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

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, musical theater, Musicals.
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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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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.

Spring Awakening at Dexter Community Players January 21, 2017

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DCP is currently presenting Spring Awakening, the 2006 Steven Sater/Duncan Sheik alt-rock musical that won a slew of Tony awards and was recently revived to acclaim.

This production breaks with traditional staging and as such is somewhat hard to review since the convention of having the singers/performers always on stage with the band entering scenes as needed and singing backup throughout is somewhat different here — that changes the alt-rock-concert approach to more one of a standard book musical and I’m not sure that works. There are also specific themes of  disconnection, dissimulation, unconnectedness and misunderstanding that are incorrectly addressed here. I won’t go into that – there are 110 years of doctoral dissertations written on Wedekinds original source material play.

DCP has assembled an excellent cast of singers in a reduced-size cast that for the most part works well. They are consistently overwhelmed by the orchestra throughout, whether that is solos or ensemble numbers, sound here is problematic throughout. Mics dropped in and out during the first half but seemed better in the second half. A general note: crank your vocalists up absolutely as loudly as possible without getting feedback. No need to sound natural in this setting, just crank out the sound because this show is about the lyrics and when you can’t make them out, well…

There’s a great performance by Laura Chodoroff as Wendla — she is a young performer that I have always loved directing, and I have always hoped there would be an appropriate larger part for her, and this is it. Her acting is spot on, and her vocal work here is terrific. Also great is Chris Joseph as Moritz. He delivers powerhouse vocals and an angst-ridden character that you feel for as the drama progresses. Matt Wallace has a good voice but seemed totally uncommitted as Melchior and had little chemistry with Wendla. His later scenes were better when they were more self-centered…albeit his mic was working by that point too.

Costumes by Kristi Kuick look great. Lighting cues were frequently missed and sometimes missing altogether on the wide stage. Brian Rose’s musical direction is terrific and his band sounds fantastic, if far too loud for the space.

Spring Awakening continues through January 29th at Copland Auditorium in Dexter Michigan. http://www.dextercommunityplayers.org for tickets.

 

 

“Camelot” at Downriver Actors Guild is solid classic musical theater (review) May 14, 2016

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If you love the Lerner and Loewe musical “Camelot”, you can’t go wrong with the solid lovely production currently running at Downriver Actors Guild. Directed by Peter Sonnberg Schmidt, the production is faithful to the original. Running 2:45, it is one of the slower-moving classic musicals of the era. The original production opened on Broadway in 1960 and became a favorite of the Kennedy clan — the original cast album spent a whopping 60 weeks atop the Billboard best selling album list.

Telling the story of King Arthur and the round table and his marriage to Guenevere, it leads to the eventual unraveling of peace and harmony when said queen falls in love with French knight Lancelot leading to war between England and France. Also to a lot of pontificating. There isn’t a lot of action in this musical, it is known most for its gorgeous score.

John Sartor is a terrific King Arthur – he plays the part with a natural ease and warmth, and it all feels very genuine. Emily Noble is a lovely Queen Guenevere – her voice soars on her big numbers. If Bryan Aue’s Lancelot pales a bit next to these two, it is only because of the caliber of performances you are getting here. His swagger and demeanor come across as a bit hammy (okay, I take that back, this entire musical is hammy), but that is what it is and Bryan does a nice job with what he’s handed.

Michael Suchyta turns in a delicious evil-fringed performance as illegitimate son Mordred, Glen Reynolds is very funny as Pellinore, and Barbara Day has a wonderful moment as food-obsessed Morgan Le Fey (in a sequence normally cut by most productions).

Musical Director Wendy Biggs Fichter has done very good work with both her leads and her ensemble. The beautiful set – comprised of sliding walls and later some nifty ceiling-hung banners – is designed by Jim Steele. Roseann Spodeck’s costumes are gorgeous. The armor worn by the men looks wonderful. Want to see what great costume work looks like? Just follow Lancelot’s costumes as he goes from full-knightware to more relaxed looks later in the production.

The orchestra under the direction of David Waggoner (mostly) hits all the correct notes. Lighting is good – some of the best I have seen here (David Reynolds II and Joel Bias).

Directer Sonnberg Schmidt is wise to go with a reduced ensemble size — it works well in the space, and they sound (and look) fantastic. There are a few campier moments that could have used a bit of tightening and less ensemble reaction. There is a moment at the end of “Guenevere” when stage action has run out and there is just a lot of choir-like singing.

Camelot celebrates an ideology that was already dead in 1960 — and its themes of righteousness and might for right seem glorified and hokey in 2016. The recent Broadway tour cut out all of the pageantry in the show, and focused on the love triangle instead, and it worked better. The underlying theme of “is a person born to glory, or is glory thrust upon them” reverberates as poignantly as ever, and then there is that luscious score with ballads such as “If ever I would leave you”.

There is much to celebrate in Camelot, not the least of which is that a local group has chosen this show to perform. Its rarely done anymore due to the high cost of sets and costumes, and its outdated classic form. This re-imagining works very well, and I enjoyed my evening in Wyandotte very much.

Recommended.

Camelot at Downriver Actors Guild runs through Sunday May 15th at the Theatre on Avenue, 2656 Biddle Ave, Wyandotte, MI.

 

 

“9 to 5” at Acting Out Productions – Taylor, MI April 23, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, musical theater, Musicals.
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There’s a new kid in town, and they’re putting on a really entertaining production of “9 to 5 the musical”.

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Disclaimer: I usually review community theater productions only when they are something to rave about. In this case, while not a rave and far from technically proficient, I make the rare exception to talk about a new community theater group that you are going to be hearing a lot about in the future.

As their first adult musical (the company has been producing children’s and youth theater for awhile now) Acting Out Productions has wisely chosen a funny recent musical based on the movie that had a modest Broadway run. It offers many parts (especially for women) and is a good choice for a community theater.

It also emphasizes the shortcomings if not done remarkably well. The show itself is entertaining and I found myself laughing multiple times during the evening. I also found myself cringing once  — but let me explain.

First, there is a remarkable performance by John Sartor as egotistical boss Franklin Hart and his interactions with the cast raise everyone’s focus and efforts by two-fold. He’s funny, sings well, and carries some very difficult humorous moments. He also has some lovely heart-patterned boxer shorts.

Next, there is solid direction from Kelly R Lomas, though it could all be tightened up a bit. Still, the vision is clear, and things proceed according to plan.

Third, there is an excellent four-piece combo band that sounds terrific. I might have moved them to far stage right instead of in the center (you might want to rethink where you sit if you are in the middle section, especially the first 4 rows). They make beautiful music together and play through the peppy score with precision.

Fourth, it is so evident how much work and effort went into this first big adult musical for Acting Out. It is truly a labor of love to put together something of this scope — and in general it all works. The cast seem to work together well, there is certainly plenty of encouragement from cast and crew alike (I love listening to people at intermission), and its great to have another community theater in town. As the group becomes better known, they will get a bigger audition pool from which to choose, and there will be less awkwardness overall. Come out and audition for their shows next season!

What doesn’t work? Well, scene changes are far too long. Costumes are designed in a way that they are not easy to change and there are times that the orchestra vamps repeatedly waiting for actors to appear who are changing clothes backstage.  Mics drop in and out throughout. The ensemble tends to stand in straight lines. Some cast members are able to effortlessly do the smart choreography, while others struggle with the basics. Not all ensemble members need to be on stage in all numbers. Speaking of ensemble — disparate ages don’t work well in this production, but lets chalk that up to educational theater and the need for a larger audition pool. There was one cringe-worthy moment when the actor playing Joe (in high school) and Violet have their big love song in Act II (“Let Love Grow”) that nearly made me levitate out of my seat. I understand an appropriately-aged adult plays that part at some performances.

But that was it, and one cringe-worthy moment all evening is pretty good — the show is super entertaining — something they should be very proud of, and I had a good time. (Note: the show runs long, but I blame some of that on the too-long scene changes). I loved the cookies at intermission. I could probably do without the teenagers shouting “50-50 raffle! Last Chance!” inside the theater, especially since there was no way anybody interested would have missed them in the lobby. The theatre itself is lovely — The Royal Majestic Theater is located inside Trillium Academy on Racho Road in Taylor which used to be a performing arts school, so their setup is quite good.

“9 to 5” continues at Acting Out Productions, 15740 Racho Road, Taylor, MI through April 30th. Tickets available at the door. 15.00 per ticket – Cash only.

 

Acting Out (Taylor, MI) Presents 9 to 5, the musical April 11, 2016

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Acting Out Productions Presents  9 To 5:  The Musical, with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and book by Patricia Resnick, based on the seminal 1980 hit movie. 

This entertaining show is being Directed by Kelly R. Lomas of Trenton, Assistant Directed by Mary Jo Hunt of Riverview, Vocal Directed by Sarah Leonard of Allen Park, and Choreographed by Rian McDonald of  Southgate.  The show features April Denny of Dearborn Heights as “Doralee Rhodes,” Melissa Brown Knox of Lincoln Park as “Judy Bernly,” Liza Boos of Allen Park as “Violet Newstead,” and John Sartor of Canton as “Franklin Hart, Jr.”

This will also be the debut of a live orchestra during a show for AOP.

Set in the late 1970s, this hilarious story of friendship and revenge in the Rolodex era is outrageous, thought-provoking, and even a little romantic. Pushed to the boiling point, three female co-workers concoct a plan to get even with the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot they call their boss. In a hilarious turn of events, Doralee, Judy and Violet live out their wildest fantasy, giving their boss the boot! While Hart remains “otherwise engaged,” the women give their workplace a dream makeover, taking control of the company that had always kept them down. Hey, a girl can scheme, can’t she?

Show dates and times are as follows:  April 22, 23, 29, and 30 at 7:30 pm and April 24 at 3:00 pm at the Royal Majestic Theatre inside Trillium Academy, 15740 Racho Road in Taylor.  Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students ages 13-18 with valid school ID.  Friends and Family online deal $10 per person at actingoutdownriver.com/jazzhands.  

Acting Out Productions is a theatre company focused on offering on-stage and backstage opportunities for theatre lovers of all ages in the Downriver area, who also continues to build a strong community.  Please bring a case of water to assist our Flint citizens and purchase tickets at the door for just $9.
For more information go to www.actingoutdownriver.com

Entertaining “Steel Magnolias” at Village Players Toledo (Review) March 5, 2016

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Robert Harling’s “Steel Magnolias” is a perennial in the theater circuit, and the production now on exhibit at The Village Players Theatre in Toledo is entertaining and solid. It features good performances by 5 of its leading ladies, and a master-class in acting by the sixth.

The audience laughed (and later cried) its way through the beauty-shop antics of Deb Shaffer’s shop owner (Truvy) with newcomer Jordan Killam (Annelie). Young Bride Marissa Rex makes her appearance on cue (Shelby), as does her mother Lydia Shafer (M’Lynn). Arriving later in the proceedings Carol Ann Erford plays the unctuous neighbor (Ouiser).

But from the moment Barbara Barkan steps on stage in the role of Clairee, the world is a better place. She gives a master-class in acting: from barking out the funniest lines of the evening, to her spot-on reactions while watching from the distance, never out of the action. Young actors would be well-advised to watch her throughout the evening if you aspire to future acting greatness.

The direction by Larry Farley is uneven and a bit too stagnant for my taste. The set work is excellent, as is the lighting (although the spotlight effect for M’Lynn’s big monologue probably doesn’t need to be there). Costume design is lovely throughout, with the exception of one or two pieces.

One of the actresses struggled with a few of her lines on opening night, although it was nimbly covered by her fellow actors on stage. And there is one awkward scene change in the first act where the director in me just wanted to scream out “Cut! Stage Manager put the damn tree on stage and decorate it all later!”

Special kudos to Kevin Charles Hair Artistry, who not only partly sponsored the show, but who designed the delicious hairstyles, provided furniture and props for the hair salon set, and even provided the raffle presents for the production!

You will have a very entertaining time at this “Steel Magnolias”, as did I and the audience around me last night.

Steel Magnolias continues at The Village Players Theatre, 2740 Upton Ave in Toledo, OH through March 19, 2016. Tickets online at TheVillagePlaers.org or by calling (419) 472-6817

 

 

Croswell Opera House presents “How I Became a Pirate” February 24, 2016

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How I Became a Pirate
The Croswell Opera House will hoist the Jolly Roger and sail off to adventure with “How I Became a Pirate,” a children’s musical that opens March 4. Based on the popular book series by Melinda Long, the musical is about a child who joins up with a band of friendly, bumbling pirates. Director Chris Sancho said it’s a funny and interactive show, with the action taking place in the aisles as well as on stage.
“It’s your own pirate adventure,” Sancho said. “You’re not just a spectator, you’re a participant in the show.”
Young fans of the book will notice a few differences in the Croswell’s production. For one thing, the books are about a young boy named Jeremy Jacob. But during auditions for the show, Sancho was so struck by the energy and comic ability of 11-year-old actress Carson Pickles that she knew she had found the perfect lead — so Jeremy became Jenny.
“She’s wonderful and spunky and vibrant and alive,” Sancho said. And besides, she said, “girls can go pirating as well.”
The pirates’ leader, Captain Braid Beard, is played by Mark Hyre of Tecumseh.
“Think the skipper from ‘Gilligan’s Island,’” Sancho said. “He really tries to command his pirates, but he’s so bumbling that he’s less authoritative and more loveable.”
The pirate crew also includes Robert Yoman of Petersburg as Pierre; Jesse Montie of Tecumseh as first mate Seymour Braunschwagger; and Kevin Smith of Monroe as Sharktooth.  Jacqueline Adams of Adrian, Jolie Bailey of Jasper and Alexandra June of Adrian play Patty, LaVerne and Maxine; Diane DuRussel of Manchester plays Scurvy Dog, and Scotland Mills of Adrian is a mad-scientist type named Swill.
“Pirate packs” with a bandana, eyepatch and temporary tattoo will be on sale for $5 at the concession stand for kids who want to play along with the story or have a souvenir to take home.
The show will be as fun for adults as it is for children, Sancho said, because while it’s a children’s story, there are plenty of pop-culture jokes for parents to enjoy.
“And besides,” Sancho added, “who doesn’t want to play on a pirate ship?”
“How I Became a Pirate” opens March 4 and runs for two weekends. The first weekend has shows at 6:30 p.m. Friday and 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with the Saturday show being a sensory-friendly production specially adapted for children with autism or sensory processing issues. The second weekend has shows at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets are $10-$15 for adults and $5 for youth 15 and under. For more information, go to croswell.org or call 517-264-7469.
If you go
What: “How I Became a Pirate”
Where: The Croswell Opera House, 129 E. Maumee St., Adrian
When: Friday, March 4, at 6:30 p.m.; Sunday, March 6, at 2:30 p.m.; Friday, March 11, at 6:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 12, at 6:30 p.m.; Sunday, March 13, at 2:30 p.m.; plus a special sensory-friendly performance at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 5.
Admission: $10-$15 for adults, $5 for youth 15 and under.
More information: croswell.org

Acting Out (Taylor MI) presents ‘NIGHT, MOTHER February 23, 2016

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“‘Night, Mother” the two-character 1983 play by Marsha Norman about a suicidal daughter and her mother will be presented by Acting Out productions in Taylor MI March 11 – 13, 2016.

The production stars Kelly Richelle Lomas (as daughter Jessie) and Jema McCardell (as mother Thelma – seated in photo), both of Trenton, MI, who will be taking to the stage in this very intense performance.

Due to difficult subject matter, all students age 13-16 must be accompanied by an adult. No one 12 years of age or younger will be admitted.

 

The show runs March 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m. with a 3:00 matinee on March 13.

Tickets are $15 for Adults and $12 for Students 18 and under. Friends and Family can take advantage of $10 tickets by visiting actingoutdownriver.com/jazzhands.

Also, join us by helping out with the water crisis in Flint. For every case of water that is donated, you will receive $6.00 off your ticket when purchased at the door on the day of the performance.

Acting Out Productions is a theatre company focused on offering on-stage and backstage opportunities for theatre lovers of all ages in the Downriver area. In addition to ‘Night Mother, the rest of their 2015-2016 season includes: 9 to 5 the Musical, Disney’s Cinderella Kids, “Yes &,” and Disney’s Tarzan.