of the Broadway productions since 1974 and scores of regional productions and the recent West End production). That leaves the Garden Theatre with a dilemma — doubling actors and actresses as teenage kids is tricky when your adult actors are pushing 30 or older. Neither the teen male cast newsboys nor the teen girls cast toreadorables are young enough. I get it, I know. But it doesn’t work. Still, there is talent to spare. Dancer Arcadian Broad turns in a spectacular performance as Tulsa and “All I Need is the Girl” sparkles in a way other numbers don’t.

I wanted to love this production, Instead, I liked it enough, but I wasn’t wowed. 

That orchestra — well, Garden Theatre uses tracked music so nothing here feels authentic. If ever a show calls out for a live orchestra, it’s Gypsy. In fact, traditionally, the orchestra interacts with the performers in the second act. There are also cuts made to the score and to the show itself. Rose doesn’t gather the boys in the first act, they just appear at their first gig — that loses the entire running gag of where they have been assembled from (Tulsa, Yonkers, LA)…and there are cuts in some songs. I mean, I know, the show is long – but cutting ten minutes of it doesn’t make any difference, especially when these songs are so well known.

In particular dance sequences are cut – the newboys tap number never takes place, and other dance numbers are shortened and simplified. That’s great when you don’t have good dancers — but this cast has very good dancers. The very standard strobe-light kids turning into teens dance section is also cut. 

For a musical that takes on a decidedly adult edge in the second act (there is a reason the kids onstage disappear after the first act) this is a very family friendly production, Hilarious strippers Tessie Tura (Cathy Merkel-Roddy), Mazeppa (Wendy Starkand), and Electra (Nathalia Duque) show very little skin, and later the ensemble strippers are entirely cut. The Strip sequence itself is very toned down. Yeah, sure, it conveys the feeling of the action, but it isn’t what’s written. You never get the sense that Gypsy has actually become a stripper instead of just a good actress. The sequence has no seediness. And that is an audience loss. 

During Stack’s lovely “Little Lamb” the actors on stage left move so much that it pulls focus through the entire sequence.  Set changes at times take too long, especially when not much is happening but a group of actors going off and another group already sitting behind the curtain waiting for it to open. Its little things like that that add up to a less than perfect Gypsy.

The set itself is lovely, designed by Joe Klug (who does wonders on this show without a fly system) as is the lighting by Alyx Jacobs. Sound designer Jack Audet does a remarkbale job – you can hear and understand every single word. That actually IS the benefit of using an orchestra track – you can turn it up and down as necessary. 

That seems like a lot of criticism, and to a degree it is — Gypsy is a show that I know so intimately that I am well aware of the cuts and changes made here, Most audience members will not be aware of this. I actually had a very good time at this production, and you will too. It’s a solid professional production, but be aware – it is shortened and toned down. And you might be able to overlook the 30 year old teenagers, but I had a hard time doing so.

Recommended.

Gypsy continues at the Garden Theatre through September 16th. 160 West Plant Street, Winter Garden. Tickets: 407-877-4736 or gardentheatre.org

Xanadu the Musical is Strange Magic in All The Best Ways (Review – Garden Theatre) July 21, 2018

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There is a remarkable new production of Xanadu the Musical at the Garden Theatre, and it is every bit as funny as the Broadway production, while additing its own clever spin to the production numbers.

Douglas Carter Beane’s terrific script throws out almost every line of dialogue from the original movie, and cleverly both pays homage to (while tearing apart) the screenplay – making sure to pay particular attention to Olivia Newton John’s affectations (sighs, accent, breathing). The platinum-selling musical score by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar is basically intact, while adding several extra songs in order to flll out the 90-minute intermissionless show. 

Rob Winn Anderson doesn’t miss a thing in directing this satire/homage/eulogy to Xanadu. Jason Whitehead’s musical direction delivers some great sound from the entire cast. Choreography by Denise Ahlert and Anderson is particulary strong here – and the comic timing of the cast is to die for as they add their individual personality to the numbers. Ahlert also provides the skating direction (um, I’m not giving anything away but you know there is roller skating in this show, right?)

It is 1980 Los Angeles and street artist Sonny has lost his insipiration and will to live (a great Brett McMahon). Enter muse (no really, like the Mount Olympus type of muse) Kira (Clio in disguise) to save the day, fall in love, create art (forbidden) and sing her way into Sonny’s heart (fantastic work by Brittney Santoro). Complications arise when they set off to create a roller disco (you know there is roller skating in this show, right?) and they run into a previous project of Clio’s, Danny Maguire, a smooth-talking and singing real estate tycoon (coolly played by Ron Miles). Throw in two jealous muse-sisters (hilarious Amy Sue Hardy as Melpomone and steal-every-scene-in-a-fantastic-way Hannah McGinley Lemasters as Calliope). Lemasters will make you laugh out loud numerous times in what is far and away one of the funniest performances you are likely to see this summer. She out-Jackie Hoffmans Jackie Hoffman, and that’s quite an accomplishment. The rest of the cast is great as they play everything from other muses to mythical creatures on Mount Olympus to roller disco skaters. They are so intricately woven into the evenings production numbers that they are indistinquishable from the leads. Bravo to Michael Angelini, Amanda Decker, David Kotary, and Ellie Roddy. 

The musical numbers are the stars of the movie – I bet you don’t remember a single line of dialogue from the movie, but you remember Gene Kelly tapping his way through a number, and the great Big Band/ELO mashup where the two groups slide together MGM-movie style. The same is true here, but you’ll definitely go home with a few favorite new lines of dialogue as well.

Budgetary considerations and lack of a fly loft eliminate Broadway’s fabulous flying Pegasus, but the solution here is just as clever, and really, far funnier. I also missed the audience on stage like in the NY production, which adds an entirely different level of awkwardness and bewilderment to the procedings. But those are minor quibbles when you have something as remarkable as this production. Whether you find yourself tapping your toes to “Whenever you’re away from me”; catching to stop yourself from singing along to “Have You Never Been Mellow?”; or wanting to get up out of your seat and dance to “Xanadu” or “All Over the World” this is a great show. It is family friendly although the kids will miss the cultural 80’s references — but then again, I am going to venture to say some of the millenials in the audience will too. 

There’s a reason this little show ran more than 500 performances on Broadway – and the reasons for it’s success are on great display at the Garden Theatre. Sadly, the party has to end on July 29th, so get out to downtown Winter Garden and laugh your evening away. You will love Xanadu. If you’ve seen it before, you will love the spin on the show. If you’ve never seen it, well, you are in for a real treat. 

Very Highest Recommendation. 

Xanadu continues at the Garden Theatre through July 29. Tickets at GardenTheatre,org or 407-877-4736. 160 West Plant Street, Winter Garden, FL  34787.