jump to navigation

Stratford Festival 2016 – A sampler (Reviews) June 18, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in A Little Night Music, All My Sons, As You Like It, Musicals, Plays, Shakespeare, Shakespeare in Love the play, Stratford Festival 2016, Theatre.
comments closed

2016playbill_SIL-N-W_rec

The Stratford Festival (Stratford, Ontario. Canada) has grown from a small theater-in-a-tent company to one that is the largest, longest, and most varied theater festival in North America. Every year, the company now produces 15 shows in repertory, 4 shows each day from May through October. Unless you are the heartiest of theater goers, one gets a sampling of shows during a typical 2 or three days visit.  On my latest visit, I saw the following:

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE — is everything you would imagine. Very faithfully following the movie script, the production is the American premier of the West End play — in fact, it IS the West End play, complete with the same sets, costumes, and blocking. I’m going to guess that Stratford, in exchange for presenting the show at their festival, will be given the option to produce it on Broadway, where it should move. Its a fun near-three hour romp through Shakespearean London and a disguised love story. I had a great time, as did the audience from the comments after the show. I’m giving this one 4.5 out of 5 stars and highly recommend it. At the Avon Theatre.

ALL MY SONS — the searing drama by Arthur Miller is performed in the round at the Tom Patterson theatre. The production is, in a word, devastating. If you know the show, you’ll find some wonderful nuances here in a superb color-blind-casting production. If you don’t know the show, don’t read about it in advance. You’ll love the drama and by the end of the evening you will feel like you have been eaves-dropping on your neighbors. This is one of the strongest ensemble casts I have ever seen in a Stratford production.  5 Stars out of 5. Highest Recommendation.

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC — is gorgeous. Leave it to Canada to produce the most beautiful productions of American musicals. (the Festivals A CHORUS LINE is also getting raves at the Festival Theater). Starting in a semi-steampunk type city sequence in Act One with its browns and blacks — the show opens up once they head to the Armfeldt manse in the country where colors switch to whites and creams. The cast is super, the music is wonderful, and I loved this production. At the Avon Theatre. 5 stars out of 5. Highest recommendation.

AS YOU LIKE IT — or, “You Won’t Like It” aka “As You Don’t Like It” at the Festival Theatre is terrible. It is presented as an “audience participation” show, complete with audience sometimes holding “tree branches” to create the Forest of Arden, for example — or stars in the balcony to create, well, stars. You get a nice canvas bag of “stuff” you are supposed to use but get to keep when you are done. Friends have already nicknamed it a “barf bag”.  I did get to hold a sheep-sound-maker that I got to turn over every time they said “love” in one sequence with the shepherd, and it was at least funny. Then I left at intermission. If you are 13 years old, you might enjoy the antics which (for better or worse) do clearly help you understand what is going on — not usually a problem with As You Like It. If you are not 13, you will think the show is condescending and tries to make you have “fun” but you are not having “fun” and the participation becomes annoying. This production is the first time I have witnessed people walking out DURING the show. Many more left at intermission, including myself. 1 out of 5 stars. Not Recommended at all.

I’ll update this if I get out to the Festival to see some additional shows this summer.

Advertisements

Billy Elliot soars at Croswell Opera House (Review) June 12, 2016

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

Landon 5

Landon Brimacombe takes flight with Aidan Ziegler-Hansen (as Billy and Older Billy) in Billy Elliot – photo courtesy Croswell Opera House.

Croswell Opera House has pulled another magic trick out of it’s current big hat of hits and created a production of Billy Elliot that truly soars (in Act II in more ways than one). Director Julianne Dolan has created an emotion-filled musical, and scenic designer Doug Miller has matched it with picture perfect sets. Jonathan Sills’ musical direction is super — and the entire cast and orchestra sound rich. Sarah Nowak makes it all move — and move it does, from start to finish.

You probably already know the story – young Billy Elliot stumbles upon dance and finds himself taking classes with a local teacher, hiding it from his tough coal-mining dad and family, who are on strike in 1984 England. When the secret is out, the drama ensues, as his teacher tries to get Billy to audition for the school of ballet in London, while his father struggles with what it all means.

There are two alternating Billy’s (Landon Brimacombe at my performance) and it is a challenging role that requires singing, acting, dancing, and a tremendous amount of energy as he is on stage almost the entire time. Landon’s “big moment” (flying during a sequence with Older Billy, played by UM’s Aidan Ziegler-Hansen) is exciting and emotional at the same time. What kid hasn’t dreamed about getting caught up so much is something that they love that they wish they could actually soar and fly to express their excitement. Here he does, and its thrilling.

There are terrific performances by rich-voiced Jared Hoffert as Billy’s father, Erin Satchell Yuen as empathic dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson, Steven Kiss as tough older brother Tony, Jay Hillard as a hilarious Grandma, and funny George Bacarella as boxing instructor George. But my heart was won over by the absolute scene-stealing dynamo Gabe Omlor as Michael in a performance that is so self-assured it could be on any Broadway stage this very evening. Of course Michael is my favorite character in the musical, and the haunting final image on his bicycle, a larger than life boy trapped riding in a circle in a dying village with no way out watching Billy flee and pursue his dream, is heartbreaking.

The entire ensemble is excellent — from minor characters to all the dancing kids, cops, and miners – and they are all beautifully costumed by Pam Krage and well lit by Tiff Crutchfield.

Oh, and if you somehow missed the news today, Croswell Opera House received a 2.5 million dollar donation last night at their annual fundraiser Great Big Night. And that is Great Big Wonderful News for this beloved theater which will keep it soaring well into the future.

Highly Recommended.

Billy Elliot continues at the Croswell Opera House through June 26th. Tickets at croswell.org or 517-264-show. 129 E Maumee St, Adrian, MI 49221.

 

 

 

Assassins at Encore Musical Theatre Company is can’t miss musical theater (review) June 11, 2016

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

Assassins-32

Photo by Michele Anliker

Every now and again, my role as a musical theater director and reviewer compels me to launch into teaching mode — and that mode was fully activated while watching the breathtaking production of Assassins at Encore Musical Theatre Company that opened last night.

See it because you owe yourself a chance to see this remarkable (and rarely produced) Sondheim musical. It is not without its flaws as a show, but it certainly is one of the landmarks of American musical theater and you should know it (things barrel along at lighting speed, and then bog down a bit in a very speechy book depository scene). While on the surface, it is about misguided people who shot or tried to shoot American Presidents, it is really much more than that — and you’ll find something that strikes you personally, from family dysfunction to mental illness and civil activism. At its core, it is about people making decisions — in this case very poor decisions — and you’ll find those decisions alternately compelling and repulsive, but never uninteresting. Sondheim has written some wonderful material for this musical, and it is a score you should know.

See it because it is one of the most professional productions Encore has yet produced. What a year this has been for this theater! And what a cast. Beautifully directed by Matthew Brennan (who also takes on the role of The Balladeer/Lee Harvey Oswald) and superbly musical directed by Tyler Driskill, the cast is superb. From the exceptional performance of John Wilkes Booth by David Moan to the creepy fantastic performance of James Fischer as John Hinckley, this is a cast that is in top form. Songs develop naturally out of scenes. Book scenes engage the audience and make you care about the characters, as repulsive as some of them are. Every lead and ensemble member has a specific role, a specific story to tell, and they are excellent.

See it because of Sarah Tanner’s beautiful set design, and Tyler Chinn’s wonderful lighting — the best I have seen in an Encore show. This is the first time I have seen ensemble groups and actors individually isolated on stage in their own pools of light, and it looks fantastic. Also see it because of Sharon Larkey Urick’s excellent costuming, and Anne Donevan’s property work which, both by necessity of the show, span several time periods and eras.

See it because Encore should be presenting more shows like this. If you are seriously interested in musical theater, you will be thrilled to see Encore taking a risk and producing something that will turn off some of its target audience and stop playing it safe by presenting family friendly fare. Its about time the theater has started to present some edgier material (Assassins joins last fall’s Bonnie and Clyde and the upcoming The Full Monty this fall as essential adult entertainment.) These are the types of shows that will advance Encore into a different category — that of modern music theater which spans many topics and interest levels, and will allow it to compete with every other theater in SE Michigan that has, for years, already produced edgier fare — and by edgy, I mean normal modern musical theater which is no longer designed to cater only to family audiences. The very Dexter family sitting behind me said after the show, “Well that wasn’t a show I liked very much”…and THAT is exactly why some of the members of this local audience need to be educated as to what current musical theater is about, what it says about our human condition, and how music is now integrated into drama.

Bravo to Encore for taking the risk and presenting an evening of musical theater that is breathtaking. Clocking in at 100 intermission-less minutes, it is a fascinating look at a weird slice of American history — attention has been paid.

Highest Recommendation.

Assassins continues at the Encore Musical Theatre Company through July 3rd. 3126 Broad Street, Dexter MI.  Tickets at theEncoreTheatre.org or 734-268-6200

 

 

 

 

 

A2CT’s The Wedding Singer: This Robbie Hart Will Certainly Steal Yours (Review) June 3, 2016

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

ACT ONE-165 copy

By Guest Reviewer Wendy Wright, photo by Aaron C Wade

I’ll start by saying that I saw a rehearsal of this production of The Wedding Singer about a week ago and the growth in that time has been remarkable. Of course it’s not surprising that the addition of all of the technical elements, a full band and an audience would make a difference, but what I didn’t expect was to see a performance from the leading actor that would be worthy of any New York stage.

If you are one of the handful of people unfamiliar with the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore movie upon which the show is based, the year is 1985. The hair is big, collars are up, and greed is good. Rock-star wannabe Robbie Hart (Chip Mezo) is New Jersey’s favorite wedding singer and the life of the party—until his own fiancée leaves him at the altar. Shot through the heart, Robbie makes every wedding as disastrous as his own. Things look up when he meets Julia (Kimberly Elliot), a winsome waitress, but she’s about to marry a Wall Street shark. Unless Robbie can change his tune and pull off the performance of the decade, the girl of his dreams will be gone forever.

Mezo’s performance as Hart is a masterclass in extraordinary vocals and amazing comic timing. I can honestly say that having seen and been in dozens of Ann Arbor Civic Theater musicals over the past 30 years, he may be the most talented performer to ever grace their stage.

That isn’t to take away from the rest of the cast. Elliot as his love interest Julia is a vocal powerhouse in her own right. Daniel Hazlett and Chris Joseph as Robbie’s bandmates Sammy and George are also wonderful and the way the three play off each other is a joy to watch. Becca Nowak as Julia’s bestie Holly and Salina Burke as Robbie’s runaway bride are appropriately slutty and bitchy, respectively and Rich Roselle and Brandon Cave give hysterical cameo performances in multiple roles.

Director, Ron Baumanis stages the show with his usual attention to detail and pacing, first time A2CT Musical Director, Jim Territo leads a wonderful and restrained 80’s rock band and the choreography by Patricia Mazzola will have many suffering from flashbacks…or should I say “Flashdances”(the second act opening number is particularly clever).

For better (and sometimes worse) Molly Borneman’s costumes will remind you of every 80’s fashion faux pas you can think of (in the best possible way), while Pat Johnson’s first act ending special effect brings the house down in more ways than one.

Highly Recommended.

A2CT’s The Wedding Singer continues at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre on University of Michigan’s Central Campus through Sunday June 5th. Tickets at a2ct.org or at the door.