jump to navigation

Emotion-filled “Cabaret” at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre (review) October 27, 2017

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

I’d normally start this review by telling you to go get tickets now for AACT’s “Cabaret” this weekend at the Arthur Miller Theatre, but since the run only has a handful of tickets left for Sunday afternoon, I’ll just start by saying that director Kat Walsh, choreographer Tyler Stickel, and Musical Director Jennifer Goltz have molded a terrific and emotion-filled production that audiences will remember long after the final scene. If you’re lucky to get those final few tickets, you’ll have a great theatrical experience.

Photo by Lisa Gavan

Front-loading this production with an incredible performance by Trish Fountain as the Emcee, and a mesmerizing performance by Laura Dysarczyk, Walsh’s 18-member cast functions as a true ensemble – whether that is performing Stickel’s innovative and excellent choreography, or singing those terrific Kander and Ebb songs (Goltz’s on-stage orchestra is outstanding as is the vocal work here).

You know the story so I’m not even going to repeat it here, except to say that there is also very strong work by Chris Grimm as Cliff, spot-on work by Greg Kovas as Ernst, and a earthy and lovely performance by Jessica Ryder as Fraulein Schneider.  It makes this crumbling pre-nazi Weimar Republic Berlin feel very real indeed.

Leisurely paced (maybe a touch too leisurely at 2:45) there are some terrific moments in this production – I don’t want to give them all away but a sequence in which a young Hitler Youth member defaces a stage curtain is particularly striking. There are a few awkward scene changes that slow the proceedings – but while the production isn’t exactly steamrolling into the nazi era, it is at least unstoppably heading there. For those familiar only with the original production of the 1966 Cabaret it is good to know that this production uses the 1988 revival version – the one that cuts some of the more upbeat music and better integrates Cliff into the storyline, catapulting the final moments into the nazi era. Cabaret has never been a fun-filled Broadway evening out, but the revisal is a no-holds barred, dark, emotional affair. And that is no different in Walsh’s production.

Highly Recommended.

If any tickets remain, or are returned, you can check at the box office day of show. Cabaret continues through Sunday afternoon at the Arthur Miller Theatre on UM’s North Campus. If any tickets remain (Fri and Sat are entirety sold out, a handful remain as of this writing for Sunday afternoon) you best go to a2ct.org to get them.

 

 

Advertisements

“The Bodyguard, the Musical” is fun, entertaining, talent-filled (Review) October 23, 2017

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

First, let me preface this by saying I’ve read many of the reviews for this musical. The original London and most international reviews have been terrific. The show, bypassing Broadway and doing a US tour, has not fared as well in the US reviews. Let me be a British reviewer. I loved this show when seen this week in East Lansing. I don’t get the negative reviews, and I highly recommend the show which is fun, entertaining, and loaded with talent. I guess it comes as no surprise as the aggregate movie critic rating is 32% while the audience rating for the movie is 98%.

The show stars R&B star Deborah Cox as pop star diva Rachel Marron (i.e. Whitney Houston) and TV star Judson Mills as the Bodyguard Frank Farmer (Kevin Costner). Cox is frequently understudied by Jasmin Richardson (who otherwise plays her sister Nicki)  and Mills by Jorge Paniagua (who normally plays :”the Stalker”). You know he’s the stalker because every time he appears the orchestra plays a chord and he appears in a white shaft of light.

Subtle the show is not — and it is based almost word for word, scene for scene on the movie that spurred the Number One hit soundtrack album (which it still holds), to a fault — even the opening shooting (which has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the show). But it’s a 2 hour 15 minute joyride into the amazing soundtrack, and each song is presented performance-style at concerts, nightclubs, etc. It’s not a show where performers stop and sing toward one another. Its a show that transforms instantly and at times brilliantly on Tim Hatley’s gorgeous almost constantly moving light-up set from living rooms to theater stages, and that is exactly as it should be. If you are going to see The Bodyguard because you want to see how the story unfolds you are at the wrong musical.

The Bodyguard has more in common with Mamma Mia, On Your Feet, and other jukebox musicals than standard book musical theater fare. And it works well under Thea Sharrock’s straightforward direction. This is a show that knows its primary audience — and it plays for understanding and clarity throughout — at the loss of subtlety (even then, the older lady sitting next to me was lost for a good portion of Act One). That’s smart theater production and I don’t blame that creative team one bit for doing it that way. After all, this is a show that is primarily geared toward the Whitney Houston songs than anything else.

And the songs are spectacular — with a group of aerobics-toned dancers under the guidance of Karen Bruce, you feel like you are at a concert, at the Academy Awards, at a club. The choreography is terrific, and the dancers are wonderful.

Whether you get Deborah or Jasmin you are in for a treat, it just doesn’t matter with this show. At my performance Paniagua played Frank and he was terrific. Jasmin played Rachel and I loved her. But I will venture to say that the leads are interchangeable.

Sets, costumes, lighting are great. This is really entertaining stuff, and while you might walk away from the show wanting to be a US critic — I urge you to be a British critic and see the musical for what it is worth. I am particularly agitated by the Lansing State Journal review which in essence urged audiences to save their money and not bother with this show — are you kidding me???? Our performance had an instantaneous standing ovation and it wasn’t because every show now gets standing ovations (believe me, I see almost all of them and NO they do not all get standing ovations, and not this enthusiastically).  Clearly, this is a show that is aimed directly at the audiences entertainment dollars and succeeds wildly. Do NOT sit at home and let this one get by you — its a terrific cast performing a high-energy very entertaining production that I loved. And so did the very vocal audience members leaving the theater around me. I just kept hearing “I loved that” over and over — and that is what I would consider a resounding success.

Highly Recommended.

The Bodyguard completed it’s run at East Lansing’s Wharton Center this past Sunday, but will be back for a two week run in Detroit from January 16th through 24th. Tickets at Ticketmaster and the Fisher Theatre Box Office.

 

 

“Love Never Dies” tour is glorious (Review) October 19, 2017

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

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies, is currently making its official US Tour debut in Detroit (it has already played upstate New York and Baltimore in previews, London, Australia, and other world cities) and it is a glorious affair, though your personal like will depend on your love for the characters from the original. While the musical stands alone, you need to have seen the original to understand why these characters capture you from the start to finish in this gorgeous musical.

Yes, that is Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber himself on stage at the Fisher Theatre last night, and yes I did take that photo with my iPhone.

Taking place ten years after the original, the Phantom, having fled Paris, has now set up shop at Coney Island where he is free to present his macabre Phantasma show and he has lured Christine to America under the guise of performing at Hammerstein’s new theatre. But a surprise lies in store. Also in Coney Island are ever-faithful Madame Giri and her daughter Meg, now a rising star at Phantasma. Along for the ride are down-on-his-luck Raoul and their 9 year old son (get it?). What plays out is high drama in opera buffa style, incorporating various musical styles of the era, a few rousing pop ballads, and at least two massively glorious numbers, the opening “Til I Hear You Sing” (which I suspect every musical fan knows by heart by now), and Christine’s title song “Love Never Dies”. There is also a spell-binding duet for the Phantom and Christine when first reunited – first in their hotel room, and then revolving to the hotel balcony – “Beneath a Moonless Sky/Once Upon Another Time” and later another for Raoul and the Phantom — “Why Does She Love Me/Devil Take the Hindmost.”  I give that example because this score is perfectly written – with its ever-building tension, building in classical musical motifs, and slight elements from the original Phantom of the Opera (to remind you this is a continuation of the story) and its very effective.

Its also a musical with a tremendous heart. If you don’t care about these characters, you won’t care about the tragic ending. I won’t tell you more except to say that not all of the main characters make it to the final moments of the story, and those that do will share emotional scars.

None of this would work were it not for the brilliant stagecraft and performances. The Australian production of the show has been basically imported here, including an almost identical design (scaled down a bit, but surely restored to its full glory when the show reaches NYC, the ultimate goal of this tour) from Australian designer Gabriela Tylesova whose sets and costumes are gorgeous, as is Nick Schlieper’s lighting design. Simon Phillips recreates his staging as director, as does choreographer Graeme Murphy AO, both from the Australian production.

But the night belongs to the singers — Meghan Picerno is a fantastic Christine, and she brings down the house several times with her singing here. She’s also a strong performer and you feel a connection to her early on, which is as it should be for dramatic effect later in the proceedings. Normally Gardar Thor Cortes plays the Phantom and I am returning next week to see him. Last night we had a spectacular performance from understudy Bronson Norris Murphy whose voice is fantastic and whom I understand performs this part quite regularly. A performance schedule has not been announced.  Also very strong are Karen Mason as Madame Giri (Love. Her.), Mary Michael Patterson as Meg, Sean Thompson as Raoul, and the rotating Gustave’s (last night Jake Heston Miller). Katrina Kemp, Richard Koons, and Stephen Petrovich round out the featured cast with their emcee-duties – and they are funny, athletic, and always watchable. There is also a 20 member ensemble and they are strong throughout.

There is no falling chandelier here, but there is a magical horseless carriage. There is no fiery scene in a cemetery, but there are plenty of surprises including a macabre and brilliant look at the darker side of Coney Island (“The Beauty Underneath”). And then there is a beautifully realized final scene on an oceanside pier that had gasps from the audience last night. And its a doozy.

Very Highest Recommendation.

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Glenn Slater. Book by Andrew Lloyd Webber & Ben Elton, with Glenn Slater and Frederick Forsyth. Orchestrations by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Musical Director Dale Rieling.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies continues at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit through October 29th. Ticketmaster, 800-982-2787, and Box Office. 

 

 

 

 

“The Family Digs” at Croswell Opera House — a great way to inaugurate new studio (review) October 15, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Croswell Opera House, Plays.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

Terrence Hissong’s very funny new family comedy “The Family Digs” opened this weekend to inaugurate the new Croswell Opera House studio theatre (which also doubles as a rehearsal space and you would be hard-pressed to recognize the place). The production is co-produced by Croswell Opera House and Westfall-Hissong production company.

Doug Miller’s spot-on direction and set design result in a fast-paced premier production in the studio, and he has a terrific cast to direct here.

Without giving too much away (its best to see this show not knowing much about it): grown brother and sister Eve and Sunshine (don’t ask, just go with it and find out for yourself) are at wits end when he’s overstayed his welcome in her small apartment. Archeologist father Charles arrives to seek solace when his wife has locked him out of their home. Throw in two of Eve’s work friends Hannah and Sophia with a special proposition and you have the makings of terrific little family comedy that might remind you a bit of your own, especially when you find yourself in cramped quarters.

Meg McNamee is funny neurotic as sister Eve, and J0nathan Stelzer (welcome back to the stage!) is hilarious as Sunshine. Peter Stewart makes for a funny father, beset by a strange malady involving bees. Karen Miller and Emily Allshouse are great in their roles of Eve’s work buddies. Things really start clicking when the interplay between them starts to roll along and Hissong’s use of present day vernacular makes everything feel genuine and real. There are a few twists and turns, and at least a couple surprises in store.

Doug Miller’s set is gorgeous, and looks like a permanent installation rather than the temporary studio set that it is. Lighting by Tiff Crutchfield looks wonderful, both in its use of real apartment lighting, as well as stage lighting.

The Family Digs is a fun piece that I hope finds a good theater life — its a perfect diversion for an evening or afternoon, and its appeal should find a home in regional and community theaters nationwide, starved for good new material with a small cast and modest production needs. I didn’t count but by my estimate the theater holds about 75 people or so, and it was sold out at my performance this afternoon.

I laughed often and had a terrific time at this show, in its wonderful new intimate studio theatre home.

Very Highly Recommended.

The Family Digs continues at Croswell Opera House through October 22nd. Limited tickets available and it is easiest to get them online at http://www.croswell.org 

 

Croswell announces 2017-18 Special Event Series October 8, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Croswell Opera House, Entertainment, Theatre.
comments closed

Croswell announces 2017-18 Special Event Series

Concerts, musicals, a play, a children’s show, and more are coming up this fall, winter and spring at the Croswell Opera House.

The Croswell’s 2017-18 Special Event Series will run from October through April. It includes a few previously announced events plus several new shows.

“The Family Digs” (Oct. 13-22): This new play by Terry Hissong will be the first fully staged production in the Croswell’s new studio theater. A two-act comedy, it tells the story of an eccentric archaeologist, his long-suffering adult daughter, his freeloading New Age son, and what could be the greatest archaeological discovery of all time. Peter Stewart plays the father, Dr. Charles Edwards, with Meg McNamee as his long-suffering daughter, Eve, and Jonathan Stelzer as his New Age-aficionado son, Robert, who insists on being called Sunshine. Emily Allshouse and Karen Miller play Sophia and Hannah, two of Eve’s co-workers.

The play will be the first fully staged production in the Croswell’s new James E. Van Doren Studio, which is located on the second floor of the theater at 129 E. Maumee St. in Adrian. It is being presented in collaboration with Westfall-Hissong Productions.

“The Family Digs” runs the weekends of Oct. 13-15 and Oct. 20-22, with Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday shows at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for students. The play is recommended for ages 13 and up.

Fun Pianos by 176 Keys (Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m.): The Dueling Pianos return to the Croswell stage for a one-night event. This is an adult-oriented show. In addition to auditorium seating, a limited amount of on-stage table seating is available.

Local premiere of the film “All or Nothin’” (Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m.): Beloved local icon Laura Haviland is among the characters in this new film about a group of slaves who escaped from bondage in 1853. The movie, by Ann Arbor filmmaker Charles Campbell, was partially filmed in Lenawee County. Admission will be by donation, and a Q&A session with the filmmaker will be offered afterward.

Branson on the Road (Nov. 11 at 5:30 p.m.): Classic country music takes the stage in this salute to American history and heroes. Led by Debbie Horton, who once played lead guitar for the late Johnny Cash, Branson on the Road presents a musical journey with a patriotic theme for Veterans Day.

“Meet Me in St. Louis” (Nov. 25 to Dec. 10):
Opening Thanksgiving weekend, the Croswell’s annual holiday musical is the heartwarming tale of a turn-of-the-century American family anticipating the wonders of the 1904 World’s Fair. The stage musical is based on the movie of the same name, and includes well-known tunes such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “The Trolley Song,” and “The Boy Next Door.”

Carols and Candlelight with Michael Lackey (Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m.): This evening of entertainment will take place in the James E. Van Doren Studio and feature Broadway veteran Michael Lackey performing a variety of Christmas favorites in a cabaret-style setting. Seating will be limited.

Wizards of Winter (Dec. 22 at 7:30 p.m.):
Wizards of Winter was founded by former members of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and features a similar mix of rock-style holiday favorites, complete with spectacular special effects.

“Godspell” (Jan. 27 to Feb. 3): This Tony-nominated musical by Stephen Schwartz will be the Croswell’s annual all-area high school production. It will be directed by Michael Yuen, who played John the Baptist and Judas in the 2000-01 national tour of the show.

You Rock, Valentine! (Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m.): This event, taking place in Van Doren Studio, will combine rock hits performed by Dave Rains with dinner catered by the Hathaway House. Seating will be limited.

“The Big Meal” (Feb. 23 to March 4):
This dramatic comedy, which won author Dan LeFranc the 2010 New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award, spans 80 years and five generations in the life of one American family.

Your Generation (March 10 at 7:30 p.m.): Formerly known as 50-Amp Fuse, Your Generation presents a tribute show that journeys through five decades of pop, rock, dance and R&B. This will be the band’s first Croswell appearance.

“Stellaluna and Other Tales” (March 23-31): Based on the book series by Janell Cannon, this hour-long musical is aimed at children from pre-K through fourth grade.

Disco Night at the Croswell (April 7 at 7:30 p.m.): Singer Tatiana Owens, who previously appeared in “Memphis” and “Million Dollar Quartet,” will return for a one-night concert featuring hits from performers like Donna Summer, Sister Sledge, the Bee Gees, and more.

“Disenchanted” (April 13-22): This comic, not-for-children musical follows fairy-tale princesses like Snow White and Cinderella to find out what happens after “happily ever after.”

Ben Daniels Band (April 28 at 7:30 p.m.): The Michigan-based Ben Daniels Band has become a favorite at venues like The Ark and The Blind Pig, as well as at concert halls around the country. This will be the band’s first Croswell appearance.

Tickets for all shows in the 2017-18 Special Event Series will go on sale Oct. 9.

Open auditions for “Godspell,” “The Big Meal,” “Stellaluna and Other Tales,” and “Disenchanted” will be announced soon.

For more information, go to croswell.org.