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A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On at Croswell’s “Million Dollar Quartet” (Review) May 15, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Croswell Opera House, Entertainment.
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You’d be hard-pressed not to think that the Broadway tour of Million Dollar Quartet has made a stop in Adrian, MI, because this production, launching the 2016 summer season at Croswell Opera House is that terrific.

Start with the remarkable set by Doug Miller. Upon entering the theater, you’re greeted by his car-part-shop-turned-studio set, and its gorgeous. Then the lights come up and the evening is filled with one remarkable song after another, as four talented gents and one uber-talented lady enact the night in 1956 that four of rock-and-roll’s highest profile stars all gathered at Sun Studios to jam (and later, there’s a real-life photo to prove it, which brings some surprising audience tears).

Jonathan Crayne gets the night rolling as Carl Perkins. Add in Phillip Baugh as Johnny Cash. Don’t leave out John Grieco as Jerry Lee Lewis, and top it off with Lawrence Havelka as Elvis Presley. Along for the ride is Presley’s girlfriend Dyanne (Tatiana Owens). The band is rounded out by Tim Prettyman on bass, and Keith Kemner on drums. Director Eric Parker plays Sam Phillips, Sun Records owner, who serves as narrator for the evening. And for anyone who thinks acting is a glamorous job — take into consideration the remarkable talent involved in not only singing, dancing, and acting your way through a show filled with non-stop songs but to actually play the instruments yourselves live on stage. Yes, its remarkable.

What follow are 23 exciting rock-and-roll songs, and a jam-packed megamix finale that will leave you clapping, cheering, and dancing along. (Literally — Jerry Lee Lewis comes into the audience to make sure you are standing and shakin’).

It is a fine fine night indeed — while some numbers rock a bit more than others — there isn’t a dull moment in the show, and you’ll find yourself fully absorbed in one of those “birth of rock and roll” iconic moments (much like last summer’s Memphis). Watch for Grieco’s spot-on Jerry Lee Lewis back-bending theatrics before evening’s end, Johnny Cash’s sultry bass singing, Elvis’s pre-icon swagger, and Perkins straight-out rock and roll. And you’ll leave the theater having not only been enormously entertained, but also having learned a bit about the whole process of early music making.

Credit also Tiff Crutchfield’s excellent lighting; Dave Rains super work as Music Director, Betsy Lackey’s wonderful costumes, and Joe Gozdowski’s exceptional sound design. Director Eric Parker keeps everything moving swiftly and looking utterly professional from top to bottom. Choreographer Meg McNamee gives everyone character-appropriate moves.

You’ll have your favorites — from singers to songs, but you won’t leave disappointed as Million Dollar Quartet rocks the Croswell Opera House.

My only complaint is the addition of an intermission. This show is written and meant to be performed straight through (it is only 100 minutes long) and in this instance the addition of an intermission is particularly glaring as it breaks the integrity of the show when lights simply go out on stage and come up in the house. Boo.  I hope a similarly egregious intermission does not occur in the intermissionless Drowsy Chaperone later this summer.

Highly Recommended.

Million Dollar Quartet continues at the Croswell Opera House, 129 E Maumee St, Adrian, MI through May 22nd. Tickets: croswell.org or 517-264-SHOW

 

 

 

 

 

“Ragtime the Musical” tour is spectacular (Review) May 14, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Broadway Tour.
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Kate Turner (Mother) and Matthew Curiano (Tateh) sing “Our Children” in RAGTIME

Seen on its journey through Toledo’s Stranahan Theater, the newly minted national tour of Ragtime the musical is in a word spectacular.

First, take a top-notch cast making some amazing music together. Next, add a genuinely affecting story (book by Terrence McNally, Music by Stephen Flaherty, and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens), that works no matter how many times you’ve seen the show, and add in a gorgeous set, costume, and lighting design, and it all makes this a great production.

Based on EL Doctorow’s novel, the musical tells the story of a fictional family intertwined with real world historical characters in three social realms — established white America at the turn of the century, an ever increasing influx of European immigrants, and a growing sense of social justice for black Americans. Each of these mini-dramas is clearly defined by its characters, and the stories play out in turn.

The tour is based on the 2009 revival of the musical, rather than the more lavish 1996 original. It uses a reduced cast size, and simpler sets and costumes. But the smaller size of the show doesn’t at all detract from the story — in fact, it might actually enhance the drama. Marcia Milgrom Dodge has directed and choreographed the production with an assured hand and a big heart.

A few performances in particular stand out. First, there is a star-making turn as immigrant Tateh by Matthew Curiano. His vocal and acting work first breaks your heart and later makes you laugh and then cry again (“Our Children” is so well done here).  Also very fine are Kate Turner as Mother, and Chris Sams as Coalhouse Walker Jr. Her “Back to Before” is remarkable, while his “Make Them Hear You” is stunning. As usual “Wheels of a Dream” (sung by Sams and Leslie Jackson as Sarah) is the score’s showcase number.  But every cast member is very strong, and they play interchangeable characters over the course of the musical. Congratulations to all.

The simple but beautiful set design is by Kevin Depinet, the excellent lighting design is by Mike Baldassari, and the gorgeous costume design is by Gail Baldoni. Steven Bishop provides first rate musical direction.

Do not miss this excellent tour.   Highest Recommendation.

For tour schedule, visit http://www.ragtimeontour.com

 

 

“Camelot” at Downriver Actors Guild is solid classic musical theater (review) May 14, 2016

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If you love the Lerner and Loewe musical “Camelot”, you can’t go wrong with the solid lovely production currently running at Downriver Actors Guild. Directed by Peter Sonnberg Schmidt, the production is faithful to the original. Running 2:45, it is one of the slower-moving classic musicals of the era. The original production opened on Broadway in 1960 and became a favorite of the Kennedy clan — the original cast album spent a whopping 60 weeks atop the Billboard best selling album list.

Telling the story of King Arthur and the round table and his marriage to Guenevere, it leads to the eventual unraveling of peace and harmony when said queen falls in love with French knight Lancelot leading to war between England and France. Also to a lot of pontificating. There isn’t a lot of action in this musical, it is known most for its gorgeous score.

John Sartor is a terrific King Arthur – he plays the part with a natural ease and warmth, and it all feels very genuine. Emily Noble is a lovely Queen Guenevere – her voice soars on her big numbers. If Bryan Aue’s Lancelot pales a bit next to these two, it is only because of the caliber of performances you are getting here. His swagger and demeanor come across as a bit hammy (okay, I take that back, this entire musical is hammy), but that is what it is and Bryan does a nice job with what he’s handed.

Michael Suchyta turns in a delicious evil-fringed performance as illegitimate son Mordred, Glen Reynolds is very funny as Pellinore, and Barbara Day has a wonderful moment as food-obsessed Morgan Le Fey (in a sequence normally cut by most productions).

Musical Director Wendy Biggs Fichter has done very good work with both her leads and her ensemble. The beautiful set – comprised of sliding walls and later some nifty ceiling-hung banners – is designed by Jim Steele. Roseann Spodeck’s costumes are gorgeous. The armor worn by the men looks wonderful. Want to see what great costume work looks like? Just follow Lancelot’s costumes as he goes from full-knightware to more relaxed looks later in the production.

The orchestra under the direction of David Waggoner (mostly) hits all the correct notes. Lighting is good – some of the best I have seen here (David Reynolds II and Joel Bias).

Directer Sonnberg Schmidt is wise to go with a reduced ensemble size — it works well in the space, and they sound (and look) fantastic. There are a few campier moments that could have used a bit of tightening and less ensemble reaction. There is a moment at the end of “Guenevere” when stage action has run out and there is just a lot of choir-like singing.

Camelot celebrates an ideology that was already dead in 1960 — and its themes of righteousness and might for right seem glorified and hokey in 2016. The recent Broadway tour cut out all of the pageantry in the show, and focused on the love triangle instead, and it worked better. The underlying theme of “is a person born to glory, or is glory thrust upon them” reverberates as poignantly as ever, and then there is that luscious score with ballads such as “If ever I would leave you”.

There is much to celebrate in Camelot, not the least of which is that a local group has chosen this show to perform. Its rarely done anymore due to the high cost of sets and costumes, and its outdated classic form. This re-imagining works very well, and I enjoyed my evening in Wyandotte very much.

Recommended.

Camelot at Downriver Actors Guild runs through Sunday May 15th at the Theatre on Avenue, 2656 Biddle Ave, Wyandotte, MI.

 

 

Croswell Opera House – Million Dollar Quartet May 10, 2016

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One day in December 1956, four up-and-coming musicians met by chance at the Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tennessee.

Their names were Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. All four would go on to shape the face of rock ’n’ roll for an entire generation. And the story of that legendary jam session has been memorialized in a Tony Award-winning musical, “Million Dollar Quartet,” which opens May 13 at the Croswell Opera House in Adrian.

Lawrence Havelka of Chelsea, who was last seen at the Croswell in last summer’s “Big Fish,” plays Elvis. The role of Jerry Lee Lewis will be played by John Grieco, a New York-based actor and singer. Jonathan Crayne of Adrian will play Carl Perkins. And Johnny Cash will be played by Phil Baugh of Fort Collins, Colorado, whose past roles at the Croswell include “Walk the Line,” a musical based on the country singer’s life.

Eric Parker of Chicago, who is directing the show, will also play the role of Sun Records owner Sam Phillips. Tatiana Owens, a Toledo native who now lives in New York and starred in last summer’s production of “Memphis,” will play Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne. The singers will be backed by Keith Kemner of Adrian as Fluke, a studio drummer, and Tim Prettyman of Tecumseh as Jay Perkins, a bassist who is also Carl Perkins’ brother.

Rather than impersonate the stars with all of the trademark moves they developed later in life, Parker said the cast of “Million Dollar Quartet” will try to capture the energy and innocence of four young stars at the beginning of their careers.

“This just captures them as young guys — young Southern boys doing what they love to do,” he said. “They’re relatively innocent guys with the first blush of success on them.”

The show takes place in the Sun Records recording studio, and scenic designer Doug Miller has decorated the set to look like a postwar studio built in a converted auto parts store. Costumes by Betsy Lackey will complete the picture, bringing the audience back to the early days of rock ’n’ roll as the cast tears through many of the four stars’ greatest hits.

“Million Dollar Quartet” runs the weekends of May 13-15 and May 20-22, with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and Sunday performances at 2:30 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $35 and may be ordered online at croswell.org or by calling 517-264-7469.

The Croswell Opera House is at 129 E. Maumee St. in downtown Adrian. Because the front of the building is under construction, parking behind the theater is recommended.

If you go

  • What: “Million Dollar Quartet”
  • When: May 13-15 and May 20-22, with Friday and Saturday shows at 8 p.m. and Sunday shows at 2:30 p.m.
  • Where: Croswell Opera House, 129 E. Maumee St., Adrian
  • Tickets: $15 to $35
  • More info: croswell.org