jump to navigation

Smooth Sailing for the SS American — Anything Goes at Encore (Review) November 26, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
Tags: ,
comments closed

(Photo courtesy Encore Musical Theatre Company, Michele Anliker photographer)

The SS American has set sail at the Encore Musical Theatre Company and I predict nothing but smooth sailing ahead for this lovely production of Anything Goes. There isn’t a Christmas tree in sight, and it is still the brightest holiday musical in town this season.

Olivia Hernandez is a terrific Reno Sweeney and she sings and hoofs with the best of them. Along for the cruise are wonderful Sebastian Gerstner as Billy Crocker, very funny Dan Morrison as Moonface Martin, delightful Emily Hadick as Hope Harcourt, brassy and sassy Elizabeth Jaffe as anybody’s Emma, and a bigger than life and hilarious David Moan as Sir Evelyn Oakley. Supporting them is an excellent ensemble of what could best be described as a who’s who of Encore’s finest.

Thalia Schramm directs with terrific pacing and fine attention to period detail. Musical direction by Tyler Driskill is outstanding (as is his luscious live orchestra); costumes come and go quickly here and look period perfect by Sharon Larkey Urick, Anne Donovan provides some nifty/funny properties, and it all looks great on Kristen Gribbin’s Set with the outstanding lighting design of Tyler Chinn. Sound design by Dustin Miller and Meg Berg is excellent.

But this show truly explodes when it takes to dance — which is a lot. Rachel Costantino has provided terrific material for the many numbers, and the performances are spot-on tight; particularly the great tap number that closes Act I (“Anything Goes”). But also delightful are the smaller two-person numbers. Evelyn and Reno’s “The Gypsy in Me” is a particular favorite. These are two performers at the top of their game and it brings down the house. Gerstner is at the center of many of the dance numbers and he looks and sounds terrific.

You can’t do much better this holiday season than joining this group of zanies as they head across the ocean on the SS American — fully loaded with talent, musicality, and the best dancing in town (even if the ships passengers find there isn’t a celebrity in sight).

Very Highest Recommendation.

Anything Goes continues at the Encore Musical Theatre Company through December 23rd. Tickets at theencoretheatre.org or 734-268-6200.

 

Advertisements

Once On This Island, Spongebob Squarepants, The Bands Visit (NYC – reviews) November 20, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed

This fall trip didn’t bring very many new musicals to sample — and the spring doesn’t look much better but the big blockbusters (Mean Girls, Frozen, and Harry Potter) arrive and I’ll be reviewing those at the end of March). For this trip there was the remarkable Once on this Island, the super-fun Spongebob, and the lovely The Bands Visit.

Seen in order:

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND – Circle in the Square –

Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, Music by Stephen Flaherty. Directed by Michael Arden, choreographed by Camille A Brown, Music Supervisor Chris Fenwick.

Once on This Island arrives in its first Broadway revival since the 1990 original and it is exquisite. It also creates a new superstar performer in Hailey Kilgore as Ti Moune, much the way the original launched the career of LaChanze. Beautifully staged in the round by director-de-jour Arden, it uses as its centerpiece a hurricane that has ripped its way through an unnamed Island in the French Antilles. It has a particular resonance given this fall’s recent devastation. Residents, healthcare workers, and volunteers helping in the cleanup effort take parts in the story being told to a scared little girl. If you don’t know the story, its an Island-flavored take on The Little Mermaid, with the original ending, not the Disney-fied one. If you take your children (and you should) you may need to explain the ending a bit.

The cast is terrific, the sound is luscious, and the choreography is fun. The staging is creative and immersive – actors are around you, in front of you, and at times right next to you — even in the middle of some of the rows! If I have any criticism at all, it feels a bit like the show is cramped in this intimate space and could have used a larger house to spread out a bit — but then you wouldn’t have that experience you get here sitting only feet away from the actors in the very small Circle in the Square. There is something to be said about Lea Salonga talking to you before the show starts, and spending much of the show sitting next to you.

There are some fun surprises in store — like some cross-gender casting for a couple of the Gods. It works very well. Once on this Island is story theater — and what a story you get here. Prepare to cry of course. I found myself welling up in all the expected places, and one unexpected one. I love this show, have directed it in the past, and was very much a fan of every choice the creative team has made here. Michael Arden (who directed Deaf West’s Spring Awakening a couple seasons ago) continues with his creative streak of remarkable musicals. Bravo.

SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS THE BROADWAY MUSICAL – Palace Theatre-

Book by Kyle Jarrow, Original Songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alex Ebert of Edward Sharp & the Magnetic Zeroes, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! at the Disco, Plain White T’s, They Might Be Giants, and T.I.   Conceived and Directed by Tina Landau, Choreography by Christopher Gattelli, Musical Supervision by Tom Kitt.

Ok, let be be upfront about this…I LOVED THIS SHOW. Yeah, you think, Spongebob Squarepants, what the heck, right? Well this is the most fun I have had in a theatre in years. Its a hilarious, strange, creative, over-the-top, tuneful, dance-filled evening of high-energy. You don’t need to be a Spongebob cartoon series fan to love the show (but it helps). Before you get any idea that there are these big weird costumed folks leaping around the stage arena-theater style get that out of your head right how. This show is done very much like You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown – characters wear street clothing stylized to the characters in the cartoon series. Patrick wears shorts and a shirt with a big pompadour. Spongebob wears a yellow shirt and suspenders. Squidward wears a shirt and two pairs of legs ( no really – clever and simple – and later, great in a tap dance number), Sandy wears a white jumpsuit and a big hilarious round wig.

The story is simple: there’s about to be a volcano eruption threatening to destroy Bikini Bottom — the characters have to work together (or apart as Sheldon Plankton would like to destroy things) and that theme is so important right now. Laced with just enough political humor to keep adults on their toes, this is a much much smarter musical than you might think. In fact, its sort of like what Seussical should have been like had it been done right. The music by some of the best current pop rock writers in the business is fun, hilarious, tuneful, and spot on throughout. There is of course, the obligatory “Spongebob Theme Song” during the finale – and its a rocking affair.

Along the way you get some fun set work, great choreography by Gattelli, and wonderful fluid direction by Tina Landau (along with funny interruptions by Pirates of course).  The cast works as a terrific ensemble, but Ethan Slater as Spongebob is superb, as are Danny Skinner as Patrick, Gavin Lee as Squidward, and Lilli Cooper as Sandy. The cast album is already available, but it sounds more alive (and more energetic) on stage.

By the time you get to the finale, you know that mere confetti is not enough — so you get confetti, streamers, bubbles, glitter, and a whole lotta fun. You are hearing this here first — expect a Best Musical nomination at this year’s Tonys. And that is no joke. Three days later I am still telling everyone about this show.

THE BAND’S VISIT,  A NEW MUSICAL – Ethel Barrymore Theatre

Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek, Book by Itamar Moses. Directed by David Cromer, Choreographed by Patrick McCollum, Musical Direction by Andrea Grody.

One week ago The Band’s Visit opened to almost unanimous raves by the New York media, and less ecstatic audience response — similar to Once. And similar to Once, not much happens here, but what does happen is so lovely you can’t help but admire this piece even if you may feel nothing by the end of the intermissionless 90-minute musical.

Based on the 2007 movie (mostly known for the drama surrounding its ineligibility for the Best Foreign Picture award given most of its dialogue is in English), it concerns an Egyptian police band stranded in a small town in Israel after a travel-snafu when tickets are purchased to a similar sounding town that starts with a B instead of a P. With no bus available until the next morning, the members of the band rely on the kindness of a group of locals who take them in, feed them, and entertain them overnight. Along the way you learn a little about this desert-town’s misfits and I suppose we are supposed to take away from this small group of people who can’t communicate with each other because of language differences that we can recognize ourselves even in these assorted people on the other side of the globe.

That’s a big I suppose. I found myself admiring this gorgeous production (and particularly David Yazbek’s glorious score) while feeling entirely removed and not relating to any of these characters. Let me also say I did not at all like Once, and that won Best Musical so don’t look to me to judge the final outcome of this show (though it is having trouble selling tickets in a tiny house so, there is that). This is a musical in which absolutely nothing happens for 90 minutes. Yeah, its the desert and much is made of staring into the distance, and yearning, and waiting. One of the locals has stood in front of the (never ringing) payphone for two months waiting for a phone call from his girlfriend. Its kinda funny, But not really.

Katrina Lenk turns in a every-bit-the-star performance as an owner of a cafe, and Tony Shalhoub is excellent as a shy widower and conductor of the Police Band. The musical seems to set up some big drama that will be revealed later in the show concerning this man — and nothing happens. Oh, there’s a little bit of melancholy in these broken people, but nothing here that propels any type of exciting story telling. I’m going to say I am in the minority here since most critics have just loved the show and are gushing all over each other in accolades.  Its a lovely show, I admire it greatly, but I could never sit through it again, even at a short 90 minutes (which felt much longer).

 

 

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

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, musical theater, Musicals.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed

I’d normally start this review by telling you to go get tickets now for AACT’s “Cabaret” this weekend at the Arthur Miller Theatre, but since the run only has a handful of tickets left for Sunday afternoon, I’ll just start by saying that director Kat Walsh, choreographer Tyler Stickel, and Musical Director Jennifer Goltz have molded a terrific and emotion-filled production that audiences will remember long after the final scene. If you’re lucky to get those final few tickets, you’ll have a great theatrical experience.

Photo by Lisa Gavan

Front-loading this production with an incredible performance by Trish Fountain as the Emcee, and a mesmerizing performance by Laura Dysarczyk, Walsh’s 18-member cast functions as a true ensemble – whether that is performing Stickel’s innovative and excellent choreography, or singing those terrific Kander and Ebb songs (Goltz’s on-stage orchestra is outstanding as is the vocal work here).

You know the story so I’m not even going to repeat it here, except to say that there is also very strong work by Chris Grimm as Cliff, spot-on work by Greg Kovas as Ernst, and a earthy and lovely performance by Jessica Ryder as Fraulein Schneider.  It makes this crumbling pre-nazi Weimar Republic Berlin feel very real indeed.

Leisurely paced (maybe a touch too leisurely at 2:45) there are some terrific moments in this production – I don’t want to give them all away but a sequence in which a young Hitler Youth member defaces a stage curtain is particularly striking. There are a few awkward scene changes that slow the proceedings – but while the production isn’t exactly steamrolling into the nazi era, it is at least unstoppably heading there. For those familiar only with the original production of the 1966 Cabaret it is good to know that this production uses the 1988 revival version – the one that cuts some of the more upbeat music and better integrates Cliff into the storyline, catapulting the final moments into the nazi era. Cabaret has never been a fun-filled Broadway evening out, but the revisal is a no-holds barred, dark, emotional affair. And that is no different in Walsh’s production.

Highly Recommended.

If any tickets remain, or are returned, you can check at the box office day of show. Cabaret continues through Sunday afternoon at the Arthur Miller Theatre on UM’s North Campus. If any tickets remain (Fri and Sat are entirety sold out, a handful remain as of this writing for Sunday afternoon) you best go to a2ct.org to get them.

 

 

“The Bodyguard, the Musical” is fun, entertaining, talent-filled (Review) October 23, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Broadway Tour, musical theater, Musicals.
Tags: ,
comments closed

First, let me preface this by saying I’ve read many of the reviews for this musical. The original London and most international reviews have been terrific. The show, bypassing Broadway and doing a US tour, has not fared as well in the US reviews. Let me be a British reviewer. I loved this show when seen this week in East Lansing. I don’t get the negative reviews, and I highly recommend the show which is fun, entertaining, and loaded with talent. I guess it comes as no surprise as the aggregate movie critic rating is 32% while the audience rating for the movie is 98%.

The show stars R&B star Deborah Cox as pop star diva Rachel Marron (i.e. Whitney Houston) and TV star Judson Mills as the Bodyguard Frank Farmer (Kevin Costner). Cox is frequently understudied by Jasmin Richardson (who otherwise plays her sister Nicki)  and Mills by Jorge Paniagua (who normally plays :”the Stalker”). You know he’s the stalker because every time he appears the orchestra plays a chord and he appears in a white shaft of light.

Subtle the show is not — and it is based almost word for word, scene for scene on the movie that spurred the Number One hit soundtrack album (which it still holds), to a fault — even the opening shooting (which has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the show). But it’s a 2 hour 15 minute joyride into the amazing soundtrack, and each song is presented performance-style at concerts, nightclubs, etc. It’s not a show where performers stop and sing toward one another. Its a show that transforms instantly and at times brilliantly on Tim Hatley’s gorgeous almost constantly moving light-up set from living rooms to theater stages, and that is exactly as it should be. If you are going to see The Bodyguard because you want to see how the story unfolds you are at the wrong musical.

The Bodyguard has more in common with Mamma Mia, On Your Feet, and other jukebox musicals than standard book musical theater fare. And it works well under Thea Sharrock’s straightforward direction. This is a show that knows its primary audience — and it plays for understanding and clarity throughout — at the loss of subtlety (even then, the older lady sitting next to me was lost for a good portion of Act One). That’s smart theater production and I don’t blame that creative team one bit for doing it that way. After all, this is a show that is primarily geared toward the Whitney Houston songs than anything else.

And the songs are spectacular — with a group of aerobics-toned dancers under the guidance of Karen Bruce, you feel like you are at a concert, at the Academy Awards, at a club. The choreography is terrific, and the dancers are wonderful.

Whether you get Deborah or Jasmin you are in for a treat, it just doesn’t matter with this show. At my performance Paniagua played Frank and he was terrific. Jasmin played Rachel and I loved her. But I will venture to say that the leads are interchangeable.

Sets, costumes, lighting are great. This is really entertaining stuff, and while you might walk away from the show wanting to be a US critic — I urge you to be a British critic and see the musical for what it is worth. I am particularly agitated by the Lansing State Journal review which in essence urged audiences to save their money and not bother with this show — are you kidding me???? Our performance had an instantaneous standing ovation and it wasn’t because every show now gets standing ovations (believe me, I see almost all of them and NO they do not all get standing ovations, and not this enthusiastically).  Clearly, this is a show that is aimed directly at the audiences entertainment dollars and succeeds wildly. Do NOT sit at home and let this one get by you — its a terrific cast performing a high-energy very entertaining production that I loved. And so did the very vocal audience members leaving the theater around me. I just kept hearing “I loved that” over and over — and that is what I would consider a resounding success.

Highly Recommended.

The Bodyguard completed it’s run at East Lansing’s Wharton Center this past Sunday, but will be back for a two week run in Detroit from January 16th through 24th. Tickets at Ticketmaster and the Fisher Theatre Box Office.

 

 

“Love Never Dies” tour is glorious (Review) October 19, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Broadway Tour, musical theater, Musicals.
Tags: , , , , , ,
comments closed

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies, is currently making its official US Tour debut in Detroit (it has already played upstate New York and Baltimore in previews, London, Australia, and other world cities) and it is a glorious affair, though your personal like will depend on your love for the characters from the original. While the musical stands alone, you need to have seen the original to understand why these characters capture you from the start to finish in this gorgeous musical.

Yes, that is Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber himself on stage at the Fisher Theatre last night, and yes I did take that photo with my iPhone.

Taking place ten years after the original, the Phantom, having fled Paris, has now set up shop at Coney Island where he is free to present his macabre Phantasma show and he has lured Christine to America under the guise of performing at Hammerstein’s new theatre. But a surprise lies in store. Also in Coney Island are ever-faithful Madame Giri and her daughter Meg, now a rising star at Phantasma. Along for the ride are down-on-his-luck Raoul and their 9 year old son (get it?). What plays out is high drama in opera buffa style, incorporating various musical styles of the era, a few rousing pop ballads, and at least two massively glorious numbers, the opening “Til I Hear You Sing” (which I suspect every musical fan knows by heart by now), and Christine’s title song “Love Never Dies”. There is also a spell-binding duet for the Phantom and Christine when first reunited – first in their hotel room, and then revolving to the hotel balcony – “Beneath a Moonless Sky/Once Upon Another Time” and later another for Raoul and the Phantom — “Why Does She Love Me/Devil Take the Hindmost.”  I give that example because this score is perfectly written – with its ever-building tension, building in classical musical motifs, and slight elements from the original Phantom of the Opera (to remind you this is a continuation of the story) and its very effective.

Its also a musical with a tremendous heart. If you don’t care about these characters, you won’t care about the tragic ending. I won’t tell you more except to say that not all of the main characters make it to the final moments of the story, and those that do will share emotional scars.

None of this would work were it not for the brilliant stagecraft and performances. The Australian production of the show has been basically imported here, including an almost identical design (scaled down a bit, but surely restored to its full glory when the show reaches NYC, the ultimate goal of this tour) from Australian designer Gabriela Tylesova whose sets and costumes are gorgeous, as is Nick Schlieper’s lighting design. Simon Phillips recreates his staging as director, as does choreographer Graeme Murphy AO, both from the Australian production.

But the night belongs to the singers — Meghan Picerno is a fantastic Christine, and she brings down the house several times with her singing here. She’s also a strong performer and you feel a connection to her early on, which is as it should be for dramatic effect later in the proceedings. Normally Gardar Thor Cortes plays the Phantom and I am returning next week to see him. Last night we had a spectacular performance from understudy Bronson Norris Murphy whose voice is fantastic and whom I understand performs this part quite regularly. A performance schedule has not been announced.  Also very strong are Karen Mason as Madame Giri (Love. Her.), Mary Michael Patterson as Meg, Sean Thompson as Raoul, and the rotating Gustave’s (last night Jake Heston Miller). Katrina Kemp, Richard Koons, and Stephen Petrovich round out the featured cast with their emcee-duties – and they are funny, athletic, and always watchable. There is also a 20 member ensemble and they are strong throughout.

There is no falling chandelier here, but there is a magical horseless carriage. There is no fiery scene in a cemetery, but there are plenty of surprises including a macabre and brilliant look at the darker side of Coney Island (“The Beauty Underneath”). And then there is a beautifully realized final scene on an oceanside pier that had gasps from the audience last night. And its a doozy.

Very Highest Recommendation.

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Glenn Slater. Book by Andrew Lloyd Webber & Ben Elton, with Glenn Slater and Frederick Forsyth. Orchestrations by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Musical Director Dale Rieling.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies continues at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit through October 29th. Ticketmaster, 800-982-2787, and Box Office. 

 

 

 

 

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

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
Tags: ,
comments closed

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). 

 

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

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

Attachment-1

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

Posted by ronannarbor in Croswell Opera House, musical theater, Musicals.
Tags:
comments closed

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

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
Tags: ,
comments closed

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

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

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