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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

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

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Broadway Tour, Detroit, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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This is another in a series of guest reviews, this week written by Wendy Wright who has a unique professional vantage point of viewing the tour of the Broadway musical “Motown.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Reasons you need to get to the Michigan Shakespeare Festival this summer August 9, 2014

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Michigan, Shakespeare, Theatre.
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With only a couple weekends left, it has come to my attention that some of you have yet to get out to the Michigan Shakespeare Festival this summer…so what are you waiting for? Here are the top 10 reasons you should get out there now, before its over for another season….

1. Shawn Pfautsch in Hamlet

2. Shawn Pfautsch in Hamlet

3. Shawn Pfautsch in Hamlet

4. The superb sparring partners in The Importance of Being Earnest — Joe Lehman and David Blixt are both hilarious, as are Lydia Hiller and Rachel Hull who exude their own merry camaraderie

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5. Cymbeline — the rarely produced dramedy is like finding a twenty dollar bill in your pants pocket — you’ve probably never seen it before, and you might not see it again anytime soon…so see it now because it is a magical colorful production.

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6. The strong direction of Janice Blixt and Robert Kauzlaric. These folks know what they are doing, and you’ll appreciate the very well edited and clearly focused productions.

7. Its inside!! I can’t believe people still think the Michigan Shakespeare Festival is outside — its not. And its been indoors at Jackson College (nee Jackson Community College) for the past decade…in sumptuous air conditioned bug-free splendor…and next summer it adds three weeks in Canton! So if you are thinking that an evening at the MSF means sitting in a bug-filled Ella Sharp park, then you have waited far too long to go see a show there.

8. MSF is LOA/LORT professional theater — and the quality is superb…and they have Wednesday matinees!!!

9. To count the number of cucumber sandwiches, muffins, and breads that David Blixt consumes over the course of Earnest…and to watch Joe Lehman laugh at him because he doesn’t have to.

10. Because it rivals the Stratford Festival in quality and variety and every season gets stronger and stronger — and its right here in your backyard. I’ve been attending shows at MSF for almost twenty years, and they get better and better each season — they’ve long surpassed my minimal expectations and quite frequently surpass my most stringent expectations.

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Presented in Repertoire, you still have the chance to catch:

Saturday Aug 9  – 2:00 Hamlet — 7:30  The Importance of Being Earnest

Sunday Aug 10 –  2:00 Hamlet

Wednesday Aug 13 – 2:00 Hamlet

Thursday Aug 14 – 7:30 Cymbeline

Friday Aug 15 – 7:30 The Importance of Being Earnest (closing)

Saturday Aug 16 – 2:00 Cymbeline (closing) and 7:30 Hamlet

Sunday Aug 17 – 2:00 Hamlet (closing)

Get tickets at http://www.michiganshakespearefestival.com

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

It’s baa-aack…Forever Plaid at the Dio (Review 2014)…and its delicious August 1, 2014

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Last summer, The Dio made a big opening splash with its production of Forever Plaid…well, its back this summer in a spiffed-up production featuring those lovable dead guys, The Plaids…and its as delicious as ever.

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Returning from last summer are Steve DeBruyne (Frankie a.k.a. Francis) and Thomas Mate (Smudge a.k.a. Smudge). Joining them are Cody Musteffe (Sparky) and Jared Schneider (Jinx). Since most of the production is intact from last summer, you can read that review here:

https://a2view.com/2013/07/13/forever-plaid-gets-dio-theater-off-to-a-terrific-start-in-new-home-

This year’s version features a particularly tight harmony quartet, and their balance is superb. DeBruyne returns to top form, and Mate repeats his pitch-perfect performance from last summer. Musteffe is a strong performer, and Schneider has a nice surprise in store for you a bit down the road in the show.

Costumes are spiced-up since last summer (Norma Polk) and there is some new lighting – including a nice touch at the finale that will leave you smiling (Matthew Tomich). Director Steve Debruyne and Choreographer Cara Manor have added a few additional humorous touches since we last saw these Plaids, and some had me outright howling with laughter.

But rest assured — the oversized toilet plungers are still there, as are Topo Gigio and those straw hats.

Oh, and Chef Jarod’s chicken and Waldorf Salad are to die for — as are his sugar-butter cookies for dessert. Don’t forget to tip your waiter.

FOREVER PLAID continues at the Dio, 135 E Min St, Pinckney, MI through September 7th. Tickets at 517-672-6009 or online at http://www.diotheatre.com

Very Highly Recommended.

Hamlet – Michigan Shakespeare Festival – Shawn Pfautsch July 26, 2014

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Michigan, Shakespeare, Theatre.
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I just got home from this afternoon’s performance of Hamlet, in repertoire at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. While I don’t usually review non-musicals, I have to give two shout outs…

First, this is an excellent production under the guidance and direction of MSF Artistic Director Janice Blixt. Set in modern era clothing, it resounds as powerfully as it most likely did 420 years ago. Her direction is swift, perfectly focused, and edits are judicial and appropriate. Its a tight, gorgeous production, with beautiful lighting and scenic design, and a small, expertly crafted acting ensemble.

Second, Chicago-area actor Shawn Pfautsch turns in an amazing performance as the Dane…at first reserved and almost lifeless, he quickly takes on the role with an energy and performance force that you have to see. By Act two, he’s barefoot and galavanting around the stage faking his mental deterioration; while instantly being able to transform to composed, plotting, and revengeful. By Act V, he’s a force to behold. Combine his natural abilities with Blixt’s sure directorial hand, and this is a fine, fine Hamlet indeed.

I’m looking forward to the Festival’s other two offerings this summer — The Importance of Being Earnest, and the little-performed Cymbeline — but Hamlet is clearly this season’s centerpiece — and its a remarkable work of art.

 

Powerhouse performers in “Catch Me If You Can” make for a show you definitely should catch (Review- Croswell Opera House) July 20, 2014

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Back in 2009, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman hoped to recreate their “Hairspray” success with a musical version of “Catch Me If You Can”. It never really caught on despite generally good reviews and lots of Tony Award exposure and nominations. The show did a decent tour — and now you can catch a dynamite production of the musical at Croswell Opera House in Adrian, MI

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You probably are familiar with the autobiographical book, or the movie version of the story: young kid sets off to create a new life for himself and escape his marital-stress family background and finds himself becoming a millionaire by forging checks, creating new personas for himself (co-pilot, lawyer, doctor, teacher) and keeping the FBI chasing him for several years. The musical’s conceit is that it places the story into a “flashback variety show” like those that were popular in 60’s television. The tunes and numbers all reflect production numbers on a tv variety show. The ensemble cast play all the singers/dancers in these numerous scenes, and play minor roles in the “story” as it spills out over two and a half hours of non-stop entertainment. Michael Yuen directs with a sure hand, and things barrel along at lighting speed.

First and foremost — see the show for the terrific leads: Patrick Wallace is a superb singing/acting/dancing powerhouse as Frank Abagnale, Jr. Keep an eye on this young musical theater student from Siena Heights University because his next stop is going to be Broadway.  Also terrific are Jared Hoffert as Frank Abagnale Sr, Lucy Hagedorn as Paula Abagnale, and Paul Manger as FBI Agent Carl Hanratty. Kyrie Bristle turns in a powerhouse performance as Brenda Strong, the wholesome southern girl to whom Frank Jr finally loses his heart (and clear thinking). Her parents are hilariously played by John Bacarella and Debbie Corbin.

Second, see the show for the terrific ensemble singing/dancing cast. They support the leads in the many many musical numbers, and the dancing (very creative and energetic by Sarah Nowak) is some of the best you’ll see on local stages.  Keeping with the Broadway production, the orchestra is on stage (ala Lawrence Welk, Mitch Miller, etc) and they sound terrific under the musical direction of Dave Rains, who has also done wonderful work with the cast.

Third, see it for the marvelous technical production — from Leo Babcock’s multi-level set with light-up stairs, to Tiff Crutchfield’s lighting,  and sound design by Phillip and Elizabeth Baugh. I lost count of the costume changes by Pam Krage, but they look terrific and every major number is a different color and style. Technical Director Keith Holloway clearly had his work cut out for him, and it all runs smoothly and efficiently.

Finally, see it for the clever and funny book by Terrence McNally, the melodic songs by Wittman and Shaiman, and the chance to see a musical theater piece that is a creative mix of classic and modern musical styles. You might even find yourself buying the cast album after seeing the show – the score is that “catch”y….see what I did there?….

With Les Miserables and Catch Me If You Can, The Croswell Opera House has two shows this summer that will be remembered many years from now as among the best of class…do not miss it. I’m going back next weekend. I loved it.

Highly recommended.

Catch Me If You Can continues at The Croswell Opera House through July 27th. Croswell.org or 517-264-SHOW for tickets.

“The Dixie Swim Club” at The Dio is sparkling fun (Review) June 7, 2014

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The Dixie Swim Club, by Jones Hope Wooten is the current terrific offering at The Dio in Pinckney.  What, you say? You’ve never heard of Jones Hope Wooten?  Well, Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten are only one of the most produced play-writing teams in America today — and not only that, they are apparently nice people too, as they called Steve DeBruyne and Matthew Tomich at The Dio to wish them luck on their opening this week.

Let me preface this by saying, I love sitcoms — and the best current sitcom is not on TV, it’s at The Dio. And its no wonder, since the playwriting team has prolific television writing credits, including Wooten’s long-running The Golden Girls, and The Five Mrs. Buchanans. It comes as no surprise then that The Dixie Swim Club plays as a mash-up of Steel Magnolias, Designing Women, and The Golden Girls.

Five best friends from college (they were on the swim team) meet up every year at a cottage on North Carolina’s Outer Banks for a not-specificed period of time each summer (it appears to be about 22 minutes per visit – not unlike the actual minutes of a half-hour sitcom). Each of the 4 scenes contains real laugh-out-loud moments, larger-than-life yet still relatable characters, and a “mini-drama”. Its a little like watching four episodes of your favorite tv show back to back. And its a very good tv show at that.

Steve DeBruyne directs a very assured five-women ensemble cast. Sonja Marquis is the “controlling one”; Amy Morrisey is the “carreer-driven one”; Sarah Burcon is the “flirty one”; Laura Mandernack is the “super-ego one”; and Brenda Lane is the “poor but funny one”.  Think Dorothy, Rose, Blanch, and Sophia….with Julia Sugarbaker mixed in as a special guest star.

All five of the women are terrific in their roles, and the ensemble work here sparkles. Its impossible to point out anyone without mentioning all five — and their interactions feel real, comfortable, and plausible (sort of, in a sitcom sort of way). Its not hard to predict who will end up where 28 years down the road — and there is a bit of pathos thrown in for the final scene that solidifies the “Steel Magnolias” angle…but its a sparkling confection that goes down easily and knows its target market well (women over 40) but which is assessable to husbands, friends, and youngsters as well. Give it a slight PG-rating, though only just for some frank sexual talk.

The show is highly entertaining, and it is no wonder that it has been sweeping the country, produced nation-wide at regional, community, and dinner theaters. It goes down remarkably well after Chef Jarod’s delicious Chicken and Beef Kabobs. Quite frankly, I thought it was all-around terrific (both comedy and kabobs!)

Among many favorite moments, mine occurred during a discussion of none of the ladies getting any younger over the years and Mandernack’s assuring explanation of Noah living to the ripe old age of 950…and of course, “nobody lives to be 950…anymore…”

The Dixie Swim Club continues through July 6th at The Dio, 177 E Main Street, Pinckney, MI 48169. 517-672-6009 — tickets also at http://www.diotheatre.com

Directed by Steve DeBruyne, Lighting, Sound, Stage Management and Set Design by Matthew Tomich, Costumes, Hair, and Makeup Design by Thalia Schramm, Props by Eileen Obradovich, Meal by Chef Jarod.

 

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

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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You, yeah you…you think you’ve seen enough Little Shop of Horror productions that you don’t need to see one more? Well. yeah, you really do. Because you’ve never seen Little Shop like this before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Country fun at The Dio (“Country Roads”) Review April 5, 2014

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There’s a lot of country fun to be found in Leslie Jo Hood’s “Country Roads” which opened at The Dio in Pinckney last night. Let me preface this by saying that this is not a true musical comedy — its a musical entertainment following a typically delicious dinner at the venue.

Here’s my advice: ignore the clunky “book” that sort-of holds the show together — it’s basically a jukebox musical comprised of some great country hits, and some Minnie Pearl and Rodley Brasfield thrown in to boot. The book has something to do with waiting a long time to get your big break (and when it comes, “You Can Go to the End of Your Chain and Bark,” its rather anti-climatic.) It thuds along and serves as the mechanism to tie the songs together, not always successfully.

Instead, go for the music:  Aynsley Martindale and Tim Brayman head up a generally strong ensemble cast that sing their way through songs by some of Country’s best — with a bit of bluegrass and Gospel thrown in for good measure. Aynsley in particular, gets some great songs to perform over the course of the evening, and she’s a joy to listen to.

There are also some strong vocals by Steve DeBruyne (including a great “leg kick” you’ll have to wait for)…Liz Jaffe…Thomas Mate…Emily Rogers…and Thalia Shramm (who I believe in the book is supposed to be the ingenue (?) but that storyline sort of disappears by her next song). The other ensemble members range from terrific to pitchy — Lydia Adams, Franklin Burns, Jared Schneider. Never mind, they follow in rapid succession (particularly in the less-talk and more-singing second act) and if you don’t like one of the songs, another one comes along a few minutes later —  songs range the gamut from Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” to Garth Brook’s “If Tomorrow Never Comes” and everything in between.  Some of the songs would be served better with a verse and chorus, rather than the entire song.

The three-piece band under the direction of Brian Buckner sounds great – and their instrumentals in between songs and during scene changes are ear-catching.

Special kudos to Liz Jaffe’s Minnie Pearl — a total hoot — including an audience singalong where at last night’s performance, this reviewer got a chance to sing “baa baa” during “Old McDonald Had a Farm”…

The evening runs long (the show starts immediately after everyone has finished dinner, so our performance started a bit late and ended a bit late) and there are some judicious cuts that can (and should) be made for future productions of this show (I would start by combining all the “Grand Old Opry” flashback stuff in Act I into one 5 minute medley rather than distinct songs, and moving the Patriotic Medley to the finale) — but consider this another “workshop” for “Country Roads” and go have a hand-clapping foot-tapping time…and as usual, enjoy Chef Jarod’s terrific meal beforehand.

“Country Roads” continues through May 11th at The Dio. Tickets at http://www.diotheatre.com or (517)672-6009 – 177 E Main Street, Pinckney, MI  48169