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“The Family Digs” at Croswell Opera House — a great way to inaugurate new studio (review) October 15, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Croswell Opera House, Plays.
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Terrence Hissong’s very funny new family comedy “The Family Digs” opened this weekend to inaugurate the new Croswell Opera House studio theatre (which also doubles as a rehearsal space and you would be hard-pressed to recognize the place). The production is co-produced by Croswell Opera House and Westfall-Hissong production company.

Doug Miller’s spot-on direction and set design result in a fast-paced premier production in the studio, and he has a terrific cast to direct here.

Without giving too much away (its best to see this show not knowing much about it): grown brother and sister Eve and Sunshine (don’t ask, just go with it and find out for yourself) are at wits end when he’s overstayed his welcome in her small apartment. Archeologist father Charles arrives to seek solace when his wife has locked him out of their home. Throw in two of Eve’s work friends Hannah and Sophia with a special proposition and you have the makings of terrific little family comedy that might remind you a bit of your own, especially when you find yourself in cramped quarters.

Meg McNamee is funny neurotic as sister Eve, and J0nathan Stelzer (welcome back to the stage!) is hilarious as Sunshine. Peter Stewart makes for a funny father, beset by a strange malady involving bees. Karen Miller and Emily Allshouse are great in their roles of Eve’s work buddies. Things really start clicking when the interplay between them starts to roll along and Hissong’s use of present day vernacular makes everything feel genuine and real. There are a few twists and turns, and at least a couple surprises in store.

Doug Miller’s set is gorgeous, and looks like a permanent installation rather than the temporary studio set that it is. Lighting by Tiff Crutchfield looks wonderful, both in its use of real apartment lighting, as well as stage lighting.

The Family Digs is a fun piece that I hope finds a good theater life — its a perfect diversion for an evening or afternoon, and its appeal should find a home in regional and community theaters nationwide, starved for good new material with a small cast and modest production needs. I didn’t count but by my estimate the theater holds about 75 people or so, and it was sold out at my performance this afternoon.

I laughed often and had a terrific time at this show, in its wonderful new intimate studio theatre home.

Very Highly Recommended.

The Family Digs continues at Croswell Opera House through October 22nd. Limited tickets available and it is easiest to get them online at http://www.croswell.org 

 

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Croswell announces 2017-18 Special Event Series October 8, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Croswell Opera House, Entertainment, Theatre.
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Croswell announces 2017-18 Special Event Series

Concerts, musicals, a play, a children’s show, and more are coming up this fall, winter and spring at the Croswell Opera House.

The Croswell’s 2017-18 Special Event Series will run from October through April. It includes a few previously announced events plus several new shows.

“The Family Digs” (Oct. 13-22): This new play by Terry Hissong will be the first fully staged production in the Croswell’s new studio theater. A two-act comedy, it tells the story of an eccentric archaeologist, his long-suffering adult daughter, his freeloading New Age son, and what could be the greatest archaeological discovery of all time. Peter Stewart plays the father, Dr. Charles Edwards, with Meg McNamee as his long-suffering daughter, Eve, and Jonathan Stelzer as his New Age-aficionado son, Robert, who insists on being called Sunshine. Emily Allshouse and Karen Miller play Sophia and Hannah, two of Eve’s co-workers.

The play will be the first fully staged production in the Croswell’s new James E. Van Doren Studio, which is located on the second floor of the theater at 129 E. Maumee St. in Adrian. It is being presented in collaboration with Westfall-Hissong Productions.

“The Family Digs” runs the weekends of Oct. 13-15 and Oct. 20-22, with Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday shows at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for students. The play is recommended for ages 13 and up.

Fun Pianos by 176 Keys (Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m.): The Dueling Pianos return to the Croswell stage for a one-night event. This is an adult-oriented show. In addition to auditorium seating, a limited amount of on-stage table seating is available.

Local premiere of the film “All or Nothin’” (Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m.): Beloved local icon Laura Haviland is among the characters in this new film about a group of slaves who escaped from bondage in 1853. The movie, by Ann Arbor filmmaker Charles Campbell, was partially filmed in Lenawee County. Admission will be by donation, and a Q&A session with the filmmaker will be offered afterward.

Branson on the Road (Nov. 11 at 5:30 p.m.): Classic country music takes the stage in this salute to American history and heroes. Led by Debbie Horton, who once played lead guitar for the late Johnny Cash, Branson on the Road presents a musical journey with a patriotic theme for Veterans Day.

“Meet Me in St. Louis” (Nov. 25 to Dec. 10):
Opening Thanksgiving weekend, the Croswell’s annual holiday musical is the heartwarming tale of a turn-of-the-century American family anticipating the wonders of the 1904 World’s Fair. The stage musical is based on the movie of the same name, and includes well-known tunes such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “The Trolley Song,” and “The Boy Next Door.”

Carols and Candlelight with Michael Lackey (Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m.): This evening of entertainment will take place in the James E. Van Doren Studio and feature Broadway veteran Michael Lackey performing a variety of Christmas favorites in a cabaret-style setting. Seating will be limited.

Wizards of Winter (Dec. 22 at 7:30 p.m.):
Wizards of Winter was founded by former members of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and features a similar mix of rock-style holiday favorites, complete with spectacular special effects.

“Godspell” (Jan. 27 to Feb. 3): This Tony-nominated musical by Stephen Schwartz will be the Croswell’s annual all-area high school production. It will be directed by Michael Yuen, who played John the Baptist and Judas in the 2000-01 national tour of the show.

You Rock, Valentine! (Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m.): This event, taking place in Van Doren Studio, will combine rock hits performed by Dave Rains with dinner catered by the Hathaway House. Seating will be limited.

“The Big Meal” (Feb. 23 to March 4):
This dramatic comedy, which won author Dan LeFranc the 2010 New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award, spans 80 years and five generations in the life of one American family.

Your Generation (March 10 at 7:30 p.m.): Formerly known as 50-Amp Fuse, Your Generation presents a tribute show that journeys through five decades of pop, rock, dance and R&B. This will be the band’s first Croswell appearance.

“Stellaluna and Other Tales” (March 23-31): Based on the book series by Janell Cannon, this hour-long musical is aimed at children from pre-K through fourth grade.

Disco Night at the Croswell (April 7 at 7:30 p.m.): Singer Tatiana Owens, who previously appeared in “Memphis” and “Million Dollar Quartet,” will return for a one-night concert featuring hits from performers like Donna Summer, Sister Sledge, the Bee Gees, and more.

“Disenchanted” (April 13-22): This comic, not-for-children musical follows fairy-tale princesses like Snow White and Cinderella to find out what happens after “happily ever after.”

Ben Daniels Band (April 28 at 7:30 p.m.): The Michigan-based Ben Daniels Band has become a favorite at venues like The Ark and The Blind Pig, as well as at concert halls around the country. This will be the band’s first Croswell appearance.

Tickets for all shows in the 2017-18 Special Event Series will go on sale Oct. 9.

Open auditions for “Godspell,” “The Big Meal,” “Stellaluna and Other Tales,” and “Disenchanted” will be announced soon.

For more information, go to croswell.org.

Some great actors in tame “Rocky Horror” at Ringwald (Review) September 30, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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The Rocky Horror Show arrived at the Ringwald Theatre in Ferndale last night, and there is some fun to be had, mostly by way of some terrific cast members.

Suzan M Jacokes is a terrific Frank N Furter. In fact, you could say that this entire production belongs to her. Singing, dancing, acting, prancing, or running around with a chainsaw, she is hilarious. Kevin Kaminski is also hilarious as Brad Majors, with optimum physical fun, great vocals, and minimal mugging. Casey Hibbert is a fine Narrator and taps a mean dance interlude. Nick Yocum is very good as Rocky. Richard Payton, as usual, is terrific in the role of Riff Raff. He makes it his own and its a hoot. I also very much liked Nicole Pascaretta as a very athletic Columbia, and she was the source of my biggest laugh of the night. While everyone is generally okay, there are some performances that are not up to the level of others.

Vocal Direction by Jeremy St Martin is solid, and the choreography of Molly Zaleski keeps things moving appropriately although it is stronger in the second act than the first. Jennifer Maiseloff’s scenic design is minimal but serviceable, and the same can be said of Erin Benjamin’s costume design and Dani Hamm’s lighting design.

I’m always conflicted when I go to review a Ringwald show, and I usually err on the side of not reviewing them. These are hard working folks with big hearts. But the shows always feel unpolished and unfinished — as if somewhere along the line, what starts with greater intentions eventually becomes a “okay, well, that’s good enough, lets just leave it.” And that is evident here — the set doesn’t feel quite finished, and tinsel used later in act 2 hangs around in clumps in act 1. A cool set piece of dials and electronics is tucked away in a corner where you can’t see it.  Choreography isn’t polished, though generally serviceable. Action in larger sequences is unfocused — where should I be looking? — “Hot Patootie” has so much storyline going on underneath the number, but unless you know what’s supposed to be happening, much of it is unfocused and you wouldn’t really have a clue that Eddie is about to meet his end.

Rocky is also a weird show at this point in time — you either get it, or you don’t. There were plenty of perplexed looks in the audience last night, with its mix of local Ferndale theater goers, and guests of cast members scattered from a larger area. The pre-show “virgin” sequence fell flat because the Phantoms’ schtick was unpolished and people jumped over each others “moments”. (Word to the uninitiated — do NOT volunteer that you are a Rocky virgin). I’m not sure if that is because people kind of have forgotten most of what the audience participation is about, or if they never knew it to begin with. Younger audiences are sure to not recognize the routines and patter, despite director Joe Bailey’s valiant attempt to keep patter going from the back of the house.

So you have, well, a mixed bag. Some great performances which make the evening worthwhile. Some fun, but overall, a show at a theater that often takes risks, erring on the side of a tamer production of this show than this writer has seen (in probably ten different stage productions over the years). Isn’t that ironic?

See it if you want to. You’ll have fun.

The Rocky Horror Show continues at the Ringwald through October 30th. See theRingwald.com for tickets and information about times (including some late night shows). 

 

Fiendishly Marvelous “Sweeney Todd” at Encore Musical Theatre Company (Review) September 29, 2017

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Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” is back at the Encore Musical Theatre Company, and it has arrived with a vengeance. You better get your tickets right now before the word of mouth and rave reviews send sales soaring — as best they should for this superior production.

Set in a 40’s London factory, Encore’s players “tell the tale” just beautifully, and with such terrific vocal direction and orchestra blend (by the always terrific Tyler Driskill) that you understand every word. And while Sondheim himself would cringe at the use of the term “opera” to describe this piece, that is, in essence, exactly what it is.

Staged non-traditionally in a fully immersive environment in which the audience surrounds the stage on three sides at various levels, and where actors interact in the aisles and stairways throughout, this is a whiz-bang production both directed and designed by the adroit and skilled Matthew Brennan, with actual scenic execution  by Sarah Tanner, Lighting Design by Tyler Chinn, Costume Design by Sharon Larkey Urick, Properties Design by Anne Donevan, and Sound Design by Chris Goosman and Joshua Thorington. I list all of these folks first because they are inseparable and they have done a tremendous job of bringing the technical aspects of this stunning production to fruition.

The show is nothing if you don’t have remarkable leads – and this production sure does. David Moan is exquisite as Sweeney Todd – his voice and acting are remarkable and lend the character both an eeriness and a liveliness that blend well in the intimate setting. Its a great performance and will resonate with you long after the evening has reached its grisly conclusion. Sarah Briggs is one of the best Mrs Lovett’s you could ever imagine. She is able to instantly convey humor, horror, and pity (sometimes at the same time) and she captures every moment with thoughtful acting and great vocal work. As the first act’s black and white schema bleeds away into a more colorful second act, so do their interactive moments which grow to a crescendo in the final moments. Well, that’s the play and we wouldn’t want to give it away, right? Though I doubt many of the folks going to see this musical don’t know that it ends badly for these two.

Sebastian Gerstner sounds great as Anthony, and Emily Hadick is lovely as Johanna. The couple have the musical’s prettiest songs and they are very up to the task. Emily Rogers is spot-on as the Beggar Woman and sings and acts beautifully. Keith Kalinowski is excellent as always as Judge Turpin (and what a joy to hear his very well acted and sung “Ladies in their Sensitivities Mea Culpa”, almost universally cut from productions) — though you might not know from the staging that he is committing self-flagellation unless you are already familiar with the show (but now you know).

Dan Johnson is very good as the Beadle, and his sometimes befuddled look on stage lends itself well to this multifaceted role, subservient to the Judge while trying to represent decorum and order at the same time to the outside world. Jamie Colburn is an entertaining Pirelli. Toby (“Nothing’s Gonna Harm You”) is well-performed by Billy Eric Robinson, though twice the size of Mrs Lovett, you never really get a strong sense of menace or that he is in any imminent type of danger. In fact, that is a running theme throughout the evening — while favoring character over menace, you never quite get a sense of your heart quickening or the hair standing up on your arms, like you do at some other productions of “Sweeney Todd”. Everything is kept to a symbolic minimum here but it works very well in this staging.

The entire ensemble is strong and the vocal work is outstanding. Most of these folks have played leads in other Encore shows and on other area stages so its like a who’s who of local theater: Logan Balcom, Nick Casella, James Fischer, Leah Fox, Bryana Hall, Angela Hench, Marlene Inman, Michael Jones, Chris Joseph, Gayle Martin, Dan Morrison, and Alexandra Reynolds populate the town, play all of the assorted characters from quirky to sympathetic, and carry chairs around. A lot. Leah Fox plays a mean accordion in a brilliant staging concept.

Oh, there is blood. Plenty of it in the second act. THANK YOU! The Encore’s last iteration of this show was a bloodless affair. There is plenty of it here, and it is well-staged and realistic. Although keeping with the evenings staging, everything is ultimately done symbolically. There is no tipping chair that dumps a body through the stage floor, down a slide, and into the bakehouse below.

To say that this production is excellent is an understatement. It is most likely the best production of this musical you are likely to see locally. It is a marvelous interpretation by a masterful director who well understands that you will never be able to stage the production like it was originally staged on the Broadway stage in this small house. So instead he takes what might be seen as a shortcoming and transforms the entire theater into something special. I loved the addition of “skylights” in the Encore’s ceiling and fans and electrical equipment to the walls to lend a sense of being a real space. The show is organic and feels like the building was  purpose-built for this production, rather than the other way around. (For the uninitiated, the original Broadway production actually imported the workings of a real factory from London to the stage of the Gershwin (then Uris) Theater).

I will leave it to the theater goer to ponder what’s up with the organ-versions of show tunes both before the show and during intermission (some of which are from the golden era of musicals, not from the 40’s). It left me scratching my head.

Very Highest Recommendation.

Sweeney Todd runs through October 22nd at the Encore Musical Theatre Company in Dexter MI. Tickets at theencoretheatre.org or 734-268-6200. Get them while you can. This is a don’t-miss production.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful “Beauty and the Beast” at Croswell Opera House (Review) September 24, 2017

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If you are one of the lucky ticket holders to the sold-out Beauty and The Beast at Croswell Opera House, you are in for a delightful (and beautiful) evening of musical theater. I’m going to be upfront and say that BATB is one of my favorite musicals, the first in the long, successful run of Disney-on-Broadway hits.

There is great Direction by Sue Smith, wonderful Musical Direction by Dave Rains, and lovely Choreography by Sarah Nowak, together with scrumptious costumes by Pam Krage, spot-on Lighting Design by Tiff Crutchfield, and lovely Scenic/Projection Design by Patrick Lord — the production is of the highest quality. The show moves at a fast clip, scene changes are seamless, and everything looks and feels exquisite.

But this show is nothing without a terrific cast, and you have that in droves (literally in some ensemble numbers). Kristen Fandrey is a beautiful and fine-voiced Belle, and she is a great actor too. Jarrod Alexander ranks among the best Beasts I have seen, and his is a performance that is not to be missed. Peter Crist is hilarious as Gaston while Matthew Johnson is very strong all-around as LeFou. The wonderful David Blackburn steals every scene he is in as Lumiere (which is to be expected), and Michael Yuen is a delightful Cogsworth. But there is more! Maria Porter-Mohler plays a lovely Mrs. Potts, Margaret Hyre is great as Madame de la Grande Bouche, and Abby Dots is very fun as Babette. Mark Hyre is also a terrific Maurice. The rest of the supporting cast and ensemble are very strong.

Mix a beautifully written show, with a fantastic-looking production and this strong cast, and Croswell Opera House finishes out its summer season with true theater magic. The show run through October 1, but it is sold out. Check the box office for cancellations and last minute releases, or check online at croswell.org

How to fix your iPhone or iPad after your iOS 11 update September 21, 2017

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If you have downloaded iOS 11, you have no doubt noticed all the exciting new horrible “features” that change the way you interact with your phone. Here’s how to fix at least some of them:

HOW TO GET RID OF THE DO NOT DISTURB WHILE DRIVING “FEATURE”:

Settings>Do Not Disturb>Do Not Disturb While Driving> set this to Manually.

This will keep the Apple Police at bay and your iPhone will function as usual in the car.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR PHOTOS AND MOVIES COMPATIBLE WITH EVERYTHING ELSE YOU OWN:

Apple switched the way it captures movies and video in iOS 11 — change this IMMEDIATELY — Unless you want to live in photo and video hell when you go to share or save things, Apple changed the format in which it stores photos and movies (no longer JPG or MP4)….go into

settings>camera>format and choose MOST COMPATIBLE

This will force the format back to JPG and MP4 and your photos and videos will once again share properly with your other apps, message programs, etc.

HOW TO FIX THE DOCK ON YOUR IPAD:

Unless you want to go insane with the new dock “feature” — go to

Settings>General>Multitasking and Dock> and TURN OFF the Show Suggested and Recent Apps.

While you are at it, you will want to drag the FILES app they put on your dock off of it and into your Apple Crap folder.

ASSORTED FIXES:

Under Settings>Emergency SOS> turn OFF Auto Call

 

I’ll add other tips as I come across them

 

Whole Lotta Fun at this Trailer Park (Review) August 26, 2017

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There’s a riotous new musical at The Dio, and you’ll laugh your ass off. The Great American Trailer Park Musical opened its run last night and a terrific cast, great tech design, and a fun show itself create a fun adult night out (cause there is some cursin’ and swearin’ and sexin’ in this show).

There isn’t much to Betsy Kelso and David Neil’s story: exotic dancer Pippi arrives at the trailer park, quickly hooks up with married Norbert (whose wife is agoraphobic and hasn’t left their trailer in 20 years), and soon Pippi’s ex-lover comes a callin’.  Alls well that ends well, and you will have a blast getting there.

The “story” is told by three trailer park girls — a side-splittingly funny Betty, er,  Sonja Marquis; foul-mouthed Lin (short for Linoleum, hilarious and almost unrecognizable Natalie Rose Sevick); and Pickles (played by the fantastic in every single ridiculous moment Tori Rogers).  Andrew Gorney has tremendous fun as Norbert, while Carrie Jay Sayer turns in another remarkable performance as Jeannie, his stay-at-home wife. Alaina Kerr adds another brilliant performance to her quickly growing musical theater repertoire as stripper (sorry, exotic dancer only) Pippi, and Mike Suchyta is wonderful as the menacing, marker-sniffing, roadkill-king Duke.

Steve DeBruyne directs the intermission-less evening with an eye to comedy at every turn; Music Direction and orchestra are under the capable leadership of Brian Rose; Kristin Renee Reeves has created some very funny choreography; Set, Lighting, and Sound Design is colorful and nifty by Matt Tomich; Properties by Eileen Obradovich are spot on and just keep coming and coming and coming; and there is great costume and hair work by Norma Polk and Madison Merlanti respectively. There is the usual delicious preshow meal by Chef Jared.

You will laugh yourself silly for most of the duration of this side-splitting musical. You’ll also be surprised by what a big little show this really is. There are dozens of costumes, and exteriors of trailers open to interiors of trailers. The show occasionally veers out of the trailer park off to the local strip club, and there’s a very humorous use of a rolling chair and headlights (literally in this case) when Duke comes to town.

Will Jeannie ever leave her house so she can attend the Ice Capades? Will Norbert end up with Jeannie or Pippi? Will Duke stay sober long enough to do anything once he finds Pippi? Will Pickles ever stop talking about her “hysterical pregnancy”?…(folks tell her she’s not pregnant but she has all the symptoms)

See for yourself at The Great American Trailer Park Musical which continues at the Dio Theatre in Pinckney  through October 8th.

Very Highly Recommended.

The Dio Theatre, diotheatre.com, or (517) 672-6009 Downtown Pinckney MI.

 

 

Hilarious and Well-Done 9 to 5 at Encore Musical Theatre Company (Review) August 25, 2017

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When I saw 9 to 5 on Broadway, Dolly Parton and Patricia Resnick’s hilarious musical, I thought that for sure it would be done by every theater in the States once it was released…and that hasn’t quite been the case. So it’s with great eagerness that I report that the production now at the Encore Musical Theatre Company in Dexter is terrific – it is hilarious, well-polished, and just downright fun.

Based (almost scene by scene) on the 1979 movie, it has a life of its own on stage that makes it infectiously funny. Secretaries rule, Bosses get sent to Bolivia, and snoopy office managers get sent off to take language immersion courses (bien sur). While this entire ensemble is tight and funny, there are some standouts in this cast.

All three lead ladies are wonderful — Stacia Fernandez is a spirited and musical Violet (much more so than Alison Janney in the Broadway production) and her “One of the Boys” is a delight; Alex Koza is alternately sweet and tart as Doralee and knocks “Backwoods Barbie” out of the park; and Thalia Schramm is fussy and endearing and eventually sings a knockout “Get Out and Stay Out” near the end of the show. Its a powerhouse trio doing great work.

Sebastian Gerstner is a wholesome and desirable Joe, younger lover for Violet. Ernest William plays a hysterical boss (Franklin Hart Jr) – his “Here for You” is fantastically funny.

But the night belongs to Sarah Briggs as busybody Roz — she steals every single scene that she is in, in a good way – she mugs, she emotes, she sings, she dances, she prances, she lounges on a desk, she pratfalls, she chews up the scenery and spits it out. “Heart to Hart” is the highlight of the show, and for good reason. I can not wait to see Sarah as Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd later this season — in fact, I can’t wait to see her in anything she does.

You’re in for an evening of great acting, singing, and dancing, and a very funny production that looks fantastic on Sarah Tanner’s set; with great costumes by Sharon Larkey Urick; wonderful musical direction and orchestra under the direction of R. MacKenzie Lewis; Nifty properties by Anne Donevan (bonus points for Doralee’s cowgirl lunch box); Chris Goosman’s subtle sound design; and Daniel Walker’s lighting. It all moves at lightning clip under the capable direction of Ray Frewen. Meredith Steinke creates fun and fluid choreography.

Go, Laugh. Have fun. I’m a bit late to the game as I was otherwise engaged playing a lead in another show opposite this one — glad I caught it last night. You have a few more chances this weekend.

Very Highly Recommended.

9 to 5 continues at the Encore Musical Theatre Company through July 27th. Tickets at theencoretheatre.org or 734-268-6200

 

 

 

 

True to its Name, Croswell’s Forum is A Funny Thing (Review) August 15, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Croswell Opera House, Michigan, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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Guest Review by Devon Barrett

To the uninitiated, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the 1962 musical comedy by Stephen Sondheim, currently playing at the Croswell Opera House in Adrian, sounds like something that would be anything but funny.

Because, honestly, the list of characters looks like a laundry list of things nobody really wants to talk about: courtesans. Slaves. A nagging wife. A henpecked husband who spends 2/3 of the show considering adultery. A pompous, self-aggrandizing military captain. A young woman whose only skill is being “lovely.”

But when you weave them all together into a plot (the literary kind and the devious kind), that includes a couple of hilarious musical numbers, an epic, mind-boggling full-cast chase scene, and a happy ending with a delightful, surprising twist I guarantee you won’t see coming, well, you’ve got yourself a comedy.

The show opens with Pseudolus, a slave in the House of Senex, and the show’s buoyant instigator-in-chief, played by Jared Hoffert who could not be more perfect for the role. He introduces us to the three Proteans, played by John Bacarella, Mark Hyre, and A.J. Howard, who toggle between roles—as slaves, soldiers, and, in that epic chase scene I mentioned earlier, courtesan-catchers—so rapidly that you start to wonder whether they’ve all got body doubles hiding in the wings.

The year is 200-ish B.C. The place: a residential street in ancient Rome. And the deal: Pseudolus will be granted freedom if he can get his young master Hero (played by Xavier Sarabia, who sings through a boyish, crinkly-eyed grin perfectly befitting his character’s innocence), hooked up with Philia, the virginal, empty-headed courtesan-next-door (played by Emily Hribar, who has a lovely, clear voice, and a gentle presence) before Hero’s parents, Senex and Domina, return from visiting the in-laws.

Hero’s proud, domineering mother Domina and her namby-pamby husband Senex are played by Julia Hoffert and Ron Baumanis, respectively. Senex’s lighthearted joy and light-footed dancing during “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” was his standout moment. And Domina’s moment came in the form of a deliberate, fourth-wall-breaking evil-eye during the second act, when she unexpectedly burst back onto the scene, eliciting a gasp and a whooshing chorus of “uh-oh’s” from the audience, who knew stuff was about to hit the fan. She stood, alone, center stage, for two or three beats, staring right out at Orchestra Center with one eyebrow raised as if to say, “Excuse me? Uh-oh? I am a strong woman who knows what she wants in life and you say UH-OH when I enter the room?” Reader, IT. WAS. FANTASTIC.

Possibly the best part of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, is that it employs nearly every comedic device available, and every character gets a chance to partake.

Marcus Lycus, Senex’s neighbor to the left, is in the business of selling beautiful young women. Played by Stephen Kiersey, Lycus isn’t the slimy salesman-of-women you would expect him to be. He’s kind of a wuss, and his fear of facing one of his powerful clients—a captain named Miles Gloriosus, who we’ll discuss later—sets the show up for its first case of mistaken identity: when Pseudolus impersonates Lycus while Lycus hides in his home and, later, runs around with a cloak over his head pretending to be a leper.

The six courtesans (played by Jessica Adams, Tara Althaus, Madeline Auth, Jamie Lynn Buechele, Beth Felerski, and Sarah Nowak) of the House of Marcus Lycus each get a chance to show off their…er…skills to poor Pseudolus, who tries to play it cool as they dance, perform tricks, caress his hair, and in some cases, sensually threaten him with a whip. Their costumes, designed by Meg McNamee, were colorful and fun, and perfectly befitting of each of their personas.

Senex’s neighbor to the right, Erronius, played by William E. McCloskey, who is no stranger to the role, has his moment in the sun in the second act as his running gag (no spoilers! Witness it for yourself!) keeps time during the utter chaos playing out onstage.

Miles Gloriosus, the pompous Roman army captain who stands in the way of Hero’s chance at marrying Philia, is a sight to behold in his shiny, silver, chiseled armor. Played by Cordell Smith, Miles Gloriosus inflates his greatness at just about everything, but Smith’s rendition of “Bring Me My Bride” requires no inflation…it’s just great.

Then there’s Hysterium, played by John MacNaughton. Hysterium and Pseudolus spend a great deal of time together throughout the show, and Hoffert and MacNaughton play off of one another so brilliantly. As Pseudolus’ plot to affiance Hero and Philia goes further and further off the rails, Pseudolus himself continues to roll with the punches, while Hysterium, despite his insistence to the contrary, grows increasingly…well…hysterical.

And so, too, does the audience. Because, bottom line, Forum is funny, and it doesn’t even need to try to be anything else.

Directed by Mark DiPietro, with musical direction by Jonathan Sills, choreography by Delle Clair, and scenic design by Leo Babcock, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum runs through Sunday, August 20th at the Croswell Opera House, Michigan’s oldest theatre, located in downtown Adrian. If you haven’t been to the Croswell since its major renovation (or—HORRORS—if you haven’t been there at all!) now is the time. It is truly a sight to behold.

A Funny Thing Happened on the way To The Forum runs through August 20th. Tickets at Croswell.org

High-Energy “In the Heights” is Terrific (Croswell Opera House) July 15, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Uncategorized.
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There’s a high energy, dancing, hip-hopping, laughing, crying, cheering, whooping production of “In The Heights” that opened last night at the Croswell Opera House and it is terrific.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Tony-award-winning musical (perhaps you’ve heard of his second: “Hamilton”) centers on family and home and finding your place in a world that is always familiar and always changing. Set in Washington Heights in NYC (its north of the George Washington Bridge for you non-New Yorkers) in the late 2000’s it foreshadows the gentrification that occurred in that area, forcing out its many hispanic and latino immigrants and businesses over the past decade on its way to becoming Manhattan’s hipster-haven.

Debra Ross Calabrese has done a great job of directing this (much larger than it looks) production, and every move and step has a meaning and a purpose. Scenes flow seamlessly from one to the other thanks to Stephanie Busing’s solid set and projection design. Libby Garno’s dance steps are fun and dynamic. Dave Rains does a great job musical directing this cast and leading a fantastic pit orchestra. Costume designer Natalie Kissinger makes everybody look terrific on stage and captures the eclectic look of urban New York City, and Tiff Crutchfield’s lighting design looks beautiful, Chris Goosman’s sound design is very good.

The cast is led by terrific Jonathan Tobar as Usnavi in a Lin-Manuel-like performance that is eery in its similarities and his high energy, and the superb Alaina Kerr as Nina. Benny is played by the always excellent Derrick Jordan, and Usnavi’s love-interest by the wonderful Katelyn Lesle. John Bacarella and Lydia DiDo Schafer are great as Nina’s parents, Anthony Contreras is a fun and energetic Sonny, and Melissa Paschall plays a warm and lovely Abuela. Carissa Villanueva and Libby Garno (who also did the fantastic choreography) are a hoot as salon owner and employee Daniela and Carla. In other roles, CJ Mathis, Rudy Gonzalez and Zachary Flack are all spot-on.

The entire ensemble lifts the energy throughout with a near-constantly choreographed evening. The Dance Ensemble consists of Breah Duschl, Morgan McConnell, Nik Owen, Emily Kapnick, Michael Rywalski, and Xavier Sarabia. Pick one of them and follow their course over the production and you’ll see just how much dancing there is in this show. The rest of the ensemble is also great: Tyaira Smith Adamson, Brok Boze, Leigh Christopher, Lauren DePorre, Emily Ialacci, Merceds Polley, Payton Perry-Radcliffe, Hannah Rowe, and Gabriella Terrones.

Particularly impressive is the work that has gone into diction in this production – great job cast and Dave Rains. In a show that “talks” nearly non-stop in its hip-hop lyrics (“rap” for those of us listening to music long before most of this cast was born) its essential the audience can hear the words, and the work here is very well done.

Also impressive is the massive scale of this show — Debra has filled her stage with so many things going on throughout the stage – near the audience and afar, on stoops, on tenement balconies, in windows. It has a great “New York” feel to it. Good work.

And then there is the Lin-Manuel Miranda score. You can hear the melodies of Hamilton forming here already – when the cast sings about being “powerless” you can already recognize the chord structures and hip-hop rhythms that he brings to full force in his latter piece. Here, its beautifully integrated with salsa and a tuneful beat-filled score. If you aren’t a huge Hamilton fan, rest assured, the majority of this score is still standard broadway show tunes, albeit set to a more urban beat.

“In the Heights” places its emphasis and heart squarely in the realm of “what is home” and “where do you go to find home” and finding that “home is people not a place”…but what a great place Croswell has created here.

Very Highest Recommendation.

A few tickets remain for the rest of the run at Croswell.org. In the Heights runs through July 23rd. I’d suggest you get your tickets immediately.