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Into the Woods at Croswell Opera House (review) May 10, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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Woods 08 - Stepsisters

Hard to believe that Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” is 28 years old, right? I saw that original production in NYC 28 years ago several times while I was in grad school, and I’ve probably seen 40 productions in between. And none of them has been as picture perfect a copy of the original Broadway production as the current sublime Croswell Opera House offering.

Eric Parker directs with an assured hand and there isn’t a single wrong note in the production — from Leo Babcock’s beautiful set — to Tiff Crutchfield’s lighting, Dave Rains’s Musical Direction, and Kailey Osgood-McAuliffe’s costumes.

The ensemble cast is excellent — as it should be with a cast consisting of a virtual who’s who of local musical theater. Every cast member gets their moment to shine. Particularly good are Mark DiPietro as the Narrator/Mysterious Man, Natalie Kissinger as the Witch, and Jarrod Alexander and Patrick Wallace as the Princes. But every single cast member is terrific.

The too-long-as-it-is show includes the additional “Our Little World” added for the London production post-Broadway. The 17-piece orchestra sounds lush and full. The sound design is impeccable – you can hear every single word of the marvelous lyrics.

In short, it is hard to tell the difference between Croswell’s offering and a Broadway tour that rolled through town and set up shop in Adrian. And that is a great thing as far as I’m concerned and another impressive notch in Eric Parker’s directorial belt.

Highly Recommended.

Into the Woods continues at the Croswell Opera House through May 17th. Tickets at Croswell.org or 517-264-show

“Carrie the Musical” at Croswell…or why you should go see this flop musical (Review) October 19, 2014

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Carrie 005

A musical theater history lesson for you today: Carrie the musical (Lawrence Cohen book, Michael Gore music, Dean Pitchford lyrics) has gone down in history as one the the biggest (and most expensive) Broadway flops ever…opening in England at the Royal Shakespeare Festival in Stratford no less (with Barbara Cook playing the mother)…written, rewritten, reworked, it never worked…Cook left the show in a huff (reportedly after almost being hit by some scenery, though most likely because she was smart enough to bail ship before NYC), and despite reviews that were all pans, somehow arrived in NYC with no changes at all, and got the same horrendous reception and closed after 5 performances (with Betty Buckley having replaced Cook). Those of us who were lucky enough to see it know we witnessed Broadway history (some of us, eh hem, me, even saw it TWICE and brought friends to see the worst musical ever written along). Entire books have been written on this failure.  Then, lo and behold, a retooled version opened off-Broadway a few years ago, and it wasn’t terrible. It was still bad, but the music was finally recorded, and the show has taken on a new life in college, high school, and community theater.

And you should see the production currently playing at the Croswell Opera House because you won’t see a better production of it anywhere locally.

See it for the decent score, some of the power ballads of which are simply gorgeous — under the musical direction of Jonathan Sills, both the orchestra and most of the leads sound great. Some of the ensemble struggle with the higher notes of this difficult score, but its passable and works okay. Very strong Mariah Valdes (Carrie) and Elizabeth Baugh (her mother) are excellent individually and their scenes together are superb. They alone are reason enough to see the show.

See it for the great set work and lighting design by Don Wilson and Tiff Crutchfield. Granted, shows always look great when creepy scenes can be bathed in red washes, but its another story altogether to make the colors pop as well, and here they do.

See it for an energized young cast, many of whom are appearing for the first time on Croswell’s stage, and Eric Parker’s swift and fluid direction.

But don’t see it for the story — its a whitewashed version of Carrie with nearly all of the creep-factor missing; it has one of the worst books ever written for a musical (not surprising given how much tinkering was done with this show early on), and it makes you more sad for Carrie than it raises any type of suspense.

And don’t see it for the spectacle — while there are some attempts made at conveying some stage tricks indicating Carrie’s telekinesis (read: a chair sliding a few feet), most of the magic is missing here. One of my favorite scenes in the show, Carrie preparing for prom, is missing the flying hand mirrors and brushes, and the finale (though it makes good use of projection and smoke effects) is missing any type of exciting climax.

Still, you are not likely to see a better production of this show anywhere locally — and it is worth seeing.

Finally, see it for the historical significance of the musical theater piece itself. You will most likely find yourself talking about it all the way home, whether you loved it or hated it (and there were plenty in the audience who loved this show, both on Broadway and at the Croswell last night). And if you can get a group of people to talk about musical theater, then all the better.

Recommended.

Carrie continues at the Croswell Opera House through October 26th. Tickets at croswell.org or 517-264-SHOW

Sweet Charity at Croswell is a solid end to a great season (review) August 18, 2014

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Sweet Charity, long absent from the local boards, marks a solid end to a really great season at the Croswell Opera House this summer.  Anchored by Libby Bruno’s superb Charity Valentine in the lead, its an entertaining (if long) musical comedy, with an emphasis on the comedy.

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The musical is somewhat unusual in form as it gives as much weight to book scenes in between songs as it does to the music itself. Its a strongly character-driven piece, and those characters are broadly drawn and fun — though it does lead to a long show: the three hour length is the same as that for Les Miserables in the modern theater canon — though it was par for the course in the mid-60’s.

Bruno is a true triple-threat…singing and dancing through the fun and tuneful numbers, but also bringing warmth and heart to her acting scenes (of which there are many) in the Neil Simon script. “If They Could See Me Now” and “I’m a Brass Band” are particular standouts.

The cast is very strong from top to bottom, with strong direction from Erica Wyman and terrific choreography by Stephanie Stephan. “The Rhythm of Life” number is a strong example of that — combining dance steps with character work, its a delight to the eyes and the ears. Brian Rose has done a very good job with musical direction, and conducts the full orchestra — and how fun it is to hear these old 60’s Broadway standards come to life in live performance of this rarely produced musical.

David Blackburn is hilariously entertaining as Oscar, Charity’s maybe boyfriend. Paul Manger turns in three funny performances as three separate characters. The entire ensemble is strong, and they keep the energy flowing through the many ensemble dance numbers. There is unique use of theater space, including a rail that moves up and down as needed from the front of the apron. Michael Lackey’s many many many set pieces move about with a calm pace that never slows the show, while making you ask where all that stuff fits in the tiny wings of the Croswell.

But most of all, this is a showcase for Bruno — and you should see her now.

Sweet Charity continues at the Croswell Opera House through August 24th.

 

Powerhouse performers in “Catch Me If You Can” make for a show you definitely should catch (Review- Croswell Opera House) July 20, 2014

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Back in 2009, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman hoped to recreate their “Hairspray” success with a musical version of “Catch Me If You Can”. It never really caught on despite generally good reviews and lots of Tony Award exposure and nominations. The show did a decent tour — and now you can catch a dynamite production of the musical at Croswell Opera House in Adrian, MI

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You probably are familiar with the autobiographical book, or the movie version of the story: young kid sets off to create a new life for himself and escape his marital-stress family background and finds himself becoming a millionaire by forging checks, creating new personas for himself (co-pilot, lawyer, doctor, teacher) and keeping the FBI chasing him for several years. The musical’s conceit is that it places the story into a “flashback variety show” like those that were popular in 60’s television. The tunes and numbers all reflect production numbers on a tv variety show. The ensemble cast play all the singers/dancers in these numerous scenes, and play minor roles in the “story” as it spills out over two and a half hours of non-stop entertainment. Michael Yuen directs with a sure hand, and things barrel along at lighting speed.

First and foremost — see the show for the terrific leads: Patrick Wallace is a superb singing/acting/dancing powerhouse as Frank Abagnale, Jr. Keep an eye on this young musical theater student from Siena Heights University because his next stop is going to be Broadway.  Also terrific are Jared Hoffert as Frank Abagnale Sr, Lucy Hagedorn as Paula Abagnale, and Paul Manger as FBI Agent Carl Hanratty. Kyrie Bristle turns in a powerhouse performance as Brenda Strong, the wholesome southern girl to whom Frank Jr finally loses his heart (and clear thinking). Her parents are hilariously played by John Bacarella and Debbie Corbin.

Second, see the show for the terrific ensemble singing/dancing cast. They support the leads in the many many musical numbers, and the dancing (very creative and energetic by Sarah Nowak) is some of the best you’ll see on local stages.  Keeping with the Broadway production, the orchestra is on stage (ala Lawrence Welk, Mitch Miller, etc) and they sound terrific under the musical direction of Dave Rains, who has also done wonderful work with the cast.

Third, see it for the marvelous technical production — from Leo Babcock’s multi-level set with light-up stairs, to Tiff Crutchfield’s lighting,  and sound design by Phillip and Elizabeth Baugh. I lost count of the costume changes by Pam Krage, but they look terrific and every major number is a different color and style. Technical Director Keith Holloway clearly had his work cut out for him, and it all runs smoothly and efficiently.

Finally, see it for the clever and funny book by Terrence McNally, the melodic songs by Wittman and Shaiman, and the chance to see a musical theater piece that is a creative mix of classic and modern musical styles. You might even find yourself buying the cast album after seeing the show – the score is that “catch”y….see what I did there?….

With Les Miserables and Catch Me If You Can, The Croswell Opera House has two shows this summer that will be remembered many years from now as among the best of class…do not miss it. I’m going back next weekend. I loved it.

Highly recommended.

Catch Me If You Can continues at The Croswell Opera House through July 27th. Croswell.org or 517-264-SHOW for tickets.

“Les Miserables” at Croswell Opera House is stellar (review) May 11, 2014

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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Eric Parker. I’ll come back to him in a moment, but I had to start the review with him.

Over the course of the past year, almost every theater in America has performed the musical Les Miserables, and this was the 6th entirely different production of Les Mis that I have seen in that year. I can also report that Croswell Opera House’s production is far and away the best I have seen all year, and one of their very finest large-scale musicals I’ve seen (and I’ve seen most of their musicals the past 20 years).

Call it a small miracle…okay, call it a really really huge spectacular theatrical miracle…that COH has created what is the best looking, best sounding, and best directed production of the show I have seen outside the recent pre-Broadway tour, and that includes the ultra-slick but emotionally empty production University of Michigan’s musical theater program presented a month ago.

Director Mark DiPietro not only knows how to create stunning stage pictures (there are moments in this production that look like paintings from the 1800’s) but also knows how to pace musicals so that they are seamless — yet intimate enough to wring genuine emotion from the audience  (“A little fall of rain” had me in tears from the get-go).  Musical Director Jonathan Sills not only gets remarkable (and dynamic) vocal work from his leads and ensemble, but his orchestra is pitch perfect — to see a show like Les Mis with a full orchestra is a dream come true.

But this is also the largest and most technical work I have seen at Croswell, and it works extraordinarily well. Ryan B.  Tymensky’s crisp lighting design highlights his scenic design (which is huge, and incorporates projections that look remarkable good (despite a slight moire effect throughout). Natalie Kissinger has designed superb costumes for the very large cast. Choreographer Katie Fairbanks makes good use of her ensemble. Tyler Miller’s sound design is solid (despite a few crackles here and there — still, far better than that recent university production I saw).

Okay, that brings me back to Eric Parker. Every now and then, everything on a production just comes together the right way — the music, the design, the direction, the venue, and the performers — and in this particular production, Eric Parker’s performance as Jean Valjean is one to be cherished – to be cheered – to be admired – to be bragged about for years to come. He is simply “oh my God” awesome. When he is joined by the always excellent Michael Lackey as Inspector Javert, their scenes together basically explode off of the Croswell stage.

But there is more — Erin Satchell Yuen sings a strong Fantine, and Jamie Lynn Buechele (Cosette) and Jarrod Alexander (Marius) are wonderful both separately and together. Also wonderful are Natasha Ricketts and Jeffrey King as the Thenardiers.  Their costumes and wigs for the wedding sequence add a whole new dimension entirely. Alisha Bond is a heartbreaking Eponine.  Bethany Craig is cute as as button as Young Cosette, and Jeremy Craig is an impish Gavroche.

The men’s ensemble simply bests any I have heard since the original 25th anniversary tour cast came through town two years ago. Michael Yuen sings a very fine Enjolras indeed — but the entire group of Parisian students is remarkable.  The women hold their own in both “The Docks” as well as “Turning” (which, incidentally, looks gorgeous with its flickering candles). The entire ensemble is excellent throughout, and they have plentiful stage business to keep them all busy efficiently. Watch Croswell regulars Kyle Kasischke and Lori MacDonald in their many scenes as various characters, never missing a beat.

There are a few minor quibbles — spotlights, when closed down to their tightest, wobble a bit too much — and some cast member’s breathing can be heard over their body mics. I’m not sure much can be done to fix that given the resources available. Very minor quibbles indeed. My only other thought (and there is nothing that can be done about this when not using a turntable) is that the large music swell that was originally written to accompany the rotation of the barricade set to expose the layers of dead bodies leads to dead air without that rotation.

The production continues at Croswell Opera House, 129 east Maumee Street, Adrian Michigan through next week. Tickets are available at croswell.org or by calling 517-264-SHOW. Don’t hesitate to get your tickets as soon as possible, as word of mouth and reviews should sell this production out. Just see it. Thank me for sending you their way later. And if you have never seen a show at Croswell Opera House, what the heck are you waiting for? Get your tickets.

Eric Parker. I just had to end this review with him.

 

“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” Shines at Croswell (Review) December 22, 2013

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Late to the game in reviewing Croswell Opera House’s “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas”, I just wanted to pipe into the already growing number of rave reviews with a rave of my own.

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First, in the world of musical theater when it comes to super-spectaculars like White Christmas, Croswell Opera House is one of the only theaters in SE Michigan that can do it right — full glorious sets (Michael Lackey), a full superb orchestra (21 pieces under the able direction of Wynne Marsh), sharp costumes (Pam Krage), good lighting and sound (Tiff Crutchfield, Tyler Miller) and every detail just right in the swiftly moving evening directed by Betsy Lackey and choreographed by Sarah Nowak.

Second, when everything clicks on all cylinders at the Croswell, it creates musical theater magic (witness Seven Brides for Seven Brothers a few summers ago). And that is what the group has in this shining production of White Christmas. There are too many highlights to mention here, but let me particularly point out the superb tap-stravaganza opener of Act 2 “I Love a Piano” and of course that lump-in-the-throat, obligatory red-costumed finale “White Christmas” with snow in the audience.

Jim Craig (Bob Wallace) and Joe Dennehy (Phil Davis) show great chemistry together as song-and-dance partners (Bob more song, Joe more dance), and they are matched in charisma by sister team Betty and Judy Haynes (Mackenzie Dryer and Libby Bruno). Jim and Mackenzie work well together in their off-again-off-again-finally-on romance, and Joe and Libby create fine dance moments together. Libby Bruno, in fact, is a remarkable new find for the Croswell — she’s a singing, dancing, acting triple threat — she and Mackenzie could be sisters in real-life they look, sound, and move so similarly.  Also strong is Sarah Nowak as Martha Watson, Keith Hamen as General Waverly (come on, Croswell, there had to be better uniforms downstairs in the catacombs), and a delightful young Rio Doyle as Susan Waverly.

The very good ensemble taps and dances their way through many (many) numbers — from “Happy Holiday” through “Blue Skies”, the aforementioned “I Love a Piano”, “Snow”,  and many other familiar numbers. The musical itself takes the best of the original movie and adds a few additional Berlin standards and not-so-standards to round out the evening.

I’ve seen the professional production of White Christmas so many times (probably about 11), and I have to admit that I miss the Randy Skinner choreography, which is so intertwined with everything happening on stage — but Sarah Nowak here has created good original work, and things look sharp — though I kept wishing the opening number would open up more, as it was entirely cramped into one, hiding the sets behind the first traveler — contrast this with the finer duos, trios, and couplings in “Blue Skies” at the end of Act 1 when things are allowed to open up full stage.

I know this review is too late to sell tickets (the show has one final performance this afternoon), but don’t delay in buying your tickets to next season’s shows. They’ve already announced an exciting summer 2014 line-up, and White Christmas has completed a very successful 2013 season for them.

May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.

42nd Street at Croswell Opera House August 4, 2013

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Its bad form to review a show in a season for which one auditioned for, so I will refrain from any character reviews in this post, but a big congratulations to director Jen Letherer, Musical Director/Conductor Jonathan Sills, and Choreographer Allison Steele for a terrific and entertaining production of 42nd Street at Croswell Opera House.

From opening sequence to finale, the show is an example of what Croswell does best during its summer seasons — great dancing, performing, singing, scenic and costume design — and in this case throw hair design in there as well. The cast is all ages, sizes, and shapes, and they turn in high-energy performances. Old vets mingle beautifully with newcomers. The only name I will mention (pardon bad form) is the simply stellar performance turned in by Erica Wyman as Dorothy Brock.

Always one of my favorite musicals, 42nd Street is brought to life here by Jen Letherer’s perfectly timed direction, and a strong singing/dancing/acting cast that don’t miss a beat (though the lights occasionally do). Allison Steele’s choreography looks great for the featured dancers, and really good for the non-dancers in the cast — in some sequences you really can’t tell the difference unless you have a trained dancers eye.

Michael Lackey’s scenic design moves quickly and looks slick — particularly nice is the Broad Street Station design, a double-deck Regency Hotel set, and the use of the natural Croswell Opera House back wall.

Jen Letherer gets vintage 30’s sounding patter out of her performers, which adds a lot to the sparse book. Lines are well delivered throughout, and Jonathan Sill’s musical direction assures that every syllable is understandable..even the infamous “slims and all curvy, sweet shy and nervy” which even the Original Broadway cast manages to mangle as “Simpson O’Curry sweet Charlotte Murphy”…Great job!

When everything clicks on all cylinders, 42nd Street is a hard musical to resist. Its billed as the musical for musical lovers. It is. Go see it. It continues through next weekend at Croswell Opera House in Adrian — croswell.org for tickets.

 

Rocky Horror Show at Croswell Opera House is a blast (Review) October 20, 2012

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The Rocky Horror Show, that bizarreness of a stage musical that became a cult hit in London in the early 70’s and a midnight-movie cult in the US, returns to the Croswell Opera House for its third incarnation in recent years, and its a big, sprawling, hilarious blast of musical theater mess.

Once again directed by Eric Parker, and including many of the original cast (albeit in some new roles) as well as some newcomers, the show begs to ask the question, “why?”….well, why not?

Paul Manger makes for a terrific new Frank ‘n’ Furter as he sashays around the large open set in heels and corset, spitting out the lines and songs with the best of them; Katy Kujala is a great-voiced Janet, and Scotland Mills a fine furry boyfriend Brad. Zane Dickerson reprises the role of Rocky in all his body building glory; Eric Parker is a hilarious Riff Raff, and Kyrie Bristle nearly steals the entire show from all of them as Magenta in the waning minutes of the musical.

To be sure, there are ups and downs in the cast — but everyone is solid in their roles, and everyone has a blast and it shows. Stephanie L. Stephan provides some terrific dance movement and she is wise: she understands who can move, and who less so and she makes the most of that knowledge (a skill required by the best choreographers working with non-professional casts at various level of skill). It all looks terrific on the Croswell stage.

Keith Holloway’s set is serviceable, and projections hilarious. Lighting by Tiff Crutchfield is colorful and appropriate to the mood of the show. Cindy Farnham’s costumes range from decent to spectacular. The one problematic tech area in this production is sound: and in this instance, NOT the Croswell’s system, but the actual sound design. The orchestra (under the sure direction of Todd Schreiber) is located backstage, and they sound muffled. When the ensemble joins them for off-stage background vocals, the vocals can barely be heard. While some of the cast use body mics, the other leads use wireless handset mics. While it ads a great touch of “70’s” style kitsch, it results in vocal inbalance throughout. When the entire ensemble is onstage, with leads using mics, the ensemble becomes a vocal afterthought and they can not be heard clearly. The result is some great looking ensemble numbers that have no vocal “pop”; i.e., it doesn’t sound like a rock score should. There were also some missed soundboard cues, that I am sure will resolve themselves as the show gets further into its run. If ever a show deserved better sound design, this is it.

Of course, Rocky Horror is only as good as its audience participation — and there is a lot of it here. You an purchase a participation goody bag at the concession stand before the show, and join in — and if you have never seen a production of Rocky Horror, take a few minutes to peruse the many websites that give you audience shoutback suggestions. At the friday night opening performance, those who knew the show clearly had a better time than those who did not — and to the audience (and cast) surprise, some of the best ShoutBack audience members were in attendance in the first row. They made for a rollicking (if profanity-laced) evening. You’ve been warned — Rocky Horror itself is kind of a 70s throwback-edgy show, lets rate it PG-13…but throw in that awesome audience participation, and it becomes R-Rated instantly.

If the Friday night audience was any indication, this is one of those shows that will need some extra word of mouth to sell tickets — the audience was about half full. BUY TICKETS. The show is terrific and fast-paced, the cast is hilarious, and you will have a wonderful time at this Rocky.

The Rocky Horror Show continues through October 27th at the Croswell Opera House, Adrian MI. Tickets at croswell.org, or by phone at 517-264-7469. There is also a costume contest during intermission every Friday and Saturday night.

Croswell’s “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is one of their best summer shows ever (Review) August 11, 2012

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I am starting with ticket information for Croswell Opera house — online at croswell.org, or by phone at 517-264-7469. Quit reading — go order tickets — then come back.

Erin Satchell Yuen as Milly, and Steven Antalek as Adam (photo copyright Croswell Opera House)

Croswell Opera House opened one of their finest musicals ever last night — the adapted-from-the-movie musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The show pinpoints exactly everything that Croswell does right — a great cast with a pitch-perfect full orchestra, a fine set and costumes, more talent on stage and behind than the Pontipee boys could shake a rope at, and a rousing standing-ovation audience pleaser to boot.

Based on the favorite 1954 Hollywood musical, the show follows the Pontipee clan brothers as they seek out wives for themselves in 1850’s Oregon. How they go about getting those wives is the tale that is told in the brisk two and a half hour production. There is no definitive script/score for 7B47B, only the one that MTI provides in the moment — and this one is the 2007 revised version (because it sure isn’t the original early’80’s version which I was in almost thirty years ago).

The star of the evening is Jodi Adkins Hissong’s athletic choreography the likes of which the Croswell stage has not seen in many a moon. The Brothers, the Brides, and the supporting cast fly (sometimes literally) through many many numbers, favorites being “Goin’ Courtin'” and the spectacular “Challenge/Cut in Dance” at the harvest social. The latter received extended applause not heard in the house for years.

Erin Satchell Yuen as Milly and Steven Antalek as Adam Pontipee turn in solid performances, and both seem born to play these parts. The Brothers are played by David Blackburn (Benjamin); Ben Andre (Caleb); Ryan Chang (Daniel); Zane Dickerson (Ephraim); Joshua Moller (Frank); and Matthew Pettrey (Gideon). Their camaraderie on stage is equal to their singing and dancing, and they are a joy to behold.  Equally at ease on stage with singing and dancing requirements are the Brides: Samantha Bretz (Alice); Caitlin Christenson (Dorcus); Mary Hofmeister (Ruth); Jocelyn Near (Liza); Emily Kapnick (Martha); and Allison Steele (Sarah).  Together, they are a force to be reckoned with.

The large (but never cluttered) ensemble supports the action, and together with the leads turn in some of the most charismatic and entertaining performances ever at Croswell. The audience was positively abuzz throughout the production, and the standing ovation was well-deserved.

The performers are wrapped in lovely packaging in the form of Rachel Buechele’s colorful costumes; Terrence Hissong’s Scenic Design; and fine efforts in lighting, sound, and technical design. (Note that on opening night, there were both mic-related glitches as well as spotlight-mess that will surely resolve over the coming performances). Stage Manager Kent Sprague has his hands full to be sure, and he keeps things running at a brisk and comfortable pace throughout. Snow falls (both onstage and in the audience); wood splits; crashes resound; the unit-set works perfectly; and it all serves to entertain. Music Director Wynne Marsh keeps everything onstage and in the pit sounding remarkable.

Brian Hissong directs the entire affair with a sure hand, and he gets marvelous things from his performers. Choreography and Directing often overlap, and it appears seamless.

Go see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and enjoy an evening out in beautiful downtown Adrian, MI. Get your tickets immediately before they are all gone — buy them now, thank me later. Its one of the best things I have seen onstage regionally in many years — professional or non-professional.

Is Les Miserables the best high school musical ever? (Review kind of). July 22, 2012

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Having now seen two high school versions of LES MISERABLES, it begs to ask the question, is this the best High School musical ever?

25 years ago, I don’t think any of us would have ever thought that high schools might be doing this musical today. In fact, it seemed so “adult” and so “current” that it was hard to imagine anyone but professionals doing the show. Yet here it is.

Pioneer High School did a decent version a few years ago. Croswell Opera House did a whiz-bang knock-out version of it this past two weekends. Both casts had decent singers and mediocre ones — and yet both versions worked equally well.

Cut to 2.5 hours instead of the 3 hour running time, most audience members will be unaware of the cut material unless you are a true Les Mis expert. Some of the detail is gone, but its barely missed.

What is evident is that this is a show that features dozens of “parts” and the stronger performers are cast in leads while your average high school dramatists are equally happy playing the many many different ensemble parts. The parts fall directly into the vocal ranges of 16 – 18 year olds.

The music is not difficult to perform. Throw in a great orchestra and some straight-forward sets, and you have what might easily become the best current high school musical on the market for those schools tired of Bye Bye Birdie and Hairspray.

That brings me to special kudos for Croswell’s production. Musical Director Jonathan Sills has done a superb job with his (large) high school cast, and the orchestra was simply stunning. No cut-down orchestrations here; the full orchestra sound is lush and glorious.

Doug Miller designed a beautiful set, complete with detailed barricade. If the staging was a bit similar to the recent 25th Anniversary tour of the show, it can only be said that most shows without a turntable are pretty much going to look like that.

In short, I love youth theater and have directed a lot of it — but I was a bit green with envy at the stagecraft (and budget) on display at Croswell Opera House.

One caveat: if you are planning to do the show in your high school, make sure that you have plenty of men. Like most musicals of the last twenty years, its male-centric and you need plenty of them that can act, sing, and (kinda) dance (or at least move to the beat).