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Very slick and hilarious “SPAMALOT” at Farmers Alley Theatre, Kalamazoo (review) July 23, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals.
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Farmer’s Alley Theatre is currently presenting their largest show to date. Kalamazoo’s professional theater company has never mounted as large a Broadway musical production as Spamalot, and it is resounding success.

Hilarious from the get-go, it weaves together a fractured tale of King Arthur and his men seeking the Holy Grail. (The musical is primarily based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail, although it lifts some sequences from their other movies as well). When it opened in NYC, it brought in a whole new type of audience — one that wasn’t necessarily musical lovers, and it led to a whole new style of musical theater meant for broader audiences (and sometimes putting off seasoned musical theater lovers). Though what’s not to love about Spamalot as it makes its way through 2.5 hours of hilarity at WMU’s Little Theatre.

Director Choreographer Stephen Brotebeck has done an excellent job of keeping everything looking spiffy, moving quickly, and delivering big laughs. Music Director Kellee Love Hazleton’s work is outstanding — in fact, this ensemble cast sounds (and moves) terrifically. W. Douglas Blickle’s set design is outstanding, and it is lit well by Jason Frink. Sarah Mauer’s costumes fill the stage with color and flash.

Dirk Lumbard is an excellent King Arthur — his underplayed facial expressions had me laughing all night. Also outstanding is Zachary Joel Smits in his many roles, but none of them had me laughing harder than his French Taunter (you know, “your mother smells of elderberries….I’m going to fart in your general direction”). Jamila Sabares-Klemm is an exceptional Lady of the Lake and she blows the vocals out of the water during her Vegas sequence. The entire ensemble is excellent – not a week link in the bunch, and the non-stop choreography is funny, fast moving, and very well executed.

This production is also the very best I have seen locally. This is a show that almost every regional and community theatre has picked up by now. But Farmers Alley’s production is by far the best of any that I have seen locally. If you are a Monty Python fan, its well worth the drive to Kalamazoo to see the show. Its sold out this weekend, but there are tickets available for next weekends final shows.

HIGHEST Recommendation. You won’t see it done better anywhere.

Monty Pythons Spamalot continues at Farmers Alley Theatre, at WMU’s Little Theatre through July 31st. farmersalleytheatre.com or 269-343-2727

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Daniel Clair and Kyrie Bristle shine in “Leap of Faith” – Croswell Opera House, review July 16, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Croswell Opera House, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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Daniel Clair, playing a conniving traveling tent-show preacher, and Kyrie Bristle as a small-town sheriff are the reasons to see this shiny musical theater adaptation of “Leap of Faith” which opened last night at the Croswell Opera House. Your enjoyment will be enhanced if you like bible-belt hokum and are a fan of the film from which it is adapted. But…well… I’ll get to that momentarily…

Directed by Michael Yuen, the cast is strong, including the stellar Clair and Bristle, and also a fine performance by Anthony Isom in the role of sham-exposer which features soaring vocals and acting chops indeed. Also very good is Sarah Nowak as the preacher’s sister, whose sincerity shines through in one of the shows nicest most underplayed scenes, willing to take the blame when things go south fast. Cooper Adams is a fine young boy in the tear-jerker part (you can see what’s coming a mile away). The entire ensemble has plenty to do in multiple large musical numbers — even if they do all sound (and pretty much look) the same. Still there is no denying how good this ensemble is, and how much work has gone into making these three tent-revivals move on stage. From a blocking point of view, I thought the staging was somewhat flat, and most often played in two, rarely moving down toward the audience.

I saw “Leap of Faith” on Broadway and had the same reaction I had here — there is nothing wrong with this show. There also isn’t anything that makes it great. The show is bland and there isn’t much you can do about it. Most of the (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater) songs feel like they are cut from other shows (and many likely were from “Sister Act” which Menken had written shortly before). The mini-dramas do not have enough sizzle to them to make things truly spark — and the “big moment” toward the end of the show is a direct rip-off from The Music Man. But it all clearly works, as the audience members around me were tearing up in the requisite places and were moved to a standing ovation, so it clearly connects to many. Although its Broadway run was very short, it did garner Tony nominations across the board, including a nomination for Best Musical, although you might wonder why after seeing it. I am probably not this show’s primary target market.

And now the but…Daniel Clair owns this show from the moment he appears. You’ll remember him as Huey Calhoun in last summer’s production of Memphis. Here he gets to expand his singing chops and wow, he presents a masterclass in musical theatrics. Its a shame that Cercone and Leight’s script lets him down (as it did the equally fine Raul Esparza on Broadway). His ability to sell a song be it a ballad or a rollicking spiritual-laced rock song is stellar. Throw in the equally vocally gifted Kyrie Bristle, and it is no surprise that their scenes alone and together are what make this musical truly slick.

Doug Miller’s set design is beautiful, and its cleanly lit by Tiff Crutchfield. Costumes, props and other technical values are up to Croswell’s usual best. Dave Rains musical direction is excellent — and his large orchestra sounds terrific. The sound design by Joe Gozdowski balances the (loud) orchestra with stage sound with a good mix.

Recommended.

Leap of Faith continues at Croswell Opera House through July 24th.Croswell.org or 517-264-SHOW for tickets.