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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.



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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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.

Charming “Morning’s at Seven” – AACT (review) April 20, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Community Theater, Theatre.
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There is a lovely production of Paul Osborn’s “Morning’s at Seven” (yes, that apostrophe is correct, the title comes from a Browning poem) at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre at the Arthur Miller Theatre on UM’s North Campus this weekend. Under the able direction of TJ Johnson, excellent veteran acting of the show’s older characters, gorgeous set design by Chuck Griffin (built by Gregg Blossom and Alen Fyfe with Christine Blossom) and beautiful lighting of Tiff Crutchfield, the comedy is the essence of “charming”.

Set in 1938 (the play was first performed on Broadway in 1939 with several revivals, radio broadcasts, and a television adaptation) the story concerns 4 aging sisters and their families and is set into motion when “change” rears it’s head. There’s a nice subplot about a middle-aged son bringing his fiancé home for the first time in 12 years (you know where that is going) and the men in the family get plenty of their own antics. In short it is an ideal ensemble piece for veteran actors and Civic has them in abundance here.

The sisters are played by Laurie Atwood, Ellen Finch, Barbara Mackey King, and Lenore Ferber. They are each terrific individually and believable as sisters when together. Long suffering fiancé is nicely played by Melissa Stewart and mamma’s-boy is played by Jay Fischer in a stammering, tic-filled performance that is so realistic it made me wince. Charlie Sutherland will forever live in my memory looking for “the fork” and Theo Polley and Larry Rusinsky are equally delightful.

It is not easy growing old. Families today are a bit more splintered than they were during most of the twentieth century when it wasn’t unusual to have your spinster sister live with you and have family homes next door to each other or just a few blocks away. But what if the boundaries break down — and eccentricities start to become, well, annoying. And then there is the show’s ending…there’s a suitcase, there’s tension, and there is that final moment that makes the entire affair charming as heck.

Cassie Mann’s properties are period perfect, and Molly Borneman outfits everyone nicely. In addition to the terrific building design, there’s an awesome green lawn that covers the Arthur Miller stage. It serves to tie together these family connections where boundaries are not only lacking indoors, but also outdoors where yours is mine and mine is yours…until it isn’t.

Highly Recommended.

Morning’s at Seven continues at the Arthur Miller Theater through Sunday April 23rd. Tickets at a2ct.org/tickets, 734-971-2228, or available at the door.

“Barefoot in the Park” at Ann Arbor Civic Theater is Hilarious Fun (Review) April 22, 2016

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I don’t think I’ve laughed at a 50 year old comedy more than I did last night at Ann Arbor Civic Theater’s production of Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” — it is a non-stop laughfest, but more than that, it is impeccably acted and directed — a must-see.

Newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter move into their 5th floor walkup (I lived in one of those in NYC for awhile and can certainly relate to not calling the front stoop a “flight”) — she’s easy going and loving the whole experience, Paul is more of a stuffed-shirt lawyer, later referred to as a fuddy-duddy…(hey, it was in 1963 that this doozy hit the stage). Along for the ride come Corie’s mother, gasping each trip up the stairs; eccentric “upstairs” neighbor Victor; a very funny telephone company man; and a delivery man. Also along for the ride are some of Neil Simon’s funniest jokes and gags, perfectly meted-out over the course of the evening so that even 53 years later everything feels fresh and funny.

It helps that the production has a super director in Wendy Wright. She understands the patterns, both visual and vocal, that keep this show running smoothly and hilariously throughout the evening. Call it “Love American Style” crossed with “The Love Boat” with a touch of “Laugh-In” thrown in.

The ensemble cast is simply superior — Colleen Davis hits all of Corie’s notes just right — Karl Kasischke grows Paul from a fuddy-duddy to just the right level of hysteria toward show’s end and Larry Rusinsky does the same with the initially over-the-top Victor Velasco to mother’s  warm-hearted potential lover — Thom Johnson has a short funny walk-on that garners some big laughs — Theo Polley is a fantastic telephone repair man — and, I save the best for last, Ellen Finch plays a triumphant Ethel Banks (Corie’s mother) in a stage turn that you simply should not miss. This role is easy to overplay, and instead, Finch turns in a delicious and finely nuanced performance that will make you think that your own mother is standing in your fifth floor walkup (6th since she will count the stoop) and making you feel as guilty as hell for doing nothing at all. Bravo.

Cathy Cassar has designed a lovely NYC apartment, Megan Shiplett’s costumes are period perfect, and Zach Johnson has lit it all to make it look shiny and bright. Lisa Gavan’s props are practical and funny, and there’s some great sound design by Wendy Wright — musical selections greet you from the moment you enter, and comment perfectly on the stage action later during the production.

Go. This show is near perfection in timing, acting, and design. You won’t see a better production of this (now) rarely produced comedy. It adds a terrific third Neil Simon production to the already seen “Odd Couples” at The Purple Rose and Tipping Point. “Barefoot in the Park” is Simon’s funniest play — the one that put him on the map on Broadway, and this production should not be missed.

Highest Recommendation.

“Barefoot in the Park”, Ann Arbor Civic Theater, continues through May 24 at the Arthur Miller Theatre, UM’s North Campus, Walgreen Building. Tickets at a2ct.org or at the door.




“Buyer & Cellar” – Theatre Nova – (Review) – March 22, 2015

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“Barbra’s basement is just like any other mall, except for the total lack of customers or employees.”

Kudos to a remarkable performance by Sebastian Gerstner in the one-man show, “Buyer & Cellar” by Jonathan Tolins and to Theatre Nova on the launch of this new professional theater in Ann Arbor’s Yellow Barn, nicely converted into a theater-space that very much has the feel of the original PerfNet space (i.e. the one in the “commune building” before it mysteriously burned down on its path to becoming the new YMCA).


Tolins piece is a fictional account of what might happen (though we are told numerous times at the shows onset that it has not happened!) if Barbra Streisand’s basement mini-mall (real) had a sales clerk (not real). But it ultimately leads to deeper thoughts about celebrityhood, worship of celebrities, people, and interpersonal connections…while never straying far from its one-liners and jokes.

Sebastian Gerstner is simply marvelous as Alex More, celebrity basement mall clerk extraordinaire…and his comic timing is superb without ever veering into hysterics. From one moment to the next, you marvel at his ability to convey several characters (sometimes at the same time!) with rapidly changing moods, locations, and motivations, let alone keeping 90-minutes of dialogue spewing forth. But its a performance to cherish and shouldn’t be missed — and he is funny…very very funny. He’s particularly good at conveying short conversations — you almost see Barbra standing there though his voice and mannerisms are nothing like hers…Barbra, you see, is an experience.

Dan Walker’s set looks terrific in its muted grays and off-whites, and there is good use of the space so that no matter where you sit, you feel you are having an intimate discussion with Mr. Gerstner in your living room. It helps a bit to know about Babs’s movies and career, though its by no means a necessity — but familiarity will bring much bigger laughs during particularly funny sequences about the “shameless manipulation in Prince of Tides” and the “romantic comedy nature of The Mirror has Two Faces”. I am still laughing this morning about jokes from last night.

The show runs one more weekend, and you shouldn’t miss it. It is a night you will long remember, and its a fitting start to a little new theatre company that said it thinks it can…and did.

Buyer & Cellar continues at Theatre Nova through March 29th, Ann Arbor’s Yellow Barn, theatrenova.org – 734-635-8450





Better Not Say You are Bored (SE Michigan August edition 2014) August 3, 2014

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Entertainment, Musicals, Shakespeare, Theatre.
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So — I don’t want to hear anyone say they are bored this august, what with all the entertainment available — one of the richest months of August I can remember…

First, at the movies, get out and go see GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY…its the best thing since, well, ever…I can not recall the last time I saw a movie four times in one weekend — it creates one of the most complete worlds in recent filmdom, with the best developed characters since Star Wars. Go see it, and splurge, see it on the biggest, loudest 3-D screen you can find, preferably in IMAX.

Second, either at the handful of theaters still showing it, or Video on Demand, or iTunes or Google Play, watch SNOWPIERCER. You will either love it, or hate it, but you cant walk away from it without thinking about the world it creates on its caste-system train screaming through the frozen wasteland carrying the earth’s last precious cargo of humans. Don’t think too much about it, its not really about the science, but a scathing indictment of the Korean caste system, tree-huggers, and the green-movement alike. Its the most political movie of the year, and its a doozy.

Then there is the bountiful musical theater currently available to you….CAROUSEL is running at the Encore Musical Theatre Company, and FOREVER PLAID at the Dio. SWEET CHARITY runs for two weeks at the Croswell Opera House, and THE BIG BANG has just opened at the Williamston Theatre.

The big draw for the next two weeks continues to be the Michigan Shakespeare Festival in Jackson — presenting three superb productions in repertoire, don’t miss the exceptional Shawn Plautsch in the excellent HAMLET…or the comedy and witt of Oscar Wilde’s THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST…or the magical and hilarious comedy/drama of the very rarely produced CYMBELINE. You can’t go wrong with any of the three (but if you can only see one, don’t miss this Hamlet). There’s also a different production of it at Starr Jaycee Park in Royal Oak.

Also on local stages, there are the well-reviewed ERNIE in downtown Detroit, and THE LAST ROMANCE at the Purple Rose.

A bit further afield, the musical [TITLE OF SHOW] is running at Farmers Alley in Kalamazoo, and HAIR and HELLO DOLLY are playing at the Barn Theatre in Augusta.

In the non-professional realm, you can pick up Brass Tack’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM, Southfield Community Players THE CEMETERY CLUB, Peppermint Creek’s COCK, Over The Ledge’s MARRIED ALIVE.

On TV, we’re having one of the best summers in recent memory — AMERICA’S GOT TALENT presents its finals live from Radio City Music Hall…the excellent THE STRAIN is running over on FX…despite the dumb name, AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR features some of the best athletes your going to see this summer…and WELCOME TO SWEDEN is a charming sitcom (already renewed for next season) for a warm summer night. In other good news, the NBC series UNDATEABLE was burned off during July — and it got renewed! Catch it now on demand, or iTunes and/or other streaming media and catch up on the funniest comedy seen in a sitcom in a very long time.  If all else fails, there are the reruns of THE MIDDLE on ABC Wednesday nights.

And last but not least, not sure how anyone could not be entertained by a night out at Comerica Park watching our DETROIT TIGERS make their pennant run — see them now for a fraction of the cost those playoff tickets will cost starting in late September…



A2CT’s Studio Theatre has Big Fun with OR, (Review) June 21, 2014

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What follows is my first Guest Review by Thalia Schramm for Ann Arbor Civic Theatre Studio Series production of ‘Or,” …since I am the Producer of this production, it wouldn’t be right for me to review the show — so I thank Thalia for taking the time to see and review the show!….And without further delay it follows:

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Currently performing in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s studio space is the period piece “OR,”. The story is based on the life of Aphra Behn: spy, poet, and first professional female playwright. Taking place for the most part during one night of Aphra’s life in the 1660s, Liz Duffy Adams’ hilarious script shows immense amounts of humor, intelligence, realism, and profanity. With a backdrop of long wars, a counter culture of free love, sex, cross-dressing, and artistic development, “OR,” draws inspiration from the Restoration Period, and the 1960s through the present.

The story starts as Aphra Behn (Erin Dion) is sprung from Debtor’s prison by King Charles II (Morgan Brown), and she is given a chance to write a show for a London theatre company by Lady Davenant (Sara Schreiber-Rose), if she can only finish the production by morning with a few well-timed distractions by new actor/lover Nell Gwynne (Rosemary Sullivan), demanding lover King Charles II, and on-the-run ex-lover and double agent William Scott (Morgan Brown again) who may know of a plot to murder the king. Phew! Director Wendy Wright has assembled a fantastic cast to carry out this zany script.

Dion leads the cast magnificently, executing every vocal nuance and joke in the best ways. She rides the line between classical and modern speech perfectly, and you are instantly drawn to her energy onstage. While Sullivan makes you laugh constantly, from the beginning of the show forcefully selling oranges to the audience, to brazen and sexy Nell Gwynne, to gross-but-loyal Maria (Aphra’s Maid); and as Lady Devenant, Schreiber-Rose is hilarious, knowing just the right amount of ridiculousness.

As an offering by A2CT’s Studio series, the set, hair and make-up do just the right things. Alexandra Berneis’ uses costume pieces from the Classical eras with selected modern touches that work wonderfully for the piece. Literally the only thing I would change is Kind Charles II’s long black curly wig (that often covered his face — and Dion’s.

All in all, as the first A2CT studio show I have seen, I loved it. I laughed the whole time, and the cast was great. Check out this show this weekend! Remaining shows are Saturday, June 21st at 8pm, and Sunday, June 22nd at 2pm. Tickets are available at the door, 322 West Ann Street.

AACT’s “Little Shop” is Big Entertainment (Review) June 6, 2014

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littleshop_promo_BWandcolor for web

You, yeah you…you think you’ve seen enough Little Shop of Horror productions that you don’t need to see one more? Well. yeah, you really do. Because you’ve never seen Little Shop like this before.

Credit director Brodie H. Brockie who has conceived a production that looks great as it moves from Black and White to full color as the plant comes to life and takes over the stage — costumes subtly at first add greens and browns…and eventually not so subtly add red and other colors that burst into life, particularly in the second act. And credit his technical crew with the chops to make it all happen — from Cami Ross & Scott Fussey’s set design, to Kelly Fraser Greunke’s costume design, Thom Johnson’s lighting design, and Matthew Stewarts sound design. Credit also the fine plant designed by Dave Hettmer (with puppeteering by Rob Roy, and assuredly voiced by Jared Hoffert).  Finally, credit to music director Laura Swierzbin and her ten-member band (even though there were some tuning issues at Thursday’s premier, and at times some sound balance issues, though these resolved as the evening progressed). Her vocal work with the large ensemble is very good. How great it is to hear this fun score played by a full orchestra, and not reduced down as it has been in local professional productions lately.

Then there is the excellent Dan Clair as Seymour Krelborn. He is the light of all that happens in most of the scenes, and he is able to convey humor, pathos, pathetic-ness, and charm (sometimes all at the same time). There are some great scenes here between him and the plant, and with the very strong Amanda Burch (Audrey). There’s a remarkable stage image in the second act, when Clair stands inches away from the closed mouth of the now-grown plant, in which his facial expressions mark everything that is both good and morally wrong about the entire affair.

Mark Bernstein turns in a very good performance as Mushnik, and Matthew Kurzyniec nearly brings down the house with his hysterical Orin Scrivello (“DDS”)…his scene with Clair in the dentist’s office is the acting zenith of this production, and the two of them play off (and at times on top of) each other with delightful consequence. Also very good is the trio of urchins (a vocally very strong Jennifer Burks, Linzi Bokor, and Lottie Prenevost.)

The rest of the cast is rounded out by Michael Joseph, Krinn Hess (in an oh-my-God-awesome one-off random bit that had be laughing for minutes after the scene), Chris Grimm, Alexandria Watson, Mark Alan, Austin Terris, Lindsey Burch, Kate Appold, Linda Lee Austin, Angel Elowsky, Tina Mayer, and Gianna Zampardo).  The ensemble is strong and well-utilized, at times differently from past productions of the show, and it works well.

And what makes this entire production doubly delightful is that, as civic theater, it matches (and in some instances bests) local professional productions of Little Shop from the past few seasons. One can’t help but admire the work, dedication, and energy that has gone into this production, where not a single actor is paid in anything but sweat-labor and their love of musical theater.

If I have one quibble — its the sloppy ending of the show — after what has been a tightly-focused production, the finale (Don’t Feed the Plants”) here seems to fizzle a bit, and lose its focus. While the stage bursts with color, the eye isn’t quite sure where to look, and it ends with a firecracker, not a burst of fireworks.

SO — the be all and end all…get yourself out to Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s production of Little Shop of Horrors — you have 4 more chances this weekend to see this very differently conceived piece — the horror here is toned down, though the language remains intact…if you’re worried about taking the kids, it’s appropriate for 13 and up, with perhaps a warning that if you hear the kids repeat some of those words on the drive home, their is some soap waiting for them. Otherwise, there isn’t anything particularly scary, or too over-the-edge in this production. Rate it PG-13, pack the SUV up, and head to the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater for a highly entertaining musical.

Also, arrive early enough to catch the pre-show “movie previews” of next year’s A2CT season…its a hilarious take-off on sci-fi movies of the 50’s, and you might especially look for that “Space President” scene….

Continues through June 8th, tickets at 734-971-2228, at the door, or online at a2ct.org



“Les Miserables” at Croswell Opera House is stellar (review) May 11, 2014

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Eric Parker. I’ll come back to him in a moment, but I had to start the review with him.

Over the course of the past year, almost every theater in America has performed the musical Les Miserables, and this was the 6th entirely different production of Les Mis that I have seen in that year. I can also report that Croswell Opera House’s production is far and away the best I have seen all year, and one of their very finest large-scale musicals I’ve seen (and I’ve seen most of their musicals the past 20 years).

Call it a small miracle…okay, call it a really really huge spectacular theatrical miracle…that COH has created what is the best looking, best sounding, and best directed production of the show I have seen outside the recent pre-Broadway tour, and that includes the ultra-slick but emotionally empty production University of Michigan’s musical theater program presented a month ago.

Director Mark DiPietro not only knows how to create stunning stage pictures (there are moments in this production that look like paintings from the 1800’s) but also knows how to pace musicals so that they are seamless — yet intimate enough to wring genuine emotion from the audience  (“A little fall of rain” had me in tears from the get-go).  Musical Director Jonathan Sills not only gets remarkable (and dynamic) vocal work from his leads and ensemble, but his orchestra is pitch perfect — to see a show like Les Mis with a full orchestra is a dream come true.

But this is also the largest and most technical work I have seen at Croswell, and it works extraordinarily well. Ryan B.  Tymensky’s crisp lighting design highlights his scenic design (which is huge, and incorporates projections that look remarkable good (despite a slight moire effect throughout). Natalie Kissinger has designed superb costumes for the very large cast. Choreographer Katie Fairbanks makes good use of her ensemble. Tyler Miller’s sound design is solid (despite a few crackles here and there — still, far better than that recent university production I saw).

Okay, that brings me back to Eric Parker. Every now and then, everything on a production just comes together the right way — the music, the design, the direction, the venue, and the performers — and in this particular production, Eric Parker’s performance as Jean Valjean is one to be cherished – to be cheered – to be admired – to be bragged about for years to come. He is simply “oh my God” awesome. When he is joined by the always excellent Michael Lackey as Inspector Javert, their scenes together basically explode off of the Croswell stage.

But there is more — Erin Satchell Yuen sings a strong Fantine, and Jamie Lynn Buechele (Cosette) and Jarrod Alexander (Marius) are wonderful both separately and together. Also wonderful are Natasha Ricketts and Jeffrey King as the Thenardiers.  Their costumes and wigs for the wedding sequence add a whole new dimension entirely. Alisha Bond is a heartbreaking Eponine.  Bethany Craig is cute as as button as Young Cosette, and Jeremy Craig is an impish Gavroche.

The men’s ensemble simply bests any I have heard since the original 25th anniversary tour cast came through town two years ago. Michael Yuen sings a very fine Enjolras indeed — but the entire group of Parisian students is remarkable.  The women hold their own in both “The Docks” as well as “Turning” (which, incidentally, looks gorgeous with its flickering candles). The entire ensemble is excellent throughout, and they have plentiful stage business to keep them all busy efficiently. Watch Croswell regulars Kyle Kasischke and Lori MacDonald in their many scenes as various characters, never missing a beat.

There are a few minor quibbles — spotlights, when closed down to their tightest, wobble a bit too much — and some cast member’s breathing can be heard over their body mics. I’m not sure much can be done to fix that given the resources available. Very minor quibbles indeed. My only other thought (and there is nothing that can be done about this when not using a turntable) is that the large music swell that was originally written to accompany the rotation of the barricade set to expose the layers of dead bodies leads to dead air without that rotation.

The production continues at Croswell Opera House, 129 east Maumee Street, Adrian Michigan through next week. Tickets are available at croswell.org or by calling 517-264-SHOW. Don’t hesitate to get your tickets as soon as possible, as word of mouth and reviews should sell this production out. Just see it. Thank me for sending you their way later. And if you have never seen a show at Croswell Opera House, what the heck are you waiting for? Get your tickets.

Eric Parker. I just had to end this review with him.


Lovely night of “Moonglow” at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre (Review) November 8, 2013

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Moonglow 1 for web

There are rare evenings of theater that you want to hold onto and cherish, to remember and talk about, and to see with your loved ones…Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s current production of Kim Carney’s Moonglow is one of those pieces.

Spanning a year, it takes place in an Alzheimer’s care facility in Michigan — but it spans half a century in memory sequences, events, and changes — often simultaneously. I did not have the chance to see this play in its world premier at The Performance Network many years ago — but I am very glad I saw Civic’s production last night.

Nancy Heusel is the indisputable star of the play and a fireball of energy in the role of Maxine, newly placed in the facility by her daughter Diane (a strong Laurie Atwood). Her performance ranges from can’t-hold-her-back dynamo to moments that are so nuanced that she can convey with the move of an arm or a glance more than words can express. This is the type of performance that the theater goer will remember a lifetime. In fact you can’t imagine anyone else playing the role.

Nancy is matched by a great performance from David Keren as Joe – he’s funny, warm, and ultimately tragic.

Katie Parzych and Matt Berdahl portray younger “memory” versions of themselves and shades of former husband/wife…to let on too much here would be to spoil the enchantment. Both Parzych and Berdahl are excellent in their roles — be that portraying people in the long past, or jitterbugging away the night in the 40’s.

Rounding out the cast, Julie Landry plays Benita, nurse and manager of the care facility, and Carl Hanna plays Greg, Joe’s son trying to come to grips with a father who no longer recognizes him while trapped in an ever decompensating Alzheimer state where living people have already become shadows.

But don’t let the themes here make you think you are getting into a devastating evening of high drama — while themes of life, death, and coping with changes do rule the primary themes, Carney’s writing is funny, observant, and the play exactly what it is described as: “a reflection on love and memory.” — Even in its most serious moments, you might find yourself smiling, and nodding in recognition. Universal themes of parental care, safety, and interpersonal relationships ring true throughout and this fine cast brings these people to dynamic life.

Cassie Mann has done an excellent directorial job – keeping things moving at just the right pace, and the production is slick and looks great at the Arthur Miller Theatre.

Don’t miss this production — its one to be cherished for years to come. Continues at the Arthur Miller Theatre, UM North Campus, November 7 – 10. A2CT.org for tickets.