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Funny “First Date” musical at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre (review) March 9, 2018

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, musical theater, Theatre.
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Drew Benson, Eric VanWasshnova, and Sarah Mazurek in First Date

Photo courtesy Lisa Gavan

During the opening number of “First Date” the ensemble sings it is about “meeting someone you don’t think is fuckin’ tragic”…and that is the starting and ending point for this one-act 2013 Broadway musical. In one funny lyric book writer Austin Winsberg and Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner (music and lyrics) summarize what a first date is all about. The production at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre that opened last night follows two people meeting for a first date in a bar, and the mishegas that goes with it. And it is very funny stuff.

First time director Aaron C Wade does a very good job of moving the action from scene to scene and making it all make sense and assuring that everyone on stage has a standout moment. Jokes come fast, insightful moments flit by in a few seconds, and songs take center stage. The two are joined by a bartender/waiter who’d rather be a singer songwriter, the couple’s family members and friends, one hilarious ex, and other random strangers.

Drew Benson is a good choice for Aaron Goldfarb – he sings well, and makes this neurotic character his own — a hard job when it is so intimately tied with Zachary Levi (for whom the role was written). Sarah Mazurek holds her own as Casey Clark, his more adventuresome date for the night. While their scenes together don’t necessarily sizzle, they do have a naturalness and honesty that makes you root for them from the start. Don’t look for heavy material here — this is a fun romcom and it stays strictly in romcom territory for the evening.

Sarah Sweeter is simply fantastic as Allison, Aaron’s ex-fiancée — her moments with him come to life on stage and it is funny stuff. Wil Lewis III has some nice scenes as his friend Gabe, with an award-winning appearance of a leaf blower. ‘Nuf said. Kimberly Lock also has some nice moments as Casey’s friend Lauren.

There is a hard working ensemble that plays all those other parts — Tina Paraventi, Jessica Dodson-Terlep, Wynton Doty, and Eric VanWasshnova.

The production is choreographed by Gayle Martin and Music Directed by Debra Nichols.

There is a good set designed by Wade, with some nifty props and stage dressings by Christine Blossom — it made me crave a Yuengling beer afterwards.  Stage left is occupied by the onstage band with tables scattered around the thrust stage.  Costumes by Molly Borneman are colorful and work well for each character.

Not everything is rosy in date land…the sound at times was garbled and it was hard to tell if that was mic levels or if it was vocal diction problems — or both. The opening number in particular was hard to understand. That will no doubt get ironed out as the weekend progresses. There were some stray notes in the band, although for the most part they sound good. There were also some stray notes in the ensemble choral music – ranging from funny to not at all good. A friend made the comment “they sound great individually, but when they sing together something just goes wrong”. Finally, there is a scene change near the end of the show that takes too long and kills some of the momentum heading into the short final sequence.

Still, I laughed a lot, and often. I had fun and was impressed by how much work went into making this ensemble cast come to life on stage in a show that is difficult to act and sing. It is a breezy 90 minutes of laughs…and laugh you will on a cold winter evening at the Arthur Miller Theatre. Go check it out! UM students, pick up this week’s Passport for the Arts and see the show for free!

First Date continues through March 11th at the Arthur Miller Theatre on University of Michigan’s North Campus. Tickets at the door or at a2ct.org/tickets.

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This Groovin’ Production of “Or,” Will Light Your Fire (Review) February 20, 2018

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Reviewed by Wendy Wright

I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s taken me this long to make it to the Kickshaw Theatre and boy have I been missing out. Founder Lynn Lammers and her associates are creating the next big thing in the Southeastern Michigan theater scene and you really need to check it out. Their latest production of Liz Duffy Adams’s titillating Or, directed by Suzi Regan is a joy, as are her trio of actors.

Loosely based on real historical figures, Aphra Behn is England’s first female professional playwright…and a spy. She’s just quit the espionage business to write her first play, and she’s on deadline when her former lover blazes in with enemies on his heels. To complicate things, the city’s hottest actress, Nell Gwynne, is getting awfully friendly, and, for that matter, so is the king—as in Charles II. Set in Restoration England, this playful farce is a rush of mad-cap antics, gender bending, and rollicking intrigue. Against a background of a long drawn out war and a counter-culture of free love, cross dressing, and pastoral lyricism, the 1660s look a lot like the 1960s in this neo-Restoration comedy.

I’m surprised the play is not produced more as It has the look and feel of a Restoration comedy without the huge cast and elaborate sets and costumes. The themes are timeless, and it’s wild and sexy and just plain fun. Additionally, it provides a tour de force for three actors, two of whom take on multiple roles.

The success of the piece depends primarily on the actress playing Aphra and in Vanessa Swanson, Regan has hit the jackpot. It’s virtually impossible to take your eyes off her. The strength and earthiness she brings to the role is intoxicating. Mary Dillworth and Daniel A. Helmer play multiple roles with varying degrees of success. Helmer transforms from King Charles to William Scot and back again seamlessly in mere seconds like he is born to it. Dillworth’s rendition of the notorious Nell Gwynne seems a little too naïve, but her Lady Davenant brings down the house (thanks in no small part to costumer Em Rossi).

Director Regan keeps the pacing swift (clocking in at 80 minutes with no intermission) but takes too tame an approach for my taste. Rossi’s costumes are beautiful and intertwine the 1660’s with touches of the 1960’s in an understated way (love the puka shell necklace!), Lammer’s props are clever (the purple lens glasses are groovy!), Quintessa Gallinat’s century jumping preshow songs fun, and the intricate requirements of the set and lights handled deftly by Aaron Delnay and Heather Brown respectively.

My advice is to run down to the Kickshaw to see a wonderful version of a show that you probably don’t know but should!

Highly Recommended.

Or, is recommended for ages 14+ and continues at 8pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and at 4pm on Sundays, February 15 – March 4 at the Interfaith Center for Spiritual Growth, 704 Airport Blvd, Ann Arbor, MI 48108. Tickets at http://www.kickshawtheatre.org.

Odd, Funny, 70’s comedy “Murder at the Howard Johnson’s” at the Dio (Review) February 5, 2018

Posted by ronannarbor in Plays, The Dio, Theatre.
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Molly Cunningham, Joshua Brown, and Dale Dobson. Photo Credit Michele Ankiker.

The Dio’s current offering “Murder at the Howard Johnson’s” by Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick is far and away the oddest local theater offering of the young season – and it is a hoot. You might be in mind of a mystery, maybe about a murder at a Howard Johnson’s? Well, that is not the case here. Instead, think of this more as an episode of the 70’s “Love Boat” stretched out into a full length comedy. And think of the writing and jokes about the same as those on that little ditty of a tv series (and its not a surprise given the authors backgrounds in writing comedy). It is a bit like a Neil Simon show before rewriting the jokes to makes sure they land right. Or a Benny Hill episode in which the actors need to deliver lines instead of running around the neighborhood.

Take three great actors (outstandingly deadpan Molly Cunningham, spritely and funny Joshua Brown, and the exceptional Dale Dobson as comic foil) and mix in a hilarious set by Matthew Tomic and solid comic-timing direction by Steve Debruyne and you have a very fun way to spend a few hours of dinner and theater. The evening’s menu is inspired — Howard Johnson’s fare!! Its comfort food for cold Michigan evenings.

I don’t want to get into the plot much, except to say that the intermission-less three-scene comedy takes place in the late 70’s at a Howard Johnson Hotel around three holidays — as time passes, you get some insight into the dysfunctional relationships at play between husband and wife, wife and lover, and husband and dentist. Don’t ask. Important to the plot are a bottle of blue nun, a hotel window ledge, a gun, pills, and a surprise for the third scene. None of it is too offensive (though keep in mind these jokes were written in the 70’s so there is a touch of that Love Boat-ness I told you about). But these are equal opportunity jokes. Cunningham gets as many quips and double entendres as the guys, and its all in good fun.

It took a few minutes for the audience to catch on that they were watching a satire comedy, but once they did the show took off and the audience did too. I found myself laughing frequently, not because the lines are particularly that funny, but because the exceptional cast brings them to life in a way that begged me to have as much fun as they were, and it worked.

The show is an oddity that ran for 10 previews and 4 performances in NYC in 1979. I am happy to say that the residency at the Dio will include more performances than their Broadway days — and may it be a happy run! While the show isn’t a masterpiece, neither is it a bomb. I am not sure why it didn’t catch on in NYC, though the plotline about running off with your dentist and leaving your husband probably wasn’t a good idea in post-sexual revolution NYC in 1979.

Forget the silly title, and go spend a few hours with these lunatics.

Recommended.

Murder at the Howard Johnson’s continues at the Dio Dining and Entertainment through March 4th. 177 E Main St, Pinckney, MI 48169 — diotheatre.com or (517) 672-6009 for tickets which sell fast at this venue. Includes dinner.

Laugh Your Seasonal Cares Away with “The Year Without a Panto Claus” at Theatre Nova December 4, 2017

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Guest review by Wendy Wright

If you love slapstick, song and dance and sly political humor, then you need to run down to the Yellow Barn, where Theatre Nova is staging its annual Christmas “Panto” based on the classic holiday story “The Year Without a Santa Claus” called (what else) “The Year Without a Panto Claus”. As in past years this original piece is written by Founding Artistic Director, Carla Milarch and her frequent music collaborator R. MacKenzie Lewis. The direction is provided by Melissa Freilich.

If you are unfamiliar with this British Christmas tradition, Milarch described it perfectly in an interview she did recently with Emily Slomovits for the Ann Arbor District Library’s Pulp:

“I always describe a panto as a mash-up of a musical comedy, stand-up comedy, a vaudeville act, and an old-fashioned melodrama, with a heaping helping of The Three Stooges thrown in. There’s a good deal of falling down, chases, booing the villain, cheering the hero, political humor, and jokes — and, of course, candy for the kids.”

In summarizing this year’s show, Milarch continues:

“The premise of the play is that 2017 has been a bummer of a year, and Santa, like many of us, is starting to feel too depressed to carry on with life as usual. So, he decides to cancel Christmas. Jingle and Jangle the elves then set off on a hilarious journey to parts hither and yon to find some Christmas spirit to get Santa back in the saddle.”

Those who remember the characters of the Heat Miser and the Snow Miser will find a striking similarity between them and a couple of politicians who faced off a year ago. The new lyrics penned for Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and (my personal favorite) Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”, will bring a chuckle or two.

The trio of actors playing multiple roles this year are Lisa Michaels, Ramona (Lucius) Burns and Scott Screws each of whom bringing their individual strengths to the stage. Michaels has a lovely singing voice, Burns can establish a real connection with the audience, while Screws has some wonderful comic timing. Alternating in the role of young Iggy are William Powers and Coleman Grengs. I was lucky enough to see Mr. Powers who, although only in fourth grade, has a list of professional credits and is clearly his mother (Milarch) and father’s (Phil Powers) son. He has presence and poise well beyond his years. Also joining the cast for each performance will be a different special guest. I saw the local duo Gemini who performed a song.

The sets by Forrest Hejkal, lights by Allan McMillan and costumes by Cal Schwartz are colorful and work well. The props by Becky Fox are fun and original. Director Freilich keeps the pace lively during the nonstop 100 minutes and I’m sure the lag in some of the more complicated transitions will smooth themselves out as the run continues.

The audience of all ages was smiling ear to ear. If you’re looking for some holiday fun for the entire family, this is the place to be.

Recommended

“The Year Without a Panto Clause” runs Dec. 1-31 at Theatre Nova, 410 W. Huron St., Ann Arbor. For tickets and more information, visit theatrenova.org.

Croswell announces 2017-18 Special Event Series October 8, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Croswell Opera House, Entertainment, Theatre.
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Croswell announces 2017-18 Special Event Series

Concerts, musicals, a play, a children’s show, and more are coming up this fall, winter and spring at the Croswell Opera House.

The Croswell’s 2017-18 Special Event Series will run from October through April. It includes a few previously announced events plus several new shows.

“The Family Digs” (Oct. 13-22): This new play by Terry Hissong will be the first fully staged production in the Croswell’s new studio theater. A two-act comedy, it tells the story of an eccentric archaeologist, his long-suffering adult daughter, his freeloading New Age son, and what could be the greatest archaeological discovery of all time. Peter Stewart plays the father, Dr. Charles Edwards, with Meg McNamee as his long-suffering daughter, Eve, and Jonathan Stelzer as his New Age-aficionado son, Robert, who insists on being called Sunshine. Emily Allshouse and Karen Miller play Sophia and Hannah, two of Eve’s co-workers.

The play will be the first fully staged production in the Croswell’s new James E. Van Doren Studio, which is located on the second floor of the theater at 129 E. Maumee St. in Adrian. It is being presented in collaboration with Westfall-Hissong Productions.

“The Family Digs” runs the weekends of Oct. 13-15 and Oct. 20-22, with Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday shows at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for students. The play is recommended for ages 13 and up.

Fun Pianos by 176 Keys (Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m.): The Dueling Pianos return to the Croswell stage for a one-night event. This is an adult-oriented show. In addition to auditorium seating, a limited amount of on-stage table seating is available.

Local premiere of the film “All or Nothin’” (Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m.): Beloved local icon Laura Haviland is among the characters in this new film about a group of slaves who escaped from bondage in 1853. The movie, by Ann Arbor filmmaker Charles Campbell, was partially filmed in Lenawee County. Admission will be by donation, and a Q&A session with the filmmaker will be offered afterward.

Branson on the Road (Nov. 11 at 5:30 p.m.): Classic country music takes the stage in this salute to American history and heroes. Led by Debbie Horton, who once played lead guitar for the late Johnny Cash, Branson on the Road presents a musical journey with a patriotic theme for Veterans Day.

“Meet Me in St. Louis” (Nov. 25 to Dec. 10):
Opening Thanksgiving weekend, the Croswell’s annual holiday musical is the heartwarming tale of a turn-of-the-century American family anticipating the wonders of the 1904 World’s Fair. The stage musical is based on the movie of the same name, and includes well-known tunes such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “The Trolley Song,” and “The Boy Next Door.”

Carols and Candlelight with Michael Lackey (Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m.): This evening of entertainment will take place in the James E. Van Doren Studio and feature Broadway veteran Michael Lackey performing a variety of Christmas favorites in a cabaret-style setting. Seating will be limited.

Wizards of Winter (Dec. 22 at 7:30 p.m.):
Wizards of Winter was founded by former members of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and features a similar mix of rock-style holiday favorites, complete with spectacular special effects.

“Godspell” (Jan. 27 to Feb. 3): This Tony-nominated musical by Stephen Schwartz will be the Croswell’s annual all-area high school production. It will be directed by Michael Yuen, who played John the Baptist and Judas in the 2000-01 national tour of the show.

You Rock, Valentine! (Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m.): This event, taking place in Van Doren Studio, will combine rock hits performed by Dave Rains with dinner catered by the Hathaway House. Seating will be limited.

“The Big Meal” (Feb. 23 to March 4):
This dramatic comedy, which won author Dan LeFranc the 2010 New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award, spans 80 years and five generations in the life of one American family.

Your Generation (March 10 at 7:30 p.m.): Formerly known as 50-Amp Fuse, Your Generation presents a tribute show that journeys through five decades of pop, rock, dance and R&B. This will be the band’s first Croswell appearance.

“Stellaluna and Other Tales” (March 23-31): Based on the book series by Janell Cannon, this hour-long musical is aimed at children from pre-K through fourth grade.

Disco Night at the Croswell (April 7 at 7:30 p.m.): Singer Tatiana Owens, who previously appeared in “Memphis” and “Million Dollar Quartet,” will return for a one-night concert featuring hits from performers like Donna Summer, Sister Sledge, the Bee Gees, and more.

“Disenchanted” (April 13-22): This comic, not-for-children musical follows fairy-tale princesses like Snow White and Cinderella to find out what happens after “happily ever after.”

Ben Daniels Band (April 28 at 7:30 p.m.): The Michigan-based Ben Daniels Band has become a favorite at venues like The Ark and The Blind Pig, as well as at concert halls around the country. This will be the band’s first Croswell appearance.

Tickets for all shows in the 2017-18 Special Event Series will go on sale Oct. 9.

Open auditions for “Godspell,” “The Big Meal,” “Stellaluna and Other Tales,” and “Disenchanted” will be announced soon.

For more information, go to croswell.org.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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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

Posted by ronannarbor in Croswell Opera House, Michigan, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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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

Very Funny “Criminal Hearts” at Ann Arbor Civic Theater (Review) June 18, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Community Theater, Plays, Theatre.
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Cami Fussey has directed a very funny production of Jane Martin’s “Criminal Hearts” at Ann Arbor Civic Theater, and you have one more chance to catch it as it only plays this one weekend (the usual Ann Arbor Civic Theater dilemma).

Telling you much about the plot would ruin the twists and turns, but as stated in the program, Bo,  a streetwise burglar breaks into Ata’s apartment which has already been completely emptied out of furniture by her philandering husband, Wib – the two of them, together with getaway driver Robbie, join forces to take Wib for all he’s worth.

With multiple twists and turns, the (very) funny script takes these two oddball women for a ride.

Elisha Kranz is a fine agoraphobic (and that’s only the beginning of it) Ata, and Tomi Dres is a good Bo. The two of them play off of each other well (as should be in a piece that primarily focuses on the two of them). Christopher Ankney makes his stage debut as the funny Robbie, and David Widmayer is hilarious as he creates a strange and nasty Wib.

Cami Fussey has directed the piece with an eye to character development while letting the jokes flow naturally and rapidly — things feel like the characters are discovering these quirks (and strengths) as the audience does, and it all flows nicely — no matter how absolutely bizarre. The 1:40 piece flies by (there is one intermission). Everything looks terrific on the set designed by Cami and built and lit by Scott Fussey.

Stage Managed by Lisa Gavan, Produced by Christopher Ankney, Light and Sound operated by Nate Dewey, and Production Assisted by Dane Larsen.

Today’s educational moment: nobody really knows who playwright “Jane Martin” is — though almost all of his/her works originate at Actors Theatre of Louisville and there is constant speculation online about who the writer (or possible writers) are. The playwright’s name is a disambiguation.

I had a great time, and I think you will too. There’s only one more chance to see it today – this afternoon (sunday June 18th) at AACT’s studio – 322 W. Ann Street — tickets at the door.

Highly Recommended.