jump to navigation

CITY OF ANGELS at Croswell is jazzy and “reel” fun… August 1, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Theatre.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

Croswell Opera House has a doozy of a show in the Tony-winning CITY OF ANGELS currently playing in Adrian.

wp0_wp1774ac9c

Considered by many to be Cy Coleman’s best score, from the rhythmic driving beat with scat vocal quartet accompaniment to the patter of “Everybody’s gotta be somewhere” and the lush jazzy “It needs work” the score is a masterwork, that sounds utterly fantastic in the hands of musical director Jonathan Sills and his more than able orchestra. It’s more than just accompaniment in this show, it’s the drive and energy to which the piece is set, and it delivers from start to finish.

The cast is top notch – with special kudos to UM vocal performance student Joshua Glassman as writer Stine, whose vocal training is evident from his first note through his last, where his voice projects naturally and cleanly without ever seeming forced, even in big belt numbers like “Funny”. It’s a joy to hear, and this young man has a long successful career before him. See (and hear) him here first.

It helps that he and James Swendsen (alter-ego detective Stone) have a natural chemistry together on stage — they play off of each other in a fashion that truly delineates the creator/creature line and makes for a fun flip when the lines get blurred in later goings. Swendsen has a more pop-oriented sound to his voice, and the two of them match remarkably well vocally in their scenes together.

The women fare equally well in Sarah Lynne Nowak’s Donna/Oolie  and Emily Tyrybon’s Alaura/Carla. Both have terrific stage presence and voices to match.

Bruce Hardcastle turns in an energetic performance as Buddy/Irwin. In a role that threatens to carom out of control on each turn, it doesn’t, and remains funny and consistently on character throughout. Other supporting players range from great (the quartet) to good. There are a few missed notes here and there by supporting players, but nothing that distracts from the overall skill level of this adept cast.

The set looks great and works well with it’s split level design, the show moves rapidly from scene to scene and set changes don’t miss a beat, and the lighting is appropriately bright and colorful for color-scenes and moody and shadow-strewn for the Black and White “movie” scenes. What originally seems a bit murky and dark in the opening sequences eventually establishes a visual design that just plain old works as the show progresses.

That it all hangs together so well, and so cleanly, is the wonderful work of director/choreographer Stephanie L. Stephan. She understands that this is a difficult story to follow, and directs with large, masterful strokes that allow the audience to easily follow the action on stage. No mean feat, considering the many plot turns, and the stage-convention of switching back and forth from real-life to alter-ego movie action throughout using the same actors. This was achieved on Broadway through miraculous (and at that time ground-breaking) instantaneous ability to drain color out of sets and costumes through lighting and paint technique. Here it is up to the director to make it work, and it works terrifically.  This is a very difficult musical to design and produce, as other theaters can attest, from the passable production at University of Michigan a few seasons ago, to the disastrous Ann Arbor Civic Theatre production many years ago. Make no mistakes, this current production is in a league of its own. Congratulations.

The script and lyrics are smart and funny, with enough suspense thrown in to make it all work. I saw the production in its original Broadway run several times, and it becomes smarter and wittier with each viewing. Mix-in the tremendous musical score, the great performances, and swirl it all around by a top notch director and crew, and you have a tasty, jazzy, funny musical comedy treat at Croswell Opera House this summer, my favorite by far of this season’s offerings — not just at Croswell, but anywhere regionally this summer.

City of Angels continues this weekend and next weekend. Tickets at croswell.org or 517-264-SHOW(7469).

Advertisements

Superb cast salvages “The Producers” at Croswell Opera House June 22, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Theatre.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

First — there are huge fans of Mel Brooks’ musical THE PRODUCERS, and there are those who are not (me) 12 Tonys notwithstanding (I voted for “The Full Monty”). It’s an actor’s dream to perform these roles — its another task entirely to sit for three hours in an audience being inundated with mean-spiritedness.

The Producers is an example of a show that worked so well on Broadway with its primarily NYC-based audiences; and a show that faltered in its national tour, and eventually closed when NYC audiences dissipated and it needed to rely on tourists, who didn’t find it as funny nor as entertaining as the apparently more-informed NYC audiences did. It also relied on the star power of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick — two performances permanently burned into the retinas of audience goers for these roles.

That being said — the cast at Croswell Opera House is as superb as you can expect in an amateur production of the show. Steve Antalek is a fine Max Bialystock, and Patrick Toth a fine Leo Bloom (even if he is 15 years too young for the role). Lucy Hagedorn shines as Ulla, and Jim Craig is a funny Roger DeBris. Special kudos to Jesse Montie who has a pitch-perfect interpretation of Carmen Ghia, and Stephen Smith’s athletic Franz (another actor who is at least 20 years too young for the part).

There is also more good: the orchestra sounds wonderful under the direction of Jonathan Sills, and the costumes by Susan Eversden are literally stunning.

But then there is the bad: the sound is spotty with several mic problems during the course of the performance – but more importantly, some totally missing mic-work — solo lines are inaudible in the house; important lines in songs disappear; and when the ensemble sings one primarily hears only the leads who are on body mics. The opening number is a cacophony of mumbo-jumbo that even those of us who know every word of this show had a hard time making out. “We wanted to stand up and hiss….we’ve seen shit, but never like this” was completely unintelligible, and it’s one of the funniest lines in the show.

The choreography is lacking. “I want to be a producer” is sloppy and poorly choreographed. The taps can not be heard through most of the number, and this is the one place in the show where clean, efficient tapping is required. It’s not the girls fault — they do what they can with a mess of tap steps that do nothing to emphasize the rhythm of the song nor to build to any type of climax. Time steps and shuffles alone do not make for a Broadway tap number. “Springtime for Hitler” is inherently funny — the choreography in this production does nothing to build the number to what it could be; and at times seems to work against it by forcing motions into space that doesn’t fit. The swastika-dance looks great on a big stage when a mirror can be flown in to show the “Busby Berkley” effect of the swastika rotating on stage…here, it just looks like messy marching.

Then there is the ugly: the set design. This is just plain old gawd-awful. It ranges from serviceable (Roger’s apartment) to Junior-High quality (the scenes outside the theatre; and the “Springtime for Hitler” sign that flies in at the end of Act I — which is so awful that Junior High quality might be giving it too much credit.) The paint is not thick enough on the canvas drops, and light shines through from behind (a problem that plagued last year’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Croswell also). The lettering throughout is sloppy and unprofessional. The lettering for the Whitehall and Marks backdrop looks like a high school cheerleading sign hanging in a hallway. The set design is cringe-inducing in it’s awfulness. Even the better pieces have problems — Roger’s apartment doesn’t fit together well on stage (or they missed their marks during the Sunday afternoon performance that I saw) and the lovely Little Old Ladyland heart is fronted by a poorly painted sloppy looking bench.

Therein lies the crux of the matter — The Producers, despite spoofing the “worst show ever” can’t LOOK like the worst show ever. It’s a budget-squashing show that is far more expensive than it looks in the finished product, and it is exactly because of that budget that the show works in professional venues.

What Croswell has is a fine ensemble cast that is stunningly costumed standing in a shell of a set — and it doesn’t work that way. Sloppy graphics and lettering, poorly painted drops, and slow-moving scene changes undo the effort that the cast has put into this show.

I laughed. I know the show inside and out. Everything that worked in this show worked because of the fine and funny script, the great singing voices, and the fine direction of Mark DePietro whose sense of timing, comedy, and efficient stage-work is clearly seen throughout the show. I wish I could say more positive things about the show, but I can’t.  Perhaps my expectations of the Croswell have become too high over the years — but they SHOULD be that high — this is the best Summer Stock in the region.

For the record, Croswell is the only non-professional theatre where I would personally audition for a show. My heart is in directing and choreography, not in performance. But I respect certain directors and some specific shows. I was in last year’s Croswell production of Titanic, the Musical, because it is one of my favorite shows. I was indeed cast in this production of The Producers, but chose not to participate for personal reasons. I look forward to auditioning at Croswell again if the right combination of show and director comes along down the road and my schedule permits. I am also a supporting member of the Croswell Opera House.

There are a slew of other productions of THE PRODUCERS slated for local venues, including one in Ann Arbor this fall. Word of warning to all of them — this is going to be the most expensive musical you have ever produced, and if you don’t have the money to spend, tread carefully.