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Charming “A Christmas Story the Musical” at Encore (Review) November 27, 2022

Posted by ronannarbor in Uncategorized.
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The Encore Musical Theatre Company wishes you a Merry Christmas by way of their wonderful production of “A Christmas Story the musical”, based on the movie, with book by Joseph Robinette and Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Everything in this production just clicks and even brings a tear to your eye on occasion in this charming musical telling of the annual favorite. From sets to costumes to lighting and acting the production is fantastic. The orchestra is particularly wonderful, under the direction of R. Mackenzie Lewis. Artistic Director Dan Cooney does a very fine job of making this show sing, move along quickly, and charm. Choreographer Jillian Hopper creates fun numbers for both the adults and the kids. The many many many many costumes by Marilee Dechart (adults) and Sandee Koski (kids) are terrific. Anne Donevan creates fun and period appropriate props. It plays out on Shane Cinal’s double-decker set.

But the real charmers here are the cast members. Gavin Cooney is really great as Ralphie upon whom the entire production turns. Jessica Grové as mother and David Moan as the old man are superb, and even more superb in their scenes together. Cora Steiger is a hoot as Randy. This is a stage family that feels like a real family (and two of them are!…Lolly Cooney also appears in the kids ensemble). 

The many kids in the show are personable, funny, strong singers and movers, and look like they are having the time of their lives. The adult ensemble is also strong and get to play everything from neighbors and friends, to Higbee’s department store elves. Alley Ellis turns in a particularly good performance as Miss Shields the teacher, as does Brian Cowan who plays a warm and entertaining Jean Shepherd (Narrator). 

But the show revolves around the family at the center of it all and this is where this production finds it’s strong beating heart. Only a Scrooge will not find themselves tearing up a bit in the show’s final moments…or perhaps during Grové’s “Just Like That” – one of the finest songs written about the small moments that go into being a mother (and why the song has become a staple on Broadway radio programming). 

Highest Recommendation.

A Christmas Story the Musical runs at the Encore Musical Theatre Company in Dexter MI through December 18th. Tickets at theencoretheatre.org or 734-268-6200.

Lovely Little Women, The Dio, Review November 20, 2022

Posted by ronannarbor in Uncategorized.
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Back in 2005, Sutton Foster created a stirring Jo March in the short lived Broadway musical Little Women, written by Allan Knee, Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, and Music by Jason Howland. The audience was faced with a beautiful act curtain upon entering, with handwritten pages of Jo’s “Little Women” book, and I was entranced by the entire production, including Maureen McGovern as Marmee. It ran less than six months but garnered a sizable following because of its lush old-fashioned score and rising star Foster and her big belt numbers in the show.

In 2011 I reviewed a production that Steve DeBruyne directed at Encore Musical Theatre Company. Last night it was my pleasure to see a new and very different production also helmed by Steve at The Dio. 

Most likely you know the story – the four March Sisters are alone in Concord while their father is off serving as a chaplain in the Civil War. It spends very little time focusing on wartime, rather focusing on the small (and large) family events in the March family – their romances, their squabbles, and one heartbreaking death. 

The production plays out on Matt Tomich’s beautiful double-decker set; with lively direction by DeBruyne and graceful choreography by Grace Nulson. Performed to a track, the crisp musical direction is by Lisa Merte. Costumes by Normal Polk, wig design by Chloe Grisa, and Props by Eileen Obradovich are lovely. It’s a very large production to be sure, but it moves quickly and professionally from scene to scene in the limited space. The final sequence in the garden is particularly nice. If there is a technical squabble, it is that the actors sometimes struggle to match their songs to the pacing of the tracked music rather than singing more naturally and having the orchestra follow them – which results in some occasional pacing issues.

The cast is uniformly superb – Anna Dreslinki Cooke makes a lively and funny Jo March and her sisters Beth (Anne Koziara), Amy (Maddie Ringvelski) and Meg (Sarah Brown) are outstanding in their respective roles. Marlene Inmann gets to sing Marmee’s fantastic songs and she is remarkable. Anne Bauman plays a snide and fun Aunt March and doubles as Mrs Kirk in the boarding house in New York.  The men are equally impressive: Steve DeBruyne as John Brooke, Tyler J Messinger as Laurie, Dan Morrison as his father Mr Lawrence, and Sam Wright as Professor Bhaer (you know where that storyline is going from his first lines) are all good in their parts.

As we left the theater last night, we emerged to a winter wonderland of fresh snow – and the evening (dinner, show, friends, and snow) was, in the words of the most famous song from the show, astonishing.           

Highly Recommended.

Little Women continues at The Dio through December 23rd although all performanes are sold out. You can check for cancellations through the theater by phone only (517) 672-6009