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True to its Name, Croswell’s Forum is A Funny Thing (Review) August 15, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Croswell Opera House, Michigan, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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Guest Review by Devon Barrett

To the uninitiated, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the 1962 musical comedy by Stephen Sondheim, currently playing at the Croswell Opera House in Adrian, sounds like something that would be anything but funny.

Because, honestly, the list of characters looks like a laundry list of things nobody really wants to talk about: courtesans. Slaves. A nagging wife. A henpecked husband who spends 2/3 of the show considering adultery. A pompous, self-aggrandizing military captain. A young woman whose only skill is being “lovely.”

But when you weave them all together into a plot (the literary kind and the devious kind), that includes a couple of hilarious musical numbers, an epic, mind-boggling full-cast chase scene, and a happy ending with a delightful, surprising twist I guarantee you won’t see coming, well, you’ve got yourself a comedy.

The show opens with Pseudolus, a slave in the House of Senex, and the show’s buoyant instigator-in-chief, played by Jared Hoffert who could not be more perfect for the role. He introduces us to the three Proteans, played by John Bacarella, Mark Hyre, and A.J. Howard, who toggle between roles—as slaves, soldiers, and, in that epic chase scene I mentioned earlier, courtesan-catchers—so rapidly that you start to wonder whether they’ve all got body doubles hiding in the wings.

The year is 200-ish B.C. The place: a residential street in ancient Rome. And the deal: Pseudolus will be granted freedom if he can get his young master Hero (played by Xavier Sarabia, who sings through a boyish, crinkly-eyed grin perfectly befitting his character’s innocence), hooked up with Philia, the virginal, empty-headed courtesan-next-door (played by Emily Hribar, who has a lovely, clear voice, and a gentle presence) before Hero’s parents, Senex and Domina, return from visiting the in-laws.

Hero’s proud, domineering mother Domina and her namby-pamby husband Senex are played by Julia Hoffert and Ron Baumanis, respectively. Senex’s lighthearted joy and light-footed dancing during “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” was his standout moment. And Domina’s moment came in the form of a deliberate, fourth-wall-breaking evil-eye during the second act, when she unexpectedly burst back onto the scene, eliciting a gasp and a whooshing chorus of “uh-oh’s” from the audience, who knew stuff was about to hit the fan. She stood, alone, center stage, for two or three beats, staring right out at Orchestra Center with one eyebrow raised as if to say, “Excuse me? Uh-oh? I am a strong woman who knows what she wants in life and you say UH-OH when I enter the room?” Reader, IT. WAS. FANTASTIC.

Possibly the best part of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, is that it employs nearly every comedic device available, and every character gets a chance to partake.

Marcus Lycus, Senex’s neighbor to the left, is in the business of selling beautiful young women. Played by Stephen Kiersey, Lycus isn’t the slimy salesman-of-women you would expect him to be. He’s kind of a wuss, and his fear of facing one of his powerful clients—a captain named Miles Gloriosus, who we’ll discuss later—sets the show up for its first case of mistaken identity: when Pseudolus impersonates Lycus while Lycus hides in his home and, later, runs around with a cloak over his head pretending to be a leper.

The six courtesans (played by Jessica Adams, Tara Althaus, Madeline Auth, Jamie Lynn Buechele, Beth Felerski, and Sarah Nowak) of the House of Marcus Lycus each get a chance to show off their…er…skills to poor Pseudolus, who tries to play it cool as they dance, perform tricks, caress his hair, and in some cases, sensually threaten him with a whip. Their costumes, designed by Meg McNamee, were colorful and fun, and perfectly befitting of each of their personas.

Senex’s neighbor to the right, Erronius, played by William E. McCloskey, who is no stranger to the role, has his moment in the sun in the second act as his running gag (no spoilers! Witness it for yourself!) keeps time during the utter chaos playing out onstage.

Miles Gloriosus, the pompous Roman army captain who stands in the way of Hero’s chance at marrying Philia, is a sight to behold in his shiny, silver, chiseled armor. Played by Cordell Smith, Miles Gloriosus inflates his greatness at just about everything, but Smith’s rendition of “Bring Me My Bride” requires no inflation…it’s just great.

Then there’s Hysterium, played by John MacNaughton. Hysterium and Pseudolus spend a great deal of time together throughout the show, and Hoffert and MacNaughton play off of one another so brilliantly. As Pseudolus’ plot to affiance Hero and Philia goes further and further off the rails, Pseudolus himself continues to roll with the punches, while Hysterium, despite his insistence to the contrary, grows increasingly…well…hysterical.

And so, too, does the audience. Because, bottom line, Forum is funny, and it doesn’t even need to try to be anything else.

Directed by Mark DiPietro, with musical direction by Jonathan Sills, choreography by Delle Clair, and scenic design by Leo Babcock, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum runs through Sunday, August 20th at the Croswell Opera House, Michigan’s oldest theatre, located in downtown Adrian. If you haven’t been to the Croswell since its major renovation (or—HORRORS—if you haven’t been there at all!) now is the time. It is truly a sight to behold.

A Funny Thing Happened on the way To The Forum runs through August 20th. Tickets at Croswell.org

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Billy Elliot soars at Croswell Opera House (Review) June 12, 2016

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Landon 5

Landon Brimacombe takes flight with Aidan Ziegler-Hansen (as Billy and Older Billy) in Billy Elliot – photo courtesy Croswell Opera House.

Croswell Opera House has pulled another magic trick out of it’s current big hat of hits and created a production of Billy Elliot that truly soars (in Act II in more ways than one). Director Julianne Dolan has created an emotion-filled musical, and scenic designer Doug Miller has matched it with picture perfect sets. Jonathan Sills’ musical direction is super — and the entire cast and orchestra sound rich. Sarah Nowak makes it all move — and move it does, from start to finish.

You probably already know the story – young Billy Elliot stumbles upon dance and finds himself taking classes with a local teacher, hiding it from his tough coal-mining dad and family, who are on strike in 1984 England. When the secret is out, the drama ensues, as his teacher tries to get Billy to audition for the school of ballet in London, while his father struggles with what it all means.

There are two alternating Billy’s (Landon Brimacombe at my performance) and it is a challenging role that requires singing, acting, dancing, and a tremendous amount of energy as he is on stage almost the entire time. Landon’s “big moment” (flying during a sequence with Older Billy, played by UM’s Aidan Ziegler-Hansen) is exciting and emotional at the same time. What kid hasn’t dreamed about getting caught up so much is something that they love that they wish they could actually soar and fly to express their excitement. Here he does, and its thrilling.

There are terrific performances by rich-voiced Jared Hoffert as Billy’s father, Erin Satchell Yuen as empathic dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson, Steven Kiss as tough older brother Tony, Jay Hillard as a hilarious Grandma, and funny George Bacarella as boxing instructor George. But my heart was won over by the absolute scene-stealing dynamo Gabe Omlor as Michael in a performance that is so self-assured it could be on any Broadway stage this very evening. Of course Michael is my favorite character in the musical, and the haunting final image on his bicycle, a larger than life boy trapped riding in a circle in a dying village with no way out watching Billy flee and pursue his dream, is heartbreaking.

The entire ensemble is excellent — from minor characters to all the dancing kids, cops, and miners – and they are all beautifully costumed by Pam Krage and well lit by Tiff Crutchfield.

Oh, and if you somehow missed the news today, Croswell Opera House received a 2.5 million dollar donation last night at their annual fundraiser Great Big Night. And that is Great Big Wonderful News for this beloved theater which will keep it soaring well into the future.

Highly Recommended.

Billy Elliot continues at the Croswell Opera House through June 26th. Tickets at croswell.org or 517-264-show. 129 E Maumee St, Adrian, MI 49221.

 

 

 

Croswell Opera House presents “How I Became a Pirate” February 24, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, musical theater, Musicals.
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How I Became a Pirate
The Croswell Opera House will hoist the Jolly Roger and sail off to adventure with “How I Became a Pirate,” a children’s musical that opens March 4. Based on the popular book series by Melinda Long, the musical is about a child who joins up with a band of friendly, bumbling pirates. Director Chris Sancho said it’s a funny and interactive show, with the action taking place in the aisles as well as on stage.
“It’s your own pirate adventure,” Sancho said. “You’re not just a spectator, you’re a participant in the show.”
Young fans of the book will notice a few differences in the Croswell’s production. For one thing, the books are about a young boy named Jeremy Jacob. But during auditions for the show, Sancho was so struck by the energy and comic ability of 11-year-old actress Carson Pickles that she knew she had found the perfect lead — so Jeremy became Jenny.
“She’s wonderful and spunky and vibrant and alive,” Sancho said. And besides, she said, “girls can go pirating as well.”
The pirates’ leader, Captain Braid Beard, is played by Mark Hyre of Tecumseh.
“Think the skipper from ‘Gilligan’s Island,’” Sancho said. “He really tries to command his pirates, but he’s so bumbling that he’s less authoritative and more loveable.”
The pirate crew also includes Robert Yoman of Petersburg as Pierre; Jesse Montie of Tecumseh as first mate Seymour Braunschwagger; and Kevin Smith of Monroe as Sharktooth.  Jacqueline Adams of Adrian, Jolie Bailey of Jasper and Alexandra June of Adrian play Patty, LaVerne and Maxine; Diane DuRussel of Manchester plays Scurvy Dog, and Scotland Mills of Adrian is a mad-scientist type named Swill.
“Pirate packs” with a bandana, eyepatch and temporary tattoo will be on sale for $5 at the concession stand for kids who want to play along with the story or have a souvenir to take home.
The show will be as fun for adults as it is for children, Sancho said, because while it’s a children’s story, there are plenty of pop-culture jokes for parents to enjoy.
“And besides,” Sancho added, “who doesn’t want to play on a pirate ship?”
“How I Became a Pirate” opens March 4 and runs for two weekends. The first weekend has shows at 6:30 p.m. Friday and 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with the Saturday show being a sensory-friendly production specially adapted for children with autism or sensory processing issues. The second weekend has shows at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets are $10-$15 for adults and $5 for youth 15 and under. For more information, go to croswell.org or call 517-264-7469.
If you go
What: “How I Became a Pirate”
Where: The Croswell Opera House, 129 E. Maumee St., Adrian
When: Friday, March 4, at 6:30 p.m.; Sunday, March 6, at 2:30 p.m.; Friday, March 11, at 6:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 12, at 6:30 p.m.; Sunday, March 13, at 2:30 p.m.; plus a special sensory-friendly performance at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 5.
Admission: $10-$15 for adults, $5 for youth 15 and under.
More information: croswell.org

Croswell Opera House summer 2015 brings in record crowds August 31, 2015

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Buoyed by a record-setting production of “Mary Poppins” in June, the Croswell Opera House’s recently concluded Summer Broadway Season was its best-attended summer season this century.

“We’re proud of this season for so many reasons, but the best part of it is how many people came through our doors to experience the magic of live theater,” said Jere Righter, the Croswell’s artistic director.

The summer season attendance of 13,260 was the highest since 1998, when 13,661 people attended that season’s productions of “Brigadoon,” “1776” and “State Fair.”

The season numbers are influenced in part by a change in 2009 that added a May musical to the summer season, but 2015’s total was the highest since that move.

The 2015 Summer Broadway Season opened in May with Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” followed by “Mary Poppins” in June. Two newer musicals, “Big Fish” and “Memphis,” rounded out the season in July and August.

“Mary Poppins” was the Croswell’s best-attended show since 1997, bringing in a total of 5,586 people over 10 performances.

“This was an incredibly ambitious season, but I’m so glad we took the risk,” Righter said. “Our audiences really proved that high-quality live theater is something that never goes out of style. Even today, when you can stream just about anything you want to watch over the internet, experiencing a live show in a historic theater is something that just can’t be duplicated.”

Summer season attendance hit a low in 2009 and has been increasing since then. The total number of events staged at the Croswell has also increased over the past several years, from 50 in the 2006-07 fiscal year to 75 in the same period for 2014-15.

“We’ve really been working hard to expand our programming and offer great entertainment for everyone, whether you’re a musical theater fan or not,” Righter said. “Along with making sure we’re always raising the bar on quality, that’s what will keep the Croswell at the center of our community’s cultural life for years to come.”

Memphis lives in me (Thoughts on closing) August 24, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Michigan, musical theater, Musicals.
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This isn’t a review. And it isn’t a random entry. This is truly an article about what “Memphis” means to me.

Yesterday, we played our final performance of MEMPHIS the Musical at The Croswell Opera House in Adrian, MI. It was a show that earned rave reviews (two were published right here!) and almost instantaneously became the major theater event of the SE Michigan/NW Ohio theatre scene. It was called “moving”, “electric”, “triumphant”, “joyous”, “energized”. But it also garnered the type of comments that meant much more: “dug deep into the talent pool so underutilized in this area”, “ spiritual”, “inspiring”.

Not familiar with the show? Well, it is about the birth of rock and roll, based on the black rhythm and blues roots of Memphis underground clubs, and how that sound eventually made it into the mainstream, primarily by way of teenagers and younger listeners who craved that type of upbeat dance music. It led to things like “the generation gap” and took place many years before the 50’s created in “Grease” or the early 60’s of “Hairspray”.

I had the honor of playing the supporting part of Mr Simmons, the radio station (later television station) owner — a great comedic part, and a risk-taker: sure, he was out for money, but he was a businessman who was open-minded enough in 1951 to hire a DJ that spun “colored music” (also known as “race music” at that time), and even permit an all-black television program down the road. When things spin out of control in Act II, he is astute enough to recognize that he needs to get his black performers “home, where they will be safe”.

But there is a secondary storyline — that of white disc jockey Huey Calhoun and his pursuit of black singer Felecia Farrell — and the racial tension that ensues in both the white and black communities when they fall in love with tragic consequences.

You would think that would be enough to keep you entertained, right?

Well, there is an even deeper level of what happened in Adrian this summer — and it was the miracle of a fully integrated cast at Croswell. 19 black cast members. An equal number of white. And that was a small miracle and one that seems like it shouldn’t be something we need to celebrate in 2015 — BUT WE DO.

While I consider Croswell the theater nearest and dearest to my heart I also do shows primarily in Ann Arbor. I’ve never done a show that had an integrated cast in this area. Years ago we did Big River at Ann Arbor Civic Theater with 4 black cast members (it needed about 15). On occasion I’ve gotten one or two diverse auditioners at shows I direct — in Ann Arbor.

Imagine the feat that took place in Adrian with Memphis. When the show was announced last fall, many people raised their eyebrows and thought, “what? where are they going to get that cast?” I hate to admit I was one of those people. In fact, I went up to the artistic director that night and asked her that same question.

But what happened was that people “believed”…starting with Jere Righter and the Board of Directors — they believed they could do it. Director/Choreographer Debra Calabrese believed she could get the cast. She used that belief to round up some of the most talented dancers in the area. Some were local to Adrian, others came from Toledo, in particular from schools of dance and fine arts. While those of us who had already been cast sweated out hearing if the show was on for sure, these people who believed were out there making the impossible happen.

We had an all-cast meeting early in the summer — and that initial meeting set the tone for what was to come. One by one, in groups, and in carpools, the cast arrived. Most had never been to Adrian before, let alone inside the Croswell Opera House. Some had never even been in a musical before. I looked around and found myself surprised and bewildered — there we were, one of the most diverse groups of colors, sizes, shapes, and ages.

Slowly people started talking — we introduced ourselves. We laughed. We sang a round of the curtain call song with our musical director Dave Rains who smiled and said “yeah, that will work”.

And we started to believe too.

The skeptics around SE Michigan were starting to become more vocal when I told them the show was coming together in a way beyond any of our dreams. It couldn’t be. Really? “I heard you’re using offstage singers” (yes, but so do other shows across America). “I heard your lead hasn’t even arrived from NYC yet” (yes, but when she did, the remarkable Tatiana Owens knew every single line of dialogue, blocking, and music). “I heard your spending a lot of time in dance rehearsals” (Well, duh, its a heavy dance musical). “I heard you have two separate casts” (no — we had an integrated cast of black and white performers who were all at rehearsals together every night – it was true that there are numbers that feature only the black cast, and others that feature only the white cast, but many of them featured both).

But the excitement was mounting. Tati arrived, and was instantly welcomed and enveloped by the cast. The show was becoming one big moving cog-and-wheel machine: scenes were landing with the correct emphasis on jokes and balanced with seriousness; dances were taking a shape that I have rarely seen on any local stage — when you have some of the finest dancers available, you can do some of the finest choreography — and they were, and it was.

But something else was happening — this integrated cast was becoming a tight, cohesive family. Black and white. Arriving early every night so that there was time to socialize. Lingering after rehearsals to chat in the parking lot. Grabbing meals together. Texting non-stop. Supporting each other on Facebook during the day — looking forward to the next rehearsal.

And everyone believed in this show, and this cast, and the quality. There wasn’t a single person who thought that this was not going to work (or if there was, I was certainly not aware of it).

By the time we got to tech week, we knew we had a hit. The emotions were flowing just right. The invited dress audience was ecstatic. The rest is history — the reviews were stellar, the ticket sales took off and the box office was swamped with calls and online orders and the sellouts followed. There was an outpouring of “Memphis-love”. I joked that my favorite thing was getting home at the end of the night and reading my Facebook feed each night after a show, which had exploded with Memphis posts.

And the audiences were just as diverse as the cast — certainly not 50/50 like the cast itself, but far more diverse than any other audiences I can ever remember at Croswell…and the energy was palpable. I could feel it from the stage. The cast thrived on every audience gasp, and ooh, and ah and reaction to kisses, and broken records, and by the second act it was simply electric in the house. Older cast members shared stories of discrimination and human rights. An older white man in the audience told our director that “he had no idea he had made it so difficult for people back then”.

Absolutely nothing creates that type of energy but live theater. It is why I have been involved with theater since being a young kid. I’ve directed 45 musicals, and I’ve probably been in about an equal number, and I’ve never felt what I did during Memphis, both onstage, and afterwards each night. Audience members stayed and wanted to meet the cast after the show. Audience members stopped us in the parking lot on our way to our cars to take selfies and talk about the show. Adrian was abuzz — reports came from people talking about the show at their hair stylists, at their nail salon, at the library, at Adrian College, and Sienna Heights, at Sauce restaurant. The two topics that dominated Adrian life were the new Buffalo Wild Wings opening near “the mall” and Memphis.

This is a good a time as any to thank the many many audience members that came and supported the show and were moved and told their friends and brought them back to see the show a second time. It is time to thank every single merchant downtown and around the area that displayed a Memphis poster in their windows. Its time to thank people for making everyone feel welcome. And it is time to thank Croswell for supporting something that will hopefully keep diversity alive and well on its stages and audiences.

If there is something I wish comes of this experience for everyone is that those young folks who are growing up in Adrian and thinking that they are somehow different and not welcome — stop, believe, know that you belong, and come audition for future shows. Discover your talents. Discover your uniqueness. Be a part of this big, organic thing that is theater and live performance.

There were more tears backstage on closing night (they actually started the night before already) than I have witnessed at other shows — and that was a tribute not just to the feeling that had been created on stage, and with the intensity of the rehearsal/performance process — but also because this big diverse family was performing together for the last time.

After the show, the tears flowed for real. Cast met audience a final time. Some lingered over a meal and drinks with friends, others went home. I met with a best friend and we couldn’t stop talking about the show. When he later posted a clandestine 10 second clip of the curtain call online, I watched it over and over, probably 20 times. I was having a hard time letting go as well. I felt I didn’t have closure. I wanted to keep these people in my life every single night.

I have 40 new friends, and I can’t wait to see what they do next — be that in Toledo, Ann Arbor, Adrian, or wherever. I can’t wait to see these folks again. We took a spiritual journey together. Cast, crew, orchestra, artistic staff. I know I will work with many of them again.

I believe this is the start of something wonderful.

 

Stellar “Memphis” at Croswell Opera House (Review) August 18, 2015

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And yet another rave! Thanks to Jamie Buechele-Beasecker for her guest review of Memphis, the musical at Croswell Opera House!

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This past Friday I was fortunate enough to enjoy the Croswell Opera House’s production of Memphis. This musical is loosely based on the exposure of R&B music by DJ Dewey Phillips in the tumultuous segregated south. This production is, to put it mildly, a success.

I want to emphasize that when the summer season and Memphis were announced, a few eyebrows were raised, mine included. The Croswell promised that this show would be unlike any other, and the hype surrounding this production grew. My fears about the success of this show were completely dispelled on opening night, and the Croswell has delivered on its promise.

The vocal performances by all are consistent and fit the style and energy of the show well, however, there are some performances that are outstanding.

Dan Clair’s portrayal of Huey Calhoun is terrific, both in character and in voice quality. Derrick Jordan’s Delray Farrell is powerful and intimidating. Many other strong performances were delivered by Lydia Schafer as Gladys Calhoun, Ron Baumanis as Simmons, Anthony Isom as Gator, Domonique Glover as Bobby, Charles Waters as Reverend Hobson, and an incredible cast of talented dancers, ensemble members, and character roles too numerous to expound upon.

I saved the best for last. Tatiana Owens. This young woman’s performance is impressive, flawless, and left the audience both completely satisfied and wanting more. Owens’ vocal and character performance are equally powerful, and her telling of Felecia Farrell’s story is 100% believable. The chemistry between Owens and Clair is well-developed and makes the audience root for them, which, in turn, makes the audience angry at the injustice demonstrated by the racist bigotry and violence that has and is occurring in the world.

Deb Calabrese guided this incredible cast to build show-stopping dance numbers, emotional dramatic scenes, and an overall impressive production. Dave Rains worked his usual magic with the balanced ensemble numbers and orchestra. Krage’s costumes are appropriate to the time and hold true to the historical colors and designs of the ’50s, and David Nelms sharp unit set is well-utilized by the cast. Tiff Crutchfield’s lighting design is beautiful and appropriate for the space and set design. The typical sound complications did occur during Memphis, however, this is an issue that regular Croswell patrons expect, and a few poorly timed set changes did interfere with the audiences view at times. Neither of these issues affected the overall stellar quality of this show.

There are moments during this production that are emotionally difficult to watch, and this strongly contributes to the rounded-out complexity of Memphis. Go see this show. Experience the emotional roller coaster that this outstanding cast delivers. During the final scene, I turned around in my seat. What I saw brought tears to my eyes and swelling to my heart. A full house of engaged, excited faces. Memphis is a show that I could not wait to stand up for. This show more than deserved its standing ovation, and I was happy to oblige.

MEMPHIS Rocks Adrian’s Croswell and it is more than worth the trip (Review) August 18, 2015

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Because I am in this production, MEMPHIS The Musical, at Croswell Opera House is being reviewed by guest reviewer director/choreographer/producer Patricia Mazzola. Thanks Patty!

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I had the fortune of seeing the opening night performance of MEMPHIS the Musical at Adrian’s Croswell Opera House. Based loosely on real-life Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips who played black blues and R&B for people of all races to appreciate, taking enormous chances in the segregated south of the fifties. You, too, will be taken by this production.

The show has it all! The performers are so good you truly get lost in this story. Be ready to experience surprise, anger, laughs, love and genuine joy. There are excellent performances by Dan Clair as Huey Calhoun and Tatiana Owens as Felicia, but supporting roles are just as strong. Lydia Schafer plays Huey’s mother, and it is a gem of a musical comedy role expertly played. Derrick Jordan sings a remarkable Delray, Felecia’s older, protective brother. There’s a fantastic dance number from Dom Glover as Bobby (“Big Daddy”) and Anthony L. Isom sings a stirring “Say a Prayer” as Gator.

The choreography is strong and prominent, featuring a half-black half-white singing and dancing ensemble cast. This is the type of dance you rarely see on local stages and director/choreographer Debra Calabrese keeps everything flowing at an exciting pace. The audience eats it up and you can quickly see why this musical won all those Tony Awards a few years ago. It is an exciting evening of musical theatre, but one that has a strong message to convey.

The storyline draws you in and keeps you there — as it explores the birth of rock and roll and its rhythm and blues origins in Memphis’s black Beale Street clubs. Through a series of coincidences, Huey manages to secure a job at a popular radio station (Ann Arbor’s own Ron Baumanis plays the station manager as a “gruff, obscenity-spewing teddy bear” — credit to Wendy Wright for that one). When Huey falls in love with black singer Felicia, complications ensue and the relationship faces obstacles in both the white community as well as back on Beale St. Just as current as today’s racial tensions and rebellious music preferences, it’s the younger folks and teens who take to the new beat; and by the time the musical reaches its electric final number, “Steal Your Rock and Roll,” everybody within the walls of this majestic theatre are with them.

Praise to Dave Rains and his 9-piece onstage orchestra for some truly excellent musical work. Throughout the evening, the show’s driving force is the original musical score.

Several times I thought the story hit the highlight, only to be taken further. It is not your typical boy-meets-girl musical. You won’t want it to end and will find yourself dancing and singing your way to the car. You’ll be hard pressed to find any local production of this musical with these production values.

Memphis continues at the Croswell Opera House through August 23rd. croswell.org or 517-264-SHOW for tickets. Don’t miss it!

Very Highly Recommended.

Croswell’s Big Fish will charm you, then tear your heart out (Review) July 25, 2015

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Croswell Opera House in Adrian Michigan continues its very strong summer season with the new Broadway musical BIG FISH, based on the movie and the book by Daniel Wallace. Book by  John August, music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (Go Blue!)

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Disclaimer right off the top: I adore this musical — I saw it in pre-Broadway previews in Chicago, and then the very reworked piece on Broadway, and I am directing it for Ann Arbor Civic Theater in Spring of 2016.

The production that arrives at the Croswell is a solid, well designed, well-acted evening of theater — and this is one of those rare “new musicals” that has a strong book-driven story and a great new score. Edward Bloom, lifelong teller of tall tales which include himself as the hero in each one, has grown estranged from his now-grown son (who is getting married and expecting a child of his own). When Bloom Sr is diagnosed with terminal cancer, his son sets about trying to find out the truth behind the tall tales, and who his father really is. It has the inevitable ending — but what gets you to that point is the most interesting part of this show.

Jonathan Sills vocal directs and conducts a superb orchestra, and keeps the very tricky score flowing along without missing a beat. The production was directed by Betsy Lackey and choreographed by Jessica Adams.

Eric Parker is tremendous as Edward Bloom, easily swinging back and forth from younger Bloom to older Bloom. His son Will is very nicely played by Dale White who carries a large part of the show, and does so well. His wife Sandra is played by Kyrie Bristle in another wonderful vocal performance. There is some excellent support work here as well: Stephanie L Stephan as the Witch who shows Edward his path – Benjamin Rosebrock as Karl the Giant whose story brings surprising tears at the end of the show himself – Karl Kasischke as Don Price, high school blowhard and competitor for Sandra’s hand in marriage – and John Bacarella as a circus owner with a big secret.

There are plenty of surprises in the tales as they weave together the past fantastic and the present discord to what is one of my favorite endings of a Broadway show in a very long time. On the way you get witches, giants, tapping girls, elephants, circus canons, and some wonderful things, and you’ll feel very much like son Will trying to make sense of this unique man on his journey. From the first scenes you know that he has “seen how he dies” in the witches crystal ball — and what a journey it takes to that point!

What makes the show resonate is that every single person in the audience can relate to something; the romance, the death of a parent, marriage, relationships, unknown paths, the mysteries of growing up, the circle of parents, sons, and daughters.

Not everything is smooth sailing: Sound occasionally drops out, and this is noticeable during large crowd scenes. Speaking of large crowd scenes, like Mary Poppins a few weeks back, the show has a few too many people up on that stage, and in one instance a very awkward dance sequence that came out of left field. Pacing is inconsistent, and I thought some of the action was a bit too far upstage away from the audience. Sometimes a few of the songs feel a bit stagnant, when there should be some movement on stage — there’s a lot of emotion to contain in some of these pieces, and at times its contained a bit too much.

But then you’ll be blown away by simple moments such as Bristle’s “I don’t need a roof” and all is forgiven, and the hankies come out, and they stay out from that point to the stirring finish.

Big Fish continues at the Croswell Opera House through July 26th.

I am supposed to mention that Steven Kiss and Becca Nowak did a tremendous job handling their concessions duties.*      (*Note: I did not purchase any concessions)

 

 

Practically Perfect “Mary Poppins” at Croswell Opera House (review) June 27, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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I’ll come back to that “practically” in a bit — but what a night of theatre Croswell Opera House has put together in the Disney musical “Mary Poppins”. Seen on Friday night of the final week of performances (the remainder are all sold out), I was so glad I had the opportunity to spend what felt like “old home week” (with the sheer number of friends onstage and in the audience and working all over the theater!) at Croswell last night. And it sure made me feel proud of being a part of one of the most exciting theaters anywhere.

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Leah Fox, starring as Mary, was astonishing — vocals, timing, appearance, stage presence, and poise while flying!…and yes, there is lots of flying on two separate tracks and it looks great.

Steve Antalek made for a terrific Mr. Banks, and Michelle Force a fine Mrs Banks (both parts are fleshed out for the stage musical from the film, and the second act storyline revolves around them). Kyle Sell plays a delightful (if a bit too young) singing, dancing, prat-falling Bert. “Step in Time” was simply spectacular. Chloe Danley and Cole Carrico made for a wonderful child-star pair as Jane and Michael Banks. Mary Rumman is awesome good as evil Mrs Andrews.

All secondary characters were strong, displayed super singing/acting/dancing talent, and even the youngest of them never dropped character. The ensemble was strong and sounded great in their many numbers.

In what has to be the biggest, most colorful, and most technologically challenging musical Croswell has ever mounted, the massive sets and gorgeous costumes never overwhelmed the very human performances onstage (as they did at times in the West End and Broadway productions). Kudos to director Julianne Dolan, Musical Director Butch Marshall, Choreographer Sarah Nowak (I did mention “Step in Time”, right?), Technical Director Keith Holloway, Costume Designer-extraordinaire Susan Eversden, Lighting Designer Tiff Crutchfield, and Stage Manager Jacqueline Adams for making it all work like clockwork.

A few quibbles that kept the show from being perfect (although to beat a dead horse, it was “practically” so)…some of the sound, in particular the opening of Act One was muffled and hard to hear over the orchestra…there were some odd stage effects that didn’t quite work: a swirling light effect in one instance, a bed that “magically appeared” but which the entire house right audience had already seen being pushed on later in that same scene. And there were entirely too many people onstage during both “Jolly Holiday” and “Supercalifragilistic” which detracted from the more highly-skilled dancers that were upstaged by, in one instance, children playing leap-frog, and in another by too many people  crowded into a park shop. (For the record, the Broadway cast was comprised of 40 adults and two children while this current production is comprised of 23 adults and 19 children, which in my mind is probably about 15 children too many). That, of course, is a personal opinion of mine, as it didn’t seem to effect the audience reaction (many of whom were clearly there to see brothers, sisters, and cousins and ran up and down the theater aisles and/or had to go to the bathroom when their loved-ones were not onstage). Not to be “that guy”, but I am very much “that guy”.

I can not fathom the budget that this production has — clearly at least 20 times what the other similar theaters around SE Michigan can allocate to this type of production — and it all shows…from the stunning sets, to the astonishing costumes, to the (very expensive) flight equipment, and to every detail that has been paid to make Mary Poppins one of the most spectacular non-professional productions you are likely to see anywhere. And I mean anywhere, let alone right here in our own backyard.

Mary Poppins continues through June 28th at Croswell Opera House. Remaining performances are sold out. Check with the box office for returns/singles.

Croswell Opera House announces 6.2 Million Capital Campaign June 12, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Theatre.
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Calling it a transformative project that will build a strong future for performing arts in the region, the Croswell Opera House in Adrian announced a $6.2 million capital campaign on Friday night.

Emory Schmidt, president of the Croswell’s board of trustees, unveiled the plans in front of about 250 supporters who had gathered for the theater’s annual fundraising gala. The Croswell has raised about $2.2 million, putting the project at just over one-third of its goal, and Friday night marked the kickoff of the public phase of the campaign.

“These are the plans that will put the Croswell on a strong footing for the next 150 years,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said the plans focus on three main goals: enhancing the patron experience, upgrading the Croswell’s infrastructure to modern standards, and increasing the Croswell’s sustainability by expanding the kinds of programming it can offer.

Major changes that audience members will notice include:

  • New men’s, women’s and family restrooms on both the main floor and the mezzanine level, roughly doubling the amount of restroom space available to patrons and cutting down on long lines.
  • Improved accessibility for patrons with disabilities, which will be achieved by widening doors and installing an elevator from the main floor to the mezzanine level for easier balcony access.
  • Improved lighting positions and acoustics in the auditorium.
  • An expanded and renovated Heritage Room, which will be extended out to the windows overlooking Maumee Street and will become a small performance venue and lounge area.
  • A new “black box” performance space, which will double as a rehearsal room and provide space for smaller shows that don’t necessarily make sense to stage in a large auditorium.

The Croswell is working with the Michigan State Historical Preservation Office to keep all of the plans in line with the historic character of the 149-year-old building.

The plans have been drawn up with the assistance of Quinn Evans Architects, an Ann Arbor-based firm with extensive experience in historic theater renovations. The general contractor is Krieghoff-Lenawee Co. of Adrian.

Jere Righter, artistic director of the Croswell, said everything that happens at the theater — including the campaign announced Friday night — is “a labor of love.” From the very beginning, she said, the community and the Croswell have always been there for each other.

“I think about the late ’60s, when this community banded together to save the Croswell from destruction,” Righter said. “So many people pitched in. And they didn’t just donate money. They scrubbed the floors, they painted the theater, they hauled load after load of trash to the dump. It was a lot of work. And they did it because of their love for the Croswell and their pride in a job well done.

“That’s what this capital campaign is all about,” she said. “It’s about love for the Croswell, it’s about love for our community, and it’s about building something that we can continue to be proud of for many, many years to come.”

For more information about the Croswell’s capital campaign and the planned renovations, call 517-263-6868 or visit campaignforthecroswell.org.