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“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” takes flight (kinda) at Croswell Opera House (Review) June 11, 2017

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Croswell Opera House launched its 2017 Summer Season with the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang last night, and it’s a neat production of the mega-effects laden show.

Basically following the same storyline (and music with the exception of a couple new numbers) of the movie, Act 1 sets things up, and Act 2 amps up the ante as the action reaches Vulgaria. The musical had a long successful run on London’s West End but not so successful on Broadway. What it did have was an amazing car that flew, tilted, swiveled, and moved up and out over the orchestra as the proscenium filled with stars – there was no denying that no matter what your thoughts about the material itself, that flying car special effect was THE attraction for this show.

Not so much at Croswell’s production, where there is a car, but the action centers more around the human characters, who are brought to life by a vivid cast of performers. The car takes a more peripheral role and I am not sure that is for the better in a musical that is basically ABOUT the car.

Peter Crist plays an excellent Caractacus Potts, paired nicely with Kayla Marsh as Truly Scrumptious. Jeremy and Jemima Potts are precocious and charming Matthew Antalek and Oliva Goosman who are engaging and never cloying. Grandpa Potts is delightfully played by Steve Hillard, though the lyrics of his “Posh” were a bit muffled. Stephen Kiersey is a creepy Childcatcher and Terry Hissong (great to see on stage again!) an endearing Toy Maker. Bruce Hardcastle and Steven Owsley are practically perfect as Boris and Goran the Vulgarian spies (ahem, vulgar spies). While the entire ensemble is solid (although there are too many of them on stage during some of the numbers, cluttering things up a bit) the show is stolen out from everyone else in its second act by Leah Fox as the Baroness and Jeffrey King as the Baron Bomburst. Their flirtatious “Chu-Chi Face” is an absolute scream. Both Leah and Jeffrey turn in performances that are deadpan straightforward in their lunacy and makes it even funnier by contrast. The Baroness accidentally shoots one of her lackeys, and she exclaims an understated (and howlingly funny) “oops”. Bravo.

The Direction by Julianne Dolan and Choreography by Sarah Nowak focus on the human relationships, even during dance numbers. If I have a quibble its that the pacing and line pickup seemed slow through much of the first act (it got better in the second) and scene changes took a bit too long, occasionally stopping the action while nothing happens except for a chunk of set coming in or out.

Costumes by Susan Eversden are truly scrumptious indeed. Wynne Marsh has done her usual excellent musical direction. Tiff Crutchfield’s lighting design is colorful and bright. Sound Design is excellent – thanks to the donors who helped sponsor the new sound system! Patrick Lord’s projection and Scenic Design are well integrated into the production and things look spiffy and bright.

And that car? Well, its there, and its serviceable. It stays very much earth bound. It looks pretty and most of the effects worked, but it needed human assistance a few times making turns and it called for a bit more magic.  Still, overall this is a big beautiful looking production and it shows throughout.

A final aside — to the family sitting next to me, it in NEVER okay to hand out sandwiches in crinkly paper to your kids, pop open soda cans, nor serve potato chips to your kids inside a theater during the show. Never. Basic theater etiquette 101.

Recommended.

Photo taken by Lad Strayer, Croswell Opera House

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang continues at The Croswell Opera House, 129 E. Maumee, Adrian MI through June 25th. Tickets (selling very fast) at croswell.org or 517-264-SHOW.

Hilarious “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Croswell Opera House (review) August 13, 2016

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The-Drowsy-Chaperone

Croswell Opera House opened its final musical of the summer season, The Drowsy Chaperone, last night in Adrian — and they have saved the best for last! Drowsy is a musical theater-lovers dream show, and it is hilarious and exceptionally well done at Croswell.

Man in Chair (gifted and very funny Patrick Toth) settles in to tell the audience the story of 1920’s musical theater “chestnut” The Drowsy Chaperone, complete with fond anecdotes about the cast, the show, and an equally catty look at musicals today. Toth is onstage the entire evening and the work that he does is remarkable. Never out of character, he guides, narrates, and even participates in some of the scenes. Great job. He does exactly what the opening monologue says he will do — transport you to another place, even if it is inside his apartment.

Equally wonderful are Erica Wyman as the chaperone, whose boozy “As We Stumble Along” equaled or maybe excelled over Beth Leavel’s tony-winning performance last night as she performed “the greatest anthem to alcoholism”; and Franny Kromminga as ingenue Janet — who clearly is having the time of her life “not showing off no more”. Matthew Pecek plays a spry bridegroom, Robert, and Joseph Ball a hilarious best man George. Suzanne Smith and Stephen Kiersey are delightful as Tottendale and Underling. Jared Hoffert is very funny as he chews the scenery as producer Feldzieg, and Jamie Lynn Buechele, as his girlfriend Kitty, shines in a hilarious vocal role. Throw in John Bacarella and Peter Stewart as dancing gangsters, a wonderful over the top performance by Bruce Hardcastle as Adolpho (whaaaat?), and fine Lori Macdonald as Trix the Aviatrix.

The leads are supported by a strong ensemble (though at times there are too many of them on stage making some scenes feel like, well, there are too many people on stage). But they sing and dance well, and help with set changes as necessary. Everything moves non-stop, even acting scenes take on a musical tone and movement. Bravo.

Director Mark DiPietro has done a masterful job keeping everything barreling along, laugh after laugh, and choreographer Delle Clair has provided fun (and audience pleasing) choreography including a plentiful smattering of tap. Musical Director Jonathan Sills stellar vocal work shows throughout, and his wonderful orchestra does the Croswell proud yet again.

Doug Miller has created a gorgeous set, and it all works well and runs like clockwork. Pam Krage and Emily Gifford designed the many beautiful (and often large) costume pieces. Tiff Crutchfield has lit it all in colorful broadway shades and it works well on the stage.

It should be noted that this otherwise intermission-less musical has an intermission added at the Croswell — so that instead of being out the door on your way to after-show drinks at 9:50, you’ll be there a bit later.

I have now seen Drowsy many times — and it makes me laugh out loud every time. DiPietro has mined the show for even more laughs than I can recall — and it made me feel positively giddy at the end of the evening.

Very Highest Recommendation.

The Drowsy Chaperone continues at The Croswell Opera House through August 21st. Tickets at croswell.org or by calling 517-264-SHOW

Music and Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar.

 

 

Daniel Clair and Kyrie Bristle shine in “Leap of Faith” – Croswell Opera House, review July 16, 2016

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Daniel Clair, playing a conniving traveling tent-show preacher, and Kyrie Bristle as a small-town sheriff are the reasons to see this shiny musical theater adaptation of “Leap of Faith” which opened last night at the Croswell Opera House. Your enjoyment will be enhanced if you like bible-belt hokum and are a fan of the film from which it is adapted. But…well… I’ll get to that momentarily…

Directed by Michael Yuen, the cast is strong, including the stellar Clair and Bristle, and also a fine performance by Anthony Isom in the role of sham-exposer which features soaring vocals and acting chops indeed. Also very good is Sarah Nowak as the preacher’s sister, whose sincerity shines through in one of the shows nicest most underplayed scenes, willing to take the blame when things go south fast. Cooper Adams is a fine young boy in the tear-jerker part (you can see what’s coming a mile away). The entire ensemble has plenty to do in multiple large musical numbers — even if they do all sound (and pretty much look) the same. Still there is no denying how good this ensemble is, and how much work has gone into making these three tent-revivals move on stage. From a blocking point of view, I thought the staging was somewhat flat, and most often played in two, rarely moving down toward the audience.

I saw “Leap of Faith” on Broadway and had the same reaction I had here — there is nothing wrong with this show. There also isn’t anything that makes it great. The show is bland and there isn’t much you can do about it. Most of the (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater) songs feel like they are cut from other shows (and many likely were from “Sister Act” which Menken had written shortly before). The mini-dramas do not have enough sizzle to them to make things truly spark — and the “big moment” toward the end of the show is a direct rip-off from The Music Man. But it all clearly works, as the audience members around me were tearing up in the requisite places and were moved to a standing ovation, so it clearly connects to many. Although its Broadway run was very short, it did garner Tony nominations across the board, including a nomination for Best Musical, although you might wonder why after seeing it. I am probably not this show’s primary target market.

And now the but…Daniel Clair owns this show from the moment he appears. You’ll remember him as Huey Calhoun in last summer’s production of Memphis. Here he gets to expand his singing chops and wow, he presents a masterclass in musical theatrics. Its a shame that Cercone and Leight’s script lets him down (as it did the equally fine Raul Esparza on Broadway). His ability to sell a song be it a ballad or a rollicking spiritual-laced rock song is stellar. Throw in the equally vocally gifted Kyrie Bristle, and it is no surprise that their scenes alone and together are what make this musical truly slick.

Doug Miller’s set design is beautiful, and its cleanly lit by Tiff Crutchfield. Costumes, props and other technical values are up to Croswell’s usual best. Dave Rains musical direction is excellent — and his large orchestra sounds terrific. The sound design by Joe Gozdowski balances the (loud) orchestra with stage sound with a good mix.

Recommended.

Leap of Faith continues at Croswell Opera House through July 24th.Croswell.org or 517-264-SHOW for tickets.

A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On at Croswell’s “Million Dollar Quartet” (Review) May 15, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Croswell Opera House, Entertainment.
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You’d be hard-pressed not to think that the Broadway tour of Million Dollar Quartet has made a stop in Adrian, MI, because this production, launching the 2016 summer season at Croswell Opera House is that terrific.

Start with the remarkable set by Doug Miller. Upon entering the theater, you’re greeted by his car-part-shop-turned-studio set, and its gorgeous. Then the lights come up and the evening is filled with one remarkable song after another, as four talented gents and one uber-talented lady enact the night in 1956 that four of rock-and-roll’s highest profile stars all gathered at Sun Studios to jam (and later, there’s a real-life photo to prove it, which brings some surprising audience tears).

Jonathan Crayne gets the night rolling as Carl Perkins. Add in Phillip Baugh as Johnny Cash. Don’t leave out John Grieco as Jerry Lee Lewis, and top it off with Lawrence Havelka as Elvis Presley. Along for the ride is Presley’s girlfriend Dyanne (Tatiana Owens). The band is rounded out by Tim Prettyman on bass, and Keith Kemner on drums. Director Eric Parker plays Sam Phillips, Sun Records owner, who serves as narrator for the evening. And for anyone who thinks acting is a glamorous job — take into consideration the remarkable talent involved in not only singing, dancing, and acting your way through a show filled with non-stop songs but to actually play the instruments yourselves live on stage. Yes, its remarkable.

What follow are 23 exciting rock-and-roll songs, and a jam-packed megamix finale that will leave you clapping, cheering, and dancing along. (Literally — Jerry Lee Lewis comes into the audience to make sure you are standing and shakin’).

It is a fine fine night indeed — while some numbers rock a bit more than others — there isn’t a dull moment in the show, and you’ll find yourself fully absorbed in one of those “birth of rock and roll” iconic moments (much like last summer’s Memphis). Watch for Grieco’s spot-on Jerry Lee Lewis back-bending theatrics before evening’s end, Johnny Cash’s sultry bass singing, Elvis’s pre-icon swagger, and Perkins straight-out rock and roll. And you’ll leave the theater having not only been enormously entertained, but also having learned a bit about the whole process of early music making.

Credit also Tiff Crutchfield’s excellent lighting; Dave Rains super work as Music Director, Betsy Lackey’s wonderful costumes, and Joe Gozdowski’s exceptional sound design. Director Eric Parker keeps everything moving swiftly and looking utterly professional from top to bottom. Choreographer Meg McNamee gives everyone character-appropriate moves.

You’ll have your favorites — from singers to songs, but you won’t leave disappointed as Million Dollar Quartet rocks the Croswell Opera House.

My only complaint is the addition of an intermission. This show is written and meant to be performed straight through (it is only 100 minutes long) and in this instance the addition of an intermission is particularly glaring as it breaks the integrity of the show when lights simply go out on stage and come up in the house. Boo.  I hope a similarly egregious intermission does not occur in the intermissionless Drowsy Chaperone later this summer.

Highly Recommended.

Million Dollar Quartet continues at the Croswell Opera House, 129 E Maumee St, Adrian, MI through May 22nd. Tickets: croswell.org or 517-264-SHOW

 

 

 

 

 

Croswell Opera House – Million Dollar Quartet May 10, 2016

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One day in December 1956, four up-and-coming musicians met by chance at the Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tennessee.

Their names were Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. All four would go on to shape the face of rock ’n’ roll for an entire generation. And the story of that legendary jam session has been memorialized in a Tony Award-winning musical, “Million Dollar Quartet,” which opens May 13 at the Croswell Opera House in Adrian.

Lawrence Havelka of Chelsea, who was last seen at the Croswell in last summer’s “Big Fish,” plays Elvis. The role of Jerry Lee Lewis will be played by John Grieco, a New York-based actor and singer. Jonathan Crayne of Adrian will play Carl Perkins. And Johnny Cash will be played by Phil Baugh of Fort Collins, Colorado, whose past roles at the Croswell include “Walk the Line,” a musical based on the country singer’s life.

Eric Parker of Chicago, who is directing the show, will also play the role of Sun Records owner Sam Phillips. Tatiana Owens, a Toledo native who now lives in New York and starred in last summer’s production of “Memphis,” will play Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne. The singers will be backed by Keith Kemner of Adrian as Fluke, a studio drummer, and Tim Prettyman of Tecumseh as Jay Perkins, a bassist who is also Carl Perkins’ brother.

Rather than impersonate the stars with all of the trademark moves they developed later in life, Parker said the cast of “Million Dollar Quartet” will try to capture the energy and innocence of four young stars at the beginning of their careers.

“This just captures them as young guys — young Southern boys doing what they love to do,” he said. “They’re relatively innocent guys with the first blush of success on them.”

The show takes place in the Sun Records recording studio, and scenic designer Doug Miller has decorated the set to look like a postwar studio built in a converted auto parts store. Costumes by Betsy Lackey will complete the picture, bringing the audience back to the early days of rock ’n’ roll as the cast tears through many of the four stars’ greatest hits.

“Million Dollar Quartet” runs the weekends of May 13-15 and May 20-22, with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and Sunday performances at 2:30 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $35 and may be ordered online at croswell.org or by calling 517-264-7469.

The Croswell Opera House is at 129 E. Maumee St. in downtown Adrian. Because the front of the building is under construction, parking behind the theater is recommended.

If you go

  • What: “Million Dollar Quartet”
  • When: May 13-15 and May 20-22, with Friday and Saturday shows at 8 p.m. and Sunday shows at 2:30 p.m.
  • Where: Croswell Opera House, 129 E. Maumee St., Adrian
  • Tickets: $15 to $35
  • More info: croswell.org

Croswell Opera House announces 2015-2016 Special Events August 31, 2015

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A tribute to Cole Porter, a Motown-themed concert featuring singer Tatiana Owens, and several children’s events will be included in the Croswell Opera House’s 2015-16 Special Event Season, which begins in September.

Artistic director Jere Righter said the Special Event Season gives the Croswell a chance to put on a diverse mix of shows.

“People know us for our musicals, but we’re also starting to build a real following for our one-night concerts, our children’s events, and of course our plays,” Righter said. “I’m excited about the shows we’re planning. We have shows for all ages and tastes, and that’s a great way to let people know that the Croswell really has something for everyone.”

The Spectacular Saturday Series will return with several daytime events for children and families. Spectacular Saturday events will take place at 11 a.m. Oct. 17, Nov. 7, Dec. 5, Feb. 27 and April 9, with each show preceded by a craft or other activity starting at 10 a.m.

New additions this year will include three staged readings in the Croswell art gallery and a series of casual events, called Croswell After Hours, every Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m., starting Sept. 10.

“The Drawer Boy”: The Special Event Season will kick off with a staged reading of this play by Canadian writer Michael Healey. Set on a farm in Ontario, “The Drawer Boy” tells of the lives of two bachelor farmers from the viewpoint of a young actor from Toronto who visits their farm to interview them. The reading will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2, in the Croswell gallery. Tickets are not required, but donations will be accepted.

“The Velveteen Rabbit”: The first installment in the Spectacular Saturday Series, this retelling of the classic children’s story about a toy who wants to be real is presented by Bright Star Touring Theatre. The show is at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, with a craft activity starting at 10 a.m.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show”: The 1975 cult film will be screened at midnight Friday and Saturday, Oct. 30 and 31, with a preshow, including costume contest, starting at 11 p.m.

Aysenur Kolivar: The first artist-in-residence for the Arts Midwest World Fest, Turkish folksinger Aysenur Kolivar, will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, following a week of workshops and other cultural events throughout Lenawee County.

Disney’s “Frozen”: Back by popular demand, the Croswell will screen the animated hit “Frozen” at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 7. Last year’s showing included a photo opportunity with a real live Elsa, and this year her sister Anna will be joining in the fun.

Dueling Pianos: 176 Keys, which last performed at the Croswell in April 2014, will return for a special engagement at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20. A limited number of on-stage seats are available in addition to main floor seating.

“Handel’s Messiah Rocks”: The Croswell’s 2015 Christmas show will be a high-energy, rock-style adaptation of George Frideric Handel’s “The Messiah,” with school and church choirs from around the area being invited to take part in the production. The show will open the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and run for two weekends.

“The Story of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King”: Specially adapted for younger audiences, this reimagining of Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet will include lyrics and scenes acted out between musical numbers to allow young children to more easily follow the story. Performances will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 5; 6:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11; 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13.

“Red, Hot and Cole”: A tribute to the music of Cole Porter, “Red, Hot and Cole” will be the Croswell’s seventh annual all-area high school production. Featuring a talented cast of young people from Lenawee and surrounding counties and with new orchestrations by the Croswell’s Dave Rains, this musical traces Porter’s career from his roots in Indiana to the music halls and soundstages of Broadway and Hollywood. The show will run Jan. 23-24 and Jan. 29-31, with Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday shows at 2:30 p.m.

“Shrinking Violets and Towering Tiger Lilies”: A staged reading in the Croswell gallery, this show is a collection of seven short plays by Tina Howe about women navigating an array of distressing situations: a doctor’s appointment, a photo shoot, a water aerobics class. The reading will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5, in the Croswell gallery. Tickets are not required, but donations will be accepted.

“Spirit of Motown: Tatiana Owens in Concert”: Toledo-born singer-songwriter Tatiana Owens, who starred in this summer’s production of “Memphis,” returns from New York for a special one-weekend engagement, performing Motown and R&B hits from the ’50s, ’60s and beyond, plus a few of her own original songs. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14.

“Jackie Robinson”: Presented by Bright Star Touring Theatre, this show is part of the Spectacular Saturday Series and tells about the life of Jackie Robinson, one of the pioneering athletes who helped integrate professional sports. The show is at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 27.

“How I Became a Pirate”: This musical for young audiences, based on the book by Melinda Long, features a band of comical pirates enlisting a boy named Jeremy Jacob to join their crew. Songs include “Green Teeth,” “I’m Really Just a Sensitive Guy” and “Talk Like a Pirate.” Performances will run March 4-6 and March 11-13. The first weekend will have a 6:30 p.m. Friday show and 2:30 shows on Saturday and Sunday, with Saturday’s show being a sensory-friendly production for children with autism or sensory processing issues. The second weekend will have 6:30 p.m. shows Friday and Saturday and a 2:30 p.m. show Sunday. Additional performances for school groups will take place during the school day March 8 and 9.

Backstage Brews: Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with unique beer, cider and wines from Michigan and beyond at the Croswell’s second annual craft beer festival, starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 18.

“The Imaginary Invalid”: This three-act comedy by the 17th-century French playwright Molière will be the third installment in the Croswell’s series of staged readings. It will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 1, in the Croswell gallery. Tickets are not required, but donations will be accepted.

“The Lego Movie”: This 2014 animated adventure will be the final installment in this year’s Spectacular Saturday Series. The movie will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 9, with activities before the movie starting at 10 a.m.

Baladino: The 2015-16 Special Event Series will wrap up with the second of four Arts Midwest World Fest performances. The spring 2016 artists-in-residence will be the Israeli ensemble Baladino. The group will present several workshops and other cultural activities throughout the county, followed by a public performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16.

End-of-season concert: A rock concert on Saturday, April 23, will close out the season and celebrate the upcoming 2016 Summer Broadway Season, with details to be announced.

The schedule for Croswell After Hours events, which will include trivia nights, singalongs and various types of light entertainment, will be posted at croswell.org/afterhours.

Tickets for the Special Event Season will go on sale Sept. 16, except for “Handel’s Messiah Rocks,” which is already on sale.

To buy tickets or for more information about any Croswell production, call 517-264-7469 or go to croswell.org.