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Fantastic cast creates a hilarious Spelling Bee (A2CT Review) September 8, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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I’ve made it a habit to see “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at least once a theater season — and you can’t ask for a better production than the one currently running at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.

A hilarious (and pitch-perfect) cast creates a great evening of musical theater at the Lydia Mendelssohn that will have you howling with laughter one moment, and misting up a bit the next during this elementary school spelling bee (all the characters are played by adults) that is equal parts mockumentary and old-fashioned story-telling musical.

Director Wendy Sielaff and choreographer Reilly Conlon (with additional help from Sielaff) keep the musical moving swiftly through its 95 intermissionless minutes. Each of the (stereotyped) child spellers is beautifully crafted by this very funny and talented cast. Emily Fishman is an excellent Olive. Hallie Fox is all spunk as Marcy. Keshia Daisy Oliver lisps her way through a touching Loraine. Bob Cox is all gangly hijinx as Chip. Nathan King is a simply superb Coneybear (it takes special talent to instantly bring you from high to low in just two lines of song). Connor Rhoades is a “sure-footed” Barfee (see what I did there?). The “adults” here are equally strong — Allison Ackerman is a very good Rona, and Brandon Cave a side-splitting Panch (of course he does get to deliver the shows funniest lines). Nick Rapson is wonderful as “grief counselor” Mitch.

Production values here are strong – from the simple set design (Mike and Wendy Sielaff) to the clean lighting design (Brian Meyers), costume design (Nan Wirth), and sound design (Bob Skon). Debbie Nichols conducts and plays keyboard with the tight 5-piece  onstage ensemble, and her vocal direction is excellent — the diction and harmonies here sound great.

I’ll be the first to admit that 25th Annual is one of those pieces that is so finely written that you already know its going to be hilarious. In the hands of an excellent cast such as this one, it makes it soar.

Highest Recommendation.

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee continues at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, Michigan League Building, University of Michigan through Sunday September 11th. Tickets at the door, at a2ct.org, or by calling 734-971-2228.

 

 

“Barefoot in the Park” at Ann Arbor Civic Theater is Hilarious Fun (Review) April 22, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Theatre.
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I don’t think I’ve laughed at a 50 year old comedy more than I did last night at Ann Arbor Civic Theater’s production of Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” — it is a non-stop laughfest, but more than that, it is impeccably acted and directed — a must-see.

Newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter move into their 5th floor walkup (I lived in one of those in NYC for awhile and can certainly relate to not calling the front stoop a “flight”) — she’s easy going and loving the whole experience, Paul is more of a stuffed-shirt lawyer, later referred to as a fuddy-duddy…(hey, it was in 1963 that this doozy hit the stage). Along for the ride come Corie’s mother, gasping each trip up the stairs; eccentric “upstairs” neighbor Victor; a very funny telephone company man; and a delivery man. Also along for the ride are some of Neil Simon’s funniest jokes and gags, perfectly meted-out over the course of the evening so that even 53 years later everything feels fresh and funny.

It helps that the production has a super director in Wendy Wright. She understands the patterns, both visual and vocal, that keep this show running smoothly and hilariously throughout the evening. Call it “Love American Style” crossed with “The Love Boat” with a touch of “Laugh-In” thrown in.

The ensemble cast is simply superior — Colleen Davis hits all of Corie’s notes just right — Karl Kasischke grows Paul from a fuddy-duddy to just the right level of hysteria toward show’s end and Larry Rusinsky does the same with the initially over-the-top Victor Velasco to mother’s  warm-hearted potential lover — Thom Johnson has a short funny walk-on that garners some big laughs — Theo Polley is a fantastic telephone repair man — and, I save the best for last, Ellen Finch plays a triumphant Ethel Banks (Corie’s mother) in a stage turn that you simply should not miss. This role is easy to overplay, and instead, Finch turns in a delicious and finely nuanced performance that will make you think that your own mother is standing in your fifth floor walkup (6th since she will count the stoop) and making you feel as guilty as hell for doing nothing at all. Bravo.

Cathy Cassar has designed a lovely NYC apartment, Megan Shiplett’s costumes are period perfect, and Zach Johnson has lit it all to make it look shiny and bright. Lisa Gavan’s props are practical and funny, and there’s some great sound design by Wendy Wright — musical selections greet you from the moment you enter, and comment perfectly on the stage action later during the production.

Go. This show is near perfection in timing, acting, and design. You won’t see a better production of this (now) rarely produced comedy. It adds a terrific third Neil Simon production to the already seen “Odd Couples” at The Purple Rose and Tipping Point. “Barefoot in the Park” is Simon’s funniest play — the one that put him on the map on Broadway, and this production should not be missed.

Highest Recommendation.

“Barefoot in the Park”, Ann Arbor Civic Theater, continues through May 24 at the Arthur Miller Theatre, UM’s North Campus, Walgreen Building. Tickets at a2ct.org or at the door.