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Dynamite “Murder Ballad” at Detroit Public Theatre (review) October 21, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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Four characters. One will be dead at the end of the show. Who is it, who did it, and why?

Detroit Public Theatre presents this terrific rock musical (by Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash) through this Sunday October 23rd. I saw it near the end of its run due to a little show I myself was rehearsing and opening the past month. I wish I had the chance to see it again. 80 minutes of love, passion, revenge, and a few surprises are in store at this intimate theater inside Orchestra Hall.

Arielle Crosby, Eric Gutman, Arianna Bergamaschi and Rusty Mewha (left to right in photo above) and a four piece onstage band under the excellent musical direction of Jamie Reed rock the heck out of the theater and leave the audience wanting more. Director Courtney Burkett’s beautiful direction leaves the audience in the midst of the action throughout, as our four characters tales interweave — and when you think you have it figured out, wait, you are in for another surprise.

Arielle Crosby has a superb voice and serves as the evening’s Narrator and her sly winks and nods bring an appropriate air of mystery to everything. Arianna Bergamaschi plays Sara – at first involved with hot and hunky bartender Tom (Rusty Mewha) and later the more stable and family-oriented Michael (Eric Gutman). Bergamaschi is simply superb as she weaves into, out of, and back into her men’s lives. Eric Gutman brings both strong vocals and acting to a demanding role that is at first very sweet – and later not so much. His ability to grow from one extreme to the other is remarkable. I’ve never seen Rusty Mewha rock-out the way he does here as Tom in an amazing acting turn – and it is so much fun to watch you almost forget who you are rooting for and who you are rooting against. What makes this piece so fun is that who you think does what changes with each subsequent scene. Remember — who gets killed, who did it, and why.

The entire show takes place in and around a downtown NYC bar, with hot stage design by Monika Essen. Costume designer Katherine Nelson has done a great job defining characters, not only by clothing style but by color. Choreographer Jill Dion provides some fun moves for the entire cast, and Cecilia Durbin’s lighting design is gorgeous.

If you get the chance this weekend get down to the DSO on Woodward and see Murder Ballad. You will kick yourself if you miss it. I am thrilled I got to see it, even if it was on its closing weekend. Professional musical theatre is alive and well in downtown Detroit. Bravo.

Very Highest Recommendation.

Murder Ballad continues in Detroit through Sunday Oct 23. Tickets at DetroitPublicTheatre.org

Bonnie & Clyde is a hit at Downriver Actors Guild (review) October 19, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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Reviewed by Patricia Mazzola.

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Downriver Actors Guild has a true hit with Bonnie & Clyde A New Musical, performing at the intimate Catherine A. Daly Theatre on the Avenue in Wyandotte, MI, now through October 29th, 2016. Director Ron Baumanis, keeps the audience completely engaged with his expert staging, whether during a tender moment or a suspenseful shoot-out.

With book by Ivan Menchell, this thoroughly researched story of unfettered love during the desperate times of the 1930s takes the audience deep into the main characters’ hearts and minds more than the contrived Hollywood film with which we are all so familiar. The story centers on Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker who meet and decide to turn their backs on trying to do the right thing. They become notorious outlaws, seeking fame and fortune, as they rob and steal their way across the southern United States. The contemporary country and gospel score by Frank Wildhorn and lyrics by Don Black, perfectly expresses all the emotions of fear, love, compassion and glee these characters experience as they stumble through life during the Depression.

Though there were a few technical glitches the evening I went, the ensemble, led by the very talented Kimberly Elliott as Bonnie and Daniel Hazlett as Clyde, grew nicely into their parts as the show progressed. Nick Brown as the Minister showered us with spiritual joy during the Gospel (I’d go to any service he would lead), yet also showed genuine heartfelt love for the downtrodden when appropriate. Love-struck Ted Hinton doesn’t get the girl but Kevin Kaminski plays him so well and sings so beautifully, maybe he should have. Other standout performances were Elaina Primeau (keep an eye out for this little gem) as Young Bonnie, and the trio of salon ladies who also doubled in other parts, played by Amanda Aue, Paige Wisniewski and Ashley Gatesy. You will swoon and laugh and maybe even cry a bit. There is also a special feature in the second act that will surprise you.

This was the first time I had seen anything by the Downriver Actors Guild. I went with no idea of what to expect and I left wanting more. I will be back! You won’t have to hold a gun to my back.

Bonnie & Clyde continues at DAG through October 29th. DownriverActorsGuild.net for tickets.

Fun and highly entertaining The Full Monty at Encore (Review) October 8, 2016

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If you want to have a fantastic evening of laughs and great musical theater, grab your tickets now for the hilarious The Full Monty at Encore Musical Theatre Company and have a great time cheering on the guys as they work toward “the full monty” at an amateur men’s strip production. You probably already know the story (either from the movie or the musical – this is the third production I have seen in the past year) — down on his luck unemployed Jerry and his chubby buddy Dave see how much money there is to be made off of the sex-starved women of blue-collar Buffalo and plan their own strip show – along come depressed mama’s boy Malcom, middle-aged Harold, big black man Horse, and energetic Ethan. Will they or won’t they. That is the question that drives the entire musical, and you already know that it is really about the show’s last 5 minutes.

Getting there, though, is great fun in this production. Credit Matthew Brennan (choreographing and co-directing with Thalia Schramm) for bringing this show to lively life in its many dance and movement sequences and his wonderful from top down cast.

Eric Parker is outstanding as Jerry — his singing and dancing is top notch, and what a pleasure to see him on the Encore stage — he takes command each time he appears, and his scenes with his son are particularly affecting. Greg Bailey shows terrific range as his buddy Dave – and has some great stage moments. Thalia Schramm plays his wife Georgie with compassion. Luciana Piazza nicely plays Jerry’s ex- wife Pam, and Alejandro Cantu is terrific as their 12-year old son Nathan, wise beyond his years yet wanting all the things a normal kid wants. Brendan Bachman is hilarious as Teddy, Pam’s new nerdy boy friend.

Dan Morrison turns in a great performance as Harold, and his wife Nicki is played to the edge of hilarity by Sarah Briggs in a role that you will not be able to stop laughing at, even after the show.

Matthew Pecek, quickly becoming an Ann Arbor area favorite, is terrific as Ethan, and his moments with hugely entertaining Brendan Kelly are among the nicest in this production. Jordan Harris is wonderful as Horse. Gayle E Martin plays a show-stealing Jeanette (the piano player with the mouth of a sailor) and her deadpan delivery had me literally holding my stomach with laughter pains (“I can’t play any slower!”)

The rest of the ensemble is awesome in their roles – from Colby Orton as Keno, to the entire rest of the team: Tim Brayman, Kasey Donnelly, Bryanna Hall, Kristin McSweeney, and Bennett Waymann.

If you have never seen The Full Monty the musical onstage before get yourself to their website to buy tickets now. This is a fantastic production. Even those who have will be surprised by how much dancing and movement there is in this production, and how well it is executed throughout — from tangos in a ballroom dance class, to the final striptease number (lets face it, you come for those last five minutes and when it arrives, it is fabulous).

Very highly recommended. Not for younger audiences.

The Full Monty continues at Encore Musical Theatre Company in Dexter MI through October 22nd. Tickets at theEncoreTheatre.org or 734-268-6200