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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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littleshop_promo_BWandcolor for web

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

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Theatre.
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Moonglow 1 for web

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.