jump to navigation

“9 to 5” at Acting Out Productions – Taylor, MI April 23, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, musical theater, Musicals.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed

There’s a new kid in town, and they’re putting on a really entertaining production of “9 to 5 the musical”.


Disclaimer: I usually review community theater productions only when they are something to rave about. In this case, while not a rave and far from technically proficient, I make the rare exception to talk about a new community theater group that you are going to be hearing a lot about in the future.

As their first adult musical (the company has been producing children’s and youth theater for awhile now) Acting Out Productions has wisely chosen a funny recent musical based on the movie that had a modest Broadway run. It offers many parts (especially for women) and is a good choice for a community theater.

It also emphasizes the shortcomings if not done remarkably well. The show itself is entertaining and I found myself laughing multiple times during the evening. I also found myself cringing once  — but let me explain.

First, there is a remarkable performance by John Sartor as egotistical boss Franklin Hart and his interactions with the cast raise everyone’s focus and efforts by two-fold. He’s funny, sings well, and carries some very difficult humorous moments. He also has some lovely heart-patterned boxer shorts.

Next, there is solid direction from Kelly R Lomas, though it could all be tightened up a bit. Still, the vision is clear, and things proceed according to plan.

Third, there is an excellent four-piece combo band that sounds terrific. I might have moved them to far stage right instead of in the center (you might want to rethink where you sit if you are in the middle section, especially the first 4 rows). They make beautiful music together and play through the peppy score with precision.

Fourth, it is so evident how much work and effort went into this first big adult musical for Acting Out. It is truly a labor of love to put together something of this scope — and in general it all works. The cast seem to work together well, there is certainly plenty of encouragement from cast and crew alike (I love listening to people at intermission), and its great to have another community theater in town. As the group becomes better known, they will get a bigger audition pool from which to choose, and there will be less awkwardness overall. Come out and audition for their shows next season!

What doesn’t work? Well, scene changes are far too long. Costumes are designed in a way that they are not easy to change and there are times that the orchestra vamps repeatedly waiting for actors to appear who are changing clothes backstage.  Mics drop in and out throughout. The ensemble tends to stand in straight lines. Some cast members are able to effortlessly do the smart choreography, while others struggle with the basics. Not all ensemble members need to be on stage in all numbers. Speaking of ensemble — disparate ages don’t work well in this production, but lets chalk that up to educational theater and the need for a larger audition pool. There was one cringe-worthy moment when the actor playing Joe (in high school) and Violet have their big love song in Act II (“Let Love Grow”) that nearly made me levitate out of my seat. I understand an appropriately-aged adult plays that part at some performances.

But that was it, and one cringe-worthy moment all evening is pretty good — the show is super entertaining — something they should be very proud of, and I had a good time. (Note: the show runs long, but I blame some of that on the too-long scene changes). I loved the cookies at intermission. I could probably do without the teenagers shouting “50-50 raffle! Last Chance!” inside the theater, especially since there was no way anybody interested would have missed them in the lobby. The theatre itself is lovely — The Royal Majestic Theater is located inside Trillium Academy on Racho Road in Taylor which used to be a performing arts school, so their setup is quite good.

“9 to 5” continues at Acting Out Productions, 15740 Racho Road, Taylor, MI through April 30th. Tickets available at the door. 15.00 per ticket – Cash only.



“Barefoot in the Park” at Ann Arbor Civic Theater is Hilarious Fun (Review) April 22, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Theatre.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed


I don’t think I’ve laughed at a 50 year old comedy more than I did last night at Ann Arbor Civic Theater’s production of Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” — it is a non-stop laughfest, but more than that, it is impeccably acted and directed — a must-see.

Newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter move into their 5th floor walkup (I lived in one of those in NYC for awhile and can certainly relate to not calling the front stoop a “flight”) — she’s easy going and loving the whole experience, Paul is more of a stuffed-shirt lawyer, later referred to as a fuddy-duddy…(hey, it was in 1963 that this doozy hit the stage). Along for the ride come Corie’s mother, gasping each trip up the stairs; eccentric “upstairs” neighbor Victor; a very funny telephone company man; and a delivery man. Also along for the ride are some of Neil Simon’s funniest jokes and gags, perfectly meted-out over the course of the evening so that even 53 years later everything feels fresh and funny.

It helps that the production has a super director in Wendy Wright. She understands the patterns, both visual and vocal, that keep this show running smoothly and hilariously throughout the evening. Call it “Love American Style” crossed with “The Love Boat” with a touch of “Laugh-In” thrown in.

The ensemble cast is simply superior — Colleen Davis hits all of Corie’s notes just right — Karl Kasischke grows Paul from a fuddy-duddy to just the right level of hysteria toward show’s end and Larry Rusinsky does the same with the initially over-the-top Victor Velasco to mother’s  warm-hearted potential lover — Thom Johnson has a short funny walk-on that garners some big laughs — Theo Polley is a fantastic telephone repair man — and, I save the best for last, Ellen Finch plays a triumphant Ethel Banks (Corie’s mother) in a stage turn that you simply should not miss. This role is easy to overplay, and instead, Finch turns in a delicious and finely nuanced performance that will make you think that your own mother is standing in your fifth floor walkup (6th since she will count the stoop) and making you feel as guilty as hell for doing nothing at all. Bravo.

Cathy Cassar has designed a lovely NYC apartment, Megan Shiplett’s costumes are period perfect, and Zach Johnson has lit it all to make it look shiny and bright. Lisa Gavan’s props are practical and funny, and there’s some great sound design by Wendy Wright — musical selections greet you from the moment you enter, and comment perfectly on the stage action later during the production.

Go. This show is near perfection in timing, acting, and design. You won’t see a better production of this (now) rarely produced comedy. It adds a terrific third Neil Simon production to the already seen “Odd Couples” at The Purple Rose and Tipping Point. “Barefoot in the Park” is Simon’s funniest play — the one that put him on the map on Broadway, and this production should not be missed.

Highest Recommendation.

“Barefoot in the Park”, Ann Arbor Civic Theater, continues through May 24 at the Arthur Miller Theatre, UM’s North Campus, Walgreen Building. Tickets at a2ct.org or at the door.




“Rock of Ages” rocks the Dio — (Review) April 16, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
Tags: ,
comments closed


The Dio has a great big hit on its hands — Rock of Ages, a celebration of rock music from the 80’s, opened this week, and it is a solid, funny, and professional looking and sounding show.

Director Steve DeBruyne has assembled a super-talented cast of performers. Kristin Renee Reeves has given them excellent choreography (the best I have seen at the Dio). Matt Tomich has designed a lovely bar-based set and done some wonders with lighting. Brian Rose has done very good work with musical direction. Norma Polk’s costume design is spot-on, as is Eileen Obradovich’s prop work.  Chef Jarod has brewed up a delicious dinner, as always.

The musical surprisingly ran over 5 years NYC and had a highly successful tour. Lets talk about it for a moment — Written by Chris D’Arienzo and set in the 80’s, it follows a newcomer to LA Sherrie, who finds work at the Bourbon Room (a rock club), quickly falls in love with bar-back Drew (longing to be a rock star), and plays out just as the Mayor is about to close a deal to tear down “the strip” to sell out to German developer Hertz and his son Franz. Protestor Regina tries to stop the proceedings, while the manager and personnel at the Bourbon Room try to figure out a way to raise money, resulting in bringing in rock star Stacee Jaxx for his “final concert”. What follows in a basic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back played out in this setting. Going deeper isn’t worth it — because the show is about the music — its all tied together with rock music of the era, including hits such as “We Built This City”, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, and “Hit me with your Best Shot”. You get the idea.

The Broadway production was a booze infused 80’s rock love-fest (alcohol was sold at the theatre and flowed freely all night) — and that was not so evident at the Dio at Friday’s performance — although the audience enthusiastically gave the show a standing ovation so it clearly hit the right notes overall.

There are terrific performances from Kristin Renee Reeves and Christoper Kamm as Sherrie and Drew. They find excellent support in Greg Bailey as club-owner Dennis Dupree and Steve DeBruyne as right hand man (in more ways than one) Lonny Barnett. Elizabeth Jaffe plays “wacky” Regina Koontz (a very good performance in a thankless role – entirely rewritten for the movie for Catherine Zeta-Jones). Dan Morrison is a very solid and funny Hertz, while Jared Schneider is an outstanding Franz. Linzi Joy Thomas is fine indeed as Justice Charlier. Sean Philibin hits all the right notes as rocker Stacee. The rest of the excellent cast is comprised of Thomas Mate, Molly Cunningham, Brian Buckner, Natalie Rose Sevick, Tori Lynn Rogers, and Nick Pettengill — each very good in their multiple supporting roles and ensemble. Brian Rose leads a terrific 5-piece band.

If there is any quibble, from a director’s point-of-view, some of the pacing feels a bit slow — some throwaway scenes are played all-out, and where things can be tightened and overlapped, they play out line by line. There is also a lot of use of blackouts which I don’t recall from the production in NY and which seem to slow things down a bit.

Your like or dislike of the show itself will be highly dependent on your like (or dislike) of 80’s rock (note: rock, not pop). You won’t find fault with anything on stage – though its the raciest show the Dio has performed — its laced with 80’s style humorous obscenity, sexual references, and it is also very loud. I have to admit that I was a bit worried that the audience (many in their 60’s and older) would find the show off-putting — no need to worry there, they were the first to start the standing ovation last night — proving that new material, done well, will entertain audiences that you might otherwise find surprising. What the show itself is missing is the level of audience involvement found in NYC or on tour — but it worked very well even with a very different target market. Please be aware that this is not a show for the entire family, though quite frankly, there isn’t anything in it that your typical 14 year old hasn’t heard or seen countless times on cable tv, at school, or elsewhere.


Rock of Ages continues at the Dio through May 22nd. Tickets are selling very fast and many performances are sold out. Reserve your tables at diotheatre.com or 517-672-6009.


Stellar “Always…Patsy Cline” at Encore Musical Theatre Company (Review) April 15, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed


Emmi Veinbergs and Sonja Marquis create a magical evening of Patsy Cline at the Encore Musical Theatre Company’s “Always…Patsy Cline”. Buy your tickets this minute, then come back and read the review. Seriously. Just buy them right now, I’ll wait: theencoretheatre.org…Okay, have your tickets? Read on…

You know all about Patsy right? Oh, you don’t? Her country rock flame glowed brightly for her short career (she was killed in a plane crash at the age of 30) and is considered one of the leading female vocal performers of our times. “Crazy”, “Sweet Dreams” and “I Fall to Pieces” are only a few of the songs that you might be familiar with (there are 27 of them in this 90-minutes-plus intermission musical). You might have seen one of the biopics about her — usually filled with histrionics. You won’t find that in Ted Swindley’s musical, which wisely eschews the histrionics for a simpler girl-power storyline of a friendship between housewife Louise Seger and Patsy Cline that started one evening in a honkytonk and led to several years of letters back and forth between the two. Oh, you get that requisite sad moment at the end, but it lasts all of 7 seconds before the music is back and you’re clapping along.

Emmi Veinbergs is stellar as Patsy. Her voice is clear, pitch-perfect, and while evoking Patsy’s sound, she maintains her own vocal style and it is lovely. Also wonderful is Sonja Marquis’s Louise — another role in Sonja’s quickly growing repertoire of hilarious strong women.

Director Thalia V. Schramm keeps the production moving at a fast pace, but isn’t afraid to let us take a peek at quieter moments as well. Credit also goes to the superb on-stage band: Music Director (great work) Dan Mikat on piano, David Shann on violin, Billy Harrington on drums, Brent Marvin on bass, and Roger John Silvi on guitar. They sound phenomenal. In general, the sound design by Chris Goosman is the best I’ve heard at an Encore production. Great work is also turned in by costumer Sharon Larkey Urick, whose color palette for the evening is lovely. The set design by Kristen Gribbin is excellent, and Anne Donevan’s props are terrific (and sometimes very funny) as they evoke the early 1960’s era.

Don’t like country music? Well, get over it and come see what early country-pop music sounded like. After all, Patsy is in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, among the 40 Greatest Women of Country Music, and number eleven on the list of 100 Greatest Women in Rock and Roll. And an evening at the Encore will remind you why that is.

I can’t point to a single thing in this production that you’ll find lacking, except maybe you might be wanting one more song at evening’s end. And that is a fine fine way to leave the theatre.

Highest Recommendation.

“Always…Patsy Cline” continues at the Encore Musical Theatre Company through May 8th. Tickets at theencoretheatre.org or by calling 734-268-6200.

Acting Out (Taylor, MI) Presents 9 to 5, the musical April 11, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, musical theater, Musicals.
comments closed


Acting Out Productions Presents  9 To 5:  The Musical, with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and book by Patricia Resnick, based on the seminal 1980 hit movie. 

This entertaining show is being Directed by Kelly R. Lomas of Trenton, Assistant Directed by Mary Jo Hunt of Riverview, Vocal Directed by Sarah Leonard of Allen Park, and Choreographed by Rian McDonald of  Southgate.  The show features April Denny of Dearborn Heights as “Doralee Rhodes,” Melissa Brown Knox of Lincoln Park as “Judy Bernly,” Liza Boos of Allen Park as “Violet Newstead,” and John Sartor of Canton as “Franklin Hart, Jr.”

This will also be the debut of a live orchestra during a show for AOP.

Set in the late 1970s, this hilarious story of friendship and revenge in the Rolodex era is outrageous, thought-provoking, and even a little romantic. Pushed to the boiling point, three female co-workers concoct a plan to get even with the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot they call their boss. In a hilarious turn of events, Doralee, Judy and Violet live out their wildest fantasy, giving their boss the boot! While Hart remains “otherwise engaged,” the women give their workplace a dream makeover, taking control of the company that had always kept them down. Hey, a girl can scheme, can’t she?

Show dates and times are as follows:  April 22, 23, 29, and 30 at 7:30 pm and April 24 at 3:00 pm at the Royal Majestic Theatre inside Trillium Academy, 15740 Racho Road in Taylor.  Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students ages 13-18 with valid school ID.  Friends and Family online deal $10 per person at actingoutdownriver.com/jazzhands.  

Acting Out Productions is a theatre company focused on offering on-stage and backstage opportunities for theatre lovers of all ages in the Downriver area, who also continues to build a strong community.  Please bring a case of water to assist our Flint citizens and purchase tickets at the door for just $9.
For more information go to www.actingoutdownriver.com

This HMS Pinafore is smooth sailing at UMGASS April 9, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Uncategorized.
comments closed

Guest review by Wendy Wright

Let me preface this by admitting that I do not consider myself a Gilbert and Sullivan fan or a fan of opera in general. The only other time I have seen a U of M Gilbert and Sullivan Society production was decades ago when I was in elementary school. That being said, with the current production of H.M.S Pinafore (which continues through Sunday), I can’t say I’ve become a devotee, but I can understand why some people come back year after year.

In brief the story revolves around Josephine (Adina Triolo), the Captain’s (Phillip Rhodes) daughter, who falls for lowly sailor Ralph Rackstraw (an outstanding Tom Cilluffo), but duty demands that she marry the lofty Sir Joseph Porter (Don Regan) instead. The mysterious Little Buttercup (Lori Gould) carries a deeply held secret which involves mistaken identities and reversal of fortunes that ensures that true love will prevail.

Director, David Andrews keeps the pace brisk and the choreography by Beth Shippey Ballback and Phillip Rhodes is fun and doesn’t push the multigenerational cast beyond their abilities. I loved the gorgeous set by Laura Strowe and the colorful and detailed costumes by Marilyn Gouin.

But the reason most people see a Gilbert and Sullivan production is for the music and music director Ezra Donner does not disappoint. Under his direction the large orchestra is nuanced and does not overpower the singers and the chorus sounds terrific. Triolo has a beautiful voice and Cilluffo is a star. His voice actually gave me goosebumps. Another standout is the comic character turn by Andrew Burgmayer as Dick Deadeye (I had the honor of sitting near his proud parents and had the opportunity to tell them how much I enjoyed his performance).

So though, I don’t think Gilbert and Sullivan is particularly my cup of tea. As a big Shakespeare fan who has seen many of his shows multiple times and loves making a pilgrimage to Stratford every summer, I can understand those who have such a passionate devotion to this other pair of Brits. If you are a fan of G & S, I think this version of Pinafore will not disappoint.

HMS Pinafore continues at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater through April 10th with matinees both Saturday and Sunday. Tickets at the door or online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2494971