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Some great actors in tame “Rocky Horror” at Ringwald (Review) September 30, 2017

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The Rocky Horror Show arrived at the Ringwald Theatre in Ferndale last night, and there is some fun to be had, mostly by way of some terrific cast members.

Suzan M Jacokes is a terrific Frank N Furter. In fact, you could say that this entire production belongs to her. Singing, dancing, acting, prancing, or running around with a chainsaw, she is hilarious. Kevin Kaminski is also hilarious as Brad Majors, with optimum physical fun, great vocals, and minimal mugging. Casey Hibbert is a fine Narrator and taps a mean dance interlude. Nick Yocum is very good as Rocky. Richard Payton, as usual, is terrific in the role of Riff Raff. He makes it his own and its a hoot. I also very much liked Nicole Pascaretta as a very athletic Columbia, and she was the source of my biggest laugh of the night. While everyone is generally okay, there are some performances that are not up to the level of others.

Vocal Direction by Jeremy St Martin is solid, and the choreography of Molly Zaleski keeps things moving appropriately although it is stronger in the second act than the first. Jennifer Maiseloff’s scenic design is minimal but serviceable, and the same can be said of Erin Benjamin’s costume design and Dani Hamm’s lighting design.

I’m always conflicted when I go to review a Ringwald show, and I usually err on the side of not reviewing them. These are hard working folks with big hearts. But the shows always feel unpolished and unfinished — as if somewhere along the line, what starts with greater intentions eventually becomes a “okay, well, that’s good enough, lets just leave it.” And that is evident here — the set doesn’t feel quite finished, and tinsel used later in act 2 hangs around in clumps in act 1. A cool set piece of dials and electronics is tucked away in a corner where you can’t see it.  Choreography isn’t polished, though generally serviceable. Action in larger sequences is unfocused — where should I be looking? — “Hot Patootie” has so much storyline going on underneath the number, but unless you know what’s supposed to be happening, much of it is unfocused and you wouldn’t really have a clue that Eddie is about to meet his end.

Rocky is also a weird show at this point in time — you either get it, or you don’t. There were plenty of perplexed looks in the audience last night, with its mix of local Ferndale theater goers, and guests of cast members scattered from a larger area. The pre-show “virgin” sequence fell flat because the Phantoms’ schtick was unpolished and people jumped over each others “moments”. (Word to the uninitiated — do NOT volunteer that you are a Rocky virgin). I’m not sure if that is because people kind of have forgotten most of what the audience participation is about, or if they never knew it to begin with. Younger audiences are sure to not recognize the routines and patter, despite director Joe Bailey’s valiant attempt to keep patter going from the back of the house.

So you have, well, a mixed bag. Some great performances which make the evening worthwhile. Some fun, but overall, a show at a theater that often takes risks, erring on the side of a tamer production of this show than this writer has seen (in probably ten different stage productions over the years). Isn’t that ironic?

See it if you want to. You’ll have fun.

The Rocky Horror Show continues at the Ringwald through October 30th. See theRingwald.com for tickets and information about times (including some late night shows). 

 

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Fiendishly Marvelous “Sweeney Todd” at Encore Musical Theatre Company (Review) September 29, 2017

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Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” is back at the Encore Musical Theatre Company, and it has arrived with a vengeance. You better get your tickets right now before the word of mouth and rave reviews send sales soaring — as best they should for this superior production.

Set in a 40’s London factory, Encore’s players “tell the tale” just beautifully, and with such terrific vocal direction and orchestra blend (by the always terrific Tyler Driskill) that you understand every word. And while Sondheim himself would cringe at the use of the term “opera” to describe this piece, that is, in essence, exactly what it is.

Staged non-traditionally in a fully immersive environment in which the audience surrounds the stage on three sides at various levels, and where actors interact in the aisles and stairways throughout, this is a whiz-bang production both directed and designed by the adroit and skilled Matthew Brennan, with actual scenic execution  by Sarah Tanner, Lighting Design by Tyler Chinn, Costume Design by Sharon Larkey Urick, Properties Design by Anne Donevan, and Sound Design by Chris Goosman and Joshua Thorington. I list all of these folks first because they are inseparable and they have done a tremendous job of bringing the technical aspects of this stunning production to fruition.

The show is nothing if you don’t have remarkable leads – and this production sure does. David Moan is exquisite as Sweeney Todd – his voice and acting are remarkable and lend the character both an eeriness and a liveliness that blend well in the intimate setting. Its a great performance and will resonate with you long after the evening has reached its grisly conclusion. Sarah Briggs is one of the best Mrs Lovett’s you could ever imagine. She is able to instantly convey humor, horror, and pity (sometimes at the same time) and she captures every moment with thoughtful acting and great vocal work. As the first act’s black and white schema bleeds away into a more colorful second act, so do their interactive moments which grow to a crescendo in the final moments. Well, that’s the play and we wouldn’t want to give it away, right? Though I doubt many of the folks going to see this musical don’t know that it ends badly for these two.

Sebastian Gerstner sounds great as Anthony, and Emily Hadick is lovely as Johanna. The couple have the musical’s prettiest songs and they are very up to the task. Emily Rogers is spot-on as the Beggar Woman and sings and acts beautifully. Keith Kalinowski is excellent as always as Judge Turpin (and what a joy to hear his very well acted and sung “Ladies in their Sensitivities Mea Culpa”, almost universally cut from productions) — though you might not know from the staging that he is committing self-flagellation unless you are already familiar with the show (but now you know).

Dan Johnson is very good as the Beadle, and his sometimes befuddled look on stage lends itself well to this multifaceted role, subservient to the Judge while trying to represent decorum and order at the same time to the outside world. Jamie Colburn is an entertaining Pirelli. Toby (“Nothing’s Gonna Harm You”) is well-performed by Billy Eric Robinson, though twice the size of Mrs Lovett, you never really get a strong sense of menace or that he is in any imminent type of danger. In fact, that is a running theme throughout the evening — while favoring character over menace, you never quite get a sense of your heart quickening or the hair standing up on your arms, like you do at some other productions of “Sweeney Todd”. Everything is kept to a symbolic minimum here but it works very well in this staging.

The entire ensemble is strong and the vocal work is outstanding. Most of these folks have played leads in other Encore shows and on other area stages so its like a who’s who of local theater: Logan Balcom, Nick Casella, James Fischer, Leah Fox, Bryana Hall, Angela Hench, Marlene Inman, Michael Jones, Chris Joseph, Gayle Martin, Dan Morrison, and Alexandra Reynolds populate the town, play all of the assorted characters from quirky to sympathetic, and carry chairs around. A lot. Leah Fox plays a mean accordion in a brilliant staging concept.

Oh, there is blood. Plenty of it in the second act. THANK YOU! The Encore’s last iteration of this show was a bloodless affair. There is plenty of it here, and it is well-staged and realistic. Although keeping with the evenings staging, everything is ultimately done symbolically. There is no tipping chair that dumps a body through the stage floor, down a slide, and into the bakehouse below.

To say that this production is excellent is an understatement. It is most likely the best production of this musical you are likely to see locally. It is a marvelous interpretation by a masterful director who well understands that you will never be able to stage the production like it was originally staged on the Broadway stage in this small house. So instead he takes what might be seen as a shortcoming and transforms the entire theater into something special. I loved the addition of “skylights” in the Encore’s ceiling and fans and electrical equipment to the walls to lend a sense of being a real space. The show is organic and feels like the building was  purpose-built for this production, rather than the other way around. (For the uninitiated, the original Broadway production actually imported the workings of a real factory from London to the stage of the Gershwin (then Uris) Theater).

I will leave it to the theater goer to ponder what’s up with the organ-versions of show tunes both before the show and during intermission (some of which are from the golden era of musicals, not from the 40’s). It left me scratching my head.

Very Highest Recommendation.

Sweeney Todd runs through October 22nd at the Encore Musical Theatre Company in Dexter MI. Tickets at theencoretheatre.org or 734-268-6200. Get them while you can. This is a don’t-miss production.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful “Beauty and the Beast” at Croswell Opera House (Review) September 24, 2017

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If you are one of the lucky ticket holders to the sold-out Beauty and The Beast at Croswell Opera House, you are in for a delightful (and beautiful) evening of musical theater. I’m going to be upfront and say that BATB is one of my favorite musicals, the first in the long, successful run of Disney-on-Broadway hits.

There is great Direction by Sue Smith, wonderful Musical Direction by Dave Rains, and lovely Choreography by Sarah Nowak, together with scrumptious costumes by Pam Krage, spot-on Lighting Design by Tiff Crutchfield, and lovely Scenic/Projection Design by Patrick Lord — the production is of the highest quality. The show moves at a fast clip, scene changes are seamless, and everything looks and feels exquisite.

But this show is nothing without a terrific cast, and you have that in droves (literally in some ensemble numbers). Kristen Fandrey is a beautiful and fine-voiced Belle, and she is a great actor too. Jarrod Alexander ranks among the best Beasts I have seen, and his is a performance that is not to be missed. Peter Crist is hilarious as Gaston while Matthew Johnson is very strong all-around as LeFou. The wonderful David Blackburn steals every scene he is in as Lumiere (which is to be expected), and Michael Yuen is a delightful Cogsworth. But there is more! Maria Porter-Mohler plays a lovely Mrs. Potts, Margaret Hyre is great as Madame de la Grande Bouche, and Abby Dots is very fun as Babette. Mark Hyre is also a terrific Maurice. The rest of the supporting cast and ensemble are very strong.

Mix a beautifully written show, with a fantastic-looking production and this strong cast, and Croswell Opera House finishes out its summer season with true theater magic. The show run through October 1, but it is sold out. Check the box office for cancellations and last minute releases, or check online at croswell.org

Whole Lotta Fun at this Trailer Park (Review) August 26, 2017

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There’s a riotous new musical at The Dio, and you’ll laugh your ass off. The Great American Trailer Park Musical opened its run last night and a terrific cast, great tech design, and a fun show itself create a fun adult night out (cause there is some cursin’ and swearin’ and sexin’ in this show).

There isn’t much to Betsy Kelso and David Neil’s story: exotic dancer Pippi arrives at the trailer park, quickly hooks up with married Norbert (whose wife is agoraphobic and hasn’t left their trailer in 20 years), and soon Pippi’s ex-lover comes a callin’.  Alls well that ends well, and you will have a blast getting there.

The “story” is told by three trailer park girls — a side-splittingly funny Betty, er,  Sonja Marquis; foul-mouthed Lin (short for Linoleum, hilarious and almost unrecognizable Natalie Rose Sevick); and Pickles (played by the fantastic in every single ridiculous moment Tori Rogers).  Andrew Gorney has tremendous fun as Norbert, while Carrie Jay Sayer turns in another remarkable performance as Jeannie, his stay-at-home wife. Alaina Kerr adds another brilliant performance to her quickly growing musical theater repertoire as stripper (sorry, exotic dancer only) Pippi, and Mike Suchyta is wonderful as the menacing, marker-sniffing, roadkill-king Duke.

Steve DeBruyne directs the intermission-less evening with an eye to comedy at every turn; Music Direction and orchestra are under the capable leadership of Brian Rose; Kristin Renee Reeves has created some very funny choreography; Set, Lighting, and Sound Design is colorful and nifty by Matt Tomich; Properties by Eileen Obradovich are spot on and just keep coming and coming and coming; and there is great costume and hair work by Norma Polk and Madison Merlanti respectively. There is the usual delicious preshow meal by Chef Jared.

You will laugh yourself silly for most of the duration of this side-splitting musical. You’ll also be surprised by what a big little show this really is. There are dozens of costumes, and exteriors of trailers open to interiors of trailers. The show occasionally veers out of the trailer park off to the local strip club, and there’s a very humorous use of a rolling chair and headlights (literally in this case) when Duke comes to town.

Will Jeannie ever leave her house so she can attend the Ice Capades? Will Norbert end up with Jeannie or Pippi? Will Duke stay sober long enough to do anything once he finds Pippi? Will Pickles ever stop talking about her “hysterical pregnancy”?…(folks tell her she’s not pregnant but she has all the symptoms)

See for yourself at The Great American Trailer Park Musical which continues at the Dio Theatre in Pinckney  through October 8th.

Very Highly Recommended.

The Dio Theatre, diotheatre.com, or (517) 672-6009 Downtown Pinckney MI.

 

 

Hilarious and Well-Done 9 to 5 at Encore Musical Theatre Company (Review) August 25, 2017

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When I saw 9 to 5 on Broadway, Dolly Parton and Patricia Resnick’s hilarious musical, I thought that for sure it would be done by every theater in the States once it was released…and that hasn’t quite been the case. So it’s with great eagerness that I report that the production now at the Encore Musical Theatre Company in Dexter is terrific – it is hilarious, well-polished, and just downright fun.

Based (almost scene by scene) on the 1979 movie, it has a life of its own on stage that makes it infectiously funny. Secretaries rule, Bosses get sent to Bolivia, and snoopy office managers get sent off to take language immersion courses (bien sur). While this entire ensemble is tight and funny, there are some standouts in this cast.

All three lead ladies are wonderful — Stacia Fernandez is a spirited and musical Violet (much more so than Alison Janney in the Broadway production) and her “One of the Boys” is a delight; Alex Koza is alternately sweet and tart as Doralee and knocks “Backwoods Barbie” out of the park; and Thalia Schramm is fussy and endearing and eventually sings a knockout “Get Out and Stay Out” near the end of the show. Its a powerhouse trio doing great work.

Sebastian Gerstner is a wholesome and desirable Joe, younger lover for Violet. Ernest William plays a hysterical boss (Franklin Hart Jr) – his “Here for You” is fantastically funny.

But the night belongs to Sarah Briggs as busybody Roz — she steals every single scene that she is in, in a good way – she mugs, she emotes, she sings, she dances, she prances, she lounges on a desk, she pratfalls, she chews up the scenery and spits it out. “Heart to Hart” is the highlight of the show, and for good reason. I can not wait to see Sarah as Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd later this season — in fact, I can’t wait to see her in anything she does.

You’re in for an evening of great acting, singing, and dancing, and a very funny production that looks fantastic on Sarah Tanner’s set; with great costumes by Sharon Larkey Urick; wonderful musical direction and orchestra under the direction of R. MacKenzie Lewis; Nifty properties by Anne Donevan (bonus points for Doralee’s cowgirl lunch box); Chris Goosman’s subtle sound design; and Daniel Walker’s lighting. It all moves at lightning clip under the capable direction of Ray Frewen. Meredith Steinke creates fun and fluid choreography.

Go, Laugh. Have fun. I’m a bit late to the game as I was otherwise engaged playing a lead in another show opposite this one — glad I caught it last night. You have a few more chances this weekend.

Very Highly Recommended.

9 to 5 continues at the Encore Musical Theatre Company through July 27th. Tickets at theencoretheatre.org or 734-268-6200

 

 

 

 

True to its Name, Croswell’s Forum is A Funny Thing (Review) August 15, 2017

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Guest Review by Devon Barrett

To the uninitiated, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the 1962 musical comedy by Stephen Sondheim, currently playing at the Croswell Opera House in Adrian, sounds like something that would be anything but funny.

Because, honestly, the list of characters looks like a laundry list of things nobody really wants to talk about: courtesans. Slaves. A nagging wife. A henpecked husband who spends 2/3 of the show considering adultery. A pompous, self-aggrandizing military captain. A young woman whose only skill is being “lovely.”

But when you weave them all together into a plot (the literary kind and the devious kind), that includes a couple of hilarious musical numbers, an epic, mind-boggling full-cast chase scene, and a happy ending with a delightful, surprising twist I guarantee you won’t see coming, well, you’ve got yourself a comedy.

The show opens with Pseudolus, a slave in the House of Senex, and the show’s buoyant instigator-in-chief, played by Jared Hoffert who could not be more perfect for the role. He introduces us to the three Proteans, played by John Bacarella, Mark Hyre, and A.J. Howard, who toggle between roles—as slaves, soldiers, and, in that epic chase scene I mentioned earlier, courtesan-catchers—so rapidly that you start to wonder whether they’ve all got body doubles hiding in the wings.

The year is 200-ish B.C. The place: a residential street in ancient Rome. And the deal: Pseudolus will be granted freedom if he can get his young master Hero (played by Xavier Sarabia, who sings through a boyish, crinkly-eyed grin perfectly befitting his character’s innocence), hooked up with Philia, the virginal, empty-headed courtesan-next-door (played by Emily Hribar, who has a lovely, clear voice, and a gentle presence) before Hero’s parents, Senex and Domina, return from visiting the in-laws.

Hero’s proud, domineering mother Domina and her namby-pamby husband Senex are played by Julia Hoffert and Ron Baumanis, respectively. Senex’s lighthearted joy and light-footed dancing during “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” was his standout moment. And Domina’s moment came in the form of a deliberate, fourth-wall-breaking evil-eye during the second act, when she unexpectedly burst back onto the scene, eliciting a gasp and a whooshing chorus of “uh-oh’s” from the audience, who knew stuff was about to hit the fan. She stood, alone, center stage, for two or three beats, staring right out at Orchestra Center with one eyebrow raised as if to say, “Excuse me? Uh-oh? I am a strong woman who knows what she wants in life and you say UH-OH when I enter the room?” Reader, IT. WAS. FANTASTIC.

Possibly the best part of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, is that it employs nearly every comedic device available, and every character gets a chance to partake.

Marcus Lycus, Senex’s neighbor to the left, is in the business of selling beautiful young women. Played by Stephen Kiersey, Lycus isn’t the slimy salesman-of-women you would expect him to be. He’s kind of a wuss, and his fear of facing one of his powerful clients—a captain named Miles Gloriosus, who we’ll discuss later—sets the show up for its first case of mistaken identity: when Pseudolus impersonates Lycus while Lycus hides in his home and, later, runs around with a cloak over his head pretending to be a leper.

The six courtesans (played by Jessica Adams, Tara Althaus, Madeline Auth, Jamie Lynn Buechele, Beth Felerski, and Sarah Nowak) of the House of Marcus Lycus each get a chance to show off their…er…skills to poor Pseudolus, who tries to play it cool as they dance, perform tricks, caress his hair, and in some cases, sensually threaten him with a whip. Their costumes, designed by Meg McNamee, were colorful and fun, and perfectly befitting of each of their personas.

Senex’s neighbor to the right, Erronius, played by William E. McCloskey, who is no stranger to the role, has his moment in the sun in the second act as his running gag (no spoilers! Witness it for yourself!) keeps time during the utter chaos playing out onstage.

Miles Gloriosus, the pompous Roman army captain who stands in the way of Hero’s chance at marrying Philia, is a sight to behold in his shiny, silver, chiseled armor. Played by Cordell Smith, Miles Gloriosus inflates his greatness at just about everything, but Smith’s rendition of “Bring Me My Bride” requires no inflation…it’s just great.

Then there’s Hysterium, played by John MacNaughton. Hysterium and Pseudolus spend a great deal of time together throughout the show, and Hoffert and MacNaughton play off of one another so brilliantly. As Pseudolus’ plot to affiance Hero and Philia goes further and further off the rails, Pseudolus himself continues to roll with the punches, while Hysterium, despite his insistence to the contrary, grows increasingly…well…hysterical.

And so, too, does the audience. Because, bottom line, Forum is funny, and it doesn’t even need to try to be anything else.

Directed by Mark DiPietro, with musical direction by Jonathan Sills, choreography by Delle Clair, and scenic design by Leo Babcock, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum runs through Sunday, August 20th at the Croswell Opera House, Michigan’s oldest theatre, located in downtown Adrian. If you haven’t been to the Croswell since its major renovation (or—HORRORS—if you haven’t been there at all!) now is the time. It is truly a sight to behold.

A Funny Thing Happened on the way To The Forum runs through August 20th. Tickets at Croswell.org

The Dio’s “Forever Plaid” Serves Up a Tasty Summer Confection (review) June 18, 2017

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Guest Review by Wendy Wright

As sweet as an ice cream sundae, with tight harmonies as dense as a pound cake, the wonderful performances in the Dio’s production of FOREVER PLAID serve as the cherry on top. Walking in to the show all I knew was that it was a review of songs from the era before rock and roll. Little did I know there is a hilarious and enjoyable story attached as well. A quartet of male “teen angels” are brought back to earth after having been taken too soon, so that they can fulfill their dream of performing one last show.

One by one, each character reveals himself and is given a moment in the spotlight.  And one by one, I fell in love with every one of them.  James Fischer as Sparky is a master of comic timing, newcomer Angel Velasco’s Jinx is the picture of delightful innocence, Matthew Wallace as Smudge is a loveable goofball, while holding them all together, almost like a big brother, is Steve DeBruyne’s Franky.

DeBruyne’s direction made the evening seamless and I may have noticed some succulent touches that could have only come from the warped imagination of Assistant Director Dan Morrison. The tightly choreographed moves by Bryana Hall look like they are right out of any real-life 60’s boy-group and the actors carry it off very well. Norma Polk’s costume design looks snappy, and Matthew Tomich does super work with the sound, lighting and projections.  Eileen Obradovich’s prop design works particularly well in the Ed Sullivan sequence. Mix in two musicians (Brian Rose on piano who also has done very good work as Musical Director, and  Leer Sobie on bass) and you have a refreshing milkshake blended to perfection.

There is a reason the Dio returns to this show time after time and you would never know that this incarnation was a last-minute replacement for a different show. The food by chef Jarod was wonderful as always (the fried chicken alone is worth the price of admission). All in all, this is the perfect escape from the summer heat.

FOREVER PLAID continues at the Dio, 135 E Main St, Pinckney, MI through July 23rd. Tickets at 517-672-6009 or online at http://www.diotheatre.com

Very Highest Recommendation

Gorgeous “Camelot” at Encore Musical Theatre Company (Review) June 17, 2017

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There is a gorgeous production of the classic musical Camelot at Encore Musical Theatre Company and it looks and sounds pretty as a picture, with beautiful sets and costumes and Lerner and Loewe’s tune-filled familiar score.

Stephen West is in wonderful vocal form as King Arthur (aka Newt) and Olivia Hernandez returns to the Encore as Guenevere and she is lovely in voice and acting. David Moan (I proclaim “can do anything he wants in any role he wants”) is that good here as well. His Lancelot is filled with self-absorption and (later) moping. His “If Ever I would Leave You” had audible gasps around me — although that might have just been the age of the audience and their familiarity with that particular song. The entire ensemble was spot-on terrific, and there is a particularly well-played Mordred by Tyler Lynch who in turns humorously creates an annoying character as well as the most spirited moments in the second act.

Sarah Tanner has designed a beautiful multilevel set that makes the Encore space look much bigger than it actually is (as she did with Into the Woods and Assassins). Sharon Larkey Urick’s costumes are marvelous and colorful. Daniel Walker’s lighting is bright and makes everything look brilliant on stage. Anne Donevan’s property design is terrific — you try finding that many swords and banners. Daniel Helmer’s fight choreography is fun to watch (though Lancelot could have easily escaped that room several times during that fight) and Matthew Brennan’s choreography is wonderful. That it all works at all is credit to director Dan Cooney who has enthused his cast to look beyond the paper-thin characters and create something of substance, and to Tyler Driskill who, as usual, makes beautiful music happen.

That’s about as glowing a review as I can muster for a show that is on the bottom of my list of classic musicals, and I love classic musicals. It is a dated, old-fashioned, unfocused storyline with reluctant bride Guenevere first appalled then smitten with King Arthur, later appalled then smitten with Lancelot — eventually running off with Lancelot which leads to the most anticlimactic and worst ending of a musical ever.

Lerner and Loewe’s score is often lovely (and sounds great here under the musical direction of Tyler Driskill). This production wisely cuts a good 30-minutes off of the (still) too long musical although the last 30 minutes of the show is still a slog through soap-opera territory. Clocking in at 2:35 it felt like it was much longer.

Whenever I see the show, I read other reviews and hear people talk about “how timely it is in the current political climate.” I don’t see it. It was dated in 1960 and it is very dated in 2017 – bordering on the edge of operetta even in the 60’s. But it is what it is, and what it is is gorgeous in this production. Though if you are not a lover of classic musicals, you’ll leave a bit underwhelmed since the musical theater world has changed significantly since this musical first appeared. There’s also the problematic handling of Guenevere’s character — who makes choices based on what middle aged men wrote, designed, and directed back in the last days of the golden musicals — that is to say, her choices are bizarre and male-centric to say the least.

Still, this is a lovely night of theater – and tickets are selling very fast. I saw the production on a sold-out Thursday night. Get yours now.

Recommended (Highly recommended if you love classic musicals, even if you don’t particularly like Camelot).

Camelot continues at Encore Musical Theatre Company through July 2nd. Tickets at encore theatre.org or 734-268-6200.

Photo courtesy Encore photographed by Michele Anliker.

 

“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.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is Satisfying, Enjoyable, First Rate (Review – Ann Arbor Civic Theatre) June 2, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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“DroooooooooD!”

Do you find reading this name to yourself is a little amusing? Bet your lips puckered without your realizing it. Try saying it aloud; bet you can’t without having a little fun with it. At A2CT’s hilarious production of  “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre this weekend, you can think it, say it, sing it, even stand up and shout it at the top of your lungs and you will be in good company. It is encouraged and it is satisfying, much like the performance that surrounds it. It’s no wonder this interactive Rupert Holmes musical won several Tony Awards. It’s that fun.

As the real story goes, The Mystery of Edwin Drood is the final novel written by Charles Dickens, who died before completing it, leaving the explanation of the title character’s mysterious disappearance unresolved. However, in the musical, we, the audience, get to affect the show’s ending by voting for the murderer (if, in fact, Drood was murdered) as well as decide the fate of other characters. Actors find out live if they have been selected and they have seconds to step into their role. There is a blackboard in the lobby after the show so that you can see the actual audience vote count as you leave.

The musical is a show within a show so every actor plays two roles: “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is performed by various characters in a London music hall aptly named, Music Hall Royale, in 1892. The music hall story centers around Drood (flawlessly played in trousers by Vanessa Banister), who is affianced from birth to the lovely Rosa Bud (lovely in looks and voice Kimberly Elliott), who is the object of her opium-addicted choirmaster John Jasper’s affection (brilliant Roy Sexton). But Jasper is not the only one who craves the affection of Miss Bud. Ceylonese refuges Neville Landless (Brandon Cave), twin sister Helena (Becca Nowak) and Reverend Crisparkle (Brodie Brockie) have desires of their own. The facial expressions these players give are worth the price of admission. Then there is the drunken cemetery watchman Durdles (Jimmy Dee Arnold) and Deputy (Peter Dannug) who know the whereabouts of the living and the dead. Opium mistress Princess Puffer (Alisa Mutchler Bauer) and Bazzard (Michael Cicirelli) add their own spice to the mystery. As mentioned earlier, all of these characters are portrayed by second-rate Music Hall Royale actors with their own agendas. If any of this is confusing, be assured the Chairman of the Music Hall Royale (Jared Hoffert) will guide you along and make sure you are properly sated in more ways than one [wink wink]. Hoffert is a wonderful master of ceremonies. The supporting cast is a hearty shephard’s pie of talent: Julia Fertel, Ashleigh Glass, Chris Joseph, Kari Nilsen, Sarah Sweeter, Kelly Wade, Heather Wing and Lisa Gavan (Stage Manager, both real and in the Royale), who make the evening that much more satisfying and enjoyable.

The Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre is the perfect venue and the audience is greeted by the cast in character prior to curtain. Director and set designer Ron Baumanis, lighting designer Thom “TJ” Johnson, sound designer Bob Skon, Choreographer Debra Calabrese and costume designer Molly Bourneman complete the atmosphere so you really feel like you have been taken back in time — there are footlights, bustles, old-fashioned drops, and wonderfully zany mis-cues by the “Company” and crew. Great work. There is a surprise set piece build by Patrick Johnson and unique props by Aaron C. Wade. The orchestra, who also play a role within the story, is led by Daniel Bachelis and is first-rate. The show clocks in at 2:30 including the intermission and it is non-stop. There is also a special surprise guest appearance that had the audience laughing and applauding last night, and you’ll find it referenced in the program hidden in plain sight once you do.

Very Highly recommended.

—–Guest Review by Patricia Mazzola

Only three more chances to experience A2CT’s “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, University of Michigan, Michigan League Building, 911 Fletcher, Ann Arbor.  June 2-3 at 8 pm, June 4 at 2 pm. a2ct.org/tickets, or available at the door. Please note that tickets go off-sale online a few hours before showtime.