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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.

 

 

Charming “Morning’s at Seven” – AACT (review) April 20, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Community Theater, Theatre.
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There is a lovely production of Paul Osborn’s “Morning’s at Seven” (yes, that apostrophe is correct, the title comes from a Browning poem) at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre at the Arthur Miller Theatre on UM’s North Campus this weekend. Under the able direction of TJ Johnson, excellent veteran acting of the show’s older characters, gorgeous set design by Chuck Griffin (built by Gregg Blossom and Alen Fyfe with Christine Blossom) and beautiful lighting of Tiff Crutchfield, the comedy is the essence of “charming”.

Set in 1938 (the play was first performed on Broadway in 1939 with several revivals, radio broadcasts, and a television adaptation) the story concerns 4 aging sisters and their families and is set into motion when “change” rears it’s head. There’s a nice subplot about a middle-aged son bringing his fiancé home for the first time in 12 years (you know where that is going) and the men in the family get plenty of their own antics. In short it is an ideal ensemble piece for veteran actors and Civic has them in abundance here.

The sisters are played by Laurie Atwood, Ellen Finch, Barbara Mackey King, and Lenore Ferber. They are each terrific individually and believable as sisters when together. Long suffering fiancé is nicely played by Melissa Stewart and mamma’s-boy is played by Jay Fischer in a stammering, tic-filled performance that is so realistic it made me wince. Charlie Sutherland will forever live in my memory looking for “the fork” and Theo Polley and Larry Rusinsky are equally delightful.

It is not easy growing old. Families today are a bit more splintered than they were during most of the twentieth century when it wasn’t unusual to have your spinster sister live with you and have family homes next door to each other or just a few blocks away. But what if the boundaries break down — and eccentricities start to become, well, annoying. And then there is the show’s ending…there’s a suitcase, there’s tension, and there is that final moment that makes the entire affair charming as heck.

Cassie Mann’s properties are period perfect, and Molly Borneman outfits everyone nicely. In addition to the terrific building design, there’s an awesome green lawn that covers the Arthur Miller stage. It serves to tie together these family connections where boundaries are not only lacking indoors, but also outdoors where yours is mine and mine is yours…until it isn’t.

Highly Recommended.

Morning’s at Seven continues at the Arthur Miller Theater through Sunday April 23rd. Tickets at a2ct.org/tickets, 734-971-2228, or available at the door.

Almost, Maine – terrific theater at AACT (Review) March 13, 2017

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This past weekend, Ann Arbor Civic Theatre presented John Cariani’s play ALMOST, MAINE – and it was COMPLETELY, PERFECT.

I wish I had been able to get a review out after opening night, but I was opening my own show this past weekend so I didn’t get a chance to see the play until its final Sunday performance. None-the-less I didn’t want to let this one slip by.

Kat Walsh did a remarkable job of directing this hilarious (and at times whimsical and romantic and dramatic and heartbreaking and uplifting) production — tightly directed and spot-on throughout — never losing site of its actors, and never making a mis-step at any point. In fact, some of the scenes here were clearer and better directed than any other production of this play that I have seen. Kudos to Kat.

It helps when you have a remarkable cast like the one assembled for this production. By expanding the cast to have different actors portraying the different people (the show can also be done with a handful of people playing all of the different roles), the town of Almost felt well populated and (almost) like you knew every one of them.

Andrew Benson, Elizabeth Docel, Matthew Flickinger, Chris Grimm, Lawrence Havelka, Chris Joseph, Rachel Kohl, Alexandra Berneis, Joe Lopez, Matthew Miller, Scot Mooney, Sara Rose, Codi Sharp, Megan Shiplett, and Michelle Weiss comprised the excellent ensemble cast, and I really can’t point to one over another. There are scenes in the show that I like more than others, but this group of talented actors were each terrific.

Nathan Doud’s set design was sparse and gorgeous – I particularly liked the constellation design on the stage floor. Angeline Fox Maniglia’s costume design was wonderful – and the peeling of layers in one particular scene one of the funniest things I’ve seen in ages (and even funnier because those of us who live in cold climes know exactly what was going on there). Chris Simko’s lighting design was wonderful and tightly integrated into the scene work. In short, this production was beautifully designed and executed.

Congratulations to cast and crew on a wonderful production of Almost, Maine. One that was so cuddly and warm it (almost) made you want to move to that fictional town.

Very Highest Recommendation.

Almost, Maine has concluded it run, which appeared March 9 – 12th 2017 at the Arthur Miller Theatre, presented by Ann Arbor Civic Theatre. 

AACT’s “Company” is solid, entertaining (review) January 8, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals.
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Love it or hate it, Sondheim and Furth’s musical “Company” makes a solid and entertaining appearance at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre this weekend. Tinkered with more than any other of Sondheim’s shows, the current version of the script isn’t necessarily the best, but it is what MTI has chosen to license. Ann Arbor Civic Theater takes some liberties with it that further water-down the central dilemma, but its nothing if not entertaining.

I am not going to review the script — you either know it, or don’t. There isn’t much to it — diverse vignettes tying together a loose story of a guy not sure why all his married friends want him to couple up as well. Back in 1972 when originally written, it had some resonance with upscale New Yorkers who attend musical theater (even then the reviews were not all positive). As rewritten more recently, with our changing sexual mores and gender fluidity, the question really is no longer why is he not coupled-up, but why would he want to be?

There are some truly terrific cast members in director Rachel Francisco’s production. Some have mighty voices (Robert Griswold as Bobby, Trisha Fountain as Jenny, Amy Bogetto-Weinraub as Joanne). Others have mighty acting skills (Nick Boyer as Peter, Marci Rosenberg as Amy). Rounding out the strong ensemble cast are Jodi-Renee Giron as Sarah, Paul Clark as Harry, Madison Merlanti as Susan, James Christie as David, Amanda Bynum as “Paula”, Matt Steward as Larry, Kate Papachristou as as Marta, Kimberly Elliott as April, and Chris Joseph as “Kevin”.

Jennifer Goltz has done her usual excellent work as musical director, and the 4-piece jazz-infused orchestra sounds both larger than it is, and provides lovely music throughout.

Some of the pacing is too slow. Long scenes (the show is very talky) seem dragged out at times even longer than they need to be. The opening number (Company) felt like it was twice as slow as written, and that leads to a less-than-energized opening sequence (which gets much better as the show goes along). Some might call the slower pace leisurely and contemplative — though I am not sure those are qualities that make a production of “Company” soar. At times too much of the staging faces the center section at the expense of house right and left audience seeing backs and sides.

There are fun surprises in the show – and I won’t even begin to describe what Nick Boyer does with a beer bottle.

All in all, it is a very entertaining (though slowish) evening. Recommended.

Company continues at the Arthur Miller Theatre on University of Michigan’s North Campus through Sunday January 10th. Tickets at a2ct.org or at the door.

 

 

Challenging and interesting “Women and Wallace” at Ann Arbor Civic Theater (Review) June 27, 2015

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Director Jared Hoffert has directed a challenging and interesting production of Jonathan Marc Sherman’s one-act play “Women and Wallace” at Ann Arbor Civic Theater.

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Told in roughly chronological order, the play follows Wallace, whose mother commits suicide, on his journey to adulthood (it starts with him at 6 years old in 1975, and ends with him at 18 as a college freshman in 1987). Along the way we meet his mother, grandmother, childhood girlfriends, adult girlfriends, and a psychiatrist.

Every cast member of this production is strong, starting with Elijah Cox as Wallace who delivers nuance well, but is also good at the broader comedy of the piece. The women in his life are played by Amanda Burch, Lisa Gavan, Stephanie Laurinec. Megan Shiplett, Candace Ostrander, Madison Fyke, Sophia Saks, and Lauren Goyer — each getting their moment to shine, and turning in very good performances.

Hoffert directs at a leisurely pace that is appropriate to the dramedy — this isn’t a trip that is going anywhere fast, and issues raised will clearly last into Wallace’s future long beyond the show’s end. It is simply staged with movable cubes and props as necessary. He also incorporates a fantastic blend of music — and listen for a particularly hilarious musical interlude after Wallace’s dalliance with an “older woman”.

The language use in the script is remarkable, with Sherman’s keen ear for conversation, and even unspoken moments are important here. You might like Wallace. You might despise him. But you won’t soon forget him, nor the women in his life.

You have two more opportunities to see Women and Wallace — tonight at 8:00 and tomorrow at 2:00 at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s Studio Theatre — 322 West Ann Street. Tickets are available at the door.

 

 

Remarkable performances in “Rent” — Ann Arbor Civic Theatre June 9, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, musical theater, Musicals.
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Jonathan Larson’s RENT was presented this past weekend by Ann Arbor Civic Theater at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. Whatever your thoughts are on the show itself (people either love it or hate it), the production featured a remarkable cast of performers, well directed by Glenn Bugala and choreographed by Kat Walsh with excellent musical direction by Tyler Driskill.

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Dominic Seipenko performed a spot-on Mark Cohen, never failing to miss both acting and singing notes – he was the heart of this production and well done.

Also extraordinarily good was Lauren Norris as Maureen, matched nicely by Kate Papachristou as Joanne. Norris soared in her numbers, and performed one of the funniest “Leap of Faith”s I think I have ever seen (and I have seen this show way too many times).

Chris Joseph turned in a great performance of Angel, filled with heart and soul. He had the audience eating out of his hand. Similarly excellent were Nickolas Brown as Collins, Paul Clark as Benny, and the entire ensemble who play the other interchangeable roles.

Several performances were not as strong, and vocals suffered — although at times it was hard to tell if that was due to the performers or the muffled sound — the larger the numbers, the worse the sound got. La Vie Boheme worked in solo snippets but was incomprehensible (unless you already knew all the lyrics) once multiple parts were miked.

Bugala’s directorial choices were clever and worked well in this production — in particular a sequence set in the subway during “Santa Fe” (why do both Newsies and Bohemians think that the cesspit that is Sante Fe is a desirable place to go?)

Congratulations to everyone involved with Rent at Ann Arbor Civic Theater. Great to see edgier material alive and well in our local theaters.

It Takes a Village…”Shrek” at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre September 13, 2014

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So — by now, you’ve probably heard about the musical Shrek…or you saw it on Broadway, or on tour…or on endless loop on your tv of the filmed Broadway production…and you know its a huge undertaking.

Leave it to director Wendy Sielaff to pull off the biggest set and costume show that AACT has seen in, well, probably two decades. Quite frankly, as a director at Civic myself, I know the budgets there for musicals are woefully lower than necessary to do a decent job with sets. Its why I choose shows that have minimal set requirements — make them look great, but be careful of that minuscule budget — Not so with Shrek.

First, the show has some great actors in Jeff Steinhauer as the ogre himself; Katrina Linden as love interest Fiona; Arjun Nagpal as Donkey; Nick Rapson as Lord Farquaad; and Linzi Joy Bokor as the voice and embodiment of Dragon…There are also some terrific supporting players (though the cast as a whole skews a bit too far to the very young).  There is also a terrific 9-piece orchestra under the direction of Brian Rose who also served as Musical Director for the show — its great.

And there is your first challenge — Shrek is a show that skews toward younger actors…what do you do when most of the people that audition are in their teens?…Wendy has chosen to overcome this casting challenge by casting actors of similar ages into similar parts — which makes for lots of fun things that they get to do, while allowing the show to barrel ahead…so its okay if your guards are all in their teens — its consistent and its funny and it works — and those actors get to do some funny things!  Next, she casts intact families, making this a family friendly community theater piece not only from the audience but also on stage — witness the Bachman family — all 6 of them in the show…but there are also the Ziegler’s and the Clarks, etc…

Second, the set; in this case, it would have been impossible to build and create this massive set by Civic alone — trust me, I’ve been there…here, the set was originally used in a high school production that Wendy directed last winter — and it works here at AACT. Mike and Wendy Sielaff designed a easily movable set, and it fills (sometimes over-fills) the Lydia Mendelssohn stage well.

Third, the costumes; borrowed, built, blended; sewn; re-sewn — creative and fun, coordinated by Nan Wirth who even got her husband in on the action. Nikki Skrobot designed the clever makeup, Hanna Mauch the hair, Bob Brite and Abbie Gentry the often hilarious properties.

Fourth — to make it all run you need dozens of people behind the scenes — in this case, make that family and friends of cast members, as well as students from Lincoln High School — quite frankly, the show wouldn’t have been possible without this invisible army. Sound Designer Bob Skon does an admirable job keeping mic cues going — Stage Manager Keshia Daisy Oliver has her work cut out for her. Choreographer Kelsey Rose keeps everyone moving nicely on stage. Brad Pritts designed the lighting. Alen Fyfe assistant directed.

Does it all work perfectly — well, in a word no. But I’m not sure it matters — its a fun community theater show, with an emphasis on the village of creative folks necessary to make this type of thing work — and in the end, its a happy affair — the audience clearly loved it, warts and all, and you will have fun time yourself. I was thoroughly entertained, and what’s more, took tremendous pleasure in seeing all these energetic folks work together to create a fun show to entertain you and I…and are clearly having fun themselves.  I’m proud of everyone involved, and its clear the show has sparked a love of theater for many of the wee-ones involved in the show (as well as their brothers and sisters in the audience) and what could be better than that?

Shrek runs at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre through Sept 14th — tickets at a2ct.org or 734-971-0605, or at the door.

 

 

AACT’s “Little Shop” is Big Entertainment (Review) June 6, 2014

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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You, yeah you…you think you’ve seen enough Little Shop of Horror productions that you don’t need to see one more? Well. yeah, you really do. Because you’ve never seen Little Shop like this before.

Credit director Brodie H. Brockie who has conceived a production that looks great as it moves from Black and White to full color as the plant comes to life and takes over the stage — costumes subtly at first add greens and browns…and eventually not so subtly add red and other colors that burst into life, particularly in the second act. And credit his technical crew with the chops to make it all happen — from Cami Ross & Scott Fussey’s set design, to Kelly Fraser Greunke’s costume design, Thom Johnson’s lighting design, and Matthew Stewarts sound design. Credit also the fine plant designed by Dave Hettmer (with puppeteering by Rob Roy, and assuredly voiced by Jared Hoffert).  Finally, credit to music director Laura Swierzbin and her ten-member band (even though there were some tuning issues at Thursday’s premier, and at times some sound balance issues, though these resolved as the evening progressed). Her vocal work with the large ensemble is very good. How great it is to hear this fun score played by a full orchestra, and not reduced down as it has been in local professional productions lately.

Then there is the excellent Dan Clair as Seymour Krelborn. He is the light of all that happens in most of the scenes, and he is able to convey humor, pathos, pathetic-ness, and charm (sometimes all at the same time). There are some great scenes here between him and the plant, and with the very strong Amanda Burch (Audrey). There’s a remarkable stage image in the second act, when Clair stands inches away from the closed mouth of the now-grown plant, in which his facial expressions mark everything that is both good and morally wrong about the entire affair.

Mark Bernstein turns in a very good performance as Mushnik, and Matthew Kurzyniec nearly brings down the house with his hysterical Orin Scrivello (“DDS”)…his scene with Clair in the dentist’s office is the acting zenith of this production, and the two of them play off (and at times on top of) each other with delightful consequence. Also very good is the trio of urchins (a vocally very strong Jennifer Burks, Linzi Bokor, and Lottie Prenevost.)

The rest of the cast is rounded out by Michael Joseph, Krinn Hess (in an oh-my-God-awesome one-off random bit that had be laughing for minutes after the scene), Chris Grimm, Alexandria Watson, Mark Alan, Austin Terris, Lindsey Burch, Kate Appold, Linda Lee Austin, Angel Elowsky, Tina Mayer, and Gianna Zampardo).  The ensemble is strong and well-utilized, at times differently from past productions of the show, and it works well.

And what makes this entire production doubly delightful is that, as civic theater, it matches (and in some instances bests) local professional productions of Little Shop from the past few seasons. One can’t help but admire the work, dedication, and energy that has gone into this production, where not a single actor is paid in anything but sweat-labor and their love of musical theater.

If I have one quibble — its the sloppy ending of the show — after what has been a tightly-focused production, the finale (Don’t Feed the Plants”) here seems to fizzle a bit, and lose its focus. While the stage bursts with color, the eye isn’t quite sure where to look, and it ends with a firecracker, not a burst of fireworks.

SO — the be all and end all…get yourself out to Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s production of Little Shop of Horrors — you have 4 more chances this weekend to see this very differently conceived piece — the horror here is toned down, though the language remains intact…if you’re worried about taking the kids, it’s appropriate for 13 and up, with perhaps a warning that if you hear the kids repeat some of those words on the drive home, their is some soap waiting for them. Otherwise, there isn’t anything particularly scary, or too over-the-edge in this production. Rate it PG-13, pack the SUV up, and head to the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater for a highly entertaining musical.

Also, arrive early enough to catch the pre-show “movie previews” of next year’s A2CT season…its a hilarious take-off on sci-fi movies of the 50’s, and you might especially look for that “Space President” scene….

Continues through June 8th, tickets at 734-971-2228, at the door, or online at a2ct.org

 

 

Lovely night of “Moonglow” at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre (Review) November 8, 2013

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There are rare evenings of theater that you want to hold onto and cherish, to remember and talk about, and to see with your loved ones…Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s current production of Kim Carney’s Moonglow is one of those pieces.

Spanning a year, it takes place in an Alzheimer’s care facility in Michigan — but it spans half a century in memory sequences, events, and changes — often simultaneously. I did not have the chance to see this play in its world premier at The Performance Network many years ago — but I am very glad I saw Civic’s production last night.

Nancy Heusel is the indisputable star of the play and a fireball of energy in the role of Maxine, newly placed in the facility by her daughter Diane (a strong Laurie Atwood). Her performance ranges from can’t-hold-her-back dynamo to moments that are so nuanced that she can convey with the move of an arm or a glance more than words can express. This is the type of performance that the theater goer will remember a lifetime. In fact you can’t imagine anyone else playing the role.

Nancy is matched by a great performance from David Keren as Joe – he’s funny, warm, and ultimately tragic.

Katie Parzych and Matt Berdahl portray younger “memory” versions of themselves and shades of former husband/wife…to let on too much here would be to spoil the enchantment. Both Parzych and Berdahl are excellent in their roles — be that portraying people in the long past, or jitterbugging away the night in the 40’s.

Rounding out the cast, Julie Landry plays Benita, nurse and manager of the care facility, and Carl Hanna plays Greg, Joe’s son trying to come to grips with a father who no longer recognizes him while trapped in an ever decompensating Alzheimer state where living people have already become shadows.

But don’t let the themes here make you think you are getting into a devastating evening of high drama — while themes of life, death, and coping with changes do rule the primary themes, Carney’s writing is funny, observant, and the play exactly what it is described as: “a reflection on love and memory.” — Even in its most serious moments, you might find yourself smiling, and nodding in recognition. Universal themes of parental care, safety, and interpersonal relationships ring true throughout and this fine cast brings these people to dynamic life.

Cassie Mann has done an excellent directorial job – keeping things moving at just the right pace, and the production is slick and looks great at the Arthur Miller Theatre.

Don’t miss this production — its one to be cherished for years to come. Continues at the Arthur Miller Theatre, UM North Campus, November 7 – 10. A2CT.org for tickets.