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Stratford Festival 2016 – A sampler (Reviews) June 18, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in A Little Night Music, All My Sons, As You Like It, Musicals, Plays, Shakespeare, Shakespeare in Love the play, Stratford Festival 2016, Theatre.
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The Stratford Festival (Stratford, Ontario. Canada) has grown from a small theater-in-a-tent company to one that is the largest, longest, and most varied theater festival in North America. Every year, the company now produces 15 shows in repertory, 4 shows each day from May through October. Unless you are the heartiest of theater goers, one gets a sampling of shows during a typical 2 or three days visit.  On my latest visit, I saw the following:

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE — is everything you would imagine. Very faithfully following the movie script, the production is the American premier of the West End play — in fact, it IS the West End play, complete with the same sets, costumes, and blocking. I’m going to guess that Stratford, in exchange for presenting the show at their festival, will be given the option to produce it on Broadway, where it should move. Its a fun near-three hour romp through Shakespearean London and a disguised love story. I had a great time, as did the audience from the comments after the show. I’m giving this one 4.5 out of 5 stars and highly recommend it. At the Avon Theatre.

ALL MY SONS — the searing drama by Arthur Miller is performed in the round at the Tom Patterson theatre. The production is, in a word, devastating. If you know the show, you’ll find some wonderful nuances here in a superb color-blind-casting production. If you don’t know the show, don’t read about it in advance. You’ll love the drama and by the end of the evening you will feel like you have been eaves-dropping on your neighbors. This is one of the strongest ensemble casts I have ever seen in a Stratford production.  5 Stars out of 5. Highest Recommendation.

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC — is gorgeous. Leave it to Canada to produce the most beautiful productions of American musicals. (the Festivals A CHORUS LINE is also getting raves at the Festival Theater). Starting in a semi-steampunk type city sequence in Act One with its browns and blacks — the show opens up once they head to the Armfeldt manse in the country where colors switch to whites and creams. The cast is super, the music is wonderful, and I loved this production. At the Avon Theatre. 5 stars out of 5. Highest recommendation.

AS YOU LIKE IT — or, “You Won’t Like It” aka “As You Don’t Like It” at the Festival Theatre is terrible. It is presented as an “audience participation” show, complete with audience sometimes holding “tree branches” to create the Forest of Arden, for example — or stars in the balcony to create, well, stars. You get a nice canvas bag of “stuff” you are supposed to use but get to keep when you are done. Friends have already nicknamed it a “barf bag”.  I did get to hold a sheep-sound-maker that I got to turn over every time they said “love” in one sequence with the shepherd, and it was at least funny. Then I left at intermission. If you are 13 years old, you might enjoy the antics which (for better or worse) do clearly help you understand what is going on — not usually a problem with As You Like It. If you are not 13, you will think the show is condescending and tries to make you have “fun” but you are not having “fun” and the participation becomes annoying. This production is the first time I have witnessed people walking out DURING the show. Many more left at intermission, including myself. 1 out of 5 stars. Not Recommended at all.

I’ll update this if I get out to the Festival to see some additional shows this summer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronald P. Baumanis

MSF Board of Directors, Vice Chair

The Michigan Shakespeare Festival

215 W. Michigan Ave.

Jackson, MI 49201



Twelfth Night – AACT (Guest Review) November 1, 2014

Posted by ronannarbor in Shakespeare, Theatre, Uncategorized.
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This guest review is brought to you by Wendy Wright. Thank you, Wendy!

One of the reasons the works of Shakespeare have stood the test of time, are their ability to be shaped and interpreted in many different ways. In Kat Walsh’s production of Twelfth Night at the Arthur Miller Theater for A2CT, the play has been stripped down to the bone which allows the text to take center stage.

The story of Twelfth Night is basically about twins who are separated. The girl twin dresses as a man and has to woo a Countess for a Duke, whom she herself loves. Then the boy twin comes back, they look identical, and there are crazy misunderstandings. There’s also a subplot involving the uncle of the Countess, a cowardly knight and an arrogant servant.

What sets this production apart from other versions I’ve seen was the simplicity and clarity. This is helped in great part by a minimalist set by Nathan Doud and the understated costumes by Liz Getty. A quick glance at the program shows that a large majority of the cast has lots of experience in interpreting Shakespeare’s language, and it shows. It is clear that these actors know what they’re saying and can easily communicate it to an audience.

The roles of Viola and Olivia have some of the greatest scenes in all of Shakespeare and Carol Gray and Kaela Parnicky make the most of them. Parnicky’s Olivia is especially effective in running the gamut of necessary emotions and mining every comedic moment. A new comic duo is born with the combination of Jeff Miller’s Sir Toby Belch and Chris Grimm’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek. They play off of each other effortlessly and provide some of this production’s highlights. The live music is lovely and Feste as played by Dory Mead has a beautiful voice.

Was this the funniest production of Twelfth Night I’ve ever seen? No. But Walsh’s choice to concentrate on the text and the music makes for a very enjoyable and understandable evening. As a director of an upcoming A2CT show, I hope that many of the actors making their A2CT debut return later this season.

Twelfth Night continues tonight at 8pm and tomorrow at 2pm at the Arthur Miller Theatre, UM North Campus. Tickets are available at the door or at A2CT.org.

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


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.


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.


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…



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.