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Avenue A Capella Auditions January 16, 2017

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Caught up in the acapella craze yet? Well if you are a vocalist and you like acapella music, here’s your chance! Wyandotte’s Downriver Actors Guild has a terrific group now going on its second season called Avenue A Capella and they are holding replacement auditions on February 12th beginning at 6:00 pm. The group recently presented a very professional full-concert production in November and also contributed to DAG’s holiday show in December.

While a-capella music groups have been around through the ages (singing without instrumental accompaniment), their recent popularity has been buoyed by the movies Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2, the Broadway musical In Transit, and frequent use of a-capella sequences on Glee.

To audition, send an email to melaniemdspartans@gmail.com — she’ll set up an appointment time for you. Join the fun, learn some new vocal skills, or use yours to contribute to a great group of singers. I had the pleasure of attending their concert back in November and had a blast. While still a young group, they already had the sound of a much more experienced ensemble. Give credit to musical director Melanie Aue and her experience singing a-capella at Michigan State University, a skill which is readily apparent in her work with Avenue A Capella.

 

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

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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

 

 

 

 

 

AACT’s “Company” is solid, entertaining (review) January 8, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals.
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Love it or hate it, Sondheim and Furth’s musical “Company” makes a solid and entertaining appearance at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre this weekend. Tinkered with more than any other of Sondheim’s shows, the current version of the script isn’t necessarily the best, but it is what MTI has chosen to license. Ann Arbor Civic Theater takes some liberties with it that further water-down the central dilemma, but its nothing if not entertaining.

I am not going to review the script — you either know it, or don’t. There isn’t much to it — diverse vignettes tying together a loose story of a guy not sure why all his married friends want him to couple up as well. Back in 1972 when originally written, it had some resonance with upscale New Yorkers who attend musical theater (even then the reviews were not all positive). As rewritten more recently, with our changing sexual mores and gender fluidity, the question really is no longer why is he not coupled-up, but why would he want to be?

There are some truly terrific cast members in director Rachel Francisco’s production. Some have mighty voices (Robert Griswold as Bobby, Trisha Fountain as Jenny, Amy Bogetto-Weinraub as Joanne). Others have mighty acting skills (Nick Boyer as Peter, Marci Rosenberg as Amy). Rounding out the strong ensemble cast are Jodi-Renee Giron as Sarah, Paul Clark as Harry, Madison Merlanti as Susan, James Christie as David, Amanda Bynum as “Paula”, Matt Steward as Larry, Kate Papachristou as as Marta, Kimberly Elliott as April, and Chris Joseph as “Kevin”.

Jennifer Goltz has done her usual excellent work as musical director, and the 4-piece jazz-infused orchestra sounds both larger than it is, and provides lovely music throughout.

Some of the pacing is too slow. Long scenes (the show is very talky) seem dragged out at times even longer than they need to be. The opening number (Company) felt like it was twice as slow as written, and that leads to a less-than-energized opening sequence (which gets much better as the show goes along). Some might call the slower pace leisurely and contemplative — though I am not sure those are qualities that make a production of “Company” soar. At times too much of the staging faces the center section at the expense of house right and left audience seeing backs and sides.

There are fun surprises in the show – and I won’t even begin to describe what Nick Boyer does with a beer bottle.

All in all, it is a very entertaining (though slowish) evening. Recommended.

Company continues at the Arthur Miller Theatre on University of Michigan’s North Campus through Sunday January 10th. Tickets at a2ct.org or at the door.

 

 

How I select musicals to direct (Musical Theater class 201) July 31, 2015

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Awhile back, someone asked me how I pick musicals that I would like to direct. I promised I would do a follow up to my post on good shows for large venues vs small venues with a personal selection article — so here it finally is. And its timely as I am doing just that for a local theater for next season.

I’m looking at a proposal right now for the 2016 season, the 47th musical I would be directing. This proposal will be to a large well-established community theater with virtually no budget for their productions but a huge warehouse of stock in props, costumes, and generic set pieces (platforms and flats). This company also has a wealth of tremendous talent, not just locally, but when the show is right for the zeitgeist will attract great performers from a 25-30 mile radius. The strength here is the actors, not the scenic aspects.

From a personal background, I love big song and dance shows (the more tap the better), but I also like new works and I feel its important to bring some of these newer shows to the local audience — while some here might have seen the show in NYC, or on tour, it is more likely that the majority of our audiences will not have seen the show, though might have heard about it or seen it on the Tony Awards on tv. Hence, I’ve brought musicals like Next to Normal, Steel Pier, Bonnie & Clyde, The Wedding Singer, My Favorite Year to different theaters over the years.

VENUE:

The first thing you need to be aware of is the venue that the production will be performed in. Is it a black box? Is it a proscenium theater? Does it have a large stage, or a small one? Is there backstage storage space? Is there a fly system? If it has a fly system, is it a full fly-system or merely an access fly system? Where are the entrances and exits to the stage? Are there stairs? Are the theater aisles usable? What type of floor does the venue have?

EXISTING STOCK:

What does the theater own? Do they have a lot of costumes? Set pieces? Or do they have very minimal stock (meaning everything would have to be built from scratch) Do they have a lot of props? Or does everything need to be collected from scratch? Do things need to be rented? Does it need rental drops? Is there a budget for drops (they run 350.00 a drop or more for one week). Does the theater already own some pieces that can be incorporated?  How intensive is the set — how much building will it require? How easily can it be set up, moved, loaded, unloaded ,broken down? How many people do you have on your staff?

SHOW REQUIREMENTS:

Are there specific needs for your show that you feel are vital, or form the essence of the show? If you are doing a production of Bonnie & Clyde you need some resemblance of a ’34 Ford Roadster or you shouldn’t be doing it, its that vital to the show. Same with Shrek — how are you going to do that dragon? Or Miss Saigon — that helicopter scene. Or Les Miserables — that barricade. How costume intensive is the show? Thoroughly Modern Millie is going to cost you a lot more for costumes than Next to Normal. You need puppets for Avenue Q and Carnival.

SET AND COSTUME SHOWS;

Be aware that some shows were specifically designed to be set and costume shows — if you do not have the budget for sets and costumes stay away from shows like My Fair Lady, Hello Dolly, Camelot. In general, most (though not all) of the older “classic” musicals of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s are set-and-costume shows. Audiences at that time expected large gorgeous sets and many costume changes. Most of these shows were period, so modern dress doesn’t cut it. It wasn’t until Cabaret came around that producers started to think out of the box and the “look” of shows started to change somewhat.

AUDITIONERS:

Who will be auditioning for your show? Do you have a large pool to draw from? Is it limited? Is it mostly women with a handful of guys (sometimes husbands/boyfriends with limited talent but willing to be drafted? That gives you bodies, but no support). Or do you draw from the best of the best? The larger your pool, the more interesting shows you can present. There are many musicals that are written for a large male cast with a handful of women — this opens up some of those options, otherwise stay away from them. Shenandoah has 18 men and 2 women with 4 chorus women that sing one song. Kiss of the Spider Woman has 18 men and 4 women. LaCage aux Folles has 20 Men and 6 women. Camelot has one female lead with a chorus where women do virtually nothing. Bonnie & Clyde has three female roles and 3 chorus roles, but also needs 12 men.

ORCHESTRA:

What size orchestra can your venue accommodate? What are the show’s orchestra requirements? What’s your orchestra budget? Where will the orchestra be located? Is it onstage, in a pit, offstage right, offstage left, an aisle or vestibule inside the house? When I did shows in Ohio, the orchestras were local volunteers and/or existing groups. Here in Michigan every single orchestra member expects to be paid, even in community theater orchestras. (Ironically, they are the only paid members of virtually any community production in Michigan, but that’s the nature of the beast here — and that’s a discussion for a different post.)

LIGHTING AND SOUND NEEDS:

The larger your orchestra, the more mics become a requirement. Did you know that every show written post 1975 was written to be mixed on a sound-board on Broadway? That means every single actor was on a body (or standing) mic, and every orchestra member is on a mic, and that the sound technician “mixes” this sound at the booth so that the audience hears a well balanced vocal and music. It sounds like your cast recording. Before that, orchestra parts were written to drop in volume while vocalists sing — they were even orchestrated differently…strings and woodwinds accompanying the singers, while brass would pop in during non-singing portions and dance breaks.  Do NOT plan a musical that has large sound requirements if you do not have microphones and a decent sound mixer.  Lighting plays an important role in many shows — you can’t do the finale of The Full Monty if you don’t have spot-on lighting effects. What is your equipment? Do you need to rent anything? Do you have follow spots if the show requires follow spots? Do you have a lighting technician that understands how to light the space you are renting or using? Do you need special gobos? If using programable/movable cyberlighting, do you have time to program them for your show in the limited time available? If you rent a star curtain, do you know how to get it to work and plug it into your dimmers and computer system?

SOMETHING NEW: PROJECTIONS:

Many current day musicals incorporate projections as their set design — these requirements can range from minimal to substantial. Woman in White used 100% projected scenic images on stage-wide television screens. Big Fish used projections for all of its special effects, which are plentiful. Projections are also vital in Smile, Bonnie & Clyde, Chess, Carrie, Tommy, or any other musical that has visual needs similar to those.

YOUR AUDIENCE:

I’m going to be perfectly honest that the one thing I do not consider in selecting a show is an audience, that is IF the show is a proven show. Audiences don’t always want to see the same old thing, and if you have a great production of a lesser known show, word of mouth and reviews will sell your tickets. Some theaters do not have that luxury. If all you have is local church-goers in your church-basement theater, then you can’t do shows that don’t appeal to that audience. The particular theater company I am currently preparing my proposal for has a longtime audience base, but also has many new audiences members per show, depending on interest in the show itself. The subscribers have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly for decades, so they are the least of my considerations. This theater desperately needs to attract new audience members — people who might come back again, donate a few bucks, or even audition or participate themselves down the road.

CURRENT TRENDS:

Keep in mind a few current audience trends…people no longer purchase “season tickets” for the most part — they purchase individual shows for those they are interested in…reputation counts: if a theater presents a show that has high set-and-costume requirements and your audience knows that your theater is incapable of presenting high set-and-costume shows, they will not attend…younger actors (in the 18-25 range) are more likely to understand dance than any other group before — they grew up on shows like High School Musical and watched Glee on tv, and are less inhibited when it comes to dancing, because they did so in their high schools, in choir, and with their friends. Contrast this to the generation directly older than that (the late 20-s to late 30’s) where dancing was not a large part of their upbringing…tap is no longer in vogue — you’ll find fewer and fewer folks who studied tap in their high schools or college. You’ll find a few really good tappers, and lots of non-tappers. If you have guys in their 20’s who know how to tap, you will find they get cast in virtually every musical they audition for because I consider them the “golden few”.  If you plan to do a musical like My One and Only or 42nd Street, you better make sure you have enough adult tappers because there are no teenage or kids roles in either one.

POLITICS:

Every single theater has politics. I haven’t found one that does not. This ranges from interference from board or staff as to who should be cast in particular parts, to micromanagement of who should get a solo and who should not. I’ve experienced producers insisting intermissions are added to shows that don’t have intermissions so that concessions can be sold.  I’ve personally been pretty lucky, as journeyman director, that I can cast whom I want and do what I want, and/or to not work for a company again down the road if I don’t want to. But there have been plenty of actors and actresses who have decided I am persona-non-grata after not casting them for one reason or another.  You need to have a tough skin if you are a director.

WHAT ARE THE OTHER LOCAL THEATRES DOING:

Believe it or not, audiences for shows DO cross over — if your local university does Addams Family, and you do Addams Family, and the next suburb over does Addams Family, pretty soon the trickle effect comes into play and the 4th theater that also does Addams Family is facing the law of diminishing returns — your audiences have seen it. Don’t schedule the same shows everyone else is doing. Shows that currently fall into this category are (Addams Family), Legally Blonde, Spamalot, Les Miserables, and Into the Woods. Shows that have traditionally been done to death are Grease, Guys and Dolls, and Annie.

SHOWS THAT HAVE BEEN IMPROVED OR KILLED BY MOVIES:

Right now, Les Miserables, Chicago, and Into the Woods are overdone and it doesn’t help that their movies were so popular. Just because Meryl Streep did it doesn’t mean you should do it. The opposite also occurs — the movie version of Nine was so terrible that audiences would not at all benefit from having this show done right now. Its a shame because it is one of my favorite musicals ever.  Be extra careful with musicals that have great DVD’s available. In addition to the aforementioned, both the tv versions of The Sound of Music and Peter Pan are on DVD. Legally Blonde was shown four times a week for three months on MTV. Memphis has a HD recording of the original Broadway production. Don’t stay away from these shows, but beware that audiences will have concrete expectations of what they have seen  (sometimes dozens of times) and what they expect from your production.

MARKETING:

Another consideration is marketing opportunities. Is there a community organization that you can buddy-up with? Is there a local retail store that would love to donate some clothes in exchange for free publicity and maybe a sponsorship? (A great way to get those black and white costumes for the women in Nine by the way).  Does your community have a lot of banks? Would they be willing to place ads to support Bonnie and Clyde? Think about the opportunities you have out there.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER:

So, remember that theater proposal that I am putting together? What am I finally going to propose? Well I’m not sure yet, but here is the general idea and the thinking behind each. Which will I finally propose? You’ll have to come back later to find out.

Proposal A) A recent modern musical that has the orchestra on stage, a unit set with ramps and staircases, and moderate costuming and projection needs. Its a story that is fun and audiences have not seen this show in Ann Arbor. Its a very heavy song and dance show. The talent certainly exists to cast this show easily. What’s the main concern? It needs a really strong college-age male lead that can sing tenor. But with a half-dozen universities within a 30 mile radius, I’m not worried about casting.

Proposal B) A standard from the mid-70’s that has minimal set requirements, minimal costume requirements, and was a show that every single theater used to do ad nauseum but hasn’t been seen on an Ann Arbor stage ever. The downside? It has 18 men and 6 women, and only 2 of those women have parts. Plus side – audiences love it and its a throwback to older more audience accessible musicals. Its also in my top 5 favorite musical list and I have directed it before.

Proposal C) A modern classic musical — that is, one that was newly rewritten for the stage a decade ago, but uses an original 40’s story as its script and score. Its heavily dance oriented, but has moderate set needs that can be pared down to minimal, especially if projections and drops are added. The downside? It runs 2:45 minutes, and for me, that’s a long long show. And its kinda old fashioned with a limited emotional payout for that length of show.

Proposal D) A recent Tony winner for revival of a musical, it has multiple great roles for cast members, and has name recognition. This particular theater did this show 23 years ago so its high time for a revival. It has minimal set needs, but heavy costume and vocal needs. The downside? It has no ensemble, so it has a specific and limited cast size.

So what do YOU choose?…Stay tuned. And happy musical theatering!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream…Michigan Shakespeare Festival 2015 Off to a Great Start July 12, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Michigan, Shakespeare, Theatre.
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Okay, truth be told, I should not review shows at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, since I am the Vice Chair on the Board of Directors of the MSF. But that doesn’t mean I can’t tell you about it anyway. And its my blog. So if it happens to be a great production I can mention that, right? And not having had a hand in any aspect of the production (in fact, I saw it for the first time last night), I have some thoughts…

The MSF 2015 season opened with a rousing production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream last night. Swiftly and expertly directed by MSF Artistic Director Janice Blixt, the production times in at 2.5 hours with the intermission, and there’s a terrifically talented cast onstage.

Shawn Pfautsch is back! And he plays an impish and athletic Puck — another amazing role for him (some will recall he played Hamlet last summer for MSF). He effortlessly delivers his lines while romping around the forest-set, and he’s hilarious to boot. But its expertly crafted — watch one of his exits in which an invisible force pulls him offstage by one leg for example.

AMND is one of my personal Shakespearean favorites — not because its his most interesting, or funniest, or even most creative…but because it really is a showcase for actors and wide-open to the interpretation of directors. Everything in this production looks great, and the acting can’t be beat.

There are some lovely pairings here — David Blixt and Janet Haley as Oberon and Titania…Lydia Hiller and Brandon St Clair Saunders as Hermia and Lysander…and Laurel Schroeder and Milan Malisic as Helena and Demetrius.

The Rude Mechanicals are humorously played by Alan Ball (Bottom), David Turrentine, Dan Wilson, Edmund Alyn Jones, Eric Eilersen and Andy Head.

Matthew Fahey, Annie Keris, Daniel Helmer, Rick Eva, Sarah Pidgeon and Evelyn Blixt round out the wonderful cast. The well-known dialogue comes trippingly off the tongue across the board, and as usual at MSF the action is staged cleanly and it is all easy to follow, even for Shakespeare newbies.

It all looks and sounds great on Jeremy Hopgood’s set, with Renae Skoog’s costumes, Diana Fairchild’s lighting, and Kate Hopgood’s sound design and musical composition.

Its a great way to get the MSF season of too a terrific start — Henry IV (both parts) and Sheriden’s The Rivals follow with openings next weekend. All three productions move to the Village Theater on Cherry Hill in Canton two weeks from now.

MichiganShakespeareFestival.com for tickets. In repertory through August 16th.

Michigan Shakespeare Festival 2015 — Ready to go! June 15, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Detroit, Entertainment, Michigan, Shakespeare, Theatre, Travel.
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Hello fellow Shakespeare lovers! You know me as the owner/reviewer of my blog — A2View.com…but I wear other hats as well…I own and work as a neuropsychologist at BrainTrainers Brain Injury Day Program…I direct (coming up: Bonnie & Clyde for Encore Musical Theatre Company)…I perform (this summer as Mr. Simmons in Memphis the musical at Croswell Opera House)…

But today I am writing as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for the Michigan Shakespeare Festival.

When I first moved to Michigan from NYC, I came across this small outdoor theatre festival in Jackson, Michigan that performed outstanding Shakespeare productions in the park — and from the first show I saw I was hooked. The Festival has since grown tremendously in scope and nature, has for many years been located indoors in state-of-the-art, air-conditioned, bug-free splendor, and has continued to present remarkable theatre for five weeks every summer.

This year, the Festival is expanding to include three weeks in Canton, MI as well! We know that many of our audience members travel to Jackson from the SE Michigan area, and now we are pleased to be in our own backyard, centrally located in Canton. We don’t ever plan to leave Jackson, but its an exciting expansion into Wayne county which is more convenient for Detroiters and Ann Arborites.

The Michigan Shakespeare Festival is a professional Actors Equity Association-LORT theatre festival, featuring all-professional actors, artistic staff, and technicians. Everyone gets paid a living wage — except for us Board Members of course.

Because the Festival maintains high artistic professional standards that result in top quality productions utilizing artists of the highest caliber, it is no wonder that the company is the most award-winning theatre in the state, garnering not only local but national acclaim. Reviews called last season’s productions “Outstanding” (MLive), “You may never again see this play done so well” (Encore Michigan),  “Remarkably relevant” (Examiner), “Four out of Four stars” (Detroit Free Press), and “Exquisite…gorgeous…perfect” (Jackson Citizen Patriot).  BroadwayWorld named last season’s production of Hamlet the Best Shakespearean Production of 2014.

The Michigan Shakespeare Festival has also been named the “Official Shakespeare Festival” by the State of Michigan.

If you have never attended — you should. Its kind of a big deal. Come see why the shows win all those Wilde Awards every year. If you have, then you already know that the festival regularly gets visitors from all over Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Chicago, and Canada…its destination theater year after year.

This July 9- August 16, 2015 the Festival will offer William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and both parts of Henry IV, along with Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals, at both venues — in Jackson and in Canton. Tickets are now on-sale.

Jackson performances are July 9 – 19 at Jackson College in the Boughman Theatre…and Canton performances are July 29 – August 16 at Village Theatre…the complete schedule for every night is at michiganshakespearefestival.com

Tickets are available at all sorts of price points — with special reduced preview performances, and other deals. Group sales are also available.

But as you know, (and this that part of the post where owning your own blog comes in handy once a year), ticket sales make up a very small proportion of the monies required to keep a professional theater company up and running. We depend on our sponsors, theatre patrons, and you to make it all happen summer after summer. We’re not talking outdoor-theatre-in-the-park anymore —- we’re talking something that rivals every other professional Shakespeare Festival company nationwide (and that other big festival in Ontario).

If you can, won’t you please take a moment to remember the Michigan Shakespeare Festival with a donation or sponsorship? It’s easy. Just make out a check to the Michigan Shakespeare Festival and mail it to the address below, or call the phone number, or donate online. There are all sorts of sponsorship packages available — from program ads to sponsoring almost every aspect of the shows and festival itself. What a great way to get your name affiliated with something pretty cool and hip. I’m proud to say that my company BrainTrainers is a sponsor of the Festival as well.

We’ll thank you, we’ll applaud you, we’ll salute you with another season of awesome Shakespeare. And you’ll know that you made the difference.

Thanks in advance — hope to see you at our shows this summer!

Ronald P. Baumanis

MSF Board of Directors, Vice Chair

The Michigan Shakespeare Festival

215 W. Michigan Ave.

Jackson, MI 49201

517-998-3673

www.MichiganShakespeareFestival.com

Encore’s “South Pacific” Steps it up a Notch (Review) June 5, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals.
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Of all the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, The Sound of Music and South Pacific are my favorites. The former is as fresh as the day it was written. The latter has seen better days. But there is no doubting that Encore Musical Theatre Company’s production (seen in preview) is beautiful and well-done…in fact, it steps up the quality of larger-scale shows at Encore by not just one, but many notches.

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Nellie Forbush goes about meeting Emile, crowing about it in song, then washing him out of her hair, then falling for him, then breaking up, then waiting for him to return from a secret mission…and well, that is about the gist of it.

Marlene Inman is an excellent Nellie, who with her classical vocal training matches Stephen West’s Emile throughout the evening without ever becoming overshadowed by him. Whether she is singing about being a cockeyed optimist, or joyously expounding that she’s in love with a wonderful guy, Marlene is a wonder.

Stephen West plays Emile de Becque pretty much as you would expect — proud ex-Frenchman, honest to a fault, and a little off his head in love. His voice soars in the intimate Encore space.

Bloody Mary is played by a very fine Gayle Martin. Her performance is spot-on perfect. Matthew Brennen is simply marvelous as Luther Billis — in song, dance, and acting — its a great performance from a terrific performer. He had the sold-out preview audience eating out of his hand.

Dashing Lt Joseph Cable is played by Sebastian Gerstner in a straight-forward honest performance, and Liat is well performed by Teola Lutsker. That their love story is left to languish can be blamed on writers Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan who had no idea that the catalyst of a relationship 70 years down the road will not be “marry or face a bleak future” — the same can be said of Emile and Nellie of course, and it is.

The entire supporting cast is excellent — though multiple times in the show, it cries out for a much much larger ensemble. The troup deployment at the end is particularly weak with such a small cast. It looks a bit more like they are heading off to some R&R rather than facing war on the next island over…But that is a minor point here — the cast is well utilized, and both the men and the women deliver in song and acting. There isn’t a weak cast member in the bunch.

Daniel C Walker’s set is functional and colorful — moreso than many past Encore endeavors, and I solute that!…a bright sunny island setting, and a moody colorful Bali Ha’i make for a happy me. I am certain that the one unfortunate cloud in the background will be repainted before tonight.

Matthew Brennan’s choreography works well without ever feeling forced, and Sharon Larkey Urick’s costumes are period-gorgeous. The 7-piece orchestra sounds superb, and the sound design for the show is terrific. (The show was musically directed by R MacKenzie Lewis, and Brian Rose serves as conductor).

Director Carla Milarch keeps everything rolling along on schedule…Act I with it’s song after song…Act II with it’s war-story and no original songs for the last 40 minutes (another 70-year old criticism of the show). It all plays out as expected, and histrionics are kept to a minimum (which is great, cause I’ve seen plenty of productions of South Pacific ruined by screaming Liat’s and overwrought military personnel). She uses a gentle touch here, and it works well in the intimate space. The show is long and clocks in at 2:45 with intermission, though that was standard for the day when written.

The sole letdown is not the production, nor the cast, nor the beautiful things going on here — its just that the world has changed so much that what happens on stage in this story just doesn’t “matter” anymore — it has a dated script that insists that love and marriage are vital, and without marriage a woman is nothing and alone in the world. I think we all know that isn’t true now — as it wasn’t then — but there it is. And that basic storyline is very exposed when its 9 feet away from the audience. The show’s political message (look quickly, it comes and goes in a 1-minute-40-second song in act II “You’ve Got to be carefully taught”) is handled adeptly here, but the message barely resonates. (The song was so controversial in the 50’s that it caused a national debate about what songs are appropriate for the theatre stage). The story of interracial marriage is dated, especially as it drives the entire storyline and was the entire raison d’etre for the musical in the first place.

Still, this is an excellent production of South Pacific and you should make efforts to see it. Nostalgia for us oldsters…something new for the youngsters, even if it no longer carries much emotional heft…and beautiful performances all around make for the best “large scale” musical in Encore’s history to date.

South Pacific continues through July 3 and tickets are selling very very fast. Get yours now before the performance you want is sold out. TheEncoretheatre.org or 734-268-6200

 

 

 

Amazing Jeremy Jordan at Dexter’s Encore Musical Theatre Company (Event Review) February 28, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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The Encore Musical Theatre Company has never looked as spiffed-up as it did last night at the spectacular fundraiser featuring Jeremy Jordan. In all honesty, I can not start this review without stating the deep pride I feel for Encore’s Founders, Board of Directors, Employees, Staff, and Volunteers. What occurred last night was more than just your typical fund-raiser — it was an earthquake shaking the theatre from one phase to the next — and it is well-deserved.

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Jeremy performed two concerts, one at 6, and one at 8. I attended the latter. The event started with a welcome from the company’s Board President Jamie Mistry and Development Director Chuck Colby, and then co-founder Dan Cooney performed two wonderful warm-up numbers, featuring a particularly exquisite “The Mason” from Working.

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Then Dan and Jeremy fought over the mic:

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Ha! Just Kidding! There was no fighting involved…

What followed was 70 minutes of exquisite vocal work by one of Broadway’s most charming young actors — and he delivered musically, interpersonally, and professionally. Afterwards The Encore presented him with what I thought was a diamond of a thank-you present: a Detroit-made-and-designed watch from Shinola.

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His performance-set highlighted his most well-known work: opening with West Side Story’s “Something’s Coming”, he followed with songs from The Last 5 Years (“Movin’ Too Fast” and “If I Didn’t Believe in You”), Smash (“Broadway Here I Come”), Bonnie & Clyde (“Bonnie”), and Newsies (“Santa Fe”). Interspersed were three of his own songs, for which he accompanied himself on guitar, a fine jazzy interpretation of “Losing My Mind” from Follies, and a lovely mash-up of The Wizard of Oz/The Wiz’s “Over the Rainbow”/’Home”.

Tyler Driskill provided remarkable piano accompaniment. Bravo!

I have seen Jeremy appear onstage in Newsies and Bonnie & Clyde, but nothing prepared me for the vocal finesse and range he displayed in this intimate concert setting — he’s earned accolades from coast to coast, and for his concert at 54 Below in NYC. What the audiences had was the rare opportunity to see one of the hottest rising stars on stage and screen in an intimate 100-seat environment where his charisma simply overwhelmed. I mean, honestly, I sat 11 feet away from him during the concert and the audience got to talk to him after the show — something even New Yorkers will never have the chance to do.

Oh, Fellow Directors: there is nothing like the thrill of hearing Jeremy Jordan announce the next show you are directing from the stage. Thank you for that soft introduction of Bonnie & Clyde to kick off Encore’s new season, Jeremy!

But this is a night where not only Jeremy shined brightly – but so did the entire Encore family — people felt welcomed, a part of something very very special, and something that ranks up there among the once-in-a-lifetime type things you are bound to experience — right here at home in our backyard.

A champagne toast followed the concert (juice for the underage set), and it was a well-deserved toast indeed. Kudos to your work last night. Kudos to this special evening. And Kudos to the coming season for a little theatre that is shining brightly in the world of musical theater.

“Guys on Ice” at Encore is funny, quirky, and has heart January 30, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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If your favorite shows are “Oklahoma” and “Brigadoon” you are probably not the target market for Guys on Ice, the current offering at Encore Musical Theatre Company — but for the rest of us, it is funny, quirky, and sometimes shows heart.

A huge hit throughout Wisconsin theatres, and even with some previous local productions here in Michigan, the show is a series of jokes and songs about ice fishing, living in the frozen north (hey, we can relate to that here in Michigan , right?) and relationships — all loosely tied together when Marvin (Tim Brayman) gets a call from a local tv fishing show host who wants to visit his shack. Quickly calling on his best friend Lloyd (a terrific Peter John Riopelle) the two set off for a day of ice fishing, talking, joking, and story-telling — all while trying to avoid the local pest Ernie the Moocher (hilarious Keith Kalinowski).

The entire show feels a bit like you are watching public access television (remember Garth and Wayne on Wayne’s World on SNL?) and that is part of the fun of the piece. It never takes itself too seriously, and it balances laugh out loud moments and total groaners with aplomb.

There isn’t a single hummable tune except for Lloyd’s ballad “Everything is New”, but the focus here isn’t on the music — its on the lyrics and the jokes contained therein — some of the oddest rhyme schemes you are bound to hear in many a long year…though by the time you get to the “halftime show” and its “Leinie’s is the best beer” number, you have either gone along for the ride or you are sitting dumbfounded by what you are watching. If you are in the latter category, you can win a Leinie by answering some astoundingly easy halftime questions!

There is also a strong familiarity with many of the scenarios…you kind of find yourself thinking things like “I remember my grandfather talking about that”, or “my uncle does this every weekend in Milwaukee”. That commonality will ring true for just about anyone having grown up in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, or Ohio.

It is hard to define the target market for this musical: it doesn’t really call to your typical musical audience — it is a bit too tame for a guys night out, and it is a bit too odd for a ladies night out…and yet neither group should avoid getting tickets for Guys on Ice — you’ll find yourself laughing, and clapping, and groaning…and you could do far worse on an icy cold winter night in Michigan…then head over to Aubree’s after the show for a pizza and a Leinie!….(note: I have no idea if Aubree’s actually carries Leinenkugel, it just, um, sounded good)…

Recommended. Seen at final preview on 1/29/15.

Guys on Ice continues at the Encore Musical Theatre Company, 3126 Broad Street, Dexter, MI through February 22nd — theencoretheatre.org or 734-268-6200 for tickets.

Come “Home For the Holidays” – The Dio – review November 29, 2014

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals.
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Its Baaa-ck!……

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Home for the Holidays, the original Christmas musical written by Steve DeBruyne and Matthew Tomich and featuring a solid cast of 13 returns for its third holiday season at the Dio, the second in its permanent home in Pinckney.

I’ve reviewed the show before, so you can check that out with a quick search here. This year’s incarnation has a few minor touchups, yet retains the loving goofiness of a theatre troup performing a holiday-eve show while it’s diva leading lady decides not to perform because her soldier husband can’t get home for Christmas (with strong singing performances by Thalia Schramm and Peter Crist); it’s leading male is grumpy and grouchy for reasons explained later in the proceedings (Steve DeBruyne, winning as always), and it’s supporting male lead has visible nerves and shakes (a terrific Jared Schneider). Draaaama unfolds, and magic takes place thanks to Santa, and well, that’s enough.

Forget the story — its the framing device for a delightful holiday-music filled show with singing, dancing, humor, and a Santa-approved ending. Even the hilarious “Christmas Star” would agree — right, Elizabeth Jaffe?   Filled with songs ranging the gamut from The Polar Express’s “Believe” to more traditional fare (“I’ll be Home for Christmas”), the pop-rock-country flavor keeps everything moving along under the musical direction of Beth Wondolowski and her three-piece combo, which also includes Leer Sobie and Mary Elizabeth Dee.

The cast also includes Cara Manor, Jim Moll, Mary Jo Del Vero, Anne Bauman, Kristin Reeves, Sarah Brown, Ayla Eichenhofer, and at alternating performances Dominc Ignagni and Gavin Burwell. And for the price of admission, you also get a delicious hearty dinner, prepared by Chef Jarod. You can’t go wrong with an evening at the Dio during the holidays — but book early — this has become an annual holiday treat for families and companies alike during the season.

Directed by Steve DeBruyne, Choreographed by Michelle Marzejon, Lighting, Sound, and Set Design by Matthew Tomich, Costume Design by Norma Polk, Props by Eileen Obradovich.

Home for the Holidays continues through December 31st at the Dio – 177 E Main St, Pinckney, MI Tickets at diotheatre.com or 517-672-6009