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Gorgeous “An American in Paris” tour (review) November 16, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Broadway Tour.
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The current tour of “An American in Paris” is now at The Wharton Center in East Lansing, and it is gorgeous from top to bottom. I have previously raved about this musical when I saw it in NYC, and many know my thoughts on the travesty that was awarding “Fun Home” Best Musical 2015 instead of Paris. It’s simply one of the best new musicals out there, and this tour is scrumptious. In some ways it is better than the Broadway incarnation.

You might be familiar with the Gene Kelly movie that won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1951 – and if not, you really should be. Then came a Paris-based production of this musical with its international design team and tour-de-force direction and choreography by Christopher Wheeldon and its eventual transfer to Broadway with most of that cast and production team intact.

To put it simply, just don’t miss this Gershwin-laced, ballet-infused mega-hit. It’s the best dance musical since the original 42nd Street, and it will lift you out of your seat and into musical theater heaven for a few hours.

McGee Maddox dances a wonderful Jerry, and his singing is stronger than that of Bobby Fairchild on Broadway. Also magnificent is Allison Walsh as Lise who dances, sings, and acts beautifully. Matthew Scott is terrific as Adam, as is Ben Michael as Henri and Kirsten Scott as Milo. Bravo, Brava, and all that rot…or Merde as they wish you in France.

The entire supporting ensemble cast is superb, and once the musical launches into its many production numbers, the energy and talent is stratospheric. It is remarkable work by very talented ballet-based dancers.

But its also an evening in which all the scene changes are also choreographed and the set and costume design by Bob Crowley is beautiful (some of the best you will ever see) as is the projection design by 59 Productions, This is a work of art from both a performance as well as a technical design point of view.

Finally, let me mention Christopher Wheeldon again — this isn’t simple stage choreography; this is masterful ballet and it soars in its solos, duets, ensemble intertwining, and every moment of this musical moves – and it will move you or you have a heart of stone. His direction is superior – he knows not only how to move the production along at high energy levels, but guarantees that the audience is looking exactly where he wants you to look. In a full-stage ensemble number, watch how cleverly he manipulates bodies, arms, and legs, so that the audience eye goes directly to some small detail that he wants you to see in the midst of the cast. You won’t miss papa Baurel burst into spontaneous dance, nor mama Baurel do the same and instantly gather herself in repose. Magnificent.

Very Highest Recommendation.

An American in Paris continues at The Wharton Center through November 19th. It returns to Detroit’s Fisher Theatre November 28th through December 10th.

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

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Broadway Tour, musical theater, Musicals.
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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.
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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. 

 

 

 

 

“Ragtime the Musical” tour is spectacular (Review) May 14, 2016

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Kate Turner (Mother) and Matthew Curiano (Tateh) sing “Our Children” in RAGTIME

Seen on its journey through Toledo’s Stranahan Theater, the newly minted national tour of Ragtime the musical is in a word spectacular.

First, take a top-notch cast making some amazing music together. Next, add a genuinely affecting story (book by Terrence McNally, Music by Stephen Flaherty, and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens), that works no matter how many times you’ve seen the show, and add in a gorgeous set, costume, and lighting design, and it all makes this a great production.

Based on EL Doctorow’s novel, the musical tells the story of a fictional family intertwined with real world historical characters in three social realms — established white America at the turn of the century, an ever increasing influx of European immigrants, and a growing sense of social justice for black Americans. Each of these mini-dramas is clearly defined by its characters, and the stories play out in turn.

The tour is based on the 2009 revival of the musical, rather than the more lavish 1996 original. It uses a reduced cast size, and simpler sets and costumes. But the smaller size of the show doesn’t at all detract from the story — in fact, it might actually enhance the drama. Marcia Milgrom Dodge has directed and choreographed the production with an assured hand and a big heart.

A few performances in particular stand out. First, there is a star-making turn as immigrant Tateh by Matthew Curiano. His vocal and acting work first breaks your heart and later makes you laugh and then cry again (“Our Children” is so well done here).  Also very fine are Kate Turner as Mother, and Chris Sams as Coalhouse Walker Jr. Her “Back to Before” is remarkable, while his “Make Them Hear You” is stunning. As usual “Wheels of a Dream” (sung by Sams and Leslie Jackson as Sarah) is the score’s showcase number.  But every cast member is very strong, and they play interchangeable characters over the course of the musical. Congratulations to all.

The simple but beautiful set design is by Kevin Depinet, the excellent lighting design is by Mike Baldassari, and the gorgeous costume design is by Gail Baldoni. Steven Bishop provides first rate musical direction.

Do not miss this excellent tour.   Highest Recommendation.

For tour schedule, visit http://www.ragtimeontour.com

 

 

Newsies is spectacular at the Detroit Opera House (Tour) – Review December 22, 2015

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Those who know me already know that I love Newsies. In fact, I was sorely disappointed when Once (which I did not like) won the Tony for best Musical in 2012. Newsies walked away with Tonys for Best Choreography and Best Score, though it should have won for Best Set, Best Direction, Best Costume Design, and best Lighting Design. It probably should have won Best Musical, but who am I to argue with the folks who thought Once deserved the win since it needed help at the Box Office and future tour.

All that notwithstanding, Newsies arrives on its National Tour in Detroit, and it is as fresh as it was during its first weeks in New York. See my original review here:

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What’s different? Well, the set has been adopted a bit for the tour —  its lighter (but still weights 6 tons); the solid wall proscenium for the theater scenes has been replaced by a lighter curtain unit. But Tobin Ost’s remarkable set and Sven Ortel’s projections are there in all their glory. There are also some slight blocking and choreography changes — and one added scene: Crutchie now gets a song in the second act called “Letter from the Refuge” (which gives him something to do in the second act once he’s been snatched off the streets).

To say that this current touring cast is outstanding is an understatement — between the time the show opened in NYC and had trouble casting (some of us had nicknamed it “Man-sies” since the boys were in their late 20’s and 30’s) and now when it really is boy-sies (this cast looked like kids though they aren’t for the most part) and guys flock to auditions — the show has also smartly been auditioning cross-country as it tours to find new, young dancing talent.

And dance these Newsies do — these dancers are outstanding, and Christopher Gattelli’s award-winning choreography is beautiful and ultra-athletic at the same time. Joey Barreiro plays an excellent Jack Kelly and he rivals Jeremy Jordan in every way. He has a terrific career ahead of him back in NYC after this tour concludes. Steve Blanchard is a delightfully full-voiced evil Pulitzer. Morgan Keene acts a clean, simple Katherine that is a joy to watch. The entire ensemble cast earns its salary nightly — where does that energy come from for that near non-stop 2.25 hours on stage? (There is also a 15 minute intermission bringing the show in at 2.5). Jeff Calhoun is my directing idol — and that he took the time to talk to me and advise me on some blocking for Bonnie & Clyde has endeared him even more.

The musical runs at the lovely Detroit Opera House and if you don’t already have tickets (and thousands and thousands of SE Michigan folks already do — this show is nearly as popular as Wicked from an audience point of view) by all means get them.

Newsies continues through Sunday the 27th of December — and tickets are available at Ticket master ($39.00 to $90.00).

Very very highly recommended.

 

 

 

Motown the musical, Fisher Theatre, Detroit (Review) November 10, 2014

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This is another in a series of guest reviews, this week written by Wendy Wright who has a unique professional vantage point of viewing the tour of the Broadway musical “Motown.”

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Let me preface this by saying that I host a radio show called “From Memphis to Motown” Saturday afternoons from 1-4pm on 89.1 WEMU, and thus I’m predisposed to love a show called Motown: The Musical. For me the original “Happy” music came from Motown. When I hear songs like Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and I Heard It through the Grapevine it makes me want to move. And I did love it…for the most part. Spanning 45 years and covering 60 songs, almost all well known classics, Motown: The Musical is a lightning paced confection that is loosely held together by a narrative that traces the lifespan of Motown Records and its founder Berry Gordy.

For those uninitiated, Motown: The Musical is what is called a Broadway jukebox musical which means it’s all about the songs. The book by Berry Gordy, based on his 1994 autobiography To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown, chronicles his personal and professional relationships with Motown artists such as Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and Michael Jackson.

As I was leaving the theater, I overheard someone say the story was different than they had heard before. And that might be the problem. The relationships, many of which have been well documented, seem sanitized, or at the very least glossed over. What is left is a slick, well oiled machine, which is probably not far removed from the “music factory” which was Motown.

On this particular afternoon one of the two actors understudying the role of Berry Gordy went on and no one missed a beat. In fact, all of the major roles had two understudies, probably because this may be the hardest working cast in show business. With the exception of the actors playing Gordy, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye, all the other performers (with the exception of the young man playing Michael Jackson, et al) are credited as ensemble. Don’t let that fool you. This is a cast of powerhouse performers. Despite playing as many as five roles (with multiple costume changes), each actor gets their moment to shine. Stand outs include Elijah Ahmad Lewis as the adult Stevie Wonder, who garnered a standing ovation mid-show and Krisha Marcano as Florence Ballard. Of the leads, Nicholas Christopher as Smokey Robinson and Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye were particularly effective. Allison Semmes as Diana Ross had some nice moments as the aloof star, but struggled with the younger version of the diva. Jamarice Daughtry stepped into the shoes of Gordy as an understudy gracefully. Leon Outlaw, Jr as the young versions of Berry Gordy, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson is a child prodigy that should be dissected and studied, he was so spot on.

One thing is for sure, if imitation is the greatest form of flattery, Berry Gordy has written a love letter to his former stars. My only real complaint was that I wanted more. Many of the songs were performed in medleys which was a shame, because the bottom line is that everyone who comes to see Motown: The Musical comes for the songs, as well they should. Seeing it in Detroit makes the experience special. The audience, who clearly knows these artists and this music, was with the cast from the very beginning and I can only imagine what it must feel like to receive that kind of love cascading over the stage. If you love Motown music, you owe it to yourself to see this show and what better place than just down the street from the original Hitsville, U.S.A

Motown the Musical continues at the Fisher Theatre through November 16th

Surprisingly glorious “Camelot” tour (review, Toledo) October 25, 2014

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Every now and then, you see a musical that catches you by surprise to the point that it takes your breath away — What, you ask? Another tour of that tired 1960 musical Camelot? Well, guess what, I’m here to tell you that the current national tour (non-equity) did just that this afternoon.

Director Michael McFadden might have finally hit upon the pieces necessary to rework this piece, and this revisal is a masterclass in making something out of not much: completely re-orchestrated and pared-down from the original production, it also re-arranges some of the musical numbers which work much better in their current settings, and makes judicious use of cuts: gone is that weird Morgan le Fay stuff…gone are the overture and entre’acte…gone are all the dance numbers…gone are those long instrumental scene changes (not needed with modern tech, which this show has in spades)…gone are the stodgy old musical arrangements…gone is that long long pageant sequence for the knighting of Lancelot (though its there, in a new time-measure, and working lickety split to convey the story while not bogging it all down).

Added are rhythmic drum breaks during scene changes, and a glorious set design which is basic-unit in design with additional pieces flown in and out as necessary. Added are new rhythms to many of the songs — gone are the long introductory narrative slogs leading into the songs…those that remain have been rearranged, sped-up, and dare I say that Lerner and Loewe’s score sounds fresher than ever.

What this means is that the show is pared from a run time of 3 hours to 2 hours 20 minutes including the intermission — and the love-triangle firmly established from early on. The show now has a tight focus on the Arthur/Guenevere/Lancelot story, and the last twenty minutes are genuinely thrilling. It helps significantly to have moved “If Ever I Would Leave You” to the penultimate sequence, and there were plenty of genuine audience tears at the end of the show, something I have never experienced at any production of Camelot in the past.

Ok, now this is a good place to mention that in general I don’t like Camelot, though this production might finally prove me wrong. Not gone are the ridiculous songs for Mordred in the second act – his role is to primarily catch Lance and Guenevere in the act yet he takes up 15 minutes of stage time singing two utterly forgettable songs (though Kasidy Devlin is sublime as the sleazy character, who for better or worse plenty of parents would be happy to cast off as Arthur did, only to have him return to bite him on the butt later in life).  Also not gone is Nimue’s “Follow Me” number — which earned some snickers in the audience this afternoon despite the earnest (and pretty) staging.

But oh, what a wonderful cast…McFadden has solved the problem right out of the gate by casting two hunks in the leads and letting Guenevere understandably be conflicted over the two, there are no bad choices…Adam Grabau (Arthur) is superb — Mary McNulty (Guenevere) positively channels Julie Andrews in her effervescent performance — and Tim Rogan is especially glorious in the role of Lancelot. Yes please.

The entire 17-member cast is superb, and they sound great under the musical direction of Marshall Keating (though I must also mention the excellent musical supervision and additional orchestrations by Steven M Bishop). Though the smaller cast does have its down side for the men: it means doubling and even tripling character parts and it results in things like Squire Dab instantly reappearing as a knight in King Arthur’s court moments later, and the knights in the joust sequence hopping on and off stage to be able to keep the vocals going. When the men’s ensemble is finally allowed to let go they sound lush and fuller than their small size (even if it is on the time-wasting “Fie on Goodness” number). Two local boys alternate to play Tom of Warwick (Croswell Opera House in Adrian’s own Cole Carrico at my performance!) and Findlay’s Jeremy Gobrogge.

I’ve heard nothing about this tour’s next stop after their long trek across the US — and marvel at the energy of a cast that must be thrilled to have an entire week at the Stranahan rather than the one or two night one-offs they are playing nationwide. I mention this because I truly hope its not the end of the road for this excellent production — New York is a bit crowded with revisals this season…but next year?…

Very Highly Recommended.

See camelottour.com for tickets and schedule.

 

Hello Dolly! tour with sparkling Sally Struthers (review – Toledo) October 26, 2013

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As Hello Dolly! continues its 2013-2014 tour, I had the chance to see it in Toledo at the Stranahan Theater today – it has already played in Detroit last week. And the news is good. The production is solid, and the cast excellent. Sally Struthers sparkles as Dolly Levi (a role, incidentally, that she has been playing in different productions for YEARS, not unique to this tour).

Sally Struthers Stole the Show in Hello Dolly at Riverside Theater in 2011

Hello Dolly! has always been a show one either loves or hates. Its story is a bit puzzling no matter how well its done, and the secondary storyline spends far too much time in the spotlight — and the same goes for this production.

Jeffrey B. Moss directs with a quick pace (most of the time) although some of the more talky scenes bog down. Bob Richard provides clean, basic choreography (with strong ballet lines, especially during the “Dancing” sequence) and when it works, it works very well. Some dance sequences have been cut for this production. What is missing is Gower Champion’s flare for making everything larger than life and his iconic movements in some sequences. Entirely re-imagined here, Richard’s are not as good as the originals.

Costume design is excellent throughout (bordering on My Fair Lady-ish at times) by Vincent Scassellati. The curiously uncredited set design (Randel Wright is considered the “scenic coordinator”) points to a tour set that has been assembled from other productions designs. Charlie Morrison has created fine lighting effects (his lighting for the sequined Manhattan backdrop at the end of Act I is particularly effective).

When the stage magic it is at its best, its stunning here — musical theater magic occurs multiple times during the production — the Hallmark-card-like train that enters and exits the Yonkers station for example — and Dolly’s descent down the stairs at Harmonia Gardens. Others are a bit off — the too-sparse set for Irene Molloy’s hat shop and the non-existant set for several of the dance sequences.

Speaking of Irene Malloy, what a find Lauren Blackman is! Her clear, strong voice shines throughout her multiple numbers. John O’Creagh is a likable Horace Vandergelder, and he and Struthers shine in their scenes together. Garett Hawe continues his conquest of strong comic dance roles (having already conquered Newsies and Mary Poppins) as Barnaby Tucker (one of the strongest portrayals of this part I have seen on stage), and Matt Wolfe (a superb singer/dancer/actor) is overdirected and over-stylized, but won me over by the time the show reached “It Only Takes a Moment”.

And then there is Sally Struthers — her portrayal of Dolly Levi is warm, friendly, and funny. She’s charismatic and her vocals are in fine form — she is far stronger as a vocalist than Carol Channing ever was.  Her “So Long Dearie” is a marvel — when comedy, heart, and musicality all come together to create another magical stage moment.

The audience was on its feet as the show reached its final sequence — and deservedly so — its a topnotch cast from top to bottom, and they bring life and energy to this now 50-year old musical (can you believe it???).  Hello Dolly! shows its age more than once in the show — even in the mid-60’s it was far from “edgy” and the term “corny” doesn’t fully capture the schlock in the script — but its a golden-age of musicals chestnut, and its well done here. Hello Dolly, indeed…its a show that has gone away too long….and I’m glad she’s back where she belongs.

Recommended.

 

“Catch Me if You Can” tour review. May 13, 2013

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The non-AEA tour of the Broadway musical “Catch Me If You Can” makes its second local stop this week and next at the Fisher Theater in Detroit (It was at Wharton Center in East Lansing last month).

See my original review from the Broadway production for a more detailed review, but let me say that this is a very strong tour, with a very good (and VERY young) cast that works hard and delivers the evening’s highly entertaining production with no concerns about the non-union tour quality. Great performances are delivered by all.

The sets have been whittled down, but they are colorful and effective, though they rely more on video than did the original. Lighting is very colorful, and costuming is virtually intact from the Broadway production and everyone looks great in them, in particular Frank Jr. played by the stupendously talented Stephen Anthony (who, by the way for those who need to know these things does NOT take his clothing off for those scenes that Aaron Tveit made so memorable in NYC).

Overall, this is an electric ensemble cast — they are in character and spot-on entertaining throughout the 2.5 hour production, and there are many future Broadway stars among this (very good looking) cast, not the least of whom is Anthony. Recommended.

2012 Musical Theater Season in SE Michigan – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly… December 31, 2012

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Broadway Musicals, Broadway Tour, Community Theater, Detroit, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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It’s hard to make a “best of” list in this area of the country, since the blend of collegiate, community, and professional often overlap and sometimes Community theater productions can be as good as (or better) than some professional productions, while at other times, college shows can look better than Broadway tours….nonetheless, here is my summary of the good, the bad, and the ugly…

The Best overall community theater production this past year was: GREY GARDENS at Ann Arbor Civic Theater. Special kudos to Kathy Waugh for her terrific performance.

The Best summer theater production was: SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS at Croswell Opera House. Its been a long long time since Croswell had such a dance-tacular production, thanks to the Hissong’s direction and choreography.

The Best summer theater production that was indistinguishable from a Broadway Tour: AVENUE Q at Croswell Opera House. It was so good, it was hard to even compare it to other local productions, it had to be held to professional Broadway tour standards — and it was as good as, if not better, than the tour that came through Michigan a few years ago.

Speaking of tours: The best Broadway Tour to come through Detroit was: JEKYLL & HYDE — Broadway Bound with a spectacular Tobin Ost set, and a remarkable performance by Constantine Maroulis.

The best Broadway Tour to come through Wharton Center in East Lansing was: ANYTHING GOES, with a touring cast led by Rachel York that was stronger than the Original Broadway cast.

The best local university musical was: CHICAGO at the University of Michigan. Although it had strong runners-up in SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (also at UM) and LEGALLY BLONDE at MSU. Also delicious was SWEENEY TODD at Sienna Heights.

Speaking of Legally Blonde: I saw 4 productions of this show, and despite varied levels of good lead performances, it just goes to show that this is a musical that is hard to recreate without a multi-million dollar budget. The Original Broadway production is so deeply visually ingrained (thanks to MTV’s relentless showings a few years ago) that any non-professional production just pales in comparison. One favorite note: in the Croswell production, when the trailer door stuck, David Blackburn hilariously announced “I’ll just use the back door!” and came around from stage left complete with bulldog. It was the biggest laugh of any show I saw this past year.

The best small-cast show of the year: THE LAST 5 YEARS at Jackson Symphony Space — Jayna Katz and Adam Woolsey blew the roof off of the place nightly.

The best “becoming an annual tradition around here” musical: EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL at Dexter Community Players. Expanding community theater’s boundaries by squirts and bounds, with a strong cast and twice the splatter-power.

I wasn’t impressed much by any of the local professional musical theater productions this year, although there were some mighty fine performances. The Dionysus Theater made a strong debut as a professional theater company with their holiday offering HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS – right out of the gate hitting all the right notes in a finely performed production in a gorgeous proscenium theater space.  A couple shows will go without mention here, because I abhor when major changes are made to Broadway musicals to fit a director’s “vision” or a small budget — but it is worthy to mention the lovely GODSPELL at Encore, where Dan Cooney took a show that has become bloated and almost unwatchable over the years, and turned it into a fresh, sparse, and clown-makeup-free delight.

Finally — one “ugly” — the reworked BEAUTY AND THE BEAST arrived at the Stranahan on tour, with a non-equity NETworks production, featuring some of the ugliest costumes and sets I have seen in a Broadway tour. UGH.