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God-Awful “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” on NBC December 10, 2020

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About 15 years ago or so, I wrote a scathing review for the stage musical “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” after I saw it on Broadway. I hated it then — and I hated NBC’s adaptation of the stage musical.

This is all you need to see to get an idea of this monstrosity.

Adapted from the UK Tour from last year, with some tweaks, and starring Matthew Morrison (in a completely thankless role any good actor could have played, but NBC might not have bankrolled) the show is a flop from top to bottom. Narrated by a grown up dog, who occasionally interacts with his younger self, the live show is 80 minutes of ennui and unnecessary musical numbers, some of which don’t even make sense. Stretched out to two hours with commercials its enough to send you plunging a dagger into your television.

Look, I’m not going to tear this all down again which I hated doing the first time around. I’ll just say that any attempt to do a stage show in 2020 is better than none. Except maybe in this instance. I might understand if they had done a tv version of the (very very good) Elf, the musical — but then, that’s a show that is still raking in big bucks on its yearly tours and in its many regional, community, and youth theater productions. But taking the piece of shit “Grinch” and making it into a “television spectacular” makes you appreciate the brilliant work that Ahrens and Flaherty did with their 1-minute tribute in Seussical, the musical.

I am so glad I DVR’d the show last night so I could watch it today (and fast forward through all commercials and parts of the show – hey, don’t blame me, some of the songs are indistinguishable from the commercials themselves). For what it’s worth – the cute set pieces are virtually intact from the stage production (well, they are the tour sets so they should be) with a few nice touches added for the television production. The lights and colors and costuming are fine. The “additional songs” are horrible. The Grinch theme always works, even in this rotten adaptation.

After watching this morning, this sent me directly to the fridge to make Stouffers mac and cheese and eat a couple entemann’s donuts to get the taste of this Grinch out of my mouth. I think I actually yelled at the tv at one point: “what a stupid directing decision!”

I’d give it zero stars if I could. Instead, I’ll give it one for the cute christmas tree with the paper star on top.

Little spirit and no magic in Christmas events…but it’s all part of the dumpster fire of 2020 December 6, 2020

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Greenfield Village Holiday Nights

I should preface this post by stating that this is the first time in twenty-five years I haven’t spent at least a week at Walt Disney World before Christmas. So right off the bat, much of my idea of “magical holiday” is right out the window…but that being said, here’s a look around what’s happening in the Detroit area…

The Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo — always a highlight of the holiday season, the lights at the Toledo Zoo are ablaze nightly and they are as pretty as ever. There’s the giant tree, the dancing lights (two locations this year!), and the beautiful bent-metal moving animal tableaux lights. What there isn’t is anything Christmasy beyond that. Oh, they have some food stands near the old mammals building, but no interior food or dining. There are no special holiday menus, and there is no strolling and sipping on hot chocolate. The Pizza stand near the wolves is open and had a big line. There’s also no trainride, or quite frankly almost anything in the entire Africa area – though the carousel is open and some nights (it was closed on my night) there is a model train display you can look at through windows. But most surprisingly, what has always made the Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo so special has been that all the animal displays have been open and you could go see them while you were also checking out the lights. Not so this year. WIth the exception of a few displays almost all the animals were tucked away for safe keeping in their warm homes with empty displays — I’d estimate 85% of the animals are off limits this year. It’s the most unmagical experience I’ve had at this event. Masks are required everywhere at the event under all circumstances (not a requirement except indoors and where you can’t physically distance on normal zoo days). I found about 90% of the visitors were following the mask rules once they were actually inside the park. 

The Detroit Zoo Lights makes no qualms about not having their animal displays open. In fact, the lights only fill the far east side of the park near the entrances and anything beyond there is off limits anyway. The same lack of Christmas spirit is apparent at the Detroit Zoo, but the lights are glorious. They have beautiful displays, artistically arranged, and the colors!  The worst part about this experience is the parking. Unless you are in the earliest group (and you won’t be seeing any lights unless you can stand sitting around until at least 5:00) the parking will be as far away from the entrance as the actual scope of the zoo lights. Masks are required everywhere. Nobody wore masks until they were entering the queue lines but inside I found that almost all of the visitors were wearing their masks. The Detroit Zoo Lights has always been a beautiful event, and I didn’t expect to find much Christmas spirit here beyond that, and that is exactly what I did not find. 

Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village. Outside of Walt Disney World, the Greenfield Village Christmas evenings have always been my favorite holiday event anywhere. With it’s clip-clopping of horse hooves as they give “sleigh rides” and the carolers, and the model-T Ford cars beep beeping their way around the village with guests, and chestnuts roasting on open fires, and the ice skating pond, and the shows and attractions, and the ability to go inside the houses and see the beautiful Americana historical Christmas displays, and of course, that amazing Christmas Dinner in the Eagle Tavern on a cold, snowy night. So — now imagine an event where there were a few masked-up carolers kind of keeping their distance from everyone, no skating rink, no horses or cars or sounds of the holidays except piped-in music here and there, no shows or attractions, no dinner at Eagle Tavern, and the only way to see the decorations in the houses was to look in the windows or doors – no entrance permitted.  Santa did make his appearance atop the Robert Frost house, but it wasn’t the real Santa. This was one of the most miserable freezing cold evenings I’ve spent in the Village. Oh the people were amazing — from the ticket takers to the masked-up docents trying to explain what each house had inside! That you couldn’t go in! Small clumps of family visitors mostly wore their masks, but there were a lot of people not wearing their masks in between further spread-out things to see as they made their frozen way around the Village. I managed to make it an hour before I called it a day. There is food in the Taste of History building and some scattered booths. And as usual, there is a greenery shop for outlandishly overpriced wreaths. They were selling like hotcakes though. One plus: the gift shop is open for holiday shopping and there are some really unique lovely items there. I have to say that I have yet to find a mask or noseclip that works that keeps my eyeglasses from completely steaming over – so when I do an outdoor event I have my choice of taking my eyeglasses off every couple minutes to let them unsteam, or putting them in my pocket and going blind and getting a migraine after half an hour. 

MIS Christmas lights — this is brilliant! I packed up the dog and we went for a ride to see the lights at the Michigan International Speedway. You enter from Michigan Avenue, and there are no reservations so the line to get in was longer than the actual drive through the attraction. As a single driver with dog, it was impossible to stop or slow the car to take a single photo, or the hillbilly in the F350 behind me would have probably rammed right into me. And as a single driver, my experience was basically drive and look at what is straight in front of you, sometimes blocked by the rear lights of the car ahead of me. But the lights are gorgeous, and this event makes no pretense that you are going to do anything but drive and look at lights. Its similar to the Wayne County light display, without the pretty park you drive through but with a lot more lights — in fact, you could probably see this from the space station it’s that big and there are that many lights. I kept thinking how much nicer it would have been if it wasn’t in a parking lot at Michigan International Speedway — but the lights are gorgeous and its well worth the drive out some evening. You can get your own hot chocolate or beverages at the McDonalds in Clinton on your way down Michigan Ave, and since you are in your own car, no worry about masks here — though the employees also didn’t seem to worry about masks. Most wore them around their necks to pull up in case they were spotted by authorities. But it doesn’t matter here, you are in your own closed window car. If you open your windows for some fresh air, you’ll get a great whiff of the exhaust from the 1998 mini-van in front of you. 

As to Walt Disney World — I had made reservations to go for a weekend just before Thanksgiving. Delta cancelled my flight back on Sunday night and the next available seat was on Thursday. Yes — four days until they could find a seat to accomodate me and the 130 other passengers all looking for return seats on already sold-out flights. All I have to say is, good luck flyers when the winter weather cancellations start to roll in. I’m avoiding flying at all costs until the spring. 

Hey, Halloween Fans! October 13, 2020

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Ann Arbor Civic Theatre and Dexter Community Players are presenting a Halloween Drive-Through event on October 30th and 31st at Domino Farm’s petting zoo! Performers in costume will present three “scenes” sure to make you smile – from zombies to teenagers and aliens invaders…with dance and song thrown in to make your Halloween grin come to life…

Ticket information will be forthcoming – but anyone who wants to participate – from performing, to dressing up, to helping backstage in some fun, socially-distanced “real theater” are invited to send in a volunteer form indicating your interest by midnight on October 14th. You’ll be assigned to scenes or tasks based on your forms.

The link to participate is here:

https://tinyurl.com/y3r5ryx9

You can find out more about the event here:

https://halloweendrive.net

Croswell Opera House cancels remaining summer/early fall musicals – plans outdoor and special events July 3, 2020

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The Croswell Opera House has announced several changes to its summer and fall schedule due to the ongoing Coronavirus situation. Three previously scheduled shows are being canceled or postponed, and a number of outdoor and online events are taking their place.

The musicals “Holiday Inn,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Cabaret,” which had been scheduled for August, September and October, are coming off of the schedule. 

Instead, the Croswell is planning a variety of outdoor and online events, including:

  • “Every Brilliant Thing,” a one-woman play that was originally scheduled for April. This play will be performed in late July in the Farmers Market Pavilion on Toledo Street.
  • An outdoor concert series in the courtyard behind Adrian City Hall and the Adrian District Library.
  • An online magic show with Stuart MacDonald.
  • An outdoor fall concert with opera singer Leah Crocetto.

All of these events will comply with state and federal guidelines for crowd size and social distancing.

“Even though it’s disappointing to take shows off of our schedule, we’re excited about the things we’re planning instead,” said Jere Righter, the Croswell’s artistic director. “We’ve been getting creative and stretching our brains and coming up with new ways to do things, and I think people will enjoy what’s coming up.”

Even though Michigan’s Coronavirus numbers have improved, Righter said, the Croswell does not feel it would be responsible to plan full-scale musicals inside the theater at this point.

“Michigan has gotten this situation under control better than almost any other state, and we feel good about that,” Righter said. “But we’re not at the next phase of reopening yet, and what’s happening right now in states like Texas and Florida also gives us cause for concern.”

Theaters in southern Michigan still cannot be open, and theaters in northern Michigan are operating at 25 percent of their capacities.

An additional complication is that most Croswell shows rehearse for six to eight weeks, and auditions need to take place about three months before opening night.

“The health of our volunteer performers is our top priority, and we aren’t to a point where we feel we can rehearse safely,” Righter said.

Even if the situation improves by fall, Righter said, the Croswell’s production schedule requires making choices well in advance of planned show dates.

“With so much uncertainty, we can’t afford to start working on these shows knowing there is a strong chance they would get canceled later on,” she said. “Every show is a major investment in both time and money, so we need to make these decisions early.”

The theater is still hoping to present the classic country act Branson on the Road in early November, the musical “A Christmas Story” starting Thanksgiving weekend, and Under the Streetlamp’s “Hip to the Holidays” concert a few days before Christmas.

The Croswell also announced this week that all gift certificates and house credits with a 2020 expiration date will be extended through the end of 2021.People with tickets to “Holiday Inn,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Cabaret” will be contacted by email about their options. Anyone with questions can email tickets@croswell.org or call 517-264-7469 and leave a voicemail.

CATS is weird, but CATS is CATS, and the dancing is outstanding. And I didn’t hate it. December 20, 2019

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Movies, musical theater, Musicals, Uncategorized.
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It’s very rare that I write a review that totally seems to contradict the mainstream movie critics, but this review of CATS is one of them.

Not that it’s a good movie — but it’s a very solid adaptation/interpretation of the stage musical. If you do not love musical theater, then for God’s sake stay away from this Andrew Lloyd Webber atrocity. But if you do love musical theater, and especially if you love dance, you will find very much to admire in this movie – complete with a sure-fire Oscar nomination for Jennifer Hudson, whose “Memory” is simply stunning.

Let me acknowledge up front that I love the stage musical and saw it many times in its original Broadway run, on the West End (faithfully captured for video and streaming at BroadwayHD), the revival with its many UM Musical Theater grads, and on tour. I might have even performed Mungojerrie at one point along the line (evidence is classified). 

The show has always been problematic – but one thing that was never problematic either then or now was that the musical brought dance back to musical theater – something only rare productions (A Chorus Line, 42nd Street) were doing at the time. Then along came CATS with its popular score, and its weird mix of ballet, tap, jazz, modern Broadway dance, with a touch of British music hall thrown in. It was an instant hit and ran for years.

Let me get this out of the way – Tom Hopper was the absolutely wrong choice to direct this movie, though I suppose it would not have gotten the green light if a name like Hopper had not been attached. His use of closeups when we should be in full stage, and weird sweeps toward the performers rather than away from them is distracting and wrong for this script.

And the CGI is distracting and terrible – though not as terrible as in the original teaser trailers. Still, it’s enough that you want to pull your hair out at times. It might have been less eerie if they had costumed most of the cast, rather than putting CGI fur on their entire bodies. Believe me, Robbie Fairchild and Idris Elba would have still looked like hunks even in costumes. 

Sure there is star power — a lot of it — and each gets featured in their own number. Already mentioned are Jennifer Hudson and Idris Elba, but there are empathic Judi Dench and Ian McKellen, pop-centric but fitting right in Taylor Swift, and funny James Cordon and Rebel Wilson — there’s no trick casting here – they are all good in their stereotypical roles, and there are no Les Miserables type embarrassments in the vocal/acting departments. Cats has never been sublte. Why settle for actors that are subtle?

But where the show explodes is in its dance numbers. Robbie Fairchild and Francesca Hayward are ballet dancers that are a joy to watch – Laurie Davidson is great as Mr Mistoffelees, Steven McRae is outstanding doing his tap number for Skimbleshanks. Danny Collins and Naomhi Morgan are great as Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. 

The score is also beautifully reorchestrated and lush. It “sounds” Broadway and less tinny than the original West End arrangements.

Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton, In the Heights, Bandstand) takes a look at the original choreograpy and expands it with strong hiphop and ballet woven into its dance tapestry. It just works. 

I suggest we all take a step back and forget about the weird and unnecessary CGI fur and sets, and remember that this is a damn musical about people playing CATS for two hours. Seriously, What do you expect? But let’s not take a step back from something Hopper has well-continued here from the original…you do not forget throughout that these are people doing incredible work – vocally, and particularly in dance. And that is the way this show was designed. You are not supposed to think, for an instant, that these are real cats. And that is where the CGI goes wrong and errs on the “real cats” look. Its a mark of people not believing in their material. 

Hey, really, I would much rather rewatch the stage production on BroadwayHD any day. But I am not going to lambast this work for something some critics are making out to be a disaster.

It is far from a disaster. It’s CATS. Now and forever. (Ugh). 

Outstanding The Addams Family at Osceola Arts (Review – Kissimmee, FL) October 5, 2019

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There’s a stunning production of The Addams Family musical at Osceola Arts running through October 13th. 

I’m going to be honest, I was skeptical prior to arrival (except of course for the excellent word of mouth the show has been getting around Orlando) but I have seen this musical in different theaters over the past few years probably ten times (in addition to the original Broadway production and it’s tour). None of those productions fully captured the magic of the Broadway production until this one at Osceola Arts.

Adams-Family-e1567000664219

Beutifully directed by Dominic Del Brocco, the show flies along at excellent pace, with outstanding comic timing throughout. Leads and ensemble are excellent. It helps that this production limits the Addams Ancestors to a group of 7 (11 on Broadway, and usually dozens in other school and community productions) so that each of them has something important to do. 

Kim Cole’s choreography is interesting and crisply performed – there isn’t a missed beat in this cast. Morticia’s numbers are particularly well done. 

Ah, Morticia! Mahalia Gronigan is the quintessential Morticia Addams – acting, dancing, singing. Sometimes she need do nothing but make the look — you know, that Morticia look — and the laughs are already flowing. Yan Diaz is hilarious as Gomez, and he carries the bulk of the evening’s slapstick and songs. His scenes together with Mahalia are musical theatre perfection. Grace Gustino is a great Wednesday Addams and Christopher Robinson turns in a strong performance as her boyfriend Lucas. Elijah Gragg and Sarah Marshall are terrific as his uptight parents. Supporting parts are all strong, played by Garrett Williams, Cindy Barnum, and Michael Lupo. A particular favorite of mine in this production was Pugsley, (played by a high school student rather than the usual child actor) Logan Clinger who brought both an unexpected vulnerability but also twisted adult knowingness to his role. 

The Addams Ancestors were tightly performed and danced by Parker Bradford, Joey Green, Sean Hancock, Lauren Hutchinsonm Samantha Kestenbaum, Corinne Posner, and Hannah Zwemer. 

Everything plays out on a superb set designed by Cliff Price — his multi-tiered set works perfectly for the production, is filled with eye-popping detail, and helps make everything flow well on stage. It all looks and feels, well, Addams-y.

This is top-tier work by all involved and even if you have seen the show before, it is highly worth a visit to this loonyness performed and produced better than you have seen it anywhere else. 

Very highest recommendation.

The Addams Family continues at Osceola Arts, through October 13th, 2411 E Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy, Kissimmee, FL 34744 – tickets: OsceolaArts.org

Remarkable West Side Story at Encore (Review) June 22, 2018

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Photo by Michele Anliker, courtesy Encore Musical Theatre Company.

Encore Musical Theatre Company has a beautiful production of West Side Story that opened tonight and you should order your tickets now. It is unlike anything you have seen in their space before and it’s a summer must-see.

For the first time, that elevated crosswalk in back is gone and the stage has been extended, affording more room for this monster of a musical that looks wonderful on Sarah Tanner’s set. It is also the first time I have seen light and colors used like this in an Encore show. Beautiful work by Dustin D Miller. The usual great costume work of Sharon Larkey Urick and wonderful propwork by Anne Donevan are also on display.

It’s hard to pull out specific performances when you have such an outstanding ensemble cast, correctly age-cast and diverse in nature. However, you will most likely never forget Conor Jordan as Tony and Aurora Penepacker as Maria. Individually they are remarkable, together they raise the production into the world of theater magic.

Also noteworthy is Matthew Brennan’s excellent choreography and Dan Cooney’s intimate direction. Scenes you’ve seen dozens of times resonate differently here. The choreography is firmly based in the world of classic musical theater dance and it looks fantastic.

Tyler Driskill’s musical direction and orchestra are tight and sound fantastic. The penultimate Act 1 number Tonight reprise is glorious choral work.

I have to say I approached WSS with some trepidation because it’s a musical I love and I’ve seen it so many times on large proscenium stages with its original choreography and comfortable predictable scene blocking. I shouldn’t have worried because the production on display at Encore is one of the all-around finest you are likely to see.

Very Highest Recommendation.

West Side Story continues through August 12th at Encore Musical Theatre Company, 3126 Broad Street, Dexter MI — tickets online at theencoretheatre.org or 734-268-6200

Archiving reviews 09/01/18 March 31, 2018

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Hey theater friends! If you like a review, or want to copy and paste your review into your own notes, please do so by September 01. 2018 at which time I will be cleaning up the site and making it fresh and accessible for more reviews and cool stuff.

Over the course of the last 10 years, the site has filled up with hundreds of posts and has become unmanageable at my end.

You’ve been warned.

 

SNOW CANCELLATIONS SE Michigan Fri 02/18 February 9, 2018

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***************************************************
SNOWMAGEDDON THEATER UPDATE for FRI 2/9
***************************************************
Dark Tonight:
Williamston Theatre – Our Lady of Poison
Purple Rose – Flint
Penny Seats – Edges
Hillberry Theatre – The Colored Museum
Puzzle Piece Theatre – Crimes of the Heart
Dexter Community Players – Alice in Wonderland
Tipping Point – Every Brilliant Thing
Horizon Performing Arts – Disaster the Musical

Performing Tonight:
The Dio – Murder at the Howard Johnsons
Encore Musical Theatre – Million Dollar Quartet
Theater Nova – Constellations
Fisher Theater – Finding Neverland
Stranahan – Beautiful

Updating as I get notification (last update 4:50 pm)

Very Funny Wacky-doodle “The Explorers Club” at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre (Review) January 12, 2018

Posted by ronannarbor in Plays, Uncategorized.
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Ann Stoner, Jimmy Dee Arnold, Adam Peterson, Charles Sutherland, Christopher Tiffany, and Thomas Underwood in “The Explorers Club” photo Lisa Gavan

Men’s clubs of late 1800’s London display their wackier side in Nell Benjamin’s farce “The Explorers Club” (Broadway production 2013) at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre which opened last night and runs through January 14th at the Arthur Miller Theater.

At its core, her play (well-directed by Brodie H Brockie and acted by a fine all-around cast) tackles the subject of allowing a woman to join a men’s adventurer’s club because of her discovery of a new native tribe and her presentation of one of their natives to the Queen. You can guess how that goes. It’s a setup that never would have happened in England at that historical time, but then, neither would escaping in a airship that she builds one morning at her family’s house.  That is the sort of evening you are in for, and it is funny, wacky, and fast-paced.

Brockie makes sure that the proceedings never dissolve into slap-stick but remain firmly grounded in witty banter and visual jokes — the best of which are two sequences of drink-serving by newly appointed native bartender (an absolutely hilarious Jimmy Dee Arnold) which involves lots of glass-flinging and catching; and a cigar-smoking sequence in which botanist Lucius realizes long before the others that perhaps his self-made cigars have a touch too much, um, shall we call it organic content.

It is all set on Patrick Johnson’s gorgeous set, one of the finest I have seen at the Arthur Miller,  which itself has been reformulated in a semi-proscenium format (though not the same as the last time they used a proscenium format). Its a rare chance to see a show at the theater that is not in thrust-format. Everyone looks great in Jamee and Abigail Zielke’s costumes and Brice O’Neal’s lighting.

The cast is very good indeed, and their timing and shenanigans demonstrate a nice interplay of individual characters and ensemble interaction. While everyone is strong, the aforementioned Jimmy Dee Arnold and bit-part-chew-the-scenery Patrick Johnson in the later goings of the play are standouts. Adam Peterson plays Lucius, the club president; Jared Hoffert is newly returned from expedition Harry Percy; Ann Stoner plays Phllida; Tom Underwood plays snake-toting Cope while Christopher Tiffany plays guinea-pig toting Walling; Charles Sutherland is bible-thumping Sloane and Larry Rusinsky plays the Queen’s representative Sir Bernard Humphries (I told you that presentation of the native to the Queen doesn’t go well).

There are some problems inherent to the play, so just turn off your thinking cap and enjoy the antics of these buffoons (not the least of which is a sequence in which the entire group heads off to their visit with the queen, the remaining cast have what seems like a page of dialogue, before the entire group returns from their disastrous visit minutes later). Let’s just call that writers liberty and enjoy what it is — a wacky almost Monty-Pythonish look at this Club — one which you will be sworn into anyway at the start of the show by director Brockie, so you might as well go along with the flow.

It’s a very funny theatrical evening – well done – and well played, Ann Arbor Civic Theater. “Your Drink, Sir!”

Highly Recommended.

“The Explorers Club” continues at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre through January 14th. a2ct.org/tickets or 734-971-2228, or available at the door.