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Everybody say Yeah to Kinky Boots (Review – Croswell Opera House) September 19, 2022

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Guest review by Patty Mazzola. Photo courtesy Croswell Opera House.

If you haven’t yet purchased tickets for “Kinky Boots,” at The Croswell Opera House, September 16th-25th, what are you waiting for? With a book by Tony-winner Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Tony- and Grammy-winner Cyndi Lauper, the show hits all the right notes and so does the local production team and cast. Go see it!

Based on the 2005 British film of the same name, the story follows Charlie Price, a simpleton, who having begrudgingly inherited his father’s failing shoe factory, finds his true self through an unlikely partnership with a drag queen. The factory–and essentially the entire small town–go from unstable to unstoppable in their fight to keep food on the table and shoes, er boots, on their feet. The factory goes from being in the red to seeing red to embracing red in all its kinky glory.

I have no other KB production to compare this one to, but I’m very pleased my first experience was at the Croswell. Those who have seen a previous production already knew what a joyful experience it would be; you could feel the electricity in the audience even before the curtain went up. The entire cast was so fully invested in their characters, including British accents, that I was somewhat transported. Director/Choreographer Debra Ross Calabrese, Conductor Adam P. Miller and the entire creative team presented a tight production; every note, entrance, step, and look had meaning, from the beautiful opening harmonies to the final exuberant number. Scenic Designer Doug Miller created a [dare I say] “soleful” factory set with so much depth that, along with the lighting (designed by Crosby Slupe) and the detailed set dressing, the audience could feel the importance and weight the factory carries in the townsfolk livelihood. Then the factory transforms into a glittering stage show in seconds, with a colorful boost from Costume Designer Tallie Carter.

There is no question about the talents of seasoned performers Leonard Harris (Lola/Simon) and Dan Clair (Charlie) whose touching duet, “I’m Not My Father’s Son,” is tragically beautiful. Dara Pardon (Lauren) is fantastic as another character you find yourself rooting for. In fact, the whole supporting cast, including Lauren Goyer (Nicola), Ron Baumanis (George), Wesley Grudzien (Harry), Taylor Goodin (Trish), Rachel Ogger(Pat), Phil Skeldon (Mr. Price), Thomas J. Koch II (Don) and Byron Taulton (Simon Sr.) each have their moments to shine. Young Lola and Charlie (Trae Wesson and Alex Coumoundouros respectively) will surprise you with their mature performances and agility. Jarrod Alexander, Mikey Del Vecchio, Domonique Glover and Skye Rodriguez are so spectacular as the Angels. Take me to the Land of Lola, anytime, anywhere.

This show will absolutely raise you up. And who doesn’t need a lift these days? I highly recommend this production. Everybody Say Yeah!

Kinky Boots continues at Croswell Opera House through September 25th – croswell.org

“Medieval” is a violent but fascinating film September 6, 2022

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Medieval (called Jan Źiźka internationally) arrives in time to salvage an early September weekend with original programming. Set in the early days of Czech Bohemian hero Jan Źiźka’s formative mercenary years, it’s a story most Americans are not at all familiar with.

In the early 1400’s the Catholic Church is in such disarray that there are two popes…one in Italy and one in France. In order to install a new King, the Holy Roman Empire needs the blessing of the Italian Pope. Źiźka and his men are paid to protect King Wenceslas on his journey, but things fall apart right from the getgo. See, there’s another King who also wants to be crowned by the Pope. What follows is an origin story for Źiźka based on familial revenge, a kidnapped lady in waiting, and shifting allegiances in the very volatile Bohemian world.

Źiźka was known for innovative “modern” warfare techniques and these are on full display here in bone-crunching, smoke-filled, violent sequences not for the squeamish. But there is more at play here. The film beautifully illustrates the horrors of war not when hoards of thousands skirmish with opposing hoards of thousands…but rather how battles are won a few dozen warriors at a time. It’s intimate and dangerous and ultimately grisly and violent.

The cast is uniformly solid with particularly good performances by Michael Caine and Matthew Goode. Sophie Lowe holds her own against the ridiculous men around her, and Ben Foster brings his serious sense of acting to his leading role.

Medieval is the most expensive Czech film ever made, although it was only bankrolled with an English speaking cast. So there is that.

I left highly satisfied, even if the final act gets a bit Shakespearean by its conclusion. Not recommended for those who have light stomachs for grim, bloody, decapitating violence, but if you stick with this, I think you will also feel fulfilled by this captivating tale. And it will probably send you to Google these people, some real, some added for the story.
Recommended. Opens Sept 9th nationwide and overseas.

Beast is an okay thriller/adventure film. August 16, 2022

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Idris Elba packs up his two daughters after the death of their mother for a fun-filled African savannah vacation. There is playful banter and “serious talk” as they set off on their adventure. Unfortunately, there is a large lion on the loose in the vicinity of their camp, and its mad and out for blood.

There’s lots of blood.

Nicknamed “Jaws on land” months before opening, the moniker isn’t far from wrong. You will most likely figure out who lives and who survives early in the short 90-minute film.

But it’s a fun ride to the conclusion, with Elba getting to star in another action adventure film and he gets to punch a lion. No really, they have him punching a lion. There’s lots of mumbo jumbo about poachers and how the lion is out for revenge against all people now. But really, he punches the lion.

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur, with a script from Ryan Engle, it’s a zippy hour and a half that is a good run time for this film. Expect it to head to streaming video pretty quickly, although there isn’t much else opening for the next few weeks so that it might cling to the box office for awhile.

If you go, beware it is rated R for language, bloody violence, and heart-pounding thrills. Kind of like riding Steel Vengeance at Cedar Point with blood added. It’s up to you to know your kids and their tolerance level for this type of bloody adventure. It’s scary enough that I’d probably leave my under 13’s at home for sure.

End of summer fun, with Bullet Train and The Gray Man (reviews) August 2, 2022

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BULLET TRAIN, set aboard a speeding 180 mph train traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto is an action thriller from David Leitch, the director of the John Wick series. It stars Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, and a handful of other racially diverse actors. This is the last of the big new summer movies this season.

Five assassins are out to get a McGuffin briefcase and the film is colorful, funny, and ultra violent, as you would expect from the director of John Wick. It is based on a Japanese novel, and there is some international controversy since Leitch chose to cast the film with a racially diverse mix of primarily Americans, while the original novel and the story itself take place entirely in Japan with Japanese characters. Make of that what you will.

Bullet Train is rated R, and it will appeal to folks who enjoy films like Fast and Furious but secretly wish those films were far more violent. Its showing exclusively in movie theaters.

THE GRAY MAN is an espionage thriller from the Russo Brothers (Avengers:Endgame, Everything Everywhere All At Once) but less creative than their normal fair. It’s clearly meant to be the first in a franchise series for star Ryan Gosling. There are 11 more novels after this one in the series. 

Think of this as Jason-Bourne Lite. The pieces are all there, but they are not as smart, and not as exciting as the Bourne films. Chris Evans plays an outstanding bad guy, and you will have a hard time associating him with any of the hero movies where he has played Captain America. Bravo to Chris Evans.

The Gray Man is rated PG-13 and will appeal to those who like more standard spy thrillers but secretly wish they were far less interesting. Its playing in select theaters and it’s streaming on Netflix.

Forgotten Musicals Part 2: They’re Playing Our Song (1979) July 24, 2022

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Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz, Photo: Martha Swope

When a show is as huge a hit as They’re Playing Our Song was, you’d think everyone would know it, right? Well, not in this case.

Running for over three years in NYC with major productions in LA and London’s West End, the musical has a storyline based on the real world relationship of Carole Bayer Sager and Neil Simon — with book and lyrics written by the two, and music written by Marvin Hamlish.

Starring comedian Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz, it’s a two-character show with a 6-member backup of “egos” for both Robert and Lucie. While it seems like a small show, it had an enormous set by Douglas W Schmidt including the first use of stage-wide moving projections. 

A movie was planned and sold to Columbia, but never made. Nominated for awards across the board, it won none losing out to Sweeney Todd that same season. Bad timing for the show. (It’s other competition that year? Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Ballroom). It had a terrific tv commercial that ran day and night in NYC.

Neil Simon’s hilarious one-liners were on full display, which came naturally to comedian Robert Klein, with Lucie Arnaz making her Broadway debut with precision timing and a natural comedic style she no doubt learned from her mother (Lucille Ball).

The show had a series of headliners over the years after the original cast left — and there was talk of friction between Klein and Arnaz, the most famous being Klein’s boredom with playing the same role and reciting the same lines night after night, being a standup comedian…Lucy would act by looking at Klein and making eye contact…Robert would act by looking at the audience and playing all the jokes to them. The friction increased throughout the run, although it was never apparent from the audience side of the stage. They remained friends after the show closed. 

Some of the songs are more familiar than the show itself – many of them becoming standards at the time recorded by Jack Lawrence, Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, and others. The script itself was reviewed as reflective of Simon’s The Goodbye GIrl and other comedies of the era. 

Rarely produced, it is a show that is appropriate for both large and small theaters, although  some of the laughs and jokes are now dated so it remains strictly a show trapped in time during the late 70’s.

With songs like “If He Really Knew Me”, “I Still Believe in Love”, and “Just for Tonight”, it’s a cast album you really should have in your collection.

Peele’s Nope is a big Yup July 22, 2022

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Jordan Peele has crafted a Spielberg-ish suspense thriller in his latest movie Nope, which is incorrectly classified as a “horror” movie, which it is not. Unless you consider films like Jaws or War of the Worlds horror movies.

Following a brother and sister trying to get the “ultimate movie shot” of a UFO pestering their local valley, the film creates the perfect summer blockbuster – suspenseful, often funny, sometimes weird, always entertaining. Grab your popcorn and settle in for summer fun.

The very solid cast are realistic and make you root for characters rather than stereotypes. A side story about a sitcom gone tragically wrong is gripping and comments on the unpredictable nature of our world.

The first half of the film plays out like Jaws…things happen but the monster lurks almost unseen in the shadows (or in this case bright clouds). The second half echoes War of the Worlds as things play out to a very satisfying conclusion.

Nope gets a big Yup from me. Scare rating- somewhere between Jurassic Park and Aliens. Grade A – highly recommended.

“Come-a, Come-a, Come-a” on down to this Little Shop (Croswell Opera House – Review) July 16, 2022

Posted by ronannarbor in Croswell Opera House, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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There’s a whole lot of fun going on in Adrian where Croswell Opera House is presenting Little Shop of Horrors, a musical theater staple. Under the direction of Jared Hoffert, musical direction of Jonathan Sills, choreography of Jessica Briggs and Scenic Design of Doug Miller, how can you not have one spectacular production. And this is. The show has a great off-Broadway feel to it, and it looks and sounds fantastic. Chris Goosman designed sound, Marley Boone designed costumes, and Tiff Crutchfield designed lighting.

I mention the technical staff first, because this is a first rate production that requires all those elements to be in place for success. The script succeeds on its own merits, but without fine surrounding elements, it’s the same show you’ve seen in every high school, college, and community theater around the area for the past 40 years. It’s hard to believe it has been that long since I saw the original production in NYC at the Orpheum Theater down the street from NYU. But you’ll feel like you are watching the show all over again for the first time in this fast-moving, vocally delicious production. 

Jared Hoffert’s direction is swift, and focused. You won’t miss anything here. The cast is top-notch from top to bottom. Mikey Del Vecchio is a nerdy powerhouse as Seymour, and Jamie Lynn Buechele makes the rafters shake with her vocals. Their act-2 “Suddenly Seymour” brought down the house. 

John Bacarella is a fine Mushnik, Jarrod Alexander is a smarmy Orin the Dentist, and Adam Baker voices an incredible plant, not the least of which is it’s physical controls by Rob Roy. Sabriyah Davis, Keshia Daisy Oliver, and Casaundra Taulton are omni-present muses as they shoo-bop the night away (and watch the clever hair and costume design as they transition from street urchins to eventual Motown stars). The remainder of the ensemble is exceptionally strong vocally and comedically: Megan Beckett, John Lamb, Julia Hoffert, Henry Seifried, and Joel Twitchell. Each has a moment to shine in this hilarious production.

But lets not skip the most important question you most likely have: how’s the plant, Audrey II?  Suffice it to say that it is spectactular in all 4 of its forms, and it chews up the scenery every time it comes to life (designed by MonkeyBoys Productions). 

All-in-all you’ll be hard pressed to find something more fun the next few weeks as Little Shop continues it’s destruction of Adrian (prominantly featured in a great moment). Don’t miss it.

Very Highest Recommendation.

Little Shop of Horrors continues at the Croswell Opera House through July 24th. Tickets at croswell.org

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is challenging, compelling, and beautiful at The Dio. (Review) June 18, 2022

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Photo courtesy The Dio Dining and Entertainment

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Simon Stephens award-sweeping play (2013 London, 2015 Broadway) is receiving a gorgeous production at the Dio in Pinckney through mid-July. You should put it on your list of shows that need to be seen this summer — in fact, go to their website and reserve a table right now. 

If you read Mark Haddon’s book upon which the play is based, well, there’s a lot more to this story than there was to that story.

There are multiple stars of this lovely production – the first being Austin McCoy, who gives an exceptional performance as Christopher, a 15-year old with autism spectrum disorder who discovers a neighbor’s dog dead, and sets off to solve the mystery of what happened (which is really just a small part of this fascinating story). You seriously can’t take your eyes off of him, no matter what else is going on around him (often a lot).

The second star is Matt Tomich’s beautiful hand drawn moving projection set and lighting that propels the show quickly and creatively to school, home, train station, London, and even outer space (and later a ridiculously entertaining math problem).

The third star(s) is the outstanding ensemble cast that play, well, everyone else in Christopher’s world – even inanimate objects. Clever direction by Jared Schneider keeps things moving at a fast pace – but not so fast that you don’t find yourself thinking about these compelling stories as things unravel and then re-assemble again. (Anne Bauman, Rachael Cupples, Kelsi Fay, Andrew Gorney, Marlene Inman, Dante Justice, DOnovan Leary, Dan Morrison, and a particulary touching Monica Spencer).

You will quickly see why this play won all those awards. This production will also surely be award winning and it is beautiful.

Costumes are designed by Norma Polk and props by Eileen Obradovich. Steve DeBruyne serves as artistic director. Rachael Cupples also served as assistant director.

This is a challenging and compelling play to be sure. It’s never maudlin, but it doesn’t shy away from ASD challenges and at times it makes some of the scenes intense. There are no easy answers here, and Christopher’s final words in the show wake a feeling we normally don’t want to think about or talk about. Indeed, they don’t talk about it here — and let you decide on your own what you think — ultimately making this show a comedy, or a drama, or a tragedy, depending on your own take-away.

Dinner, as usual, is excellent – and the intermission dessert reminded me of visits with my grandma when I was a kid — altogether perfect for the meal at this show at the Dio! 

Highest Recommendation. 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time continues through July 17th at the Dio, 177 E Main Street, Pinckney MI — tickets at www.DioTheatre.com

Say “I Do, I Do, I Do” to Mamma Mia! at Encore Musical Theatre Company (Review) June 17, 2022

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Yes, I did sneak a photo during the finale on opening night. Sonja Marquis, Keith Kalinowski, Sarah Stevens, David Moan, Anna Elizabeth, Sebastian Gerstner, and the cast of Mamma Mia!

Sophie is getting married. She has three possible dads. That’s about all you need to know about Mamma Mia!, the mega-hit international musical that opened at the Encore Musical Theatre Company in Dexter last night. It doesn’t really matter what else happens in this storyline, because it is the ABBA music and the fun and the feel-good evening that it’s really all about. And boy, will you feel good, and you’ll be singing the songs all the next morning as well.

Encore pulls out all the stops in their biggest, slickest musical ever, and I say that in the most enthusiastic way. What a thrill to see a big cast on their stage. It’s the closest you will come to seeing the Broadway show plunked down in the middle of Dexter, with all the bells and whistles (thank Dan Cooney who appeared in the Broadway production, and his choice of Monica Kapoor, also a 7-year veteran of the production, to direct and choreograph.)

What you will see on the Encore stage is the best-choreographed, best-acted production of Mamma Mia! you will ever see locally, and bravo to everyone involved. 

Sarah B. Stevens plays Donna, and Kate Cummings plays her daughter Sophie – about to get married to Sky (Tyler J. Messinger). Stevens and Cummings are superb throughout the evening in their many scenes together and separately. Donna’s best friends from “back when” Rosie and Tanya are played by Sonja Marquis and Anna Elizabeth and they are both fantastic. 

Once the guys arrive (Sebastian Gerstner as Harry, Keith Kalinoswki as Bill, and David Moan as Sam) the evening kicks into high gear. Which one is the father? It doesn’t really matter. Everything is a setup for the spectacular song and dance numbers.

And wow, does this show dance. Kapoor is familiar with every beat, every move, every motion set to music – and I guarantee you that you have not seen this type of choreography in any local production. The cast is really split in two — the adults, who show their singing and acting chops, and the “kids” who explode with energy every time they take the stage in their many musical numbers.

By the end, there is a wedding, though not exactly what you might expect and the audience is up on its feet for the final dance-along numbers. It just plain old works. And when you see a production that is professionally directed, choreographed, acted, and designed, you can appreciate a show that is far better than you might recall, especially if you have only seen the movie. 

Set Design by Sarah Tanner is outstanding, as is Nikki Belenski’s lighting design (and Will Myers projections). Sharon Larkey Urick’s costume design is spot on. Anne Donevan provides a million props (I exaggerate, but only a little) and Chris Goosman’s sound design deftly juggles a large orchestra and performers. Musical Direction is under the always-capable and talented direction of Tyler Driskill. The technical aspects of this production simply shine.

Very highest recommendation, Get your tickets now as every performance is sure to sell out.

Mamma Mia! continues at the Encore Musical Theatre Company until July 17th. Tickets at theencoretheatre.org

Women send “Company” soaring at Croswell (review) May 21, 2022

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Aiyanna Fivecoat (Kathy), Lauren Goyer (April), and Sydney Bramlett (Marta) in Company at Croswell Opera House. Photo courtesy Croswell Opera House.

Opening the 2022 Broadway Season at Croswell Opera House, Stephen Sondheim’s Company is a great way to launch the summer season at Michigan’s oldest theater! Before reading further, get your tickets now at croswell.org — the show only runs through Sunday — and you should see it. 

Bobby is the sole single person among his circle of closest friends in NYC. In what was a daring departure in musical theater in 1970, the show doesn’t follow a straightforward storyline – rather it takes it’s time exploring the couples’ relationships as well as their ongoing urging for Bobby to couple up rather than continue to live the (gasp) single life at his 35th birthday. Of course, Bobby has daliances with other single women who enter and leave his life. There is not much more I am going to say about the script, since it’s up to you to discover who you relate to, who you don’t. and what you think as the show winds through it’s course.

But it’s the women in Bobby’s life that make this production soar — and I mean soar. Take, for example, Leah Fox who turns in the evening’s funniest performance as marriage-shy personally neurotic Amy in “Getting Married Today”. It’s the strongest performance I have seen from her already strong career in musical theater. And then there is Julia Hoffert as karate-wielding, “I can’t I’m on a diet” Sarah whose vocals and physical shtick shine throughout the evening (watch her delighfully munching on brownies in the background at times). Maya Gangadharan turns in a masterful performance as Joanne, and her “Ladies Who Lunch” is spot-on perfect. Lauren Goyer is delighful as flight attendant April (whom Bobby occasionally calls May, or June). 

You will have your favorites too – and it all looks great on the Croswell stage, with projections making for rapid and stylistic backgrounds as the show moves from apartment to apartment, club to bedroom. Meghan C Hakes returns to Adrian to direct and choreograph. The staging of “Side by Side by Side” and “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” is particulary good. The superb 13-piece orchestra is under the direction of musical director Adam P. Miller.

This is an adult show to be sure though there is nothing in it that would prevent you from bringing your mid-teens on up — though they might not be super invested in these adult relationships and there is a fair share of blunt sex talk, drugs, and language. It also has a fair smattering of 70’s lingo that adults will get but younger audiences might not. This was a show that was fairly shocking and controversial to it’s 1970’s audiences although the impact has all been watered down over the years. 

Very highly recommended.

Company continues at Croswell Opera House, Adrian, MI through May 22nd. croswell.org for tickets.