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The Dio’s “Forever Plaid” Serves Up a Tasty Summer Confection (review) June 18, 2017

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Guest Review by Wendy Wright

As sweet as an ice cream sundae, with tight harmonies as dense as a pound cake, the wonderful performances in the Dio’s production of FOREVER PLAID serve as the cherry on top. Walking in to the show all I knew was that it was a review of songs from the era before rock and roll. Little did I know there is a hilarious and enjoyable story attached as well. A quartet of male “teen angels” are brought back to earth after having been taken too soon, so that they can fulfill their dream of performing one last show.

One by one, each character reveals himself and is given a moment in the spotlight.  And one by one, I fell in love with every one of them.  James Fischer as Sparky is a master of comic timing, newcomer Angel Velasco’s Jinx is the picture of delightful innocence, Matthew Wallace as Smudge is a loveable goofball, while holding them all together, almost like a big brother, is Steve DeBruyne’s Franky.

DeBruyne’s direction made the evening seamless and I may have noticed some succulent touches that could have only come from the warped imagination of Assistant Director Dan Morrison. The tightly choreographed moves by Bryana Hall look like they are right out of any real-life 60’s boy-group and the actors carry it off very well. Norma Polk’s costume design looks snappy, and Matthew Tomich does super work with the sound, lighting and projections.  Eileen Obradovich’s prop design works particularly well in the Ed Sullivan sequence. Mix in two musicians (Brian Rose on piano who also has done very good work as Musical Director, and  Leer Sobie on bass) and you have a refreshing milkshake blended to perfection.

There is a reason the Dio returns to this show time after time and you would never know that this incarnation was a last-minute replacement for a different show. The food by chef Jarod was wonderful as always (the fried chicken alone is worth the price of admission). All in all, this is the perfect escape from the summer heat.

FOREVER PLAID continues at the Dio, 135 E Main St, Pinckney, MI through July 23rd. Tickets at 517-672-6009 or online at http://www.diotheatre.com

Very Highest Recommendation

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Very Funny “Criminal Hearts” at Ann Arbor Civic Theater (Review) June 18, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Community Theater, Plays, Theatre.
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Cami Fussey has directed a very funny production of Jane Martin’s “Criminal Hearts” at Ann Arbor Civic Theater, and you have one more chance to catch it as it only plays this one weekend (the usual Ann Arbor Civic Theater dilemma).

Telling you much about the plot would ruin the twists and turns, but as stated in the program, Bo,  a streetwise burglar breaks into Ata’s apartment which has already been completely emptied out of furniture by her philandering husband, Wib – the two of them, together with getaway driver Robbie, join forces to take Wib for all he’s worth.

With multiple twists and turns, the (very) funny script takes these two oddball women for a ride.

Elisha Kranz is a fine agoraphobic (and that’s only the beginning of it) Ata, and Tomi Dres is a good Bo. The two of them play off of each other well (as should be in a piece that primarily focuses on the two of them). Christopher Ankney makes his stage debut as the funny Robbie, and David Widmayer is hilarious as he creates a strange and nasty Wib.

Cami Fussey has directed the piece with an eye to character development while letting the jokes flow naturally and rapidly — things feel like the characters are discovering these quirks (and strengths) as the audience does, and it all flows nicely — no matter how absolutely bizarre. The 1:40 piece flies by (there is one intermission). Everything looks terrific on the set designed by Cami and built and lit by Scott Fussey.

Stage Managed by Lisa Gavan, Produced by Christopher Ankney, Light and Sound operated by Nate Dewey, and Production Assisted by Dane Larsen.

Today’s educational moment: nobody really knows who playwright “Jane Martin” is — though almost all of his/her works originate at Actors Theatre of Louisville and there is constant speculation online about who the writer (or possible writers) are. The playwright’s name is a disambiguation.

I had a great time, and I think you will too. There’s only one more chance to see it today – this afternoon (sunday June 18th) at AACT’s studio – 322 W. Ann Street — tickets at the door.

Highly Recommended.

 

 

Gorgeous “Camelot” at Encore Musical Theatre Company (Review) June 17, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals, Uncategorized.
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There is a gorgeous production of the classic musical Camelot at Encore Musical Theatre Company and it looks and sounds pretty as a picture, with beautiful sets and costumes and Lerner and Loewe’s tune-filled familiar score.

Stephen West is in wonderful vocal form as King Arthur (aka Newt) and Olivia Hernandez returns to the Encore as Guenevere and she is lovely in voice and acting. David Moan (I proclaim “can do anything he wants in any role he wants”) is that good here as well. His Lancelot is filled with self-absorption and (later) moping. His “If Ever I would Leave You” had audible gasps around me — although that might have just been the age of the audience and their familiarity with that particular song. The entire ensemble was spot-on terrific, and there is a particularly well-played Mordred by Tyler Lynch who in turns humorously creates an annoying character as well as the most spirited moments in the second act.

Sarah Tanner has designed a beautiful multilevel set that makes the Encore space look much bigger than it actually is (as she did with Into the Woods and Assassins). Sharon Larkey Urick’s costumes are marvelous and colorful. Daniel Walker’s lighting is bright and makes everything look brilliant on stage. Anne Donevan’s property design is terrific — you try finding that many swords and banners. Daniel Helmer’s fight choreography is fun to watch (though Lancelot could have easily escaped that room several times during that fight) and Matthew Brennan’s choreography is wonderful. That it all works at all is credit to director Dan Cooney who has enthused his cast to look beyond the paper-thin characters and create something of substance, and to Tyler Driskill who, as usual, makes beautiful music happen.

That’s about as glowing a review as I can muster for a show that is on the bottom of my list of classic musicals, and I love classic musicals. It is a dated, old-fashioned, unfocused storyline with reluctant bride Guenevere first appalled then smitten with King Arthur, later appalled then smitten with Lancelot — eventually running off with Lancelot which leads to the most anticlimactic and worst ending of a musical ever.

Lerner and Loewe’s score is often lovely (and sounds great here under the musical direction of Tyler Driskill). This production wisely cuts a good 30-minutes off of the (still) too long musical although the last 30 minutes of the show is still a slog through soap-opera territory. Clocking in at 2:35 it felt like it was much longer.

Whenever I see the show, I read other reviews and hear people talk about “how timely it is in the current political climate.” I don’t see it. It was dated in 1960 and it is very dated in 2017 – bordering on the edge of operetta even in the 60’s. But it is what it is, and what it is is gorgeous in this production. Though if you are not a lover of classic musicals, you’ll leave a bit underwhelmed since the musical theater world has changed significantly since this musical first appeared. There’s also the problematic handling of Guenevere’s character — who makes choices based on what middle aged men wrote, designed, and directed back in the last days of the golden musicals — that is to say, her choices are bizarre and male-centric to say the least.

Still, this is a lovely night of theater – and tickets are selling very fast. I saw the production on a sold-out Thursday night. Get yours now.

Recommended (Highly recommended if you love classic musicals, even if you don’t particularly like Camelot).

Camelot continues at Encore Musical Theatre Company through July 2nd. Tickets at encore theatre.org or 734-268-6200.

Photo courtesy Encore photographed by Michele Anliker.

 

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” takes flight (kinda) at Croswell Opera House (Review) June 11, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Croswell Opera House, musical theater, Musicals.
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Croswell Opera House launched its 2017 Summer Season with the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang last night, and it’s a neat production of the mega-effects laden show.

Basically following the same storyline (and music with the exception of a couple new numbers) of the movie, Act 1 sets things up, and Act 2 amps up the ante as the action reaches Vulgaria. The musical had a long successful run on London’s West End but not so successful on Broadway. What it did have was an amazing car that flew, tilted, swiveled, and moved up and out over the orchestra as the proscenium filled with stars – there was no denying that no matter what your thoughts about the material itself, that flying car special effect was THE attraction for this show.

Not so much at Croswell’s production, where there is a car, but the action centers more around the human characters, who are brought to life by a vivid cast of performers. The car takes a more peripheral role and I am not sure that is for the better in a musical that is basically ABOUT the car.

Peter Crist plays an excellent Caractacus Potts, paired nicely with Kayla Marsh as Truly Scrumptious. Jeremy and Jemima Potts are precocious and charming Matthew Antalek and Oliva Goosman who are engaging and never cloying. Grandpa Potts is delightfully played by Steve Hillard, though the lyrics of his “Posh” were a bit muffled. Stephen Kiersey is a creepy Childcatcher and Terry Hissong (great to see on stage again!) an endearing Toy Maker. Bruce Hardcastle and Steven Owsley are practically perfect as Boris and Goran the Vulgarian spies (ahem, vulgar spies). While the entire ensemble is solid (although there are too many of them on stage during some of the numbers, cluttering things up a bit) the show is stolen out from everyone else in its second act by Leah Fox as the Baroness and Jeffrey King as the Baron Bomburst. Their flirtatious “Chu-Chi Face” is an absolute scream. Both Leah and Jeffrey turn in performances that are deadpan straightforward in their lunacy and makes it even funnier by contrast. The Baroness accidentally shoots one of her lackeys, and she exclaims an understated (and howlingly funny) “oops”. Bravo.

The Direction by Julianne Dolan and Choreography by Sarah Nowak focus on the human relationships, even during dance numbers. If I have a quibble its that the pacing and line pickup seemed slow through much of the first act (it got better in the second) and scene changes took a bit too long, occasionally stopping the action while nothing happens except for a chunk of set coming in or out.

Costumes by Susan Eversden are truly scrumptious indeed. Wynne Marsh has done her usual excellent musical direction. Tiff Crutchfield’s lighting design is colorful and bright. Sound Design is excellent – thanks to the donors who helped sponsor the new sound system! Patrick Lord’s projection and Scenic Design are well integrated into the production and things look spiffy and bright.

And that car? Well, its there, and its serviceable. It stays very much earth bound. It looks pretty and most of the effects worked, but it needed human assistance a few times making turns and it called for a bit more magic.  Still, overall this is a big beautiful looking production and it shows throughout.

A final aside — to the family sitting next to me, it in NEVER okay to hand out sandwiches in crinkly paper to your kids, pop open soda cans, nor serve potato chips to your kids inside a theater during the show. Never. Basic theater etiquette 101.

Recommended.

Photo taken by Lad Strayer, Croswell Opera House

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang continues at The Croswell Opera House, 129 E. Maumee, Adrian MI through June 25th. Tickets (selling very fast) at croswell.org or 517-264-SHOW.

How to Navigate Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom June 10, 2017

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Pandora is Disney’s latest attraction to open at Walt Disney World in Animal Kindom (in the old Camp Mickey Minnie area of the park, originally reserved for Beastly Kingdom which never materialized).

It’s a gorgeous (small) new area that is based on the James Cameron movie theming, and it consists of two rides, a gift shop, and a quick service restaurant. Its all themed beautifully to the movie visuals – floating islands, waterfalls that seem to come from nowhere, and a variety of Pandora-type plants. It all comes to life at night when things light up (they refer a lot to “bioluminescence” throughout this area).

Ride-wise, the big Kahouna is “Flight of Passage” – a soarin’-type movie/motion simulator in which you sit on the back of a banshee and soar over (and under) the landscape of Pandora. You sit on an individual motorcycle-type seat with 42 of your best friends stacked three deep on three levels, wear 3D glasses, and not just get to see the movie but feel the banshee breathing beneath you. Its ingenious and by far the most state-of-the-art entertainment out there in the theme park world right now. That also means every man, woman, grandma, and child in the park wants to ride it – and the average ride time was 170 minutes my entire rain-storm deluged trip all week. The line does not get shorter at any point in the day and it starts at 110 minutes 15 minutes within park opening.

The other ride is Na’vi River Journey – a pirates of the Caribbean type water ride without the pirates, drops, or splashes. It’s all pretty as you sail along make-believe plants and watch cleverly integrated projections and eventually visit a shawoman who looks eerily like something out of your worst nightmare. But then she is gone and your fellow 8 passengers and yourself are on dry land running to your next attraction.

I suppose someone thought that this might be a relaxing and pretty part of the park – but that illusion is shattered the moment you arrive. Its crowded beyond anything you have experienced at WDW, and it calls to mind the first few months that HPATFJ was the headliner at universal. Disney even uses similar techniques to manage traffic control – and if it gets too crowded, they permit only resort guests and Passholders who have fastpasses into the area for awhile.

To make matters worse, Disney has tiered the fast passes for both rides — meaning you can only select ONE of them per day (and you better do so 60 days in advance, much like some dining options and Frozen Ever After). To do them both, you need to return on two separate days. So what’s someone to do that doesn’t want to spend two days in over-crowded PANDORA.?

Here’s your strategy even on the worst crowded days to ensure you can do everything and be out of there within one hour.

DAK is currently open 8 am to 11 pm (with resort guests and pass holders able to stay until 1 am through the end of July). Don’t let it fool you – the extended hours mean 170 minute waits until 1 am. IT NEVER GETS SHORTER.

ARRIVE at the park one hour before opening. They open about 7:15 to allow you to go to the next rope drop right at Pandora’s entrance. PUSH AND CLAW your way to the front of this line — make sure you are in the front 100 visitors at the rope drop. DO NOT DAWDLE — do not stop to pee, do not get coffee, do not pull to the side to look at fake plants go immediately to the rope drop.

Once the rope drops follow the crowd to the right into the line for Flight of Passage. DO NOT DAWDLE, do not take selfies, do not stop for photos. GO INTO LINE. Enjoy the ride.

ONCE DONE do NOT SPEND TIME IN THE GIFTSHOP but go directly to Na’vi River Journey. The uninformed will have finished this ride and you will not have more than a 20 minute wait, while they now have a 110 minute wait at Flight. Enjoy Na’vi.

NOW you can dawdle — backtrack to the gift shop (get a avatar that looks like you action figure, or a banshee shoulder puppet, very cool). There are far nicer options for girls than for guys at the giftshop apparel-wise. They serve breakfast at the canteen so go enjoy something in the nicely themed quickserve restaurant. AND YOU ARE DONE. Take a few photos and then get out of there and go see real animals.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is Satisfying, Enjoyable, First Rate (Review – Ann Arbor Civic Theatre) June 2, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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“DroooooooooD!”

Do you find reading this name to yourself is a little amusing? Bet your lips puckered without your realizing it. Try saying it aloud; bet you can’t without having a little fun with it. At A2CT’s hilarious production of  “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre this weekend, you can think it, say it, sing it, even stand up and shout it at the top of your lungs and you will be in good company. It is encouraged and it is satisfying, much like the performance that surrounds it. It’s no wonder this interactive Rupert Holmes musical won several Tony Awards. It’s that fun.

As the real story goes, The Mystery of Edwin Drood is the final novel written by Charles Dickens, who died before completing it, leaving the explanation of the title character’s mysterious disappearance unresolved. However, in the musical, we, the audience, get to affect the show’s ending by voting for the murderer (if, in fact, Drood was murdered) as well as decide the fate of other characters. Actors find out live if they have been selected and they have seconds to step into their role. There is a blackboard in the lobby after the show so that you can see the actual audience vote count as you leave.

The musical is a show within a show so every actor plays two roles: “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is performed by various characters in a London music hall aptly named, Music Hall Royale, in 1892. The music hall story centers around Drood (flawlessly played in trousers by Vanessa Banister), who is affianced from birth to the lovely Rosa Bud (lovely in looks and voice Kimberly Elliott), who is the object of her opium-addicted choirmaster John Jasper’s affection (brilliant Roy Sexton). But Jasper is not the only one who craves the affection of Miss Bud. Ceylonese refuges Neville Landless (Brandon Cave), twin sister Helena (Becca Nowak) and Reverend Crisparkle (Brodie Brockie) have desires of their own. The facial expressions these players give are worth the price of admission. Then there is the drunken cemetery watchman Durdles (Jimmy Dee Arnold) and Deputy (Peter Dannug) who know the whereabouts of the living and the dead. Opium mistress Princess Puffer (Alisa Mutchler Bauer) and Bazzard (Michael Cicirelli) add their own spice to the mystery. As mentioned earlier, all of these characters are portrayed by second-rate Music Hall Royale actors with their own agendas. If any of this is confusing, be assured the Chairman of the Music Hall Royale (Jared Hoffert) will guide you along and make sure you are properly sated in more ways than one [wink wink]. Hoffert is a wonderful master of ceremonies. The supporting cast is a hearty shephard’s pie of talent: Julia Fertel, Ashleigh Glass, Chris Joseph, Kari Nilsen, Sarah Sweeter, Kelly Wade, Heather Wing and Lisa Gavan (Stage Manager, both real and in the Royale), who make the evening that much more satisfying and enjoyable.

The Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre is the perfect venue and the audience is greeted by the cast in character prior to curtain. Director and set designer Ron Baumanis, lighting designer Thom “TJ” Johnson, sound designer Bob Skon, Choreographer Debra Calabrese and costume designer Molly Bourneman complete the atmosphere so you really feel like you have been taken back in time — there are footlights, bustles, old-fashioned drops, and wonderfully zany mis-cues by the “Company” and crew. Great work. There is a surprise set piece build by Patrick Johnson and unique props by Aaron C. Wade. The orchestra, who also play a role within the story, is led by Daniel Bachelis and is first-rate. The show clocks in at 2:30 including the intermission and it is non-stop. There is also a special surprise guest appearance that had the audience laughing and applauding last night, and you’ll find it referenced in the program hidden in plain sight once you do.

Very Highly recommended.

—–Guest Review by Patricia Mazzola

Only three more chances to experience A2CT’s “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, University of Michigan, Michigan League Building, 911 Fletcher, Ann Arbor.  June 2-3 at 8 pm, June 4 at 2 pm. a2ct.org/tickets, or available at the door. Please note that tickets go off-sale online a few hours before showtime.